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Friday, January 6, 2012

Dad is Distant

Dear Bro Jo,

I know you mainly deal with relationship advice in the sense of a boy and girl liking each other and the trouble that ensues from that, but I was wondering if you could help me on another matter.

I'm 17, born and raised LDS. But my parents haven't necessarily been the greatest parents. I don't believe any parent can be a perfect parent but I am having issues with my father who can be a bit...distant. He opts to play a computer game, fix up the house with DIY projects or go out to movies while never really having one on one time with us. Whenever me or my mother brings this up with him, how he values the computer or fixing up the house more than his own family, he starts to threaten me. I'm not happy with the way things are done, but whenever I bring an issue up, I'm completely shut down.

Is there anything you think I could do to maybe better the situation?

- Name Withheld

Dear NW,

When people withdraw it's either because they feel the need to hide or because they're just not touchy-feely people.

If it's the second reason, we kind of just have to accept that as the way the person is. It's difficult for a huggy person to understand, but some folks just need personal space.

If it's the first reason . . . well, that's more difficult, especially if it's one of your parents and if the change seems sudden.

For some dads, when their daughters start to transition from "little girl" to "young woman" they don't know how to act. They're used to hugging, kissing and holding their baby girl, and it's weird for them that she's now, well . . . curvy. Girls can mistakenly interpret dad's new need for distance as "he doesn't love me anymore", which is not true, but understandable.

(Bro Jo Tangent:  I got gray hair pretty early in life, so starting in my late 20's people began thinking that I'm much older than I am.  Sister Jo and I met very young, and I used to have her High School Senior Class Portrait hanging in my office.  I had to take it down when visitors started giving me weird looks when I told them that the girl in the picture was my wife, not my daughter.  We live in a time that when people see an old guy with a younger, even much younger, girl they assume they're a couple; its one thing for people to think I "robbed the cradle" when I'm with Sister Jo - who, though she looks at least ten years younger than me, is really just over a year younger - when the Jo Girls get older, if somebody ever thought something like that it would really freak me out.  Although, honestly, I think people will more likely think I'm their grandfather . . .)

Other times it can be that dad is struggling with something else.

Either way, I think the best thing for you to do is respect the distance and ask your mom to stop bringing it up. Ten, twenty years from now if you want to ask your dad about all of this, it may feel like the right time. Parents are rarely receptive to criticism and correction from their pre-married, pre-adult children. Confrontation will likely just make things worse. For now I say minimize the conflict.

Chalk this up as one of those things you want to do better than your parents.

And pray for your dad. Pray that you'll be patient and understanding and that he'll get over whatever his issue is.

Three other things:

1) Too many times girls react negatively to this stuff by going out and trying to replace the attention from dad with affection from a boy. Bad idea. Don't do that. Your value comes from God, not guys.

2) Not that I think it will, but if this situation becomes abusive, get out and get away. Go somewhere, to someone, where you can be safe and protected. It doesn't sound like you're there (though you did mention him lashing out), and you may never be, but no girl (or woman) should stay in a situation where they're in danger. In any abuse situation you have to protect yourself first before you can help anyone else, and that may mean leaving someone behind. Just so you know.

3) If this is really bad, and you'll need to do an honest assessment to know if this is real or exaggerated by teenage drama, then talk to your Bishop. It may be that something is going on with your dad Spiritually that the Bishop needs to help with.

Please keep me posted,

- Bro Jo


Anonymous said...

My Dad is similarly distant and while I know that part of that is just how he is, it gets worse when he is stressed out. He spends more time on his computer and less engaging with his family if something is going on. (This is made worse by his ADD). My mom often says that the reason they go out on dates is because then he can focus on her without all the distractions. Maybe you should try a family "date" to dinner or a show or event together. Some of my best memories with my family are when we all went and did something fun together. You could choose something your dad likes and you would get a chance to talk.

Memissmolly said...

