No dad, I really don't want to pull your ear hair.
October 18, 2010 11:27 PM   Subscribe

How can I tell my dad there are certain things I don't want to do for him without hurting his feelings?

Remember this thread? Well, some new stuff has cropped up.

The situation hasn't changed. He still just sits in front of the TV 23 hours a day. Maybe goes out twice a week either to the store or to his mother's house - she's 94.

About once a week, he comes to me with a flashlight and asks me to see if there is an eyelash in his eye. (He apparently isn't satisfied by looking in the mirror and not finding one.) Or, he will bring a pair of tweezers and ask me to yank an ear hair that's tickling him. Said ear hair is usually a stub about 2 mm long. He has a nose/ear hair trimmer.

I don't hate looking for the eyelash, but I don't know how I've managed to go most of my life without needing anyone to check my eye for a lash and he needs it done every week. But as far as yanking an ear hair? That's kind of gross and I don't want to be involved in his personal hygiene. I don't feel that that's an appropriate task for a daughter. (My mom's usually asleep when he makes these requests... they tend to come about 12-1am.) He only showers maybe once or twice a week. (Just FWIW, he is still fully capable of caring for himself in this manner.) I'm thinking this is more of the same as the last thread... he just sits around and does nothing so EVERYTHING bothers him.

Is there any way to tell him I don't want to do this stuff without hurting his feelings? Should I talk to his doctor? Please don't tell me to move out. I would love to but I can't right now and this is not something I can immediately implement anyways.
posted by IndigoRain to Human Relations (27 answers total)
My mom's usually asleep when he makes these requests... they tend to come about 12-1am.

pretend you're sleeping too/ go in your room/ call a friend?
posted by bearette at 11:35 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

Would it be easier to talk to your mom about this? She's asleep when he makes these requests, so she might not really know what's going on here, but it seems like something she ought to be aware of and if you make your feelings known, she might be able to help run interference.
posted by zachlipton at 11:39 PM on October 18, 2010

If you have the means and the capacity you need to move out, as it sounds like you're still living there. Co-dependency is a hard beast to tackle, especially when you don't sound as if you can admit to it being present. Your dad has some deep issues about something or another that he's transformed in necroses of various degrees. Does your dad have trichotillomania? If you feel obliged try to help, but from afar. It is not your responsibility to live in the middle of that. Get out. Not 'while it gets better' or 'but they need me'. Get. The. Fuck. Out. Do not be dragged down by relations due simply to the fact they are family.
posted by ZaneJ. at 11:58 PM on October 18, 2010 [1 favorite]

ZaneJ.: "If you have the means and the capacity you need to move out"

No, I don't.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:24 AM on October 19, 2010 [2 favorites]

I'm sure someone will be more eloquent than me, but I would try to find a nice way to say no. His feelings matter, but so do yours.

I think your dad's just bored. Maybe his coming up with crazy tasks for you is cue for you to come up with tasks for him? Ask for some help making dinner, and then if he declines, then during dinner explain how you put together dinner, and maybe next time he'd like to be involved? Repeat forever. I know that parents aren't children, but that's what you would do with a child, right?
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 12:43 AM on October 19, 2010

It sounds to me like your third tag sort of spells it all out. I definitely think talking to a doctor - his own first, if only to get a referral to one more familiar with depression issues - is in order. Don't forget to take care of yourself, too. Best wishes.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 12:52 AM on October 19, 2010

On a slightly different tack: do you talk to him much?

I'm kinda-sorta living with my 76yo father at the moment. Unlike your father he's hale and hearty (better than some I know half his age), capably looks after himself and the house, and spends about half his waking hours volunteering in a technical & social capacity with a local self-help group he's been involved in for the last 30 years. He's not lacking in social interaction and things to keep him occupied at all.

And yet, his default method of interacting with me - and everybody else - is to whinge about some minor thing that's annoying him. He's always been one to get mildly wound-up about minor things that don't really affect him and are out of his control - the bloody weather, ants, the way the grass grows (or doesn't grow!), the latest bullshit from TV current affairs (both pro and against!), etc. It's not a new thing either; sometime in the last 76 years, whinging has just become his default way of starting a conversation.

On top of that, now that he's around a lot more and I'm busy with studying, he manages to want a chat at the most inopportune times. Doesn't matter what I'm doing; he'll just walk up and have a whinge. I can see it for the conversational tactic that it is, but it doesn't make it any less annoying. Unfortunately, sometimes I can't spare the time and have to pretty much ignore him until he gives up and goes away (which makes me feel bad); on the other hand, if I want to have a good conversation with him I need to sit through 10~15 minutes of bullshit complaining first.

