#802: “My dad insists on talking to me in baby-talk. I am 30.”

Dear Captain Awkward,

My parents and I have a very strained relationship. There is obviously a lot involved, but since I left home 12 years ago I’ve slowly been setting boundaries with them and trying to have the kind of relationship we can manage (which is a superficial though mostly friendly one as long as I’m not in the same state as them). While a lot of the things my parents do bother me, I’ve been coping with them. However, I have a pet peeve that I just can’t get over, and I need help!

My dad insists on talking to me in baby-talk and in the third person. I am 30 years old, a successful attorney, married, and 100% an adult. He tells me all that time that I’ll “always be a widdle girl to Daddy” and other similar nonsense, and I want to reach through the phone and show him what’s what. I have far exceeded what he thought I would become in life (no thanks to him) and I feel like he’s infantalizing me to ‘keep me in my place.’ I hate it.

But how do I make it stop? This has been going on my whole adult life, and I feel like I’m in deep to just say “actually that bothers me a lot, please stop.” Ultimately I know this is indicative of his whole attitude toward me, which will never really change, but if I could just carry on a conversation were he says “I changed the oil today” instead of “Daddy changed the oil” (in a cutesy voice) I would take it.

Not Widdle and Not Buying It

Dear Not Widdle,

Oh god oh god oh god it is time to rip the bandaid off.

Step 1: Make the request

Dad, can you stop with the baby talk? Thank you.

Interrupt him if necessary. The shorter you make the delivery, the easier it will go. You don’t have to take care of all his thoughts & feelings about it, you just have to make the request.

Step 2: Ride out the derailing

Him: “But why didn’t you say anything before?” You: “I’m saying something now.”

Him: “But I thought you liked it!/I thought it was ‘our thing'” You: “And I thought you’d snap out of it once I was an adult, and yet, here we are.”

Him: “But you’ll always be a widdle girl to Daddy!” You: “No. I’m 30. That’s how time works. For us to have an adult relationship, it’s time to talk like adults.”

Him: “But I feel weird and embarrassed now and that’s somehow your fault!” You: “I feel weird too! Believe it, it’s embarrassing to hear about the ‘widdle wunch Daddy ate earlier.’ But if you stop the baby talk then this will pass really soon and we can just interact like adults, which is what I want.”

Step 3: Enforce the boundary

Him: “Daddy changed the oil in his vroom vroom so he can pick up daughter for some bweakfast?”

You: “Hard pass. Also, we said no baby talk, remember?”

Him: “Awwww, Daddy forgets sometimes. Babygirl forgive Daddy?”

You: “Ugh, Dad. I’m not going to talk to you if you act like this.”

Then hang up the phone. He talks baby talk to you? You get off the phone or end the visit. He tries talking to you like an adult? MAYBE you hang in and have a conversation.

Can’t imagine why your relationship with is “strained.”

(That was sarcasm)

Being clear and direct is actually the kindest move here. Digging into why he behaves this way means possibly having to hear more about why he behaves this way, which, no. No! Ask, remind, enforce, escape.








338 thoughts on “#802: “My dad insists on talking to me in baby-talk. I am 30.”

  1. Holy god in heaven I think my spine just tried to crawl out of my throat. My dad is also having a difficult time acknowledging I’m an adult who can make major decisions (e.g. transitioning) on my own, but I think even he would find this disturbing in the extreme.

    1. This happened to me too with my father, which is partially why we’ve not spoken at all in over two years now. When I was 36 years old, I planned a month-long trip to a foreign country and he was all “I’d feel so much better if you had someone over there to turn to in case something comes up. Maybe I’ll go with you!” UM…no dad, no. It’s so disrespectful and dismissive of my status as a full-grown adult.

      1. I had a very similar thing happen at almost the exact same age! I ended up deciding to move a state away. I was living with friends but one of the guys had started to display signs of violence. I don’t do that shit, and I found another opportunity, so I took it. Because of this, I didn’t have a ‘set’ date I was going to leave, just “sometime around such and such weekend.” Because I didn’t have money, I was going to have to pare down to what I could fit in my car, and get rid of the rest. This was a big loss for me but I was willing to take it to start over in a better job without a roommate that I no longer trusted to keep his hands to himself. But dad didn’t want me making the drive by myself because I wasn’t going to get hotel rooms for sleep – I was going to pull over and sleep at rest stops (I was broke, but I refused to accept money from them because I already owed them and didn’t want to owe more for what I felt was a waste of money). So despite my telling my parents multiple times *do not come out*, he books a plane ticket and tells me when to pick him up. *headbang* Now in a way I’m so so SO lucky to have parents who will drop money they can’t necessarily afford to help me at the first sign of trouble. I know, I KNOW how many children out there have really awful, or no, parents, and would swap places with me in a heartbeat. BUT… but… it’s SO FRUSTRATING having your polite, adult, perfectly reasonable requests ignored like they’d never been spoken in the first place.

        So now I have to drive all the way to the airport and back, wasting several *hours* of packing/cleaning/moving out time, *and* I have to find a place for him to sleep when I’m giving away my *only* mattress because I can’t take it with me, *and* I have to feed him around trying to clean, *and* because I only have a small car, I ended up having to get rid of even more stuff than I wanted to – I could have fit a *lot* more stuff in that seat he was taking up. On top of that, because he had to work on Monday, “when are you leaving” suddenly became “NOW NOW NOW OH SHIT NOW HURRY”. Which meant throwing things away *faster* without taking the time to consider what was important to me and what wasn’t. And meant staying up all night the last two nights. And STILL meant driving non-stop over a bunch of mountains. Which meant putting a lot of stress on the poor little bottom of the line V4 car I was still paying off. Which meant that about one year later my car, which I’d expected to have for several more years, died a horrible and violent death. I *still* owe money on that car – plus the car I had to buy to replace it. *headbang headbang headbang* I gave away some things I’ll regret forever (my grandmother’s good dishes). All so he could play ‘hero dad’ when I specifically said “thanks, but I’m fine.”

        I just don’t get it. I’ve never gotten it. Mom *still* gives me “no shit, sherlock” advice and I’m nearly 40. If I had a kid that was *half* my age who couldn’t do the shit she thinks I need reminding of, I’d throw in the towel and admit that I was a Very Bad Parent. I’ve tried explaining to them that to me, it’s only natural that they would *want* me to be independent and capable of taking care of myself. After all, they’ve both known more than one woman who can’t cope with living alone, who have entered into and stayed in bad relationships because of that. WHY ARE YOU NOT HIGH FIVING ME FOR ADULTING GOOD?? I have learned how to live with depression. I have learned how to live with low paying, stressful jobs in order to keep myself housed and fed. And yes, sometimes I do need help and I PROMISE I WILL ASK IF I DO but in the meantime whyyyyyyyyyy can’t we all let me use my grown-up legs to walk myself through life without making sure I understand that still, STILL, neither of you actually believe that I’m REALLY capable of taking care of myself??

        *ahem* Sorry, that turned a lot more ranty than I intended.

        Anyway, my ultimate point being, *my* parents’ behavior bothers me a lot sometimes, and it’s like *nothing* compared to what LW’s dad is doing so holy shit LW, say something! Say it say it say it because you have EVERY right to be not okay with that!

        1. I was reading this with the hashtag #masculinitysofragile on repeat through my head. I guess your father’s sense of himself as a knight riding in on his horse (that you now have to take care of in addition to him while also managing all your own shit) is more important than your ability to handle a problem yourself and gain the confidence and independence that comes with that victory — and I just realized that’s probably the overarching point of his behavior. To keep you from gaining that confidence in your own abilities that comes from Adulting so that you’ll run to your parents and they can feel like you’d be lost without them. 😦

          1. I make no comment on knight!dad’s motives, but I just have to say that if you can manage to simultaneously handle your own shit and also cope with your parent(s) butting in and interfering and being needy at you in the midst of a crisis, then you are a Champion A++ Adult, and when you finally get your parent(s) to butt out, regular ordinary adulting is going to be a total breeze. Good luck to everyone who’s dealing with this right now.

        2. Ugh. I so wish you would have just left him at the airport. You told him not to come, it wasn’t your responsability to take care of him.
          I’m so sorry that happened to you.

        3. Ugh! I had an ex-gf pull the “Please don’t fly in” “I’m flying in!” “No, please don’t” “It’s fine, I’m flying in” “Seriously, I don’t want you to do that” “Pick me up at the station at 3.” thing to me. It SUCKS SO MUCH. And in my case, I wound up feeling like the bad guy because I was seriously tempted to just fucking leave her there, but couldn’t bring myself to do it. Screw people who do this forever.

        4. When you talk about the people who would swap places with you, it sounds like you’re still stuck at trying to convince yourself that there’s some good about your father being so weirdly protective. Your father may have convinced himself that he did what he did out of love for you, and he may have half convinced you, but one look at your story convinces me that he did what he did out of his own self-aggrandizement and not for your benefit. He got a cool vacation by inviting himself along on your adventure with airport transportation to boot! I know it was a long time ago and can’t be done over, but if anyone else reading this is ever in a similar situation: “Gosh Dad, I can’t imagine why you’d book a flight after I specifically told you several times not to. I won’t be taking you to the airport, and there won’t be any room in my car, and I don’t know where you’re going to sleep. You’ll have to take responsibility for that impetuous bad decision.”

          1. And it’s pretty clear from this story that Dad didn’t actually *do any helping*. Like if he drove out in his lorry to help you move more of your stuff then maybe that would have approximated being helpful, but flying out and making you drive him as well as the stuff … how is that helpful? The only person “helped” here is Dad, who apparently just can’t sit with his terrible anxiety about his best beloved child doing something *so hard* as driving their own car with some stuff in it for a few days.

            My parents apparently delight in assuming that because I don’t drive (I don’t drive because I hate being in cars) I need them to drive me to their house when I visit – I do not, there is a train (it’s two trains, but they are both frequent and fast) and good buses in both my city and theirs. And yet… I am once again “being picked up”, which in costs all of us time, them money, and me car-sickness because I fail at enforcing boundaries.

          2. I don’t know why but lots of these replies didn’t show up! So sorry for the lat reply, and I appreciate your concern! And yeah, it can’t be changed, that’s why I just don’t bother bringing it up. I adore the hell out of him and what the hell, I’ve done some asshole things too. BUT! yes I HAVE learned from my past and to be quite honest, my behavior HAS changed – I don’t tell them as much as I used to. It’s sad, because I really want that equal-adults relationship with my parents but they won’t let go, so I have to censor the sorts of things I want to share with them – which means I can’t say “I am having this trouble and I would like your more experienced perspective on this please, which I may or may not follow by the way, because I’m an adult and I’m asking for ADVICE, not INSTRUCTIONS”. In Shakespeare’s words, “all are punished”! I have also put my foot down in other ways – I won’t go places with them unless they let me pay my way. They still complain once in awhile but I don’t even argue about it. I just firmly point out that I’m an adult, I enjoy being an adult, and I enjoy spending time with them AS an adult, but if they want to do it their way, they are free to go by themselves and have a good time.

        5. I will say that I wanted to climb the walls in panic when I read that you planned to sleep at rest stops. Michael Jordan’s dad was murdered because he did that (though he was sleeping by the side of the road–however, rest stops aren’t much safer). I wouldn’t have been coming to drive you, but I’d have been insisting that you accept money from me so you could stay in a motel somewhere along the way.

          I’m struggling to butt out of my newly-minted-adult daughter’s business, but this one would have me butting in.

          1. And a more appropriate response to that worry than what her father did would be, “I’m really worried about you sleeping at rest stops. Can I send you some money for a hotel stay? It would make me feel better to know that you weren’t sleeping in your car.”

          2. Ask, don’t demand or assume. Be honest that the reason is about you and your worry instead of some kind of referendum on her ability to function as an adult.

          3. What Courtney said. There are healthy ways to show your concern and then there’s “Causing me more work and stress and costing me more money so you can feel like a hero,” which is what happened here.

          4. My parents would definitely do that sort of thing. Actually, they’d probably be horrified by the whole idea, and insist on coming and paying a moving company or something. I’m lucky, I have good parents who can also afford things.

          5. I really feel like every person gets to assess their own risks, and while I think it would be fine for you to offer money to stay in a hotel, I think if the person said “no thanks, I’d rather do this” you kind of do have to accept that. Because what is an “obvious” risk to one person isn’t to someone else, and telling somebody “this is too dangerous for you” isn’t cool, just as it’s not cool to tell somebody else their fears about their safety are overblown.

            I am speaking from my own experience, which is of being told *a lot* that I shouldn’t do X and Y things because it’s too dangerous, including things like walking alone at night, travelling in a different country with only a female friend as a companion, taking a Greyhound alone, etc. People have been murdered doing all of those things, but I have to admit it puts my back up when someone brings up a horrific anecdote about murder to stop me from doing something.

            This is the reason why there are a lot of things I do that I just don’t tell my dad, because I know he’ll just worry and get upset.

