How to get along with my dad better this vacation?
December 17, 2018 7:19 PM   Subscribe

I'm having some difficulties getting along with my dad so far on my vacation/visit home. Any ideas or coping strategies would be appreciated.

First, I wanted to preface that I am in a recovering/vulnerable/somewhat difficult emotional state, given the recent situation that really triggered my anxiety (good news, though: I pulled up my contract, and I'm definitely in the clear!) and other stressors, such as still coping with being home without my grandma, who passed away last year. This might be coloring my lenses, so to speak.

My dad and I have always had a somewhat rocky history; I'm very close with my mom, though. For background information, they are hearing, I'm deaf. I often get the impression that my dad favors my two younger (hearing) siblings over me, and has always somewhat disapproved a bit of me/my lifestyle (not sexual orientation, just my overall lifestyle). This has been shown in many ways over the years, but I could also be misinterpreting his actions. He is a bit uptight in general - carries himself very stoically and in a "stiff" manner. He likes things certain ways. My mom is much more laidback and more friendly in general, and more easygoing.

This vacation, so far, I've felt a bit... unsure/strained between us. Examples include him insisting I drink the remaining (small) milk from my cereal, insisting that food is not wasted; a misunderstanding between us in which I offered to help bring in the Christmas tree, I thought he said no, he would leave the door open and manage it, but he got annoyed with me because I didn't open the door for him; annoyed because I forgot to close the door fully (still getting used to the sliding door here, this was my bad); and acting put off because I asked him if he wanted the remaining dinner tortilla while he was talking to my mom (but my mom told him I had a quick question, so she was helping me facilitate communication). In all of those situations, it was not my intention to be rude or invasive, although his reactions made it seem like I was the "bad guy" in a subtle way, if that makes any sense.

Those reactions and situations, by themselves, are minor. Don't get me wrong. However, it's adding up to a pattern where I feel made "little" by him, treated like a kid/annoying person who can't do anything right, or being told what to do by him (like the milk and cereal) and I do not like being in this position. It also is triggering my raw wounds. I am on the path to recovery and healing, but his reactions and ways of talking to me are not helping.

There has been other instances where he treated me like a kid/telling me what to do earlier this year and in years past, so this is not really new. Examples - telling me I couldn't ask for water at an open house we were visiting, on a hot summer day, where I was literally out of breath; telling me not to walk near graves at a cemetery; and telling me to be careful at an antique store. I am not here to disagree with his "advice"/telling me what to do - but, for goodness's sake, I am 32. Let me make my own mistakes, let me be.

How do you suggest I deal with this moving forward? It's only the third day, and I am already annoyed and feeling bad about myself because of the ways he has dealt with situations between us. I do not want this. I also feel it's sticky because I am their "guest" here, and I don't want to cause any tension. I don't want to tell him off and set off a firestorm of defensiveness or anger on his part. However, I do want to assert my boundaries, to feel good about myself around him, and to not let him walk all over me.

One quick clarification: I love him. He's my dad, he always will be special to me as my dad. He is not toxic in the sense of truly toxic, those are little things, but my emotional state amplifies my feelings/reactions for the most part.
posted by dubious_dude to Human Relations (7 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I suspect that the longer-term solution will involve you having some kind of a talk with your father about the way he treats you, but I suspect that right now the very idea of that gives you the screaming fantods. So I am instead suggesting a shorter-term One Weird Trick to help you try to calm yourself down a little in the moment so that you can react more calmly, or to not let it bug you quite so much.

It's something a friend of mine once said when I was complaining about what I thought was similarly over-protective behavior on my parents' part. I don't know why my friend had the insight he had, but he listened to me kvetch, thought a moment, and then said "do you think that maybe they felt like they didn't do enough to protect you before, and are feeling weirdly guilty and so they're trying to make up for it?"

And like, it didn't make what my parents did not be annoying, but that insight helped me move away from "my parents are TREATING ME LIKE A BABY" and helped me reframe the situation as "my parents love me so much and they DESPERATELY want me to be okay, and they're just panicking a little and it's making them make mistakes, even though they mean well". Having that mindset kept me from overly-emotional reactions to what they were doing, and kept me a little calmer in the moment so I could manage the situation better.

In fact, I wonder if this has always been a little bit the case. You say that you've always felt like your father has been a little bit strict and like he favored your hearing siblings; maybe all this time, he's felt a little inadequate and scared about "holy shit how am I going to keep my child safe" and just way overcompensated because he was scared as shit and didn't know what else to do. This doesn't excuse his actions, of course; I'm suggesting this as something to keep in mind so you can approach the situation with some clarity and compassion, so when you assert yourself you can do so from a place of compassion instead of tension.

Good luck. These are the kinds of situations my father once referred to as "a whole Tennessee Williams moment".
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 7:36 PM on December 17, 2018 [10 favorites]

Have you talked to your mom about this at all? Either now or over the years? It's hard to tell what is going on. It could be a lot of things:
1. He is anxious (maybe in some ways similar to you) and he gets uncomfortable when people (even his kids) are in his space.
2. He is having communication issues with you specifically (not sure if you sign together or how you best communicate) or in general (he just isn't a great communicator with anyone).
3. He is having personal issues that don't actually have anything to do with you (bad job issues, health issues, problems with your mom he isn't sharing with you).

These are all just suggestions. If you have a good relationship with your mom, she may be able to shine a light on this a bit, and tell you what is going on - and if you can do anything. It's worth noting though that what you are describing is an experience that is shared by a lot of people all over the world - particularly right now around the holidays. It's what keeps advice columnists employed. So know you're not alone.
posted by Toddles at 9:36 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Another thought experiment: irritability can be a sign of depression. Is it possible that your dad is depressed?
posted by salvia at 10:42 PM on December 17, 2018

My expectation is that 100% of the time my family's requests of me will be completely irrational and totally demeaning. They don't mean anything by it. It's like they're mentally ill. It helps if you have a conspirator (e.g. Can you believe the milk thing?). If not, keep in mind it's not just you. They're crazy.

If my Dad asked me to drink the extra milk from my cereal bowl I wouldn't even think about it. I would just slap my head "Of course, silly me" and drink it. If a friend or acquaintance asked me to drink that milk they would be wearing milk. :-)
posted by xammerboy at 10:51 PM on December 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did talk with my mom several times over the years. She acknowledged that he can be sometimes a bit tense, but that's who he is. She otherwise took his side on things in general, and made it seem like he was frustrated with me. This was a while ago, maybe 7-9 years ago? I know he's not like this with my siblings, because he's always laughing and joking around with them, while he's always kind of stiff and awkward around me.

Depression could be it, but he's always been like this with me, specifically, and a few distant family members. :\

I guess our chemistry just is off, but it really sucks. I really wish I could have a better relationship with my dad. I try to hold conversations with him, but most of the time, he doesn't seem interested, gives short answers, etc., and it also doesn't help that we don't really have any common interests.
posted by dubious_dude at 12:17 AM on December 18, 2018

Remember that you are an adult human. You don't have to just accept being treated like a child; you can ignore him, or otherwise refuse his inappropriate "guidance."
posted by uberchet at 6:48 AM on December 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

If there's some rigidity in his personality, could he be feeling ashamed of you being deaf?
posted by dancing leaves at 2:09 PM on December 20, 2018

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