I realise there's no solution in all that - but it may help you understand why he might be bothering you with (seemingly) trivial bullshit. If he's bored / lonely / whatever, annoying you with stupid/trivial requests might just be his habitual default way of relieving it.
posted by Pinback at 1:56 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

He is bored and lonely. Just sitting in front of the TV all day is not social interaction for him. He doesn't have the social graces to simply strike up a conversation with you and is (consciously or subconsciously) seeking a way to force interaction with you. I suggest you try to strike up a conversation with him about anything right about the time your mother goes to bed. If nothing else, you may wear him out and he will leave you alone just so you will leave him alone. You might mention to him, in one of these conversations, that you are concerned about him since he has always been able to do these hygiene things for himself before. Ask if he is having a health problem that needs professional attention and if this is why he asks for this kind of help. (We know it isn't, but it might get him to think before he asks you again.)
posted by Old Geezer at 4:50 AM on October 19, 2010 [6 favorites]

Your previous question is slightly weird (although not that weird, I would totally complain about your perfume in the house...just the bit about the computer and fans is odd)...

But asking to have a hair plucked? Totally in the normal realm of behaviour for an old person. My grandmother asks me to pluck her weird back hair sometimes. :( Unfortunately as people get older they get less flexible, less sure with the tweezers, and hairier.

Does your dad have reading glasses? From the eyelash thing, he might need them... that would explain him asking you, in this case he really actually can't see in the mirror. If he does have reading glasses, that still explains it... have you ever tried to find a speck in your eye while wearing glasses? Does not compute.

Your dad does seem really depressed (and that is a real problem), and of course you can say no if something is icky, but these specific strange behaviours? Just not that strange. Or, "old folks are weird."
posted by anaelith at 5:19 AM on October 19, 2010

If my father had awakened me after midnight with such a request, I would have been both confused and frightened. Confused, as in why can't he take care of this himself? Frightened, as in why is my male parent in my bedroom while I'm in bed? To me, it's very inappropriate behavior; "icky," to put it bluntly. Lock your bedroom door, saying interrupted sleep is hard on you.
posted by Carol Anne at 5:41 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

If my father had awakened me after midnight with such a request, I would have been both confused and frightened. Confused, as in why can't he take care of this himself? Frightened, as in why is my male parent in my bedroom while I'm in bed? To me, it's very inappropriate behavior; "icky," to put it bluntly. Lock your bedroom door, saying interrupted sleep is hard on you.

Am I missing where she said she was in her room and sleeping when these requests occur?

Look, parents can be annoying and your dad in particular seems to have some psychological issues. If he's not willing to get help for them, I think you just have to put up with him. It's his house and you're his 30 year old daughter living in it.
posted by amro at 6:02 AM on October 19, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yes, you should talk to his doctor. Or discuss doing so with your mom (although if she's simply gone along with your dad's paranoid preferences for the past ten years, you may be better off calling the doctor on your own). It's possible that he sees his doctor on days he's showered, and sounds relatively reasonable ("I'm concerned about my allergies" rather than "I'm concerned that if I sleep on my back I'll die"), and so the doctor simply reassures him that he's fine and sends him on his way.

The lack of personal hygiene (despite being physically capable), the late-night paranoia about eyelashes and ear hairs, not to mention all of the stuff in your previous question--these things all point to something being not right. Even without any of those details, the simple fact that he's spent 99% of his time in the house watching TV for the past decade is enough of a sign that something is not right.

Sure, some of this is aging and social awkwardness, as suggested above, and of course you can say, "I'm sorry, I can't help you with that, but I can go find Mom to see if she can do it," or, "It's very late now, let's discuss that in the morning," or, "Dad, this is awkward to say, but you haven't bathed since Tuesday and you have B.O. Please shower and then I'll be happy to help you with [whatever personal grooming issue]." But aging doesn't mean being paranoid and sitting in front of a TV 23 hours a day. There's something more going on with your father, and a social worker, psychiatrist, or other professional may be able to help him once you reach out to his doctor. (Of course, if your dad is aware of his issues and simply refuses to get help, then I think the thing to do is just to go with those boundary-setting responses and hope he changes his mind once he no longer has you participating in his paranoia and anxiety.)
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:11 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

He asks you to do this once a week, and you live with him? These don't seem like unreasonable requests. Pluck the man's ear hair. He's your dad. You're living with him.