          6. For what it’s worth, I slept in rest stops a lot in my 20’s and early 30’s. There’s a trick to it, as follows:

            1) Not rest stops. Like, not those government pull offs with vending machines, bathrooms, lots of nature, and insufficient lighting.
            2) Scan for big, well-lit, well-trafficked, semi-suburban gas stations or combo gas stations / fast food restaurants. (Combination Taco Bell KFC anyone?)
            3) However, not a truck stop. If there is nothing else around for miles in some remote state but a brightly lit truck stop, ok fine. But not the first choice. If you’re driving through the west, use maps and pre-plan the semi-suburban areas. You’d do this for a hotel anyway, right?
            4) Pull in under the biggest, brightest light as close to the main door as reasonable, with as many people walking by as possible. People will be getting in and out of cars around you, slamming doors, talking, whatever. That’s fine. That is what your earplugs are for.
            5) Put in those ear plugs. Take out your sleeping mask. Put it over your eyes. Sleep.
            6) Wake up in 3-4 hours. Drive. Repeat.

            It’s not hard, it’s not scary, and honestly it’s not that dangerous. ‘Pretty’ female, driving alone, across country, many times, I did this for over a decade, and I’d do it again now if I had to.

            The worst thing that ever happened was that occasionally employees had to come outside and tell me that sleeping in the lot wasn’t allowed. That’s because I tended to park where the employees could see me through their windows. Because visibility. And it happened only 3 – 4 times over more than a decade of this.

            It’s fine, people. Just, it’s *fine.*

            Seriously, I had way scarier nights in hotels and motels than I ever had getting a couple hours sleep under the lights in a fast food parking lot.

          7. twomoogles covered a lot of what I’d respond to, but I’d just like to point out that your argument is THIS ONE PERSON was killed this one time because they did something. ONE PERSON. So I had a way, WAY bigger chance of dying in a car crash while I was driving, or dying in a household accident while I was cleaning up, or dying because I was murdered by someone I love and trust. I’m sorry to be harsh, but I really get irritated with this assumption that I somehow *don’t know* the risks inherent in what I am doing. I am an adult. I have an apartment and a job and a car and some small animals, none of which are dead yet. My risk factor is clearly different from yours, and if your response is “can I please suggest another alternative”, I will say “okay, shoot”, but if I say “no, thanks anyway”, I expect the conversation to end there. If it doesn’t, then what I hear from my parents, and what your child will hear from you, is “despite raising you with the knowledge and intention that you would become a full-fledged functioning adult with all the rights and responsibilities therein, I don’t respect your adulthood now that it’s here, and I also think you’re literally too stupid to live without me.” I love my parents and your kid will (we hope?) still love you, but it will hurt, what you’re telling them. At least… well, okay, this raises the question I keep asking (and never getting answered), what the hell is your kid going to do when you die? You are *planning* on going first, right? You better start learning to let them go, because there are two equally unhappy potential futures for you:

            1. if you’re actually *successful* in keeping those apron strings tied, your child is going to end up paying for it when you’re dead and no longer there to step between them and the real world. I’ve seen those kids. I would prefer to spend a night in the creepiest, darkest, most ill-lit rest stop in the world over a lifetime of being one of those kids.

            2. a part of what drives me is that my mother is literally afraid of *everything*, and – like “those kids” – the idea of being like her *terrifies me*. I refuse to live my life in terror of the “might haves” and “could haves” of life, imagining all the terrible things that *might* happen if I take any risks. At my age, the risks I take are ones I have thought out on my own and carefully considered. But in my teen years and early 20s, you *bet* I did some stuff I wouldn’t do now, just because I was sick and tired of being told to be afraid of everything, and in trying to yank those apron strings out by the roots, not to mention prove to myself that I was *not* my mother, nor in danger of becoming her, I sometimes went too far the other way – e.g. I am single so I drive a lot by myself – I used to pick up hitchhikers all the time.

            Oh, I feel I should clarify one thing: As Weddings and Hospitals pointed out, I would have looked for a place that was well lit and had a decent amount of activity at any given time. I said “rest stop” for the sake of (HA HA) brevity in telling the story, but I shouldn’t have, as it can make a different. The conversation was ten years ago, but basically I said ‘a parking lot somewhere that looks safe and I can use for free sleep’. I have slept in parking lots before and will again, when I am tired and need to get some sleep. I have slept on the side of a road when I left too early and realized I was too sleepy to safely drive a car. It was a quiet road and something *could* have happened (someone could have murdered me, OR I could have been hit by someone driving too fast OR I could have been caught in a freak rockslide), but it didn’t, and when I woke up I drove *safely* to my destination. I took a risk, I’m not dead yet, all is well.

            Perhaps I’m taking too much from your post based on one comment, and if so I’m sorry, but you’re telling a total stranger that you would take away their agency as an adult in order to ease your own fears. So I’m just giving you my perspective just in case it helps you with your own kid, because as I said elsewhere, their behavior in this vein has led to my not getting to have the adult relationship with them that I want, where I can discuss my adult problems with them to get advice I would respect and *might* appreciate and take – but I can’t trust them to treat me like an adult and not push boundaries, so I have to keep them completely ignorant of certain areas of my life. And that sucks because I really do love them and would love to share more areas of my life with them.

          8. @ nonniemu – I completely understand everything you’ve said here, and for my part, I definitely didn’t mean to talk down to you about ‘rest stops’ versus other kinds of parking lots.

            And I want to say good assessment of the nature of risks.

            There were *many* times I assessed the risk of ‘slightly less ideal truck stop to sleep at for a couple hours’ versus ‘running off the road and mauling myself and potentially others’ and decided I would accept the risk of a not-preferable truck stop to the risk of bodily harm.

            I *did* run off the road once when I fell asleep driving. It was my first long distance drive at the age of 18, I fell asleep in the early morning, and it came out about as well as it possibly could have. I ran off the interstate, mowed down trees, came to a stop screaming, and clambered out of the car.

            A truck driver picked me up and called a tow truck who pulled me out. An auto shop examined my car. And I somehow escaped significant damage to my little Toyota. In about 2 hours I was back on the road.

            It shouldn’t have happened that way. Even at the invincible age of 18, I knew I was ungodly lucky. The tow truck driver couldn’t believe it, the trucker who saw it happen and picked me up on the side of the road couldn’t believe it, the auto shop couldn’t believe it. I was lucky to have a driveable car, let alone not be injured, dead, or have killed someone else or their kids.

            So when I assess the risks of ‘a creepy person could watch me from outside my car and feel their own pants or something equally gross’ (sorry you all) against ‘I could lose a limb and take others with me’ – I pretty much choose to risk the possibility I might be leered at from outside my car while I sleep.

            [Side note – one of my rules is I only *sleep* at the place I’ve stopped to sleep. When I’m done sleeping, if I want to get out of my car to pee, buy coffee, get peanuts or gas, I drive to a different location to do that. So in any location where someone might observe me ‘helplessly’ sleeping, they will never see me get out of my car – they will only see me wake up and drive away. By god, so much of this is so sad, isn’t it. The culture of *fear-fear-FEAR* we inculcate in women and which women collude in.]

            So yes, agreeing with nonniemu, all of this is exactly the kind of Adult Decision Making and Risk Assessment so many parents spend years trying to help their children learn how to make, and hope desperately their hare-brained 18 year old will take away from a near-miss on the interstate at 3 AM.

            Believe me, during my 20’s my mom was super unhappy to find out I would sleep at parking lots on long drives to visit her. When I ran her through my protocols and the alternatives, she chose to bite her tongue. I have to give her credit for that.

            Nowadays I know that doesn’t mean she agreed with me. Only that she had her own kind of Risk Assessment to run. One about Alienating and Fighting with her Adult Daughter who At Least Is Thinking Through Things and Is Alive, versus Fighting About Unnameable Fears when She Couldn’t Change the Outcome Anyway, and came down on the side of choosing not to fight.

            There are worse things than sleeping in a parking lot – being helpless, living in narratives of female ineptitude and helplessness, not trusting ourselves and each other to assess and decide. Like nonniemu said, I’d rather stay in the most unacceptable sleeping location for 4 hours than walk around inside a bubble, unable to assess and decide, or have anyone tell me that’s where I need to be, or try to keep me in the bubble.

            There’s a middle ground between over-anxious alienating parenting and heartless laissez-faire parenting. God bless the parents who, in spite of us and themselves, somehow manage to hit the right spot. It’s almost more dumb luck and unearned grace than anything.

        6. Aaauuugghh I feel your pain, my dad does stuff like this. Ignoring what I say in an effort to be “helpful”. When I quit my (horrible) job last year, both my parents acted like my financial situation affected them somehow (they were not supporting me in any way and I did not ask them for money) as an excuse to try and control my career decisions. It’s really hard to explain to people why I refuse to accept financial help from my parents when they do offer it. It sounds like a crazy thing to complain about. But it’s not worth it to me.

          1. Oooh YES the “you’re so lucky to have parents who want to support you, you don’t appreciate what you’ve got!” Yes I do, I appreciate that I’ve got the CHOICE to say “thanks but no thanks”! Oh, and since your parents seem to be falling down on the job a bit: I’m sorry to hear that your job was not a good fit for you, but good for you on your adulting! You’re doing an awesome job! I hope your next job is the awesome job that you deserve, but I know that if it’s not, you’ve got what it takes to do whatever needs to be done in a way that’s best for you!

      2. My dad totally goes into irrational protective mode as well, but he would never, EVER, in a thousand years do that kind of baby-talk thing except maybe as a joke.

        My overall relationship with him is good, actually. It seems like he is never going to fully accept me as an adult unless I finally marry and breed–the latter of which is now all but impossible–but he does at least get that he doesn’t have to project his feelings all over me and my decisions at every opportunity. I can deal with the knowledge that he feels that way, annoying as it is, as long as he doesn’t push it too much, and he doesn’t.

      3. Yep. A few years ago, at age 30, I was awarded a pretty major honor for my field. And the ceremony was across the country. My husband couldn’t come to the ceremony. I’d literally never flown alone before (always with husband/friends/coworkers), but I was looking forward to the trip and proving to myself that traveling alone was no big deal and I was a badass adult, fully capable of it. I book my flight and my hotel. NBD. My parents hear about the award (they’re thrilled!) and then they hear my husband can’t come (they’re sad!) and that I’m traveling out to a major city, across the country alone (they’re horrified!). Well, Dad is horrified. Mom is pretty OK with it because she’s traveled with me and knows I’m sensible and aware of my personal space at all times.

        My dad calls and tells me he’s coming with me to the awards ceremony. I say, “Oh, how nice that you’re going to see me accept my award.” Dad said, “No, I’m going to make sure you don’t walk out of the airport into some gypsy cab and end up on Dateline.”

        “Well, that’s less… nice.”

        Dad tells me to rebook my flight so I route through his city and we can fly to our destination together. I said no. After much rejected cajoling, I finally agree to wait for him at the airport until his flight arrives. And then I tell him that he needs to book his hotel room now, because the hotel where the conference/award ceremony is being held is filing up fast.

        Cue extremely insulted father yelping, “You mean we’re not going to share? Why don’t we just stay together? You don’t want to stay in a hotel room all alone! It’s dangerous!”

        My limit. I hit it.

        I yelled: “Because I don’t want to spend three days sharing a hotel room with my DAD. I’m a grown ass woman! I’ve stayed in a hotel room alone before. I DO NOT NEED your supervision. So if you’re traveling to see me accept the award because you’re proud of me and want to me enjoy a major moment in my CAREER, awesome. If you’re going seriously along because you don’t trust me, STAY YOUR ASS AT HOME!” And then I hung up on him.

        This was a pretty major moment in my adult life, because I was NOT raised to talk back to my dad, much less cuss at him. I can’t remember more than a handful of times I’ve raised my voice in his presence. I was officially bereft of effs to give.

        Dad ended up coming, after an epic apology, because my mom handed him his own ass for taking the least little bit of joy away from me re: the trip and the award. I kept my travel arrangements and he adjusted around me. He was supportive. He was proud. He kept his mouth shut.

        1. WOW. Applause and a standing ovation for you from me, because WOW. I’m so happy your dad took the hint, that must have been terribly frustrating for you! Also awesome that your mom had your back! 😀 I’ve since started putting my foot down about the little things that I used to just take for granted, and I can’t say they LIKE it, but they’re at least learning that they can either hate it out loud and not spend time with me, or hate it inside and enjoy spending time with me. 😛

      4. Very recently I went with my father to hear about upgrades to his time share. Keep in mind he asked me to accompany him *because* he trusts my opinion on financial matters and knows I’m good at picking up on scams. After the meeting, I was chatting with the sales person about our similar insomnia issues and she mentioned a local job that has a night shift. My father told her that he wouldn’t allow me to work late nights because it’s too dangerous.

        I’m 35.

        I think he got the message that he was being vastly inappropriate when *both* the sales clerk and myself gave him dual ‘you said what now glares?’