I disagree brother Jo. Three years ago my father showed the exact same signs. Because I was so busy in school and with after school projects with friends, I managed to bury the pain of his distance in my busy schedule and for several months it carried on and on. He got worse each month. Lock him self in his office and stay on his computer. Play call of duty. Cruise the internet. When dinner was called half the time he wouldn't come. Other times he'd wait thirty minutes and then come with one ear phone in his ear playing music. It bothered all of us, and all we did was ignore it and let him be or get mad and argue with him over it. Neither was is okay. He divorced my mom that year, claiming he was being forced to live a live he didn't want to. Fell out of the church even though he believes, became an emotional drunk and dated for ever. He has a lot of anger that only began to start with those first signs. If we kids had taken the time to just chat with him, no matter our frustration, or find ways to pull him away from closing off then he probably wouldn't be as bad as he is now. It's because they don't know how to deal with their problems that they close off from everyone and use computers as get aways.

Thankfully now he is happily married with six new kids, a beautiful wife and he is one of my bestest friends. But it took him three years to fall harder and harder and lose everything he had for 26 years until he managed to start rebuilding again. He still suffers in many ways and has a hard time dealing. He isn't back in the church yet, but he knows what he needs to fix and is taking it slow.

What you need to know, is whether your father fixes his issues and becomes a better father again, or one day your parents split- is it is NOT your fault. and although there are possibilities of what you could have done to perhaps make the situation easier, it does not mean he won't leave. It just means you might have been able to make it easier. Either way, what happens happens and your decisions each day simply determine what kind of life you all will live and what kind of pain you will choose to harbor in your heart. I say, choose to see and understand, and love him no matter where your life goes. Do not get upset if the unexpected happens, but embrace the opportunity for a different life and new lessons that will teach you.

Trust me, you don't want to hold grudges and bitterness towards your father for whatever happens with him each day.

I wish you the best, friend.

Dave Johnston said...

@ Memissmolly - just exactly where do we disagree?

- Bro Jo

Memissmolly said...

In your advice to NW, you mentioned that you think the best thing for her to do is respect the distance and ask her mother to stop bringing it up. You say confrontation will likely just make things worse.

'minimizing the conflict' is only going to allow him to fall further and further away from her without knowing just what kind of pain he is causing.

If a father is doing something to hurt his family, the family needs to speak up! Not criticize, not yell and argue, but genuinely sit down and discuss what's on their mind. A heart to heart. It's their responsibility to do all they can to help their family members stay strong and out of depression/whatever else they are going through.

If he is depressed, she needs to take action. But there's a fine line between taking action and stepping in on his choices. She can voice her concerns and fears, but as far as physically taking things away from him, or confronting his bishop to see if he will step in is an awful idea. It's fine for the bishop to know, however in all my observations (believe me there's been many), a bishop who feels he has the right to hunt down that member and chastise him or what ever, only pushes that person further and further away. Because the person feels threatened, and they think someone uninvited is there to press their views and expectations on them.

Confronting a bishop is always an iffy thing. It's a matter of how the bishop goes about it that is the problem. But as far as the family not discussing their concerns with the father, that is entirely and whole-heartedly the worst idea to go about things.

I hope that makes things more clear..

Dave Johnston said...

@ Memissmolly -

With respect, you're incorrect because you miss a critical point in her email: every time her mother hassles her dad about not spending more time with the family, he threatens the writer.

Now that threatening isn't right, but it sheds some light on the situation: when this guy feels like he's being pushed he pushes back, and that's not good for anybody.

It's in the writer's best interest to keep things calm until she's safely out of the house.

You also miss that the family IS speaking up, and he's not responding in a good way. So, yes, confrontation will make things worse.

Lastly, you misread what I said about her Bishop. I did not suggest that she "confront" him; what I did say is that her Bishop may be a source of help when it comes to, as you rightly suggest, helping this man fix whatever is broken.

Perhaps your father would have responded positively to a family talk; I'm a huge advocate of communication; but sadly I don't think it would have made a difference. Perhaps both men have the same reasons for withdrawing (I suspect they do), and I do agree that something needs to be said . . . preferably by the WHOLE family . . . but, again, what you missed is that her family has already tried. Multiple times.

Thank you for clarifying your points, and for making them in the first place!

Your perspective will hopefully help others who may be suffering from through similar trials.

God bless,

- Bro Jo