Should I bring up this family incident from the past that still upsets me?
December 25, 2012 1:02 PM   Subscribe

Should I bring up this family incident from the past that still upsets me?

I'm a female in my 30s. About eight or nine years ago, I was dating someone of a different race and my parents were extremely upset about it. My mother said a lot of racist things and said that if I married my boyfriend, she would disown me. My father was level-headed about it, did not make racist remarks, but was concerned about practical difficulties I'd encounter in life if I married him (prejudices from other people, etc). And his feeling was that if he and my mom disapproved, I should break up with the guy, and that maybe I needed some "tough love". He told me that if my mom disowned me he would still write me letters even if he wouldn't be able to see me, because I was his daughter.

In a way, my dad's reaction bothered me even more than my mom's. He knew the racist things my mom said were wrong and he stuck by her anyway. (Brief backstory: my dad was actually engaged to someone of another race before he met my mom, and broke up with her when his parents asked him to, since they disapproved.) On the one hand, it's insane to me that my dad didn't stick up for me and stand up to my mom since it seems he knew better, AND he'd been through the same thing himself! On the other hand, it seems that my dad's expectation is that if a person is dating someone their parents disapprove of, it's the person's duty to end the relationship.

The "tough love" comment bothered me in particular because I've always associated that phrase with drug addiction, and it hurt to be compared to a drug addict when all I did was date someone of another race. I've always been a very loving, devoted, dutiful daughter, putting my family before myself, and to have my dad say that I needed tough love was amazingly unfair and untrue.

We fought about this for a long time and it was awful. We'd been a very, very close family and it destroyed me to be treated this way by my parents. I wound up breaking up with the guy for unrelated reasons, and eventually we moved past it all (on the surface, anyway).

My mom has since apologized (more than once), saying she feels terrible that she interfered, she doesn't know what she was thinking, and she wants me to be with whomever I want. I really appreciate that. I've accepted that my mom is a pretty racist person and that there isn't anything I can do to change that, and that despite that she genuinely feels very badly for mistreating me and getting in the way of my happiness. I think I've mostly put my mom's reaction behind me because I know she's really sorry, I know she recognizes that she was at fault, and I can't change what happened; I can only move forward.

My dad is another story. His reaction and the things he said still bother me a lot. I know he loves me - but this experience made me realize that his love is conditional (and my mom's as well). If he loved me, how could he be willing to limit our interactions to just letters rather than visits? The whole thing is still mind-boggling to me and so hurtful. Sometimes I feel like a sucker for continuing to be part of this family as if nothing happened. And then sometimes I remember that my dad really does love me and I need to try and move past this.

I thought I'd put all this behind me, but a family tragedy somehow dredged these feelings up again and my father's behavior towards me still hurts. I feel ridiculous for being upset about this after so many years. I'm wondering if I should do my best to get over it in my own way and put it behind me, or if it would be worthwhile to talk to my dad about it (as uncomfortable and embarrassing as that might be). I'm not even sure what he realistically could or would say that would make me feel better about it, though. I doubt an apology would be forthcoming, for example, because I think he thought he was in the right and I was the one who needed the "tough love".

Have any of you been through anything similar, and do you have any advice? Thank you in advance, and thanks for reading.
posted by sunflower16 to Human Relations (32 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
It sounds like he was trying to make the best of a bad situation; he has to support his wife, but he didn't want to lose contact with you, so he tried to come up with a compromise. I also wonder what he could say to make you feel better--apologize? explain why he did it? Does it seem likely he would do that if you talked to him about it again?
posted by WorkingMyWayHome at 1:13 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

My general feeling on this sort of thing is that if you think it will help you get past it by getting some stuff off your chest, by all means, bring it up. But if your primary motivation is hoping for some kind of specific reaction - an apology or acknowledgement of wrongness - you're probably going to be disappointed.
posted by something something at 1:13 PM on December 25, 2012 [10 favorites]

My father is an angry person. That is his personality and nothing I say will change that, nor should it. Knowing that, I have chosen to reduce his interactions in my life to a minimum so as to reduce the poison that is his personality on my life. I am happier because of this. I also have made that same choice with friends.

