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Help me short-term with my dad.
January 23, 2012 5:19 PM   Subscribe

My relationship with my dad is crap. I can't articulate why. I'm already in therapy, but my therapist is on vacation and I won't see her again for another few weeks. Help me out, if you can, in the meantime.

One of the things my therapist picked up on is my tendency toward verbal diarrhea, which is a large cause of my problems with my dad, so I am going to try to keep this as concise as possible. I have been seeing her for about a month and I'm pretty happy with it so far, I am also on Celexa. I have a history of depression/dysthymia. I did read this, some of it applies but not all, I don't think.

I'm 28. My dad and mom are divorced; he moved out right after I went off to college, and they got officially divorced I think 3-4 years after that. He remarried someone last month, and he and his new wife are clearly extremely happy with each other. My parents grew apart a long time before they split up and were obviously unhappy; my dad says he was depressed but didn't have the willpower to do anything about it at the time. (After moving out he sought treatment and is better now.) Most of my memories of my dad from growing up are of him being silent and grumpy and lying on the couch watching Star Trek. I was afraid of him, though he never yelled at me or hit me or anything like that. My dad does not really remember any of this and thinks we had a great relationship during this time period (despite me telling him otherwise on numerous occasions).

Between the time when he moved out and into his own apartment, and this past August-ish, when I stopped speaking to him, we had many serious discussions about my direction in life and my financial situations, most of which resulted in my feeling extremely guilty and crying. Again, he never said anything abusive, I think it was mostly tone of voice and/or my own carried-over childhood issues. What with my verbal diarrhea tendencies, he learned a lot about my state of mind during this time period, because I basically told him in painful detail everything that ever happened to me; depression, relationships, being broke, etc. I got married, moved 500 miles away, bought a house (down payment was a loan from Dad and his new wife - his idea - also complicating things) and we had a son in October 2010.

Around August, I got tired of feeling like crap every time I talked to him (because every conversation was turning into a serious discussion about money/life direction), and sent him an email saying that I would not be speaking to him until I could get my shit in order. (I HAVE continued to send him pictures and status updates on his grandson, just nothing about myself.) I then attempted to do that for four months by myself, got nowhere, found that I wasn't actually really missing talking to him, and went into therapy/antidepressants in December. Dad's wedding in late December (which we did not go to, because he didn't tell us early enough for us to be able to plan for it and we were out of PTO) resparked conversation between us.

I have since sent him about 5-6 emails, in which I have explicitly stated multiple times that I am tired of having discussions about college/life direction, and tried to spark conversations about other things like movies and interesting links I found on the internet and food, and he has replied to each of them with little to no replies to my attempted conversation starters stating that it's really awkward and he misses me and just wants a personal close relationship like we used to have. The thing is, the "personal close relationship" was entirely one-sided and unhealthy.

Complicating matters a bit is religion. I'm an atheist, and he knows it, and we have had extensive discussions about it. He raised me Methodist, sounded much more like a deist when he moved out and stopped attending church, and now has married a very religious woman and has started reattending church and saying things like "I'm praying for you." For Christmas, out of nowhere (and this was NOT anything I had given any inclination of wanting), he sent me a set of religious relationship advice DVDs. It was like $75 and they're just sitting on my desk staring at me making me feel guilty.

My therapist says that I should understand what is/isn't people's business, and if someone asks me a question that isn't their business, especially if it's a written request, I should just not even acknowledge it. However, it's more difficult to do this with my Dad, where the thing that I don't want to reply to is the entire body of the email.

We're set to visit in April, because he hasn't seen his grandson in about a year. I'm mostly doing it for the grandson reason, at this point I have absolutely zero interest in seeing him, or having the inevitable personal heart-to-heart conversation I know he is going to try to push, and I don't know how much more explicitly I can say "I DO NOT WANT TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT THAT." (If my son was older I'd consider putting him on a plane by himself to see his grandpa.)

