#210: I feel guilty because I don’t like my dad.

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.

89 thoughts on “#210: I feel guilty because I don’t like my dad.

  1. FWIW walking around nude or nearly nude in a house with your children present to witness nudity or near nudity is being considered as a form of sexual abuse, in much the same way as living with a parent who throws things at walls near but not quite at people is considered physical abuse. I don’t know how old you or your siblings are, but if you were one of my 12 year old students and you told me that, I’d have to report it to CSP.

    That said, I was molested by my dad and neglected by my mom and I don’t like either of them. I used to feel guilty about it, but a lot of time and a lot of therapy have helped me forgive myself for actually seeing them correctly, and not feeling the love a child is supposed to feel for a parent. It’s not your fault you don’t like him. If he was one of your friend’s dads, you probably wouldn’t feel so conflicted.

    1. I think that varies a lot depending on circumstances. My immediate family was pretty clothing-optional when I was growing up, and it was fine. My parents were always very clear on the distinction between casual and sexual nudity/seminudity, and the importance of understanding and articulating your own boundaries and respecting those of others.

      I say this not to minimize the letter-writer’s experience–in her situation, I’d find that tremendously upsetting and fundamentally not-okay, too–but to emphasize that a lot of red flags are context specific, which is part of what makes it so difficult to clearly label abuse. We think of it as something black-and-white, but more often, it’s situated in much murkier, greyer space, where the primary distinctions are of intent and impact, not action.

    2. I’m sorry if this is derailing, and Captain please feel free to delete this if so, but WTH? Did you link to the wrong study or something? Because I read the whole thing and it said:

      “Consistent with the cross-sectional retrospective literature (and with our expectations), no harmful main effects of these experiences [exposure to parental nudity and primal scenes] were found at age 17-18. Indeed, trends in the data that were significant at p [less than] 0.05 but did not reach significance following the Bonferonni correction indicated primarily beneficial correlates of both of these variables. Exposure to parental nudity was associated with positive, rather than negative, sexual experiences in adolescence, but with reduced sexual experience overall.”

      I’m only commenting because I feel like your first sentence is really, really misleading and unfair, and I doubt that everyone will click through to read your link.

    3. Nudity can be a form of abuse, and it certainly sounds like part of an unhealthy environment in the LW’s case, but the article you linked is pretty clear that parental nudity in and of itself isn’t harmful or abusive and in fact can have beneficial results. So I’m confused by this comment…?

    4. FWIW, the study pretty much concludes that calling parental nudity or even witness of incidental parental sexual activity abusive is at best premature, at worst downright unsupported by the available empirical data. From the conclusion: Although evidence gathered for the present study is far from conclusive, at this point it is difficult to see the utility of referring to these events a priori as harmful, and even more difficult to see the utility of characterizing them globally as “abusive.”

      I do think that it can be a form of abuse, though, just that it is not always or by definition abusive. LW, what you describe sounds completely out of bounds, and I completely second the Captain’s advice. Trust your gut! You feel weird about things because things are weird, and you are feeling a little creeped out because your dad is doing creepy things. (Randomly coming into your room in the middle of the night? SO NOT OKAY.) Add the alcoholism and it’s just – the Captain is right. Move out, find some people on Team You, and take care of yourself.

  2. Oh, LW. I don’t have anything to add to the Captain’s advice, but I want to send some solidarity. I don’t like my father (can’t apply the word dad to him). Honestly? I don’t love him either. I haven’t spoken to him, despite a few of his attempts to contact me, since i was thirteen. And deciding way back then to cut him off completely was probably the best decision I have ever made.

    I’m not saying you should necessarily do that for your dad. But you don’t owe your parents anything just because they’re your parents. By bringing you into the world they entrusted themselves with providing you with love, respect, and emotional safety. If they’ve bailed on that? You don’t owe them a damn thing.

    I had this terrible fear inside me for years after I made the call, so far deep I couldn’t even look at it straight-on: I thought I was broken. I thought there was really something fundamentally wrong with me, because what kind of person just decides never to speak to their father again, when it’s not like he ever hit me or anything. What kind of person decides “not loving me” or “not being a decent human being” is grounds for terminating a parental relationship? The answer: a person who has realized, on some level, that something fucked up has happened, whether or not they understand, and who chooses survival.

    Someone was broken, but it wasn’t me; it was him. When it hit me, really hit me, that that was the truth of the matter, I cried for about an hour, because it was so fucking unfair. And I think that’s part of why it’s so easy to internalize this shit, to wonder if we’re the ones something is wrong with, when it’s a parent: because the alternative is that the universe gave you a shitty parent, and that goes so contrary to what you want and need and deserve that it’s almost safer to place the responsibility on you than to admit luck can be that awful and unfair.

    It can be that unfair. You deserve so much better. And you deserve to feel however you feel about the reality you’re in. Accept it, start looking for that small quiet room, take care of yourself, and make sure you keep this post in easy access. Because I think some day you will read what you’ve written here and want to hug your letter-writing self, like I want to hug your letter-writing self, for ever doubting the truth that I promise you will be clearer to everyone reading it than it is to you right now. You write CA, I assume, because you trust her judgment; start trusting yours.

    1. Well-said. You could be my sister, actually. My sister who came into our home because her own father was exactly as you said — didn’t love her, didn’t take care of her, wasn’t a good human being, but never hit. I know she struggled with many of the same issues you raise here, and it’s something that occasionally still gets to her, but she’s in a pretty good place in her life now and is able to work through those feelings pretty well.

  3. (As a note, I am well aware that the link goes on to discuss research into this topic, saying that being a nude parent in your house does NOT constitute sexual abuse. But, it is being considered as a form, and I would still report it to CPS to cover my butt. Running around naked or nearly naked in front of your 3-year-old is a LOT different than running around naked/nearly naked in front of your adolescent (or older) children, and there are cultural factors that come into play here.)

    1. I’m glad you clarified. “being considered” is really ambiguous wording (at least to me reading here, I don’t know about among professionals): it read like an ungrammatical form of or typo for “is currently considered” to me, whereas it seems like you meant something more like “is being currently evaluated for future inclusion in lists of abusive behaviour.”

  4. I don’t have much to add, just I really loved the part of the advice about getting a reality check outside the house to keep you from doubting yourself. It really hit the nail on the head for me about how I get so much out of reading this blog and comments.

    I hope you are able to take the Captain’s advice, LW, and get some extra support and maybe a new place to stay.

  5. LW, I love my dad in a filial way, but he creeps me out and has since I was very young. As far as I recall, I was never sexually abused by him or anyone else, but all the same…While my father isn’t an alcoholic, that has been an issue in my family and profoundly affected me mostly through my mother, whose father WAS alcoholic and abusive. SO: I would like to give you all the Jedi-hugs if you would like them.

    YMMV, but in my experience getting out of the house helps. Not being financially dependent helps X100000000. For me, financial independence was my way of saying to my father “I buy my own shit now, so I guess if you want a relationship with me, you’re going to have to respect my damn boundaries!” And indeed, he has gotten much better at hearing “No, I won’t call you later today, I’m busy.” “No I can’t visit.” “No, I don’t want to hug you.”

    Only you can decide if moving out is an option and a choice you want to make, but I cannot say to you strongly enough: listen to your instincts. They are not lying to you. Don’t lose that warning system. Changing the story of your life from “my relationship with my father is weird” to “my father repeatedly and knowingly violated my boundaries and refused to consider my feelings” is fucked up and scary in itself – but it sets you up to draw appropriate boundaries and defend those lines between the okay and the not okay, the fucked up and the not-fucked up so they don’t gradually creep ever outward.

    Take excellent care of yourself, and maybe put a lock on your door/chair under the doorknob?

    1. This comment has really opened my eyes. I’m nearly 30 and it had never occurred to me that there might be other people whose dads never did anything that could merit calling CPS but who still set them on edge.

      “Changing the story of your life from “my relationship with my father is weird” to “my father repeatedly and knowingly violated my boundaries and refused to consider my feelings” is fucked up and scary in itself.” I feel such relief to know that other people have experienced this. It’s kind of too late for me to worry about getting out/feeling safe, but knowing that I wasn’t actually alone actually makes me feel better about thinking I was.

      1. Can I get in this Jedi Hug with the story of my mom?

        There’s no way I’d call her “abusive” but it’s absolutely impossible to set boundaries with her. Sometimes she tries, but then other times she clearly doesn’t try at all; with some things I’ve gone all the way from “no thanks” to “actually, I don’t like this at all” all the way down to “NEVER EVER EVER EVER EVER” without any acknowledgement that I haven’t been saying yes this whole time. It’s always something petty but it’s still so uncomfortable to keep having to answer questions I’ve been perfectly clear I don’t want to be asked.

    2. Wow, thank you LW and commenters, just had an amazing “really, I’m not the only one who ever felt this??” For a long time, probably from the age of 7 or 8 years old my dad has creeped me out, but as nothing sexual ever happened I haven’t EVER talked to anyone about it for fear of peoples reactions to an “unfounded” accusation; still didn’t stop my gut from screaming though…

      He pulled the “this is my house, I support you financially, so you live under my authority” a lot. This might sound odd, but when I was about 16 there was an extremely violent incident with my dad, I thought he was going to kill me and although the incident utterly terrified me, in some way I was glad it happened because it finally gave me a concrete excuse to move out and not be in contact with him.

      Now many years have passed and one of the conclusions I have come to (although I am not suggesting it is the same issue with your father) is that my father is a misogynist. He had some Victorian authoritarian view of what father/daughter relationships should be. I was a great child when I was still little and he could take me all the places he wanted to go and do all the things he wanted to do, but once I started forming my own interests – which did not intersect with his – I was BAD. More than that, it annoyed him that I wasn’t out dating boys – I did not perform femininity as culture dictates I should and I had no romantic interests in boys in my teens, so I was also a bad GIRL. I preferred to stay in baggy jeans reading and painting in HIS HOUSE, eating HIS FOOD to going out in skirts and finding a boyfriend. In his eyes I was a failed girl and was not a “woman” in the making, so for whatever reason he didn’t have all that much use for me being around.

      Anyway, I guess what I would like to say LW, is that you don’t need actual, founded or concrete “events” to feel the way you do. You don’t have to wait for the Evil Bees to start attacking you before you feel justified in calling him out/leaving, the fact that you can feel them buzzing around is reason enough. Since the incident with my dad I have never lived with him again, we aren’t in regular contact and I see him about once a year. For a long time I felt guilty for not loving my father -sometimes still do – and not wanting to see him, and I had to deal with family pressure trying to force some sort of reunion/reconciliation but I stayed firm and point blank refused. There was a period of time where he was phoning my mum (divorced for a long time) complaining that I don’t contact him enough, now labelling me BAD DAUGHTER. And you know what, I can live with that.

      I am now in a place where I like him as an independent-from-my-life-intelligent-and-interesting-person-that-I-see-once-a-year, but I do not love or like him as a “dad” and being bad daughter in his eyes is a trade off i’m willing to live with and it is OK.

      I really hope you can find that place (whether in a new home or in your relationship) where you feel safe again. Jedi hugs

      1. Jedi-hugs to you too. Having your feelings confirmed by the attack of Evil Bees sucks hardcore, but for me it was the confirmation of my intuition I sorely needed. I have so much ❤ for this thread, I feel so much less alone!