Keep in mind your father's generation and how his personality is a norm (tough love is not a rare thing) and make your decisions based on that.

Finally, you do not need your parent's approval to be happy. Do what makes you happy and surround yourself with others that help you do this. Everytime your parents do something that angers you breath deep and reduce your interactions. If they ask why then be honest, but make it clear you don't expect them to change. Blood may be thicker than water, but your happiness is the most important thing.

Good luck!
posted by zombieApoc at 1:17 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

What your parents did was deeply hurtful. I suggest that you consider that they "knew" they'd never cut you out of their lives, because they "knew" that their manipulative threat would keep you from marrying that bad other-race man. They weren't thinking of you as a separate person, but as an extension of themselves. It must have been terrible to find out that they cared more about their "principles" than they did about respecting you.

I'm 55 years old. Until I was in my late twenties, my parents manipulated me emotionally whenever they disapproved of a choice I was making. Decades have gone by, and it can still make me angry and sad, even though they now treat me with complete respect and they mind their own business.

I think it will become easier for you once you can tell yourself that you are a separate person. You deserve their respect, but you can't change how they think about you. Their opinions are just information, and you don't need to take them into account at all. They were wrong to manipulate you -- it was a very serious mistake. You need to look for support from people who believe in you, and if your parents don't fit that description, you can sadly accept that.

My own parents started treating me differently fairly soon after I started to see myself as an adult who could move forward in life without feeling obligated to please my family. It was very hard at first to tell them, "I know you disagree, but I've decided to _______ and it feels right to me."

I don't know if you should bring up the issue again with your dad. I think you'd be better off if you could look to the future, because you're ready to make decisions independently.
posted by wryly at 2:02 PM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry, that was a crappy thing. I don't think you are going to tease any logic out of your father's behavior, except that perhaps he wanted to save you from a life of not speaking to your mother.
posted by two lights above the sea at 2:05 PM on December 25, 2012

It sounds to me, that prior to this, and in many ways, you had a good relationship with your parents, and that it was a source of comfort, security, love, and perhaps admiration for you as well - and you'd really like that back.

I dunno if it will help, but my experience of my own parents is that they tend to talk a good game, but their own feelings of love and wanting to be loved will betray their principles time and time again. Thus, the most ridiculous and histrionic threats that get thrown out there in the heat of the moment when they are trying to "save" one of us are never, ever followed through in practice - or at least not for very long.

Obviously what your parents thought, and how they both acted was wrong wrong wrong. But those things that really bothered you, the threats to disown, break contact etc? They almost certainly would not have happened. I, and my siblings, have called my parents' bluffs time and time again. They basically never bother now.

Tell your dad how hurtful and disappointing you found his actions. If he's like most dads, he will probably equivocate and refuse to apologise or acknowledge that it was an empty threat (maybe he will surprise you). But in your heart, you will know that his love for you is like a strong river, and any principle he holds is an old, gnarled tree. Sooner or later, it would be swept away by the current and you will never know it was there.
posted by smoke at 2:07 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry your parents hurt and disappointed you. It's hard when you have to face the fact that your parents are flawed and imperfect. In this case, it sounds like your dad was telling you that he'd stand by your mom, even if she was wrong, because his marriage is his primary relationship. Which is definitely a hurtful thing to hear, but less a reflection on you than on how he views his priorities.

As for what you can do... as a fellow child of flawed parents, I have chosen to forgive but not forget. I let the past stay buried, but I do not put myself in a position where their issues affect me. I do not talk to them about my marriage, financial responsibility, my troubled sister, religion, or politics, because I KNOW the results will upset me. If they violate those boundaries, I change the subject and leave if need be.

