Paralyzed With Resentment
October 10, 2008 2:30 PM   Subscribe

How can I stop thinking about my father's bigotry, hatred, and intolerance?

With the impending election, emotions are crazy right now. My father (and mother), a die hard Republican, is driving me crazy. I know that Republican does not equal racism or intolerance, but my father is a racist and intolerant. He knows I am voting Democrat this year and we are both tense and on the offensive. I rarely discuss politics with him because it's useless. He is unable to engage in civilized conversation. He mostly yells, interrupts, storms out of the room, and bullies me.

Differing political ideology isn't the only thing that is bothering me. I can't stop thinking about the time (three years ago) he told me he thought faulty parenting caused my cousin to be gay. I can't stop thinking about the time when he wanted to join the KKK, and had literature on his desk about the KKK. I think he was a member for a short time. Other things keep running through my head: The time he told me people that wore Malcom X hats were idiots. The endless and numerous lectures that black people were only looking for handouts. The time he accused my mother of raising my sibling and I as "nigger lovers".

In the last several years he has toned down his language, but I know he still holds these beliefs. He rarely used the N-word around growing up. He never denounced homosexuality outright. He has said, I don't care what gay men do, but some of them "do disgusting things." I hate him for it. He has sent me derogatory, racist emails and YouTube links denouncing Obama. He and my mother think all Democrats are "mean and hateful" and "will bite you on the hand if you let them." They also claim that Democrats are either looking for a welfare check, have class envy, or are elitists. I take all of their opinions as a personal attack and feel paralyzed by it. My chest hurts. I get headaches. I'm stressed. I've started clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth for the first time in my life. I feel like my father is a monster in a way. Who is this man that raised me? I'm ashamed. I'm envious of people that have normal relationships with their parents. At times I feel I don't want my kids around him, even though he never says anything hateful around my kids. I visit my parents almost weekly. On one of the latest visits he apologized for sending me emails. I never complained about the emails, he just apologized out of the blue.

I'm looking for coping strategies. I wish I could forget about his ignorant ways and accept that he is only fearful. How do I continue a relationship with him without feeling defensive and angry? I'm going crazy. I resent my mother for loving and marrying someone like this. I resent her for sharing his views. I'm on the defensive with both of my parents. I live 10 minutes away. I cannot cut ties. My father and I have had a very strained relationship for a long, long time. He was abusive in my childhood, all the way up to my late teens. Some years were better than others. The running theme was that my father never cared about my opinions. He isn't, and was never, interested in my life. In my dreams, aspirations, or thoughts. I don't think he respects my profession or my gender. I expressed interest in returning to school for my graduate degree. He asked, "What for? and "Why would you want to do that?"

I'm afraid of him in a way. I'm afraid of confrontation. I pleaded with my husband not to put an Obama sticker on his vehicle because, "I didn't want to deal with my father's bullshit."

Even if he wasn't a bigot, I'd still have the past abuse to deal with. I don't blame them for my problems but I do have resentment that surfaces on a regular basis. I'm in my mid thirties now. I've been to months and months of therapy. I thought I had all of this behind me. My father and mother are not without their good qualities. I want a relationship with them. Cutting ties at this stage in our lives would be painful, I think. I do try to avoid them. I don't call my parents as much as I used to. I sometimes blow off visits. I mostly dread visiting them. I'm ill at ease when I'm there. When I speak with my mother on the phone, I'm not myself. I'm afraid of what they might think. I'm afraid that they will judge me and think poorly of my decisions.

How do I cope? How can I be around them and stop being so defensive and angry? How can I relax? I want to be the enlightened person that can maintain a relationship with them without wanting to scream, or hate them.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (40 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
This isn't really about politics. Get therapy.
posted by tiny crocodile at 2:41 PM on October 10, 2008 [8 favorites]

I think I'd just slowly distance myself. Honestly. Father or no, I wouldn't want him in my life.

Don't go to any links he sends you, if you have a mac, any email that is offensive just bounce it, etc.

Oh, I do agree with him one this one "The time he told me people that wore Malcom X hats were idiots." They generally are. Most are doing it as a fashion statement, not a political one. Kinda like the people you see in Che Guevara shirts, but have no idea who he is.

