In the wake of my most recent breakup, I slogged through the typical motions (you know—tears, chocolate, more tears), but there was also a decidedly happy narrative flanking my sadness: My relationship with my dad, which was never bad, per se, but we’ve never actually been close. Until now. Our four-times-a-week phone calls had always consisted of a few minutes of small talk about how much better the weather is where he lives in Florida than it is in my New York, or about the meals we’ve each eaten in the last day.
With us, big life events—my promotion and move from Brooklyn to Manhattan, his recent retirement and engagement—just weren’t on the table as topics of discussion. Even in the weeks leading up to my older sister’s wedding, we talked exclusively about the weather forecast in Atlanta, where the ceremony would be held (instead of, ya know, how happy we were for her and our soon-to-be new family member).
So imagine his surprise—and, TBH, my own—when he one day said, “Goobey” (what he calls me) “do you think these knucklehead weathermen are right?” And then I promptly began blubbering about being heartbroken.
To put this in context: My ex and I were together for close to 18 months, and my dad had no idea he even existed—I had never even said his name to my dad. Not once. Remember, the two of us never spoke about the real stuff. Yet, here I was, confiding in him about my recently shattered confidence, how much I missed my ex, and my fear that someone would ask me about him at my sister’s wedding, leading me to ruin her day with my sadness. (I had RSVP’d that I’d be bringing a plus-one—which my dad knew, but we hadn’t talked about it.)
“When we go through a breakup, we lose a big part of our support system. Usually, we end up leaning into the other relationships in our lives. When you lean in with vulnerability, usually the other person will become more vulnerable with you as well, which leads to a deeper relationship overall.” —Liz Powell, PsyD
I don’t remember much of the back-and-forth dialogue from that initial wall-breaking conversation, but it did end with him promising that nobody at the wedding would inquire about my ex. I don’t know how he did it—maybe via group text or email blast or relying on our gossipy relatives to spread the “Don’t ask GK about her ex” news bulletin—but not one person asked me about my relationship status during the big day.
But his support wasn’t limited to my sister’s wedding. The morning after my confession of sorts, he began a series we’ve since started calling Dad Thought of the Day. Basically, every morning at 4 a.m. (he suffers from insomnia), he sends me an inspiring, positive, or thought-provoking quote. “Spend your energy on today and tomorrow, you cannot change yesterday,” is one. And, “attitude counts, self-talk must be positive.” Then there’s my favorite: “Decisions are easier when the heart and the head are in agreement. When in doubt, listen to your head AND YOUR FATHER, LOL.” As kitschy as they are, the result of these texts is usually a phone conversation of actual substance during which we talk about the quote, how he thought it up, and how I’m feeling.
In short, my breakup has been the best thing ever for our relationship, and experts say it makes total sense. “When we go through a breakup, we lose a big part of our support system. Usually, we end up leaning into the other relationships in our lives,” says sex educator Liz Powell, PsyD. “When you lean in with vulnerability, usually the other person will become more vulnerable with you as well, which leads to a deeper relationship overall.”
And it turns out that post-breakup may be the best time to connect with a parent, specifically. “As adults, our relationship with our parents tends to be fraught, especially if you weren’t super close when you were a kid,” says Dr. Powell. “Usually, that closeness has to come from the adult-child being vulnerable with their parent about what they want or need during a time of pain,” she says. I’d testify under oath that breaking up with your partner definitely qualifies as a time of pain.
The best way to reach out to your parent when you’re going through a breakup, according to Dr. Powell, is to get really clear on what your ask is. Do you want advice? Do you want them to stop asking about your ex? Or do you just want someone to listen? “If you just tell them that you’re going through a breakup, they might give you what they would want—which may not be what you may want,” she says. “If you start with a clear ask, you’re setting up your parent and that exchange for success.”
I’ll admit, I’m still not completely over my ex, but I’m getting there—one Dad Thought of the Day at the time. And given that my breakup was what I needed to finally tap into the vulnerability I needed to connect with my Dad, I can say the pain has been worth it.
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