At what point do you disown your family?
November 11, 2008 7:00 PM Subscribe
My father told me the other night that he considers himself a "failure" because of how I've turned out. This, among other things, makes me not want to go home for Christmas break and makes me wonder if our relationship should continue at all. Am I blowing this out of proportion?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (56 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Apologies in advance for length.
I'm 24. Grew up in a stable family in a Southern state. First in my family to go to college and am now about to graduate from a top 10 law school. Working next year for a big successful law firm in New York. I am kind and respectful of others and am well-liked by my peers. I have always been skeptical of organized religion and have not gone to church in years, although I believe that the Bible (as well as other religious texts) do offer some important moral lessons (although I do not believe that those moral lessons are necessary to be a morally good person).
I've never been particularly close to my family. I'm not close to my siblings at all and my dad and I never talk about much other than new gadgets and football. We just don't have that much in common. Since I've moved away from home, we usually talk once every other week and I go home to visit once or twice a year.
My mom passed away a couple years ago after a long illness. My dad has always been vaguely Christian but never very outspoken about it, nor did he ever go to church much. Since the time when my mom started getting really sick, he began to go to his local Southern Baptist church. For the past year, he's been dating a woman he met at this church. He now goes to church three or four times a week, attends lectures there put on by Focus on the Family, and basically organizes his entire social life around church activities (it's a small town--30,000 or so). Last year when I was home for Christmas, it came on the news that Edwards was leading in the Democratic primaries. My dad's reaction to this was "well, at least he's a white male." This was said lightly and everybody (my siblings and his girlfriend) laughed. But it was clear to me that the joke masked real feelings about minority groups.
Last weekend I called him up for our every-other-week chat. I tried to avoid the election, but it came up. To make a long story short, my dad is a bigot (although he won't admit it) and thinks that minorities (blacks, Muslims, and god, especially homosexuals) are destroying the country and the values it was founded on. He thinks the country is unambiguously a Christian nation, that the Founders were unambiguously Christian (the same way that he is a Christian), and that our leaders should reflect that by being openly Christian and using their religious beliefs to make policy decisions. He says the Republican party is the party of traditional Christian values and the Democrats are not. He told me that he supports every decision President Bush has ever made (despite having some "presentational problems") and thinks that Obama will bring about the total destruction of the country.
I support Obama for many reasons. My dad and I argued about his policies and about the intersection of religion and politics for 90 minutes or so. Near the end, he was trying to explain his fear of the destruction of the country and said that it will come about because the Democrats have no values and they will corrupt the country. He followed up by saying that he "feels like a failure as a parent" because of my political beliefs and because I don't have a personal relationship with (his) God. It was, obviously, really hurtful to hear this from him.
This admission, and his ardent adherence to a politics of intolerance, make me wonder about the possibility of a continued relationship with my family. I really don't want to go home next month for Christmas break (the plan was to go for three or four days). But I'm fearful that not doing so would be perceived as a really hostile act and that it might lead to no relationship at all.
So my question is: I'm sure some of you have parents with whom you have deep political and religious disagreements. If you've chosen to have a relationship with them in spite of that, how have you handled the disagreements? If you've chosen to distance yourself from your family, how has that been? What are the consequences of disowning your family? And ultimately: which course of action should I pursue?