Stop reading my mail!
October 16, 2011 11:54 AM   Subscribe

Help me get through to my dad about respecting my privacy now that I no longer live with him.

I moved out of my parents' house this past June in order to attend grad school about 20 minutes away. Much of my mail still goes to my old address, and some of it I've been able to redirect to my new one, but some mail that I receive has to go to a physical street address and not the PO box that I've set up. My dorm does not allow packages to be delivered.

My father "forgets" and ignores the fact that I've asked him (for 5 years now) not to open mail or packages that are addressed to me. Recently he opened some mail addressed to me that revealed I was looking for a new therapist, and I spent half an hour on the phone listening to him rant about how he feels about therapy. He has also looked at my medical results if I receive lab tests reports in the mail as well.

My privacy is violated constantly and I am not able to change where my mail goes for the time being. He also thinks nothing of rearranging different aspects of my car to suit him if I come to visit because he thinks his way is the best, and despite the fact that my room at my parents' house is still my room, he likewise has no problem rummaging through my things to find something he wants despite the fact that these things are not his to look for in the first place.

How do I get through to my father about how frustrated I am when he reads my mail and goes through my stuff? Sometimes my mail comes addressed to me, my mother and my father all at once, and I recognize that that's a little tricky, but I have asked him to stop reading as soon as he sees that something is actually addressed to me. He often doesn't. I cannot even deal with the fact that he opens packages addressed to me under the guise of checking to make sure nothing has been "broken in transit". He actually went so far as to look through the books I had gotten my boyfriend for his birthday! It's not that I've never set up boundaries; it's that he ignores them. What do I do?
posted by These Birds of a Feather to Human Relations (32 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
You say this is mail that can't be delivered to a P.O. box, but could you perhaps have it sent to a different street address, like to a friend's house? If you've been saying the same thing for five years about not opening your mail, then he isn't going to listen to anything new you've got to say to him about it, and will just keep opening it --- but if you remove the mail from his reach, he can't open it.
posted by easily confused at 12:02 PM on October 16, 2011 [18 favorites]

I would find out what other students at the dorm do to receive packages, and do that. There has to be a loophole for people who don't have another physical address.
posted by virginia_clemm at 12:03 PM on October 16, 2011 [4 favorites]

Private mailbox places will give you a street address. That doesn't answer how to negotiate with you father, but it might remove enough of the issue to not need to engage with him on this.
posted by Forktine at 12:03 PM on October 16, 2011 [8 favorites]

Stop leaving personal stuff at his house. Don't give him access to your car keys. Find out if your department at school will accept packages (generally they will) -- otherwise there has to be some way for students to accept mail at school. He's not going to stop, so you need to not leave him access to your stuff.
posted by jeather at 12:06 PM on October 16, 2011 [29 favorites]

I don't know how to deal with your father, so I won't address that.

BUT, don't use an actual USPS PO Box. IMHO, they're pretty much useless. Lots of places won't send to a PO Box, and I know UPS flat out won't deliver to them, no matter how big the box or small the package. Use a box at a Mailboxes Etc type place that will hold packages for you. I have one at a mom&pop owned place, and the address isn't "AlisonM, PO Box 123", it's "AlisonM, 123 Main Street #456". It looks like an apartment to the people sending stuff, and the guy will hold my stuff for me. I pay a little bit more for it than I would a PO Box, but I can have anything sent there, and I prepay for it over a year so it's not that much per month.

Even if you have to travel out of your way to go pick your stuff up, it's worth the piece of mind.

If your father won't respect your space, it's time for you to find ways to limit his access. You may be his child, but you're an adult. Treat his access to your stuff as a problem that needs to be solved.
posted by AlisonM at 12:07 PM on October 16, 2011 [28 favorites]

Also, opening other people's mail is a Federal crime and should be reported. This is not a trivial issue. Assuming you are an adult, you need to enforce these protections that are granted you by the USPS. If he won't listen to you, he can hear it from the Postal Inspection Service.
posted by BigLankyBastard at 12:07 PM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

Can you get it sent to the college post office? A local post office? Friend?

