My dad doesn't like my religion.
February 13, 2006 8:45 PM   Subscribe

How do I get my father to understand me?

I am 30 years old, a non-theist, and my father is in his late 50's and a Pentecostal pastor. I became an atheist/non-theist after many years of prayer, soul searching, meditation and researching when I was 20. I "came out" as an atheist when I was 22 or so and told my father that I don't believe like him anymore when it comes to religion/spirituality. Since then he's basically told me that

1) There is no such thing as an atheist
2) "God is working on you, son."
3) Every story he hears that seems unexplainable to him except by a supernatural act seems to be an immediate and press proof of a deity... and I hear about it over and over again
4) Any time I get a present from that side of the family, there is a little bit of something Christian/Pentecostal slipped in there as well.
-- and many, many other sideways comments from his wife or him.

This is a man that believes in demons, angels, and miracles. Prophecies happen and God is talking to people now. Dreams are very important to him. His beliefs are fairly well in line with the vineyard group of churches.

This all came to a head the other night when he asked about a book that I was reading "The Singularity is Near." Any topic of this sort doesn't sit well with his faith at all, but the way he attacked the ideas felt like an attack on me. I hung up on him. I called him back a few days later and told him that I didn't want to talk to him for a little while, that I loved him, but he said some things that upset me.

Now what do I do? It's obvious to me that he's not going to let this go. It should have been obvious years ago. But he *can't* even begin to imagine the world without his God and his spiritual life. He literally lives in another world and reality. So I can't even think about where to begin with him.

Basically this all comes down to what kind of relationship I want with my father. I don't want to proselytize him like he's done to me. I don't want to set limits on what he can or can't discuss with me. I guess I just want him to love me without any ulterior motives and accept me the way I am -- maybe even be a bit proud of me. I accept him the way he is, don't I deserve the same? Has anyone been able to successfully navigate these waters?

Any advice on how to deal with this situation would be very helpful, and personal stories are encouraged.
posted by bigmusic to Human Relations (32 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Lay it out just like you did above -- maybe show him this thread.

Look, you wouldn't let a stranger (or acquaintance) treat you like this -- so why should a family member be allowed to treat you like this?
posted by davidmsc at 8:51 PM on February 13, 2006

He literally lives in another world and reality.


One of my best friends is religious, and a philosophy major. I plan to room with him in college next year, I get along with him so well. We both respect one another's view and are open to conversation about it, but don't try to push it one another. Explain to your father that you just want him to be respectful, and then all you can do is sit back and take it from him or distance yourself. It's too much to ask for him to be proud of you.

What do you care what other people think?
posted by phrontist at 8:52 PM on February 13, 2006

Oh, and I'm a stone-cold atheist.
posted by phrontist at 8:53 PM on February 13, 2006

You'll never get him to "understand" you. Give it up. You can't force it, and you're highly unlikely to persuade anyone with this kind of firmly held belief.

All you can do is stand firm, hold the issue at arm's length and be "professional" about it.

>> 1) There is no such thing as an atheist

Answer: "Thanks for your advice."

>> 2) "God is working on you, son."

Answer: "Thanks for your concern. It really makes me happy to know you love me so much."

>> 3) Every story he hears that seems unexplainable to him except by a supernatural act seems to be an immediate and press proof of a deity... and I hear about it over and over again

Answer: Gracefully change the subject. Example:
He says: "God must have saved those people from that burning building."
You say: "It's amazing what firefighters can do these days with the gear they have. I was watching this Discovery channel show about them the other day..."

>> 4) Any time I get a present from that side of the family, there is a little bit of something Christian/Pentecostal slipped in there as well.

Answer: "Thanks so much for the gift!"

>> and many, many other sideways comments from his wife or him.

Answer: Gracefully change the subject (see above).

These are the things I've learned in my experience that work. They're not magic bullets -- it takes time. But it's all you can do without causing things to devolve into tense situations.
posted by frogan at 8:57 PM on February 13, 2006

Response by poster: It sounds like you are as much bothered by his Christianity as he is bothered by your athiesm.

It's his behavior that bothers towards me that I have problems with, not his faith.
posted by bigmusic at 8:59 PM on February 13, 2006

Frogan has it. Be graceful - even in the face of overwhelming dogma-inspired rudeness.

You may wish to accept that he'll never leave well enough alone, and remember that he's doing it out of love for you and from his firm beliefs. Not that such platitudes help, really, but there you go.

