While on my way to meet with one of my clients, the phone ring. It’s one of my mentees’ father, Ben. That was in the middle of the school year, and we were always having issues with his son Jack’s attitude toward him.
Looking back, the first time I met with Jack and his family. Setting in a hotel lobby, I saw a miserable young man and his parents across the coffee table. It’s an interview to see if Jack would be qualified to study in the U.S. high school. I looked at them, and everyone seemed to be uncomfortable. I asked a few questions about why Jack wanted to learn in the U.S.. Every piece of information showed that he wouldn’t be qualified, but somehow, I trusted my gut feeling that I had to help him. This young man was living in a frustrated and hateful environment. All I asked was Jack’s commitment to success, and he did. I quickly noticed a huge relief from Ryan and his parents. I knew I made the right decision!
Starting from the second semester, Jack, from poor academic performance to A grades student. No one can explain what was going through this young man’s mind. He became very popular in school and a very different person than the one I’ve met the first time. Yet, somehow, I didn’t see much improvement was his relationship with his father. I had several tough conversations with Jack’s dad, but it still puzzles me. In the last discussion before Ben calls, I threw a question to him, “Is there anything that you didn’t share with me that might affect your relationship with Jack?”
Here I am, answering the call and anxious to hear what Ben has to say. That call is about one hour long. Ben started to share why he didn’t tell me as he felt embarrassed to say, besides, it might not be relevant. He went on and said he’s been frustrating with his son Jack for many years. He got divorced when Jack was five. His wife left Jack with him. Because of this, he had a lot of resentment and lots of anger, and he sometimes put it toward Jack. After Jack grew up, they had a rocky relationship because of this past. Ben doesn’t know how to fix it.
I thought a moment, and I asked him three questions. The first was, “Do you think you can go back and change everything you have done to Ryan?” He said, “No.” The second question was, “Do you want to improve your relationship with Jack?” He said, “Yes.” The third question was, “Do you want to know how to improve your relationship with Jack?” Again, he said, “Yes.”
I explained to him that he could not change the past, so he should let go of it and move on. The first step is to be grateful for his awareness and forgive himself and his wife. Then I advised him to sit down with Jack in the coming summer and explain what has happened in his life after his wife left. Although he couldn’t go back and change that past, he knew he owed Jack an apology. He wanted to ask for his son’s forgiveness. I also reminded him that it was his decision to determine whether and when to do this.
He did indeed have the talk with his son. I visited them during that summer. They had become best friends, talking and laughing together. Witnessing them bond after all those years of turmoil has been one of my most extraordinary experiences in life.