by The Concessionist
The Concessionist gives advice each weekend (ish) about the sordid choices of real life. Trouble? Write today. This week! TWO related letters!
I didn’t have a terrible father who physically abused me or like, left never to be heard from again. He DID leave when I was 5 but then he was also my little league coach when I was 8. He was “in my life” but didn’t then/still doesn’t know who that many of my friends are. I had a super fucked up/resulting in years of trauma thing happen to me in a hospital when I was 16 that he didn’t even know about until I brought it up last year (I’m 28.) I’d honestly estimate that at least 90% of the time that he calls me it’s a pocket dial. He’s a lawyer. Being concise with words is important to him. I can’t just talk to him if something is going on with me. It needs to either be 1. Some problem he can come up with a quick solution to or 2. Some update on my life he can use to put me in a box to describe to himself or his friends. 3. Oh he likes to give me money sometimes which is cool. Like if I ever got into an emergency situation I could just charge a phat hospital bill/car mechanic bill to him. Which is awesome. But also he doesn’t love me so.
I kind of HATE HIM and feel ALL THIS ANGER. And I’m sure it affects my relationships with guys I date/would want to date in a ton of ways. One way is that I KNOW I don’t feel worthy of asking for attention or respect or love that I want because duh — my dad doesn’t give it to me. But I want to be confidant and love myself and get that from a great man, too. (Except I don’t even fucking know what a great man looks like or acts like???)
But also I wish me loved me. He doesn’t. Or I mean, he says he does and my mom says he does “as much as he can” and I believe that and know it’s true. But so my question is how do I reconcile all this with the fact that he DID coach my softball team and he DOES brag about my work successes on Facebook and like, he wasn’t the dick that easily fits into the “absent father” narrative we’re fed on TV and movies. How do I free myself from giving a shit about this man and what he thinks of me? (Do I even want that?) Help me PLEASE.
Oh Dad’s Bad
I wish I had some glib answer to this. I mean “it gets better with time” is true… in part. But not 100%.
Obviously (sorry) I think you should be in therapy (sorry). But if that’s not gonna happen, at least start a fitness program run by a strong male type person. (NOT BIKRAM THOUGH. DEFINITELY NOT.) Work out your shit on him in a crazy fashion and get through it, alienating everyone along the way but making yourself better in the process.
You need to get into the pissed off and get done with it. Because I think you’re being pretty unfair, because you’re trapped in the mad part? Parents it turns out are like us. I would be THE WORST FATHER EVER. I mean I would probably be like your dad? I’d be like “she’s awesome I love her” and I’d tweet about you all the time and then maybe call you… once a year? And I’d give you a credit card but I’d ignore you. And you’d HATE ME. Even though I’m wonderful. Obviously.
And then, of course, we tend to blame one parent and let the other parent off scot-free. Which, we often later learn, isn’t actually quite right. The “blameless” parent suddenly gets their first taste of blame when we figure this out. Whenever I hear a child being angry that a parent “left,” I think that the narrative has been too tidied in that person’s head. (I don’t mean to detract from how careful you were to be nuanced in your letter! You were very cool. I like you.)
But those relationships our parents had? They were like our relationships! They were often a wreck! We should be happy that so many of our parents split up. There’s ZERO CHANCE I would have enjoyed the misery of their cohabitation. And emotionally relitigating their breakup is something the kids have to do, sure. It just has to end at some point.
I don’t know what you do next! I think you could have a primal scream session and be like ENOUGH OF THIS, FUCK IT. And move the FUCK ON. Or you could go deep. You could harass your dad into some deep conversations, etc. That’s fine too! You could go do some unhealthy dudes. That’s…. well that’s sometimes fine, but sometimes really not? I do think that you need to just go ahead and date and reject a bunch of normal to mediocre guys. Like I think you have to randomly start breaking some eggs and one day you’ll perk up and be like “oh I’d eat THESE eggs.”
I always wonder too how much it would help to learn more about his parents.
I guess I’m saying: you gotta get down and dirty in it to get through it. And you’re sick of being trapped, and that’s great. So let’s punch on through?
Boring news though: This will all mostly end with you saying “Ah, dad. He tried! Good for him.” Which is fine! Our parents went through a NIGHTMARE to raise us. Like even when my father was like “if you call your mom, you have to hang up after three rings or the phone company charges us and we can’t afford that,” well, that was just him trying to keep his household together in his way. Keeping an eye on that helps. THEY TRIED. They were not prepared. We’re all lucky we have more than two fingers and at least one eye. I mean, those of us who do, of course.
