05/14/2012 03:50 pm ET Updated Jun 24, 2012

Something All Men Share

All men are sons.

Simple truth. But important.

You might feel alone. Especially following a relationship split. But in fact, you are a part of a long tradition of fathers and sons. You are a link in a chain stretching to antiquity. Though your dad might be distant, might be estranged from you, might even be dead, your place among your ancestors, alongside your dad, is real.

I learned that male history is full of meaning for me. But sometimes I need to start the ball rolling if I want to connect with my dad.

So here's an idea I've tried. Write down one thing you like or admire about your dad and put it in an envelope and get it to him. The idea here is simple: honest appreciation can be a step towards closeness. Most dads, even distant ones, usually have contributed in some way to their children. And most dads love their children -- even if they don't often say it. They long to have a chance to be close to their children, just as their children long to be close to them.

Here's how it worked for me. I decided to write a letter and fax it to my 75 year-old father. This is part of what I wrote:

Dad, you have always been a benchmark of generosity for me... A man who put personal interaction ahead of personal gain... I love you dearly. And I will never forget the simple lesson that you have shown me: that giving is receiving, and that receiving in this way makes me richer than any king.

The next day I got a fax in reply. My dad wrote:

Do you have any idea of the pride and joy having you as a son has brought me?... Your love warms me and your devotion to your boys reminds me of how much better a father I could have been.

Well, that day happened to be my son's ninth birthday. He came up to me as I read my dad's fax. He saw I was crying. He asked me why.

I told him I was happy. I read him the letter, and between sniffles explained that it was really good to feel my father's love and approval. He nodded and then went away to play.

That evening, as I tucked him in bed, I told him I was remembering his birth nine years ago. I told him I was amazed at how he'd grown and developed. I told him I was proud of the person he was, and I told him how much I loved him. Being me, I got tears in my eyes again. And this time, I noticed my son had tears in his eyes, too. He didn't say anything. He didn't need to. I understood.

In my experience, the gift of appreciation is the greatest of all gifts, for it acknowledges and validates the other person and sometimes starts a chain reaction of love that can reach across the generations.

P.S. In the years since I re-connected with my dad, I was given the opportunity to write a book about him. It's the best project I've ever worked on.

This is part of my Huffington Post blog series. I call it "For Men Who Have Everything, Including Separation -- Thoughts on Surviving Separation."

My goals are straightforward:
  • Offer hope and humor to men who are disconsolate after a relationship has hit the rocks
  • Offer a resource to women -- sisters, mothers, friends -- who care about such men

I wrote "For Men Who Have Everything, Including a Broken Heart" because I would have liked a book like this when my first marriage nose-dived.

I offer it in a spirit of brotherhood and with a strong faith that once our broken hearts mend, we have the capacity to be more compassionate, wiser, more resilient and stronger than we were before.

For those interested in reading the earlier posts of this series, links are provided below:

#1 -- For Men Who Have Everything, Including a Broken Heart, Thoughts on Surviving Separation #2 -- Grieving is Healing #3 -- Beware Precipitous Action #4 -- Love Thyself #5 -- Deal with the Real #6 -- Blame is a Trap #7 -- Create Multiple Explanations #8 -- Freedom, Courage & Splitting Up #9 -- Parenting Apart: Soccer and Wandering in Life's Changes #10 -- Cut the Conflict in Front of the Kids #11 -- The Next Relationship #12 -- Beware the Penis Imperative
#13 -- Surviving Separation -- Getting to Know Myself Again