So, my question is, what can I say to my Dad? I feel terrible because this year, I want to finally be happy, and I'm trying really hard to get into a happy, relaxed, accepting-of-self mindspace (I think that's the biggest part of it, for me), and I'm finding that my vision of a happy me doesn't actually include him, but most people would take my Dad's boundless concern about my finances/career/life plan/etc as a positive thing, right?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (26 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
If you aren't interested in seeing him, don't.
posted by oceanjesse at 5:23 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Have you repaid him? That will probably go a long way towards making you feel less guilty.
posted by the young rope-rider at 5:39 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


We're set to visit in April, because he hasn't seen his grandson in about a year. I'm mostly doing it for the grandson reason, at this point I have absolutely zero interest in seeing him, or having the inevitable personal heart-to-heart conversation I know he is going to try to push, and I don't know how much more explicitly I can say "I DO NOT WANT TO TALK TO YOU ABOUT THAT." (If my son was older I'd consider putting him on a plane by himself to see his grandpa.)

If dad's the one with the money and the desire for a meaningful relationship, then why are you planning and paying for and using your PTO for a trip to visit him?

I am the opposite of you, I can't stand that all my mother ever talks about is the weather and brushes the "real" (to me) things under the rug. But the end result is the same. You have unresolved issues regarding your childhood/parent and your parent isn't on the same page as you. You can't change him, you can't make him respect your boundaries, you can only enforce them (visiting him doesn't seem like the best idea when you're still trying to figure out how to do that, I would think).
posted by headnsouth at 5:48 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


"my vision of a happy me doesn't actually include him, but most people would take my Dad's boundless concern about my finances/career/life plan/etc as a positive thing, right?"

Or as meddling, trying to run your life, nosy; all sorts of possible negative interpretations.

Three things: Set (AND ENFORCE!) boundaries. Come up with what you are and arent comfortable with. Something like "Dad, I love you very much and know you love me and worry about me (i assume that is what he is doing) but it makes me really uncomfortable when you do X. Please dont, or i'll have to do X" then when he does X, remind him, and point out the consequence. THen, next time, enforce concequence.

Also, accept that things with your dad will likely never be what you want/hope for/what you needed in your childhood. Things are the way they are; you cannot change him, just you. WHen he comes in April, can you take him to something you like? Something you both like? If not, thats ok, but its what I do to try to connect with my dad. Maybe ask him what his version of a happy you-him relationship really looks like?

Third: Why does your dad upset you so much? Is it smothering? Not seeing you for you? Not being a good role model/dad? Things you did/said? You are probably extroverted and talk your way to what you want to say; he is probably introverted and thinks his way to what he wants to say. Knowing how to communicate to each other can help... of course, its also possible that you and him will never see eye to eye. If it helps at all, you probably confuse him. A talkative, emotional, admitting stuff like feelings and depression son confuses a lot of the older generations. He is probably a little intimidated and just not sure what to do. my guess... and it is a guess... is he feels qualified/capable of helping with money and life advice, and so thats what he offers. He does not come across as bad or uncaring, particularly, just... unsure. (Disclaimer: I Might be reading my own personal issues here. )

Anyway. Bottom line: What do you want? If its limited contact like you have now.. well, your setting boundaries might look like "Dad, I know you mean well, but I really truly do not want to talk about that. Please respect my wishes on this." and he may or may not... so that leaves it up to you to either see why he dosent and accept the situation, or politely say "I meant it, and now heres your consequence." Best of luck!
posted by Jacen at 5:54 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


It sounds like your dad cares about your success in life, and wants to be part of your life. That's a good thing. On the other hand, you guys have never really learned to communicate effectively, which is a challenge.

You need to separate the loan from your interpersonal relationship with your father. With the loan, just send an email stating you would like to set up a repayment plan. If you can't repay him right now because you're in school, set a date in the future for the first repayment. Ask your dad for his opinion.

For the other stuff, it sometimes is par for the course when dealing with parents. You're not alone. You need to learn to deflect the stuff you don't want to talk about, and pivot to a topic that you do want to talk about. Just say you're dealing with your career issues.

