Saturday, January 31, 2009

The Dad-Daughter Break-Up

About a month ago, my dad started the process of breaking off his relationship with me. Before Christmas - what happened? Something small. It finally tipped me into the category of people he has decided never to associate with again.

Since getting married and having kids, my house is not perfect. Let me clearly state: sometimes it is a complete mess. A single day of slovenliness will result in every area of the house being covered with the residue of childcare: dirty dishes, food containers, clean and not-so-clean clothes, toys, travel gear, diapers. If I don't constantly pick up - CONSTANTLY - if I miss a beat to get any other work done, or if I get sick, or have a different priority, such as an outing, the place looks terrible.

On top of this, our house is old enough to need a complete makeover, which we can't afford AT ALL. We tackle our home projects one at a time and complete them when we can, within our budget and our family schedule. As a result, we occasionally have to remove and replace electrical plates, and we usually have some work obviously in progress.

My dad has never been able to tolerate this level of mess, and yet he wanted to visit me several times a week for coffee. While he was over, he would point out some failing, such as the pile of clean laundry not yet folded on the living room floor, and suggest a solution, such as a new laundry system. I would generally take these points and suggestions in stride and apply them the best I could, but the next visit would reveal that a previously-mentioned fault had not been corrected, and there was a new heap of clothes waiting to be folded on the floor.

My dad is NOT WRONG about the mess. His ideas are also good, in theory. But when I wasn't able to apply the solution, no matter the reason, my failure became his failure. Now I wasn't just a slob; I was an ungrateful daughter. He became angry; he argued my various failures against me. And he shouted.

These days, when I feel bad, my whole family suffers: my husband feels anxious and helpless, and my kids become upset. No longer a little girl, able to shoulder heaps of criticism and be branded a failure without risk to anyone else, I had to put an end to my dad's constant tirade.

It hurt. A lot.

One day, I had to set the limit: my dad couldn't come over to my house any more. It wasn't good for either of us. It upset him to see my place in a mess. It upset me when he pointed it out. And I was tired of being shouted at.

My mom came over one evening early in December, upset because of a fight with my dad, and explained how hurtful it was for him to have been banned from my house. Wouldn't I just call him? He was really hurt.

So I called. I repeated what I had said earlier, that it was better for both of us if we met somewhere other than my house, which would always be a source of tension for him, no matter how much progress I thought I had made. The call very quickly turned to shouting - I don't even remember everything. It was the normal things, plus that since my youngest was a year old now, I had had my whack of extra consideration for that. I was no longer off the hook for anything on the basis of child-rearing circumstances. When he shouted, I turned the speakerphone on so my mom could hear. My husband was downstairs, and couldn't hear beyond some raised voices.

And at the end, my dad said we could just break it off; stop seeing each other entirely; never speak to each other again.

Well, the story doesn't end here, but I should, because we have company coming, and I should prepare the dinner. My baby girl has been playing happily in the living room while I've been pouring my heart out to you, gentle reader. We'll meet again here soon, and I'll tell you the rest.

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