with Advice Columnist KAYTLIN BAILEY
Dads! The Wacky Men Who Helped Create Us
“My Dad has always been the breadwinner in the family, but he had some health problems that have put him out of work recently. He is at home all day, not able to do much, and I’m noticing that he’s pretty depressed. I tried approaching my mother about it, but she’s super defensive and won’t talk about it. I know he feels worthless and sad right now. What can I do to help lift his spirits? Should I talk to him about it?”
Look BanterGirl, helplessness and vulnerability are hard for everyone, but especially for Dads. It sounds like your father, like many men, had his identity all wrapped up in what he did for a living. When that goes away, some people forget that there are other reasons to live. Now that he’s puttering around the house not making eye contact with your mother, he’s lost his sense of self and purpose. Plus, he has the added indignities of physical illness. I bet he feels worthless and sad. Everything he knows about “being a man” and “a good father” and an “upstanding citizen” tells him he should feel that way.
It’s hard for most people to talk about their feelings, especially for Dads talking to their daughters.
The good news is that getting your Dad to talk about his feelings isn’t the only way make him to feel better. You have to be sneaky with men of a certain age, like feeding children vegetables. Ask your father for advice, even if you can google whatever it is you’re asking about. Make him feel valued. Try to get him to connect to other people, friends, relatives, bar flies — it doesn’t matter. See if you can sneak more babies into his life. Borrow a baby and make him hold it. Try to get him to do some kind of physical activity, little things. Tell him a dirty joke. Get those endorphins flowing!
Even if you Dad doesn’t want to talk about his feelings, just keep talking about everything else. Talking about daily life, current events, or family can reveal a lot without your dad realizing it. My father recently lost his sister; they were very close. When I asked him how he was feeling and if he wanted to talk about it, he told me “No. I’m not emotionally weak.” And then, later, he started talking about it. I listened. He’s still sad, but I made him laugh a little.
If you’re really at a loss, try giving him a dog.
“My father has reservations about my boyfriend. In high school, my boyfriend hung out with the wrong crowd and got into some trouble drinking and stealing a car. He did a year in jail when he was 19 for a fight. He has since turned his life around and is an amazing man whom I want to marry. But, my father treats him like a criminal. He won’t take his eyes off him, makes jokes about his jail time, and he won’t even leave him alone with my little sister. My boyfriend is fine with it, but I know it hurts him deeply. I’ve tried confronting my Dad about it, but he’s very dismissive and says things like 'once a crook, always a crook.' What can I do to open my father’s eyes? If that doesn’t work, at what point do I cut him out?”
Look BanterGirl, all fathers have reservations about the dude boning their daughter. There are lots of good reasons not to trust boyfriends. They drive unsafe cars, they have unsafe fists, they want to do unseemly things with their dicks. Some of them gamble. Frankly, a lot of bad things can happen to women in relationships. Having a history of incarceration, physical violence, and substance abuse would give any Dad pause.
It sounds like your boyfriend may seem fine with this because he gets it. He loves you too, and I’m sure he can imagine how he would react if his own daughter was dating someone with a similar history. You’re allowed to love whomever you like (thanks, feminism!), but your Dad is allowed to feel his feelings about it.
There’s some important information I’m missing. How old are you and your boyfriend? How long have you been dating? You might be young and new to the love drug. I get it. When I was in college, I introduced my parents to homeless alcoholic actor I was dating because he made me cum really hard. That was my bad.
It doesn’t sound as though your father is forcing you to choose between him and your boyfriend. He hasn’t kicked him out of his house, impotently “forbidden” you to date him, or instigated a fight. He’s acknowledging his discomfort by making jokes and telling you why he’s concerned. “Once a crook, always a crook,” is your father’s clumsy way of telling you how he feels, something at which Dads are notoriously terrible.
Your father will think of your boyfriend as a crook until he doesn’t. When and how and whether that happens is up to him. Your role here is to be very clear about your feelings and intentions. Boyfriends prove themselves to Dads slowly over time, and until he earns your father’s trust, your Dad won’t trust him. That would be true whether he had a criminal history or not.
Your father’s job is to evaluate your lovers in a different way than you do. Friends and family ask you the hard questions because your boyfriend isn’t making them feel all the stupid intense feels, and they love you too. It was my friends who pointed out that I was in an abusive relationship and my family that helped get me out of that situation.
You get to make all the choices about whom you let into your life, and you can cut your Dad out if you want to. But, make sure that’s the decision you really want to make. It sounds like your boyfriend understands that your relationship isn't dependent on your father. Make sure your father understands that, too. You can’t tell someone else how to feel, but you can ask them to treat you and the people you love with respect. If your Dad can’t do that, don’t cut him off all at once. Articulate how hard he's making your life. Tell him your limits: what you can or can't handle. It's not your fault you have limits. It's not your Dad's fault he does either.
Life is long. You can marry this man without your father’s blessing, without cutting him out of your life. Unless your father is a truly unreasonable man, which he might be, if you’re happy for long enough, he will probably come around. Plus, weddings and grandchildren are great at smoothing over generational differences of opinion.
In the meantime, if your dad is only going to have this conversation in hurtful flippant remarks, feel free to reciprocate. For example, the next time your father dismisses this conversation by saying “a crook is a crook,” simply reply, “fine, but if you won’t talk to me about this, I’m going to rebel by having sex in your car.”
Email Kaytlin for advice at: firstname.lastname@example.org