Sometimes the hardest conversation to start is with the person who means the most to me. When I am in the grocery line, I can carry on mindless small talk conversations with total strangers. But when it feels like the stakes are high, I can invest lots of emotional energy in thinking about building the relationship, but my additional efforts seem to lead to a microscopic result.
In our relationship, my dad was not exactly a phone call talker. He spent lots of time on the phone for his job. So, I guess I can understand why having long heart-to-heart conversations over the phone were difficult for him. I think our average phone call lasted a mere 60 seconds.
Talking in person didn’t always go as well as I would hope, either. When there was a group around, it was hard to feel like we were really in sync. He was the life of the party, with the kind of contagious deep belly laugh that you could hear from two blocks away. Literally. On the other hand, I am a confirmed melancholic, preferring long and deep conversational connection with one or two people at a time.
But when we were alone together, the conversation wasn’t always the easiest either. Over the years, it felt as if we got better at finding streams of conversation that kept us both engaged. But it still felt like a challenge when I was focused on deliberate communication with depth, and he leaned toward light conversation with humor.
This is how I found the value of postcards. When I was a young dad, I experienced a moral bankruptcy and walked out on my wife and two very young children. When I split up the family, we ended up more than 1500 miles away. Although I was committed to staying in a relationship with my kids, we could only spend time together every few months. And they were too young to engage in much of a conversation over the phone.
One of the books I read about being a dad from a distance recommended doing the postcard thing. They are colorful, easy to carry, easy to send, they don’t create an expectation of long and detailed communication, and they can be collected to serve as a method to connect with the heart over the long term. I tried it.
Whenever I was traveling, I stocked up on postcards from wherever I was. When I saw a series that could be of interest, I bought it: bears, US States, women in science, you name it. I rarely paid more than 50 cents per card, and because I was buying in bulk, I routinely could find them for 20 or 25 cents each. By the time I threw in the stamp, I was always out less than $1 to purchase and send the card. Then it just came down to writing and sending them—once a week, or even more frequently if I was traveling.
How did it go over? I had a few days with the kids when they were six and seven. They brought a lunch box with them that was FILLED with postcards. They told me that was only some of the collection they had saved at home.
Since I had such great success with the kids, I decided to try the same with my dad. Even though we had lived in the same city for the past 18 years, I periodically sent postcards to him. My efforts intensified as he got closer to the end of his life.
Would you guess that they made a difference? Virtually every week I heard from either my mom or my dad about the postcard I had sent.
If technology has advanced so far these days, why send postcards? With the proliferation of email and the explosion of texting, why take the extra time to purchase, handwrite, find a stamp, and send a message in such an archaic way? In my opinion, each of these so-called barriers only increases the unique value of doing it. In fact, the handwritten aspect could be the most critical factor. Other than face-to-face conversation, I find it to be the most personal form of communication. Whether or not it’s true, it feels closer to the heart than emails or texts.
It’s super easy to get started, and it’s so inexpensive. Next time you see inexpensive postcards for sale, pick up a few. Then get to the Post Office and pre-stamp them. You can even go through and pre-address them all at once. The hard part is done. Then, just put it on your calendar—so you pump it out the same time each week—pop it in the mail, and you are finished.
Tim Truesdale – Honor Your Father campaign – honoryourfathertoday.com.