It's possible to love your parents while acknowledging that their are certain things that we do not Do Well.
posted by snickerdoodle at 2:10 PM on December 25, 2012 [6 favorites]

I'm going to set aside the racism, since that sounds like it is irrelevant to your dad's behavior. Honestly, I don't see what your dad did wrong. You say that he didn't stick up for you, but you have no way of knowing that. Based on your mom's dramatics, it sounds like she is a very volatile person, and "taking your side" in front of you would have been like lighting a match to gasoline, since it would embarrass her. It would have been a far better strategy to have talked to your mom in private to advocate for you. And based on the fact that he wouldn't have been able to see you otherwise, and he expressed that he clearly wanted to, it's likely that this is exactly what he did.

It sounds to me like you're just upset that if he had to choose between his wife and his daughter, he would have chosen his wife. But you would have prioritized your significant other over your family, so how can you be angry at him for making the same choice?
posted by wolfdreams01 at 2:14 PM on December 25, 2012 [10 favorites]

My dad is another story. His reaction and the things he said still bother me a lot. I know he loves me - but this experience made me realize that his love is conditional (and my mom's as well).

Yes it is, because you are adults interacting as adults. It's important to come to terms with that regardless of the dispute that lead you to discover this. As to the dispute, welcome to another facet of adulthood parent relationships: realising your parents are deeply, horrendously flawed, just as you are.
posted by DarlingBri at 2:28 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Your parents' reactions may have more to do with their own situation than with you and your ex-boyfriend. It must be difficult for your mother to know that, but for your father's parents' own prejudices, your father would have married someone else instead of her. In a strange way, defending these prejudices may have become caught up in your mother defending herself and her role as your father's wife. Your father sticking up for her over this becomes more understandable seen in this light, I think. I don't think you'll gain much from bringing it up again - you can try, but I think your parents have too much at stake here to say they were wrong for what they did. Better to just try to accept it, and try to understand things from their perspectives, irrational though they may seem.
posted by hazyjane at 3:21 PM on December 25, 2012 [5 favorites]

Bring it up only if you are seeking to understand what he was thinking—and sure that you can accept what you hear without judgement or further hurt—not if you are looking for an apology.

You might try approaching the subject by asking what he now thinks of his parents' reaction to his relationship with the woman of another race (i.e., have his feelings on the subject changed over the years). His answer to this might give you enough information to know whether or not you want to bring up your issues with his reaction to your situation.
posted by she's not there at 4:09 PM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

This greatly reminds me of the many cults and religions that practice shunning. It's always deeply disturbed me, because it's almost always the case that when a family has a choice between remaining in good standing with the church and keeping their ties with a family member, they chose to remain with the church and to cut their ties to the family member. This fact casts doubt on how deep family ties really are.

In your case, the incident with your boyfriend revealed to you that your Dad would cut you off (at least partially) to remain in good standing with your Mom. Fortunately, when your mother got her senses back, she reassured you that her ties to you were more important than anything else. While your mother was too emotional and carried away to see that what she was doing was wrong, at the time she did it, your dad wasn't, which suggests that whatever he was doing at the time was a true reflection of his attitudes.

It is what it is. I would suggest that you don't talk your father about his behavior to you, but about your behavior to him (e.g., if you've been cool with him, or whatever), and explain the origin of it was the incident that revealed to you that his love was conditional--because it did. You could explain that the the incident changed your view of him as a parent and person in ways that not only deeply saddened you, but necessarily required an adjustment in your beliefs, expectations and behavior. In the ideal, telling him what his behavior revealed about him might at least cause him to reflect on what kind of person he wanted to be. But, if not, at least there would be transparency between you.
posted by Transl3y at 4:14 PM on December 25, 2012

Your mother made rude, racist comments about your SO and threatened to disown you; but you've managed to accept her after-your-breakup apology and forgiven her.

Your father accepted your interracial relationship, never insulting or threatening anyone; all he did was offer you the benefit of his own similar experience and the reality that there are people out there who will judge you for dating outside your race...... and for that, you want to what, cut him out of your life?!?