And I agree with tiny croc, therapy would help. Help you deal with this crap, help you devise a plan going forward.
posted by cjorgensen at 2:53 PM on October 10, 2008

He was abusive in my childhood, all the way up to my late teens. Some years were better than others. The running theme was that my father never cared about my opinions. He isn't, and was never, interested in my life.

You absolutely do not need to continue a relationship with this guy. Get away, and break his grip on you. In the short term, you can ask him to not talk about race, sexuality, or politics around you. In the long term, you may want to consider moving away.
posted by ignignokt at 2:56 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Agreed. Not politics. The current election is just a convenient focus.

If this is making your life hard to live, then yeah, see a therapist.
posted by rokusan at 2:56 PM on October 10, 2008

Like tiny crocodile said, this isn't a political thing except for how it's all being channeled through politics. Sounds like your dad's a jerk and your mother enables him to be a jerk.

If you're not going to cut ties, which you can certainly do no matter how much you think you can't, just stop putting up with it.

If you're on the phone and he starts being a jerk, hang up on him. No goodbye, nothing. If he calls back and starts up again, hang up again. If you're visiting and he starts being a jerk, leave. Again, no goodbye, nothing. Just grab your stuff and head out.

You were trained from an early age to just sit there and take the abuse. Stop doing that.

And reevaluate cutting ties. It's ok to cut ties with your parents, just because they raised you doesn't mean that they deserve the privilege of your time when you're an adult.
posted by billybunny at 3:05 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

This may sound strange, but it is the first thing that came to my mind:

Forgive him.

Forgive him for the present and the past. In your heart. Something made him that way, who knows what. You can't really do anything about it. But this will give you power. When you are around him, everything he says, in your head, forgive him for. And observe what happens. I think you will see him as a bit sad, a bit small, a bit helpless (fear is why people get like that), and you will see yourself as a bit bigger, stronger, not moved by his actions. Just try it out.
posted by Vaike at 3:08 PM on October 10, 2008 [9 favorites]

Speaking as someone who just re-started very mild contact with his difficult mother after 4 months of zero contact - you need to make it clear to your parents that you're your own person now. Right now, for better or worse, they feel ENTITLED to participate in your life, no matter what their behavior. You need to change that feeling of entitlement to one of privilege.

He doesn't care about what you think or show any interest in who you are? Then there's no reason for you to continue to bother. If he comes around to at least be civil to you - great. If not, what are you losing, really?

Best of luck.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 3:13 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

He mostly yells, interrupts, storms out of the room, and bullies me.

Explain to him that no matter how much he bullies you, Obama's still going to win and that the only thing that will be hurt is your relationship with him.

I love how all of the conservatives were wondering what would happen in the ghetto if Obama lost. I think we need to ask what are all of those "Falling Down" white men gonna do if Obama wins.
posted by Ironmouth at 3:25 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I heard it said that anger is one of the ways we react when boundaries are being crossed.

There's a chance you obsess over these interchanges because you feel that you haven't handled them well. I know that's what happens with me. I mess up something then I play it back over and over trying to see where I went wrong and what I should have said/done differently.

As others have said, it is OK to part with parents who are destructive to you. There is also this: if you want a different reaction from others, start by changing yourself. Consider doing both, and keep a closer eye on those boundary violations.
posted by trinity8-director at 3:31 PM on October 10, 2008

I agree that politics is a red herring here and that therapy is in order. Abuse is a giant red flag - it has nothing to do with one's political views.

I want to be the enlightened person that can maintain a relationship with them without wanting to scream, or hate them.

Sometimes it's just not within your reach, at least not right now. You are doubling your anguish by judging yourself for not being the way you think you should. It's totally fine to be upset and disgusted. It's totally fine to say "I'm not going to discuss this with you" and walk out the door if he says one more word about it.

I cannot cut ties.

This is BS - of course you can. There's some reason you don't want to, and you have to decide which costs more - giving that reason up, or giving up being your father's victim.
posted by desjardins at 3:36 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

To quote the Breakfast Club, I think your dad and my dad should get together and go bowling. I could've written this exact post a few years ago. While my father wasn't near as nasty (at least in my earshot) as yours, I've struggled with a lot of the same things regarding my relationship with him and my own issues regarding his personal beliefs.

