Something happened recently that is kind of magical.
My dad is very logical, and rational. He’s like a scientist, even though he became a lawyer (he actually got a degree in physics before going to law school). Because of how he is, I grew up believing that he did not have any emotions at all. He’s also very cynical; he never believes in anything unless there’s solid proof. And, of course, he is smarter than everyone and always right.
Gifts are among the things my dad is very cynical about. His view is that no one ever gives anyone a gift in a “pure” way, i.e., without some ulterior motive or expecting something in return. We’re all self-interested beings, and that’s just how it is. He believes this is true of everyone — there are no exceptions.
So, before doing the trainings, I had long ago stopped giving my family gifts altogether. We all had. Birthdays, Christmas, etc. — we may have called each other (maybe), but definitely no gifts. In part it was because of my dad’s attitude influencing the rest of us. After a while, none of us believed in gifts anymore. It was kind of like, we’ve all grown up now; time to give up the ruse of being a normal family.
But, after the trainings, this was something I decided to change. I realized that it actually felt really nice to get gifts from people you care about, and I wanted my family to have that experience. I also just wanted to give them things, because I wanted to make them feel loved and remembered and cared for. And I also wanted them to get joy from the thing itself. So, I broke with tradition and began sending gifts — for birthdays, and Christmas, and Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, etc. I tried hard to make the gifts thoughtful, i.e., something they’d actually want but would probably not get for themselves.
The response from my mom was mainly positive. She’d post pictures of the gift I gave her on Facebook, proudly displaying it for all to see. She’d thank me profusely, etc. My sister’s response was somewhat positive, if a little off. She would eagerly take the gift, but then act almost smug — like she was silently thinking, “what a sucker, she gave me a gift even though I never get her anything.” She’d thank me, but only as an afterthought, and with a clear indication that I should not expect any gift in return. It didn’t bother me, as long as I knew she got some enjoyment from the gift (and I know her well, so I feel like I did a pretty good job of getting her stuff she actually wanted).
My dad, though, got no enjoyment from my gifts. He got wildly uncomfortable. Stressed. Angry, even. “You shouldn’t have done that,” he would tell me, after a grudging, and perfunctory, “thank you.” “I don’t even need or want any gifts.” My dad has lost his sight, so I tired to choose my gifts carefully. Usually they were baskets of food, a mixture of fruit and baked goods. He loves both fruit and sweets/chocolate, so I felt confident he’d be happy to get an unexpected delivery of both. But, he wasn’t. He was just confused, and upset, and sort of angry at me for breaking our family’s silent agreement to not do gifts.
Then, one time, we got in an extended conversation about it. I explained to him that I just wanted to give him the gift because I thought he might enjoy it; that was all. There was nothing attached to it, no expectation of any kind. I told him he didn’t need to get so stressed out about it. He regarded me with cynicism, like he didn’t believe me. When I told him the source of my new gift-giving attitude was the trainings, he rolled his eyes. Of course it is, he said. Now it all makes sense. This is just you trying to prove you’re a “better person” from doing those silly trainings. The next few times I got him a gift, he didn’t even thank me. He just complained.
Recently, it was his 70th birthday. This time, I dragged my feet on getting him a gift. I told Jimmy I wasn’t even sure I was going to get him anything; he clearly didn’t want or appreciate any of my gifts. And I was tired of hearing him complain. Jimmy said, he’s turning 70. You clearly want to give him a gift, you’re just attached to what you think his response will be, but that’s not how it’s supposed to work. That’s making it about you. You should get him a gift like you planned.
I blew it off, but then, at the last second, I got him one. I ordered it online. I’ll admit that I did it in part as a silent protest against his annoying attitude. It was sort of like saying: You haven’t succeeded in making me go back to how things were. After I clicked “purchase,” though, I pushed it out of my brain. I didn’t want to sit there waiting in anticipation for how he would receive it. When I got the email notifications from the company I purchased the gift from, I promptly deleted them. I didn’t want to know when it was shipped, or when it was delivered, or if there was some problem with it (if there were, I decided the gift was just not meant to be and I’d eat the loss).
As it turns out, he got the gift late, after his birthday, because it was on back order. By then, I actually had forgotten about it. He called me and left me a voicemail, wanting to know if the strange package he had gotten was from me “because you’re the only one who ever sends me gifts.”
I sighed heavily. Here we go. I didn’t call him back right away. I gave myself an hour or so to get prepared for the disappointing response, and for the lecture of why I shouldn’t get him any gifts, and why the trainings, and all concepts associated with them, were silly, and wrong, etc. I also reminded myself that I had gotten him a gift because I wanted to give him a gift, because that’s what I felt in my heart, and it didn’t matter how he responded.
Well, this time was different.