I wonder what would happen if you brought home another SO not of your own race: would your mother revert to her previous racist position? Something to think about, isn't it.
posted by easily confused at 4:15 PM on December 25, 2012 [1 favorite]

And, kudos to your mom for acknowledging her error in judgment and apologizing for her reaction. If she is truly a "pretty racist person", this is a very big deal.
posted by she's not there at 4:19 PM on December 25, 2012

Thanks for all the responses so far. It helps to hear others' perspectives. To clarify a couple of things:

@wolfdreams: I understand that my dad would prioritize his relationship with his wife over his relationship with his kid (me); but what bothers me so much is that he would do this knowing that he was doing it for the wrong reasons. I mean, what was he thinking? "My wife is racist and I know she's treating our daughter poorly and unfairly, but I'm going to go along with that and never see my daughter again even though I know my wife is in the wrong?" You make a good point that it's possible he advocated for me in private, but I kind of doubt it, considering that the hurtful things he said to me were said when my mom wasn't around.

@easily confused: What I wrote in response to wolfdreams kind of answers your question as well. My mom was willing to disown me because of a very strongly-held belief that I was doing something wrong. My dad didn't have this belief and was willing to never see me again anyway. I can relate to where my mom was coming from, but not where my dad was coming from.

@DarlingBri: This is news to me, that parents' love is conditional. I'm not a parent myself, so perhaps I'll understand one day if I become one. Do other parents feel this way, that their love for their kids is conditional?

Thanks again, all.
posted by sunflower16 at 5:11 PM on December 25, 2012




You admit yourself you can't understand what it's like to be a parent to someone. Cut them a break. Also, it sounds like there's a whole backstory on your dad's side that you've heard only an outline of. That is probably very charged material. Don't probe further.
posted by Doohickie at 5:54 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I did once bring up something with my dad that he'd done years in the past that was still bugging me. Contrary to smoke's prediction above about how "most dads" act, my father gave me a sincere apology.

I think what helps such a conversation go smoothly is if you stay calm, but factual - and use lots of "I felt like THIS when you did THAT" talk rather than accusing him of things. You know? Instead of "dammit, dad, you obviously love me only conditionally," go with "when you said THIS I felt like THAT because it made me feel AS IF you only loved me conditionally". The first way is accusing him of something, the second way is more informing him of an effect he had on you that maybe he didn't know about and didn't mean to do.

Because odds are he didn't mean for you to feel that way. Especially if he had a similar incident in his past - maybe his own emotions were in a really complex stew and he thought he sincerely was doing the right thing, maybe he was still hurting from what had happened to him so many years ago and he didn't know what he was saying and hadn't thought it through. Odds are that when he finds out that "look, dad, I know you meant well, but here's how what you said made me feel," his response will be something like "holy crap, I didn't mean it like that - wow, I'm so sorry."
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 6:00 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

Maybe it would help to put it to your dad in more forward-thinking terms.

"Look, Dad, I might very well date someone of another race at some point. I might even marry them. Mom has apologized for threatening to cut me off, and I am hoping she meant it. But I need to know what you would do. Because last time I was really shocked when you said you'd go along with that, and it still kind of hurts a lot. I love you and I didn't know how to feel when you said that."

Something along those lines. Because that is what you need to know...not what happened in the heat of the moment then, but where you stand now, and whether you can count on him. Right? And putting it that way gives him a chance to look at his past decision more objectively and maybe even admit it wasn't his best moment, and that he would try to do better the next time.

And of course, if there is a next time, you have some ground established.
posted by emjaybee at 6:18 PM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

My dad has stuck by some really fucking awful things my mom has done to me and my brothers. It has boggled me as I've looked up to him as an intelligent, thoughtful, kind person, and I never understood why he did what he did. It deeply hurt us, as your dad's action has hurt you.

