Backstory: I called him yesterday because I hadn’t talked to him since he got back to Florida from his trip up to Jersey to spend Thanksgiving with us. He was disappointed that I was calling him from work, and wanted me to Skype with him when I got home. I told him that I was going on a date so wasn’t sure when I would be home, and that Skyping felt unnecessary when I saw him 4 days ago, but that I could talk in the office. So he said okay and asked to call me back in a couple of minutes, and when he did, he wanted to talk about why I was so “hostile” towards him over the past weekend and what we could do to fix our relationship.
We kind of got into it on the phone yesterday. This happened:
Dad: I don’t understand what I could possibly have done to make y’all feel that way…
Me: It’s not that you did anything, really…
Dad: Well if it’s not anything I did, then it must just be my…presence.
Me: …I don’t wanna say that.
…Getting teeth pulled would actually have been more fun than this conversation. The further my father pushes me on the phone, the closer I’m going to get to telling him that I just generally do not like the person that he is and only spend time with him/talk to him out of a sense of obligation. These are not words I want to come out of my mouth now or ever, because my dad is a good person and a decent father and he has never done anything particularly bad or wrong to me, and all in all he doesn’t deserve that kind of treatment.
We had to cut yesterday’s conversation short because I had to leave for my date, and we said that we would continue it the next time we talk, or the time after.
Instead, I decided to email him, because the guy that I’ve been seeing most recently has sort of reintroduced me to long-form written communication, and I thought it might be the best way to lay out everything I’m thinking and feeling understandably and calmly so that we can have productive dialogue. Also, the movie we saw was “Delivery Man,” which is a feel-good film about family and fatherhood specifically, which sort of left me feeling like maybe I should be less hard on my dad because suddenly being presented with a child who is a fully-grown person in the world about whom you know very little substantive information seems like it might be a difficult thing.
The email, in its entirety:
Sometimes it is easier for me to gather my thoughts and present them understandably and calmly in an email. So I’m going to lay some of my thoughts out here, so you can read through them before we talk again and maybe get a better sense of where I’m coming from and what I think we should do to try to work on stuff.
Love you, and I’ll talk to you soon,
A lot of the time when I talk to you, I still feel like I am a young person talking to a “grown up.” I don’t feel like you and I have established a relationship as independent adults, mostly just because we haven’t spent very much time around one another since I became a fully independent adult. Our conversations still very much feel like check-ins, and I don’t like it when it feels like all we’re doing on the phone is that I’m telling you what I’m planning to do this week, and then later in the week calling you and telling you about how everything went. That’s not a conversation–it’s a report, and reporting on the details of my social life to you isn’t really a thing that I find enjoyable. But at the same time, I don’t want to say that we should try to limit or calls to when we have Something To Talk About, because I don’t feel like that would be very often. ‘This thing happened and I want to talk to Daddy about it…’ is not a thought I have frequently at all.
Trying to change those conversations so that they’re more substantive feels very strange to me, though. When we were at IHOP, I answered all of your questions truthfully, but I did not enjoy having that conversation. I understand that you want to feel like you know me, but we’re going to have to find ways to do that that don’t feel like a formal interview. And it’s especially off-putting when you say things like you want me to be able to be open with you, but then when I tried to actually be open with you 20 minutes later, you freak out and miss turns while we’re driving when I tell you something. That felt like a loud and clear signal that you aren’t actually ready to talk to me like I’m grown, and it’s those kinds of reactions that change a situation from me feeling like you’re just asking me a question to me feeling like you’re prying. I’m willing to budge a little so you don’t feel like I’m shutting you out of different parts of my life and my personality, but at the same time I am not interested in having the kind of relationship with you where I talk to you like I talk to my friends. If you want me to come out of my comfort zone and not keep you in the absolute dark about various aspects of my life, then I need to feel like you respect my decisions and my ability to lead my life exactly how I want to lead my life.
I guess the easiest way to say it is that nothing about having you back in NJ for the holidays felt natural or normal, and I tried to explain to Mommy when she first brought up inviting you that it would be weird, but she didn’t believe me. But by Thursday afternoon she realized what I meant. We invited you because we feel really bad that you spend so many of your holidays alone, when getting together with the family is our favorite thing about times like Thanksgiving and Christmas, even when various family members are kind of annoying (like how Aunt Dawn and them were so persistent about coming over, which was annoying, but not so bad once they were actually there, until they wouldn’t leave). I’m not used to spending so much Quality Family Togetherness Time when I come home for a few days, so I wasn’t really prepared for all the let’s just sit here together and try to have conversation time we had throughout the weekend. It felt really forced to me, and so I was often torn between being pretty exasperated on the inside but trying to play nice on the outside because I felt guilty. Then I would just keep getting more and more frustrated as I tried to make it clear to you that I didn’t want to be doing whatever we were doing or continuing whatever conversation we were having without just coming out and saying that because I didn’t want to seem like I was being especially hostile, but you either didn’t catch my signals or just ignored them.
For example, I was really frustrated on Saturday when you just would not drop the topic when we were talking about [my little sister, who is a half-sister on my mom’s side so not related to my dad at all]. First about how we should wake her up so she could have muffins, and then about how it must have been possible for her to go to work an hour late so she could come to the movie with us. No matter how many times Mommy and I said that waking [my sister] up is a recipe for disaster, or that there was no way she could go to work late, you kept saying things like, “Are you sure…” and “I’m just going to say one more thing on the subject and then I’ll let it go…”. You just refused to accept that we had a better understanding of the situation than you. The same thing happened when we were talking about the cat–you kept saying that it might be possible for the cat to get better on its own, when you had never even seen the cat or its injury, so had literally no idea what the situation actually was, but felt like you could keep giving advice about it. That’s the kind of stuff I mean when I said yesterday that you can be really stubborn.
I can tell that it’s important to you that we don’t butt heads so much when we spend time together, and probably that you feel closer to me overall, so I’m going to try something new here on the being open and honest front. Like we talked about on Thursday, I’m currently exploring relationships with multiple people at one time, which is an ongoing learning process (as you might expect), and one of the most important things I’ve learned so far is how to be intentional in developing my relationships instead of sort of just falling back and letting things play out how they’re gonna play out. Intentionality in those relationships means asking and answering questions like, “What are you looking for?” and “What do you ideally want this relationship to look like?”. Can we try asking those same questions about what we want our parent-adult child relationship to look like? It’s best to be specific about things: how often would you ideally like to talk? What kinds of things would you like to talk about when we talk? How often do you want to see each other, and what kind of activities should we engage in when we do see each other? If we really want to change things, we need to make sure we start off headed in a direction we can mutually agree upon.
…This is the realest shit has ever been between me and my dad. I think that forging healthy adult relationships with your parents is one of the hardest things about being in your early 20s, even when the relationship isn’t particularly problematic or burdened by Big Life Things. I’ma keep y’all informed.