Bad dads and old-fashioned fathers

Joey Garcia

My 83-year-old widowed father has always been critical, intolerant and racist. My mother, brothers and I could never please him. He’s retired, has a degenerative disease and requires support. He refuses to move to assisted living and has fired every person I have hired to come into his home and help him. That means I run his errands, grocery shop, drive him to appointments, cook, clean and do his laundry. I know he will never appreciate what I do or even thank me, but I can’t ignore his constant criticism anymore. It’s wearing me down. The thought of more years like this is depressing. My brothers don’t live in the area, but they tend to second-guess me anyway. How do I maintain my sanity while dealing with the trap I’m in?

From a spiritual perspective, treat every interaction with your father as a workout session. He’s the trainer and you’re building spiritual power through mental calisthenics. Here’s how: Let’s say that you have prepared a yummy dinner. Your father takes a taste and says, “You can’t cook.” Take in his words and check for accuracy. Since you tasted the meal prior to serving it, you know his words are an opinion. You respond, “That’s not my experience of me.” He continues to disparage the meal. You listen. Receive his complaints. Wait for the compassion to rise in you for a man so filled with fear, he cannot receive sustenance. You say, “Don’t eat any of this meal unless you will enjoy it. Life is too short. I am not going to prepare another meal, however. My work is complete.” Then sit down and eat your food, or rise and move on to other tasks.

It takes more energy to ignore feelings resulting from your father’s criticism than to respond to him as an adult. Parents who are emotionally or verbally abusive to adult children get away with this behavior because their adult children hear the attack and respond like frightened, hurt children. When faced with an abusive parent, adults must respond as equals. Self-respect demands that we state clearly—without threat or unkindness—how we desire to be treated.

If your father will not evolve, you can compassionately explain that you are no longer able to help because of the impact on your heart, mind and soul. If his degenerative disease permits him to read, you can write a letter. Be sure to omit drama, like: “I did the best I could” or “I’m sorry I wasn’t good enough.” The letter should just state the need for a transition in his care. You can offer to help him move to your brother’s home or into assisted living. Provide a date that the transition of care will take place and then have the backbone to stick to it.

I’m a university student whose 54-year-old father says revealing clothing on women brings out a hunger in men. I think that’s an old view, but if it’s true, men should learn how to exercise self-control. I understand that the entertainment industry keeps pushing the envelope of what is shocking, but I dress for myself and like how I look. How do I get my father to understand?

I’m always amused that adults who grew up in the era of hip-huggers, miniskirts and hot pants (think Daisy Dukes, but in crushed velvet and worn with white go-go boots) worry that fashion will corrupt their children. Values inform moral choices, not clothing. In the event of unwanted, salacious attention from a man while you’re rockin’ a cute outfit, be direct. Say: “Have some respect” firmly and with confidence, then keep on stepping. And, regarding your father, you will just have to agree to disagree.

Meditation of the week
“Character contributes to beauty. It fortifies a woman as her youth fades,” said the actress Jacqueline Bisset. “A mode of conduct, a standard of courage, discipline, fortitude, and integrity can do a great deal to make a woman beautiful.” What captures your imagination?

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