There was a long time where we clashed every time I saw him. He used me as the scapegoat for everything he hated about liberal thought and I viewed him as the scapegoat for everything I hated about the Religious Right. We constantly clashed, and while it never got physical, it was certainly a problem. However, he is still my father, and we're in a much better place now.

My advice: Empower yourself. When I started getting myself out from under my father's thumb, I was volunteering for Anti-Racist Action at punk shows all over the place, and it made me feel, finally, like I was my own individual person and like I could make a difference. There's a big difference between someone that sits around and spews venom and one that actually does something positive. I got the better of him!

You're in your mid-30s, married, and have children. You're no longer under his control. Every time you get pissed off about something he says, use that as inspiration to take your children to help volunteer at a function you believe in. Every time he calls you and spews some hatred, donate $X to Obama's campaign or LAMBDA or any other advocacy group that you believe in.

Then, once you've figured out that you are your own person and he no longer holds any power over your personal beliefs or actions, find something else to connect with him about. If he's active in any hobby or exercise program or whatever, focus every conversation you have with him about that. Once my sister and I were out of the house, my father got really into running, doing dozens of 10ks a year and multiple marathons. He and I also adopted dogs (independent of each other) within a three month period. That's what we talk about, and I see the kinder, gentler side of him when we talk about those things.

I live 250 miles from my parents and only see them 2-3 times a year, but we talk multiple times a week. Taking these steps has allowed me to maintain a positive relationship with him which is still important to both he and I. Sure, he still gets my goat occasionally, and I'm sure I do the same to him from time to time, but we've worked out a functional and mostly loving relationship.
posted by Ufez Jones at 3:39 PM on October 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

ignigokt mentioned (upthread) that "you can ask him to not talk about race, sexuality, or politics around you." That's good.

Better: Insisting that he not talk about race, sexuality, or politics around you.

Your father is soul sick; we're just not designed to carry resentment over any long term, it's like pouring acid into a leather sack, it eats us up, burns holes all over us. But it feels powerful -- your father feels powerful when he's ranting about this or that, being 'right' is really seductive.

Since he's been running this racket for your entire life, he's going to resist like hell when you lay down the law, when you tell him you're no longer going to play. Leave it to him -- if he wants you in his life, he can respect your wishes.

If he does not want you in his life, he can continue to rant and rail and blah blah blah, but you've done your part, you've made certain that you've left it to him, it's his choice.

He may stew over this for a time, maybe years, who knows. But I'd bet he's going to eventually want his daughter in his life -- even the most resentful person on the planet can be desolate over the loss of the company of someone he loves. Continue loving him, send him cards at his birthday, tell him your glad his favorite team won the super bowl, tell him how you've just completed your first ever triathlon or knitted a sweater for you dog, whatever, include him in your life as you can. But on your terms.

This is a difficult one. You've really got to set your boundaries and be strong in maintaining them. But damn, it sure is a better way to live, and this will carry over into other areas of your life also, unless I miss my guess -- I'm sortof scared now, for your boss and husband, they're fixing to meet a whole new you, a foot-stomping, flashing-eyed version of who they've come to know. Man...

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:39 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

Forgive him.
posted by Vaike at 5:08 PM

Upon review, what Vaike said also; forgiveness is not so much for him -- though it is for him also -- but it's absolutely for you, a gift you can give yourself.

Set your boundaries, forgive him at the same time, then knit that sweater for your dog and sit back and watch what happens.
posted by dancestoblue at 3:43 PM on October 10, 2008

Is there any way you can have a calm, rational conversation with your parents (perhaps with your husband there for support) and acknowledge that you have different beliefs about certain things, and that it upsets you when you argue about them, and suggest that you simply don't discuss those issues? (I get the feeling that it's unlikely to work, but it's worth a shot...) Or at the very least, let his outbursts wash over you - don't react. Visualise a forcefield around yourself, and visualise the streams of vitriol coming out of his mouth and diverting around you - sounds a bit hippyish but it can work...