  6. Firstly, your father is violating your boundaries and making you insecure in your own home. Even if he doesn’t hit you or physically abuse you, it’s still a form of abuse. Being angry and trying to enforce your boundaries – those are GOOD things, things to be proud of, not something you should be ashamed of!

    Secondly, everybody wants to have a nice, normal family. For some (many?) this includes trying to cover up anything not-nice-and-normal, because if they can pretend (even to themselves) that the family is OK, then that means there’s nothing wrong with them. We humans want so badly for the world to make sense, and that means that bad things shouldn’t happen for no reason, so if something bad happens we feel we must have deserved it. Therefore, to avoid the feeling that somehow we’re guilty of something, we pretend that there’s nothing bad happening. Thus perpetuating and enforcing the badness under a cover of normality.

    Thirdly, children do not owe their parents unconditional love. It’s the other way around. Not even the Christian Bible requires children to love their parents, it says only to honor them, not love them. Love cannot be forced, it requires some space to grow and your father isn’t helping you create that space – in fact, he tramples all over it daily.

    Fourthly, the advice to get out of that house if you possibly can – yes, do that! It’s not right that you should feel insecure in your own room! Also the one about talking to a counselor – they can help you not only with talking but with finding options for you that may make it easier for you to leave.

    And lastly, it sounds like you’re the strongest and/or sanest person in your family – because you’re the one who recognizes the basic fuckedupness of the situation when everybody else is sweeping it under the carpet and then looking askance at you when you stumble over the bumps… This again is something to be proud of!

  7. As described, there is absolutely no question that the LW is in an abusive situation. This whole discussion of “nudity is ok” is a red herring, because, yeah, sure, nudity might be ok in a loving, kind, respectful family.

    But we are talking about a fucken dude who (1) is an alcoholic, (2) gets angry and shouts at his family over minutiae, (3) uses finances as a source of authority and control, (4) makes dramatic threats to withdraw from the family, and (5) ENTERS HIS DAUGHTERS BEDROOM IN THE MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT FOR NO REASON AND THEN SILENTLY LEAVES. A fucken dude like this isn’t walking around the house in his underwear in front of his daughters as a healthy expression of embracing the dignity of the human body, ok?

    1. Other houses where people die are not haunted by vengeful spirits. THIS HOUSE IS FULL OF EVIL BEES. THE WALLS ARE WEEPING BLOOD. Time to get out before you’re strangled by your own hair, LW.

  8. Just as a note that felt important to me: the Captain’s link is to Al-Anon, which is not Alcoholics Anonymous (which is known as “AA” for short instead). Al-Anon is a similar but independent group specifically created and maintained for family and friends of alcoholics. (Some people fall in both categories and may attend both, of course.) Just thought I’d point this out: saying that it’s an AA link makes it sound like a side-note to their main activity, whereas it being an Al-Anon resource means it is a resource specifically by and for people in LW’s situation.

    I have close friends who grew up with an alcoholic parent and/or have alcoholic siblings. They have all found Al-Anon meetings at least moderately and often very helpful, so I totally endorse the suggestion of attending one and seeing if you like it (here, they usually recommend trying three separate groups before deciding if it’s for you). You might also wish to contact a local alcohol counseling service and ask if they counsel family as well: they often do, and then you can get expert counseling specifically around alcohol+family issues, perhaps in addition to other therapy, and possibly cheaper/free.

    Finally, an incentive to building Team You is that while this situation may not escalate or may escalate gradually (which has its own problems), it may also escalate suddenly: your Dad may start behaving a lot worse or hurting people more really suddenly, and having Team You already in place to catch you is a great thing.

  9. Oh, girl. (Oh, boy? Unclear from letter. Oh, person.) Adult male is alcoholic. Adult male has ‘accidentally’ let you catch him with porn multiple times. (This is not an accident, I promise.) Adult male enters your sleeping place whilst you are sleeping, standing and watching you. Your danger alarms are functioning correctly. You are in danger. Today, now, immediately, on the figuring out if you can stay somewhere else while you get the money sitch figured, I suggest: friends, acquaintances, couchsurfing.com, hostels, or domestic violence shelters/homeless shelters yes for real you can go there, you can be there, your situation is dire. You are already homeless, because the place you live is dangerous and bad for you. Heat and hot water are not ample recompense for what’s happening. If absolutely no way out immediately (today, now, in the next three hours), go and purchase lock for your door, sister’s door. Install while father out of house. Also consider heavy furniture in front of door. Be prepared for huge fight, which should only confirm your suspicions that father is Up To No Good. He is Up To No Good, and any shift might escalate his no goodness, but the no goodness is gonna escalate regardless.

    1. “Adult male has ‘accidentally’ let you catch him with porn multiple times. (This is not an accident, I promise.)”

      THIS. This was my first thought. I mean, if we’re talking about a roaming toddler who opens doors with abandon and knows nothing about privacy, I can see a kid catching their parents looking at porn. But if we’re talking a grown child who knows about knocking and closed doors, there’s really NO reason a child should be catching you looking at porn, unless you took zero precautions. I have been caught looking at porn ONCE in my adult life and I was 19 and it was my first time living with roommates in a super small apartment and I was SUPER HIGH and SUPER DUMB and thought the computer was positioned in a different way than it was and thought my roommates were going to be gone longer than they were and thought the volume control was A LOT easier to grab in an emergency. I took precautions, they just weren’t cautious enough, which I learned IMMEDIATELY, because it was so mortifying that I never wanted it to happen again. If I had let this happen a few times, it would have said (at the very least) that I did not care about how uncomfortable my roommates were made by catching me, and I had no feelings of embarrassment at all for being caught, because otherwise I would have changed things so I could never be caught again. I’m only telling this embarrassing story to illustrate how it is possible to be caught looking at porn, but only if the person doing the porn-watching makes some unbelievable mistakes — and if that happens more than once, they are refusing to fix those mistakes because they don’t care. I cared! This has NEVER happened again, oh my god.

      If this was a letter about how her dad was just so ever-lovin’ stupid, then I would assume he took zero precautions because *derp*, but since it’s a letter about how he’s scary and manipulative and threatening, his inability to hide his porn-watching in even a minimal way (like the rest of the adults on the planet can manage to do) takes on a way more sinister, intentional vibe. I cannot imagine that a person this controlling is just accidentally forgetting to lock the door or something. I really don’t feel like this was an accident, either, especially since it’s happened a few times.

      1. But that’s a few times over, well, the last decade. And never in a “oh, I’m noticing what you’re doing”-way and almost exclusively in a “you forgot to clear the browser history on our family computer, which I didn’t mention”-way. I don’t know. I just really don’t want to think that my dad is intentially doing that stuff, because that makes me feel scared and freaked out and sad.

        1. LW? It seems like you are already scared and freaked out and sad.

          More importantly, it doesn’t matter whether, in his secret heart of hearts, your dad only yells at you, berates you, controls you, hovers over your sleeping form because of Love. Those things are not ok. You are miserable. Not ok. Motives for this kind of behavior are irrelevant.

        2. I think the relevant piece of info here is “my dad doesn’t bother to handle his porn viewing with the secrecy and discretion an average 13-year-old would already understand to do”.

          Regardless of intent, he’s pushing you into the role of the adult who has to manage his temper, impulses, and even sexuality. That’s not cool. He is supposed to be the parent here.

        3. Um, I just want to interject to say that, while what pfcmarie and duck-billed placelot makes a lot of sense when applied to sober adults, LW father is an alcoholic. This makes all the difference – it’s entirely possible that Dad would, if in his right mind, pay attention to covering up his porn-viewing tracks, but alcohol makes people careless and stupid and not themselves. I say this as the daughter of a recovered alcoholic. My mother is a wonderful person in many ways and – more importantly for the purposes of this conversation – a very, *very* private and easily embarrassed person who under normal circumstances would die of shame if anybody – let alone her child – caught her behaving in an inappropriately sexual manner. However, when I was in my early teens and she was hitting rock bottom she would do things like, to give a mild example, run around the house naked refusing to put any clothes on while shrieking and screaming incoherently. This was not because she was abusive towards us (although her behaviour definitely left deep scars), but because she was frikkin *drunk*.

          In addition, I should point out that when a family member feels uneasy around another family member this almost automatically leads to being inordinately alert around them to the point of spying and hunting out information that family members in regular circumstances would not purposefully snoop out. I know for example that when my mother was drinking I would follow her, look through her bag, search rooms she had just left, go through her things. I was looking for hidden bottles or signs of whether or not she was drunk at that moment, but as a result I stumbled across information that would normally have passed right under my radar – sometimes involving sex-related stuff I would rather not have known.

          This isn’t to say that LW home situation is not messed up – it is and LW should definitely do her best to keep herself safe and happy. But I’m not entirely convinced that Dad is purposefully sexually abusive and I would hate to put that idea in LW head, especially when she doesn’t feel abused herself and has enough on her plate to freak out about anyway.

  10. I second the locks on doors. I also vote for said locks being locks that you have keys for, instead of just kind of a twisty-turny-doorknob thing — (I do not claim to be an Anal Retentive Handyman, here) — so that you can lock your doors when you leave your room, so that Creepy-Not-Quite-Right-Dad doesn’t take out anything on your stuff because you have shown the signs of independence.

    I don’t know how old you are, LW, but please, take this, because it’s dangerous to think you’re alone; IT GETS BETTER is not just for those of us in the LGBTQ community. It is for everyone who has ever had to sit and wonder if they are going to get hit today. It is for everyone who has ever had to listen to the continual rants of the parent who needs help. It is for everyone who has ever endured elementary/middle/high school looking at the ground and trying to ignore the nasty names and the endless hostility. It is for everyone who needs it.

    You will get out. You will be your own person, with your own door, and your own locks, and your own place, where no one will ever fuck with your boundaries again. IT GETS BETTER.


    1. Long-time reader. First time commenter.

      I have to second Badger’s sentiments. My abusive childhood really screwed me over – I was homeless at 16 and TOTALLY convinced that everything that had happened to me was ALL MY FAULT. Extended family refused to help, as did the “friends” who’d taken advantage of abused-need-love 16 year old me.

      I turn 25 shortly. I never thought I was going to make it this far, let alone be as successful as I have been. There are still things I need to work on – my social skills are lacking as a result of my experiences, for example, but I’m getting there. Along the way I’ve gotten degrees from some of the world’s best universities and have made friends that I feel so lucky to have.

      It gets so much better, even if the road is at times, slightly bumpy.

  11. Hey. Thank you Captain for answering and thank you commenters too. I feel like it’s kind of unfair to apply the abuse label to my dad or my situation. I’m pretty certain he’s not doing any of this with the intention to make me feel bad and I’m having a lot of “surely it’s not that bad” and “maybe I exaggerated a little and made things sound a lot worse than they really are, because really, that only happened like two times and it was probably not even a conscious thing” and “maybe it’s just my family’s social norms (that I never agreed to)”-feelings here. I know, in theory, that is probably denial, but yeah. Theoretically knowing things and actually knowing them aren’t the same. Still don’t feel comfortable calling it abuse, though.
    I do, however, feel like getting the hell out of my living situation is probably a good idea. I really, sincerely, do not think I’m in any physical danger. I don’t think things will get remarkably worse in any near future. I don’t feel like this is an escalating thing, just a thing that I’ve become more conscious of lately (my parents where away for a while and I noticed myself feeling a lot more comfortable). But yeah, I can try finding another place to live and I’ve thought about it before. I probably can’t do that, like, immediately, though. I don’t really know how to talk about the sexual/nudity stuff with my sister, because if she’s not having the same experience (and she doesn’t seem to), I feel like she couldn’t handle it. She’s had some experience with sexual abuse (mostly groping, as far as I know), with an authority figure which aren’t related to us, and I really don’t want to put this on her. Is there a way to bring it up without pretty much saying “hey dad make’s me feel really uncomfortable in a sexual way, how about you”?

