It was the summer of 1993, there I was a little 6 year old girl wired from rides, games and food galore, after spending the day at the Del Mar Fair. As I sat on the couch playing with my newly won prizes, I remember my dad coming to me with tears welling in his eyes and said that I wouldn’t be seeing him for a while and that he had to go. At 6 years old I couldn’t fully understand why my dad was leaving me but we both sat on the couch together crying and the next day when I woke up he was gone. My mom had tried for so many years to help my dad with his sobriety. We went to therapy sessions as a family and I even remember visiting him in the hospital as he underwent a detox program, but despite my moms best efforts he would always go back to drinking. I remember playing out in the front yard in the months after my dad left and watching the neighbors truck drive by which was the same make, model and color as my dad’s. Every time that truck drove down the street I would hope and pray it was my dad coming back for me, but the truck would always keep driving past the house and continue down the street.
When my dad finally got settled into his new life in Illinois, I was able to go back every summer break to spend a few months with him. My summer breaks living with my dad could not have been more opposite than the rest of the year living with my mom. My dad was a bartender and would spend the majority of the day sleeping so the only quality time I would get was when I would go to the bar with him for the night shift. I remember at 8 years old being put to work washing the beer glasses, waxing the shuffleboard table, and helping the kitchen run fried walleye and fries out to customers. In return, I would have all of the slim jims and sodas I could consume, and steal all the money from my dads tip jar to take my friends to Pease’s Candy Store. After spending my summer hanging in a bar with little to no rules, I would then go back to my life in California which consisted of private school and church every Sunday. I always knew coming home meant that I wouldn’t see or talk to my dad for a long time because he would revert back to his old ways and never made the time or effort to come see me. There were some birthdays with no calls, months with no contact and a million promises that were never kept.
My relationship with my dad was always riddled with disappointments but no matter how many times I was let down I always continued to seek out my dads attention. My mom was a saint who never spoke an ill word of my dad because she knew how much I adored him. Even after every disappointment she never kept me from seeing him because she knew how much I wanted him to be in my life. I think we both always held out hope that maybe one day he would change. The last time I would ever give my dad the power to disappoint me was at my high school graduation. He had promised me over and over again he would come but the week leading up to it I still hadn’t heard from him. As I stood up on stage, I literally scanned every single face in the audience that night hoping to see my dads. I went out into the audience to meet all of my family and friends I can remember my mom looking at me with sadness in her eyes because she knew how much it would have meant to me for him to be there. At that moment my life changed and I made the decision that I was not going to give him the power to disappoint me anymore.
Life Lesson # 5 – You simply cannot change people who don’t want to change themselves.
It was in that moment where I realized that no matter how much love there is or how much you try, you cannot change people. It may be a relationship, a friend, a family member, whomever, people are ultimately going to be who they are until they want to change. My dad literally lost everything because of his drinking. He lost his wife, he lost his daughter, he lost his home, but to him drinking was always going to be, and still is, the most important thing in his life. It doesn’t matter how many times you try to get through to someone or how many times they disappoint you, if someone doesn’t want to change their demons will always triumph. I finally made the choice to take the power he had to disappoint me away from him. It was my choice if I wanted to call him, it was my choice if I wanted to see him, not because I expected anything in return but because I had accepted a long time ago that my dad was never going to be who I hoped he would be, and the relationship was important enough for me to keep. Of course there will always be those moments in life where you are hoping that miraculously one day someone will change but the moment you let go of who you wish someone was, the sooner you can accept who they truly are.
What I’ve learned is no matter how much love, potential or capability there is for someone, you cannot change them. Whether it’s a romantic relationship or a relationship with a parent, you cannot turn someone into who you want them to be. For some self awareness comes easy, while others will do whatever they can to avoid looking in the mirror. Sometimes the only thing you can do is accept that person for who they are and what they bring into your life or decide what they bring into your life isn’t worth it and let that relationship go. When you have complete awareness of who you are and what you deserve then you won’t feel the need to gain acceptance from or persuade people who refuse to change.
Do you have a relationship in your life where you are struggling to get someone to change?
Can you somehow take that power back and accept the relationship for what it brings into your life instead of what you wish it could bring?