The steps for boundaries: State them firmly and clearly. Acknowledge there will be consequences when boundaries are broken. And, of course, enforce the consequences when they are crossed.

Maybe try step one again? Have a sit down, no distractions meeting where you tell your dad your feelings on his inappropriateness, (cause it is inappropriate) how its upsetting and hurtful to you, and, honestly, sorta creepy of him at this point (maybe dont say that part in so many words :) ) Can you enlist your moms help? Normally, bringing others in discussions isnt good, but...

If he absolutly proves himself incapable of be safe and trustworthy on this, well, you cant make him. The only way to fix it w/o him behaving himself, is to remove him froom the loop. Somehow. However you can manage. Best of luck.
posted by Jacen at 12:09 PM on October 16, 2011

...and I spent half an hour on the phone listening to him rant about how he feels about therapy

It's perfectly ok to say "I'm not talking to you right now" and hang up the phone.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 12:10 PM on October 16, 2011 [41 favorites]

First, you really need to find a way to get your mail delivered to you and not to your parents. It has to be possible. You're not going to "get through to your dad" on this, I don't think.

But as far as your dad goes, I see two options. One, enlist the help of your mother. Have her bug him about this.

Two, create some incentives. You need consequences for his decisions whether to respect your boundaries.
posted by J. Wilson at 12:10 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds like your father still thinks of you as a child, because of your financial dependence on him. That's what all the examples you give have in common -- you have a room in his house where you send packages and keep belongings, mail related to insurance matters (therapy, lab results) are sent to the payer. Why not just ask him if he recognizes this correlation? You are in an in-between time in your life -- an adult, but not financially independent. Together you need to decide how to cross that bridge.

I would give him the benefit of the doubt that he's not quite seeing what he's doing (equating financial independence with adulthood, and how you are actually at that point in the middle and need his help to define your new roles as two adults instead of a child and an adult). He was almost 20 years seeing you as a child -- sometimes it takes time for the new relationship to become second-nature.
posted by Houstonian at 12:15 PM on October 16, 2011 [7 favorites]

He's not going to respect your boundaries or your wishes. Acknowledge that and find different ways of protecting your privacy.
posted by mleigh at 12:18 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

"I'm going to a therapist because I've never had privacy."
posted by rhizome at 12:20 PM on October 16, 2011 [6 favorites]

Write a letter to yourself. Print out the envelope so it looks official and will tempt him to open it.

The letter should say something along the lines of: Dad, if you are reading this, you are violating my privacy.

Then mention the rest of the things you want him to change.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:28 PM on October 16, 2011 [13 favorites]

Have you filled out a change of address form with the postal service? This won't take care of your package problem, but this should make sure nearly all of your regular mail gets forwarded to your new address.

Other than that, it will be a pain in the butt but for any of your private information (banks, medical, etc.) you may have to call them all individually and make sure your parents' address is taken off your account.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:29 PM on October 16, 2011 [2 favorites]

I spent half an hour on the phone listening to him rant about how he feels about therapy.

Also, next time he does this, don't sit through it. Explain that its your personal business and you WILL NOT discuss it with him. If he continues to discuss it, tell him you have to go and say good bye and HANG UP.

He does not have special powers to make you stay on the phone.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:31 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

You can arrange a redirection for any mail addressed to you to a new address, you can do a temporary one for something like $15 a week, all mail is gathered and sent to you priority or you can do a permanent Change of Address for anything addressed to you.
posted by wwax at 1:08 PM on October 16, 2011

You could sue him.

Not to win, probably. But he's committing mail fraud, and that's actionable.

I suspect that may be a bit too effective for the poster's purposes, but I thought it should be properly brought up and dismissed rather than ignored as a possibility.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:20 PM on October 16, 2011

Lots of places won't send to a PO Box, and I know UPS flat out won't deliver to them, no matter how big the box or small the package. Use a box at a Mailboxes Etc type place that will hold packages for you.