He's not going to change. You sound like you are happy with who you are and have a good life, and you don't want to change either. But it also sounds like his opinion of you, and his opinion of your values and how you choose to live your life and raise your kids, still matters to you. And that is likely to be causing a lot of your stress and hurt, because he so clearly doesn't respect the decisions that you have made about the sort of person you want to be. It's natural to want our parents approval and respect. And when you're a good person but you still don't get that from them, it's enormously difficult to accept, and to not feel hurt and inadequate. I'm still working through this myself, but therapy helps, as does spending as much time with people who do respect me and my views.

You say that your parents do have good qualities and you do want a relationship with them. If you're able to achieve that without you being hurt, then that's great. But there may come a time where you realise that those two things are incompatible and you have to distance yourself or even cut ties. I hope that that's not the case for you, but if nothing else works, then that may be the best course of action for you and your family. Good luck.
posted by finding.perdita at 3:46 PM on October 10, 2008

Your father is who he is. And you are who you are. You may very well not be able to modify his behavior, and it's not going to be healthy for you to modify your behavior to fit what he believes is appropriate.

If at all possible, you should try to distance yourself from this situation enough to evaluate what effects its having on your life, because your life is at least somewhat within your control. You can control what kinds of stressors you permit in your life, and what kinds of things you permit to affect you deeply.

It sounds like you want a different father than the one you have, and, in a way, like you feel like that ideal father is buried inside the racist, intolerant jerk that your father is. And it sounds like you're investing a lot of time and energy hoping for your "real" father to show up in some way. The problem with this is that you are very probably seeing your "real" father right now, and what you're seeing is horrible and makes you feel bad.

You are not responsible for your father's anger, or your father's lack of self-control, or your father's ignorance, and you do not have to make amends or atone or otherwise try to "fix" these things in your father. What you are responsible for is taking care of yourself, and right now you're deeply hurt, and it's getting worse over time. A lot of people have suggested therapy, and I'd like to add my voice to that choir.

However, I want to state as strongly as possible that I think you need to go to therapy for you, taking it as a step on your own behalf. You don't need to go to therapy because you're a bad, fucked-up person who needs to be fixed, and you don't need therapy because you're damaged. You need therapy because you need someone to be on your side until you can learn to be on your own side. A good therapist will help you figure out how you can look after yourself and take care of yourself so that your father's wretched behavior doesn't hurt you so badly.

Good luck: what you're doing is very difficult, but you can do it.
posted by scrump at 3:59 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

This situation is so complex. I don't think those who are saying to just cut ties realize how conflicted you must be.

Living in the South, and in an extended family that used to use the word "nigger" just to see me lose my shit, I finally came to the conclusion that sometimes racism is a terrible trait in an otherwise kind person. (I give the younger generations less slack on this, however.)

In your case, though, you have a father with an intolerance for anything/one different, which perhaps you could compartmentalize as having nothing to do with you (my old man, what a throw-back) accompanied with some very personally hurtful behavior. I don't care if you are in your thirties, the desire to be truly heard and respected by your parents can linger, especially in children who were emotionally or physically abused. I think that adults who grew up in a less traumatic environment have a much better ability to separate their parents' regard for them from their essential selves.

It seems to be a Catch-22--if you are brought up with respect, you can decide that your dad is just a jerk on one or more topics. If you are brought up with trauma, the child in you spends what can be the rest of your life trying to fix it (him, yourself, whatever....) so that you finally get the respect that you INHERENTLY deserve, but never got.

I agree with many others, it is time for more therapy. Meanwhile, I don't think that it would hurt to consider that in some ways, though you are married and out of the parents' home, you are all sort of still locked into a teen-age stage of relating to each other. From what I hear you saying, you have been a "good girl" all of your life, you are inherently worthy of love. This hasn't worked to change the man, because you CANNOT change the man. So, maybe it is time to start "acting out" a little to establish your own independence. Put that Obama sticker on and watch him lose his cool. There is power in this, which most teenagers figure out pretty easily. As an adult now, you CAN walk out if he gets out of hand. You can change the dynamic by changing how you behave, and how you think about things, but you cannot change the man.