Why not pivot to something your dad may want to talk about , such as financial planning. Ask his advice on investing or mortgages or something.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:57 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wow. This could be me & my Mom, except that my Mom thinks she is the pinnacle of sanity & has anger issues instead of depression. I think you're making a mistake pinning any part of your "happy year" on the outcome of this visit. Visit's going to suck, interspersed with patches of "OK, this is not so bad, we're doing OK," and seasoned with all of the usual emotional turmoil that comes from being around a person who utterly fails to acknowledge how damaging they've actually been to you. Take a deep breath, and if it means enough to you to go through with it, do it. It's really a lot like eating overcooked brussel sprouts: They're an ordeal, but once you've taken care of them, (hopefully) you won't have to do it again for a while.

But as to what to talk about: DON'T talk about your issues with him. I'm serious. You won't make any meaningful progress on your own/in such a short time, it will make both of you feel like crap, and it is entirely beside the point of the visit. Don't start it, don't get sucked into it. Become a master of the Subject Change.

So before you go, spend some time thinking about what interests your Dad. What he likes, what he does, hobbies, work, that sort of thing. Go in armed with a quiverfull of innoccuous subjects, and try to keep him talking about himself or other interests. And DO NOT TALK ABOUT _YOUR_ RELATIONSHIP WITH HIM.

Also, think about the subjects you know are landmines. Like money, the loan, how the household budget is working now that you have an extra mouth to feed. Therapy, therpists, policy, politics, religion. Any hotspots in your relationship/work/social life that would be described as anything besides good. Make a mental note not to talk about those either. Basically, tell him things are going fine, even if they are not awesome, & focus on aspects of any topic that you can put a positive spin on (even if this is not really "you"). It will help keep you from getting so emotionally involved in a topic that the verbal diarhea starts and suddenly you've veered off into the red zone.

It's hard. And at some point he will make you feel like crap. Go into the bedroom & cry with your honey, but do not engage in those emotions with him. Really. It will get you nowhere.

Good luck. I engage with my mom on the Wants A Grandma For Her Kid level. It's been largely a disappointment. But I'll keep a good thought for you that perhaps you and your Dad can someday find your way out of this maze. Or at least that you will find your own balance enough that you can handle the disappointments he brings to the table.
posted by Ys at 6:08 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


he sent me a set of religious relationship advice DVDs. It was like $75 and they're just sitting on my desk staring at me making me feel guilty.

Well, first off, you can take the DVDs off your desk. You didn't ask for them and they weren't your decision. They are not useful to you. His desire to believe they should be useful to you does not trump your right to determine if they actually are. Since he gave them to you, they're now your property, and you can throw them in the Goodwill bin -- or if that's too hard, put them at the back of a closet or something. But stop letting them stare at you.
posted by pie ninja at 6:16 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Your son is too young to have a "relationship" with a person he has only seen a handful(?) of times since his birth. So the visit isn't really for your son. Your father sounds very paternalistic (ha!), unable to relate to you as an adult and instead wanting to preserve a parent-child dynamic where "father knows best" and your reasonable boundaries are ignore "for your own good". So the visit isn't for you either, and you know it. He basically wants you to sit and listen to him being judgmental about your life (but unwilling to accept your memory of your childhood or how he treats you now as true because it is critical of him). No one is going to enjoy this visit, he needs to change how he relates to you and you need to feel more secure in yourself when setting and enforcing boundaries. Cancel the visit and offer to visit another time and re-evaluate how you feel then. I'm sorry you don't have the father you deserve.
posted by saucysault at 6:26 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


Pay him his dosh. Cancel the visit. Bin the DVDs. Lose his number. Revisit the issue in a few years, if need be.
posted by pompomtom at 6:31 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


It sounds like you're at the early to middle stages of both of you learning how to relate to one another now that you're adults, which is a difficult thing on both sides. But mostly fairly normal.

But it also sounds like there's something less-than-healthy here, since you're doing better when you have more space. (You move away, then realize you should talk to him less, then get into therapy.) Congrats on doing better. Feeling guilty about this is totally normal. Him acting out is totally to be expected. In The Dance of Intimacy, Lerner writes about how, when one person in a relationship starts to get healthier, the other person in some way tries to get them to "change back!" That book might have some useful advice.

