The Best Father’s Day Gift: A Honest Conversation!

Happy Father’s Day! In this week’s house call, I want to tell you about one of the best gifts I ever received. It was actually from my kids and it was for my birthday.

The gift was a conversation with my kids – the most meaningful one I’ve ever had.  I am sharing this with you on Father’s Day because I wish for every parent and every child the family relationships I now have as a result of this conversation.

And, I want to tell you how I got here.

When my life isn’t working, it spills over into all of my relationships including those with my kids. I have always had a great relationship with my kids. I raised them myself as a single dad.  But I knew we had bumps along the way and there were things unsaid and unresolved, and that was keeping us from having the deepest relationship we could. 

I knew I had made mistakes, so I wanted to clean it all up, say everything, hear everything from them in a safe way so we could heal from the issues that were in our way.  I also wanted to help my kids have a deeper relationship with each other.  I knew I had to own up to how my choices had affected them, and the ways I had fallen short as a dad. So for my birthday, I asked them to spend a day with me to dig deep. I asked them to bring a list of all of their concerns and complaints about me, and I promised I would listen with an open mind and heart. And I told them I would bring my list, as well. The goal was for all of us to come clean.

You’ll never guess what their biggest issues were…

I knew some of them, but some surprised me.  Little things I had said over the years had a huge impact on how they felt about me and themselves.  For example: once when my son was having trouble with his homework (before we found out he had bad eyesight and needed glasses) – I said off-handedly “why can’t you just do your homework like your sister?”  This question crushed him and affected his self-esteem and how he thought I perceived him for years and years.   Or when I decided to get married again, and my daughter was opposed and I said to her – “I am the adult, it is my life and I get to make this decision.” What she heard was “we are all on our own in this family” and that affected her for years.   I learned a very important lesson:  we have to be so aware of what we say to our kids. 

During this amazing conversation, I also heard some of the things that were on my kids’ lists were things I’d already felt guilt over for years.  Times I’d been too busy with work or pre-occupied with my partner to take care of their needs or feelings. Times I had put my head in the sand when they were in pain and focused on my own needs instead. I listened, I heard, maybe for the first time, and then I apologized for the ways that I didn’t hear them, or take care of them, or pay attention to what they were telling me in the moment. I apologized, not because I meant to do any of it to them intentionally but because I could see it had caused them pain. And in the presence of that, I truly was sorry.

One of the toughest things to own was how I had talked about their mother after our break up. I know logically that it’s hard on kids to feel like they had to take sides with parents. I knew they wanted to understand and think well of their mother, and I had to admit, I had undermined that. I could see they were moved by my admission of this and my true remorse. Apologizing for what hurt them, whether I intended it or not, was a huge release and a huge healing for all of us.

In order to feel that you deserve the understanding and forgiveness of someone else, you first have to give it to yourself.  I wish I could say that I was able to facilitate this conversation all by myself, but I actually asked my close friend and life coach to help create a safe place to have this conversation with my kids. Acceptance and healing are the most meaningful gifts of this life and I was grateful to receive them from myself and then those I love the most.

When I finally stopped defending myself, and took in and owned the criticisms my kids had for me, I was set free. And then more miracles happened…

We all got on the same page about what we wanted and needed from each other…

My kids started talking about what THEY could do to make the family closer…

I got to address the concerns on my list…

And most importantly, we were able to make real promises to each other about how to move forward.

We didn’t just have a feel good moment; we made agreements with each other. We promised to make times together and commit to family vacations, how often we’d speak on the phone and how we’d deal if issues came up in the future.

I got this message from my son about the experience:

Dear Dad,

I am just so proud of having a father that wants to do deep work to keep us close. Avoidance and pretending everything is okay are kind of a family tradition. I know you had issues with your family and you saw them repeating and you wanted to do something about it.

I love you for that, because I didn’t want it to repeat either. Thank you. I respect you so much for this.

I have learned so much from you, by watching you change issues in our family dynamic. My future is ensured because I will know how to deal with my family when stuff arises.  

Love, Misha

He shared with me what it meant to him to have a relationship with his dad/me that was more like one of equals. And even though my son has been a “grown-up” for many years now, I had to admit we were both acting like he was still a kid, until we had this conversation. What a relief to no longer be expected to be perfect or god-like but also to be forgiven for the times I had failed. I have found that the more accountable I am to our relationship, the more accountable my kids are.

Our family time is now generally characterized by the mutual respect that comes from honesty. Trust was born out of a practice of speaking and listening to each other’s “truths.”

Health is about so much more than what you eat and what medicine you take. The reason so many of us want to be healthy is so that we can enjoy the people in our lives for many years to come. So take a moment to ask yourself if your relationships are as healthy as they can be. And if not, do you realize how much power YOU have to change that?

If you are a dad, it might be time to ask for “your kid’s list on you” as your Father’s Day gift. If you are someone’s kid reading this, send this to your dad (or parent figure) and start the earnest dialogue. Everyone wants understanding, acceptance, forgiveness and healing. And anyone can start the ball rolling.  Forward this email and ask for a meeting. Start working on your list and get ready to say sorry for the things you know will be on their list!

Conversations that are real, non-judgmental and simply involve listening are powerfully healing.

Handel Group coaches taught me how to heal my relationships, starting with the one I have with myself and have those important conversations. That’s why I recommend that the people in my life give it a try – both for their own relationship to themselves and their dreams, and to others. Click here to schedule a free consultation  to learn more about their coaching services and how they can help you.

Now I want to hear from you. How have honest (and often difficult) conversations transformed your life? Comment below or on my Facebook page, and if you liked this video, share it with your friends and family on Facebook and Twitter.  And be sure to submit your questions to and maybe next week I’ll make a house call to you!

Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD

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