I need some advice on how to communicate better with my dad and hopefully improve our relationship.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (11 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I'm 23 and my dad is in his 50's. Even though we are alike in many ways, share some of the same interests, and have a lot of respect and love for each other, we are having problems communicating with each other. It's obviously complex question with a lot of back history.
I have been living on my own for the past four years, but am still in the same (larger) city as my parents. My dad travels a lot for work, however, so I don't see him nearly as much as my mom - I would say probably every other week as opposed to seeing my mom every week. The biggest problem is I feel it is very draining to have a relationship with him. He wants updates about how I'm doing in a "How is your life?" kind of way - with long detailed emails/Skype conversations about what I'm doing (should be appropriately exciting and mentally stimulating). I ended up having to block him on Skype because he would contact me almost every day with one of those questions, and it was just so time-consuming and boring (to me) to talk about. I don't really like listing things that I'm doing, and a lot of the time I feel like what I'm doing is not intellectually satisfying enough for him. He writes a lot of emails now, and if I don't answer he will write back passive-aggressive replies about why I am ignoring him. Then he will comment on how I'm acting like a teenager and I should be old enough for us to talk like adults.
I feel that he is very intense in his need for conversations. A lot of the time, it seems like he doesn't like light conversation, but wants to talk about "important things" (politics, current events, literature, travel, my studies, his work) - as opposed to "frivolous things" (the weather, TV shows, people we know [except for his own family], anything related to kids [my stepsister has two]). When he says something, it is very important that everyone listens closely - if there is a moment where someone is not paying attention, one of the (young) kids interrupts him, or people change the subject from what he's talking about to something else, he can get sort of irritated and then closes off. He is an introvert, like me, but is very able to get excited and talk about things - when things are on his terms.
My stepsister (my mom's first child) and my dad don't get along very well because of clashing personalities. My dad can be very critical (but often he doesn't mean it in a harsh way), and my sister can take things very personally - so there have been some problems there over the years. My sister, my mom and I get along very well (as well as with both my sister's and my boyfriend), and we always have a nice time together, it can be low-key where we just talk about whatever we think about, or sit and read the paper, hang out, cook. My dad feels left out in this dynamic. Because of his work, he's often not home - or when he is home, he'll go up to his office and work/watch sports while the rest of us hang out. Especially since my sister has had the kids it has been tough - because of his attitude towards kid stuff.
Secretly, I feel some relief when he is not there for some of the family gatherings, because I always feel a lot of pressure to say the right things and to keep engaging him in (to-him) acceptable conversation. It is a little better when we're just the two of us, because then I don't have to "fear" what my sister/the boyfriends/the kids might say. But still, having such a high-maintenance relationship with your dad is draining. He thinks that I don't think about him very much, but in reality I spend a lot of time worrying about our inability to communicate. FWIW, my mom is also sad about the dynamic that can occur when the whole family is gathered.
I think that he is a great person with a lot of experiences I find interesting and can learn from. But I wish that our dynamic could be better - that we could be equals, without me feeling he is so judgmental (a lot of the time I'm sure it's just me thinking it). He was recently away on a month-long trip during which, after several of the passive-aggressive emails mentioned above, I didn't write much to him. Now he is home and he has asked to meet and have a "good long talk", and I really want to bring up some of the problems I feel we have and hopefully talk about how to solve them.
So my question to you is two fold. First, how should I bring this up during our talk? I'm afraid he will get very defensive (has happened before). Also, what is reasonable for me to ask for from him? In which areas can I expect change, and in which should I adjust my expectations and change my own behavior?
Secondly, what are some strategies I can use more generally when communicating with him - both in person and during his "catching up" e-mails/Skype calls?