Anecdotal: Parts of my family are very, very religious. I'm agnostic/atheist/non-theist, yet spiritual, metaphysical and philosophical as well as that all blends together.

We have some pretty interesting debates to say the least.

Luckily, even my still rather religious segments of family are very open-minded and entirely capable of "thought experiments", so I've got that going for me.

But now I find that some of my more religious family members are hesitant to start discussions or debate, because the discussions tend to drag on, tangent, and otherwise peter off into well known and mapped philosophical and metaphysical dead ends.

But they sure seem to leave me alone about "coming back" to their religion, for sure. I've studied their texts, I did bible school as a youth, I can hold my own on their turf, and my own.
posted by loquacious at 9:09 PM on February 13, 2006

The crux for me is whether the person is attacking me personally for my beliefs, or being abusive. This is unacceptable and requires me to define a clear boundary. Basically this involves stating clearly what I deem to be acceptable behavior, and if my needs in this regard are not met, removing myself from the situation.

If he is attacking the beliefs themselves, that is fair game, and, you have a choice how you wish to respond. You can humor him, and basically accept that your relationship is limited intellectually in this regard. Or engage in the debate to whatever degree you feel is rewarding. Use the internet as a resource for developing your arguments (Internet Infidels comes to mind as a useful resource) and be open-minded, on the possibility that there are things you can learn from him. Always, keep it civil.
posted by Manjusri at 9:10 PM on February 13, 2006

I accept him the way he is, don't I deserve the same?

You do deserve the same, but the problem is that he sees his proselytizing behavior as a necessary extension of his faith: he cares for you, he thinks if you don't change your mind you'll end up in hell (which he doesn't want), so he sets about trying to "convince" you. The flip side of that, re: atheism, is that aside from him maybe having wasted time and energy, there's no "eternal damnation" that you need to save him from so the compulsion to convince him is certainly not as strong on your end as it is from his. The situation isn't symmetric, so while not being accepted in the same way you accept him may be neither fair nor what you deserve, it's not because he's being a jerk.
posted by juv3nal at 9:12 PM on February 13, 2006

I have a very good friend that gave his life over to a church about 5 years ago. He wouldn't speak to us heathens (my term, not his) for quite a while. He's slowly coming to accept us, but he still prays for us every day.

He has completely bought in to the dogma. That changes a few things:

1) His first responsibility is to save everyone that he can. All of us need to be saved, we just haven't come around yet.

2) Any talk about his beliefs comes down to faith. It is a very effective way to end any argument. There is no way to win.

3) His religion tells him that he has to deal with the unbelievers as ignorant of the Truth.

He just wants you to be saved for your own good, which is a nice gesture. That he hasn't given up just proves he cares about you. If you care about him, don't laugh it off, just attempt to ignore it. You can't challenge his faith because he believes it is be a far greater thing than our mortal existence.
posted by bh at 9:12 PM on February 13, 2006

A goal for me, was to move my relatives to the understanding that religion and science are not mutually exclusive. They each distinct paradigms for understanding the universe. When one tries to extend one of these paradigms into the realm of the other, it is generally pretty easy to point out the logical flaws in their argument.

If I can move one to this point, it means there is fertile ground for discussion. If not, then they are probably best left alone in their imaginary world.
posted by Manjusri at 9:15 PM on February 13, 2006

It's not that he doesn't understand you it's that he doesn't accept you that bothers you. I sometimes have trouble understanding why Christians believe the way they do, but that doesn't mean I don't accept them.

That said, it's obviously a lot easier for an atheist to accept a Christian then the other way around, since from the atheists perspective, there is no 'spiritual benefit' for being one. I doubt your father will ever be able to deal with the very real fact, from his perspective, of your going to hell.

Maybe you can convince him the singularity will give you earthly immortality, and thus hell will be a moot point for a few thousand years.
posted by delmoi at 9:17 PM on February 13, 2006

"His wife"? If he's not a widower then you could turn the tables on him and get all preachy. That probably wouldn't solve anything though.

More realistically, if you told him that his activities serve only to further embitter you towards Christianity then he might back down. If he's truely doing this out of concern for your soul then he should come to the understanding that he's only making things worse. I would have to question if this wouldn't give him some false hope, though.
posted by ODiV at 9:33 PM on February 13, 2006

juv3nal has it.