I called him, and — he thanked me. In an uncharacteristically heartfelt way, three separate times. He thanked me as soon as I verified the gift was from me, he thanked me again in the middle of our conversation (he almost interrupted me to do so), and then another time right before we hung up. It wasn’t grudging or just a simple “thank you,” either. He made a point to tell me, in an emphatic way, that he really appreciated the gift — and he meant it.
Then, a few days later, something remarkable happened. He told me he had been thinking a lot — about the trainings. He said he remembered how I had told him that it was the trainings that changed my attitude about giving, and being in contribution for the sake of being in contribution. He said he was taken by this idea of giving without any attachments or expectations. He said he thought that his long-time platonic girlfriend (a beautiful, but temperamental, latin woman, not unlike how my mom was when they met) could really benefit from being instilled with that and other concepts I had described from the trainings. (Funny, right? How often do you try to enroll someone in the program, and they immediately think of “someone else” that it’d be great for, someone else who needs “help” or to be “fixed”?).
He said: “I wanted to ask your permission to recommend the trainings to her.”
This was pretty remarkable, for a few reasons. First, he said this without a trace of sarcasm in his voice. I can count on one hand the number of times my father has ever said anything to me that was absent of any sarcasm. Second, the fact that he was asking “permission” was giving not only me — but also the trainings — credibility. My father is a quintessential know-it-all cynic; he gives almost no one but himself any credibility. Third, he obviously did not need to ask my “permission” to mention the trainings to his girlfriend. It was almost like he did it for the sole purpose of showing me that he had had a change of heart. He now was being respectful toward my experience in the trainings, and open, and he wanted me to know that.
So, I gave him my “permission,” but if I’m being honest, I didn’t expect to hear much else about it. I figured he’d mention it to her, she’d sneer at him, and that would be that. Only, it wasn’t.
I called him this afternoon, because I needed his opinion on a new case we’re starting against a huge company that runs hundreds of hospitals across the country. I just needed someone lawyerly to bounce ideas off of, because my whole office is on vacation right now (all two of them). So we talked shop for a while, and then he said: “So, I recommended the trainings to [we’ll call her Rita]. She’s interested. Can you recommend a place for her to go?”
Again, there was no sarcasm in his voice when he said this to me. I did my best to tame my inner excitement and told him I’d ask around and get back to him with a list of places in Texas and Northern California and Seattle (places she frequents).
And then I did something that may be stupid: I got hopeful.
Now, I don’t really know my dad’s quasi-girlfriend very well. She’s 20 years his junior, and she’s also been in his life for about 20 years. She’s gone to dinner with him, she regularly takes walks with him. She won’t be in a full-blown relationship with him, but, she gives him enough of her time for me to be grateful she’s around. She’s kind of bitchy, though, you know? So sure, if she took the program, she’d probably treat my dad with more compassion and respect and maybe she’d even agree to settle down with him one day, who knows. Maybe when she gets too old to continue to turn heads. And she has a son who has a lot of troubles, and she recently lost her father, and of course I’d love to see her deal with all of these things in a more productive, and enlightened, way. It would be better for everyone.
But, the main reason I got hopeful is that this woman has a LOT of influence over my dad. I mean, it’s probably safe to say he’s basically in love with her, and has been for a long time. If she ACTUALLY does the program — and if she gets meaningful results — maybe she’d urge him to do it, too.
I mean, my dad is 70, you know? I don’t really know that he’s looking to “transform” himself, but, I think it would still be this wonderful experience he’d get to have, and one he deserves. He’s a Trump-loving Republican who tweets more than Trump does about his right wing views — most of the folks in PSPLife would probably love to hate him. But, he’s lived a very difficult life in many ways. His childhood is something no child should ever have to go through. The oldest of five brothers (by far), he acted as their father figure from a very young age, because their actual father was cruel, and abusive — and died a murderer. My dad grew up way too fast, and he has been stuck in the prison of his painful past his whole life.
Also, as much as he claims that this idea of contribution is some foreign concept, that’s not actually true. My dad gave all of himself to protect his mom and his brothers, and he gave a lot to my sister and I, too, everything he had to give. When my parents split, he did not put up any fight, and kept virtually nothing for himself.
So, my wish for him is for him to get to do the trainings. Yes, it will be very late in the game, and so it will mean something entirely different to him than it would to someone younger — but I think it would be a beautiful experience nonetheless.
In any case, in the end, I think what changed my dad’s mind was my persistence in giving him gifts without expectations or attachments. With that last gift, he finally chose trust. That gift was the turning point for him (and imagine if I had given up, as I had wanted to do). He finally chose to believe that my gift came from a pure place, and in so doing he allowed himself to open his heart and receive it.
What can I say? The work works, even when it doesn’t seem to be working. And, if you were to ask me what do I think might be the thing to change my dad’s mind, I can tell you the LAST thing I ever would have said was a gift.