We learned in my last post that your disconnected dad has nothing to do with you. It’s his issue, his challenge to overcome. But and he doesn’t even have to know what you are attempting to help him with. If fact, it’s probably better at the start if he doesn’t know you have something specific in mind.
And that’s a key thing to note. Most disconnected men have no idea they are disconnected. They really think everything is okay and if you were to mention something (about their ‘disconnectedness’) they may react negatively and then become suspicious of any new approach on your part. So, unless your dad has realized he’s disconnected (maybe from reading my book The Disconnected Man) you probably don’t want to mention it.
Here are a few tips to get you started.
- Check your own relational/emotional health. We often try to change others before undergoing the change we need. I’m not suggesting you have to be perfect. I’m suggesting that you need to be mostly emotionally healthy and not fragile. (If you are experiencing a lot of emotional/relational pain then you’ll want to check out our next post) You will also need help. Helping a man overcome disconnection, especially your dad, can become very emotional. You will need someone else to lean on from time to time. Make sure you have good friends, a supportive spouse, or family members that will be there for you.
- Start small and hold your expectations. It’s good to be excited about the possibilities of connecting with your dad. But be careful to keep your expectations in check. Expect nothing but to give of yourself. Be willing to sacrifice your time, emotions, and energy without any response at first. And start small. The goal is to draw him out of his shell. The best way is with a question. When you get a chance to talk to him try some. Below are a few to try.
- How are things going at work?
- Tell me what you love about what you do.
- Is there anyone from your past you really respected and learned from?
- What do you like best about your ________ (hobby, vacation, project)?
- What were your parents/grandparents like (if you don’t know)?
- Did you have any mentors, coaches, teachers you really liked? Why?
- When did you become a Christian? What was it that convinced you?
Please notice that there are no questions about his present relationships. It’s too early to go there. It might be safe to ask about past relationships but be careful there too. Ask about his thoughts about the things he does or people he admires – it’s safe to ask about work and hobbies and usually faith. You may be able to dig a little deeper into how he feels about these things. If so, count it a victory if he starts talking about how he feels about anything.
- Remember that your goal is to get to know him. This is not about you yet. It’s about learning who he is. He’s disconnected so you don’t know much about him. Getting to know him will give you some hints about how to make the next step. The time will come when he will open up, the light will come on, and he will want to really know you. Keep investing and wait for that time.
- At the right time, ask to join him doing something he loves. Again, this is about him and you investing in him. Even if it’s a passive activity like watching a game or a favorite show, being with him will give you opportunities to engage with him. Keep asking him questions about whatever it is and give him a chance to tell you what’s inside.
- Give these steps plenty of time. These first steps will most likely take months, maybe years, depending on just how disconnected your dad is. Are you willing to put in the time and effort? You have to be convinced he is worth it and you are up to it.
If You’re Too Hurt To Move Forward…
Speaking of you being up to it. Some will read this and just be reminded of the pain that surrounds their relationship with their dad. If that’s the case then you may need to go back to point #1 of this post. Don’t dive into this if your own pain needs to be addressed. If that’s the case, tune in to the next post in this series where we will help you deal with your own pain.
If you are in a good place, you will have a very good chance of really connecting with your dad. The fact that you care enough to try is a huge step in the right direction. God wants your dad to be relational in the same way He is. Your desire to help him get there will pay off in time. Dad’s as a whole need children who will take an interest in them. You are important to him and if he really knew what you are up to, he would most likely be very proud of you. I am.