    I was at an Al-anon meeting a few weeks ago with my sister, who goes regularly. I feel like the alcoholism and getting yelled at is something we can talk about. But the other stuff is different and also doesn’t feel… like, a thing he’s aware of. Including the part about me feeling uncomfortable. I mean, I’m fairly certain he would start wearing clothes if I asked him to, but asking him feels weird and like I’m the creepy one. He also doesn’t try to hug me without my permission after I asked him not to, which makes me think maybe he just doesn’t know how I feel? Am I just making excuses?

    1. LW, my last boyfriend violated my boundaries, a lot, and he was emotionally manipulative. I honestly do not think that he was fully aware of it. He tried to make me gag in bed, and stopped after I told him, sure, but he had already done something that hurt me. My brain said that if he was manipulating me then I was being manipulated, and I knew and stayed and tried to keep liking him, so wasn’t it my fault? And if it wasn’t my fault, and he’s still someone I liked, wasn’t he a bad person, and what did it mean that I liked a bad person? My brain was trying to protect me from feeling scared until I was safe, and it was telling me lies to do it. Society blames victims so often – it’s hard not to blame yourself when someone else does something that hurts you, especially when you like or love or feel attached to that person. Other commenters here can speak better to your specific experiences (and correct me if I’m wrong!), but really: people can hurt us without wanting or meaning to, and that intent doesn’t change the effect of us being hurt.

      Having a good therapist has also helped me to deal with a lot of these sorts of things, so if that’s an option for you, you might consider adding one to Team You – if you can’t talk about some things at Al-Anon, you need somewhere that you *can* talk about them.

      You deserve to feel safe, and I’m glad you’re taking steps to take care of yourself. Maybe now is not the time to think about applying the label of abuser to your dad or calling it abuse or whatever, but right now is definitely the time to get to a place, mentally and physically, where you feel safe.

    2. Hey LW, I gotta say that as someone whose dad regularly ran around the house in tighty-whities or bike shorts… your dad’s semi-nudity thing still sounds kind of disturbing to me. But not necessarily in a Freudian way. To me, it comes across as part of a pattern of him not being able to manage his own shit like an adult human being, including his carelessness when it comes to clearing out his internet history, his tendency to yell and treat you like crap, his wandering into your room while drunk, and in fact, his drinking.

      My advice would be, try not to focus on categorizing your dad’s behavior, figuring out just how and why it freaks you out, and analyzing whether or not you are justified in feeling uncomfortable around him. The fact that he makes you feel uncomfortable is enough, you don’t have to have fully processed the entire dynamic in order to be allowed to feel skeeved out. You also don’t have to decide whether or not it is abuse in order to decide that your parents’ house is not a positive place for you to live at the moment.

      Think of it like this: right now, it’s like you just got hit by a car. This is a triage situation. You don’t have to know exactly where it hurts, whether or not your rib is just bruised or is actually broken, whether or not you’ve got a severe concussion or just a little bop on the head, in order to be justified in seeing a doctor. All you have to know is OW FUCK THIS HURTS.

      It’s awesome that you went to Al-Anon, and I hope you feel comfortable continuing to go there with your sister. But, analyzing and processing the rest of what goes on in your parents’ house might be best to do one-on-one with a counselor.

      In any case, I do hope you can start socking away some cash and finding a way to get out of that house. Good luck!

      1. This is pretty much the reply I was going to make. Don’t categorize or analyze, use whatever word works for you. I used abuse to talk about the dynamic of second-guessing yourself – “Is this real? Is this okay?” That’s enough of a reason to seek some help and get yourself out of there to a place where you can process it and take care of yourself. A situation doesn’t have to be objectively horrible for you to want to leave it!

        Keep going to Al-Anon, thanks for the commenter upthread who clarified the difference between organizations.

        1. Also, if you want a quick sounding board, google Sober Recovery Forums and read and post there to your heart’s delight. There are a lot of people who are dealing with alcoholism in the family that can help you vent your spleen, identify with feeling nuts for feeling the way you do (no, it’s not crazy or wrong and it doesn’t make you a bad person), and many times they can model what it takes to deal with an active alcoholic in real time when they’re violating your boundaries and pulling manipulative alcoholic crap on you. IME some Al-Anon meetings really emphasize keeping an “intact” family, whereas these forums don’t pressure that whatsoever.

      2. Yes LW! And I will tell you something: after years of feeling creeped out by my father for “no reason” (as long as I can remember, but there are pictures of me as a small child having fun with him, so it must not have been my whole life), we had an argument in the kitchen. My dad grabbed me by the throat and shoved me up against a wall, screaming in my face. I pushed him off of me, and he had the scariest expression on his face I had ever seen, until my mother intervened just as he was coming towards me again.

        I will never, ever forget that. And I have never been able to forgive him, because THAT was the moment that he showed me my instincts were right, that I actually was unconsciously managing his moods and excusing things that should not be excused. “You wanted to know why he freaked you out,” my gut feelings seemed to say, “well there it was. We knew he was capable of doing that.”

        I cannot predict if this will happen to you, but your instincts are not only warning you about what is happening, they are warning you about what he could do. And your intuition is this awesomely profound and precise tool that people in our culture are often trained NOT to listen to.

        Also, about the walking around in underwear thing, if he does it while sober, do you think he would hear you if you said in a half-jokey “HO THERE, DAD, WHERE ARE YOUR PANTS?” and just keep doing that every time you see him without them? Can you recruit your mother (and maybe there could just be a new unspoken house rule around “No underwear outside of one’s bedroom)?

        About your sister. Hrm. I had two brothers so I never felt I could talk about this with them, but if your sister is getting the same vibe, I think it would be pretty important for both of you to feel free to express that to someone, and it would be great if the two of you could be a team at home. Maybe lead in with “Sometimes Dad makes me really uncomfortable, like when he walks around his underwear. Do you ever feel like that?” Does she know about him coming into your room at night? Does he do that to her?

        1. I did tell my sister about him coming into my room one of the times that it happened and she agreed that it was creepy (in a “what is this person doing?”-kind of way rather than a molesting way). She didn’t mention that ever happening to her, though. I don’t think she’s uncomfortable around my dad in the same way that I am – she doesn’t seem to mind wearing little clothing around him, touching him or being touched by him, at least as far as I know.

          1. That’s good for her, I suppose. Well, if nothing else, in this thread you have found several people who feel the same way about their dads. There are others, and we are most definitely here for you. You are not alone. Hugs are yours if you want them.

      3. I agree- someone close to me had a similar situation and the word abuse didn’t quite fit right. Dad was an alcoholic though, and that’s the only important point. It was emotionally unhealthy and she had to get out. The messed up family dynamic was still around, but far, far less because she didn’t engage with them like before- she chose how often to see or speak with her family.

        You feel this isn’t healthy for you, end of story. You know what you need and this isn’t it.

    3. LW, you don’t have to categorize your father’s behavior; that’s not your job. It’s not my job either – definitely above my pay grade – so I would approach this from a different direction? You can work through whether or not you feel like your father’s behavior constitutes abuse o
      in whatever way feels best to you, but the fact that you’re using “creepy” to describe your parent? Makes it pretty clear how you feel about him. So I’m just going to call it an uncomfortable living situation, and remind you that you’re not, you know, actually going to get gold stars for Successfully Living With Your Creepy/Awkward Dad! There are no rewards to be claimed for continuing to ‘make excuses,’ as you put it. You don’t need to! That is not your job! You CAN just say “I don’t like this, I’m out.” You don’t have to provide your father with a detailed whirlpool of circular reasoning (“I don’t like this so I’d like to leave except I suspect you don’t mean it but I feel weird about talking to you about it and I don’t like it when you yell and realistically I could put up with you for a bit longer and we could probably both change our behavior but I do find it creepy when you show up in my room but I realize that you’re an alcoholic and I feel guilty for judging you when I really do love you but I was thinking of moving out maybe?”)

      Life is too short, dear! As a Grown Up Lovely Human Being, you are hereby awarded the Privilege of Not Having To Justify Everything To Everybody. If you’ve read the letter before yours, with the LW whose mother is pressuring her to invite her abuser cousin to her wedding, the script that worked best for the LW was one where she said “Nope, he’s not invited, and no, I’m not giving you reasons – i.e. little specific pockets of resistance, so that you can argue and contest and protest that they aren’t good enough and try to take them apart one by one and waste my time and make me feel like I’M the broken one.” You aren’t obligated to prove and justify yourself every time you have a feeling! Sometimes you can just. Move. Out.

      And if that’s not an option for you? You can just. Ask. Your father. To wear clothes. What does it matter if he kicks up a stink? So fucking what! My parents, in their usual absentminded way, tend to bumble around the house in an embarrassing state of undress. As teenagers, my sister and I were constantly shrieking “MOM! PUT SOME FUCKING CLOTHES ON!” and “DAD!! DO NOT ANSWER THE DOOR CLAD ONLY IN VINTAGE SWIMWEAR. YOU ARE MURDERING MY SOCIAL LIFE.”

      Can I tell a story? I feel like I express myself a bit better when I do! Because here is a similar situation that might be a little less alarming to relate to?

      Recently a friend of mine (Henceforth called Bumblebee) wanted to move out of the place she shared with her girlfriend (henceforth called QueenBee) because living together just wasn’t working out, but she hadn’t decided whether or not to break up with QueenBee. Bumblebee decided to make a list of pros and cons to decide whether or not to stay with QueenBee – bear in mind, Bumblebee is a lovely, mature, grown woman who makes good choices in her life. Here is a paraphrasing of her list.

      On the Pro side of the column, Bumbles had “She’s my girlfriend! And I can/do/SHOULD love her!”

      Right next to a CON that said “I don’t LIKE her very much. At all.”

      PRO: We share a lovely apartment together! And I’d have to find a different place to live, which is difficult and expensive.
      CON: I hate living with her. I really, really hate living with her.

      PRO: I’m sure she would change her behavior if I asked, and reminded her, and possibly trained her, like an animal that wasn’t quite housebroken?
      CON: I don’t actually want to train my girlfriend to be someone I can live with. That feels weird and wrong and manipulative. And also, not my job.

      PRO: When she walks around the house naked, I DO get to admire her loveliness!
      CON: Boundaries, she does not have them. My parents do not need to admire her loveliness too. And responding to my attempt to set boundaries resulted in QueenBee screaming about “HER HIVE, HER RULES, STOP BEING SO CONTROLLING” which is not how I want to argue with my sweetie.

      PRO: She is so refreshingly open and honest!
      CON: Said openness and honesty extends to my personal possessions, privacy and sexuality. Just because she wants to share her (porn, thoughts, interests, bodily smells) with me doesn’t mean that I always have to accept them – or that I should find it okay when she wants to take over mine. She thinks it’s being open and honest, I think it’s a little bit controlling and creepy.

