“Help: I’m having serious issues with my dad”

Dear Sarah,

I come from a  close-knit family, and when I was younger I was really tight with my dad. But, over the last several years our relationship has deteriorated a lot. He’s very aggressive, rude, and disrespectful when it comes to political discussions, and then doesn’t listen when I tell him I don’t want to have them. He also isn’t respectful of my life decisions. He wasn’t supportive when I was applying to graduate school because he didn’t believe me when I told him I needed a Master’s Degree to advance in my field (it’s an actual job requirement for the upper-level positions).  And, when I told him my boyfriend and I plan on adopting children instead of having them biologically and that I wasn’t going to quit my job to take care of them, he dismissively said, “Well, you may change your mind.”

It’s at the point where it’s hard for me to have any kind of honest conversation with him without getting upset, and I’ve begun to wonder if I would be happier if I just stopped talking to him. My boyfriend suggested I start going to therapy before making any decisions. I’ve made my first appointment, but I’m unsure how to tell my parents that I’m going to therapy and why. Or, whether or not I even should. On the one hand, I do think that it might help my dad realize just how hurtful his behavior is, but on the other, it just might cause more trouble.

Breakdown in Communication from Los Angeles, CA

Dear Breakdown,

I’m curious about when your relationship with your dad changed? Was it when you really started to become an adult and voice your own opinions? Did he have some major life change (illness, loss of a job, loss of a loved one)? I suspect he’s either finding it painful to see you as an independent adult or has suffered some stressful transition in his own life that’s making him act abrasively. Whatever is at the core, it doesn’t make his behavior toward you OK, but if you can get to the bottom of it, it might help you have a little perspective. If you feel safe speaking with your mom, I would ask her what she thinks is going on and tell her how much it’s hurting you and that you miss the old times with your dad. She might even be able to engage in some diplomacy and clue him into the ways he is alienating you.

That said, I wouldn’t announce to your parents that you are going into therapy because you are so upset with your dad. That’s a kind of passive-aggressive way to communicate with them. Instead, why don’t you have a few sessions with your therapist and work on finding strategies to both feel less distressed and approach your dad from a place of strength. Your therapist may ultimately suggest sessions with one or both your parents, but one step at a time.

Meanwhile, is there any way of spending time with your dad that won’t be so emotionally charged? Did you used to like to go to movies together or watch a certain TV show? Play cards or board games? It’s totally your call whether you want to hang with him at all right now, but at least consider that you might be able to foster a little connection (that would feel good to you) by doing something simple together instead of being in a situation like a family dinner when heated conversations are more likely to occur.

I think its smart and brave for you to tackle this—way better than letting it fester. I really hope you can find your way back to a loving place with your dad and I bet he does too.

Love, Sarah

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