I stomped off in a teenage huff convinced that my mom was being irrational, unfair and of course, she didn’t like me. Though mother-daughter tensions seemed like the end of the world at the time, on this side of adulthood, I’m realizing these scuffles were part of my growing up and part of my mom’s letting go. And probably also a whole lot of changing hormones. My dad always shuttled between the two of us, walking the hallway between bedrooms and interpreting my mom for me and explaining why I was hurt to my mom.
At the time all I remember was that I hated how my mom wouldn’t come to apologize first. She was the grown up, I reasoned. I was just a child who felt insecure and out of sorts. What I didn’t think about was my dad’s active role as mediator. He didn’t bellow to be heard, he didn’t explain all the logical ways that my mom (or I) was correct in whatever teen drama we’d gotten sucked into the vortex of. No, he walked down the hall and back again between two women to make them really see one another.
He mediated and translated us to one another so that there could be healing.
It would have been easy to lay down new rules about how to obey and honor my mother. It would have been easy for my mom to follow new rules and regulations about how to apologize first and model good behavior. Those things may have been helpful in my ongoing struggle to relate and love and differentiate myself from my parents. But mediation was vital because it opened up pathways so that my mother and I could build a relationship again. It meant we were heard, valued, cared for and affirmed. And it also meant that we were called to own up to our sins, our challenges, and the very real ways we’d hurt one another.
Walking the pathway between hurt parties isn’t a female thing. Empathy isn’t a gendered duty. Mediation and listening are at the heart of fatherhood, too. When my own husband (and father to our four children) opens the door to our eldest son’s room and talks about tone of voice and hurt feelings, he’s doing the same thing. He’s being present and listening to the emotional heartbeat of our children.
And what else could be higher up on a father’s to-do list? How else can a father spend his time but in truly listening to those around him? There’s a ton of pressure to be a certain way as a father, but dads, there is just one thing that is necessary: be present and listen.