But as I've become my own adult and entered my own relationships I realized all relationships are complex and contain dynamics known only to the two people involved. I can't say exactly what my parents say to one another when I'm not in the room, what goes on in my dad's head, what formative experiences have shaped his approach to parenting. Whatever happens between the two of them affected his parenting. I imagine it's the same for your dad. If you are looking for a satisfying conclusion it is unlikely you'll find it. Let it go as you would let go the mistake of a really good friend for the sake of the friendship.
posted by schroedinger at 6:58 PM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

"My wife is racist and I know she's treating our daughter poorly and unfairly, but I'm going to go along with that and never see my daughter again even though I know my wife is in the wrong?"

Well, yes? He made a vow to your mother and takes it seriously. My dad is pretty racist and bigoted too, but I would never expect my mom to leave him for it -- in her culture, marriage is forever. No one in my family has ever divorced. It sounds like your dad also comes from a mindset that places a high priority on duty. This isn't about whether your mom was right or wrong, but rather what "family" and "duty" mean to him.

It sounds like you wanted your dad to choose you and say "Your mom is wrong and you are right and I will fight with you until the bitter end." That's an unfair position to put him in, especially given that when he himself had that choice, he chose family over his fiancee. I think you would benefit from believing the best in him, and trying to see things from his point of view. If you are still angry after that, then by all means tell him that you were hurt that he made that decision, but don't be surprised if you don't like the reaction you get.

Also, as a parent of a baby -- right now, my daughter adores me unconditionally. It fills my heart with love, and with wistfulness, because I know that as she gets older I will disappoint and anger her as I set boundaries and prepare her for adulthood. I know that at one point, she will tell me she hates me and mean it. However, I would not want an adult to love me the same way, because it is quite frankly terrifying to be that much the center of someone's world. Nor would I want her, as an adult, to love someone unconditionally, without a sense of her own needs and boundaries.
posted by snickerdoodle at 7:17 PM on December 25, 2012 [4 favorites]

The dirty truth is that nobody loves anybody "unconditionally." Unconditional love is sort of like Santa Claus - it doesn't really exist, but most people don't say that out loud because they don't want to break their kid's heart. Now you know, and it hurts, but at least you have a more accurate picture of the world.
posted by wolfdreams01 at 7:31 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think I understand your feelings. At least with your mom, it was crystal clear where you stood with her, and you could make your own choices in responding to her choices. With your dad, things are more fuzzy. It sounds like you were looking for an ally to help you make your mom see that she was dead wrong in her views. He wasn't willing to go to bat for you; he was willing to support and go along with your mother's views even though he knew they were wrong. And reduce his interaction with you to just written letters. I can understand your confusion, not feeling loved, or less loved, and feeling abandoned by someone whom you expected to be more understanding, given that he had a similar experience to you.

That said, who knows. Who knows why your dad made his choices. All we know is that they were hurtful and confusing to you and you've gotten good advice on how to talk to him about it if you choose to.

I think it's amazing that your mom apologized in such a heartfelt and honest way. That kind of apology almost never happens. Consider what it must have taken to do that, it must not have been easy. Who knows. Maybe your dad had a hand in that? Can you talk to your mom about your dad's actions?

On the "tough love" thing: i wonder why you have this reaction? You dont have to answer of course. Tough love can take the form of grounding if a teen is slacking off in school, for instance. It's not only associated with drug addictions. In this case, it sounds like tough love refers to your parents being willing to cut you off if you married this guy, as a message to say you're making the wrong decision. "wrong" is relative here - it's the wrong decision in the context of your family, even though your dad knows it's wrong to think of it as a wrong decision. Crazy, isnt it?

Anyway, I think this is all worth exploring in therapy. (this being askmefi, someone had to suggest therapy at some point!) I think it'd be beneficial to talk about your hurt and pain, family dynamics, your role as daughter, "tough love", the ongoing fights, unconditional love, the family tragedy, and whether or not and how to bring this up with your dad. Yeah, there's a lot going on here.
posted by foxjacket at 8:16 PM on December 25, 2012

"My wife is racist and I know she's treating our daughter poorly and unfairly, but I'm going to go along with that and never see my daughter again even though I know my wife is in the wrong?"