If it helps, I think it would suck to have a super-depressed dad. He couldn't give you the kind of love, acceptance, and companionship you needed as a little kid, or a young adult finding your way. I'm sorry about that. It sounds like maybe he wishes he could help, and wants to have some closeness, but maybe doesn't know how to relate to himself OR you without belittling that person? I feel bad for him and also hope you figure out how to keep yourself protected. It sounds like you're making good strides on that.
posted by salvia at 6:35 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


(If my son was older I'd consider putting him on a plane by himself to see his grandpa.)

Please don't do this to your son BTW, your father does not sound like he puts your needs above his own wants. He will most likely do the same to your son. Your job as parent is to protect your child from people like that. You don't need your father making your son feel bad about himself in the future with the same judgemental attitude without you as a buffer. Keep up with therapy; it should help you be a better parent than your father was.
posted by saucysault at 6:36 PM on January 23, 2012 [1 favorite]


What would work with me (as a dad) might not work with your dad, but I would hope my adult son or daughter would say basically four things: 1) there is not a "dial" that can be turned back to an earlier nicer time, because they are only nicer in dad's mind, 2) if any progress is going to be made, it's going to be made adult to adult, with mutual respect, patience and honesty, 3) feel free to pray, but instead of praying for the dial to be turned back, pray for the growth of a new, stronger relationship, 4) don't feel sad, dad, this situation is as old as civilization, there are classic books and plays written about the situation, it's only an impossible situation if you refuse to believe there is a situation to be overcome.
posted by forthright at 6:44 PM on January 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


most people would take my Dad's boundless concern about my finances/career/life plan/etc as a positive thing, right?

No. He's trying to control you. I'm sure not intentional, but that's what it becomes. He wants you to be like him and make decisions he approves of, and focuses on that to the exclusion of all other conversational topics or activities.

And no, you don't have to respond to his intrusive emails. You don't even have to open them - you can set up a filter for his email that sends them straight to the trash, if you want to.

Your religion (or non-religion, as the case may be), your financial decisions, your life, are YOURS to handle. If you don't want his advice, don't open the door to those discussions, and ignore what he offers without solicitation. It's OK to do that. You're OK, and you're going to be OK. Hang in there.
posted by hms71 at 6:49 PM on January 23, 2012


most people would take my Dad's boundless concern about my finances/career/life plan/etc as a positive thing, right?

No. He's trying to control you. I'm sure not intentional, but that's what it becomes. He wants you to be like him and make decisions he approves of, and focuses on that to the exclusion of all other conversational topics or activities.


Honestly, I don't know that it is as cut-and-dried as that. I was very fortunate and had non-abusive parents, so if I am off-base just ignore this, but your Dad may feel that he is SUPPOSED to do this kind of thing.

Fathers often feel they are supposed to "provide" for their family. He left his first marriage, and you, to take care of himself, and he may be feeling guilty about that now that he is happily married. He may feel that HE is failing YOU by not 'helping you' get your life together. This is obviously wrong-headed, as you have to find your own path and he needs to respect that, because you are an adult.

But when you, "basically told him in painful detail everything that ever happened to me; depression, relationships, being broke, etc.", he responded by talking to you about his depression, getting you relationship DVDS, and offering you a loan for your house, right? His approach was off (seriously, relationship DVDs? Ugh. This is terrible, but can you sell them?), but his intentions were *probably* good.

So he does listen to you. He just has no clue how to relate to you as an adult and respect your boundaries. He may feel you don't want to talk about these things because you are embarrassed and he is actually being a caring parent by trying to draw you out. But he does not need to do this because you are an adult.

Can you write to him in language he might relate to, to get him off your back? For instance, let him know that you feel responsible for your son and spouse and it's a matter of pride for you that you take care of them yourself, without any help from him or anyone, because you are an adult.

Also, explain that you want to avoid the "heavy" subjects because talking about them is a major source of stress for you, and that you are looking forward to having a fun, relaxed holiday with him and his grandson.