I dearly hope you can help me. I have a very #firstworldproblem. My parents are both brilliant, amazing people and they have been nothing less than supportive. They love me deeply and I love them. I am so grateful to have them.
But… I don’t especially enjoy spending time with them or calling them. I know, I know! I should be grateful that I have loving, supportive, brilliant parents who are willing to see me through every challenge life throws at me! I know so many people who have shitty relationships with their parents and don’t want to talk to them!
And I KNOW my parents won’t be around forever, and I will miss them when they are gone!! I actually CRY sometimes when I think about my mom or dad dying.
But. Every time I have a conversation with my parents, I feel tense, anxious, and/or bored. We don’t share a whole lot of interests, for one thing. A lot of their hobbies are utterly boring to me. My parents worked in a totally different world and so they are clueless about how to help with my professional stress — and like any good millennial, professional stress is 120% of my life!!
And I constantly feel stressed when I talk to them. Like my mom is always worried about money and I don’t know how to reassure her, because I certainly don’t make enough money to help. And my dad just called me and literally the first thing he asked was “How are things going with your evil landlord who’s plotting to evict you because of your rent control?” Like, PLEASE Dad, I spent the entire morning NOT THINKING ABOUT THAT, and now I’m thinking about it again — but there is still NO NEWS — and so now I’m a horrible snarl of tension. I know he is trying to show that he cares about my life, but he always pokes my wounds.
I really want to be able to talk to my parents. My mom will even complain, “I’m so sad that we don’t seem to have much to talk about!” — and then I want to cry and say “I’m sorry!!” Am I a failure because I haven’t come up with some sort of clever hobby that we can all share? (But I don’t have time for a hobby!) Am I a failure because I feel crazy if I stay in a house with them for longer than 2 days, maximum?
(Also, I want kids, and somehow that makes me feel extra bad that I don’t want to call my parents?? Like, how am I going to feel when MY kids don’t want to call ME?)
What can I do about this? I want to be a good child. I want to support them. I LOVE THEM!! I REALLY DO! How can I show it?
No I Swear I Love My Parents I Do I Do
I read your letter a lot and it occurs to me you are protesting a lot too much.
Some of us (ahem) are less comfortable with anger or hatred or resentment or whatever. It’s even more complicated when it’s embedded with love. HOW could you be angry at someone you love??? NOT POSSIBLE. So look at you! You love your parents and feel literally no other feelings towards them at all.
And even if that’s not fully or substantially true… why wouldn’t it be the case that your parents drive you around the fucking bend sometimes? They know you really well, you’ve been talking to them forever — who would be MORE annoying than that? (Oh man, wait till you find out about MARRIAGE.)
Here is what people have told me about dealing with parents. Call them the same time every week. Pick a time, put an alert in your phone, and RING ’EM UP. Bite the bullet if it feels like a chore somehow. Grill them senseless. Ask them questions until you feel like you’re a hard-bitten detective. Make up things to talk about if you have to. Take it to random news stories if you must! It gets easier and more comfortable.
But I worry about people like you. You’ve been a “good kid” all your life, it sounds like. Haven’t you ever had a wee little psychotic break and thrown something across the room? Haven’t you ever yelled at your parents? You sound TIGHTLY WOUND. I prescribe a summer of Not Being So Responsible All The Time for you. It’s time to let your hair down or perhaps even shave it off.
Also don’t worry about your own kids by then we’ll all have implants or be living in caves, it really doesn’t matter. There’s no way to prepare for parenting on The Road. PS have you read Station Eleven? I am reading it right now because of this thing Nicole Cliffe wrote and honestly LIVE NOW, the end is nearly always near, you know? What I’m saying here is: if you need to take six months off from your parents, or if you need to yell at them, or if you need to like go live in Mexico City, IT’S OKAY. I give you permission. Let’s do it, the end is more or less nigh in one way or another.
Adorable dad ’n’ daughter photo taken by Kamyar Adl in Iran. The Concessionist is an adult human in New York City who is somewhat worn down and willing to make a good number of sacrifices for a peaceful life. Is it decision fatigue? Or just ennui? That’s probably a question for a psychiatrist. Anything else, ask me. I agree to keep your identity between us.