      PRO: But we DO talk about things – neither of us back down from having arguments when we need to! We are honest, and we don’t avoid conflict!
      CON: As a result, we argue all the fucking time.

      Sound painful to you? It did to me. There was nothing actually wrong with QueenBee – she was just horrible for Bumble to live with, and the relationship couldn’t take the strain. It was killing whatever love they had between them. Meanwhile, I was practically swallowing my feet trying to prevent myself from saying “IF YOU ARE MAKING LISTS OF EXCUSES TO STAY IN THIS SITUATION, IT IS ALREADY OVER.” QueenBee wasn’t creepy, she wasn’t an abuser, she was just basically incompatible as a housemate and lifemate, and Bumblebee shouldn’t feel guilty at all because Love Wasn’t Enough. Sometimes it’s not. Sometimes you move out.

      What do you think, though?

      1. Lots of love for various comments here. I particularly love Elodie’s comment here that we don’t HAVE to justify, think it out, or have Reasons, either for others or even in our own heads; that emotions are valid just by existing.

        We live in a society that relies on evidence, science, critical thinking, the scientific method, etc. to an extreme extent, as compared to others. That’s great in some ways (and I’m trained in these things and make my living doing them) but more than ever we have this totally artificial Cartesian separation of body and mind. Reasons and thoughts aren’t always useful. Emotions are sometimes really useful and they are always true. Don’t feel bad about listening to them! As Ensign Perception said, don’t feel like you have to name them. The name won’t change the truth of it for you. You are uncomfortable, things are creepy and weird, and you don’t like it.

        As a corollary, I also really like EP’s point that your dad can be “badly behaved” in carelessness, irresponsibility, lack of boundaries, etc.; behaviors or ways of being that may not fall under the title “abuse” for you but which can make things super uncomfortable and wrong regardless. And this follows upon Captain Awkward’s point in her original response about the complexities and insidiousness of abuse… in our lives we look for black and white, good and evil, but so often people and their actions operate in grayer areas, making it harder to identify and address the bad and wrong situations.

        So, bottom line. I agree that your dad is being creepy, inappropriate, and kind of scary; and that leaving would be best for you. I imagine you might find it incredibly freeing, and a relief.

        Best wishes to you, LW!

    4. In the short term, you don’t need to make this about your dad at all. You don’t want to live at home anymore. It doesn’t matter if it’s because your dad is abusive or because of his alcoholism or because you just have different feelings about nudity than the rest of your family. It’s not a good living situation, so work on finding a new place and in the meantime do what you can to minimize the time you spend in yours (libraries, parks, volunteering, rec sports leagues, at friends’ houses, just walking around, etc.). I agree the lock on your door might be a good idea in the interim, but that’s your call.

      In the medium to long term, though? Please take the Captain’s advice and find a counsellor to speak with. You don’t need to sign up for “my dad abuses me and is an abuser” sessions. You can sign up for “I have some feelings and I want to talk through them with someone impartial who is good at listening.” Over time, they should be able to help you figure out what kinds of boundaries you need to set with your father. The goal is not to decide: Abuser, y/n? The goal is for you to figure out what behavior you need from him in order to interact with him in a way that doesn’t make you uncomfortable.

    5. Oh LW, this was me ten years ago, except it was my step-dad (who will be hensefoth called Douchebag).

      From the moment I met Doucebag something just felt…off, there was something that I didn’t quite like about him and I constantly felt uncomfortable. But he was so friendly! He made everyone laugh! He was the favorite at family gatherings! Then things began to slowly change, step out of line and he would deliberately humiliate me and my sister as a form of punishment, send us to our rooms over trivial things, then simply screaming at us with his face literally inches from ours.

      Then there was his problem with our personal boundaries. It first started out with his ‘hugs.’ No, not the nice non-threataning hugs you get from your family, but creepy lingering hugs with uncomfortable back rubbing and body pressing. Then he got into tanning and started wearing briefs and speedos around the house, but when my sister and I told him and my Mom that it made us uncomfortable, he reverted to his This Is My House and Am The Victim in All of This. He stayed the night at a hotel and had my Mom read us a letter he wrote explaining it was his house, and it was unfair the we got to walk around the house without a bra on (under t-shirts) or wear sleeveless tops, but he couldn’t wear what he wanted (we were 13 for chrissakes!).

      The whole time I felt absolutely aweful. It wasn’t abuse, after all, according to Douchebag that’s normal for families. But don’t talk about it, especially to your detective father who will cause problems and it will be all your fault. He would label it as abuse and use his connections at the police department to unfairly persecute Douchebag. And I believed it. It wasn’t Abuse Abuse, he wasn’t hitting me or touching me, so why rock the boat?

      We did get out, had some years of therapy and a horrible court experience when charges were brought against him and my Mom (Another story, but yes, it wasn’t Abuse Abuse, but enough for them to be charged).

      I’m not pressing you to label it as abuse; it was a long time before I was able to apply that term. But get out. As soon as possible. At the time I thought I was strong and could hold out till college, but in that warped world I couldn’t see the effects it was having on me. My grades were fine, I had a few friends…but I was also becomming depressed and withdrawn. Don’t worry about the abuse label, figuring out how to simultaniously love but feel scared and batrayed by your parents until you take care of yourself and get out of the situation. THEN with a clear mind tackle it. Good luck.

    6. Hey LW,

      If you ever do decide to bring the underwear wandering up with your sister, but don’t want to frame it in sexual terms to keep from wigging her out, perhaps you could use the word ‘inappropriate’? As in: “Hey, you know how dad likes to walk around in his skivvies or how he carelessly watches porn right where we can see it? It makes me feel really uncomfortable and I find it to be pretty darned inappropriate. How about you?” It might be a way to ease in to the subject in a way that focuses on the lack of boundaries, but doesn’t bring in the element that your sister may find triggering.

      As an aside, by no means do I mean to minimize the experience, and if your discomfort with this is the sexual side of it then that’s what it is. But sometimes it helps to tweak the language a bit to feel people out.

    7. Oh LW. Your story resonates so strongly with me. I haven’t commented ever before but I feel the need to.

      My father used to be abusive – emotionally, not physically. I feel comfortable labelling his behavior as such now, but it’s only been a year or so. Instead, I’ve spent most of my life wondering why. Why is he mean to my mother? Why do all our family dinners end in fights and tears? Why can’t my sister stop confronting him on his behavior because this will only end in tears and fights and please, dad, I will be nice to you and sit on your lap and hope that that will improve your mood and that no harsh words will be said now if I do that. Please don’t hurt my mom.

      I’ve settled with myself what the answer to the ‘why’ question was a long time ago. My dad is insecure, a product of his time – which means he’s had a ‘head of the house’ approach to our family for most of our existence as a family – and profoundly unsettled about his role in life. Those realizations helped, for a while.

      But all that wondering about the hows and whys of my father’s behavior didn’t leave any room for my feelings about it. My hurts. I spent my whole life cutting my father slack because first I loved him and later I understood him, but that left little space for the hurt that he inflicted on me. We walked on eggshells around him. I couldn’t depend on him. I couldn’t ask him for things – he would get mad or impatient at any sign of what he experienced as pressure.

      He’s left his abusive ways behind only when we had wrestled ourselves out of his control and they wouldn’t work anymore. It is only now that I realize how he’s hurt me and the fact that, though I love him, I don’t like him. He wants the best for me. He tries to help me. But all those wishes and help rarely take into account what I feel and want. He wants to see me succeed – by his definition. He wants to help me – but gets mad when he’s called upon to do something that doesn’t come easy to him. He’s proud of me – but not for what I do or am, but because of how I look, or because of some trait that he thinks is important. He doesn’t listen. Many of my experiences with him are what I call ‘the Dad show’, where my place is to set the spotlight on him, and he’s leading in every dance.

      What I read in your letter in so familiar to me (except for the alcoholism). My dad would pull the ‘I’m paying for this/this is mine’ card so often, yet he paid for my tuition. He wanted to come and see me, and even brought a cake! but wouldn’t accept when I said it wasn’t the right time. His manipulations and pressure would make me cry, And then I would wonder if I was wrong in crying for what he did, because he only wanted to be nice, right? I’ve questioned my anger at him for a long time, because he could be nice and interested and said he was proud of me. But when I would tell him anything that didn’t fit his image of who he wanted me to be, he’d either deny it or tried to talk me out of it. I only realized after thirty-something years that my dad is all about my dad. Oh, he loves me. But he loves me in relation to himself. He has not much use for my particularities and isn’t very accepting of them, even when he hides it well. Everything is all about him.

      My point is – and sorry for the rambling way I came to it – that your feelings are ok. You’re not fucked up for not feeling safe. He’s made you feel unsafe, because there’s nothing worse than being punished for expressing how you feel. You’re not fucked up for not loving him. You have very good reasons for not loving him – you don’t feel safe to express yourself. And he is controlling you. He is controlling what you say, and do, and even him being nice or doing nice things can factor into that. Does he do nice things just because or is he lording them over you later? Will he use his nice actions as an argument later on? No matter the answers to that, your feelings are your feelings. Just that.

      I do feel he’s abusive, but if you’re not comfortable with that label, I wouldn’t worry about it. Though acknowledging what is happening and why can be useful (very useful), I tend to think that being able to acknowledge, accept and especially trust your own feelings about what is happening is crucial. You. are. allowed. your. feelings. I can’t emphasize that enough. In an ideal world, you’d be able to test the feelings created by some action on his part against what he’s actually intended, but you made it clear that you can’t – not without a fight. That’s not your fault. It’s not on you. He’s practicing off-the-tablism, when someone actively refuses to address an issue (copyright Mira Kirshenbaum), and that hurts, and it kills relationships, but it’s not your fault.

      It’s hard to accept that you don’t like your parent. But it’s not your fault.

  12. Oh, LW, Jedi hugs! I haven’t been in your situation, but maybe my family’s story will help you? One of my parents grew up with an alcoholic, absent parent, and was thus raised by a grandparent who was also alcoholic. My parent separated from the family at a young age (living elsewhere, working while in school, etc.). When my parents got married, they were devoted to Making A Family Work because they both felt a bit of a lack of that in their childhoods. That idea collapsed almost immediately. We lost a lot of the other side of the family when my sister was born and they couldn’t hack her disabilities. The result? The four of us – parents and two kids – are awesome. I am proud of my family – the people I love! – Team Elysia! – and many of those people are not directly related to me.

    Society has this narrative that we have to love and like our blood relatives, but my family is proof that you don’t, and you can still be happy and loved and have a family.

  13. The entering the bedroom thing at night is SO bad. I had to deal with that on one or two occasions, though not with my father, and it absolutely freaked me out. If you have a bedroom where only you sleep, then you get to expect that nobody enters it from when you go to sleep to past when you awake. That one rings giant alarm bells for me even without the other stuff.

  14. The fact that it could be a lot worse — and yes, of course it could — does not mean it is ok.

    Good parents think about what is best for their kids without being asked. I have a teen-aged daughter, and it has been a looong time since she saw my husband naked. Sure, she had no hesitation about barging in on him when he was in the shower/bathroom/dressing…. when she was a toddler. He didn’t care, either: he was neither turned on by it, nor embarrassed about it. Why should he be? It’s just his body, and he sure as heck wasn’t seeing her as a sexual being in any way.