(I do think it is hopeful that he apologized for the emails, so maybe he is mellowing a bit on his own.) Good luck, Anonymous. I still battle with my own feelings for my wonderful, but deeply flawed, father.
posted by thebrokedown at 3:59 PM on October 10, 2008 [5 favorites]

Your dad is witnessing the sudden collapse of everything he has ever believed in, morning after morning over his coffee and cereal.

He is lashing out at you (and the world) in his uncertainty and fear.

This is the time to throw him a lifeline if you possibly can.

I would start by telling him you are grateful for all the good things he has done for you (he probably won't notice the the near-tautology of this statement right away) and that his grandchildren love him very much.

If you give him a way out of this crisis, he just might surprise you by taking it.
posted by jamjam at 4:03 PM on October 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

Therapy and forgiveness both involve having something to do with him. The best way for his actions to not affect you is if you don't have anything to do with him.

Some people say there's nothing more important than flesh and blood, but i'd say that flesh and blood is what you make of it. Life is way too short to have someone like that give you grief, and there is no end of other, nicer people out there that aren't bigoted racists.
posted by dunkadunc at 4:05 PM on October 10, 2008

Your father sounds exactly like an in-law of mine; spite, race-hate and abuse. The one difference I see is that all his children cut and ran at the first opportunity. He's always the first topic of conversation to come up when two or more relatives come together, but distance makes him much more bearable. I know you don't want to hear this, but you're subjecting yourself to his hate, and you don't have to. You have the option of putting distance between yourself and his poison.

First step, as tiny crocodile says, is therapy for you. You say that's already taken care of, so on to the next step.

I'd suggest some distance. Physically removing yourself is one way to do it, simply not being available is another.

One last thing...
I'm afraid of what they might think. I'm afraid that they will judge me and think poorly of my decisions.
This is understandable, but you also say...
He isn't, and was never, interested in my life. In my dreams, aspirations, or thoughts.
He's not judging you, he's judging is preconception of who you are. His views don't reflect any objective reality if they aren't based on an understanding of who you are or why you do the things you do. If he looks at a red fire hydrant and says, "that fire hydrant is yellow," are his views valid?
posted by lekvar at 4:10 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

You are big enough now to stop the abuse.. it takes two to tango so, if the conversation becomes abusive or verbally domineering you have to say simply that you're not going to take part in it and leave the room or hang up. It's effective as long he has any desire to have a relationship with you or his grandkids.
posted by bonobothegreat at 4:26 PM on October 10, 2008

Check out the book The Dance of Connection: How to Talk to Someone When You're Mad, Hurt, Scared, Frustrated, Insulted, Betrayed, or Desperate. That author's book The Dance of Intimacy is another worth reading. They're quick reads -- less than a week of bus rides to work. Her view is that cutting ties will cause the stress to come out other places in your life (eg, fighting with your husband) and that it's better to find ways to remain in touch with the person while standing up for the things that really matter to you. She provides practical techniques for doing this. Sounds like you're in a tough place on all this. Good luck.
posted by salvia at 4:27 PM on October 10, 2008

The first time I pulled a knife on my father I was seven. My mother was one the floor against the wall where he'd been kicking her. I got a kicking, but a point was made. The pattern continued, my mother complicit, codependent. My father was a violent bad-tempered alcoholic who assumed that we should agree with everything he said and exploded when we failed to. I could give you more examples, but I figure you have the tone of my family life now.

The day their legal hold on me was over, I left and never moved back. I went home to watch him die. Later, I visited periodically and got on somewhat better with my mother. She died a couple of years later.

The point of my small tale of woe? Your family is responsible for your existence, but not necessarily anything else. Sometimes it just happens that the one you're in is no good for you. But, no matter what, you stand up for yourself and the right to be who you want to be in this world. If that's not going to work out for you in that setting, then you change the setting. There's enough decent and kind people in the world and you can go make another family for yourself as best as you can. Just because someone wants to treat you as a doormat doesn't mean that you have to be complicit in the process.

