Hey Captain Awkward.
You might be the wrong person to direct this question to, but I don’t really know who else to ask.
I don’t really like my dad and it makes me feel guilty and weird and anxious.
Part of it is that he makes me uncomfortable in a way that feels sexual. I’ve never been sexually abused by him or anyone else, so that’s not why. I think it’s mostly a combination of the fact that he often wears only underwear around the house (although so does my mother and sister) and accidentally catching him looking at porn a few times over the years. It makes me uncomfortable being nude/wearing little clothing and masturbating when he’s in the house, even at night. I sometimes angst a lot about that being some kind of Freudian creepiness going on there, although I’m pretty sure that’s just me going on an angst trip.
The other part of it is that he’s an alcoholic and I have a lot of difficult feelings about that. He’s never been violent when he’s drunk, but the way he acts makes me feel uncomfortable and unsafe. Sometimes he gets angry about small things with no real warning and has really nasty arguments about it, for example threatening to move out of the house, insisting that me or my sister just ruins everything and are mean to him and just wants to start a fight. A lot of the time, he’ll pull out the “this is my house/I paid for this”-card in order to claim that he can set the rules for everything, including what we say and do. This feels really unfair because he insists that he wants to support us financially. He does this when he’s sober too, but it’s a lot more often and less provoked when he’s been drinking.
Sometimes he just does weird stuff, like walking into my room in the middle of the night and then just leave without any explanation or even acknowledgment that I’m there. He also sometimes says things that are mostly incomprehensible.
He’s also not really trying to stop drinking and it makes me feel really mad and betrayed. I feel like if he’s hurting my mom and my sister, and I guess also me, and I just don’t feel like I can forgive that when he’s not even trying to change it. I also feel guilty about it, because I haven’t ever really told him that “you need to stop drinking because it’s really hurting me and the rest of our family”. I don’t think anyone else has either, because we kind of treat it like it’s a secret, even though I know everyone has at least talked about it with him at one point or another. I feel like if I did, maybe it would make a difference. I also don’t feel safe to do so, seeing as I’m currently living under his roof with no reliable income source (although I could probably work that out if I had to) and nowhere else to live. And I’m not sure how he would react to a confrontation about his alcoholism.
I’m sorry about the rambling. I guess what I really want to know is if I’m a bad person for disliking and feeling uncomfortable around my dad. I also want to know if there is anything I can do about that or at least about the fact that the rest of my family sometimes thinks I’m mean to my dad for not wanting to talk to him a lot or not really accepting the idea that I’m not allowed to get mad when he says things that upsets me because he probably didn’t mean it in a bad way and he does a lot of nice things too. Am I the one who are fucked up for not loving my parent when I don’t have a really good reason not to? Can I do anything about it?
When I was a child attending CCD at St. Joseph’s Catholic church in Charlton, Massachusetts, there was a really popular playground insult for a year or so:
“I only love you in God’s way.” (Said in the most cutting tone possible.)
Translation: “I’ve been taught that I have to love everyone, but actually, I don’t like you at all? So I want you to know that I recognize your basic humanity in the most minimal and perfunctory way as required by God and our parents and teachers who might punish me if I told you how much I loathe and despise you.”
While you’re still living at home, maybe thinking that in your head sometimes will help you separate filial piety (Duh, of course you love your dad because he’s YOUR DAD) from your actual feelings of dread, anger, and creeping violation.
Because your dad? He has some serious boundary issues. And a drinking problem. And the dismay you feel about the sketchy stuff he does? That’s your survival instinct sending you alarm bells. “NOT OKAY, THINGS ARE NOT OKAY!” “DON’T TRUST THIS PERSON.” I know it doesn’t feel good at all, but it’s better than the alternative, where you ignore those alarm bells and decide that what’s going on in your house is normal and ok and try to adapt yourself to it.
Whether or not I was the right person to write to (and this is where I make my seasonal disclaimer that I am licensed and qualified at nothing), it’s good that you wrote to me, because one of the ways that we survive sketchy situations is to tell our stories to other people. The act of telling the story and naming what is going on is powerful in itself and sometimes that matters way more than who you tell the story to. Inside your house these behaviors and the way your Dad makes you feel might start to seem normal after a while – look at how he’s got you questioning whether you’re the one who is out of line or whether you have a good reason to feel what you feel? But outside of your house, when you tell other people? We’re here to sound those alarm bells with you: NOT NORMAL. NOT OKAY. UNTRUSTWORTHY.
