April 28, 2011 will be a day I will never forget. While driving home, I got a call from my oldest daughter who lives with her husband and six children in upstate N.Y. It was a call that no parent ever wants to receive.
The Way I was Parented
To set the stage, I was raised by a single mother with a brother and two sisters. My mother was an entrepreneur and very successful in business.
She would raise us all with a very tight fist. In fact, a favorite saying of hers was, “I don’t care if you love me or not, but by God, you will respect me!!”
Now a child will be trained by their parents and other people close to them. Children learn by what they see, hear, feel, smell, and taste. They can become the parent in the way they were raised, with the same actions, sayings, and rules for their children.
Some children though, make a conscious decision to not be like their parents and choose to raise their children differently. I am very thankful that my oldest daughter chose to raise her kids differently than she was raised.
You see, I adopted many of the rules, moods, emotions, and sayings that I grew up with. Things like, “if you don’t finish your dinner tonight, you can have it for breakfast in the morning.” or “Go get the hairbrush and bend over my knee and I’ll really give you something to cry about!”
In my house, it was the same environment. So much so that it was extremely hard for my kids to develop a relationship with me as their father. They were more scared of me and my moods than anything. It was like walking on eggshells for them.
My Self-View Impacted my Personal Relationships
Also, I did not make great choices with other relationships. One extreme example was a very abusive relationship. One incident was when this woman walked into my apartment and was so angry that she started to break every potted plant I had, throwing them on the floor. It scared the kids and I so much that I took them into the bedroom and we huddled in the corner until she left and we heard the door shut.
You see, I had such low self-esteem that I could not even get out of a very bad relationship because of the guilt and low self-image I had. I wanted someone to love me and I would take anyone that had the appearance of love. What I thought love looked like. Something that I did not feel growing up.
As you can imagine, this did not build a great relationship between my kids and me as their father. Who would ever expose kids to a relationship like I did and not protect them from seeing anything like what they were exposed to? That too, played heavily on my guilt. It just piled guilt upon other guilt and a self-image that I had accumulated during my life.
When they could, both girls decided to see what it was like to live with their mother. So they moved when each was around 14 years old.
Each did come back however, and live with me after a couple of years. My oldest daughter graduated high school and went on to college. She met her now-husband and moved after graduation to N.Y., where her husband grew up.
My Daughters Grew Up
As a little girl, my eldest had a fantasy of having a family just like Laura Ingalls Wilder on “Little House on the Prairie.” Her husband has a core family and many brothers and sisters. He is such a great husband and father and she is such a great wife and mother. See, she made a conscious choice to not accept the “program” that I offered on how to parent.
My youngest daughter, Erin, did not fare as well. Ever since she was a pre-teen, she was being treated for different types of neurological symptoms. Uncontrollable hiccupping, depression, and other emotions that I thought might just be age- or stress-related.
But as she got older, symptoms got worse. By the time she graduated high school, she was on many neurological drugs to combat symptoms such as hearing voices, hyperventilating, and lack of focus. She would start school and not last two weeks before she would get sick and have to drop out. She would start a job and have to quit.
She was admitted to in-patient facilities and counseling sessions to help her figure out what was wrong. No one in the family or the professional community could figure out what was wrong with her. I always thought that it was because of my actions and relationships that she was like this.
One afternoon I got a phone call at my office from my oldest daughter. She told me she got a call from her sister, who wanted to come to N.Y. and live with her and her family. But my oldest did not want that. She did not want the responsibility of taking care of her sister along with her own family.
So being the good Dad, I talked with my youngest on the phone and told her that she could not go out and live with her sister. Well, I was told that I could not tell her what to do and she was going to go anyway.
That is when I hit the roof and yelled into the phone that "she was not going and I forbid her" from going out to live with her sister.
All I heard from the other end of the phone was a “click.”
That was the last time I heard from her or anything about her for more than nine years. She did go out to N.Y. but she did not let anyone tell me where she was, how she was doing, or anything about her.
Then nine years later, I got that phone call from my oldest daughter when I was driving home. She said that she had something to tell me about her sister.
My youngest daughter was taking a nap one afternoon. When she woke up and got out of bed, she fell to the ground and died.
It was that quick.
The next time I saw my youngest daughter was in the funeral home, lying in a cardboard coffin, wrapped in a sheet with only her face and one hand showing so I could at least touch her one last time. Since it was an unobserved death, she had to have an autopsy and the funeral home did not prep her for viewing since she was going to be cremated and we were not having a public viewing.
What we found out was that she did not have psychological issues. She had Lyme disease.
In tracing it back, as far as I can figure, she had been bitten by a tick around the age of nine. We would go for walks in the woods and when we got home, we would check for ticks. I must have missed one.
Great Relationships are now my “Why.”
My poor relationships with my daughters and my poor choices in my intimate relationships became my “why.” The why I choose to teach families, businesses, communities, and organizations how to build awesome relationships, because you might not ever get a second chance with a person.
The best teachers are the ones that have failed the worst. The best teachers are the ones that have been through the darkness and learned how to come out better on the other side. The best teachers are the ones that can take their mistakes and offer them to others as lessons to be learned from and not repeated.
Relationships are everywhere and the basis of everything. We need them in the workplace, we need them in our families, we need them in our lives, period.
However, if you do not have a great relationship with yourself first, you cannot have a great relationship with anyone, ever.
I teach relationship-building because I have a passion to help others so they do not have to go through what I went through. I live those moments every single day but I do not live in them. I have learned to forgive myself and hope and pray that I am forgiven by those that I have hurt and truly love.
Here is what I have learned.
When you Learn the Be WUCA! Way, Act the Be WUCA! Way, you can then Teach the Be WUCA! Way.
When you pass the Be WUCA! Way to others, you change the world building great relationships.
Pass it on.