    However, as she got older, he started making sure to be covered when she was around. Not because either of us thought she would be inappropriately thrilled by seeing dear old dad in the buff, or because we are rigid, uptight people, but because we knew she would, increasingly, become uncomfortable with it. It’s developmentally appropriate, as girls enter puberty, for them to feel awkward about penises, because they’re developing sexuality and learning that penises aren’t just for peeing out of, and quite rightly and healthily not wanting to think about their dads in that context. I assure you, the normal thing (not the creepy thing) for teenaged hirls/ young women is to actively NOT want to see Dad naked. Which means it is all kinds of wrong that the burden is put on you to have to ask.

    Likewise having to ask your father to stay out of your bedroom in the middle of the night. He’s supposed to know that’s not ok. When your daughter’s a teenager, you knock before entering her room, Dad, and no matter how much you love your little darlin’ you have no business staring at her in her bed between nighty-night-sweetheart and time-to-get-up-for-school-honey. (OK, maybe exceptional circumstances, like she’s been sick, or you’ve been out of town a while and just want to see your loved ones safe and nestled in bed… but NOT what your father is doing).

    Another point from the parenting perspective: you can love a family member without accepting everything they do. Loving them is about feeling connected to them, wanting the best for them, wanting to believe the best of them, wanting them to be the best person they have it in them to be (for their sake as well as your own), being unable to stop caring about them even when they are driving you nuts. It ties us to people even when it would be healthier to cut line. My gut reaction is that you do indeed love your dad that way — which is why you’re playing the “he’s not that bad” game, second-guessing your instincts, defending him when you think commenters are too ready to label him “abuser.” You care, you want him to deserve the love you can’t quite help feeling. You are not a hateful, unloving, ungrateful person!

    Liking is another matter altogether. People are different. Biology and shared history don’t guarantee you’ll be simpatico enough to enjoy spending spend lots of time together. Even if your father did not have boundary issues, or alcohol issues, etc., (which he clearly DOES), you might just not be a good match for living together. Which is why high school years can be so tempestuous in families: the young person is becoming more and more his/her own unique person, less willing to accept how-we’ve-always-done-it as the-way-things-should-be, but hasn’t yet reached the point logistically where he/she can break free and go choose his/her living companions on the basis of actual compatibility. Trust me, lots of teenagers don’t particularly like their parents (or vice versa) during those years.

    Add to that that your father does have specific issues, and cut yourself some slack for not liking him. You don’t have to hate him to say that what he is fundamentally does not work for you, and that you need to get out of his sphere. And in the meantime, it is perfectly appropriate to say to your folks, “I’m just not comfortable with the nudity thing anymore. It was one thing when Sister and I were kids, but we’re not kids anymore and I’d really appreciate it if you could at least wear a robe or sweatpants or something.” And, perhaps in a separate conversation, “Dad, can you please stop coming in my room in the middle of the night? Maybe it’s some primitive survival instinct, but I can’t sleep with someone looming there, even if it’s you.”

    To be honest, I’d also get a deadbolt, or at least a hook-and-eye. I know you don’t want to hear it, and I’ve tried to respect your assertion that your father is not a total creeper. But it worries me that a man who clearly lacks the normal boundaries of appropriateness in the context of his teenaged daughter and sexuality is coming into your room and gazing at you. Like, is it in act of will that he doesn’t come molest you? Alarm bells are dinging.

    1. Oh my god yes to all of this!

      Like I’ve said above there, my mom is horrible with boundaries sometimes. But the weird thing is, a lot of what she does isn’t THAT different from my dad (who I like much more); the main difference is that my dad can friggin’ take a “no”.

      There might not seem like a gigantic difference between (just for one example) offering hugs when you’re in private and offering hugs when you’re socially obligated to accept them but I assure you there TOTALLY is. I’m normally a huggy person but even I don’t like hugging my mom anymore because she keeps pulling that.

      Or another one: I’m in college right now, and when I’m not at home my dad will email me only when he has some kind of reason. My mom, though, will text me at totally random times with something that would be very much like a FEELINGSBOMB except it’s very similar to all the previous ones, and I don’t really have any way to respond. But it’s never a comfortable feeling.

      Any of this alone wouldn’t be too bad but it all kind of added up to the point where, when I was first learning to drive, I refused to drive with my mom in the car under the given reason that I didn’t want three people in the car, but really because I knew I couldn’t spend the mental effort to deal with her AND concentrate on the road at the same time.

  15. Two thoughts:

    1) My girlfriend often says that moving out of her parents’ house was the best thing that ever happened in her relationship with her father. Her father, like yours, has a temper, and she was too afraid to advocate for herself when she lived with him. (He also did the “this is my house/I paid for this” thing a lot, and the “I can throw you out of this house with nothing” thing.) I have heard the way her father used to talk to her. She wasn’t comfortable with the term “emotionally abusive” but I thought it could have fit pretty easily.

    So here’s the thing: the distance she got from her parents was really, really important. I have watched her learn to set boundaries with her parents. I have watched her learn to separate her emotions from her father’s emotional climate. I’m not going to tell you that getting out of the house will magically cure your relationship with your father, but it may help, too.

    2) I’m kind of noticing that your mother really isn’t present in this story. If I lived at home and my dad did something weird like walking into my bedroom at night, my mom would hear about it. Likewise, if your dad is threatening you and yelling at you and your sister a lot…where is your mother in all of this? Is she just sitting on the sidelines watching?

    If your mother knows that all this is hurting you, and isn’t trying to change it, then she is complicit in this. If she doesn’t know, I wonder why you haven’t told her. I’m not saying that you should tell her, but as you figure out what to do with all this, it might be a good idea to keep an eye on what role your mother plays in your family dynamics.

  16. Hey, letter writer! I am going to second Esti’s suggestion above and agree that “Is my dad an abuser y/n” is not what you are asking or ready to ask at this juncture. It is hard to sew up a wound that is still being stabbed, anyway, and people are absolutely right that you should get out soon. I am going to make a suggestion, which is that you break your dilemma into two pieces, which is what is going on here. Piece one is “Hey, I have some feelings about my Dad and I wish to sort them out.” That one has been covered here in a lot of great ways, and going to Al-Anon was an important step! If and when you seek therapy will be up to you.

    Piece two is maybe what needs to be addressed here, and maybe it would help if you substituted “really old friend that I moved in with” for Dad in terms of the bad roommate situation. You moved in with your very old friend and you live together now, only your friend lacks boundaries and is a really terrible roommate. You feel like you should like him more and maybe try harder because you went to summer camp together! You’ve known each other for over a decade! However, you are not having a good time living with this friend. Maybe if you move out you can address the relationship on your own terms, later, but right now he is all up in your space and it is not working out. So, you need to get out. This is not a value judgement on whether that person is Good or Bad. It is not a moratorium on your friendship. It is just taking care of yourself.

    Maybe moving out isn’t an option for you- maybe you have no job or no options or no friends whose couches you can serf. You might also be under the age of 18, which will place limits on your ability to get out.
    1) Accept that it is ok to want to leave.
    2) Make steps to leave.

    2 is the hardest part, of course. If you lack a job, get one. If you are under 18, get a part-time after-school job. Either way, have it be your own bank account that no one has access to that you put the money into. I think there are ways to open a checking or savings account if you are under 18, I would do that. If you are over 18, also open an account. The important thing is that you are the only person with access to this account and you are the only person who knows about it. Make sure they do not send bank statements to your house, but via email only. And start socking away money, slowly but surely. When it becomes an option, start looking at places. I don’t know what it’s like in your city, but in mine, you have to have 2 or 3 months rent to get a place.

    Locks are super important. Get a box or a chest or a something that you can stick a master lock on and carry the key with you everywhere. Put things that are important in it. When you can, look up how to change the lock on your door. You are the only person with the key except maybe your sister. Help her to do the same if she wishes.

    You don’t have to worry about whether you like your friend or not now, or whether you are obligated to do so. That is for later, and with a therapist of your choosing.

    1. In other news, I just realized I wrote “serf” instead of “surf.” Which is amusing when you think about a serf surfing. Or couch-serfing as being some kind of thing in which you act like a peasant on someone’s couch.

  17. CA and other commenters have answered some implied questions that are probably more important in the long run than “is it ok if I don’t love my dad?” but I happen to have been thinking about that one lately, so I just wanted to say this:

    You do not have to love your parents. Some people don’t.

    It’s probably accurate to say that most people do love their parents, at least in a filial piety/”God’s way” fashion. But not all people do. Some people’s experiences with their parents — even when they’ve lived with them for the majority of their childhoods — result in them not loving their parents at all, at least as far as they can detect, and even if they like them okay sometimes. It’s okay if you’re one of those people.

    Even if you’re not — even if the Captain is right and you do love your father in “God’s way”/filial piety — here’s something to consider: Lots of people will probably tell you, or already have, that you only hate/dislike/disagree with your parents because you’re young, and once you grow up you’ll become friends with them, and once you have kids you’ll see that they were right all along. I guess I don’t know if you’re from the U.S., but mainstream Americans have this strong cultural narrative that parents are inherently good and kids who don’t think so are silly and wrong.

    That cultural narrative fucking sucks for people with experiences like yours. So it could be helpful to you to be mindfully aware that that narrative is wrong. There’s no reason you should like or agree with people who disrespect your boundaries and interact with you in bad ways, even if those people are your parents. Anyone who tells you that you should is just poorly informed, and you don’t have to listen to them.

    Don’t get me wrong, it can be heart-wrenching to realize that you don’t like/love your parents. Everyone deserves parents worthy of our love! But we don’t all get them, and that is a huge disappointment to say the least. So of course you’ll have bad feelings about this. But there’s no reason that guilt should have to be one of them.

    1. Agreed. The cultural narrative is one hell of an uphill battle for people who come from crappy home situations.

      “Am I the one who are fucked up for not loving my parent when I don’t have a really good reason not to?”

      No. You have some pretty awesome reasons for not loving your parent. Really. Even parental love is earned. And they don’t just earn it by feeding you and giving you shelter in the bare minimum way, but by respecting you and your boundaries and treating you like you are a person who has a right to exist and grow and prosper just as much as they do. Even if parents aren’t abusive, but just kinda bad parents or definitely-not-good parents, it’s really, really ok to not love them. If they were earning your love, you’d just be giving it left and right in the first place.

    2. It’s also perfectly possible and OK to have loved parents in a culturally-favored way at one point and later, not love them as much or at all. They do things, you grow up, the relationship changes, and one of the ways it may change is that you decide that they are people you can treat politely but not people who are in your inner circle. A lot of people will act like this ending is some kind of SUPERTRAGEDY, but it doesn’t need to be if you are building a Team You who just do not happen to be your immediate progenitors or caretakers from infancy.

      –tl;dr way of saying: your happy childhood memories do not trap you. You’ve got a photo album (or, these days, Flikr); you can add happy new pictures of you and everyone else in the world.

  18. LW, I can kinda sypmathise, as I don’t like my stepfather: he’s a jerk, an alcoholic, probably was verbally abusive toward his kids, and sometimes felt kinda creepy. Not as creepy as yours, but even so it took me a long time to figure out that it’s OK not to like him.

    It’s OK not to like your father.
    You’re smart to realize something is wrong in the family and ask for help.
    You are allowed to be sad/mad/upset when he upsets you.
    You have the right to set boundaries.

  19. On the drinking thing, I thought I’d share a script that’s helped me with alcoholics in my life that I still want in my life, but can’t go on being with them if I can’t set some limits about the drinking. This may not be for you, and I would not advise it as an immediate action (you have some more important things first).