It’s not your job to fix your dad or your family. It’s not your job to keep the secret that everything is happy in your home, or to keep the peace.
So mostly, I want to see you get to that small, quiet room that’s waiting for Future-You as quickly as possible. So if you’re in a place where you can swing living with roommates or call on the extended family to put you up, take advantage of it. It doesn’t have to be “I am leaving because of your alcoholism, Dad!” and it doesn’t have to be permanent. You can make up whatever reason you want – “Moving in with Nice Aunt for a few months to get a change of scene” or “Want to try it on my own for a little while, and this space opened up with roommates” could be reasons. I feel like your instinct will be to want to stay with your mom and your sister and not feel like you’re “abandoning” them or do anything irrevocable, but until you’re some place you can think and breathe you can’t really do anything for them. Think hard about getting out and getting out soon, while your self-preservation instincts are intact. And in the meantime, don’t be alone with your dad, ever. If he walks into your room in the middle of the night, try saying as loudly as possible, “HEY DAD, WHATCHA DOING?” Ask your sister if she also feels similarly uncomfortable.
The other thing I’ll suggest is talking with a counselor – at your school, at your church, someone you find through your doctor. Tell a trained, local person outside of your family what’s going on. All of it – drinking, weird nudity, midnight visits, etc.
Finally, Alcoholics Anonymous has resources for the family members of people with alcoholism. Use the website to find a something near you, go in, and tell your story to people who will immediately get where you’re coming from. There might be a time in the future where you say “Dad, you have a problem and I want you to get help,” and I wish I could write you a magic script for that. But I think you want some experienced people on Team You and to be living somewhere else before you go there.
I haven’t said the “abuse” word, but it’s been on my mind the whole time I read your letter and wrote this response, mostly because of the feeling you describe of walking on eggshells around your dad, the controlling way he uses finances to assert authority, and the way you’re second-guessing your own reactions. I can feel the tension in your house from here.
“Abuse” is a word that has power, and it feels like it can explode your life open like a bomb once you say it out loud. But since you asked a question about love – Is it okay to not love someone in your family? Is it okay to love that someone sometimes and not at others, or love the person but hate what they do and how they make you feel? – I want to leave you with this:
If an abusive act or abusive situation made us magically stop loving the people who mistreat us, life would be so simple, right? “When you did x, I stopped loving you, and our bonds are forever severed. Good day to you.” Unfortunately abusive people aren’t immediately, identifiably, and irrevocably All-Evil-All-The-Time and they don’t wear Evil Name Tags or Evil Hats or Evil Pants (of Evil).
The insidious power of abuse is that it comes from people you love and who, on some level, in a fucked up, imperfect facsimile of love, love you back, or at least think they do, or wish they did, or want to do better at loving you, really they do. So you’re in this constant cycle of trying to reconcile the things that are actually happening/the ways you are actually feeling with “love” – the love you feel, the love they feel, the love that you’re “supposed to” feel or think you’re supposed to feel, the way relationships are “supposed to” be.
It’s a mindtrap. “If s/he really loved me, s/he wouldn’t say and do that stuff to me, but obviously s/he DOES love me, because of the occasional nice thing s/he did that proves love, s/he’s my mom/dad/spouse, so of course s/he loves me? Except s/he did that thing?” You can lose a lot of your life trying to understand what’s happening from inside this cycle. You can lose a lot of your life trying to be fair to people who are not playing fair with you.
That’s why I keep coming back to horror movies.
In horror movies, something fucked up happens. The people who try to pretend fucked up things are not actually happening and reason their way out of the situation or ride it out and hope it magically gets better? They die. Gruesomely. The people who say “I will worry about ‘why’ later. Shit is fucked up and bullshit. I will accept it and deal with it so I can survive it” greatly increase their chances of survival.
So, Letter Writer, I’m here to tell you, yes, fucked up shit is really happening, and I think you should get out of the house before the Evil Bees come out of the walls and eat any more of your precious life. And it’s okay if you only love your dad “in God’s way.” There’s nothing wrong with you and a lot wrong with your situation.