I think my father truly “saw” me for the first time three summers ago while sitting on cozy couches in President Shimon Peres’s private office, sipping tea with the esteemed Israeli leader, along with my 18-year-old daughter.
My father–an astute man who retired at age eighty from the multimillion dollar company he founded and took public–was always a strong presence in my life. But his business kept him preoccupied and out of the house until after my sister, mother and I had eaten dinner most nights. After he arrived home from work, he’d ask us kids, “Everything under control?” That meant my grades, my health, and my getting along okay-enough with my mother and sister.
Still, until that twenty-minute meeting arranged by my father’s brother, Peres’s friend, I felt Dad viewed me only as his younger daughter, and oldest grandchild’s mother, but not as a woman in my own right.
That day in Israel, however, he observed my poised interactions with a world leader, watching as I encouraged President Peres to talk about his young life on a Kibbutz (“That was a long time ago.”). I then followed up with questions about how he got involved in Israeli politics as a young man, and I received an important but distressing one-word answer: “War.” We also spoke about Israeli artist Agam’s vibrant artwork on the wall—evoking a smile from the serious man when he countered that Agam’s personality is more colorful than his art.
During the cozy car-ride back to our Jerusalem hotel, my father leaned toward the guide he’d hired to educate my daughter and me about Israel. “She’s a journalist, my daughter,” Dad began. “She did her ‘homework’ and got Shimon Peres talking about himself with ease.” His pride overflowed.
A few days after the Peres visit, it was my turn to be the proud daughter, sharing my father’s red-carpet treatment at Technion University in Haifa, which my parents have long supported. We toured science labs and met with department heads. People everywhere shook my important father’s hand.
Although thousands of miles from home, something shifted in our relationship on that trip. No specific “ah-ha” moment occurred, but the trip fostered a shared adult respect that continues today. I’ve also finally recognized that my entrepreneurial spirit, tenacious ethics, generosity, and ability to deal comfortably with people of all walks of life stem largely from Dad’s influence.
“Write about a person who has made a significant difference in your life” is one topic for the high school seniors I coach on college application essays. I thought it was time I crafted one of those essays, to thank my father for his role in my life. Needing him to truly “see” me all those years kept me focused on developing a fulfilling, unique self.
Ironic, then, that after I stopped needing his approval, and interacted authentically in a world leader’s office, Dad noticed. And in turn, I noticed him.