        On confronting annoying ‘jokes’ and weirdness….for decades my father has had a habit of exclaiming ‘you’re eating AGAIN?” every single time he sees me eating. It would be inappropriate and hurtful no matter what, but he does it even when I haven’t yet eaten anything else that day or last ate twelve hours ago. I finally told him how much it bothered me just last week. There was some blustering and derailing, and the rest of the day was really awkward, but he hasn’t done it since.

        1. A guy I know (about my dad’s age actually) used to do that “eating again?” thing to me. That grated on me so hard. One evening after I’d been ill, he said it as I was starting the first thing I’d eaten in three days. I just snapped and said “yes, most people do it about three times a day. Don’t you?” He hasn’t done it since, but I do try to avoid eating in front of him now.

        2. Man it feels so good to catch someone in the moment with that stuff. I did that last christmas with my mother, when, after taking a second christmas cookie she gave me the side-eye and said ‘how many of those do you plan to eat?’ I was so stunned I think I just followed my gut reaction, which must have been the dirtiest look of all time, because she backpedalled and apologized instantaneously. Pretty satisfying.

          1. I’m at the point with food guilting now where I will actively push for being able to enjoy “bad” food and would probably just automatically respond with “AS MANY AS I CAN” because that’s how I talk with my similarly-inclined friends. Even though actually I’d probably have already counted how many there were and divided by the number of people present…

    2. Jesus, RIGHT?! I was so creeped out just reading this that I can’t imagine how LW has put up with hearing it for so long.

      1. augh I’m 19 and just the thought of it is giving me full body shudders
        I literally can’t remember the last time either of my parents used babytalk with me, if they ever did

  2. I’m completely here with Captain. It is always strange to change the dynamics of our relationships with my parents. In my case it happened when I became financially independent and I insisted that they keep their options about my lifestyle to a minimum (i.e. You don’t have to tell me more than once, if I didn’t take your advice it was by choice). It is time to just rip the bandaid and go through a bit of awkwardness.

    Currently you are just festering resentment for your dad and that’s going to do more harm in the long term.

    1. The continuous renegotiation of the parent-child relationship is always weird, even when the relationship is otherwise a healthy one. My dad started taking me more seriously when I dumped my ex (go figure), starting selling some of my writing (which does make sense), and talked about my big goals of moving into a tiny home/trailer in the next few months (back to “go figure”). We have a good foundation, though, which I realize is depressingly far from a given (as evidenced by what I’m gleaning from your comment), so my dad respects the extent to which I’ve become comfortable with myself and my own desires and goals in life. There are, however, still a few moments where I’m sorely tempted to roll my eyes and shout, “Jesus, Dad, I’m almost 30!” :p

      1. That actually makes sense – you showed really visible evidence of changing situations that don’t suit you (dumping your ex), supporting yourself (in a secondary way?/developing a talent to support yourself?/have a feasible rainy day fund from writing? whatever your story is), and showing long-term easily recognizable goals and talents (buying a house! planning and working towards it!)

        I mean, there are probably lots and lots of other things you have done that demonstrate these same things, but it sounds like these are the ones that your dad was able to recognize as evidence.

        1. What mostly amuses me about my situation is that my dad would probably be doing a lot more hand-wringing if I were setting myself up for a more societally standardized path, i.e., tried the whole dating thing again instead of saying “fuck that shit” after the breakup three years ago, gotten a 9-to-5 that doesn’t go hand-in-hand with the freelance writing and editing lifestyle (well, okay, he’d probably approve of the steady income…), and a house that has a foundation instead of the kind that you can load onto a flatbed and move to a different location. But I am certainly not complaining. A dad who quietly applauds growing evidence of increased self-awareness is preferable to a dad who, well, doesn’t!

  3. My impression is actually that your dad is doing this BECAUSE he knows it makes you uncomfortable, although that’s probably also me projecting a little (because my dad did stuff on purpose all the time because he knew it upset me). Either way, 100% agree with the Captain’s advice, and omggggg nooooo so much nope, nope all the way to the moon in a rocket because NOPE.

    1. Quite possibly! Directness will help the LW strip away all plausible deniability from what he’s doing, and that’s a good thing.

  4. Yeah, this is a kind of gaslighting. He probably knows it drives you nuts – I get the sense you know that, since you guessed that it’s intended to “keep you in your place.”

    My brother-in-law does something similar to my sister: When he’s not pulling his weight around the house (playing on his cell phone while she tries to clean the kitchen while managing the kids, for example), he talks to the kids like, “Ok, guys, Mommy’s getting upset. We should let her calm down now.” As if she’s so volatile he has to protect the kids from her, and like he’s being all gracious and martyr-y by interacting with his own children. If she gets pissed by his behavior, well, he’s already got it set up that she’s all cray cray so it plays right into it.

    With your dad’s cutesy talk, he gets to act like you’re the unreasonable one if you call him on it – he’s set it up so that you’ll just be a little girl throwing a tantrum. That’s why I like the Captain’s advice – keeps it short and sweet. I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s some acidic pushback – like he brings it up next conversation by asking if you’ve calmed down yet or whatever. If you respond with something like, “Yup, everything’s cool as long as we keep acting like grown-ups,” and then pointedly change the subject, it might shut him down.

    Anyway. Sympathies, LW. That can’t have been a fun childhood with that guy. Good on you for being fabulous now. 🙂

    1. Gah! That reminds me of my ex husband’s third person remarks about me, e.g. turning to a six month old and saying “We’re not listening to her, are we?”

      LW: Good on you for identifying the problems with third person remarks and the rest, and good luck with saying what you need to say directly. Perhaps focus on saying it with no emotion in your voice.

    2. My FIL pulled that on me one time when he was disciplining his grandson (my nephew): “H, don’t do that, Auntie Jen won’t like it” or something. I called him on him turning me into the bad guy, and to his credit he backed off and apologized. If you’re going to discipline the kid (as was necessary), do it, but don’t hive the negative parts of it off on to someone else.

  5. “I’m sorry, I don’t understand whining.”

    One thing that works with children, who have legitimate trouble using their words sometimes, is to repeat whatever inappropriate thing they said in an appropriate way. So if they say, [whining] “He hitted me!” You respond normally, “You’re saying he hit you?” or “Are you saying he hit you?” Then they confirm yes. Over time they figure out that it will save time in the conversation if they talk in a way you will accept.

    Is there a chance you could try this with your Dad?

    Him: “Daddy changed the oil.”

    [dryly] “You’re saying you changed the oil.”

    Him: “Yes, Daddy Waddy changed the oil.”

    You [dry as the desert]: “You’re saying you changed the oil.”

    Don’t accept the statement, or respond to it, unless he talks normally.

    1. I think this is a good way to play it – you couldn’t be accused of being hurtful and/or rude and yet it shows that you see through his baby talk and you aren’t playing that game anymore and your are open to an adult conversation… and it just highlights how incredibly off-tune his behavior is… and if he just continues I would tempted to say “hummmm….. well – I guess a “big boy” who can change the oil by himself should be able to talk like an adult now – so you could work on that next” and leave him to ponder that …. bitchy I know but this guy – what the heck?!

  6. There will never be a time to raise this when it ISN’T awkward, but the Captain has given you some good scripts.

    I had to tell a friend to stop it with a long running “joke” which actually hurt me; I waited until the next time she made the remark, and said “Actually, I know I haven’t said this before but actually it really upsets me when you say [thing]. Could we drop that now please?” She replied “oh, ok” and it was never mentioned again, friendship continued as before.

    That’s the way you’d expect an adult to behave. If your dad doesn’t want to hear it, use the Captain’s scripts to send the awkwardness back to him and make clear you’re serious about no conversation if it isn’t an adult one.

    Good luck! Take the bull by the horns.

    1. Yea, I had a similar experience; friend had had a long-running ‘joke’ about being old before her time, turned out that a previous friend group had made fun of her for it and she’d decided to own it despite being bothered. So I didn’t realize I was being unkind by repeating her own joke comments until one day she up and said “you know, I actually don’t like those comments all that much” and everyone in our friend group dropped it completely and utterly.

      I feel a little bad, but only in the “next time I’ll be aware that this could be what’s going on” kind of way. I couldn’t have known from anything she’d said, and I try to take people at their word as much as possible, so really it turned out as well as it possibly could. It didn’t seem weird or awkward to me at all, sometimes something is only mildly annoying and you don’t think it’s big enough to deal with until the day that it is. I’m glad she was able to react to it as the mild annoyance it was, and not to the build-up of years of mild annoyance, so everyone reacted really proportionately and well.

  7. Wow! That’s crazy stuff on your dad’s part.

    Since you’re an attorney, maybe you can have some fun with it. Spend a couple weeks taking notes on the behaviour, possibly capturing it in texts and/or emails, and have a uniformed process server deliver the complaint (you don’t have to file it with the court) which accuses him of “contempt of daughter.” If he doesn’t get the point, discuss the issue with your Mom and I suspect that she will make the point for you.

  8. Ughhhhh. LW, I know it feels like you’re “in too deep” to just request this change, but it’s probably the only way it will stick. Baby talk is incredibly demeaning and it’s well within your right to just say so. Hell, I’m making a concerted effort to avoid “baby talk” with my nephews, and they’re both under 10. Because I want to think of them as people, and not smaller humans who I can always condescend to.

    Spot on advice from the Captain here. Ask for the change like an adult, and enforce it like an adult, because you are an adult no matter how your Daddy sees you now.

    1. >avoid “baby talk”
      Right! I try to talk as normally as possible to anyone* of any age, even babies, and certainly once people are three or four years old.
      *uh except cats.

          1. I don’t really use baby talk with my dog, but I certainly talk to him in a way that I would never use with a person.

          2. Yeah, I wouldn’t call the voice I use with my dog a “baby talk” voice, but it’s definitely not a “talk to adult human” voice.

          3. @ Monica Holy crap that’s exactly what I came here to say! There’s something about those pointy little greyhound faces that inspires babytalk though…

        1. Baby talking to fish is A Thing too … even singing them songs customized to extol their virtues and feature as many of their thousands of nicknames as possible 🙂

          And dogs … “whos such a good baby-berry-bunny-bean? who? is it you? IT’S YOUOUOUOUOUOUOU!!!!!!”

          1. Glad to know I am not the only one who sings to my pets! I have an entire version of Hotline Bling with the lyrics changed to reflect the squishy wishy cuteness of my pet rats

          2. I recently tried to soothe my cat on a car ride by making up new lyrics to “Little Bunny Foo-Foo” so it would be about her. It didn’t work, unfortunately. Kitty hates the car. HATES IT.

            (Though I am honestly probably a little out of control with the baby-talk-to-cat. Pretty much the only time she doesn’t get baby talk is when she’s misbehaving and then I switch to Scolding Mom Voice.)

          3. I just finished reading Carrie Brownstein’s memoir the other day…there’s a part near the end where she lists ALL of the nicknames she has ever given her dog. It gets really silly, really fast.
            Also, I once changed the lyrics of “Walcott” by Vampire Weekend to be about my cat/the city we lived in at the time. It was ridiculous.

        2. I baby talk my cats – in that I raise the pitch of my voice and add more terms of endearment. “Sweetie” and “Furbaby” Otherwise I use proper English, regional English (West Texas dialect), or a smattering of German and Spanish words (since they really don’t listen anyway, and I need the practice.)

          1. I just tend to respond to my cat’s meowing like she’s saying something I understand. *meow* “Oh, is that so?” *meow* “Really?” *meow* “I had no idea.”

          2. Heh. I do that to my 6 month old daughter. Partly because I think the very act of saying stuff like that makes my tone of voice/facial expression do a “yes, I’m interested in what you have to say and I value your input” thing that I would kind of struggle to replicate otherwise because autism.

          3. Haha I do both with animals, I like the mixture of cute voice and multi-syllabic unnecessarily complex language. With people that shit is either deeply rude or nauseating. Or both! Luck with the conversation LW!

          4. Courtney: I sometimes pretend that they’ve made a Very Important Point about politics, or literature, or some other complicated topic, and respond in kind.

        3. Totally baby talk to the cat. I may refer to us as his “mommy” and “daddy,” as well. Doesn’t help that he’s a super-friendly/super-snuggly cat who still thinks he’s a kitten. (Bombay)

          1. The pets are like my kids, baby talk is used as an expression of affection, though I do have adult conversations with them when they are inclined to talk. As described by Courtney

            *meow* The rain is irritating, isn’t it? *meow* That’s true, I’ll put out extra food.

        4. I was thoroughly disgusted with myself when I realized I use exactly the same cadence of baby talk on my cat as my mother did on me when I was a child.

        5. I think my cat would be disgusted with me if I baby talked at her (she is an astonishingly brilliant cat and my therapy animal, who is capable of telling immediately when I’m getting uneasy or am in physical pain or any number of problems I experience and is an expert at helping me out) but I sometimes talk kind of silly at my lizard. Not really baby talk, but using words that aren’t really words, if that makes sense? I call him ‘little squiggy’ sometimes. He tends to glare at me a lot.