Well, no. Taking your vows seriously doesn't mean mistreating your children and disrepecting them. If my mother chose to disown me, that would be her decision and my father would be free to make his own decision and continue to see me and have a relationship with me. And it doesn't mean one has to divorce the other. Being married doesn't mean being in lockstep. Duty and family include your children.

I know that at one point, she will tell me she hates me and mean it.

This is a very odd expectation. I can't imagine saying this to either of my parents or even thinking it, though they sometimes drives me nuts and give me their unwanted opinions all the time.

If I were the OP, I don't know that I would bring it up deliberately with my father just to have the conversation but I might at a time when it felt appropriate. If at some point he gives you support when you really need it, I might mention it then. For example, "Dad, your support right now really means a lot to me. After you didn't stand up for me when I was dating Other Race Guy, I didn't feel I could count on you. I was so hurt and disappointed that you were willing to let me not be a real part of your life." If on the other hand, he fails you again in an important way, you can say the opposite. "Your lack of support for me now and when I was dating Other Race Guy shows that you don't trust my judgement or respect my decisions."
posted by shoesietart at 8:18 PM on December 25, 2012 [2 favorites]


What would you have your dad _have done_ at the time?

What was the right thing for him to do in your mind?

What would you have your dad do now?

I think the answer to the first question would be incredibly useful for you to consider in the context of your parents' relationship.
posted by rr at 8:51 PM on December 25, 2012

My dad is another story. His reaction and the things he said still bother me a lot. I know he loves me - but this experience made me realize that his love is conditional (and my mom's as well). If he loved me, how could he be willing to limit our interactions to just letters rather than visits? The whole thing is still mind-boggling to me and so hurtful.

I suspect that your parents' love is not, in fact, conditional, but that they were desperately trying to reconcile a nearly-overwhelming cognitive dissonance: their beloved daughter on the one hand, and their deeply-held racism, on the other hand (unfortunately, your dad's having dated someone of another race does not absolve him of racism). They talked a good game about disowning you (so good that you are still traumatized), but when push came to shove, they were still talking to you (albeit to excoriate you, but sadly people love in extremely strange ways, even our parents). Your dad could not bring himself to any kind of disowning; he was still planning a letter-writing campaign. This kind of hostage-taking is common in families, especially where social issues are concerned, but when push comes to shove, many, many parents relent* and show up, if not at the wedding, than at a neutral location soon after. Even more come around when grandchildren are in the picture. (Unfortunately then they are racist towards their own grandchildren.)

It might help you to think of your mother's tirades and your dad's passivity as a way for them to save face- they couldn't reconcile their racism and their deep love for you, so they unleashed a lot of sound and fury that ultimately signified nothing. I suspect you would be in a similar but tenser situation had you married your then-boyfriend, with your parents feeling that they were "on record" as having objected to your bad choices, thus absolving them of their duty to their racist beliefs while letting them have a relationship with you, their beloved daughter.

Does that make things better? Honestly, not really. But it might help you keep your cool when thinking about this to realize that you were hearing empty but hurtful threats- not promises.

*I extend my deepest sympathies to the many people who came out of the closet or married outside their race or worked outside the home or did any other socially progressive thing and discovered their parents were in the steely minority.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 8:55 PM on December 25, 2012 [7 favorites]

It sounds as though you believe your father is a reasonable enough person that you could talk to him about this, and expect a productive conversation. If you believed him to be so unreasonable that he would deny that he ever said it, or deny your feelings or what-have-you I don't think you would have asked the question. So if my assumption is correct, I say have the conversation. Hopefully you can then put this issue to rest. In my own life it's the un-had conversations that still keep running through my mind, taking up valuable real estate and emotional energy. Such a waste, but in my case it involves people who are in outright denial.

In any case, keep it factual; "Dad, this recent incident has brought up some old feelings, and I'd appreciate it if we could talk about it for a few minutes..."