Mainly, you need to establish that you are an adult and he is making things worse by treating you like a child. If you can come across as assertive and confident, rather than replaying the dynamics of your old relationship, where you are tearful and guilty and he is trying to "fix" things, you might like each other better as people, if not father and child.
posted by misha at 7:42 PM on January 23, 2012 [4 favorites]


From the OP:
Thanks everyone. I was honestly expecting to get at least a few "you're being a huge selfish bitch, your dad has done so much for you" replies, but that may have just been the depression talking.

We have not paid back any of the loan, not because we didn't want to, just because we have other debts that had proper due dates on them that were a higher priority. I am hoping to pay some of it back with tax refund this year and other chunks of money we are anticipating in the next few months. I absolutely agree that getting that out of the way would be a huge help.

The only reason I am tentative about canceling the trip, and I really should have clarified this in question, is that we are not actually meeting at my dad's house, we are meeting at my grandmother's house, who is 80-something and who was always my favorite, and who also wants to see our little dude. I have no issues with grandma and would love to see her, I just figured it would be a really awful idea to go visit her and my other extended family members on that side that I have no issues with, and intentionally not see him (or expect them all to keep it a secret). There would also be a stop to visit my mom/mom's family (no real issues with any of them either).

I did send an email this morning to an aunt I had confided in shortly after cutting contact with Dad, to tell her that we were planning on visiting, and I will plan on making myself as busy as possible and interact with as many different people as possible. I asked if she could help prevent him bugging me about stuff but understood completely if she did not want to get involved. No reply yet.
posted by jessamyn at 7:42 PM on January 23, 2012


In that case, don't schedule alone time with him - good for you in reaching out to your aunt, I hope that works out. If he tries being judgemental with other people around, leave. Nothing you say will stop him and you don't deserve to have to hear that. If every time he starts in on you he loses his audience he will either learn to stop or never develop an adult relationship with you. He is the parent, he should be making the bigger effort with the aid of his greater experience in creating a positive relationship with you. Good luck!
posted by saucysault at 8:33 PM on January 23, 2012


Oh, and a book I found very helpful was Toxic In-laws where the dynamic of the controlling, judgemental parent heavily discussed.
posted by saucysault at 8:37 PM on January 23, 2012


I think it's worth it to cool things off with your dad for a bit, but on the other hand, you owe him money, so you need to handle things carefully, and with courtesy. Create a reasonable repayment plan and get that out of the way. Then move on the interpersonal stuff.

This sort of relationship can be pretty normal at this stage of your life. It's complicated, but just figure out a key message for each irritant, and try to forge ahead and take control of the relationship... like an adult. It doesn't sound like your dad is particularly abusive. It seems more like you two are trying to figure out how to come to middle ground.
posted by KokuRyu at 8:53 PM on January 23, 2012


I agree with those who say that if the relationship is this tangled and affecting you this deeply, cutting off contact altogether for at least an extended interval would do you good and do your son no harm. In the meantime, you have other reasons for doing this visit - so I offer you a practical dodge:

You were in a hurry, so you grabbed something fast-food-ish as you were catching the plane/train/driving away, and you've been really queasy ever since... And for the rest of the visit, you have intermittent, recurring, severe spasms of "indigestion", and retreat to the bathroom - any and every time you find yourself wanting to get into those discussions, or prodded into them, and lingering for as long as it takes for you to resist the urge to give in, and repeated as necessary.

It is really REALLY hard for most people, even the severely controlling ones, to argue with a case of food poisoning... no matter how coincidental it might be. Not that passive-aggressive avoidance is necessarily the best way of handling a situation? or one that I'd ordinarily recommend? but for the immediate issue of getting through this visit in one piece, it might be the simplest method.

Good luck.
posted by mie at 8:56 PM on January 23, 2012


As far as emails go, continue writing.

Dear Dad,
Jr. has grown and is now walking/riding first bike/gone to Harvard. Didja catch that great game? Weather's good. Neighbor sprayed his weeds--that's good. Family's good/job's good/life's good. Remember that one good time we had? Movies are good, food's good, here's a good interweb link.

Love you,
A. Nonmus

Then he writes back ignoring your email contents, and you write back ignoring his questions. You're still communicating the important thing--that you love him--without telling him things that are damaging to you.

