@ABRAHAM: My son and I used to be really close until I left the country for greener pastures. Things have changed for the past two decades. He became distant. In my absence, my wife entered into another relationship, introducing further complexity to our family dynamic. Because of that, he moved from one household to the next while he was studying. He is successful in his career now. He is making his mark. And now that I’m back, he remains courteous. But our interactions have evolved into a more transactional nature, lacking the depth and intimacy we once shared. My son, inherently reserved, tends to keep his thoughts to himself. I know you’re still single and are not a parent yet. The reason I’m writing to you is I’m interested in your thoughts because you’re about his age. He’s also in his mid-30s. Is there something I can do to be close to him again?
DJ: I’m no longer in my mid-30s. Thanks, man! But I once was. I’ll do my best to help. Home is said to be a child’s first school. That’s why much of a person’s success and achievement in life is linked to the kind of experience that occurred in the home. Parents play a huge part of the process. And people lived through different family dynamics. Like your son.
I don’t intend to take sides nor want to make you feel sorry for whatever happened in the past. I have no doubt that what you wanted was for him to have a good life. I won’t be surprised, too, if he’d think having you around to celebrate birthdays, the holidays, to pin the ribbon on his chest or attending his basketball games are priceless. It is what it is. Now what?
You’re both adjusting to the new normal. Per my observation, kids on distant parenting at a very young age at times react with indifference. He has not been with you for so long. It’s likely that his initial reaction is to keep his distance. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for you, too, to be away from him and your loved ones, and to spend a huge portion of your life working hard in a foreign country. You were outside your comfort zone. I must commend you for your courage, strength and perseverance. I also honor both of you because he grew up to be a responsible young man. You have succeeded as a parent. You are part of that process, too.
I suggest you take it easy and not rush the process. Get to know the adult son you have, not the child you think he was or he should have been. Allow him also to get to know you. Stay calm and non-controlling. He’s already a grown up. It may sound ironic but respecting his boundaries is a good step toward restoring the relationship. Allow the silence to seep in. You can maintain a respectful connection, though, with infrequent but authentic reach outs.
Have a conversation. Over beer if that helps. If he seems resistant to discussing stuff, you can try to talk about yourself more than him. If indeed he misunderstood you, prepare yourself to handle this. Listen. Validate his feelings. It does not require agreement. It only involves understanding. Ask him what you can do differently. I also suggest that you don’t pin so much hope that the first talk is going to resolve everything. You may need multiple conversations. Keep trying. Don’t give up. Continue to establish a pattern that you are a safe space for communication. Much can be gained from persistence.
I know this isn’t a cookie-cutter answer but like every relationship that matters, the restoration almost always takes longer than what we normally want. If you can look at your situation from a more factual vantage point, it may feel less personal. Your pain, if any, is real. Be compassionate of it. And continue to put the focus on what you have control of — yourself, your reaction and how you view or manage the situation. I’m praying for you both. All the best!