        6. I don’t know that I baby-talk to my two ferrets per se, especially since one is deaf and couldn’t hear it anyway, but I do know I call them soppy nicknames like “the sweet Ps” (as their names are Pogo and Pepper), “the whiskerbiscuits,” “my little monkeys,” “the house-weasels,” “the pocket otters,” “the fuzzies,” “the slinkies,” “the stinky boys (even when they aren’t actually being stinky),” “my goofy bunnyheads,” you name it.

          My two nieces, however, even when they were infants, were talked to properly, albeit with a sing-song tone of voice at times.

      1. Science has shown that parents/caregivers using baby talk towards babies, aka infant directed speech, helps them with language acquisition: http://www.parentingscience.com/baby-talk.html (includes lots of references at the end)

        But LW is absolutely not a baby and does not have the brain and ears of a baby, and has already acquired language, so using baby talk on LW is nothing but belittling.

        (Of course my cat isn’t a baby either, but cat-directed speech definitely happens….)

        1. Although, that’s more about tone and repetition, and not so much about weird things like “ooo, widdle baby want num nums?” You can use real, adult words with your baby or toddler; just adjust your sentences to be short and simple if necessary.

          (And then prepare for the double-takes as adults saying things like “Ooo, does baby have an owie?” are met with a blank stare and “Wound hurt!” from your kid.”)

          1. That’s how I’ve always understood it, too. After all, you can’t really acquire a (real, not made-up fantasy) language when people are not talking to you in that language in the first place.

          2. Actually, the “weird” baby talk has grammatical and phonetic information that is also helpful to language acquisition. It’s not just about acquiring vocabulary through tone/repetition, though that’s what most people think of first. The baby talk examples you give above have the correct verb form, whereas the baby-talk example “wound hurt” has the wrong verb form, so it’s not preferable, nor is it more “adult” speech than the other two examples. The error is just of a different nature.

            But yeah, main point is, LW is not a baby, and definitely does not need infant-directed speech.

          3. Oh, I don’t say “Wound hurt” to my two-year-old. That’s her own phrasing. I say things like “Does your wound hurt?” or “That’s a wound.”

            I don’t baby talk to anyone, even the cat. (I save my affectionate silliness for making up weird songs about the cat and my kid.) Given how verbally proficient my daughter is, my approach clearly works for us, even if it might not work for someone else.

          4. We read about the baby talk thing to and didn’t do it. We spoke full, appropriate sentences,(but in a loving, sweet tone), to her. We would talk to her when each of us were alone with her, like when DH was cooking or I was driving her in the car. Just describing what we were doing or what we had planned for the day. We didn’t know if she would “absorb” the language, but talking to her kept her engaged and happy. We didn’t insist that the grandparents or anyone else avoid baby talk because they didn’t see her every day and we thought it was sort of controlling to to try to dictate how people talked to her.

            Several of DH’s relatives thought we were completely weird, talking to DD like she was a tiny adult. But she spoke early and often. She described objects accurately with lots of descriptions and adjectives. She read early. She can hold her own as a 10 yo, speaking with just about anybody.

            At one point, DD was three or four and she’d helped me make cookies. She was standing on a chair near the counter while I cleaned up. Her great aunt was offering her one and asked, “Does the baby want a cooooookie? A coooookie-woookie for baaaaaby?”

            DD leaned over, peering around aunt to look at me, and said, “Mom, why is auntie talking to me like we talk to the dog?”

        2. I baby-talked my children and they’re extremely verbally adept. It was fun to mimic their pre-speech back to them as infants, they laughed and babbled more. My mother would baby-talk as an expression of warmth, particularly with sick me.
          It’s still a way to show affection to my kids, but less so with the oldest, they’re growing out of that. Which LW definitely has, being a 30 year old woman and not a pre-teen. *shudder* *skin crawls*

          That’s more parent preference, whether you prefer greater or lesser formality with your children. Kids are programmed to learn what they need to, as long as they are being read to, and the adults around them are using complex language with each other they’ll learn to speak just fine.

  9. I can’t imagine having a conversation with someone who does this. It’s got to be so incredibly irritating.

    1. It is!! To make it worse, he seems to do it most when I’m trying to enforce other boundaries, at which point I’ve already mustered up all my emotional energy for dealing with whatever other crap he did. Me: “Dad, please stop asking random strangers and relatives we haven’t talked to in decades if they have a job for me. I’ll handle my own job search. Thanks.” Him: “Awww but daddy’s ownwe wooking out for his widdle girl!” Me: ” *exasperated sigh* I just need you to stop.” I’ll have to brace myself next time to rip off the band aid. I CAN DO IT

      1. Oh that’s annoying.


        You: Dad please stop asking relatives to find me jobs.
        Dad: But daddy’s onwe wooking out for his widow guwull.
        You: Also, no more baby talk please. I’m a grown up. No job begging, no baby talk.

        And then maybe add on a bit of Cato. End every conversational snippet with “no more baby talk”

        You: Great BBQ last night thanks. And no more baby talk.

        It’ll get old fast, but you might have fun. Extra points for putting it in latin

          1. If you use classical Latin pronunciation — pronouncing V as “w” — this backfires just a little bit. “Wenny, weedy, weeky” doesn’t sound appropriately dignified, but hey, it worked for Caesar…

        1. Cato the Elder ended all of his speeches and talks from about 150 B,C. with the expression “Carthago Delenda Est!” . (Carthage Must Be Destroyed!) due to the 2nd Punic War carry on. He could never imagine that phrase would be a fashion statement on t shirts 2000 + years later…


          Cato’s No Baby Talk would be “Non Infantem Disputatio!”

          Vale amicis….

      2. It might be totally different but I had a friend who was married to a guy and it took them a long time to come to discover what those of us around them suspected for a long time, which was that they were not very happy and should not be together. They talked in babytalk to each other *all the goddamned time.* But it felt very much like what you are describing in your comment which was the most transparently neurotic inability to directly confront conflict, discomfort, unhappiness, doubt, correction, criticism, boundary setting, you name it. It was the weirdest most literal defence mechanism which was to become some sort of cute horrifying adult babymess it was hard to fight with in response to anyone’s direct challenging communication, because wtf do you even do with it? It makes it very hard to ever be close to a person because they can never actually be vulnerable or communicative in the kind of way that builds intimacy. You know your dynamic with your parents but that might be part of what’s going on here.

        1. I think you’re on to something, same thing goes on between two married adults that I know with a strained relationship. The baby talk is like an effort to downplay and mitigate all that is frought and difficult. It’s like a defence: they are trying to prove to everyone that they have no relationship issues, and they are maybe trying to defend from criticism or negativity from each other. So irritating and uncomfortable for observers!

          I like the Captain’s suggestions for dealing with this head-on and the idea to stop reinforcing the behaviour, by forcing restatements in adultspeak, ignoring, hanging up, etc. If the LW thinks that dad is receptive, she can explain that it makes her uncomfortable and she doesn’t like speaking to him when he talks like this.

          I am optimistic that the LW and her reasonable request will prevail! But it will get a bit awkward. Good luck!

          1. I watched that with a few of my friends, and then it happened to me. I never was sure if anybody else saw our unmatchedness before we (I) did, though, since most of our friends were truly mutual and genuinely liked the both of us, which seems to color others’ perceptions of how well any two given people work as a couple.

        2. Thank you, so much, for putting a name to this, or an analysis to this.

          I just got back from Thanksgiving where my newly married SIL did this near-approximation of baby talk to her (highly critical, almost contemptuous) husband whenever he got a ‘tone’ in his voice. Not quite baby talk, but definitely a slightly higher girl voice with prolonged eye contact. And she is a powerful doctor.

          ZOMG it made me insane for three days.

          Party because it was also holding up a mirror for me. Ugh. I do this too.

          It made me look at the behavior in myself and wince. I know I’m not conscious of how apparent it is to others when it’s taking place, but clearly, it is very apparent. It *feels* like something private because I think it originates in private, but obviously, it’s now taking place in public. And it’s weird, whether private or public.

          This analysis about why it happens helps tremendously.

          And yes, my partner and I are ill-matched.

          Err, yay Thanksgiving?

          1. I did this with my ex but only in one situation: in the middle of an argument. He used to twist everything I said so I was the “bad guy” – I’m pretty sure he wasn’t intentionally gaslighting me; I think he was gaslighting himself. He hated himself.

            Anyway, I used to find myself using a cutesy-woo voice to tell him that no, honey pie, I didn’t say that thing, remember? I said THIS thing. I think I was trying to find a way to put my foot down without hurting him. He really was that fragile, but he was hurting me too. Yeah, he’s an ex for a reason even if he is an awesome guy otherwise.

        3. OMG.
          I am with a newish guy whom I really like but he does babytalk type stuff a lot. It got to the point where I had to tell him “that doesn’t really work for me” and ask him to tone it down. He doesn’t do it as much now but still slips into it. The thing is, I actually find it enraging.

          And I’m not sure how much of the rage is because I’m being irrational and I overvalue verbal competence (which he does have, but doesn’t always use), and how much of it is a reaction to whatever deeper issues the babytalk symbolises. Up till now I’ve been going with the “I’m just being completely irrational, it just so happens to be a pet peeve, aesthetic incompatibilities are not a huge deal, we’ll work around it!” but I now think there are deeper issues there as well on his side, like not wanting to step into a masculine, adult role, and I’m reacting to that. It’s more than just a difference in aesthetic preferences.

          Thanks for posting this. I’ve been noticing that reluctance to step into his adulthood a lot– not judging, I have similar issues, and his dad was a narcissistic douche so it’s pretty understandable. Your post has just crystallised for me why I hate the babytalk enough that I keep wondering if we should break up over it.

          I have no idea how to deal with this now I’ve noticed it, Maybe we do need to break up, because I need a partner with those qualities he’s rejecting. On the other hand he’s doing a lot of work on himself and has talked to me about his dad before, and I’m kind of an adulthood-avoidant work in progress myself. I’ll have to find a way to talk to him about this stuff without being too harsh.

          1. You might also want to try the classic approach of ignoring him when he uses baby talk (possibly after telling him.in advance) and rewarding him with reassuring and affectionate treatment when he uses normal speech in a situation where he would have baby-talked in the past.

      3. If he’s doing it specifically when you’re trying to set a boundary with him, he probably knows that it upsets you and is doing specifically to try and distract you from the issue at hand. In which case, it’s going to be hard to get him to give it up- he wants to bully and upset you, and this is an easy tool to do it. But don’t give up! You’re an adult! You don’t owe him anything! The next time he tries this, ask him to stop, and then ride out the captain’s steps. Enforce that boundary like it’s the Iron Curtain.

        YOU CAN DO IT! You don’t have to put up with this. If he won’t play nice, you don’t have to play with him at all- that’s the beauty of being an adult. You can leave whenever you want.

      4. Of course he does it more when you’re trying to enforce boundaries! Because: boundaries! Boundary crashing, with a double-order of condescension. So very “keeping you in your place.”

        You know, I try to run this movie in my head, and I just can’t, until I strip back the mask. What I see is a really angry, really privileged man, who’s not about to release his hold on you with any kind of good grace. (Kind of terrifying, actually.)

        And the timing you report is highly suggestive: he’s yanking your chain until you’re too exhausted to respond effectively.

        Calling in some form of reinforcements would, I think, be entirely sensible. Friends or a therapist who can role-play with you. A friend who can go with you during visits for emotional support. Or, during calls, can be in the room with you. Have dad on speaker; friend is in charge of making faces and editorial hand gestures. Friend is in charge of keeping you laughing so you can maintain your equilibrium and stay grounded.

        Shorter me: this is beyond creepy. Don’t be bashful about bringing in reinforcements, at least while you’re working on re-conditioning him.

        1. It could be anger and control, or, like Theaz said upthread a little, it could also be conflict avoidance. For the moment the two are functionally the same–the dad is still definitely not allowing the LW to have boundaries. It could make a difference for how he reacts when she sets them anyway, though.

      5. Id do sth like

        “Babyblubber” -look at him silently, when you can raise a single eyebrow :”Dad, tell me again how old are you?”
        If you feel safe enough
        “Dad, why do you have the need to be this rude? Dad why do you think you have to be disrespektful and insulting? Because, no, adult people usually dont talk like that to their equals.
        What does it give you?

        Or you could, well take him like he is- behaving like an immature toddler.
        So if you can try to answer the same. Let it be Awkward with capital A.

        “Aaw, how cuuuuute, a little baby.. ooh, aga aga?? Dwaughter cant do talkitalki to baby about big adult stuff, but I can read you a bookiewook” “only talk big stuff with grown ups. Grown up daddies dont talk like you are talking now”

        or maybe
        “I’m soorry, bwubwub, but this is a adult thing, I dont discuss my finances/serious stuff with babies/small children”(change topic)

        You could repeat, with deadpan but in babyspeak:
        “No grown up talk with baby-dwaddy”
        Make a broken record of it, every time he devolves you answer that, like the petulant child hes acting as.

      6. What happens if you turn it right back on him? “And dis is daddy’s widdle girl … saying thanks, but no thanks. Stop it, Dad.”

        (This would work on my dad because it would sound so ridiculous. But I can’t tell how deliberately controlling your dad is trying to be.)