This man is your father. You are his child, and he truly believes with every fiber of his being that your lack of belief will result in the worst possible torture beyond the capacity of his mind, for eternity, a time longer than anyone can really grasp. Likely, there are few things even close to as important to him as you accepting faith once more.

He won't "understand" your atheism. By his very faith, he cannot. You are in essence, asking as much from him as he is from you. A change in faith.

Understand that his badgering of you is not just religious fervor, but a father's love. He wants what is best for you, and he is convinced that what he is doing is in your interest. No amount of pestering would be too much, if it had results.

There is no safe ground in discussing faith. Accept this much, and gently turn the topic away from such if it comes up. Let him know that you understand how he just wants what's best for you, and that you have to be responsible for your own decisions, not him. No matter how much he preaches, your faith or lack thereof will come from within yourself, not from others. One is not preached into believing any more than they are preached out of believing.

Note, do not get in religious discussions with him. A civil disagreement is the best possible result, and a family rift will be more likely. Ask him gently to let you take care of your own beliefs and trust in you. He will certainly be uneasy, and he may insist on not-so-subtle hints and reminders, but he may tone it down a bit.

You don't want to change his faith, but it's just hard to accept that this is part of his faith. All you can do is ask him to trust you to make your own decisions in this. It would help to not bring up your own atheism any more than absolutely necessary. I hate to suggest deceiving your father in the least, but it is true that if you are to accept his God once more, it would be from you, not him. Asking him to accept your atheism is too much. Asking him to accept the rest of you and hope that you make the right decisions, that's just fine.
posted by Saydur at 9:49 PM on February 13, 2006 [1 favorite]

I don't want to set limits on what he can or can't discuss with me.

I have some family members that are ministers and basically we've agreed to skip discussions of religion. It does make it hard to talk to them, because that means politics are out as well, so we don't talk about current events either.

So we basically talk about family and that's about it. It is definitely limiting, but it's better than not talking to them at all.
posted by mathowie at 9:52 PM on February 13, 2006

Response by poster: Oddly enough, I don't think he's worried about me going to hell.
posted by bigmusic at 10:08 PM on February 13, 2006

He'll never be able to respect your beliefs. The most you can ask of him is that he respect you and therefore take it, as a matter of principle, that you have good reasons for believing what your believe. When he insults your beliefs this is how you have to frame it: he's insulting you. Ask him point blank if he thinks you don't already know X? Or if he thinks you're an idiot or still a teenager? Tell him he raised you better than that. After a while this'll sink in and he'll start treating you as an adult. This is likely the best you can hope for. The polite thing to do is not to discuss these things with your dad. There's plenty of other topics to talk about. When this comes up just say that there's nothing to discuss and change the subject.
posted by nixerman at 10:15 PM on February 13, 2006

I don't want to set limits on what he can or can't discuss with me.

Well, damn. Then get used to being preached at. I'd also suggest that you not just 'give up' on getting him to understand you, but also perhaps 'grow up' a little bit and start to realize that his understanding is not essential to your happiness. Not trying to deliberately snark here, just pointing out that you seem awfully heavily invested in him letting go of something you already know he's not going to let go of.

So stop caring about that part, at least. Your relationship with your father has serious limitations. Deal with it.
posted by mediareport at 10:27 PM on February 13, 2006

...the way he attacked the ideas felt like an attack on me.

I can almost guarantee you that he feels exactly the same way about your apostasy. Was he a minister when you were growing up? I'm sure he wonders how you can spurn the religion he taught you without (a) breaking from him and (b) thinking less of him because he still holds those beliefs.

I think maintaining a good relationship with him is more important than pushing your beliefs. I'm sure this will be shouted down in a later pileon, but I don't think it's always necessary to be perfectly thoroughly accurate in situations like this.

If he asks "What are you reading?", feel free to mention a novel you picked up, or a coffee-table book on March of the Penguins, or a bio of your favorite artist. Okay, maybe you were actually reading The Origin of Species most recently, but why bring it up? It will cause nothing but an argument, and anger and hurt on both sides.

Don't instigate talks about this. It sounds like you guys have both had your say; he knows how you feel, you know how he feels, and obviously neither of you are about to switch sides. So when you can, just talk about something else. For a father and son, there are thousands of other things to talk about. Yes, you could talk about the latest conflict in the news, but why? Just don't. Please. It will only lead to more anger, arguing, slamming down the phone, and reconciliations that never quite restore the relationship.

