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Kitchen Sink

A Soft Place to Fall

March 24th, 2008

I think you need to get her on some medication,” he advised. “Something like phenobarbital.”


Phenobarbital? Isn’t that for extreme mental patients? Or the drug of choice from “Valley of the Dolls?”


But I just nodded. “OK, Dad.”


I hoped my acquiescence would signal him to stop. It’d been a long 24 hours as it was, with his unsolicited advice. I know he meant well, but his weighing in on everything just went overboard. Plus, I couldn’t understand why he positioned the state of my life, my kids, my weight, as so dire, so in need of intervention.


You don’t want Toots to turn out like you,” he said one morning. “Too emotional, over thinking, melodramatic.”

Just leave the kids alone!” he said soon after. “You’re overmothering them!”

And: “You’re the heaviest you’ve ever been,” he observed. “I think you’re a compulsive eater.”


He knows his words kill me. And while I defend him by saying he is a moral man, a good father, someone I always knew would be there if I needed him, this part of him is ugly and unrelenting. He knows the buttons to push, and like a child, he presses them again and again. Even when my pain begs him to stop.


Half of what your dad says is bullshit,” The Rock tells me. “The other half is what he really believes.” So I usually tune out when my father tells me I’m not a good parent, or my “hyperactive” daughter needs medication, or I’m “too” imaginative, as if that should be outlawed. And I roll my eyes as he expands his riffs to “broads who shouldn’t be in office,” “women drivers,” and the hundreds of other slurs he heaves on black people, gays, idiots. He doesn’t really mean it, I say, and I believe most of him doesn’t, but what of the parts that do? How does a daughter reconcile that with the image and experience she has of her father as protector, guide, hero? Especially when I’m a target like everyone else.


He’s always been this way. I understood early on that my dad likes to get a rise out of people and there’s a disconnect between what he says and what he does. This is a man who puts labels on everyone, yet one of his good friends was a homosexual who’s since passed away, he works for a black man who he respects and he’s a friend to anyone who needs him of any stripe or color, taking in sick people without families, allowing them to stay in his home to die peacefully, just my dad and stepmom to hold their hand.


It’s so important to me that you know how much I love my dad; how he was there for me during and after the births of both my children, how he advocated for my happiness by transferring me to different schools, acting as intermediary between my mom and I; how he would go anywhere, anytime to be with his kids in times of need, most recently traveling to Minneapolis to support my heartbroken sister after the very (22 weeks) premature birth of her baby girl. And it’s fundamental that you know the length of my guilt. That I can call my dad out like this is hard for me. I can’t quite untangle my love for my dad from the hurt he causes me with his thoughtless — or calculated? — comments.


I even hurt when I fight back, tell him to not talk that way about me or in front of my kids, because shouldn’t I just let him be who he is? And it doesn’t matter anyway, like an impish child, he does what he wants. This resistance goes down to the smallest levels. When we told the kids “no more candy,” he took that as his cue to offer them both a solid chocolate bunny.


And would you believe, part of me is embarrassed to tell him how I feel. After all, I should be strong, impervious, stable, not hurt, fragile and imaginative. Through it all, I know in my head that this is about my dad, not me. But it’s become harder to tune him out and focus on the good. My dad taught me through action to accept people for who they are, to be tolerant, to forgive. But the words, and the words…what are sons and daughters to make of them?


And right when he pushes with a comment that bites, he pulls you back with his sincere desire to love you, the transparent hope that you are safe, well, and happy.


I spent the three-hour ride home hoping that would be enough.


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On March 24th, 2008, slouching mom said:

Oh, did this post ever speak to me. My own father is three parts awful, one part good. Or some ratio like that.

And of course it’s so complicated when he’s your FATHER as opposed to any other family member…

Good luck working this one out. I know it’s tough.

Such a thoughtful post.

On March 24th, 2008, Angela said:

This is so hard, and I do (and don’t) envy you this sort of unconditional love. So necessary that it pulls you in…and so hurtful, at times, that it beats you up inside. How complex life always is. Take care of you. Be nicer to yourself than he is, at times.

On March 24th, 2008, matteroffactmommy said:

thank you for this post…
my dad lives with/stays with us for long periods of time (7-10days here and there) and he cooks for us and buys groceries and is in love with his grand-daughter. his grandson, notsomuch. (that’s another story, and a much deeper one.) digressing, i must say that when he says a stinging word that is inadvertently directed toward me as a mother, i cringe. i shake. i sit quietly without uttering a confrontational word. if only our parents knew just how much their words mean to us.

as moms – PARENTS – let’s use these feelings we have to better ourselves as parents and not scar our kids the way we were scarred. ‘break the chain’, if you will.

oh, and i love my dad too! :)

On March 24th, 2008, Amanda said:

This sounds like my mother. She isn’t as stinging as your father, but I always have to be ready to let her words roll off my back. Some words are easier than others. She only makes remarks on how I should care for my baby (over and over) and never says what good a job I am doing. Its hard. For me, it is that I always 12 to her. Powdered Butt Syndrome.

I do think it is okay if you set some boundaries with your Dad. Especially in front of you girls. I think they talk about this in the book ‘Boundaries’ by Dr. Henry Cloud. Some boundaries are okay. I finally told my mom to stop bad mouthing my dad to me. She didn’t like it, but she knows I won’t tolerate it now.

Thanks for sharing your post. Hopefully just writing it out helped you let his words roll off your back.

On March 25th, 2008, Melissa said:

This is tough for me since I didn’t have a dad around when I grew up. Part of him makes me angry, and part of him makes me envious. People and relationships are so complicated.

But I guess I would say that your Dad doesn’t know everything, just like everyone. You get to decide what you’ll take from what he says, and what you don’t. He is HUMAN, and I think we have this deep-rooted belief and desire that our parents be better than human. I know I expect this of both my mom and my husband, and it’s something I’m working on. I think when we totally accept that in our hearts, we’ll be well on our way to forgiving them for being imperfect, and their words won’t affect us as much.

I wish you all the best! -M

On March 26th, 2008, Da Goddess said:

It took about a million years or so, but my dad finally evolved from Archie Bunker to a human kinda sorta guy. He can still push buttons, but I don’t let him. Instead, I find ways to circumvent anything negative he might be ready to say by asking him something “important” and requiring lots of “thought” on his part. Works every time.

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