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A Father's Story

Father's day picI have had the pleasure of coaching fathers and getting an insight into an example of wonderful father-child relationships.  One such father remains in the forefront of my mind as I work with other fathers. When we started Sanjay was 43 years old.  He is a father of 4 children whose ages ranges from 14 to 6. Sanjay is a businessman and had worked many, many hours when his two oldest children were young. He recently changed jobs and was evaluating his next steps in life.

Sanjay’s interest in coaching included improving himself and learning more about being a parent.  He felt that times have changed in the last 14 years since his eldest child was born. Through coaching Sanjay wanted to learn and understand new ways of parenting, deal with future situations better, and have a greater relationship with his kids.

Initially, we discussed what Sanjay’s appreciated about his current situation.  He said he appreciated that he now has the time to build the relationship of his desires with his children.  His new job situation allowed him to be in a position to focus on other things. He is open to new learning, is willing to look at things differently, and feels that parenting is amongst his top three priorities in life.  He wants to do better in life and believes that if the relationships with his kids are decent, it provides the foundation to build upon. He was beginning a new chapter in his life and was trying to figure it out.  He felt strongly that he wanted to spend more time with his wife and kids as well as find some new passion to pursue.  In general, he is a very disciplined person .  When he was younger he was involved in sports in a big way and lived a very disciplined life in order to succeed in his endeavors. Since the change in jobs, he is not required to be at the office every morning.  He doesn’t have the same stresses as he had before.  He really wants to determine how he is going to structure his life and also pursue his desire to better his relationship with his children. What he appreciated the most was that for the first time in his life he owned his own time. He said it felt liberating.

He feels that having four children is pretty challenging in today's world . He also felt his challenges involved the age difference between his oldest and youngest and the fact that on a daily level there are so many distractions for both parents and children. These distractions include gadgets, computers, and video games.  He stated that he felt these distractions might be a roadblock to a better relationships.  He also mentioned that he and his wife were brought up differently and have different parenting styles. Finally, he was concerned with the generation gap between parents and children. He said that at times it felt as if his older two children acted as parents to his youngest child.  He felt good about that as they were building a strong relationship.  He wanted to insure that he could relate to his younger children and his two oldest children at the same time.

His oldest was facing  ‘real’ exams for the first time.  The results determine how you will pursue the next couple of years.  Some students finish after tenth grade and enter some type of junior college.  Sanjay was concerned about how his eldest child would cope with the hard work required. His second child was just coming into his own. The younger children were showing early talent in art and athletics. The family questions if the youngest child will follow in his father’s footsteps.  Sanjay wonders how to nurture the talent without pushing his child.
At the beginning of our coaching conversations it became clear that Sanjay was very disciplined and held himself to high standards.  He showed respect for his time as well as the time of others.  He thoughtfully answered questions. He also felt blessed about his life.  His heart was in the right place when it came to his family.

I discovered that Sanjay had a passion for having family meals together.  His struggle was that as his children grew and had lives of their own, it was not always possible.  He mentioned that they talked a lot during these family mealtimes.  He also mentioned that he sometimes had serious conversations with his eldest child.  These serious conversations led to a feeling of discomfort and arguments.  Sanjay and his wife decided to change tactics for the dinner table.  He decided to simply discuss the day’s events as well as try to incorporate some humor.  He recognized that serious conversations could happen in private and not around the dinner table.

As our coaching conversations continued, it became clear that his approach was not necessarily received as his intention when it came to working with his children.  This was something that we discussed in great length.  His approach was very direct and his children received most of his conversations as lectures. Sanjay shared a story of when he was talking with his older two children and they started yawning, looked bored, and tried to find an excuse to get out of the conversation.   He was trying so hard to connect with his kids. We discussed some typical characteristics of the teen years. We discussed how people learn differently and he knew that his children did all have different learning styles. This led to conversations about how people communicate differently as well.  This then led to his communication style with his children.  Maybe his approach needed to be different? We also discussed the power of the question. When he questions his children about something, what words does he use?  Are his questions leading or are they open enough for the child to respond as he or she feels? Discussing how questions are posed was an interesting conversation with Sanjay as he said it was something he thought about carefully when working with a colleague but had not thought about how he puts a question together when he speaks with his children. Once this realization hit, I felt a release of tension within him.  This realization caused a shift in attitude and action.