If he brings it up -- "So, read the latest Left Behind book?" -- just say, "No, but recently I was reading X, and I really liked..." and derail the conversation. If he pushes his religion, it's only because he's trying to help you (and maybe to restore the closeness you two had when you were a kid).

And finally, I'm sure your father's still proud of you. Of course he's upset and hurt that you left his religion, especially since he's a strong enough believer to be a pastor, but I'm sure he's still proud of your accomplishments. I'm sure he still loves you just as much as he always did -- if he didn't, it wouldn't hurt him so much.

Recently, my parents and I came to a parting of ways about something like this. It was really bad -- my congregation had always been UCC as I was growing up, but early last spring, when the local members could no longer ignore that the UCC was "faggot-friendly," the congregation decided to leave the denomination. I chose to leave my rural congregation so I could stick with the UCC. Nearly all the other members, including my parents, chose to stick with the congregation and strike out on their own. It was a horrible parting of ways; it destroyed a huge chunk of my childhood and forever changed how I'll look at those people and memories. I still have nightmares about my pre-split "friendly discussions" with my parents and other church members -- in fact, I had one last night. But although my parents and I cannot agree on our theology, there's no doubt in my mind that they're still proud of me and my accomplishments. Even if your father doesn't say it, please don't doubt that he loves you and is proud of you.
posted by booksandlibretti at 10:31 PM on February 13, 2006

"Have you thought about why God might have created people like me, who don't believe in him?"

I think the best you can do is pose questions that are reasonable within his paradigm. You're here asking a bunch of godless liberals how to relate to a pentacostal preacher, and I think you're in for a bunch of useless answers.

Just try to bear in mind that your paradigms are basically incompatible. You can't really relate to what his life is about either since you don't believe in god and god is the center of his universe. Ever think of it that way?

You don't overcome these gaps in worldview through a single conversation, through any one witty insight, through force of will. You live with each other in a long, uncomfortable series of compromises and concessions until eventually, perhaps, someday, if you're lucky, you arrive at mutual respect for each other, if not agreement.

Stay mellow. Be respectful. Be clear about what you believe and stick to your guns. But don't be a prick. And be patient. Stay at it. You only get one dad and it just might take a lifetime for you two to work it out.
posted by scarabic at 10:42 PM on February 13, 2006

There was another question about coming out as an agnostic that might be helpful to you.
posted by occhiblu at 11:19 PM on February 13, 2006

re: once saved, always saved - I've got relatives like that too, and it's confusing as to why they would continue to badger me about reconverting if they think that I'm still saved. I've come to realise that they are firmly convinced that the Christian lifestyle is the best lifestyle for people (otherwise, why would God prescribe it, right?), and if I'm not living it, I must not be as happy as I could be. Obviously your dad wants you to be happy. Perhaps he buys the hype that atheists are deeply discontented and have no reason to live, and worries that you feel that way. Part of the solution might be found in sharing things with him that give you joy in life, things that make it worthwhile.

Perhaps, also, he wants to think of himself as a good person, and in the evangelical Christian's mind, a good person = a good witness for Christ. It may be close to impossible to think of himself as a good person or a good parent if he doesn't keep trying to bring you back.

There is an Ex-Christian Mailing List that I've found helpful since my deconversion. There are a lot of people on there who deal with similar situations (parents/siblings/friends who are in ministry). Likewise on the Internet Infidels forums (Secular Life in particular). It's a difficult situation, with fine lines between being understanding of their motives, and letting the other person disrespect your choices. I've known some people who have set up deals with their evangelizing friends/relatives to do book swaps: I read a Jesus book of your choosing, you read a secular book of my choosing. Given the common evangelical/fundamentalist Christian's reluctance to actually follow through with such a deal, it is sometimes effective in toning things down for a while.

All in all, if your dad didn't give a shit, he wouldn't bother. However you decide to deal with it, make sure he knows that you know that. The fact that both of you care about each other is a good starting point.

