Every human being has a deeply held need to feel known.
Funny thing about men of a certain age: they were raised to NOT talk about themselves.
If your dad was born after 1946, he is either a baby boomer or raised by one. Many, many baby boomer men grew up in a family that actively, or perhaps subtly, squelched their emotions and discouraged them from talking about themselves. If your father is the child of a baby boomer, it’s very possible that he still received some amount of emotional and verbal squelching since these parenting styles tend to repeat automatically through generations.
This type of childrearing was not necessarily a result of mean or unloving parents at all. It was simply a product of the common childrearing wisdom and mores of the time.
If your dad is a Baby Boomer, he probably received a double dose of the squelching that’s described above, which I call Childhood Emotional Neglect or CEN. That’s because, in both past and present society, boys and men’s more tender feelings were and are viewed as weaknesses — except for anger, which is the most “acceptable” feeling that men are permitted to have.
Sharing and emotion = weakness, and silence = strength. Baby boomer dads’ parents belonged to the aptly named “silent generation.” The Silent Generation received their name for a reason: they themselves were children of war and deprivation. They grew up in families where the men were at war and the women were scrambling and desperately working for money and supplies. In those times, there was no room for talking or feelings or needs. In that time silence and selflessness were necessary requirements, and both were valued and viewed as a sign of strength.
Even if your dad can be silly and fun sometimes; even if you know, without a doubt, that he loves you, there is a very high chance that he has, all of your life, been holding his true inner self back; not from you in particular, but just in his life in general.
No matter your own age as you read this, whether you’re in your 20s, 30s, 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s or beyond, your dad no doubt grew up with some powerful messages about what it means to be strong. He may have overcome some of them somewhat, but I am willing to bet that those old messages are still at work in your father’s head to this day.
Don’t talk too much.
Don’t feel too much.
Don’t ever be (or appear) vulnerable.
Don’t let your weaknesses show.
Keep your feelings to yourself.
Every single human being alive has things they need to say, deep emotions, and personal challenges and weaknesses. Yet, thanks to Childhood Emotional Neglect, legions of people have grown up receiving strong messages from their parents that they must keep all of it under wraps. Your dad likely has far more to say and share than he has ever allowed you to see.
Fortunately, today the world is in a far different place. The fields of psychology, neurology, and social work have researched happiness, family dynamics, and emotion. We now know that holding ourselves back is not conducive to healthy people or relationships.
5 Questions To Ask Your Dad On Fathers Day
Father’s Day is the day to celebrate your dad, of course. But this year, it’s also your chance to make it something more. You can use this day to not only celebrate your dad but to also further your connection with him.
- What was your favorite thing about your childhood?
- What was something you did not like about your childhood?
- What were you like when you were 21?
- In hindsight, is there anything in life that you didn’t try, but wish you had?
- What’s the greatest hope you have for your future?
You can introduce these questions to your father in many different ways. You can also add your own.
“So Dad, it’s your day today! I’d like to honor you by asking you some questions that I’ve never asked you before. Will you try to answer them really openly and candidly? I really want to know these things!”
“Hey Dad, will you read this article? As I was reading it I wondered how you would answer these questions.”
“So Pops, you know you’re not a big talker. But as I’ve gotten older I’ve had questions about you that I’ve always wanted to ask. In honor of Fathers Day can I ask you today?”
How to Introduce The Questions To Your Father
Be sure to tailor your introduction to your dad’s unique personality and your relationship with him. In general, asking the questions individually may permit a more personal connection with your dad, and allow deeper answers. You can also team with your siblings to ask him the questions together.
Every human being has a deep need to feel known. Even the most curmudgeonly of dads has that need in there somewhere. If your dad is more open and outgoing, he will still appreciate being able to share some new things about himself with you.
That’s why these questions are a gift that goes both ways. You get a deeper connection with your dad. You get to know him better, and he gets the gift of feeling known.
HAPPY FATHERS DAY!
Childhood Emotional Neglect (CEN) can be invisible and unmemorable so it can be difficult to know if you have it. To find out, Take the CEN Questionnaire. It’s free.
To learn much more about how CEN plays out in parent/child relationships and gets passed down through generations, plus much more about the effects of CEN on your adult life, see the book, Running on Empty No More: Transform Your Relationships With Your Partner, Your Parents & Your Children.