      7. Me: “Dad, please stop asking random strangers and relatives we haven’t talked to in decades if they have a job for me. I’ll handle my own job search. Thanks.” Him: “Awww but daddy’s ownwe wooking out for his widdle girl!”

        Now, that sounds like he’s using it to divert criticism — sort of like my neighbors used to have a dog who could tell when they were getting ready to scold him or take away some forbidden treat he’d grabbed, and he’d roll over and show his belly to keep the Bad Thing from happening. “See? I’m already completely humbled! No need for the scolding — now we can skip straight to the forgiveness!”

      8. You can totally do it! Just picture us all cheering for you in the background, if that helps.

        This exchange made we wonder about the strategy of pretending you literally can’t understand his words, like the baby talk is a foreign language.

        “Dad you’re doing that baby talk thing again, it’s distracting me, what were you trying to say, I’m sorry it’s hard to concentrate on when you talk like that. So you said you were looking out for something? Or that you found something?”

        “Sorry did you say something about a wookie and widowed girl?”

      9. UGH! I feel like my instant reaction to something like that would just be, “I’m sorry, I didn’t catch that. Could you repeat it in English?”

        I’m having a hard time imagining how that’s *not* a manipulation tactic. Stand your ground, LW. You’re definitely an adult and you definitely deserve to be treated (and spoken to) as such.

        1. We use that phrase for all sorts of people. Whiny children, pompous jerks who think they can impress us with their technical jargon, condescending doofuses. “I’m sorry. I really can’t understand you when you speak that way.” Or sometimes just, “That’s easy for you to say”, especially for the techno-babble crowd or the ones who like to show off their latest new word (which usually almost everyone else there has used for years!)

      10. Amazing name, LW. The only thing keeping me from chuckling out loud is the fact that my gag reflex is currently trying to throw itself out through my mouth BECAUSE EW EW EW WHY!?!?

      11. There’s a point here where a response of “Seriously, Dad? That’s exactly what I’m talking about; the kind of help you’d give a little girl is completely inappropriate and useless for landing a professional lawyer job.” may be appropriate. Possibly with a follow-up of “So you may be looking out for some imaginary ‘widdle girl’, but you’re not actually looking out for me.”

        (I may be projecting a bit. There was a time, at the age of 35 when I had a phone meeting with a couple of people I was managing, and my mom was in the room listening in because I was calling from home. After the call, she commented that I “sounded like a real professional” or something of the sort that clearly had subtext that she saw me essentially as a kid playing a role. It took me days to figure out why her “compliment” grated so much on me.)

          there is not enough capslock for how sneakily rage-inducing this is.

      12. “Dad, I haven’t been your little girl for over a decade. I’m a grown woman and a professional and your unsolicited butting in doesn’t help my job search – in fact, it hurts it. I can ask for your help if I want it. Until then, cut out the baby talk and stay out of my career unless I invite you in.”

        If it’s awkward, he can own it. If he gets offended, well that’s two of you now. And if he doubles down on the “help” and the inappropriate baby talk, the conversation is over.

  10. I have no constructive advice to offer, I just wanted to say that OMG LW THAT IS SO WEIRD. I am really, really not surprised your relationship with them is strained! The Captain’s advice is super awesome A+ and I hope that you are able to put a stop to this asap. Because, WOW.

  11. I think there’s something uniquely creepy (SO CREEPY) about the infantilisation of adult women and that’s what we’re all reacting to here, but if you strip that away and treat it like any other problematic conversational tic – like frequent interrupting or inappropriate jokes or whatever – it might be easier?

    It wouldn’t be weird to ask someone to stop interrupting you after years of allowing yourself to be interrupted – it would be you reaching a limit and asking for the behaviour to stop. This isn’t any different, I think.

    1. So very creepy. I am sitting here cringing in sympathy, it sounds horrifying.

      It feels weird to ask for anything to change after years of letting it slide. I recently asked my landlord to update my bathroom sink (it had completely separate faucets for hot water and cold water; I wanted a regular sink with one faucet) after living here for 8 years, and I was definitely uncomfortable asking after just dealing with it for all that time. But as you say, for all of these situations, it’s reaching a limit of tolerance and asking for an appropriate change.

      1. When I was in my early twenties, I changed my name. My father told me at the time that he was hurt that I changed the name he and my mother had chosen. For nearly two decades thereafter, he supposedly couldn’t remember to use my new name — did occasionally, but “slipped up” frequently. At long last I told him that he absolutely must use my correct name, and sent him a CA column about how rude it is to not follow someone’s choice of name. He got huffy, but did change his behavior almost completely. So it’s never too late.

        1. I once worked with a group of teens. One mother said, “She wants to be called Pat*, but call her by her real name, Patricia*.” Someone replied that the daughter’s name quit belonging to the mother as soon as she gave it to her daughter.

          *Names changed from originals.

    1. The formal tone really highlights how very not OK the dad’s babytalk is. I like that about the script you give here.

    2. LW, have you ever read (the children’s book) Miss Nelson is Missing? It’s about this super nice teacher whose class won’t listen, so she disguises herself as the meanest substitute teacher ever, Miss Viola Swamp, who comes in and whips the kids into shape.

      Anyways, my school library had a poster that said Miss Viola Swamp is Not Amused, with a picture of Miss Viola Swamp with this incredible expression on her face that clearly conveys: I am NOT amused by your nonsense. It needs to stop. And every time I have to have a boundary setting conversation, this is the look I put on my face.

      It really helps me. First, that looks reinforces that you are serious to other people – your words are clear, your body language backs them up. Second, it reminds me that I am pulling on my Miss Viola Swamp personality; I am setting boundaries because I need them in my life and this is a serious matter for me. I am not amused and not okay with this and that is absolutely fine.

      1. When I was a kid, I LOVED Miss Nelson is Missing!

        And now that I am an adult, I have been told that people see me as super nice. I greatly enjoy the occasional moment when someone who thinks that I am just a pushover full of sunshine and butterflies gets to actually see me enforce a boundary. I am going to start thinking of that as “being Miss Viola Swamp”, thanks!

    3. And, my vote is to cut-and-paste. Use only that. Maybe add, “I don’t like it” or “it’s very annoying.” But that’s it.

      Don’t spend time on explanations about how you’re an adult, etc.

      Just always immediately say, “Please stop the baby talk.” If he says, “oh, but you’re my baby!” you say again, “I don’t like it.” Or, at most, “Nevertheless.”

      However, I believe this is more effective if you say exactly exactly the same phrase every time, literally the same exact words. So maybe something that works as a rebuttal as well. Maybe just, “I really don’t like babytalk.”

      One advantage of that is that it makes HIM do the mental math: “she doesn’t like babytalk” + “I want to please her” = “I should stop using babytalk”
      Let that be HIS voice in his head that says, “I should stop the babytalk.”

      And if he doesn’t stop the third time you’ve said “I don’t like babytalk,” say, “I’ve gotta go, Dad,” and hang up the phone as fast as you can.

      1. The reason I would avoid “I” statements is that it gives the offender the chance to make it all about their victim, rather than their own behavior. Keep the focus on the issue, not on personalities – a much harder battle.

  12. What do you do when it’s your boss, and there isn’t any baby talk per se, but there’s still a lot of talk in the third person. “And how is she today? Is she bright and shiny?” I (a woman in her thirties) have asked him (a man in his sixties) to refrain from using the third person in conversation with him, but he doesn’t like to do that. He does it with all of his subordinates (although we are all equals! Really!), most of whom are male.

    (On a related note, sometimes he says very hurtful things to me. If I say that these things are hurtful to me, and that I would like him to stop, he says that it makes me uncomfortable that I, a person who is so much younger than him, should make him feel bad by letting him know that he is making me feel bad. If I am crying because he has shouted at me, and ask him to be more gentle, he says that I sometimes talk to him in a sharp manner. I’ve only cried at work about three times, because I hate to do so and try as hard as I can to hold it together. When I talk to him in a sharp manner, it is usually because he has been talking to me in the third person too much, or has been telling me to do things, instead of asking.)

      1. You leave the job as soon as you can.

        In the meantime you can go to HR and complain about him and the hostile environment he creates. It might help. It probably won’t get worse.

        I’m so sorry you’re caught in this

        1. Erm – if you are leaving do not complain to HR. Honnestly making a complaint to HR about your boss can make it a lot worse, and can burn bridges, and there’s really no point if you’re not even going to stay. I do endorse leaving, BTW – dodgy bosses are rarely a fixable problem and since you have to deal with them every day and they have so much power to mess up your life they’re usually having a much more negative impact on your mental health than you realise until you leave and it’s like a horrible cloud lifted.

        2. I don’t think this actually qualifies as a hostile work environment (legally). You can certainly go to HR, LW, and ask if they have any advice for you in handling the situation; they might have advice, it might help to make others aware (especially if they hear multiple people confirming.) You can definitely mention in an exit interview or in a 360 review, if they’re available, that you found his management style not a good fit, because of the reasons above.

          But if HR does not have a good reputation or if you think talking to them will just make you more frustrated/they’ll call a mediation whether you want one or not/they’ll talk to your boos with your permission, I wouldn’t.

        3. Hostile work environment is much narrower than people often think it is! I would be careful not to use legal jargon incorrectly with HR or your boss, since they might be more dismissive of your very valid complaints if you do so. Here is a good resource on hostile work environment: http://www.eeoc.gov/laws/types/harassment.cfm

      2. This boss sounds horrific. Please get out of there if you an.

        And as soon as you have an exit strategy, feel free to use the hell out of that third person stuff. “She feels the implacable urge to kill. Oh! You meant me? I was talking about Jessica Jones! Hahahahahaha. Isn’t Netflix great?” This won’t *help* but might at least provide some amusement as you start putting your desk stuff in that cardboard box.

    1. It may not be practical but my advice is get the fuck out of that job if you can. You’ve asked nicely and you’ve been shut down, he’s known to do it because he does it to everyone. He is a bad and creepy boss. You deserve a job that you can live with.

      1. Seconding, because what he’s doing is bullying you and all his subordinates. He shouts, he infantilizes, he passive-aggressively tries to guilt you. That’s bullying, because he knows he has the upper hand in the power dynamic and he *doesn’t have to change* because no one above him is making him stop (if there is anyone above him). He does this because he’s a petty insecure man who has to keep you all in line. Certainly, when I’ve been in this situation, the whole experience was quietly sucking out my soul until I managed to scrabble my way out.

        I really really hope you can get out.

    2. I have a male acquaintance of around the same age as your boss who used to call out, “There she is!” every time I entered a room. I’m an introvert who hates being the centre of attention and this super freaked me out. So I told him, “please don’t do that every time I walk in. It makes me feel self-conscious and makes me think you’ve all just stopped talking about me!” He stopped. I’m sorry your boss won’t. What a slimeball.

    3. Another vote for time to look for a new job or a new boss.

      You might be able to talk to your Human Resource Manager about this behavior, or your Boss’s superiors. However, Human Resources is generally less about solving problems for you (the employee) and more about solving problems for the company. And my suspicion is that your Boss is at least somewhat known for his annoying behaviors, but he’s been around forever and will be retiring “soon” and so no one in a position to do so is likely to call him on it.

      Also, the telling vs. asking thing? I’m sure it’s annoying, and probably inappropriate in your situation, but frankly, my Boss includes me periodically in group lectures about how if she tells us to do something stupid and annoying, we have to do it because she’s the boss and we’re peons. I think the people who need to hear the lecture aren’t always the ones who get the lecture. So I’m not sure how much sympathy you are likely to get for that particular complaint.

    4. You can take advantage of the fact that “she” is a pronoun without an antecedent (because if a reasonable person meant YOU, they would say YOU):

      “And how is she today?”
      “Oh. Sorry, I thought you were talking about someone else when you said ‘she.'”
      “Aw, she doesn’t like the way I talk?”
      “Again, who?”

      Broken record the shit out of that. If your boss wants to talk to you, he can talk TO you, not AROUND you.

      As for the rest of it — if your boss is making you uncomfortable and you return the discomfort by pointing it out, you aren’t obligated to accept the re-return of “I don’t like it when you [or, gack, “she”] makes me feel bad.”

      Boss: [remarkably shitty thing, probably in third person]
      You: “That was a hurtful thing to say. I would like an apology.”
      Boss: “It makes me feel bad when you don’t accept my little compliments” (or whatever).
      You: “That wasn’t a compliment and it hurt my feelings. I would like an apology and I would like you to stop making these remarks to me and about me.”
      Boss: [probably something else shitty]
      You: “Now we’re done. If you can’t treat me as a professional, we’ll have to discuss this with HR.”

      It’s VERY HARD to do this; if you decide it’s not your battle, I won’t dream of second-guessing you. But I think if you stand up to this jerkass, you’re going to have a lot of support among your peers.

      1. Don’t do that unless you’re prepared to leave the job and maybe soon. Depending on the laws where you live and the norms of your field, you might be safer but in general, this sort of pushback against a boss will not end well for the person with less power (which is you, the employee).