UPS stores will happily receive and store your packages along with your mail, and will let you address mail in a way that doesn't look like a PO box. Getting something like this set up will not solve your broader issues with your father, but it will prevent him from being able to actively violate your privacy by reading your mail and opening your packages.
posted by ubersturm at 1:29 PM on October 16, 2011

I very much agree with Houstonian's comments. I think the best bet for this would be to change the mailing address of any mail that you consider sensitive. I would not suggest taking up any of the aggressive or passive aggressive suggestions throughout the thread.

Quite frankly, if you are using their address for mailing things and are financially supported by them, I don't think there will be much sympathy in general for this issue, even if it is wrong.

My suggestion overall would be to start creating a space for yourself outside their home. If you can, get an apartment instead of a dorm. Start distancing yourself from their home as being the place you live and keep your things at. Over time, maybe it will get through to your folks that you need your own space and privacy, just like they need theirs.

In all honesty, getting an apartment and working out some of these general issues with my parents has been one of the most worthwhile things that I have done for our relationship as adults.
posted by graxe at 1:55 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

My father did this for years after I moved out. I had to recognize that it was a control issue (one of many) and that no amount of asking would make him stop. Ultimately the only solution was to move out for real -- mail, bedroom and all. Ymmv, of course.
posted by OLechat at 1:56 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Dad absolutely needs to respect your privacy! I agree he is way out of line, looking at all your mail and opening your packages and invading your privacy. The question is, why does he even want to?

He probably does still think of you as a kid. Parents have this failing sometimes--we can still remember when you were absolutely dependent on us and have to remind ourselves that you are adults now. He may be, and probably is, worrying about you, even though you are perfectly able to take care of yourself.

I agree you should try to enlist Mom's help if at all possible. Family members are good for running interference when you are trying to solve problems, because they respect everyone's feelings. If she can't talk to your Dad and get him to stop, she might at least be able to get to the mailbox before he does!

I also agree that you should not have very private materials or packages sent to Mom and Dad's place.

He also thinks nothing of rearranging different aspects of my car to suit him if I come to visit because he thinks his way is the best

That sucks. If he is paying your car insurance or car payments, though, he may feel he is entitled to do these things, "for your own good." I wouldn't like it, either. If the car is yours, free and clear, just don't let him take your keys! Otherwise, this may be something you should just let go until the car is legally yours.

despite the fact that my room at my parents' house is still my room, he likewise has no problem rummaging through my things to find something he wants despite the fact that these things are not his to look for in the first place.

Again, really annoying for you. But it his house, despite that being your room. That makes this one tricky. If he's looking for batteries, for instance, I wouldn't make a big deal about it. Honestly, if you have anything really personal you don't want your Dad to see, maybe it shouldn't be in your parents' house. Or get a chest or suitcase with a lock at least.

You also might want to set up a regular weekly time to call your parents and talk with them, too. Dad might be less likely to spy on you if he knows what is going on in your life; he may not want you to go to therapy because he wants you to turn to dear old Dad when you have a problem in your life. Try keeping him up-to-date.
posted by misha at 2:05 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

Go to your home town post office and fill out a Change of Address and Forwarding form. They will thereafter intercept mail addressed to you at your home, put a yellow sticker with your new address on it and send it to your current address. The forwarding service lasts for, I think, one year.
posted by KRS at 2:08 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

You could sue him.

Not to win, probably. But he's committing mail fraud, and that's actionable.

Pretty sure that's not mail fraud. However, it is a violation of criminal law.