Through the coaching process Sanjay’s awareness increased, his relationships with his children deepened, he gained ability to look at situations from different perspectives, and he realized that his parenting techniques with each child should be tailored to that specific child.
Sanjay is a great storyteller, which was a wonderful way for me, as a coach, to become aware of so many nuances in his life.  As this was something that he showed interest in, it was fairly easy for me to incorporate story telling with him when he felt ‘stuck’ or ‘over-whelmed’ by a situation. The result of using this strategy is that it provided a really nice back and forth conversation as well as a co-constructive avenue for homework and action steps. As a coach, I appreciated the level of trust and openness he had in sharing these stories with me.
An interesting thing about Sanjay is that he felt so blessed with his life and took a moment to appreciate it every day.  As we talked, I wondered if he had ever shown his children this practice of his.  He said that he had not, but would be willing to try it. One day, he did try it at dinner and it was received with mixed reviews.  Sanjay is very direct in his approach! But, he kept it up with a modification in approach and eventually all his children joined in.  He said it was a nice shift in conversation and also in feeling.  I feel that this strategy resulted in Sanjay modeling for his children in a way that he had always wanted to.  The implication of using appreciation practices was realized by Sanjay when he commented that if his children were able to incorporate appreciation practices into their lives at such an early age, they would be far more balanced and in line with their true selves as adults.

When Sanjay realized that his intention was not being received as he desire, he acknowledged that he needed to re-frame so that his children would be more open to receiving his communication.  Re-framing resulted in greater communication and more openness with his children.  One example of this is when he approached his middle child to find out what he thought of him as a father and what he thought of their relationship.  Previously, he may have asked ‘Don’t you think we have a good relationship?” After our conversations, he asked, ‘What do you think of our relationship?’  It is a subtle change but in doing this he left the door open for honesty and the ability voice true feelings.  The implications of this will stay with Sanjay for a long-time and has shifted his perspective in communication with his children as they grow through their teen years.

One of Sanjay’s strengths is that he had an amazing childhood and is able to draw upon that experience in parenting his children. In light of this strength, we were able to increase awareness in so many areas to reflect upon ‘Is this action, Are these words, Is this approach going to give my children a feeling of having an amazing childhood?  What are they going to remember and walk away with as a result of my action today?’

Sanjay’s childhood is a strong influence of his current parenting. He loved his childhood and had such fond memories of it. Through our conversations, he is wondering if setting up life for his children as per his own childhood was providing them the same thing that it provided him.  As we are all living systems and we are all individuals, we should not expect that if we duplicate things exactly they would end in the same result. Once Sanjay understood this, he became very open and flexible in adjusting things as per the needs of the children, his wife, and himself. 

Once Sanjay mentioned that his older two children (teenagers) sensed that their father was behaving differently and were not sure how to take it at first.  Through coaching he not only changed his approach to each child, he also thought about the words he wanted to use in communicating with his family. These are a couple of things that his children noticed about him.
Towards the end of our sessions, Sanjay and his family went on a long holiday. Before the adventure, I had spoken with Sanjay about what we wanted out of it for himself and his family.  He simply stated that he wanted to be there for his family.  Taking this type of trip was significant for Sanjay and his family as they would be alone without extended family and without the customary extended help available in India for the first time. After his return, we chatted again and Sanjay said that the number one thing that came from the trip was the amount and quality of time that he spent with his family.  He observed each of his children flourish in different ways and he loved the bond that they developed as a nuclear family.

I truly believe that through coaching, Sanjay experienced an internal shift was has allowed him to become more aware, more accepting, and really live his value of building and sustaining strong relationships with his children.
* Story printed with the consent of Sanjay

A Father's Story

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