    5. 1) Be direct and specific, i.e. don’t ask him to be ‘more gentle’, tell him you don’t appreciate being shouted at and he needs to speak to you in a normal tone.

      2) Refuse the derail.

      “Yeah but YOU sometimes do X so…”

      “If I do X, then please let me know when it happens so I can stop. Right now, however, we’re talking about how you doing A and B is a problem.”

      3) Get a new job.

    6. If he talks to you in 3rd person always assume he’s talking to someone else. If it’s just the two of you ask, “who are you asking?”

      If he says something hurtful to you, try saying, “I don’t think that’s appropriate for the workplace.” He’ll have a harder time throwing that back in your face. He may say, “I disagree,” which is a great opportunity to ask HR whether that statement is appropriate for the workplace because it makes you uncomfortable.

      I would ask HR about whether shouting in the office is workplace appropriate. If they say that it is, there’s not much you can do other than ask him to lower his voice. If HR says shouting is not workplace appropriate, then tell your boss this when he starts. If he says you talk to him in a sharp manner, tell him that you will not do so knowing that it is in violation of HR policy, and that you hope he will do the same.

      When dealing with HR, ask them specific questions, like “My boss sometimes says things like EXAMPLE to me, and it makes me uncomfortable. Does our HR policy say anything about statements like this or how I should handle this? Do you have any suggestions for things I might try?”

    7. I agree with everyone who recommend job hunting. For the shouting asking for an inside voice might work better then asking him to be more gentle

      1. Thank you, everyone. Most of what you said fits in with some of the things I’ve been thinking of late (I’ve even tried a few bits of it) – it is a relief to be validated. Telling him that it’s not an appropriate time to talk about what inadequacies I have displayed in the past, and that in future he should bring these things up as and when they happen, is a very useful thing to point out to me. I kind of knew this, but couldn’t quite put it together into something I could say which would make sense.

        This boss is a year over retirement age already, and is one of the two surviving directors of the (very small) company. There are no similar jobs in easy driving distance (and my mental health needs a similar job, if possible), and I can’t move house this coming year, but the fiancé and I have plans to start our own business, so I might be able to scale down my hours in this one at some point next year. We shall see…

        Thanks again! 🙂

    8. I agree with neverjaunty that his response to you bringing up bad behaviour is a derail. Bring it back to his behaviour, and general standards of workplace behaviour, instead of his hurt fee-fee. “It makes me feel bad that you’re saying I’m hurting you!” “I know, but I still need you to do/not do X.” “But you do the thing sometimes too!” “Yes, we all need reminders sometimes of how to behave professionally. This time it’s you.”

    9. The third-person stuff reminded me of J.K. Rowling’s novel The Casual Vacancy–there’s a major (male) character (I can’t remember his name) who is in a bit of a feud with another major character, Parminder. (Reading this book, I was entirely on Team Parminder, just so you know.) They’re both adults. Every time he sees her, he asks “and how is Parminder doing today?”…which irritated her. There is no time when that kind of talk doesn’t come across as condescending.

  13. My dad used to do this! He didn’t do it when I actually was a kid – it kicked in when I was about 20. I’m quite a laid-back person so put up with it for years, but then at breakfast one morning he asked if I wanted “eggy-weggys for bweakfast” and I snapped and refused to answer until he asked the question in a normal adult voice. There were a few attempts by both my parents to draw me back into their weird baby-talk conspiracy but by patiently using the tactics outlined by CA above they eventually stopped using baby talk directly to me, although they still do it to each other in front of me.
    I think there was a lot going on in terms of them struggling to come to terms with me as an independent adult making my own decisions and no longer needing their advice and guidance, and their loss of a key part of their identity (‘parent of small dependent child’). But ultimately, I decided to focus on effecting behaviour change rather than psychoanalysing the situation.

  14. Ugh, dads. I had to rip the bandaid off in my teens because my dad’s favourite joke was to call me a slut in some way, oblique or otherwise (hussy, scarlet woman, slag, telling me alarmist stories about teenage girls’ sexual exploits ending in tears and then glaring meaningfully at me, having ‘psychic dreams’ in which I was murdered by sexual partners, straight up saying whore or slut). Thinking about the meltdown is bringing my shoulders up to my ears already. I instinctively followed similar steps to the ones above but there was soooo much

    “you should just tell me if something I do bothers you!”
    I AM
    “I just mean it as a joke, I don’t see how you could think that I’d say something to hurt you”
    “I don’t even see this as something I do often, I can’t remember the last time I’ve said anything like this!”
    “I’m just looking out for you because it’s hard for me to live with your behaviour and not say anything!”

    After calmly repeating variants of “I know, but I’m telling you it hurts and I want you to stop doing it” he finally huffed out something resembling a promise not to do it that, naturally, he did not keep. Now I don’t live with him my only viable option seems to be to hang up the phone or bluntly redirect the conversation, then cut off from him for a while every time he crosses a line. It doesn’t change him although sometimes he seems to realise the things he needs to dial back on. They’re always underneath, waiting for their opportunity. Sigh.

    1. Oh, Gnu, that’s AWFUL. I am so sorry that your own father would repeatedly demean you that way! I’m so glad that you were able to stand up for yourself and that you are no longer forced to live with him.

    2. This is horrific, systematic abuse. I’m hearing your strength of character in your refusals of his (repeated!) actions and you have my admiration.

      I’ve learned from someone who spoke at a 12-step meeting, to refuse to let others re-define words. That word “joke” is particularly popular with abusers, I’ve noticed. I will stop a conversation to look up a word, read it back, and ask the speaker about it. For example, I’d say, “Joke” means “Something said or done to invoke laughter or amusement,” Dad, but what you are doing is better defined by this word, “Insult: ‘To treat with gross insensitivity, insolence, or contemptuous rudeness.'”

      And then I let it be uncomfortable, as we’ve learned here. It’s-truly liberating.

      1. I once got a text message from an ex, after we’d broken up, in which he was pressuring me to do something I didn’t want to do – mostly by claiming that I had previously said I would, which I knew for a fact I hadn’t. I refused. He told me not to be such a bitch. I told him not to call me that. He asked when I’d lost my sense of humour, and I told him never to contact me again. Few moments in my life have been so satisfying.

      2. my husband is still extremely popular with my siblings for calling my father a coward when my father tried to hide a terrible remark behind a “joke”. it was glorious.

    3. OMFG. My shoulders are so high I need a periscope to see out.
      Comments like that from any man are creeptastic; coming from father explodes the creepdar, and I’d respond the way I would to any man making those comments: shut it down, and if it continues, shut it off.
      I’d be really tempted to say something on the lines of “Dad, your intense interest in my sex life is creepy. Do not ever say anything like that again,” hang up/walk out, and let him initiate next contact but not answer the phone for at least a month. If he does it again, hang up/walk out.

      YMMV of course, but I am utterly grossed out when men think that much about their daughters’ sex lives.

      1. I laughed so much at your periscope comment.

        You are spot on about my dad, these remarks were just one aspect of a campaign of stalking, controlling and generally abusing me. Happy ending is that my mum finally convinced him to leave when I was 16 and I have only seen him a few times a year for the last four. My non-abusive family members and I have a great dad-free relationship.

        Thanks for the affirmations, all. It is helpful.

  15. LW, I feel you, and I can also speak to the general effectiveness of this strategy, which is similar to what I did with my mother. My mother isn’t quite so bad– no baby talk (I am feeling so much WTF for you), but she does say things like “but you’re my little baaaaaaby!” when I do adult things. I used to grit my teeth and roll my eyes, but it came to a head when I brought my sweetie home last year. I’m in my late 20s, sweetie’s in his mid-30s, and the first thing my mom said to him was “Oh, you’re the 35-year old!”

    “Yep, I’ve been around for a while,” sweetie responded.

    “It’s just that she’s my little baaaaby!” At that point I said, “Mom, I’ll be 30 in 2 years. It’s been a long time since I was a baby.” She almost seemed embarrassed (my mother is never embarrassed about her behavior that I can tell) and muttered something about how it just seemed so OLD, but hasn’t made any comments about his age since. I think my dad was also mortified and may have said something to her later about how if they wanted me to keep bringing people home she should maybe rein it in a little.

    She still occasionally says something to the baaaaby effect, but I remind her that I’m not and they’re getting less and less frequent. I think she comes more from a place of astonishment at the passing of time/obliviousness to how her words effect others than from a power play place like your father, but I really second the Captain’s advice. Rip off the band-aid, and don’t give up if it doesn’t get better immediately and you have to be a bit of a broken record. Just because you’ve put up with it for a long time doesn’t mean your right to say “knock it off, that hurts me” has expired.

    1. My husband is 13 years older than I am. We’ve been happily married for over 15 years now. My dad is 11 years older than my mom. Which is to say, WTF is so problematic about a (maybe) 7-8 year age difference? If you’re both adults, it’s just not that big a deal!

      To the Letter Writer: You go! Enforce those boundaries; this behavior is creepy, and you are in no way required to go along with it.

      1. I know, right? 7.5 years when everyone is an adultis really not a big deal. The really funny part is that her mother, my grandmother, was 8 years older than my grandfather, and they were happily married for 50 years until my grandmother passed away. Go figure.

  16. “Dad, I’m concerned at the way you’re acting. I thought at first the babytalk was a joke you were doing, but now I’m concerned about your health. Can you make an appointment to see a Doctor, please?” Inferring the onset of a mental issue will surely take out whatever reward he’s getting from his behavior, if it’s a choice. Secondly, perhaps the babytalk does point to a real problem.

    And LW, congratulations on your successes.

    1. Perhaps the babytalk does point to a real problem, but since LW doesn’t mention him doing it to anyone else and theorizes about a deliberate motivation, that seems unlikely.

      That said:

      As someone with mental issues, can I just say that it’s a bit tiring to keep seeing the advice “Imply they have mental issues! To have mental issues is gross and shameful! They will be humiliated at the idea anyone could think they have mental issues, and you will have shamed them out of the behaviour!”

      My life is not so pitiable and disgusting that it is to be used as a boogeyman to horrify other people with, dammit.

      1. Argh, damn. Wish I could delete it after I read your reply. I think it was b/c I do have bona fide issues that people want to ascribe to my “laziness” and “stupidity” (so I never got diagnosed properly) that prompted me to type this.

        1. Sorry, I didn’t mean to keep berating you after you apologised – your second comment hadn’t shown up for me when I posted.

          1. What Emma said. When I posted my comment, none of the replies to your comment showed. I would guess that is true for others that replied to you as well. I hope you don’t feel piled on. Lots of people post things they wish they could delete, but not everyone is classy enough to own up to it and not get defensive when their mistake has been pointed out to them.

          2. Thanks to you and to LTD for the replies. I hadn’t considered that what I’d written could be considered shaming. I see your vantage point now and I’m so sorry I triggered you. My thought had been to get Dad to reframe his actions that weren’t correcting under social contract, as something serious enough to deserve medical attention. I’m no more ashamed that I needed medical attention for a mental illness than I am of the surgeries to repair me after my accident. But I see where what I typed went too far, and it helps me see how I misread social cues, something I earnestly want to align. Thanks for helping me improve my communications.

        2. I totally get wanting attention to be paid to possible issues underpinning behaviour that’s perceived as problematic.

          Thanks for recognizing that buying into ableist shaming is gross, though.

      2. 100% yes. As well as being gross and exploitative, these kinds of comments rely on a shitty stereotype of mental illness: when someone is sad but can’t figure out why, or has some other feeling/behaviour/whatever which is actually commonly associated with mental health problems, no-one’s going “Maybe you have a meeental iiissue”; it’s only when someone does something which seems ludicrously irrational that shitty ditty comes out.

        1. Yes, this. Then again I’ve been on the receiving end of such a comment when I was enforcing boundaries with my (now no-contact) parent: according to said parent, my personality had radically changed and I “needed help.” In short, it’s a low blow and doesn’t actually help those with actual mental illnesses, nor does it address the behaviour.

    2. I think inferring the onset of a mental issue is actually not a good way to set healthy boundaries. Frankly I find it more offensive than baby talk, and I am really not a fan of baby talk. I also have never heard of a mental health issue where baby talk was the first indicator, but I am not a mental health professional. I think this tactic would derail the conversation and undercut the LW’s attempt to show her father that she is a mature adult.

      1. Aside from being hella ableist, using implied mental health issues will probably not be very effective. I can just see the dad going to his doctor for a checkup, leaving out the part about baby talk, getting a clean bill of health, and then saying, “See, I’m fine!” and continuing the behavior. Using incorrect reasons for why you don’t like something is just giving people like this ammo in their quest to derail your complaints. Hell–you’re doing the work for them and derailing yourself while denying that you have a right to say, “I DON’T LIKE THIS, YOU NEED TO STOP.” Making up false reasons just underscores the idea that you don’t have the right to say no to something just because it bothers you.

    1. It’s so hard not to baby-talk to my cat. 😦 I can tell she actually hates it, but gets all up in my business when I talk in my normal conversational voice–phone calls are full of her going OMG WHAT IS THAT FASCINATING SOUND COMING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH. It’s a learning process.

