The Greatest Gift to Give in all of the World
Like most people, my family is important to me.
It may be hard for my parents to believe that after I thanked their paying for my college and childhood by immediately moving 3,000 miles across the country to San Francisco.
It was a big dose of reality for me to swallow seeing my father of 60 years shed real tears over my departure last year. This was an intense moment I am grateful to have experienced, but certainly never would have thought it to happen.
You know how father-son relationships go.
Since moving to San Francisco, the land of all that is merry, I've been trying to stay involved with the rest of the world that exists outside of our little bubble and more specifically; stay involved with my parents and explicitly show them they are appreciated and cared about in creative ways.
What is the perfect gift?
That's proven to be a challenge.
Before We Begin
Before we begin, short back story. Freshmen year of high school my parents divorced and my father felt like the outcast. He moved out and I was raised by my mother in the house my parents built together. During this time, I didn't see my father much and he would remind me of this often by starting conversations by asking for my name or leading with his newly minted campaign slogan of "out of sight out of mind."
This infamous slogan would generally ring in from his voice to my ears when I would go months without speaking to him and it soon became the defining tagline of my high school years.
It sounds really harsh on paper, so let's not ostracize here, he was just hurting. He probably felt alone and forgotten. Without our having an intimate relationship, he needed an indirect way to share his pain.
That was a strange time. No one really knew how to feel or act. It's not like he'd done a divorce before and it's not like I'd ever been through a divorce.
You know how divorces go, well, 50% of you do.
Somewhere along the way during my first year or so at college, responsibility began to kick in and I would often ring up my father (and mother) to share with them selective stories about my sometimes good grades that I probably got by looking over my shoulder to the kid with glasses five aisles over.
I was a great student as a freshman, clearly.
Lucky for me -- I evolved a bit.
From freshmen year to the end of college, I began to have more and more meaningful conversations with my old folks (and scored good grades on my own). I was proud to stay in touch with them. The rough waters of high school marinated in my mind. I wanted to do better.
I was learning the importance of going out of your way for someone.
Unfortunately, though, -- my conversations were primarily one-sided updates and I didn't feel like I was truly connecting with my parents like they deserved.
This is around the time the question began to eat at me, how can I show appreciation?
What is the best gift to give?
Since moving to San Francisco. I have felt like an evolved Pokemon from troll college Senior to full blown adult. The desire and want to be a mature son calling consistently has been a goal of mine I literally track in a journal every day.
I now call at least every week. What a guy I am, right?
As the son of my parents, my phone calls even here in SF have basically been information dumps as I assumed they wanted to know all happenings in my life, considering they've invested so much into this little project.
Even though I felt good telling all I would walk away feeling like a schmuck because all I did was talk about me, that's not real affection. As I've grown to care more and more about showing affection towards my parents, I've wondered how to show them I care and appreciate them.
And still yet, what is the best gift I can give?
Calls Just Aren't Enough
My father and I growing up shared an intense bond over fishing. It's what we did. To dig into this emotional funny bone I've considered international trips of exotic fishing. But that's a logistical pain.
My mother's side of the family is French. Much of her elders knew how to speak French. She doesn't and I don't. I've thought about learning French with her to help it live on. But that's a SERIOUSLY ambitious, long-term gift.
As you can tell I wanted to gift intense experiences. I think these are wonderful gifts, but I don't have the money for an international fishing trip or really don't care to learn French.
These are cool -- but I don't want to wait three years to show my parents I appreciate them.
Give the Gifts you Get
Since my time moving to a new city, I've felt immensely isolated at times even though I am as far from it as possible. I live with 45 people and work in an office with 100+ companies. Trust me, there is no shortage of people in my life.
Despite all of these people, it's lonely in a new city when you are nurturing new friendships. There's nobody to reflect on 'that one time' with. It's all 'so where do you work' crap.
While I have made an endless amount of friends here, there is no intimacy in the conversation.
I am majorly into trends and I began to study the critical moments within my days that I have just felt good. Not just happy. But moments of pure elation, belonging and appreciation.
Those moments I noticed were usually after a phone call with my parents, friends back home or writing in my morning journal.
I noted this insight and noted that I get energy from people and writing. The important takeaway hadn't registered in my mind yet, though.
It wasn't until I was finishing up the book Difficult Conversations by three Harvard Professors that it began to formulate. While reading through the book one of the takeaways to managing arguments was simple: show people you've heard them.
I studied the book.
Ah yes -- listen to people. Listen... listen...
People just want to be heard.
People just want to be heard
Looking back towards myself I realized those moments of appreciation I had noted where I felt so good talking to my parents, friends and my journal -- I felt heard.
This concept clicked while talking to my friend about my journal. I said;
"I don't know what it is man... there is just something about journaling, writing and just making my thoughts and emotions exist on paper.. it just makes you feel heard."
Click - It all made sense.
Whether it be an intimate love relationship, a business associate, parents, friends, daughters, uncles, employees, teammates, police officers, cashiers, UBER drivers, flight attendants, roommates, enemies, homeless persons, zombies, dogs, Siri or aliens.
We just want to be heard.
If you let someone feel heard and be heard, you improve the quality of their life. It is simply the greatest give we can give to each other. Think about Mental Therapy. People pay $100-$250 an hour just for someone to intimately listen to them, to think about them and to care about them.
Ask anyone who has gone to therapy, therapists and clients are some of the most intimate relationships out there and the therapists most often don't even say much.
The greatest gift you can give is to let someone feel heard and to be heard.
Giving the Gift -- Calls are Enough
I had spent months thinking up vast overarching ideas on how to show gratitude to my parents, to show them I appreciate my childhood and their support through my life.
All the while, the only thing I've needed to do was shut up and hear them like I've never heard them before. To listen deeply. My father talking about his work isn't going to make him feel heard or understood. My mom talking about watering the flowers and walking the dog will not do it either.
Since learning this, I have applied it universally, but specifically during my 'weekly phone calls.'
I asked my mom if she ever feels sad and scared about the future without her two sons living with her anymore. She's at the critical point in her life where her investments of the last 25 years have packed up and left. It was a wildly intimate phone call. You know, the type where voices go soft, talk is slow and you can feel the weight in the voice.
It was incredible. I love that woman.
The biggest breakthrough was with my father. Father and son relationships usually aren't intimate. I approached this in a phone call last week. Soft voices is an understatement. In 90 minutes, 3,000 miles away, I probably had the most emotional conversation I have ever had with him.
My ass was crying as I walked by San Francisco City Hall at 8:00 p.m. on a Tuesday.
Giving the gift of intimacy and friendship to my parents is a lifelong goal of mine now. I want them to feel the comfort to share just as I do with them.
If I had ever realized it was as easy as listening, I would have started much sooner.
And I don't mean "listening," I mean LISTENING. Digging deep.
These are my recent discoveries and anecdotal applications within the Art of Gift Giving. I hope you find these to be useful.