Do the same thing on the phone. When he asks you a question either change the subject, give a one word (positive) answer, or tell him you don't want to discuss it and you have to hang up now.

I'd hold off on the trip for at least six months, if you could. Make up for it by sending lots of pictures, videos, etc.

Dump the DVDs. Either garbage can them or give them to a thrift shop or leave them on a church step. Don't put them in the back of the closet. They'll become a symbol of all that you have kept hanging on to that does you no good emotionally. Get rid of them and take a deep breath. Make the act a symbol of your resolve to change your relationship..
posted by BlueHorse at 8:59 PM on January 23, 2012


Oops, missed the part about your wanting to see other relatives. The food poisoning idea is good, as is letting other people run interference for you, either your aunt, willingly, or others, unintentionally. Just keep bringing them into the conversations and don't let yourself be in a time and place where he can start to pick at you. If he does this with others around, you'll have to tell him, "No, Dad. This is my time to also visit with granny/Aunt Sally/whoever. I'm going into the kitchen to see if they need help with dinner."
posted by BlueHorse at 9:06 PM on January 23, 2012


...he has replied to each of them with little to no replies to my attempted conversation starters stating that it's really awkward and he misses me and just wants a personal close relationship like we used to have.

If your dad could not recognize your fears as a child (let alone your other genuine emotions) how can he possibly know what's best for you as an adult? To be honest, it sounds like your father is no more interested in you as an adult individual now than he was in you as a child. No wonder you feel down after talking to him. Even if he was a total stranger, anyone would feel down after a conversation with someone who shows no interest in who they really are. So why is it okay from this guy - because he's your "dad"? I agree with others in have a plan to cut those purse strings to minimize your obligations to this guy.

It sounds like the belief that you guys were close in childhood does far more to meet HIS needs than it does to meet any of yours.

...we had many serious discussions about my direction in life and my financial situations, most of which resulted in my feeling extremely guilty and crying. Again, he never said anything abusive, I think it was mostly tone of voice and/or my own carried-over childhood issues. What with my verbal diarrhea tendencies, he learned a lot about my state of mind during this time period, because I basically told him in painful detail everything that ever happened to me...

I think it's important to ask yourself why you feel you owe him so much truth? --especially so much negatively charged truth. Are you afraid that you were somehow responsible for his depression in your childhood? That you somehow don't measure up, and that's why he could never recognize your genuine feelings as a child?

I was afraid of him, though he never yelled at me or hit me or anything like that. My dad does not really remember any of this and thinks we had a great relationship during this time period (despite me telling him otherwise on numerous occasions).

Something a lot of people don't realize is that being ignored can be just as terrifying for a child as physical repercussions. Maybe it's not the threat of being hit or yelled at that you found so terrifying, as his failure to respond to you at all.

I'm finding that my vision of a happy me doesn't actually include him, but most people would take my Dad's boundless concern about my finances/career/life plan/etc as a positive thing, right?

Boundless or boundary-less? Sounds like when your dad speaks, there's no limit to how poorly you feel he must view you. If so, this feeling may be worth exploring via therapy. It certainly doesn't sound like he's interested in any positive directions you've grown.

So, my question is, what can I say to my Dad?

There's going to be lots of helpful advice in this thread speaking to this. My two cents: know what your expectations are when you speak to him. Are you expecting him to recognize your needs as you're stating them? If he fails to do so, do you have a conversation-ender ready instead of giving a detailed rant as to why x need is so important for you? Are you prepared to value your needs even when he doesn't and not feel guilty about it? I don't think there's any single statement that's going to protect you from your father's indifference -- only your courage to stand up for yourself. You are not responsible for how he chooses to react to you. Best of luck, OP!
posted by human ecologist at 9:53 PM on January 23, 2012 [3 favorites]


Rather than solve the practical problem of what to do/say, I'm going to address your guilt/fear/anger. You have internalized your dad. By this, I mean that it's unclear which strictures are his and which are yours. He seems to be present and blaming you even in his absence, but, of course, he's not. You are criticizing your self in his voice.