      1. I don’t baby talk to the cats, but I do talk for them. In the French accent and with the phrases the Moroccan Millionaire (very bad boyfriend decision) had and used.

        “Laverne says, ‘I am ‘ongry!'”
        “Shirley says she doesn’t want to chase the blue dot any more. ‘Zat ees boring! I ‘ave already done zat!””

        1. I have a real problem with singing songs to/ about my cat.

          Still, the nice thing about cats is you can tell them how they are pretty and sleek and strong and not worry about what gender stereotypes you are reinforcing, because cats of any gender are strong enough in their feminism that it doesn’t matter as long as you throw the mousie.

          Although if LW’s dad has pets, that may be a useful rechannel— “Dad, baby talk is for Bailey, not me.”

          1. Ran out of nest, but: Nanani, all of these comments do. If I had better access to time, spoons, and the ‘Net, I would start a Tumblr of how we talk to our cats, where people could submit photos of their cats and talk about their cat communication style…

          2. So I did start that Tumblr, and misquoted myself on it too. If anyone wouldn’t mind me publishing their quotes on how they talk to their cats/ pets/ non-adult lawyers, and especially if they are willing to send cute pictures of the same cats, please submit to the Tumblr under the name of proutmeowsing. Does Tumblr let you do that? Would I need to provide an e-mail address? :Scurries off to learn how to Tumbl:

          1. Well, it’s not like they’d all have the same voice! How could you know who was taking if they did?

            (We do this also. The idea of doing it to a person is giving me hives.)

        2. oh my god all of my family has started doing this for our dogs it’s so funny
          it’s usually some variant of one of them getting jealous of the other getting attention so butting their way in (literally) and one of us will yell, “no, pay attention to ME!”

      2. I totally babytalk my cats, as you know.

        I tend not to do the BabyTalk Voice, but I cannot lie, my cats’ fondness for being talked to greatly exceeds my ability to come up with one-way adult conversation.

        Which means that (as you also know) 90% of my conversations with both animals and preverbal children tends to consist of:

        And then what happened?
        They DID?
        With the pointy sticks?
        Oh, no, that’s terrible! I don’t think you should put up with that kind of treatment!
        (wet bums, lack of skritches, medical treatment without consent, people ceasing to pet them, teething …)

    2. and they are not even adult lawyers

      This made me laugh. If someone told me that our late lamented Ladycat was an adult lawyer, I would probably buy it.

    3. I am totally talking to my cats as though they are adult lawyers now. That is going to be my New Year’s resolution: All conversations with cats must be conducted as though they were adult lawyers.

      I don’t know a thing about law. This will go terribly. Terribly well.

  17. Never forget the simple power of depriving someone of your presence. During one political campaign, things were getting SUPER TENSE with my family as they went on and on about certain candidates, opinions which I did not share, and that were really hurtful. (As in, people who vote for X are stupid.) I finally said, very calmly, that I would not stick around for political debates or conversations. The next time it came up, I calmly announced that I had to leave, and then I followed through. They never brought that up in front of me again, and it’s going on 8 years now.

    So, I would strongly second the Captain’s advice about hanging up the phone, and I might go so far as to tell your dad that if he can’t talk to you like an adult, you will hang up. And then, when he violates that boundary which he will almost certainly do, you say, “Gotta go, Dad! I’m allergic to baby talk!” If he wants to talk to you, and wants to have a relationship with you, he’ll cut it out.

  18. I think I’d warn him once and hang up the phone thereafter, but another strategy to try is simply not to hear him when he uses babytalk or any tone that resembles babytalk. The word is “WHAT?” in a tone that suggests that he’s said something incomprehensible or bizarre. If he repeats, you say “I don’t understand that,” followed by “what do you mean?” Finally, “I’m hanging up because you’re not making sense.” But really, the first time he does it after the warning, you might give him a few chances. After that, go straight to hanging up or walking away much quicker. It’s possible that you’ll see an extinction burst. That’s where the objectionable behavior actually increases before it goes away altogether. Be prepared in this case to walk out of restaurants in the middle of your meal or to walk out of his house even if it’s taken you hours to get there.

  19. Wow, LW, I thought nothing on CA could shock me anymore, but this sure did! Baby-talking a 30-year-old (married! attorney!) ?! WTF? I saw a woman baby-talking to a boy who looked about 3 at the grocery store once, and it made me incredibly uncomfortable. I got the feeling she thought she was being cute, but it was just… weird. Your dad is being super weird and I agree that you are perfectly within bounds to tell him to knock it off, already. Good luck!

    1. Yeah, I had a former boss who did the baby talk/3rd person thing with her husband. She sat next to me, so I frequently heard her half of the conversation. I found it incredibly creepy. A few weeks in to her tenure, she forwarded me an email that he wrote to her (questions about work charges she had put on a personal card, and she was asking me to make sure they had all been reimbursed.) His sign-off was in the same baby talk she used on the phone, so at least it was a mutual thing. (I still wasn’t happy about having to hear it, but it became more of an “Ooookaaaaay, whatever floats your boat” kind of thing.)

    2. I had a situation I put a stop to once when I was 6 months pregnant w/ my oldest.

      My niece and nephew had to come live w/ my ILs due to medical issues w/ their mom (my SIL) for a short period. Nephew was 3 and the whole family (SIL, BIL, and Niece) all baby talked him. To the point where he did not speak English or any identifiable language. It was all a made up language that Nephew had made up. So they would repeat what he would call things back to him and when they were around strangers, they would translate for Nephew. I stopped that the 1st time I heard it. MIL didn’t even realize it was a Bad Thing and was surprised that when Nephew went to school he had such problems w/ language.

      This just solidified my reasoning to never baby talk (who’s my widdle baby girl!) any of my kids. I do speak in a cutesy voice to them when they are infants, but by the time they can walk and talk, I stop. The most I say is, “it’s time for Night Night guys, go put on pjs”.

      1. My sister did the same thing–I think it’s pretty common, especially for younger siblings. She grew out of it in time for school, though (of course, this was back when three-year-olds didn’t go to “school” so she had time to grow out of it naturally). What pissed my mom right off was when my sis was finally getting over sucking her thumb, except we were travelling once and she was really tired so she went back to the habit, and my grandmother’s friends were OVER THE MOON. “Oh, she’s sucking her thumb! That’s so adorable!” She didn’t stop after that until well into elementary school, and she needed braces because of it.

      2. Yeah, I think it’s common to have a few words like this that were just so cute when the small child said them the first time that they become the default name for that item/person (especially nicknames; one of my 2 year old nephews called me a derivative of my name since he couldn’t pronounce the whole thing; 8 years later, I still get called that name), but if it’s everything they say, that’s a problem. Blech.

        1. We still use a couple in my family. The youngest of my siblings is 28. But hey, 30-somethings can still like doolally muffins.

  20. My Dad has always, for a number of reasons, including a divorce timed and handled such that he effectively stopped actively parenting me when I was about ten, been inclined to treat me as if I were younger and more in need of protection than I am.

    But here’s the thing, which I throw out fwiw as what I think is a fairly healthy, if not always easy, transition and end point: these days that means he beats me to lunch cheques and holds doors for me and occasionally lectures me solemnly about making good hiking safety decisions – this is a topic he understands very well, and his comments are often valuable, btw – and we goof around a bit the way you would with a young kid, sometimes, and he asks me to call when I get home safely and he calls me on my birthday and I say “so. 45 Does that make me a grown-up?” And he says “No way, Kid. You’re what, twelve now?”

    And we laugh. And we both get that there’s some real discomfort on both sides there, but we handle it as well as we can, and without making each other responsible for it.

    He had a crisis recently where I wish he’d called me, and he didn’t, and eventually I realised that this was because he isn’t ready to stop being the Dad, he wasn’t ready to put his problems on me the way he still kind of wants me to put mine on him, and … I can accept that. It’s not quite how I’d like things to be, but I can accept that. He was having a rough time and he needed that sense of still being The Adult One Who Doesn’t Need Help to be a stable, unchanging point.

    I feel like your father has missed too many chances to make that kind of transition possible now. It’s turned into a way of undercutting and creeping you out, and the consequences are on him to deal with.

    Good luck, LW.

    1. One of the things my family had to deal with when my father was diagnosed with dementia at the age of about 85 was that my mother didn’t feel comfortable asking for help. We basically had to sit round the table with her several times saying :ask us, ask us, ask us, for goodness’ sake let us be of help! Eventually she did and it was very worthwhile. Dad died a short time ago and we all feel we did our best.

      1. That may come. In this case, really, he didn’t have a practical need for assistance; the health care system came through beautifully. It took me awhile to accept that my need to be useful was much larger than his need for help, and that his need not to flip that script until he absolutely has to may be hard on me but – as long as he is, in fact, correct that he’s got everything under control – it’s his call when and how and even if he asks me for help.

        Basically, the emotional support he needs from me is he needs me to express that I absolutely believe that he has this all under control.

        Which, well, there have been times when what I’ve needed from him has struck him as incomprehensible, weird and possibly wrong and he’s come through anyway, so.

        1. I absolutely get that. Right up to the end, Dad still had the feeling that he was there to look after us. One of the things we used to do when he got into a downward spiral of worry and panic was “It’s OK, Dad, you know you have everything sorted out.” One thing that was helpful was reminding him of how he had always planned his money carefully and that his house belonged to him (he didn’t always believe us on that last point), and that we were all safe.

          Now Mum is left on her own, we’re glad that she got into the habit of asking us for help while Dad was ill, so the barrier is less formidable.

          Good luck with you Dad, Marna – it sounds like you have a great relationship.

    2. Oh god, not calling you for help because he still wants to be the dad… I will generally find out when something unpleasant has happened to my father (eg. threw his back out, fell off a roof and broke something, etc.) when my YOUNGER BROTHER, who is still living at home, calls me and tells me something’s happened. I think it’s part that my dad still wants to be, as you so aptly put it The Adult One Who Doesn’t Need Help, and part that he’s trying to figure out how to be the primary parental figure in our lives after Mom died – and what a teenage boy needs in a parent is very different than what a grown adult with their own life in another state needs. On the whole, though, we’re doing a pretty good job figuring it out together.

  21. I just had back surgery and the other day my mother emailed me, “How is our back today?”

    I know she meant it entirely as a joke, with heaps of irony, etc.–throughout my life she’s treated me as older than my age, not younger, which was a problem when I was a kid/teen but is great now. I’m sure I heard it exactly as she intended it, which is in the voice of an early-20th-century nurse in a starched uniform and little white cap. Even so, I replied “MY back is doing well, thank you”. Because that stuff grates even if there’s no context of other problematic stuff.

    LW, your dad is dropping HEAPING HEAPS of other problematic stuff on you, and you have every right to set a boundary around the baby talk (and every other terrible thing he does) and to enforce it by denying him your presence if he doesn’t treat you with respect and courtesy.

    1. LW mentioned above that he specifically does the baby talk when she has set a boundary around other problematic behavior, so I’m sure he knows that it is infantilizing and puts her off-kilter. That timing is not an accident.

  22. Off-topic: I cannot read the phrase “hard pass” without hearing it in the voice of Mona Lisa Saperstein, as played by Jenny Slate. And now I have given this gift to you as well!

    On topic: renegotiating your relationship with your parents is THE PITS…but worth it. Best of luck to the LW!

  23. OH Wow – I thought I was the only one – I’m 33 and my father does this to me. Just 2 weeks ago my parents were visiting, so I got them to help me drop my car off at the shop to get an oil change, and then my father took me to work. this is just a normal favor type errand, but he made this big deal, saying how it was just like when he would drop me off at preschool (PRESCHOOL!!!) not even school, or college, but preschool.

    I’ve already copied these scripts and am practicing them in the mirror so I’m ready for the holidays. I even sent a text to my mom with the link to this article just giving her a heads up – and she said she hopes it works but “crossing her fingers that she won’t get dragged into the middle ” instead of him expressing his “now I feel weird and it is your fault” to me he’ll do it to my mom. does the commenting crew have any scripts I could pass along to her to back me up?

    1. Ideas for your mum, based on scripts I’ve read here before 🙂

      “That sounds like something you should tell seashell.”
      “Have you told that to seashell?”
      “That’s between you and seashell.”

      Also useful: “Hmm.” “You don’t say.” “How about that.” All delivered in a somewhat distracted tone. Basically: be a super boring person in the conversation. Repeat the same thing over and over again. If your dad really wants a reaction from her, he might try to raise the stakes (e.g. by raising his voice or making a guilt trip or something) so it may be very difficult for your mum to keep enforcing her boundaries and resist getting sucked into the conversation. I hope it turns out to be way less fraught and stressful than that, though!

      I want to say also, seashell – any discomfort between your parents, even if it stems from you establishing boundaries with your dad, is NOT YOUR PROBLEM and NOT YOUR FAULT. I’m giving your mum a tiny bit of side-eye for telling you her concerns for herself, because regardless of her intent, it seems awfully hard for you not to experience that as a guilt trip. (Maybe not! I hope not.) In any case, I think it really is best for all concerned parties that she not be involved, so hopefully the scripts will help.

