peoplehood

June 01, 2021

The Conversation I Regret Not Having The Most

It's June and as the weather warms more people are embracing what is being called the beginning of the end of the pandemic. While some of us are trying and failing to get back into the swing of things, others are opting for something completely new. Like Samhita Mukhopadhyay who moved back in with her mother during the pandemic and has gained a completely new perspective on adulthood and the space she thought she needed for it. 

For many of us, parenting and being parented are the longest, and sometimes most complicated relationships that we will maintain. They can be sources of pain, joy, learning, and healing. We wanted to dedicate this entire month to exploring some of the dynamics of parenthood. Because it also just so happens to be the month of Father’s Day, let’s start with fatherhood. I’ll go first.

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Before he passed away in my early twenties, my daddy was a bit of an enigma in my life. He was often in the wind and I would sometimes go years without speaking to or seeing him. I knew other people for whom the absence of a parent meant a lot of trauma and grief. This was not the case for me. I felt at peace with how little I saw of my dad. When we did catch up, our conversations were easy and relaxed, like I was filling in an old friend on the happenings of my life and getting the same in return. I had many parental figures in my life: my mom, my grandparents, my aunt, and sometimes my older sister. It was honestly a relief to have one less person to answer to during my reckless teens and early twenties.

I've often asked myself why — or better yet, how — I managed to avoid resenting my dad for his unwillingness to be an active parent. A huge part of it was because of the memories that were made together when he was around. When national cheer competitions would air on ESPN, he would record them on VHS tapes for us to watch together later. We both loved sketch comedy that I was probably too young to be watching. He was a drummer and when he would have local sets, he’d let me play around on whatever drum set had been provided by the band. When we’d drive around in the car, I’d get such a kick out of him beatboxing his own drum line on top of songs that were playing on the radio. One time he threatened to beat up one of his friends on my behalf and I never felt more protected.

For some reason, it has been easy to rely on these memories of him, the ones that were formed before I was old enough to question why parenting never seemed to be at the top of his list of things to do. We weren’t close, but I loved him and I knew he loved me, and that was ok. Talking to my mom about him allowed me to settle into this acceptance even more. She often reminded me of the ways that my father and I were alike. Our mutual love for certain kinds of music, our senses of humor, and our willingness to follow opportunities and sometimes our moods wherever they would take us. 

While all of this has helped me keep a place for my daddy in my heart, I still have the questions. I still wish that I could have heard directly from his mouth what I meant to him and how he excused his absence in most of my life. I wanted to know how he felt about not being there for a single one of my graduations or birthdays as I aged. Why was it enough to tell me he was proud of me, whenever we got around to speaking to each other? I can’t help but wonder how much closer we could have been if we had more than memories, short phone calls, and second-hand references between each other. For all the cool moments and conversations that we had during our relatively short time together, the conversation we needed the most will never happen. 

There are two major takeaways from this for me. The first being: the small moments we create with each other that feel inconsequential matter. The time spent watching In Living Color or recorded cheerleading competitions, moments that someone with a more present father might not even remember in adulthood, have carried me to a place of compassion for him that still exists today. The second is that it’s always better to say your piece when you have the chance to do so. Despite my fondness for him and the holes that my mom can fill about the person he was, I will never be able to truly get to the bottom of our relationship.

-Sesali, Peoplehood Editor 

Here at Peoplehood, we want to help people have these conversations while they can. At the very least, we’d like to better equip you with the communication skills necessary to normalize conversations like these as part of healthy relationship building. We encourage you to ask yourself questions like: What has been left unsaid? What answers do I still need? What feelings are still unresolved? 

We suggest reaching out to the person you want to talk to and scheduling a time for the conversation. It’s always better to have these conversations when people are prepared for them, rather than bombarding someone when they’re not in the headspace. Next, let the person know you just need the space to express yourself. You don’t expect them to respond or offer you answers, you just expect them to listen. Finally, when you’re done talking, you can ask them if they would like a turn. And then, you can hold space for what they have to say. Find our full guide to having this conversation here

Clearly, we can’t talk about fathers without also talking about mothers, sons, daughters, siblings, and all of the other people that they impact. So as we continue the rest of the month, we’ll be talking to people on every end of the parenting spectrum to interrogate what makes these relationships work.