Q. In the last five years or so, I have noticed my father becoming more quiet, gentle and emotionally open. He is now in his mid sixties. When we were younger and he was in his thirties and forties, he was very stern, angry and intolerant. Now, when we have family gatherings he tears up easily and feels the loss when my brother and sister leave to go to their homes. It seems he is not able to hide his deeper feelings. I don’t know quite how to respond to him and wonder if he is all right. Can I get him to talk about his feelings and the changes he might be going through?
A. Besides aging, I am wondering what your father has experienced that has changed him? Usually there is some loss such as illness, financial crisis, forced migration, death or issues in the marriage that lead a man to soften up that much. Most of it sounds healthy and a good shift for him and those around him. As men mature and reflect on life and their personalities, they get more in touch with their feminine side. This is the inner life, feeling vulnerable and empathetic. This is a natural process and not all men are lucky enough to grow in this way. Grief can often be the first gateway in. I have noticed that men who are philosophically oriented or do some sort of spiritual practice such as meditation, change in these ways.
Start by appreciating these qualities in your father. Let him see that you notice them and enjoy his warmer and nurturing sides now. What do you know about the challenges in his life, especially more recently? Is there a way to bring those up?
Some of the signs of depression include: withdrawal; excessive sadness; lack of motivation and pleasure in life; changes in appetite and sleep; indecisiveness and overall low mood on most days. To have certain days like this is not necessarily a concern and can actually be a part of a deepening into one’s inner self and the more difficult aspects of life. Pretending to always be strong and joyful doesn’t work as well at this stage and need not be a strategy anymore. However to live a life with these symptoms is not necessary and shows that he is stuck.
There are two books that really address how grief and sorrow can help transform us: Care of the Soul by Thomas Moore and Entering the Healing Ground: Grief Ritual and the Soul of the World by Francis Weller. These books can help a person embrace the natural challenges that life brings and offer perspectives and practices that help integrate these inner openings, especially later in life.
Alzak Amlani, Ph.D., is a counseling psychologist of Indian descent in the Bay Area. 650-325-8393. Visit www.wholenesstherapy.com