In the past six years, I've learned that there are many simple ways to improve your relationship with your dad — but when I was growing up, I thought my dad and I would never get along. I mean, I’ve never had any doubts about the fact that my dad is a good man, father, and husband, but I’ve never really been a “daddy’s girl,” either. I came out of the womb strong-willed as hell, and his parenting style was always quite strict, so you can probably imagine how well that worked out. And if you don’t need to imagine any of it, because my story sounds all too familiar, don’t despair. Trust me, it is possible to learn how to get along with your dad as an adult, even if you guys have never really gotten along in the past.
Of course, I don’t know what kind of a man your dad is or what your father-daughter dynamic is. If your father is toxic, you might just need to stay away from him for awhile. That said, having a healthy relationship with your father is important, because it can affect everything from your your career to your dating life. As Michael Simon, a New Orleans-based author, educator, and licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) tells Bustle, "Feeling secure in our relationship with our dads enables us to go out into the world and try new things, take healthy risks, and persevere when times get tough. Having a damaged sense of trust with our fathers can really interfere with being successful, in all kinds of ways."
So unless your dad is the friggin' worst, you should at least try to learn how to get along with him. I'm not saying improving your relationship with your dad will be easy, and I'm certainly not suggesting you can repair it quickly, but I know from experience that there are lots of ways to improve your relationship with your dad. Here are nine tips to get you started.
1. Figure Out Why You're Having Problems Getting Along In The First Place
Your first step to improving your relationship with your dad is figuring out why it's damaged in the first place. "If you've never really gotten along with Dad, now is the time to begin to do the work (if you haven't already) to figure out why you haven't been able to connect and feel close in positive ways," Simon tells Bustle.
Of course, you might already have a clear understanding of why you can't seem to get along with your dad. Perhaps he was absent when you were growing up, physically or emotionally. Maybe he never supported your ambitions the way you wanted him to, or maybe he favored your siblings over you. Whatever the case may be, if you want to improve your relationship with your dad, you're going to have to face why you have a problem with him in the first place.
2. Begin To Let Go Of The Need To Be "Right"
Agreeing to disagree isn't always easy, but in my experience, sometimes it's your only option. Plus, it's important to remember that your dad is entitled to his opinions, even if you think they're wrong AF.
When I was in high school, my dad and I fought almost constantly about everything from gay rights to my taste in music. I could no longer wrap my head around his fundamentalist Christian worldview, and he couldn't understand why my own worldview was changing so drastically. It sucked. Eventually, though, I realized that I was part of our problem. I wanted our conversations to change his mind, and when it didn't work out that way, I'd get really mad at him. I finally saw how my own behavior was echoing my strict, religious upbringing, and it freaked me out. When I finally decided that I was 100 percent done trying to change his mind, he surprised me by following suit. Give your dad a chance to do the same thing.
3. Consider Avoiding Dead-End Topics
Maybe you and your dad share most of the same political and spiritual ideologies. If so, congrats! (And also, what the hell is that even like?) If, however, you two disagree on some pretty fundamental political issues — like trans rights, Black Lives Matter, and whether or not Donald Trump should be allowed microphone access — then don't talk about that stuff with him. I know it sucks, because if you're like me, it's probably very important for you to find like-minded people to discuss potentially controversial topics with. Your dad might never be one of those people, though, and that's OK.
You can loathe your father's political stance on reproductive rights and still like the guy. It's all about focusing on the positive. As Simon puts it, "Over time, we come to accept our parents (and each other) as having good and bad traits; we realize we can love and hate the same person and we find ways of emphasizing the positive aspects of the relationship, rather than dwelling on what doesn't work."
4. Ask Him Questions About His Life
If you want to build a better relationship with your dad, then you need to show an interest in his daily life. Ask him about his job, his friends, what he was like when he was your age, where he'd like to travel before he dies, or literally anything else that you're curious about — and then listen to his stories. Like, really listen. He'll appreciate you for it, and you'll probably learn something.
5. Offer To Help Him Out Once In Awhile
Whether you live in the same house, the same state, or completely different countries, though, it's important to at least offer to help your dad out when you can. Buy his dinner once in a while if you can afford it, and the next time you visit him, ask if he needs your help with his lawn. If your dad is anything like mine, then there's a good chance he won't take you up on your offer. Regardless, you should at least try to lend a hand once in a while. It won't take that much of your time or energy, but it will probably mean a lot to him.
6. Reminisce About The Good Times You’ve Shared
Personally, I love talking to my dad about our best father-daughter moments. When I was little, my dad would occasionally bring me home a Kit Kat — my favorite candy bar ever — from the vending machine at the factory where he worked. We didn't have much money, so it made me feel really special. I still feel special when I think about it now.
Talking to your dad about the sweet moments you've shared might help you both remember how much you love each other — and unless your dad is Satan, then you guys probably have at least one or two great memories to reminisce about.
7. Unfollow Him On Social Media If You Need To
If your dad doesn't have Facebook, consider yourself lucky, because almost everyone's parents have Facebook these days. Obviously, this can be a good thing. Facebook is a great way to stay in touch with your folks, so I'm definitely not saying you shouldn't be Facebook friends with your dad, and I'm not saying you should unfollow him if you enjoy seeing his status updates.
If you and your dad disagree on politics and religion like me and my dad do, however, then you might want to go ahead and unfollow him. It's not mean, it will prevent you from seeing any political nonsense that you can't un-see, and you really don't even need to tell him about it, because there's no way for him to know.
8. Set Clear Boundaries
Setting boundaries, and then demanding that those boundaries be respected, is important to the success of any relationship. According to Simon, this is particularly important when it comes to our relationships with our fathers. "Setting good boundaries with our parents can help with the balance between becoming our own person and making decisions for ourselves and still being close despite disagreement and discord," Simon tells Bustle. Boundaries are tough to navigate sometimes, though, (especially when you're dealing with family) so check out this expert advice on how to do it well.
9. Find Ways To Bond Without Talking
I'm by no means suggesting that you shouldn't talk to your dad when you hang out with him. That said, I've found it's way harder to get in an argument with your dad if neither of you are pressured to talk. So until you've reached the point where you can agree to disagree with your dad on sensitive topics, you might want stick to activities that don't demand constant conversation — like going to the movies or playing cards.
Even after you and your dad have learned how to talk to each other without fighting, I would still recommend this strategy. In my experience, shooting pool with your dad is way more fun than sitting around in awkward silence — or worse, answering questions about your dating life. Plus, you guys can drink and listen to music while you play! Win-win-win.
Images: HBO; Giphy/(9)