Best of luck.
posted by vignettist at 9:43 PM on December 25, 2012

Both I and my siblings have faced some situations with our parents where our parents said "If you make choice X, we will not be at your wedding/love your kids/support you/etc. etc. etc." In each case, it was incredibly painful to hear those words. In each case, we made Choice X, because it was the right choice. Like yours, these were choices about who and how to love or how to live our lives, not drug addiction or something that put us in harm's way.

In each case, though, our parents came around. They rose to the occasion, showed up at the weddings, loved the kids, supported us, etc. etc. etc. As people mentioned above, most parents come around in these moments, and the theoretical "what they would do if this happened" and the actual things they do when it happens end up being quite different. It doesn't make it less hard. But it sounds like it's really hurting you to hold this grudge against your father for what was threatened (cutting contact, etc.) when you don't have any way of knowing if it would have played out that way. It might be worth discussing this with him, or it might not. In any case, know that people can and will surprise you in these big life moments, sometimes for the better.
posted by judith at 9:54 PM on December 25, 2012

To those who seem to think I expected my dad to leave my mom over this - definitely not! I'm not sure where you got that idea.

I didn't even expect him to fight my mom till the bitter end, or anything like that. I suppose what I expected was something along these lines: (a) Dad tells Mom she's treating me unfairly/poorly, and (b) Dad tells Mom that even if Mom won't see me, Dad will continue to see me on his own. Even if Dad felt uncomfortable doing (a) and couldn't do it, I absolutely expected (b).
posted by sunflower16 at 10:14 PM on December 25, 2012

If it makes you feel better, that's exactly what I'd have expected if I were in your position. If your mom had then said "it's me or her," your dad should have refused to pick and let her do what she would. Loyalty means you don't reject somebody if they do the wrong thing but it doesn't mean you have to do the wrong thing, too.
posted by Transl3y at 10:56 PM on December 25, 2012 [3 favorites]

So many great responses in here. And -- is it possible your dad might apologize if you explained how what he said and did not say has affected you? If you think it could be yes, then I agree with maybe checking in with him about the experience.
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 11:34 PM on December 25, 2012

I wonder if your dad's own choice didn't play a part in his reaction. He must have also been faced with a difficult choice of staying with the person he loved and potentially losing his family (against presumably a background of a society that was less favourably inclined towards mixed race marriages).

He chose his family and obviously believes that was the right choice, but probably does feel some sadness and regret over that. Maybe your refusal to make the same choice feels to him like a criticism of his choice or a denial of the values that led him to make that choice.

My own mother often seems to take the fact that I have made very different choices to her as a criticism of her life and decisions.
posted by *becca* at 3:15 AM on December 26, 2012

I suppose what I expected was something along these lines: (a) Dad tells Mom she's treating me unfairly/poorly, and (b) Dad tells Mom that even if Mom won't see me, Dad will continue to see me on his own. Even if Dad felt uncomfortable doing (a) and couldn't do it, I absolutely expected (b).

Well, you don't know if your dad didn't discuss it with your mom, and was told "my way or the highway." In my very similar situation, I was told "You know how your dad feels." It was crystal clear that if my mom had defied my dad, she would also be ostracized and her marriage in shambles. It didn't matter if I was "right;" my mom was incapable of disobeying my dad on this front. I also knew that they'd eventually come around.

I was still hurt, but I knew my mom and I knew that I couldn't ask her to betray one of her core principles (devotion to marriage) any more than I can ask my kid to change her own diaper. This is a woman who got pregnant at 16 in post-war Vietnam, and whose entire life has been defined my her relationship with her dad and their disparate struggle to survive. His racism is rooted in his experiences with Americans during the war and the traumas he experienced while barely a teenager. This does not excuse it, but it does inform my decisions as to how to engage him about it.

You have some clues about your dad and his motivations. I'm not saying you can forget this happened, but I think you can treat him with compassion and try to understand where he's coming from, even if you disagree. If you can do that, you will have a much more fruitful conversation about him about this.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:59 AM on December 26, 2012

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