I wish you could post anonymous comments.
posted by mandal at 5:06 PM on October 10, 2008 [2 favorites]

WHen my dad accused me of having been brainwashed by the liberals, I retorted, "no, it's just that you raised me well enough to think for myself."
posted by notsnot at 5:07 PM on October 10, 2008 [7 favorites]

You are not your father.
posted by matteo at 5:14 PM on October 10, 2008 [3 favorites]

There's already a lot of good advice here: find a good therapist, read books by people who have given long thought and many clinical hours to investigating these mindsets and how to deal with them, care for yourself and your husband peerlessly and try to keep things as light as possible with your parents, and keep your head held high that you made it through all of that to be come the aware person you are today.

The reason I'm here isn't to repeat any of that but to let you know it's a winnable battle, even if you do stay in touch. And that you're not alone. I know I'm some random stranger on the internet, but feel free to MeMail if you ever get super frustrated and just want another person to rant at. I'm impervious to that sort of thing and know the pressure is often what gets to be too much to bear.
posted by batmonkey at 5:18 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

A few ideas that might be helpful (or not)
1. You are not responsible for your father's thoughts, beliefs or actions.
2. You are entitled to your own thoughts, belief and actions.
3. If your father is attacking you for having different beliefs, you need to protect yourself. Best is to say "Let's change the subject or I'm leaving" If he continues, say "I hope we can have a more pleasant conversation next week. See you then." and go. You might want to practice this with your husband until you feel like you can be strong enough to stay calm and pull it off. On a practical level, it is simple - he attacks you, you give him one chance to the change the subject (basically a warning) and if he continues, you remove yourself from the situation (leave, hang up, whatever.) The hard part seems to be the guilt - are you being rude? a disrespectful child? Pay attention to those thoughts because once you can put words to them, it will be easier to see that you are doing the right thing and that you are entitled to politely protect yourself.
4. It sounds like you are very concerned about his behavior even when you aren't with him. You need to figure out why you can't distance yourself to the point where you can allow him to have his own beliefs, even if they are offensive. Nthing therapy here.
5. A variation on an earlier suggestion. Start an anti-bigotry jar at home. Every time you are around your parents, count how many different offensive things they say. when you get home, put a quarter or a dollar in the jar for each one. This will (a) help you distance yourself from what your parents are saying, since instead of getting upset your response will be "Oh, there is another one for the jar" and every time you do put money in the jar, you are proving to yourself that you are living in accordance with your own beliefs. Explain what you are doing to your children if they overhear the comments. (Something like "Grandpa is wrong. I don't want to be rude to him but I feel I have to something so this is what I do and this what I'm going to sue the money for. The kids won't pick up his attitude if you and your husband make your own attitudes clear) Note: this is just for minor comments that are part of a larger conversaton - if he is attacking you or going on and on then you should back to #2.
posted by metahawk at 5:53 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

ps. Months and months of therapy isn't that long when you are dealing with something that affected your entire childhood and your fundamental sense of identity. Think of being able to be relaxed, accepting and self-confident as a long term goal. Like maybe in five years you will be able to do it most of the time. So right now, you are in the early stages of re-making your relationship with your parents - it is OK that it seems almost impossible - but you have a goal and you are moving towards it - be patient with yourself.
posted by metahawk at 5:58 PM on October 10, 2008

jeez, do i relate to this. i got so sick of it, that i just quit going over to my dads house. when he would say his racist, catholic, republican stuff, i never say anything. if he doesn't have an audience, he gives up. usually. but i mostly just quit going over. i'd go when it was Xmas and the like, and my brothers and sisters were there etc. after a while we had a conversation, agreed to disagree, and it's been better. now he's much older and forgets that he says shit. when he dies, there will be one less bigot in the world.

you have to consider: "if this person was my 'friend' or 'room-mate', would i continue the relationship?" it's hard to walk away tho. we americans have this weird attachement to "blood" even when it's horrible, and we don't have the cultural basis for it.
posted by karl88 at 6:00 PM on October 10, 2008

The best way to cope is by feeling sorry for him. Feeling sorry that he is so bitter. That he has such a poor outlook on life and people. If there is a way to reach him and perhaps get him some therapy, than do so. But it's been my experience that its very difficult reaching people with his views. But as you say, he is your father and you obviously love him as such. So there is no reason to cut ties, or to like his behaviour. Simply see him as the broken person that he obviously is and you will be amazed at how you will be able to cope.
posted by scarello at 6:08 PM on October 10, 2008

I love metahawk's idea of an anti-bigotry jar *so much* (along with a lot the other suggestions in that list and feeling sorry for him, as suggested by scarello - I sometimes tell my dad I feel sorry for him, that he misses out on being able to appreciate so many more cool people who could appreciate him in return).