    What I have done in the past is 1) avoid calling them an alcoholic, 2) make the issue about me, and 3) offer concrete things I want or will start doing. For example, this is what I don’t do:

    “You are an alcoholic. You need to stop drinking, it’s awful and it makes me sad and you act like an asshole. Last time you got drunk you did X and it was horrible.”

    The usual response to this is “I’m not an alcoholic, I don’t need to stop, my drinking is awesome, you make yourself sad, I’m super fun, and that time I did X was actually about (obfuscation).” This will eventually go into an “are not, are too” sort of argument. I’m arguing that they accept my label for them (alcoholic), that they do what I want (stop drinking), that they accept my value judgment (it’s awful), that they accept responsibility for my emotions (you make me sad), that they accept another value judgment (asshole), and while giving people concrete examples of how their drinking has affected you can sometimes help, sometimes it can just get into a nitpicky “well it didn’t happen that way and anyway I had had a bad day and you are overreacting so this doesn’t count” kind of argument.

    Anyway, the point is, you can’t force people to feel how you want them to feel, think how you want them to think, and do what you want them to do, and the conversation we all want to have with addicts usually combines all three of those into the biggest, worst fight ever. So, instead, I want to talk about things that can’t be argued with (my feelings, my perceptions, my needs). Of course, people can argue about those things, but not to any real success — these are my feelings, I own them, and accepting and respecting my feelings is kind of a basic prerequisite to being in my life. I’m just adding this to the whole list of relationship restrictions I have that some people may find quirky or weird or stupid but acceptable, like “don’t come over unannounced” or “don’t tickle me” or “don’t use my computer without asking” — also, “don’t be drunk around me.”

    So, what I usually say is something like:

    “I don’t really like being around you when you’re drunk — I have trouble connecting with you that way (or, white lie version: I just don’t really enjoy being around drunk people very much). So, I’m probably not going to hang out with you when you’ve been drinking, and I won’t be drinking with you.”

    I’m not asking them to do anything really — they don’t have to accept that they have a problem, they don’t have to accept a value judgment, and they don’t have to change their behavior — I’m just notifying them that I have a problem, and I’ve found a solution, and my solution is to change my behavior in a certain way. Any arguments I get for this stuff are a lot easier to brush off. “You love me drunk!” or “We connect just fine!” or “Why can’t you get over this problem?” can just be responded to with some broken record version of “This is how I feel, I can’t really change it, sorry, I don’t know why I feel this way any better than you do, I just do.” etc.

    You could still combine this with any degree of confrontation — I had this conversation once with a friend, but I started it off with, “I think you have a problem with your drinking. I’m uncomfortable being around that because so much of my family has problem drinking that it makes me upset from the get-go.” So I still gave him some value judgment there, but I didn’t force him to accept my value judgment, and I still put the issue on me — not “your drinking is bad and a problem” but “I am not able to deal with your drinking because I have a problem with people who drink like you do.”

    I’ve been able to forestall the “you’re a drunk, why can’t you stop!” blow-up with these conversations over the years. They’re not perfect and they still start fights sometimes, but as long as I refuse to get involved in some kind of “am not, are too” kind of argument about drinking, and stick to my demands as non-negotiable (even if they don’t get my reasons or accept my feelings), I can usually avoid the kind of emotional detonation I fear.

  20. I only want to say: 1. Really sorry this is your reality, I think the above commenters are right, you should probably leave when you can and it’s ok to leave just because you want to, and you would even be in a better position to help your mom/sister if they wanted to go too if you were somewhere safe.
    2. A lot of people have mentioned putting some sort of lock on your/your sister’s door while you still live there. Good idea, but take a look at what side the hinges are on. He might not get angry and decide to take your door off if he’s locked out, but if he’s pulling the my money,y house thing, he might. Only thing I know is you don’t want to find out at 3am. ere

    1. The times that this has happened (two, as far as I know), he has seemed really drunk and not concious of his surroundings (mainly me asking him what he’s doing and asking him to get out). I’m not sure, but I don’t think that even if he wanted to take off a locked door he’d be very sucessful in that state.

      For the record, I think that the times this has happened, he was looking for alcohol. I lived somewhere else for a while (no longer an option) and my family used a closet in my room to store alcohol during that time, and one of the times he opened that closet. So yeah. Still creeps me out, though.

      1. It’s understandable. I just wanted to put it out there in case he got angry when he’s drunk, or if (like a cousin I have) he’s pretty high functioning when he’s drunk and gets ‘ideas’. Especially since you said he was big on the whole ‘my house’ thing.

        Either way, Jedi-hugs to you, and I hope you can get some help.

  21. Hey LW — a couple of things I want to add to this discussion. I think it is great that you and your sister are going to Al-Anon meetings. I know they can help to normalize the chaos of living with an alcoholic, and help you to find strategies for YOU to deal with this. There were AlaTeen groups for kids and teenagers — you did not say how old you are. I have to ask this, however — is your mother willing to attend Alanon meetings with you, or to meetings on her own ? She is a big part of this situation, too.

    I read a lot — and I have found online forums have helped me.Even reading about other people’s experiences helped me to make sense of my own. I found this forum by accident, when I was looking for information about something else — but you may find some insight and support here: http://www.soberrecovery.com/forums/#friends-family

    Addiction is a very complicated issue — and while the periods when your father is not drinking might be a little better — the problem as I understand it is related to the mentality of the addict. Not using does not equal a state of actual sobriety. While I feel uncomfortable with some aspects of the 12 step movement (the religious angle to be specific, as well as the closed circle for only AA approved literature) — the 12 step model does make the user doing the steps have to thoughtfully consider and understand the effect of their using/behavior on others, as well as having to interact with a sponsor, who has already been through this process, for support, as well as being a BS detector.

    People who are emotionally abusive are expert manipulators. The aspect of manipulation is also very well known with addicts/abusers. That storming/yelling is a way to control and manipulate — and often a big scene about the faults of someone else is a smokescreen for the addict to deflect scrutiny of their bad behavior. Addiction is not as simple as “someone drinks a lot” — there are all these other roots and tentacles that make up the complete picture of the psychology and the behavior and physical manifestations. It is also very important to understand that just because a person is not physically assaulting you that what is happening is abuse. Psychological abuse can and will happen without a person even raising their voice. Making threats is an abusive action.

    The other thing: dad’s gross undressness. I grew up with a father who was not an alcoholic — but who certainly had some aspects of being a narcissist and exhibitionist. My father liked to claim he was a nudist — and would walk around naked in the house — though not in front of company, thankfully. No one in the family was comfortable with this, especially my mother, but he just did what he wanted (he built and paid for the house, etc.,etc.) and did not care what others thought/felt. I don’t think that it left me scarred for life — but it did leave me cynical and cautious around other people I met who exhibited the same traits — self righteous vanity, and their belief that it was their right to be nude in front of me, whether I was comfortable with that or not.

    How I view this behavior now: it is a quiet form of aggression, and a boundary violation. I wouldn’t think twice being around naked people at a nude beach — but I’d feel mad if my friends did not tell me it was a NUDE beach we were going to before we went, however. I do find fault with a creepy exhibitionist that behaves inappropriately with regards to their near or complete nudity (I’m talking about you, creepy fluorescent spandex g-string man, who used to come to fetish events with a whole bunch of g-strings that he would change into all night in the communal change rooms, with the curtains not quite closed, so others were forced to glimpse his ongoing nudity. He would also walk up to women he did not know and ask them some question like “what do you think of my belt?” — and when you would glimpse at him looking for the belt it would be there — right on top of this gross glowing g-string.). Your fathers behavior IS making you uncomfortable, and it IS pushing on some boundaries that should not be pushed on. I think a lock on your bedroom door is a really good idea, until you can get out of there, but if this is not feasible even a few cinder blocks against the shut door at night would at least give you some security. I also suggest putting some kind of noisemaker on your door that would wake you up if the door was opened — which can be as simple as a few bells from the craft store hanging on string inside your room.

    It is okay to not like family when they are not being likable. Right now your father does not sound like he is being a caring, considerate or responsible adult, let alone parent. His behavior WITHOUT the drinking is problematic, and is making you feel uncomfortable and scared. There is nothing to like about that. Please don’t feel obligated to like him right now.

    Also: as tough as it is, try to talk with your sister about all the aspects of dad’s behavior that is making you uncomfortable. Silence/secrecy is what makes abuse so powerful and potent.

  22. Captain: I had some submission issues, so please bear with me if this post is duplicated.

    Hey LW — a couple of things I want to add to this discussion. I think it is great that you and your sister are going to Al-Anon meetings. I know they can help to normalize the chaos of living with an alcoholic, and help you to find strategies for YOU to deal with this. There were AlaTeen groups for kids and teenagers — you did not say how old you are. I have to ask this, however — is your mother willing to attend Alanon meetings with you, or to meetings on her own ? She is a big part of this situation, too.

    I read a lot — and I have found online forums have helped me.Even reading about other people’s experiences helped me to make sense of my own. I found this forum by accident, when I was looking for information about something else — but you may find some insight and support here: http://www.soberrecovery.com/forums/#friends-family

    Addiction is a very complicated issue — and while the periods when your father is not drinking might be a little better — the problem as I understand it is related to the mentality of the addict. Not using does not equal a state of actual sobriety. While I feel uncomfortable with some aspects of the 12 step movement (the religious angle to be specific, as well as the closed circle for only AA approved literature) — the 12 step model does make the user doing the steps have to thoughtfully consider and understand the effect of their using/behavior on others, as well as having to interact with a sponsor, who has already been through this process, for support, as well as being a BS detector.

    People who are emotionally abusive are expert manipulators. The aspect of manipulation is also very well known with addicts/abusers. That storming/yelling is a way to control and manipulate — and often a big scene about the faults of someone else is a smokescreen for the addict to deflect scrutiny of their bad behavior. Addiction is not as simple as “someone drinks a lot” — there are all these other roots and tentacles that make up the complete picture of the psychology and the behavior and physical manifestations. It is also very important to understand that just because a person is not physically assaulting you that what is happening is abuse. Psychological abuse can and will happen without a person even raising their voice. Making threats is an abusive action.

    The other thing: dad’s gross undressness. I grew up with a father who was not an alcoholic — but who certainly had some aspects of being a narcissist and exhibitionist. My father liked to claim he was a nudist — and would walk around naked in the house — though not in front of company, thankfully. No one in the family was comfortable with this, especially my mother, but he just did what he wanted (he built and paid for the house, etc.,etc.) and did not care what others thought/felt. I don’t think that it left me scarred for life — but it did leave me cynical and cautious around other people I met who exhibited the same traits — self righteous vanity, and their belief that it was their right to be nude in front of me, whether I was comfortable with that or not.

