“Daddy? Daddy? Daddy! DADDY YOU WEREN’T LISTENING!”
“Yes, I was,” my father answered. “You said that you have a spelling test and you’re going to have a Christmas party at school.”
“You’re just being a parrot.” I’d say. “I don’t want to talk to a parrot! I want to talk to you, Daddy.”
I had this conversation with my father many, many times in my childhood. It was always the same. Even as a small child, I knew when he wasn’t really listening, even though he could repeat my words back to me with the precision of a tape recorder.
But I knew when he wasn’t present. And it didn’t feel good. It felt empty and bewildering. It made me question the value of what I had to say.
The times when he was really listening and engaged were wonderful and felt very different. And I remember them distinctly. It’s what I always wanted from him, more than a new bike or a doll or a potholder loom. And it was the one thing that was so elusive in our relationship–his presence.
It’s the same thing we want from each other as adults. We want more than a warm body pretending to be with us. We want a here-and-now presence, where we know the other person isn’t distracted, multitasking, or politely waiting for us to finish talking so they can have a turn.
I recently led a workshop on presence and asked a group of about 50 women what they wanted for the holidays. They initially said things like “a clean house” and “finishing the holiday cards.” After we dug down a bit, here’s what they said they really want:
- to enjoy their favorite people
- to re-connect with folks they haven’t seen or been with lately
- to show appreciation for others
- to show love
- to feel connected to others in a meaningful way.
In other words, as these women discovered, what we want is each other. We humans are social creatures. Our relationships matter to us. The human connection is one of the major cornerstones of high life satisfaction.
And now when we are here at that “most wonderful time of the year,” it’s easy to lose sight of that. We get busy decking the halls, cooking up a storm, shopping ‘till we drop, and partying like it’s 1999. And we forget why we’re doing it in the first place.
The good news is that the easiest and most delightful way to both get and give the gift that everyone really wants, is not with our presents. It’s with our presence. It’s a gift that is 100% free and the stores never close.
And here’s an extra bonus—when we give the gift of presence, we’ll never have to dread those credit card bills in January.