If you could use the money from the anti-bigotry jar to donate to a different group who could benefit from less bigotry and more support each time it hit a certain dollar amount, even better. Being a bit contrary, I'd probably donate it in my parent's name, thus making their bad acts into good deeds.
posted by batmonkey at 6:16 PM on October 10, 2008

I don't let my father talk to me about the shit he says that pisses me off anymore. When he starts in on it, I tell him I'm refusing to talk to him about it. If he continues, I hang up (or leave the room if I'm physically present).

That may be your only way to cope -- just refuse entirely to deal with him when he's being the asshole that upsets you. Get up and walk away. He'll have to choose between being an asshole and seeing his daughter.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:45 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

My mom is current two-fisting Bill O'Reilly's book and Palin's new bio and she's got a big mouth when it comes to her ass backwards opinions so I kind of know where you're at. She swears that Fox News is the only unbiased source of reporting out there and the only time she's not watching Fox News is when she's listening to AM talk radio. Philly's working class is notoriously racist and my family is no exception; like yours they learned to tone it down later in life because they finally understood how profoundly negative mainstream people reacted to it.

It's important to realize that the vast majority of Boomer racists never changed their views, they just learned how to disguise them better. It was the cohort's one genuflect to political correctness that to my memory started in the 80s. That's when my family started ease off the N-word. I think the conservative media does a great job of dancing around the pink elephant with the kind of elaborate codes for racism that were developed over the past two decades, that we've seen a lot of in the news recently.

Anyway, the answer is that no, you can't be around them. Why should you? There's only a month left to go, and keeping a safe distance from your relatives for a couple weeks is totally not the end of the world. There's no major holidays coming up, if you just don't call they might not even notice. My mom and I have a strict no politics rule, that I enforce. She constantly violates it, but I never let her get far. "No politics, mom, remember," is my mantra until the election.

But I think the larger problem with your dad isn't so much his politics, but that he's kind of a fucking asshole. You might want to consider some longer term coping strategy, some very strict guidelines that you adhere to. As in, no politics, and if you bring it up, I leave. And the first time dad brings up politics and starts goading you? Get up and walk the fuck out! It's your life, your personal space, you can set boundaries regarding what gets said in or around it. I think setting hard boundaries and making your father respect them is an especially important issue because it's looking like after Obama wins on November 5th you're going to be in for a rough four years.
posted by The Straightener at 7:47 PM on October 10, 2008 [1 favorite]

I get headaches. I'm stressed. I've started clenching my jaw and grinding my teeth for the first time in my life.

While you are trying to find a way to sort out how to deal with your dad, you should visit the dentist and get a mouth guard made for you. I know mouth guards are generally made for wearing when you sleep, but I pop mine in during the day when I notice I'm getting grindy. Wearing it for 5 or 10 minutes relieves my stress and once I stop grinding I find that it's easier to deal with how I'm feeling, which in turn helps me to think straight.
posted by zarah at 1:12 AM on October 11, 2008

If you can't cut ties, then you're getting something out of it. Everyone has a choice when it comes to cutting family ties, unless you are disabled, living at home, and income dependent.

Your best choices are to a) get the hell away from these people or b) completely ignore your dad's taunts. Don't watch any links he sends you. Don't discuss politics with someone who is only looking to get a rise out of you. Ignore every comment like you would ignore an offensive fart in polite company.

I suggest choice a).
posted by tejolote at 1:15 AM on October 11, 2008 [1 favorite]

Yeesh. Jeez. Sorry about your dad.

I've found a thing that helps with difficult parents is to understand the world they were brought in and the forces that shaped who they are (my mom is really, really, really needy. Scary needy. And through therapy, I came to understand that when you're the sixth child of eight from a mother who is pretty selfish to start with and has a disabled child in there for good measure, you're not going to get a lot of attention.) So I can understand how my mother came to be herself, through my grandmother. It might be useful for you to examine this, in therapy or not.