    How I view this behavior now: it is a quiet form of aggression, and a boundary violation. I wouldn’t think twice being around naked people at a nude beach — but I’d feel mad if my friends did not tell me it was a NUDE beach we were going to before we went, however. I do find fault with a creepy exhibitionist that behaves inappropriately with regards to their near or complete nudity (I’m talking about you, creepy fluorescent spandex g-string man, who used to come to fetish events with a whole bunch of g-strings that he would change into all night in the communal change rooms, with the curtains not quite closed, so others were forced to glimpse his ongoing nudity. He would also walk up to women he did not know and ask them some question like “what do you think of my belt?” — and when you would glimpse at him looking for the belt it would be there — right on top of this gross glowing g-string.). Your fathers behavior IS making you uncomfortable, and it IS pushing on some boundaries that should not be pushed on. I think a lock on your bedroom door is a really good idea, until you can get out of there, but if this is not feasible even a few cinder blocks against the shut door at night would at least give you some security. I also suggest putting some kind of noisemaker on your door that would wake you up if the door was opened — which can be as simple as a few bells from the craft store hanging on string inside your room.

    It is okay to not like family when they are not being likable. Right now your father does not sound like he is being a caring, considerate or responsible adult, let alone parent. His behavior WITHOUT the drinking is problematic, and is making you feel uncomfortable and scared. There is nothing to like about that. Please don’t feel obligated to like him right now.

    Also: as tough as it is, try to talk with your sister about all the aspects of dad’s behavior that is making you uncomfortable. Silence/secrecy is what makes abuse so powerful and potent.

    1. Regarding my mom, she’s not willing to go to Al-Anon, therapy or anything like that. My sister and I have asked her to and she’s said that she doesn’t think she needs that and, while not directly saying so, has made it clear that she’s not willing to for our sake either. She’s aware that he blows up a lot and that drinking makes it worse, but she usually treats it like a fight in which everyone has a part. So does my sister, while I mostly think that even if it starts out as a conflict, his way of handling that conflict is Not Okay and it doesn’t really matter if he had reasons to react when the reaction is just mean.

      I kno my mom has talked to my dad about his drinking being a problem, but I don’t really know details. Supposedly, he’s been trying to drink less during some periods, but I haven’t really noticed a difference.

  23. LW,

    I am sorry for your pain. I had a friend say to me one day, “I think I hate my father.” To which I replied, “You say that like it’s a bad thing.” I grew up in a household remarkably similar to yours and, as I am a rather vocal person, I don’t mind talking about it. Hence, I have this discussion with alarming frequency. I usually tell a friend, or in this case you, if you are having a negative feeling about someone (dislike, hate, resentment, etc), take an hour or a day and just embrace it. Have a good, long hate. Stop trying to stamp down the feeling of creepiness and discomfort and dislike and just own the feeling. It is how you feel and it is a valid feeling. Spending too much time trying to stamp down on your “spidey sense” for danger may mean that it won’t be there for you later when you really need it. So give up the second-guessing and denial as a futile endeavor.

    Next you’ve got to figure out what to do about it. Really analyze the situation in detail– how much danger, mental or physical, am I in? In my opinion, you ought to be planning for getting out as soon as humanly possible. Why, you ask me? Because the fact that he comes into your room when you’re sleeping and you are aware of this tells me that, not only are you walking on eggshells, you’re sleeping on them too. By which I mean to say, you aren’t sleeping well or deeply and that’s not healthy to maintain. And it doesn’t matter how alarmed your waking mind is, the fact that your spidey sense won’t let you sleep is alarming to me. Next ask, what are my best first steps (door locks, locked box)? What should my exit strategy be? Can I stay with friends or relatives? Do I need to find a shelter? How soon can I get a job? What will that job pay? How can I reconcile my need to move out now and still realize my dreams for my life? Can I rent a room in someone’s house as an interim step? I think you’ll find it’s a huge relief to you once you figure the situation and realize that you can leave and that there are immediate, concrete steps you can take to protect your comfort and safety.

    You don’t need to know anything about your current situation other than that it makes you tense and uncomfortable in order to start planning to move out. But you also need to understand that your father is both controlling (of others; the “I paid for this, so you’ll do what I say” is a dead give-away), while at the same time being out of control (of himself; the drinking). This is a VERY volatile mix and can quickly escalate or become dangerous. You won’t want to believe him capable of violence or of making this situation worse, and I completely understand. But not wanting to believe that something is possible doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t have contingency planning in place. So, at the very least, don’t let on that you’re planning on leaving until you’re out the door and know where you’ll go and who to call if things suddenly get worse. You cannot take care of your mother or your sister while you’re still under your dad’s thumb, but as you’re planning to leave, it will hurt no one if you make sure your sister knows where she can go and who she should call if things get bad for her after you leave. Keep in mind that you can always take her in once you have a place to take her to.

    And while you’re doing and planning and processing all of this, just know, you aren’t alone. My dad is a controlling, alcoholic, creepster. It took years of therapy to get it all sorted out and for me to make my peace with with my childhood. You deserved better, but this is what you got and I applaud you for being able to realize and understand that what is happening is not right or normal. I was in college and getting out of an abusive love affair with the help of a wonderful therapist before I was able to understand and articulate that what went down in my childhood household was not right or normal or fair. So, gold star, A+ work, my dear.

  24. Honestly, LW, my guess would be that the main reason all that other stuff — about him walking around the house naked, or entering your room at night — is bothering you is because this is a person who you cannot trust to respect you if you were to ask him to stop. Perhaps that’s the main issue — not that you think a serious boundary is about to be violated, just that you can’t be sure that, in the unlikely event that you did have a serious problem, you’d be respected by your father if you asked him not to do something.

    So you haven’t asked him to give you privacy in your room at night, even though that’s a perfectly reasonable request from an adult daughter or son for reasons that have nothing to do with fear of abuse, because you can’t trust that this is a request that will be respected. You’re making little compromises that you don’t want to make and shouldn’t have to make, because your father is not someone you can trust with a reasonable request. No wonder you’re coming to dislike him, and no wonder you have niggling fears, even if you don’t truly think it will escalate to that level.

  25. Hello LW,

    Your dad sounds an awful lot like my dad, only mine was addicted to porn instead of alcohol. He kept it secret really well though – in my family’s religion it’s a huge no-no that makes it okay for my mom to divorce him on the spot – so I grew up feeling creeped out by him but without really knowing why. Like you, I wasn’t molested, but he did cross a lot of boundaries and was generally a bully. I still debate whether the A-word (abuse) applies or not. Use it if it’s helpful, ignore it if it’s not.

    I didn’t realize how bad it was until I’d been at college on the other side of the country for a year and realized that it was so NICE not to have to dedicate mental energy to dealing with him. Since then I’ve interacted with him as little as possible. Life is SO much better now that I’m not living under his roof. And no, I don’t like him, not in the least. I love him because it’s hardwired into kids to love their parents, and I’ll never stop wanting his affection and approval, but he repulses me. I don’t feel bad about that.

    The Captain’s advice is good, and a lot of stuff in the comments rings true. Use what’s helpful, discard the rest. I particularly like the post by GemmaM, right above mine. I’d advise you to move out as soon as is reasonably possible. Distance helps this kind of thing immensely. Your feelings are valid, spot on, and you’ll be okay.

  26. I just wanted to offer another perspective on your dad entering your room in the middle of the night, not talking or acknowledging you, and leaving. This might be some sort of sleepwalking, probably alcohol-related. While my dad was never, ever abusive, he WAS an alcoholic. Sometimes he’d get up a couple of hours after he went to bed, and come into the living room (where I or my mom were still watching TV), sit down without acknowledging either of us, and stare at the TV with unseeing eyes. Sometimes he’d mumble something incomprehensible. After five or ten minutes he’d go back to bed. Once he tried to have a conversation with me while in that state, but YOU COULD SEE that it was not a normal-conscious state, and nothing he said made any sense. IT WAS WEIRD AND I WAS FREAKED OUT. Next day he was perfectly normal again. I’ve noticed this happened usually after he’d been drinking the previous evening.

    Actually, a lot of of you write reminds me of my dad, and your conviction that he doesn’t mean to be abusive rings true to me. I think the boundaries issues are caused by his alcoholism and he’s really not aware of (and/or care about) the effect he’s having, but your feelings of inappropriateness and fear quite rightly reflect that you know you’re interacting with someone volatile who cannot be trusted.

    1. Yeah, as I mentioned above, as a fellow child-of-an-alcoholic, I would agree with this. The alcoholism is probably the root of the problem and the skulking around in no underwear an incidental symptom. And – who knows! – perhaps you’d actually even end up really liking your dad, if only he’d get sober (that’s what happened in my case with my mom, who as it turns out is really pretty fab). The trouble is you’re not the one who can make that happen.

      I would strongly advocate for finding a place of your own, building the life that can totally be yours when your energy is not sapped by feeling on edge around your dad and, maybe eventually, when you feel up to it, try discussing the alcoholism issue directily and honestly with your dad.

      1. I hope this isn’t too much of a derail, but you guys are making me cry. My mother is an active alcoholic, and I’ve set limits with her and don’t live with her, but I still struggle with a lot of resentment about it. I’ve gone back and forth many times in my mind about whether the way she treated me growing up was abuse; I certainly have a lot of the personality traits of people who grew up in abusive households.
        But between this and other things I’ve been reading lately, I’ve realized that she wasn’t trying to control me (beyond normal parenting fears), she didn’t want a beaten-down, meek creature, and she was never systematic about it. She’s ill, and she’s not ready to get better yet, but she’s not an abuser. I get it now. I’m still angry and sad, but I’m feeling a lot less resentful and off-balance about her.
        It was already true, really, but this is officially my favorite place on the internet.

        1. Oh wow, KL, I’m sorry – I totally didn’t mean to make anybody cry! Although it sounds like it might be the good, healing kind of crying? For what it’s worth it took me years to come to terms with my mother’s alcoholism and the impact it had on my childhood, family life and, ultimately, outside social interactions and overall happiness: my mother first acknowledged her problem and went into rehab when I was 12, managed to beat the problem by the time I was 15 and if was not till about a year ago when I was 28 that I was finally able to honestly say that I am over it.

          The trouble is, when you’re on the receiving end of weird alcohol-induced parental behaviour, the effects are in many ways the same as those of a regular abusive household – which is why in the short term the solution is “get out as soon as possible”, just as it would be for any other kind of abusive home situation. But, for me at least, when it came to repairing my relationship with my mother, understanding why she acted the way she did, coming to terms with what happened and, ultimately, healing the wounds her behaviour left me with, this distinction was essential.

          1. I should have mentioned that it was the good kind of crying!
            I’m in my early thirties, and I’ve been so uneasy around her for so long, and now, thinking about having a kid of my own… it’s just good to be reading this now. I’m not sure I would have gotten it even five years ago.
            In a weird way, I think I had to get away from her mindset in order to view her with compassion. Which says some sad things about how she must see herself, doesn’t it? And I can definitely relate to that.
            We had a really good phone call this morning, and I’m feeling cautiously optimistic about things for the first time in a while.

          2. Heh, yeah, my mother has a nasty, twisted view of who she is and how others perceive her as well – realising that has also helped me a long way to understand where she’s coming from. I don’t think I will ever understand how her insecurities led her to such self-destructive behaviour, I have however realised that the main reason for that is that witnessing her addiction and its consequences left me with an allergy for any kind of substance abuse. So, there’s that.

            Anyway, I’m really, really glad things are looking up, KL! I know that learning to accept that part of my past as part of myself and learning to not let it hurt me anymore was so very liberating. And realising that the parts of my mother that formed her actual personality – as opposed to the self she was showing when she was under the influence – were those that I loved and liked was a big part of that.

    2. That does sound like my dad’s behavior sometimes, including the times when he’s walked into my room. Weird and scary, yes.

