I’ve been dealing with a rather awkward social conundrum lately, and I’d love some advice. The short version: I need to figure out how to fend off well-meaning questions from acquaintances about my semi-estranged father.
The longer version: my dad’s an alcoholic person with bipolar disorder, and he’s non med compliant. I grew up in a very unstable, sometimes emotionally abusive home, and it’s left it’s marks on me. My mom was brave enough to divorce him a year ago, and I’m finally facing the demons my childhood left me with. I’m getting weekly therapy, and have taken steps to limit contact with my father.
The problem is, my dad was outwardly quite charming, and I often have to deal with people asking after him. I really don’t know how to answer friendly questions about him. I refuse to pretend everything is (and was always) peachy, and answer nicely; but I don’t want to go into detail/risk questions by saying I no longer talk to him.
Do you have any advice on dealing with kindly but nosy acquaintances?
– Picking Up The Pieces
I’m glad that you and your mom are in a position to pick up the pieces, and it sounds like you are doing all the right (painful, hard, healing) stuff.
It’s not your job to protect your dad from what people think about him, but I also understand that you don’t want to rehash all the stuff that’s going on when you get a “How’s your dad? Tell him I said hi when you see him!” at the library or grocery store or church or make people feel crappy for being interested in you and your family. I think sometimes it will be important for you to be able to say something back and give some honest indication to the world that all is not well without going into detail, rather than feel like you have to smooth everything over and preserve your dad’s image for everyone.
Some suggested answers:
“Thanks, but we’re not in touch right now.”
“Sorry, you’ll have to ask him/tell him yourself. We’re not in touch just now.”
Or the most kind possible answer, “You should tell him yourself! I’m sure he’d love to hear from you.” (Recommended for most casual interactions).
And variations on that theme. When will you be in touch? Who knows. Why aren’t you in touch? “Long story. How are things with you?” Whose idea is it to not be in touch? Who can say, really?
Then you can a) change the subject by asking them a question about themselves or b) let a long, awkward pause happen where the other person figures out they’ve stepped in something but not what. It depends on your mood and how you feel about the person who is asking the question and how pushy/nosy they are. Like, if you get a “That can’t be true! What’s going on?” don’t be afraid to let that pause really, really fester.
You don’t have to justify it or get into why you’re not in touch! “I know you mean really well, but this is an awkward subject. Can we talk about you?” Keep it short, stand your ground, and keep repeating some neutral phrase and changing the subject until the other person gets it and changes the subject, goes away, or you extract yourself with a “Yeah, it is really awkward, but we’re not in touch right now. Sorry, can’t stay!”