I would like to take up a topic that is not easy for me. This is because it has little to do with hard facts that are wonderful to describe and explain. It's about this disturbing realization that as a father you don't really know your own child anymore. And it's about the feeling of no longer having a really close relationship with your own child.
The term “alienation” does not adequately describe how it feels when you are with your own child and suddenly feel this sadness that you are actually no longer in contact, that you are not close, that you cannot connect with one another.
Probably almost every adult knows the subject of "alienation". You meet an old friend or former colleague and no longer really know what to talk to each other. There are no more current topics in common, apart from politics and football. What you have are the old stories in which you laboriously poke around in order to somehow warm up to each other. And with a little luck you can finally laugh together about an anecdote from your mutual school days.
This is really not surprising to anyone, after all, you hadn't seen each other for a long time and hadn't heard from each other. It's somehow clear that you are alienated, even if it's still sad, especially with old friends. But actually you had expected it when you agreed to meet for a beer.
But your own child? No common themes? No connection to each other? No familiarity? Don't know what to talk to each other? Probably no father expects that when he receives the longed-for visit after several weeks. This feeling of alienation comes out of the blue and hits a father completely unprepared. Accordingly, he is helpless and overwhelmed with it.
Alienation may also result from considerable changes in the child’s apperance. Especially during puberty, young people can change so much that you can hardly recognize your own child. This is very disturbing, especially for separated fathers, because they do not experience the process of change at all or only to a small extent. It's similar to when a loved one dies and someone you don't know takes his place.
At this point I can only write from the perspective of a father, but I suspect that it is not much different for the child concerned. How do you think it is for a child when, months later, it meets its own father and realizes that this man is no longer really familiar? So if a young person would like to tell me their view of this situation, I would be very interested.
Causes of alienation
The degree of alienation depends, of course, on the frequency and regularity of the individual contacts. The more often and in more detail you exchange ideas, the less or more slowly you alienate from one another. But in my experience it is an illusion to believe that if you only talk to each other often enough on the phone, you can permanently prevent alienation. Because shared experiences cannot be replaced by a phone call or a post on Facebook.
I think this topic also has a bit of a taboo character. Anyone who speaks openly about his alienation from his own child also indirectly admits that he has not managed to maintain contact properly. So the impression of failure comes along with it, and who likes to admit to being a failure? So it is better to be silent about it!?
What actually is the cause of the alienation between father and child? First and foremost, the alienation comes from the fact that the great physical distance and rare contacts between the two lead to a disruption of the natural relationship, which ideally is very close and intense.
This disturbance in the relationship leads to the fact that common experience is hardly given. The individual development of one can no longer be observed, experienced and understood by the other. There are less and less connecting events, connecting places or connecting people.
Of course you can also become alienated from each other when you live under the same roof. Because even here it is possible not to let the other partake in your own issues, thoughts and feelings. There are probably many married couples who can tell a thing or two about it. But I don't want to go into this kind of alienation at this point, it's a completely different topic.
So it is the lack of mutual involvement that leads to alienation. And when you then get to do with each other, for example during a weekend together, you ask yourself: Who is the other one? What is important to him? What does he enjoy? What is he interested in? What does he want? What does he not want? What can we talk about? What should we not talk about?
The more the alienation has progressed, the more questions arise and the more answers are missing. This in turn evokes feelings which, in the harmless case, are simply perplexity. But it can also be feelings of frustration and anger. However, these feelings do not make it easy to enjoy a few nice hours together.
Alienation as an opportunity
What can you do when you feel that you are alienated from your child? In my eyes, you can initially simply accept it. You haven't seen each other for a long time and only rarely had contact, so it's no wonder that this intimate familiarity, which you may have known from earlier times, no longer exists.
Of course it hurts, but why should it be any different with your daughter or your son than with a good old friend or a former colleague? There are two people, your child and you, who have developed individually in the last few weeks or months without one of them having noticed much from the other. This is also called “living apart”. Where should the closeness and connection come from?
Accept as best as you can that you are not that close right now. Stay as calm as possible, don't look for someone to blame and don't blame anyone - not even yourself. Perhaps you can even understand this unloved and undesirable state as an incentive or as an invitation. You are wondering what for?
I understand it to mean that you and your child are invited to become curious about each other and get to know each other again. You too probably have a lot of old stories in which you can poke around a little. But the new stories that each of you have to tell are far more interesting. Be interested in one another, be open with one another, listen carefully to each other and get to know each other again. Mutually share your stories and enjoy what they do to you.
When my children visit me or we meet somewhere, it always feels like a new beginning. These new beginnings are full of life, full of feelings and happen with a great closeness. I would compare it to a pearl necklace: The pearls are the new beginnings, unfortunately only with a rather thin thread in between. But what really counts: The chain does not break.
And to stick with the image of the pearl necklace: If it does break, it can often be mended again. One may also add new links, which applies to the relationship between two people as well as to a pearl necklace.