The Lower Brain: Is It Wrong That I Hate My Dad?

Photo: Steve Debenport [Getty Images]

Dear Sara:

My dad and I have always had problems. My younger brother gets along great with my dad. They’re into all the same stuff. My younger sister is his angel and can do no wrong in his eyes. But nothing I do is or ever has been good enough. 

I did my best to get good grades, be a literal Boy Scout, all the stuff I thought he’d like.  Never good enough. He made fun of me or yelled at me all the time. Meanwhile my younger brother got arrested twice for underage drinking and my dad thought it was funny. My sister had a baby when she was 19, and trust me, I love my nephew. But my dad, who is all about being proper and keeping up boring suburban appearances, was just so happy to be a grandfather, and he and my mom still take care of most of her expenses. If I’d gotten somebody pregnant before marriage, or gotten arrested, he would’ve disowned me.

Now we are all in our twenties, my dad is in his fifties, and he’s dying of cancer. I’m the executor of the will and have a lot of responsibilities. Yet still, my dad constantly criticizes me and says I’ll do it wrong, or he knows I’ll mess it up, or reminds my mom to double check my work. 

I know this is irrational, but I want to just say, “Fuck it. You always treated me like shit and I’m done with it. Bye!” and remove myself from the will. I’m not going to do that. But what can I do?

Sincerely,

I Hate My Dad And I Feel Bad About It

 

Photo: Rosebud Pictures [Getty Images]

Dear IHMDAIFBAI:

It’s not irrational at all to feel the way you feel. In fact, anyone in your place would likely feel the same way. Your dad sounds like a dick, at least as far as he treats you. And since you’re the one who wrote to me, I don’t care about how nice he is to other people. This is about helping you. Let’s figure out how you can get through this process and keep your sanity.

First, don’t feel guilty for hating the man sometimes (or all the time). He’s not suddenly nice or sweet or loving because he got cancer. He’s not special because he’s dying. We all die. We all go through the process he happens to be facing at present. Some of us die fast, some of us die slow. Good people die, evil people die, and the vast majority of us – the ones who are sometimes good and sometimes bad and often in the middle? We die too. He’s been an asshole to you for as long as you can remember, and as he suffers and dies, he’s staying true to form.

Ordinarily I’d tell you that these mood changes sometimes happen to those who are ill and to remember the good times. But these aren’t mood changes, and it doesn’t seem like he showed you many good times. You can be grateful for his positive contributions to your life – presumably helping keep a roof above your head and food on your plate. You can also understand that some of his actions were likely intended to motivate you to succeed. You can even understand that he probably saw a lot of himself in you and projected his own insecurities and bullshit on you, trying to punish you for things he did. You can get all that, comprehend the context, and still think he’s an asshole.

More Lower Brain Advice: Abuse Doesn’t Have To Break You

First things first: are you in therapy? If not, get to a therapist. It may help you to work out some of these issues while talking to a positive male role model who can reflect some things back to you, help you understand yourself more, and teach you certain lessons about communication and self-soothing. Or you may prefer to work with a woman, or gender may not matter to you at all. But definitely start talking to somebody. If they specialize in grieving, end of life issues, death and dying, or eldercare, that’s awesome. But the point is to find a good sounding board.

Second, make sure your healthy living regimen is on point. Exercise, meditate, drink plenty of water, eat enough vegetables, go to the movies, go see a baseball game, go to church, or do whatever feeds your mind, body and soul. Remember that the world does not see you the way your father sees you. You’re a grown man with dignity and worth, and his opinion is irrelevant.

Third, if he’s still as lucid and with-it as it sounds like he is, I’d request a private meeting with him. Sit down beside him, make direct eye contact, and say, “Let’s talk man to man. It’s clear to me you’ve never liked me or approved of my work or efforts. You don’t have to like me.  I accepted that a long time ago. You’ve given me a job by making me the executor, and I will do it well. However, I will do it my way. Regardless of what you think or how you treat me, I know I’m smart and capable and will execute things appropriately. Your criticism has never helped me and it never will. So in the interest of time, which you don’t have much of these days, I’m asking you to stay out of my business, cut the naysaying stuff, and focus on being with the people you seem to enjoy: my siblings, my mother, and my nephew. I’ll do my duty and stay out of your way. If you insist on continuing to criticize and push, I will remove myself as the executor and give the job to someone you respect, like my brother or my sister. It’s up to you.”

Then maintain your calm, polite, unflappable demeanor regardless of his reaction. If he agrees to your terms, good. Maybe it’ll open up a conversation where he says some actual compassionate or affectionate things. Maybe not. But you’re going to be rid of this person soon, and for you, it seems that’s a good thing.

Ask Yourself: Am I Being A Facebook Jerk?

Feel free to tell him you love him if you do. If you don’t, don’t say it. He’s treating you like an employee he can’t stand, so treat him like a boss you merely tolerate. Don’t be nasty. Don’t be mean. Don’t be rude. Be honest, polite, firm, and to the point. Have a response prepared for your mother or your siblings as well. It may include something to the effect of: “I love my siblings and my mother, and that’s good enough for me. I’ll do my duty by him, and if he releases me from that duty, so be it. That is his choice, and I will respect it. But I’m not going to waste my time or his time pretending to have a loving relationship that’s never been there.”

Sound harsh? It isn’t. It’s honest. You don’t owe it to anybody to playact some kind of sweet Hallmark Channel family bullshit. You owe it to yourself to stand up to this guy in a way that won’t make you feel guilty later. That’s why you won’t yell. That’s why you’ll be clear and mature. And that’s why later you’ll feel better for having finally drawn a boundary. I wish you luck and love.

 

If you have a question and need some advice, email Sara at prettydecentadvice@gmail.com