What do you have in mind to give your dad this Father's Day? A new tie? Barbeque tools? Sports tickets? For a less predictable and more valuable gift, try making a change in your behavior that creates a more rewarding relationship for both of you. You can't really change Dad, he's Dad, but you can improve the dynamic of your relationship all on your own by committing yourself to a narrow behavioral shift that's so achievable it can be sustained beyond Father's Day -- in fact, forever. Below are some model microresolutions that will pay off on Sunday and for a lifetime:
Resolve to give up a recrimination from the past, permanently. Stop stirring those ancient pots and vow never again to reproach your father for sending you to the wrong school, favoring another child, or for being uncomfortably present at (or absent from) your sports matches. You can't change the past but you can improve the future by giving up an old grievance and refocusing yourself on the present. You don't have to give up all of your childhood gripes at once (that's too hard to be a microresolution), but letting go of just one might make you happier (and over time lead you to unload some additional baggage).
Resolve to refrain from one-upping Dad.
Your efforts to impress Dad might at times diminish him. If he tells you about a great restaurant and you say something like, "But have you been to..." -- that's a one-up to give up.
Resolve to return your father's stuff (car, tools, books) immediately after borrowing them. If you don't want him to treat you like a child, grow up!
Resolve not to punch Dad's buttons (political or otherwise) at family gatherings I wish I could have back all the family events I ruined by indulging an impulse to challenge my father's settled thinking on something -- experience should have taught me that it was all going to end in tears.
Resolve to give Dad your full attention when visiting with him by telephone. If your weekly call is joined to your commute or gym workout, you may be sending Dad a message that he's just one more to-do in your busy, busy life. If you multitask because you're short of time, it's better to make a briefer call when you can be 100-percent present.
Resolve to acknowledge your father as the expert in a particular area. Recognize Dad expert in a specific domain, seek out his counsel, and defer to his wisdom. This will create tremendous good will and help compensate for those times when you act against his advice.
It takes two to tango, as they say, and a couple of new behavioral dance steps will keep you gliding across the floor and your partner on his toes. As with any microresolution, make no more than two at a time and expect to practice them for four to six weeks until they settle in. Experiencing the benefits of one successful behavioral change may also inspire you to consider pivots in other relationships, both personal and professional.