I’ve struggled with regret much of my adult life–my verdict: it’s a toughie. When my father passed away in 1997, I was very lucky because we had tremendous communication and as I had matured we were able to speak very frankly so there was a lot we were able to say to each other. All that aside, once he was gone I was reminded of one particular event that I never got to talk to him about…something I regretted terribly.
It was Fathers Day weekend 1997. I was 21–just shy of 22–and very busy (ok, I was self-involved). My parents had a country house they went to every weekend, I preferred to stay in the city and be with my friends and live my life. Saturday passed, and Sunday morning I woke up late and went about my day–totally forgetting to call him. My mother called me late in the afternoon (this was before cell phones had reached mass adoption) and left me a message on my answering machine saying: “Your Dad is really sad, and just asked me for the third time if you’d called. He can’t believe you forgot Fathers Day.”
I felt bad, I ran out to this cigar store that used to exist on 72nd and Columbus and got him a gift certificate and a card. I wrote something heart-felt and true, but not truly honest, not taking responsibility or apologizing…I was hoping to get it in under the wire. I ran back to their apartment on 100th and Central Park West and let myself inside with my set of spare keys and put it inside his armoire… like I planned a surprise, but the gift certificate was date/time stamped so he knew, and what’s more…I knew. He appreciated my gesture and although I felt bad, it wasn’t until he was gone that I had real regret that I forgot to wish him Happy Father Day…on his last Fathers Day…the last one I would ever have with him…and I didn’t even know it…and I had squandered it. Even as I write this, the gravity of that still hits me like a truck every time. And I want to cry. So I do. I am.
I can’t change that moment in time, but I also know it didn’t define my relationship with my father. He knew how much he meant to me and I have no doubts about what I meant to him. What that experience did clarify though is that you never know what the future holds, what event, experience, opportunity is going to be the last so take hold of them…especially if it is an opportunity to celebrate the people you hold dear. It also taught me that I need to right wrongs immediately. In order to avoid regret, I need to keep my house in order even if it means admitting to things I’m not always proud of.
Regrets can work for us or against us. We can use them as tools to remind us that opportunities are not to be squandered again or we can wallow in the ashes of what could have been.