You could also assure him that you know where he's coming from. Tell him what the plan of salvation is, so that he knows that you still know. Tell him that you understand it and if you ever want to pursue it, you'll talk to him about it. Tell him that right now you don't want to pursue it, and if this life is all you've got, you want to spend that time in a good relationship with him and not fighting each other about this. My relationship with my parents stayed strong after my deconversion largely because they took the attitude that if they didn't get to hang out with me in heaven, they wanted to hang out with me as much as possible here. Maybe that thought will resonate with your father too. Of course, my parents have become quite the heretics themselves, so YMMV. :)
posted by heatherann at 11:27 PM on February 13, 2006

Talk about sport!
posted by bruceyeah at 2:22 AM on February 14, 2006

You both may have big misperceptions about each other -- you seem to think that he is either unchangeable or can't think straight, and the identical offense seems to be committed by him. I would not advise to get the impression with any person (ever) that they are unreachable, because that is incredibly untrue -- everyone can be reached and understood on one level or another, you just gotta find out what that particular "language" is. For instance, Solomon (bible dude) was presented with a situation where two mothers claimed the same baby as her own -- so to figure out which one to whom it really belonged, he suggested (without planning to) cutting the child in half to split it up evenly. Lady A agreed to the offer and Lady B said she'd let the other have it as long as the baby wasn't hurt, so Solomon gave the baby to Lady B. Solomon spoke to the real mother by using a language the true mother would most identify with according to the situation. Since the real mother wanted the best for the child, she would have given it up for it to live, while the other who had malintent toward it by taking it from the mother was satisfied in the same degree of malintent.

I would suggest using scripture to speak to him, if he is unwilling to speak to you in your language, in a wise way. Suggested scriptures:

"Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged." Colossians 3:21 (NIV)

"A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly." Proverbs 14:29 (NIV)

In Luke 15:11-32, the parable of the prodigal son, a son requested of his father his share of the inheritance and went and squandered it in the city. Without trying to claim you'll be back later after you do some squandering, note that the father did give him the inheritance without knowing whether the son would or would not return, he merely trusted that what the son had in mind was up to him, and let him at it. Perhaps the father knew full well that he would find futility in his expedition, or perhaps the father suspected the son had a good business model to use in the world and start a vast empire, we'll never know. But the father had the kind of patience that many fathers need. Perhaps express that you need this particular space to develop on your own, but that if you ever need any help in the Christian/Pentecostal realm, he'll always remain a significant source of information for you. You wouldn't be rejecting him per se, you'd merely be setting out on your own and still acknowledging him as a safe place to be loved with no hard feelings.

I also wonder if you should address something he may be worrying over -- his reputation has a pastor with an atheist child, that if he can't get a grip on his own children, how can he be expected to manage a church, perhaps?

Also consider a book (oft-referred by me and others on MetaFilter) The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman. It totally changed the way I understood my parents for the better, and I now I can really communicate with them on a level that they understand as loving and earnestly interested in their wellbeing whereas formerly I was really confused about how to approach them.

Let's face it, none of us can really predict our future selves. We can have a pretty good idea, but I doubt that you were certain you'd go atheism when you were 12 or some such. Tell him you realize this, and whether it is in the cards (depending on who is the dealer, perhaps) for a prodigal return or a stroll down the broad path, it's nonetheless your decision to. You recognize his concern for you but really need some space in this area.
posted by vanoakenfold at 4:11 AM on February 14, 2006

The "Singularity" is all about the idea of Rapture. It seems to me that you both in fact have a lot to talk about in terms of a shared appreciation of an eschatological imperative.
posted by meehawl at 5:16 AM on February 14, 2006

Ask questions. As long as you're asking questions, he'll feel like you're "seeking the Truth," and that should satiate him. Meanwhile, you can learn about how his gears are spinning, and you'll eventually learn how to explain your views in terms he will understand. But don't start there; just ask questions for as long as you can.
posted by scottreynen at 5:39 AM on February 14, 2006

I am a Christian and I imagine I share a lot of the views your dad does.

As others have said he is worried about your soul. As to the Calvinistic viewpoint of salvation, I think he is mistaken to think you were saved at some point-if you were you wouldn't see yourself as a nontheist now.

I would tell him that it is more productive to pray than to bug you about it. I say that from my viewpoint because I think talking about it to you is counterproductive, and the Holy Spirit is perfectly capable of working on you without him saying another word to you. From your viewpoint you wouldn't have to be bugged.