If you want to get all bomb-droppy, send him a letter saying you will call postal inspectors if he does it again.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:08 PM on October 16, 2011

I disagree that this is about finances. I'm old enough that my friends and I wrote eachother letters as kids, and our parents did not open them. Our parents also did not go rummaging in our stuff without asking first. (though I guess if our stuff had been throught to contain drugs or something, then they would have.) We were 8, or, later, 15, but our stuff was still considered our stuff despite the fact that we didn't buy it. That's how we were taught to be responsible for our own stuff. That was just basic respect, and this is about lack of respect. I'm guessing your dad would be doing the same thing if you were bankrolling him. I do agree with everyone who said you're not going to change him at this point, so better to control your mail with change of address forms and a mailbox that's not at the PO.
posted by DestinationUnknown at 2:18 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

"Hi Dad! Did you know that opening others' mail is a federal offense that carries a penalty of up to ten years in prison and a $250,000 fine? I just thought that was interesting."
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 3:17 PM on October 16, 2011 [3 favorites]

Guys, I appreciate te advice, but suing my father is out of the question, not to mention absolutely unkind given that I have no other issues with him aside from the fact that he thinks it's kosher to open my mail. Thank you for your responses. I am going to go for gentle reminders and some change of address forms.
posted by These Birds of a Feather at 4:44 PM on October 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

TBoaF: It sounds like you've politely asked your father to stop doing these things. A lot. And he ignores you. Have you tried asking him impolitely? Being polite and having manners meanings never giving offense unintentionally. I'm not talking about driving a permanent wedge with lawsuits and such; it's clear those suggestions are unwelcome and unwise.

But "Please stop doing this!" clearly doesn't work. Have you tried "Goddammit, stop going through my fucking things!". If you are always polite and do not curse in front of your parents I guarantee he will get the message.

If you simply can't bring yourself to be impolite to your father despite the fact that he is violating significant boundaries in your relationship I suggest that the problem lies with you being unable to enforce boundaries while your father is (wrongly, yes) taking advantage of that fact.
posted by Justinian at 5:02 PM on October 16, 2011

These Birds of a Feather: " He also thinks nothing of rearranging different aspects of my car to suit him if I come to visit because he thinks his way is the best"

If those aspects are seat height and mirror adjustments because he's driving, they should be adjusted for the new driver, and its difficult to return them to original position.
posted by pwnguin at 5:28 PM on October 16, 2011

I'm going to agree with everyone who said get a mailbox at UPS or Mailboxes, Etc. This obviously won't solve your problems with your dad but it will clear out one headache. Also want to echo folks who said that if you are financially dependent on dad, still have many of your things at his house, he owns or helps pay for your car, you're stuck. Focus on other things, get the private mailbox for packages, and realize that you won't have your privacy until you are financially independent and do not have all your stuff in a room at your dad's house. That's what worked for me, though I didn't have the mail problem. Just other ones :)
posted by manicure12 at 10:17 PM on October 16, 2011

There is a partial technical solution to this problem that hasn't been mentioned. In addition to a PO box I would also get a USPS Change of Address - people often underestimate the value of the service. It's not clear in the OP whether "some of it I've been able to redirect..." refers to the formal service or to the OP just asking people to use the new address...

But the Change of Address service will intercept all mail addressed to a particular person at a particular address and reroute that to the new address. Mail addressed to others will continue to be delivered as usual. People often assume that it applies to ALL mail to a particular address, but that is no longer the case.

It's not a complete solution but it's definitely better than just hoping Dad gets the message (heh).
posted by mikel at 7:33 AM on October 17, 2011 [1 favorite]

Make a list of all the mail that has gone to Dad's address. Contact each sender, and insist that they verify your address as the PO box, esp. health care providers. Unless you have the same name as your Dad, a change of address form will work well, too. They can be renewed. But don't rely on the change form; contact the senders yourself.

Find a different place to get packages. And, complain to the school about their policy. I would be unhappy about the costs of dorm living if I was unable to get packages.

Your Dad should change, but you can't control his behavior. You can let him know that you've made every effort to limit the mail that goes to his address because he opens it. And you can tell him that you love him a lot, but his lack of respect for you reduces your ability to trust him. And that the less mail you get at his house, the less you'll be likely to visit.
posted by theora55 at 9:15 AM on October 17, 2011

To make things even simpler, you can change your address with USPS online. They charge $1 to a credit card (or debit card that functions as a credit card). They'll send you a confirmation at your new address.
posted by WasabiFlux at 11:27 AM on October 17, 2011

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