That said, you're not required to have a relationship with anyone. Ever. You can bring mom to the big city (or whatever) or visit her and stay in a hotel, and meet in restaurants. I see no reason for you to pursue a relationship with your dad.

Something to consider, though, is that we carry around our parents inside of us, and you might have some of your dad's traits in you (maybe you too are very angry, or maybe you can't handle anger in others, or maybe you dislike yourself when you're angry). At any rate, it's worth checking your psyche for loose strings related to having grown up so close to such an angry, fearful man. You don't have to be close to him, you don't even have to forgive hm, but it's worth resolving your feelings about him, and those things (resolution and forgiveness) are not the same.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 5:39 AM on October 11, 2008

My heart goes out to you. FWIW, you've been very strong to survive the abuse and still walk into the lion's den, time after time.

You say you've been in therapy -- has the therapy helped at all? If it hasn't -- or if things have plateaued, or even if you just want to take things in a different direction -- you may want to change what you're doing. Either try to work differently with your current therapist (address different issues, try different therapeutic techniques), or switch therapists.

I think you need to get distance, first of all, if only to relieve your physical symptoms. From there, you can work to strengthen your boundaries, assert your independence, even forgive them.

Forgiveness is a tall order. I know a lot of people are talking about it here, but it's not easy, and there's a lot of ground to cover before you can get there.

Therapy should be helping with this. If it isn't, you need to focus the process until it does.
posted by PlusDistance at 7:29 AM on October 11, 2008

He was abusive in my childhood, all the way up to my late teens.

So disown him. Everything you have written here is an indicator that he is a mean, petty, remorseless piece of shit. And it sounds like you turned out okay even though he did his best to ruin your life. Hell, he's still trying to ruin your life. This is not normal or healthy parent-child interaction. He is hurting you because he is fearful and small: you are nothing more than a thing he is trying to control. That is all you mean to him.

Take yourself and your children away from these people. That's how you stop thinking about your father's bigotry, hatred, and intolerance.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 7:51 AM on October 11, 2008 [2 favorites]

I think the larger problem with your dad isn't so much his politics, but that he's kind of a fucking asshole.

Ding ding ding! We have a winner.

The volatility in my relationship with my father arises over religion, but in the last couple of years I have realized, thanks to the help of an amazing woman who sees people more clearly than anyone I have ever known, that my father is, in fact, an asshole.

He is not as big of an asshole as some other people, and he can make nice with strangers, which makes it doubly hard to convince people of his true nature. I am convinced that he genuinely means well much of the time. However, he is willfully ignorant, close-minded, and extremely manipulative (for the manipulatee's own good, of course). On top of that, he is now in his '70s, in the early stages of dementia, and sits around watching Fox News all day and worrying that Jesus will come back any day now and I won't be saved. He cannot help the way he is, but the way he is is an asshole.

Eight years ago I moved a coupe of thousand miles from him, which helped a lot. This year I got some therapy after some things came to a head about my relationship with the aforementioned woman, which helped more. I forgave him and now actually feel sorry for him most of the time -- he's living in a straitjacket of his own devising, missing out on so many of the good parts of life. Part of me will always want his approval, but I understand now that it's never going to happen and I try to find other ways to satisfy that part of myself.

Between the two of us, I am the adult, and he is the child. Knowing that explicitly helps a lot with managing my relationship with my father. There are certain things that I simply won't discuss with him, so as to prevent him from throwing his tantrums. Yes, he throws tantrums like a three-year-old. Realizing that the reactions I've been afraid of all my life are no more than tantrums is pretty liberating. And pretty funny, too.
posted by kindall at 7:59 AM on October 11, 2008

Forgive, laugh, and then have sex with someone of a different race. This combination will ease all of your stress.
posted by anildash at 4:29 PM on October 11, 2008

I've already said my piece, but this...
Between the two of us, I am the adult, and he is the child.
bears repeating. The person I referenced above, I've come to realize, is a thirteen-year-old bully trapped in the body of a 58-year old man.

Just something for you to think about.
posted by lekvar at 12:05 AM on October 12, 2008

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