Or move out.
posted by sid at 7:26 AM on October 19, 2010 [3 favorites]

Probably bad advice, but I would pretend I was sleeping. I used to do that when I had chatty roommates. Or, I actually, just went to sleep while they were awake.
If they knocked on my door, I ignored them. I'm a heavy sleeper anyway. Or I would spend as much time out as possible.
If my Dad asked me to do something ridiculous, I would probably laugh and say, "Uh, no. You can have Mom look at that!" and leave it at that.

But, I think maybe the real problem is that he's probably lonely and he's making excuses so that you will spend time with him. How much quality time do you spend with him?
Maybe go to the park with him once or twice a week... or watch a movie together.

Ha, also, maybe he's trying to annoy you so you will move out!
posted by KogeLiz at 7:38 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

I read your old question too, but I couldn't figure out if you addressed this: where is your mother in all this? (Not talking about the 1am ear hair sessions - she's asleep - but in general) What are her feelings on the way your father is acting? Has she just accepted it? If not, can you two team up and contact his doctor with all your concerns? It seems like a good idea to be on the same page with her about this instead of trying to go it alone.

Frankly, it sounds like you have accepted his behavior as "quirks." I really do not see it that way. He sleeps in his chair because he's afraid that if he lays down he'll die? That is, at best, hypochondria, at worst, some sort of more serious mental illness. If you care about your father (and it seems like you do), I'd say you owe it to him to inform his doctor about everything you've mentioned to us and let a pro try to figure out what, if anything, needs to be done.
posted by coupdefoudre at 8:13 AM on October 19, 2010

Pretend to regress to being a teenager again?
"EW! DAD!! GROSSS!!!!!!!!"
[run shrieking from the room like a little girl]

It's humorous and gets the point across. Of course, if he finds it TOO humorous, he might chase you around with ear hairs.
posted by Jacqueline at 8:25 AM on October 19, 2010

"Mom, can you check Dad's ear for hairs? Dad, this way you won't have to worry about it keeping you up at night."

Shows concern for his feelings; gets you out of doing the job.

It may sound "reasonable" to us but it's your body and you have the right to say no.
posted by the young rope-rider at 8:47 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

Yea, I think there is something wrong with your father and you should offer help, but if he is still of the capacity to refuse it, you're just going to have to step up and deny his requests for tasks you don't want to do. Can you ask any other family members outside of your household if there is a family history of Alzheimer's or schitzophrenia or depression or any number of things that can manifest through odd paranoias, social isolation, and disregard for personal hygiene?

If you feel this would create awkwardness, condier that it is awkward for him to have you living there when he likely expected you to be self reliant at this point.

You should be focusing your personal growth foremost on gathering resources and securing income so that you can move out. I know you said you didn't want to hear that, but I think you have to hear that. You actually do have the ability to move out soon - join the service.
posted by WeekendJen at 9:45 AM on October 19, 2010

I think everyone who is telling you to shut up and deal because people die or whatever, really need to take another look at this question and your previous question. Folks, this isn't just a dude asking his daughter to help him reach an area on his body that he can't. Something isn't quite right. From what we're being told here, he is not managing his own personal hygiene (not bathing more than once or twice a week is bad news) despite being fully capable of doing so. He does not leave the house except to visit his elderly mother for a couple of hours a week.

OP, your previous question mentions that your dad recovered from prostate cancer quite a while back, but has been doing some weird stuff ever since. Has he ever talked to a counselor, or a therapist, or a member of the clergy if that's his leaning, about his experiences with cancer and recovery? IANA mental health professional, but I am a professional nutbag, and just based on anecdata it sounds like maybe he needs to talk to someone. Have you and your mom talked about this? When was the last time your dad saw his primary care physician? It sounds like maybe it's time to get Dad into the doc's office.

As for what to do when he asks for help plucking hairs, gently refuse. "Sorry, Dad, I'm right in the middle of something. Can you take care of it yourself, or ask Mom for help?"
posted by palomar at 9:59 AM on October 19, 2010

He's around my age, it appears, and I will therefore assume that, like me, his eyesight isn't what it once was. So looking in the mirror by himself is not necessarily an option. Glasses can only do so much. (The fact that he can watch TV isn't really relevant as that is distance vision). Mom's eyes may not be that much better.

I don't know how I've managed to go most of my life without needing anyone to check my eye for a lash and he needs it done every week.

With age, one's body no longer functions in as orderly a manner as it once did. My eyebrows have gotten quite wild and need regular attention.