  27. My dad has never had a problem with alcohol that I’m aware of, but one part of this letter really reminded me of the year or two before I left home.

    I don’t know if any of what I have thought about is relevant, but it might be.

    Here’s how I see what happened.

    Living with one’s young adult children is strange. The house is yours, not theirs, but they treat it like theirs. Furthermore, they stay up as late, or even later than, you, so you don’t get the time alone, or with your partner, that you had when they were kids.

    It can be very tricky to adjust mentally to the idea that your kids, who you had to control in so many ways for their own good, when they were children, are now adults with a right to their own space and also to your space — the shared spaces in the house, which were once yours and your partner’s but are now suddenly the joint shared spaces of the whole family.

    But you didn’t really have these other adults in mind when you set things up. They weren’t there. And for years, when they were there, they went to bed in the evenings and you got your space back.

    Some people handle this gracefully. Some people have real trouble with it. Some people deal with that trouble by pointing out repeatedly that the space belongs to them because they paid for it. It’s nasty, but it doesn’t mean the person will be a bad person to know once you’re not in their space all the time, or financially depending on them.

    The solution for me, as the child, was to leave. I was disliking both my parents intensely by then. I left with an overdrawn bank account and a short-term job, because I needed to get out. I didn’t burn my bridges — just left as fast as I could because I wanted out so desperately.

    It really didn’t take long for me to start liking them again. They’re generous, loving, kind people, who are just territorial enough to be obnoxious when one is an adult dependant. Sadly, I suspect I’ll be the same, so I’m already making plans for setting up a second living space of some sort for my child when she hits 15 or so. And for supporting her in getting her own flat when she’s old enough to want to leave.

    I also became very uncomfortable with my dad in that last year, even though he’d never done anything to make me feel that way and never has. I think it was partly because I knew our relationship had soured so badly, and I wasn’t feeling trust or comfort in any other way, so I was losing all my usual trust and comfort in his presence. I now look on this as just part of getting over being the five-year-old who wanted to marry daddy when I grew up.

  28. Totally valid question, but also agreed on the answer: this IS unacceptable behaviour, shitty things ARE going down, and sorting out particularly a lot of guilt feelings may well be down the road a little bit, after you get separation from this, he sobers up, or both. My dad was (well, is) a rageaholic – no alcohol while I was alive, though it’s possible he was just a dry drunk for roughly a quarter century. My mom was the codependent partner and I consider myself fortunate to not have had any siblings (even though it would have been nice to have the, “so, I’m not nuts when I say that shit is fucked up in this household, right?” conversation, I never had to worry about someone else or how to place my actions so it wouldn’t hurt them).

    Frankly? I think the whole “love” thing gets bandied about for more than its worth. I’m in my late 20s and still dealing, but at least I’m out of the situation, and… you know, I definitely care about my parents, I wish we could have had real relationships, but… that didn’t happen. I’ll be sad when they inevitably die, mainly because they’re so intensely unhappy and have been since before I was born. Do I love them? I don’t know. I’m glad they brought me into this world, I’m glad I didn’t grow up on the street or in a foster home, but those are some pretty minimal parenting standards (and while I was “a surprise,” it was after almost two decades of a horrible marriage and fair-to-middling income). John Cheese on Cracked.com (I know, but hear me out) has a pretty great article up, “4 Old Sayings About Family That Are (Sometimes) B.S.” that is extremely relevant to this – respect and love should be given where it’s due… but sometimes it’s not, in fact, due. And maybe it will never be, or maybe it will be later, after a lot of things change.

    1. Hey T.J. (and everyone) — the concept of codependency is a very problematic one, especially with regards to a situation of domestic violence (rage-a-holic = non physical batterer in my experience) but also with regards to anyone living with an addict or alcoholic.

      Here are couple of links that help to explain why codependency is a dubious, unhelpful theory:



      1. Hmm, yeah, I guess I’ve never looked that far into the social problems and various goings-on; I’ve just seen things through my perspective, and basically my mother was trying to cope in some manner and I was a very tiny part of that (and there was definitely some borderline-if-not-outright emotional incest element to that). I’m still working on getting out of survival mode and unpacking baggage myself.

  29. LW –

    There are a bazillion responses here; people are giving you a lot of great advice. I’ll repeat the advice to find a new place to live as soon as you can. I’m *not* going to jump to the abuse conclusion, however, because I’m not as convinced of it. (Happy to be corrected, though!)

    For me, moving out of my parents place was an opportunity to get my sea legs, so to speak, and to be able to reflect on my relationship with my father from outside of the confines of the relationship. And it was for him, too. That’s something that I think maybe gets glossed over a lot: the people we are in conflict with are human beings, and therefore may have the capacity to learn and grow and make actual amends for the dumb shit they’ve done to others in the past. I’ll be the first to say that I’ve done some dumb shit in the past, too, and it’s taken me well into my 30s to really reflect on those things. I *have* to believe that we’re all redeemable going forward, no matter what vile crap we’ve pulled in the past.

    With my father, it was religion. We fought about it for literally my entire life. By the time I was in high school it got to be a daily bludgeon he would wield, and the summer after my sophomore year in college would be the last time I lived with my parents because of it. My father was driving me back to college, and within literally the first 20 minutes of an 8 hour drive he tells me that I *cannot* be a good person unless I accept Jesus as my blah blah blah. I responded as bravely as I ever had to him: my choice is MY choice, if you continue this, you have lost your son, I will never talk to you again. Suffice to say the rest of the trip was awkward.

    These days I *do* have a good relationship with my father, but it took a long time. And it took being AWAY from that situation — and the *awareness* of the conflict — for both of us to get there. My father realized that he couldn’t control me, and I realized I could stand up to him. With time we both realized that we wanted to have a relationship, and that the relationship could be fixed, and that changes had to be made to get there.

    I’m definitely not trying to say that you should try to fix the relationship with your father, especially not right now — the alcoholism is a huge hurdle. I AM saying get out of that house as soon as you can. There will be time later for both of you to figure out how to fix your relationship if that’s what you decide you want. Time and distance, like everyone else has said, can do wonders for your perspective.

    1. Re: labeling “abuse,” I agree. And honestly, it’s really beside the point ultimately – dealing with this present crappy situation needs to happen, and the only way to find out what was really happening is to take off those myopic glasses. A lot of people have labeled my growing up situation as abusive (and I would not disagree, certainly not now – but, you know, stay tuned), but when people would say that, I would just panic. Like, I AM BEING ABUSED. It felt like another burden on top of all the crap I was already dealing with, also because some people would just be like “well, you’re being abused” and then not let me talk about it, because whenever I would get out of the situation, they knew it would get better. It was just like, well, great, glad to get the layperson’s official unofficial diagnosis, but actually what I need is… to talk about it!

  30. Reading this post was unsettlingly like looking in a mirror. I, too, had that uncomfortable feeling that there was something sexual about the way my father related to me, although I had no evidence to back it up and I convinced myself I was just imagining things. It’s good to know I’m not the only one.

    My dad spanked me when I was a kid. And I know some people think spanking’s okay and “I was spanked and I turned out fine” and whatever bullshit, but this was not okay. It was not a measured, rational punishment–not that I think spanking as punishment is ever okay in any case. It was done out of rage, when my father was so angry at me that yelling and swearing weren’t enough anymore, and he would chase me around the house until he cornered me, yank my pants down, and spank me. And I would spend the rest of the night sobbing in my bedroom, while he yelled “stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.”

    This happened once in a while even when I was well into puberty, which made me feel exposed and ashamed of my body (which I’m only now realizing may have something to do with paragraph 1). I would sometimes try to lock myself in the bathroom (the only room with a lock), but they would always find the key. It gave me the feeling that there was nowhere to hide and be safe, not even in my own home, and destroyed a lot of my trust in my parents. I’m still trying to come to terms with it.

    My dad also drank a bit too much. I don’t remember that very well, though. The thing is, my dad had awful depression for a big part of my childhood and once he got treatment, he changed. He’s not that rageful person anymore. I still don’t like arguing with him, because he gets all “my word is final and this argument is over,” but I’m no longer afraid he’s going to lose his temper. And because of his medication, when he drinks these days, he just gets sleepy and starts nodding off.

    So I don’t really know how to talk to him about what happened when I was a kid. I feel like I’m angry at a person who doesn’t exist anymore. I only have fuzzy memories of most of the times he lost his temper, so I’m afraid I won’t be able to make my point coherently and he will logic my argument to death.

    I’m in family therapy with my parents because I’m in my late 20s but still dependent on them financially, which has caused a lot of strain in my relationship with them. I want to be independent, but I have health problems and I’m struggling with depression and a lack of confidence, not to mention it’s hard to find a full-time job in this economy even for perfectly healthy and self-confident people. (I work part-time.) But I feel like there’s only so much progress we can make in family therapy because I have this huge reserve of anger at them for the way they treated me when I was a kid, and I don’t want to get into it because then the dam might burst and I don’t know what would happen then. I’d rather wait until I’m financially independent before I try to talk to them about it, if I ever do. Then there’s nothing they can do to me.

  31. dear Captain Awkward, would you please put a TW on this post ?
    as a survivor i just realized how emotionally/triggering reading this was for me
    (e.g. it took me 45 yrs to have/enforce absolutely no-contact with my abusive, dysfunctional etc. soc. parents and family-members).
    thank you.
    and yes, i appreciate your thoughts also on this important topic.
    btw, imo thx to the interwebz it is great that “younger” people can get input/feedback and try to get away from abuse, dysfunction etc. a s a p
    (topic here e.g. co-dependency)
    remember : you/i can choose friends. you/i cannot choose soc. family

    good luck & all the best

  32. You know what, let’s leave aside “abusive” for a minute. Sometimes it’s just not helpful to use this as a way to judge if behavior is okay or if feelings are valid. So let’s break it down:

    1) Your feelings are your feelings and you cannot help them. It’s okay to not like someone or not love someone or to feel conflicted feelings about them. Even if your father didn’t act in these ways, you two just might not gel as people, and that’s okay. Be civil, certainly and feel free to set boundaries and be firm.

    2) Let’s say for the sake of conversation that what your father is doing isn’t abusive. It’s still uncomfortable for you, scary, and kind of skeeves you out. It may very well be the alcohol, and if he were to get sober it would stop. So? Has he stopped drinking? I see no indication that he has or that he thinks his drinking is a big problem and that he has concrete plans to address it. You know what? It’s okay to not want to be around that. It’s okay to not like how your father acts–it being “not abusive” or it being “because of X” doesn’t magically make it okay or make your negative feelings about it invalid. Someone might accidentally knock you over but you’re still going to be hurt from the fall. And if someone keeps knocking over you, even if it is truly accidental, well, you’re going to be reluctant to be around them. You’re going to associate bad things/feelings with them.

    So. . .it’s okay to not like or love your father. It’s okay to feel conflicted about him. It’s okay to not like what he does. And it’s okay to not want to live there and get out.

    I’m a big red-flag spotter. But one thing I’ve noticed is that for many people, if something isn’t “abusive” then it’s not worth not liking/reacting badly to. But there are plenty of people who have acted in ways that put me off–if we required everything to be “abusive” for us to distance ourselves from it or allow ourselves to not like it, we’d all be very miserable people.

  33. I’m having a lot of the same issues in my home situation with my father, excluding the nudity stuff. Thank you so much for allowing me to identify with this and knowing I’m not alone.

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