You might want to tell him that according to Calvinist thought we are unable to choose God and that God himself has to make us able. He needs to put that energy into praying for you. All the other stuff at this point just hurts your relationship, in my opinion. If you were my child I wouldn't nag you about it.
posted by konolia at 5:43 AM on February 14, 2006

What others have said--it is because your dad loves you that he is so insistent, you cannot change that. The best you may hope for is for him to realize that his badgering (which sounds fairly low grade, by the way) is driving you away from faith. Tell him that outright, and that you love him, and change the topic. And be patient with him.
posted by LarryC at 7:07 AM on February 14, 2006

I've never been in bigmusic's situation. I don't know if this would work. But perhaps an approach you should use would go something like this:

"Dad, look, I know you are concerned for my spiritual well-being, and in the abstract, I appreciate that. But the way you show it doesn't have the intended effect. Every time you send me a religiously themed gift or tell me 'god is working on me,' it is like you are pushing me away. I suppose it is possible that someday I will return to the fold, but for now, the religious messages only serve to harden me against religion."

Be calm and don't let him push your buttons.
posted by adamrice at 7:42 AM on February 14, 2006

bigmusic wrote...
Basically this all comes down to what kind of relationship I want with my father. I don't want to proselytize him like he's done to me. I don't want to set limits on what he can or can't discuss with me. I guess I just want him to love me without any ulterior motives and accept me the way I am -- maybe even be a bit proud of me. I accept him the way he is, don't I deserve the same? Has anyone been able to successfully navigate these waters?

I also notice that you categorized this under "human relations" and not "religion". As such I think the religion aspect is a bit of red-herring. If it wasn't this topic, there would be some other one where he felt strongly different than you and was not completely accepting of who you have become.

"I guess I just want him to love me without any ulterior motives and accept me the way I am."

Unconditional love and acceptance is a fundamental need for most humans. It is also virtually impossible for one human to provide to another, as much as we might like to. Ironically (or not), the idea that the "Big Daddy" in the sky has endless selfless love to give is one of the most powerful draws of religion.

Your early thirties are a classic time to come to understand your parents, and in doing so to accept their humanity. You're at an age when you may have a family yourself -- how are you going to react when your kids decide to sell drugs for a living, or join NAMBLA, or become uptight Christian zealots? You should be old enough now to recognize the limits on your own "unconditional" acceptance -- have compassion for your father, he's working with a lot of the same genes you are.

As a practical matter:

1) As a non-diest, the only unconditional love and acceptance you're going to get in this world is going to come from you. You might want to work on that.

2) When you stop expecting the impossible from your father, you may be able to accept that he's showing you a lot of love, in the only way he knows how.

3) The overtly religious message will probably still be annoying. Setting limits here is a good thing. A child limiting the topics his parent can talk about often feels wrong -- two adults setting limits to keep the peace between them is more appropriate.

My basic advice here is that it's time for you to meet your father as one adult to another. That can be a huge and difficult mental shift for a young adult to make, but it will pay off major dividends for the rest of your life.
posted by tkolar at 10:30 AM on February 14, 2006

(Atheist, religious parents.)

Don't engage in religious arguments.
Try once to sit him down and explain calmly how much it bothers you. If that doesn't work, move on to my next suggestions.
Don't allow your father to be a jerk. Set firm boundaries. If he brings up religious stuff, just say "Uh-huh," noncommittally. If he persists, say "I'm not going to talk about this with you." If he still persists, walk away or hang up gracefully. Repeat as necessary.
As for the sly Christian presents, just ignore them.
posted by callmejay at 11:12 AM on February 14, 2006

Q: How do I get my father to understand me?
A: You don't.

He was your protector from the beginning. He felt an obligation to get you to see the truth (and also the Truth). He's not going to change now.

It's also an alpha male thing. There can only be one #1.

All you can do is live your life, continue to love him for what he's done for you, and change the subject when he's being unreasonable.
posted by KRS at 1:02 PM on February 14, 2006

As KRS points out, there is a distinct dominance issue involved, and it's important. Hectoring anybody about something they've clearly stated they don't want to talk about is not respectful, it's aggressive.

bigmusic ought not to not put up with harassment, even if the harasser is well-meaning. Set boundaries and enforce them. If his father continues to agitate, to cross lines, then his behavior should be seen as aggressive, and handled accordingly.

Advising bigmusic to nod and shrug is setting him up for more bullying. My advice is to set clear rules, enforce them consistently, and abide by them as an example. Infractions must have consequences, e.g. separation time. If his father truly cars about him, he will do what he has to do to keep the relationship working.

As one enters his late 30s, his relationships with his parents begin to reverse: The protector/guide role moves to the next generation. It sounds like it's time to start laying the groundwork for a respectful adult relationship. You're in charge. Good luck.
posted by squirrel at 12:14 PM on February 18, 2006

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