You want to find refuge in some kind of normative idea of how family members are supposed to relate to one another, but I don't understand why you, as a 30 year old, are living with your parents and how that fits in with the norm. I'm not (as you asked) telling you to move out, but if we can accept that you can't, why can't you accept that he needs your help once a week? I suspect this is not about the minor inconvenience but about your relationship which is implicated in your living arrangements as well. In my opinion, this is a family therapy situation in which your dad has been given the role of "designated patient."
posted by Obscure Reference at 10:16 AM on October 19, 2010 [1 favorite]

[few comments nixed - folks, OP is asking for assistance not "oh you'll miss this when he's gone" non-answers can go to memail ]
posted by jessamyn at 10:54 AM on October 19, 2010

I would just tell him "Ew, no, that's disgusting." If that hurts his feelings - well, next time he'll have to think twice before asking you for such a favor. You're not his wife, and even if you were his wife, you have your own personal boundaries. Family members have to respect each other's boundaries, especially when they're living together.

Of course, if he were not able to do it himself, it would be a different story altogether, but you describe it like he's just doing it because he's bored. If he is lonely and bored in the evening, he can ask you to play a boardgame with you/make you a cup of tea and chat with you, or whatever. You say he probably won't - well, that's his decision.

If saying "No!" leads to angry responses, passive-aggressive stuff like "hurt feelings" or guilt trips, well - he'll have to live with you not being the good daughter for once. And you'll have to live with his reaction. The way you describe the situation, I don't see any possibility for a middle ground solution.

btw, I don't see how talking to his doctor (behind his back?) would not hurt his feelings -?
posted by The Toad at 11:50 AM on October 19, 2010

Just to clarify, no, he is not waking me up for these requests.
posted by IndigoRain at 12:10 PM on October 19, 2010

Does he have undiagnosed allergies maybe?

I read the old thread and noticed that the first thing you said was that he made you throw out the houseplants because they were making him cough. House plants can grow mold on the soil and that can definitely make one cough if they're allergic. The aversion to smells fits this theory, too. When you're having weird, vague symptoms and you don't know what's causing them, you can attribute them to all kinds of things.

The ear hair and eyelash thing fits, too, if he has allergies that are making him itchy.

I agree that he sounds depressed and maybe bored too, and maybe because of that he's not communicating very well. You surely don't have to deal with his ear hair if that grosses you out. But maybe you can suggest to him that there is a pattern to his issues that he can figure out. Definitely talk to his doctor.
posted by zinfandel at 7:50 PM on October 19, 2010

When I'm home visiting my folks, my father will occasionally decide to "efficiently" strip down to his underwear in the kitchen, where the laundry is, to avoid the terrible chore of later carrying his clothes to the hamper.

I vote for the teenager routine. I actually pulled out the "Mommmmm, can you tell my father that I don't want to watch him get undressed for pete's sake! C'mon, ew."

Occasionally he forgets/gives it another try, at which point I make the most teenage face I can muster (I'm 36) and say "uhhh, Dad...seriously, that's weird, go change in your room," to reinforce that this is a Weird Thing to which people will React.
posted by desuetude at 7:58 PM on October 19, 2010

Your Dad is a grownup. He sounds horribly depressed* to me, and I'll bet treatment would make his life wayyyy more fun for him, but you didn't ask about that.

Say, "Sorry, Dad, I just can't." It is kind of gross, but many married people perform such tasks for one another. Children have no obligation to.
posted by theora55 at 10:43 AM on October 20, 2010

I have this sort of interaction with my not-depressed father and I had to nip it in the bud. Once I did something for him [can't even remember what it was, some sort of grooming thing] he'd be after me to do more things for him. My father lives alone and until recently was married to someone who did this sort of thing for him. Now he wants to be able to boss someone else around into doing it for him. At some point he asked me to trim his toenails when I was coming down. I said "okay maybe" and then thought the better of it. The man needs to learn to be able to do this stuff himself. So the next time I was down, he said "okay I want you to trim my toenails" I was ready. I said "Dad, you need to learn how to do these things yourself. I will help you get a good toenail trimmer or some other tool or I'll refer you to the foot care clinic at the local senior center but I don't think having someone else do this for you is teaching you how to solve your own problems" And he said "But you SAID you would" and I told him I had reconsidered and that was that.

Obviously this is a little different if you live with him but at some level it's okay and appropriate for you to tell him "wait until the morning and have Mom do it" or "I'll help you learn to do this yourself but I am not doing this for you" and then if you think it's just a gambit to hang out, do a little non-grooming hanging out with him. It's hard when parents really step all over the lines that should be stark and obvious to them. I wish you luck.
posted by jessamyn at 11:28 AM on October 20, 2010

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