The obvious question would be "How do I stop doing that?" Well, first you need to own the part of you that is so critical. It's an aggressive, powerful part of you that you are not comfortable admitting as a way you can be (certainly not in relationship with your father.) Can you be that critical, angry person? (Often this is experienced as taboo--especially in a religious context.) What you describe as "silent and grumpy" is the angry part of you who withholds herself because it's not safe to just say "fuck off!" so you give the silent treatment. You think of yourself as a victim in that situation but there's strength in that anger that you need to reclaim. If you can accept and become that person, you won't feel so weak in your relationship with your dad.
posted by Obscure Reference at 5:48 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Hi all. It's me, I'm the OP. I realized I don't use this username on any other sites so the chances of him or anyone else in my family finding this thread are effectively nil. Thank you for your continued replies - Obscure Reference, you are dead on with the "it's not safe to say 'fuck off!' so you give the silent treatment" stuff. I come from a family of Guessers, and my husband/his family are Askers, so husband and I have butted heads lots of times about this. I am really trying to internalize that it is ok for me to feel wronged and angry, and that even though I obviously have a lot of issues about my dad/men in general, that doesn't mean that every time I get angry it's just me being weird and I need to get over it.

I got a reply from my aunt this morning, which basically said "Your Dad usually doesn't come up here over Easter" (which may be true but I figured if he knew his grandson and his daughter would be there, as I have already mentioned to him, he'd likely change his plans) and also "I'm highly concerned about what you said in the email" (which was basically "we are talking and it's not going well") "and you don't understand how much you are hurting your dad by not talking to him, my parents disagree with me all the time but I still tell them things. I will not run interference for you."

So, I just politely replied "I understand and thank you for getting back to me." And that will be the end of that path, I think. I'm thinking it might be best to just cancel the entire Dad's-family aspect of the trip and just go visit my mom's family. Or stay home and have Mom come out here.

My husband says that maybe I just need to say the exact same things I have been saying in emails, but over the phone, and maybe that would get through to him better. I replied that that may be the case but I am not comfortable calling him until I have had more therapy and have more confidence in my ability to not regress into penitent-child-mode when he starts going into concerned-dad-mode. Email makes that a lot easier to avoid. :)

Again, thanks so much, this has really really been helpful and given me a lot to think about. :)
posted by agress at 8:00 AM on January 24, 2012


...and also "I'm highly concerned about what you said in the email" (which was basically "we are talking and it's not going well") "and you don't understand how much you are hurting your dad by not talking to him, my parents disagree with me all the time but I still tell them things. I will not run interference for you."

I think trying to get your aunt involved was not wise as that sort of thing only escalates the drama by pitting people against each other. This is between you and your father, with only your husband and his wife as other interested (supportive) parties.

I'm thinking it might be best to just cancel the entire Dad's-family aspect of the trip and just go visit my mom's family. Or stay home and have Mom come out here.

Great idea.

My husband says that maybe I just need to say the exact same things I have been saying in emails, but over the phone, and maybe that would get through to him better.

Take "getting through to him" off the table altogether and live your life/act the way you are comfortable acting without being attached to your father's response to it. You'll be much happier.
posted by headnsouth at 8:28 AM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oh god, families. The kinds of families that give you issues that make you need to go to therapy are the exact same families that take it badly when you get therapy/attempt to change the bad dynamic.

Families. Ugh.

You've gotten lots of good advice, but it sounds like you need more validation, so here it is: it's ok to disengage. It really really is. Your family is just a collection of people who are related to you genetically, and even if they love you, it's ok to put distance between you if they're also making you crazy. Because if they're doing that, it's because of their own issues that they're not dealing with, and that's stuff you just can't help them with. Your dad has issues that he has not fully dealt with. He may never fully deal with them. You can't do anything about that. You've explained all you can explain. Do what is best for you and your kid and spouse for now. Maybe in the future you will feel up to trying a different approach. Maybe not. Either way is ok in the long run. You'll do better with your kid, because you are dealing with your issues as best you can.
posted by emjaybee at 10:26 PM on January 24, 2012 [1 favorite]


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