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Advice for the Modern Man: The Living Years


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(Question has been modified for space and clarity.)

I’m now single and downsizing. I offered to give my daughter, age 50, whatever she wanted, and she asked for plenty. She and I have never had a good relationship, and we function on a relatively superficial level.

Starting at the age of 10, she would cry to her friends about every perceived affront and unresolved issue with me, and I have silently felt disrespected for years.

Getting my leftover belongings and money seems to have become an obsession for her, so I finally said something to her privately. She blasted her victim tears on Facebook and got a whole lot of sympathy while I was made to be the bad guy.

I have no one else to give these heirlooms to, but I am angry. I perceive that she is hurting from issues that began long ago and has become cynical, jaded and unable to talk to me honestly. She just wants the inheritance.

Where do I go from here?
–Hurting Mom; Bowie, MD

While your daughter might be 50, when it comes to your relationship, it sounds as if she’s frozen as that 10-year-old who feels she’s been wronged by her mother. And in her mind, claiming these heirlooms as retribution will make everything right.

Why does she feel that way? What is the source of the strife between you?

I have no idea. But for the moment, let’s set that backstory aside, because your question is about where you go from here.

Though I’ve never been the most observant Jew — my brother’s a rabbi, meaning he practices enough Judaism for both of us — there used to be one occasion I never wanted to miss.

Each Yom Kippur, the synagogue where I grew up would hold a contemporary service titled, “A Confession For Our Time.” It was done entirely in English, and it featured a collection of songs (sung by my aunt and her singing group) that aligned with the theme of redemption and atonement.

One of the songs was “The Living Years” by Mike and the Mechanics, which explores a strained relationship between a parent and child — how it happened, and the anger and frustrations that built when it was never addressed.

Reading your story, I couldn’t help being reminded of that song. And though it’s sung from the perspective of a son who’s struggling with his father, I believe its chorus sheds light on what you can do to make things right — while also offering a warning of what awaits if you don’t.

So let’s look at it line by line…

“Say it loud, say it clear.”

You and your daughter have interacted on a superficial level for a long time. From your perspective, she’s given you little more than headaches and heartaches. And now she’s coming for your possessions.

Her heirloom obsession probably feels like an Eff You that’s been 40 years in the making. So it makes sense you’d be angry and resentful. These emotions have been bubbling beneath the surface, and it was a matter of time until they boiled over.

It’s hard to tell from your submission if you want to repair your relationship with your daughter, or if you simply want to gain a measure of internal peace. In either case, there’s only one way to achieve your goal:

Say it loud, say it clear.

I know your initial attempt at talking to your daughter netted disaster, and there’s no guarantee that won’t happen again. But your best shot at producing a more positive outcome is to take a self-centric approach.

Don’t attack her, and as tempting as it may be, don’t spend much effort defending yourself.

Instead, as clichéd as it sounds, just tell her how you feel. If you’re angry, explain what’s made you mad. If you’re hurt, tell her the source of your pain. And if you feel sorry, apologize.

The goal is to get these emotions out. Because until you do, not only can’t you close the door on the past, you can’t open a path to a brighter future.

“You can listen as well as you hear.”

Here’s the other side of the communication equation. And from the sounds of it, it’s something both you and your daughter need to consider.

I perceive that she is hurting from issues that began long ago…

To me, this line from your submission highlights the underlying problem with your relationship. Not only do you not get along, you’re not even sure why you don’t.

For 40 years, the two of you have been shouting at and past each other, hearing the other person talk without listening to what she has to say.

There’s a difference, which is why the chorus’ lyrics make the distinction.

According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, hearing is “the process, function, or power of perceiving sound.” It’s the physical manifestation of waves of noise traveling down your ear canal, reverberating in your eardrum and being processed by your brain.

Listening, however, injects an emotional component. When you listen to someone, you’re in the moment with them. You don’t just hear their words, you absorb the meaning of their message.

While it’d be nice of your daughter to return the favor, the only thing you can control is yourself. Make it clear that you care about what she has to say, that you’re concerned about what she’s dealing with and that you want to understand what she needs.

Then, just listen. You might be surprised by what she has to say.

“It’s too late when we die to admit we don’t see eye to eye.”

I stared at the screen for lord knows how long trying to come up with a proper way to discuss this point, but I don’t know why I bothered. This line says it all, and it says it more clearly than I ever could.

There are no perfect people, and there are no perfect relationships. What matters, though, is how we manage and overcome those imperfections to remain close to those we love the most.

You and your daughter have endured a lifetime of disconnect, but your lifetimes are not over. Yet. Which means you have the chance, here and now, to reach out to her and achieve whatever your definition is of making things right. There’s still time, and you don’t want to waste any more of it.

Because, as Mike and the Mechanics explain, “When you don’t give up, and you don’t give in, you may just be OK.”


This article originally appeared on the Good Men Project.

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