      Best of luck to you!

    2. Ditto on the bit of side-eye about your mom’s reaction, seashell … would have been great if she’d said something like “yeah, I totally get that this is a problem, how can I back you up?” Or even better, that she’d talk to your dad before the holidays so possibly you don’t have to.

      Maybe if your dad tries to enlist her/puts her in the middle, she could say:

      “Well, seashell is an adult and wants to be treated that way. I know you want to have a good relationship with her, so since this bothers her, let’s work on some strategies to help you remember.”

      “Since this is a problem for seashell, let’s figure out how you can catch yourself if you start to talk that way.”

      “Seashell needs to know you respect her as an adult. How can you be sure to convey that?”

      … and a little more forceful:

      “When you talk with seashell like that, she feels like you don’t respect her as an adult and this hurts her. Is that what you want?”

      Your mom’s in a great position to reinforce your boundaries on this, because sometimes a person who’s been told they’re doing something that another person doesn’t like, will seek validation from others that no, it’s actually not that bad and they’re a good person, really truly. If she is able to withhold that validation and back you up, he’s hopefully more likely to change.

      1. Also, if Dad also does this when talking to Mum about you – she can catch him and remind him and help him get out of that habit, which will make it much easier for him to remember when you are around.

        Alas, I learned this the hard way watching my partner try to get her parents to stop CONSTANTLY misgendering her. They make no progress because they spend all day every day doing it when she’s not around.

    3. As the 50ish daughter of aging parents who don’t get me, I empathize with all the 30ish daughters on here, especially the LW. But as the parent of a 20something son, I wonder if the dad in the “just like taking you to preschool” case was reminiscing aloud about a sweet memory. Kind of a “Sunrise, Sunset” moment (referring to “Fiddler on the Roof”). Understandable as an occasional event; smothering as a regular topic.

      Sometimes reframing an incident from another point of view can help turn frustration into quiet amusement, with a lump of bittersweet on the side. This helped get me through my sons’ teenage misadventures.

      Speaking now as the daughter, two strategies that have worked are moving far, far away and employing tactical long-range secrecy. Briefings are strictly on a need-to-know basis. It’s amazing how satisfied parents can be when all they hear about is the shiny weather.

      1. I reread seashell’s comment and see s/he was talking about a pattern, not a one-time comment from her dad. I’m sorry to have implied that it’s not a real problem.

  24. My Dad is nothing like as extreme as the LW’s (“widdle daughter??” That seriously gives me the heebies) but he does have a habit of repeating, ad nauseum, the most embarrassing collection of stories from my childhood at every possible family or friends gathering that both of us attend.

    Until recently, although this bothered me, I tried to write it off to my Dad’s personality. However light dawned when my husband pointed out: “Yeah, but he never does it to your brother, ever.” It’s true, too. At a family birthday dinner just this past weekend, Dad repeated three stories about me as a child (two of them from when I was under seven years old) and poised confidently waiting for the indulgent laugh at my expense that he usually gets. No stories were told about my brother.

    I think there is an element in this, as there is in my overall relationship with both my parents (although it’s more subtle with my Mum), of keeping me in my place, and of sustaining their favoured narrative that I am the difficult one and my brother is the good one. My adult life has been disappointingly short on examples of extreme fucked-up-edness for them to play off (I was careful to go most of my fucking up in places and situations where no news ever filtered back home) so Dad reverts to silly things I said or did as a child to tell the meta story, which is: She’s always such a difficult one.

    On the weekend, as Dad started to tell a story from when I was a whopping four years old – a story that this gathering of family members has heard easily a hundred times over the past twenty years – I said, “I really don’t want to hear that story again, Dad.” He paused, laughed, and said, “But you DID it! Come on, admit it!” I said, “Well, I was four years old, so I don’t really remember, but I’m sure you’re right. We’ve all heard the story a lot of times though and I don’t think we need to hear it again.” To my surprise and relief, my brother jumped in to say, “Yeah, c’mon Dad, give it a rest already.”

    Dad retired to offended silence for about ten minutes, and although I doubt it’ll stop him doing it next time, at least I feel like I have a workable script for the next occasion now, especially if my brother is going to back me up.

    1. I’ve had similar experiences with my dad–and my husband has noticed similar things (i.e., my dad behaves more respectfully toward my brother than me). He’s been better over the last couple of years, probably because I’ve purposefully made myself more distant. Ah, life as the girl-child.

    2. I had to tell my father to stop repeating the one adult fuck-up to my spouse every. damn. time. we came to visit. He did stop, after a few reminders bless him. But it’s the same tactic. He tells stories about my mistakes/foibles because it kept me in my youngest, *female* place despite the advanced degrees, full professorship, other markers of success. Come to think of it, I’ve never heard him repeat the stories of my brother’s younger mistakes, ever.

      1. I’m weirdly relieved to hear I’m not alone in this! It really is not good behaviour, but it’s so hard to really resist it.

      2. Hmmm, replace Dad with Mom and you’ve got my mother. I was the responsible one, taking care of the whole house while she was in hospital for a week (I was 14, my older brother was 16), I was the one who babysat when older brother ended up in jail and they had to drive out of town to visit him on weekends, but somehow he was always viewed as the adult one after we grew up, while I was always treated like a somewhat stupid 6 year old. If I went on vacation it was “Phone me every single day! I worry sick when you’re traveling alone!!!”
        And yes, she brought up every single one of my mistakes, sometimes for YEARS after I’d made them – talking about age 13 mistakes (buying a silly pair of shoes that I couldn’t wear) being thrown in my face at age 20. But if I mentioned anyone else’s much more serious transgressions I was “dwelling on the past”.
        I now realize that she felt threatened by me and infantalizing me was a way of removing my power.

    3. My mother likes to spin the narrative that I was a difficult teenager because I dyed my hair purple, listened to punk rock and wore men’s clothes, mostly in black. I was also straightedge, didn’t date, and did reasonably well academically, but she leaves that part out so she can act as though my adolescence was a massive trial to her personally. “You were such a wild kid, but I’m so glad you grew out of it.” Yeah, my hobbies of tech crew, Monty Python movie marathons and all-ages concerts were a clear sign that I was headed for jail or an early grave.
      My brother does not get this crap, at least within my hearing, even though he did many of the same things (admittedly the wearing of men’s clothes on his part had a different cultural significance, and he almost-failed English instead of math).

    4. My dad used to do a similar thing (making jokes about my age in any bar or restaurant where I got carded) until I flatly said, “Dad, when you do that I feel humiliated and like I don’t want to be around you.” And he, blessedly, Got It and cut it out. I think there’s just this failed perspective-check sometimes where they don’t realize that you’re not actually laughing along.

    5. My dad does the same thing regarding two things I did when I was younger – had a fit when they got me a french silk pie instead of a birthday cake around age 8 and thought a car with the shifter on the floor/console was a stick in high school (without having had any exposure to manual transmission cars previously) – and it absolutely drives me up the wall.

      If it happens over the holidays this year, I’m going to use your tactics here. Thanks!

    6. OMG. My mom does this. It’s always the same three stories about the terrible messes I made when I was a toddler and how she had to get down from the cross where she was being martyred in order to clean up the kitchen/hallway/back seat of the car and what a giant bother I was.

      And…holy shit…she never does this with my brother. And he was hands down the more difficult child, but he is also her favorite.
      (mind blown)

      1. Same thing here, right down to the favourite brother. Both my parents love to tell stories about cute/annoying stuff I did when I was little, especially in front of company or my partners. I have actually done interesting things in the last 20 years, but you’d never know that from how they talk about it.

        (Once, when I was turning 20, my Dad told me he missed the “real strophoria”, and I should stop with all this “tough punk girl shit”, since I used to be such a little princess sweetheart in kindergarten. KINDERGARTEN. The “real me.” The mind boggles.)

        1. Wow. So what he’s saying is that he misses the time back when you were little and manageable and he could still project the hologram of Who He Wanted You To Me right over your tiny, actual, wonderful self.

          My sympathies. I think we have the same parents.

        2. Gaaaaah, same sort of thing here. All through high school and after to some degree, if I did anything my dad didn’t like, he’d say “be yourself!” or “just be you” or some variant to the point where any variation on that phrase makes me want to screeeeaaaam. I am me. Therefore, anything I do is “being me”.

      2. “how she had to get down from the cross where she was being martyred on” OMG. You just described my bio-mom! I am so keeping this phrase.

    7. There’s also a major element of misdirection in this pattern. My uncle clings the narrative of Minster of Smartassery as a space cadet child who caused chaos wherever she went. ISN’T HER STUPIDITY HILARIOUS? Every time the family gets together, we can expect at least one retelling of the time I set a small, non-catastrophic kitchen fire while trying to cook bacon on my own for the first time.

      I was 10. It was a small fire, but there was a lot of smoke. I smothered it in baking soda and put the lid on the pan. Then took the pan outside to cool off and I opened the windows to let the smoke out. The smoke alarms didn’t even go off. THAT WAS IT. Uncle wasn’t even present for the fire. My mom made the mistake of telling my grandma. But every time we get together, the story comes up somehow. I’m actually an accomplished cook now. But if anyone compliments my food, we can count on Uncle saying, “Yeah, I guess you’ve learned a lot since you damn near burnt the house down, right Minister? BWAHAHAHAHA. Hey, Mr. Minister, did I ever tell you about the time Minister started a fire while cooking bacon? You should probably keep a fire extinguisher in every room. BWAHAHAHAHAHA.”

      Now, this really bugged me, until I realized that he was telling this story to draw attention away from my cousins, one of whom has pretty serious criminal issues. If he can keep the attention on my stupid bacon fire, he can 1) detract attention from the fact that I’m doing really well professionally and am generally successful at adulting, while his children are not. and 2) redirect attention from the cousins’ criminal issues and failure to launch.

      So, one Christmas, after the great retelling of the bacon story, I looked Uncle dead in the eye and said very quietly, “You know, you’re right. A child accidentally setting a kitchen fire while learning to cook is so much more embarrassing than say, a teenager getting arrested for spray painting a curse word on water tower, while surrounded by empty beer cans.”

      Yeah, I heard stories, too, uncle.

      (I could have used multiple incidents from my cousins’ childhoods. But I didn’t want to drag my cousins into this. It’s not their fault their dad’s rude.)

    8. I would love for your husband to say, next time, right after you’ve said, “I really don’t want to hear that story…”,
      “You know, you never tell those sort of ‘he’s a screw-up stories about your son. Only about my wife. I don’t really want to hear them anymore.”

      It’s very patriarchal, but I bet you it would be effective. If subtle sexism is going to work against you, I think it’s fair game to use it as a weapon.

  25. To a lesser extent, this sounds like my grandfather.
    He likes to hover over me while I’m in the middle of a task (laundry, dishes, ect.), and he’ll try to give me instructions on how to do it. I find this annoying because I am not a child, and have been doing these things for years. Of course, if I protest, he gets huffy and says, “Well I was JUST trying to be helpful! You should just let me talk!!!” I don’t drive with him anymore, if I can help it. He also likes to make “jokes”-the kind that come at another’s expense.
    We’ve had our differences about other things as well. He used to constantly concern-troll me about my weight (until I told him, in no uncertain terms, that “The size of my ass does not concern you”), but an ongoing thing is the fact that he loves to shit talk.
    His favorite subjects are my mom, my stepdad and my aunt-and he has been going on about them for a decade or so. Although, you know, thanks to this lovely website, I have recently told him to quit it. He still tests those boundries by trying to engage me in conversation about it, but so far, I have been able to get him to stop.
    The point is, it might take awhile-months, years even- but please, LW, stick to your guns. It’s a process, for sure, but it works.

    1. QuietlyThundering, how does your grandfather react to “If you don’t like the way I am doing this task, you’re welcome to do it yourself?” Or is that not a safe/wise idea for other reasons?

      1. There is no way I could say that without sounding rude as hell XD
        I usually say some variation of “I know what I’m doing, I’VE GOT THIS,” but you know the end result.
        I swear, the sooner I get a better job, the sooner I can move out, the sooner I can go about my daily routine without some kind of Navi wannabee hanging over my shoulder.

  26. Letter Writer, the Captain is so right about keeping it short. But in my snippy comebacks head, I’ve THOUGHT:

    Dad, baby talking your grown child is gross.

    Dad, baby talking your grown child makes you sound like the kind of man parents tell their children to avoid at all costs.

    Dad, I asked a specialist, and theyou said you’re doing something really creepy.

    Dad, you give terrifyingly amazing people the full body willies when you baby talk.

    Dad, when you baby talk me, it makes my skin crawl.

    Dad, you sound like a person with no social acuity and very weak boundaries when you baby talk me.

    Dad, if a stranger were to overhear you talk this way to me, they would think something was very, very wrong. Do you want to appear this way to others, including me?

    Dad, it would be Call The Social Worker Time if I were in high school and a teacher heard you talk to me this way

    Dad, it is not only insulting and infantalizing for you to baby talk me. There is also something very sexualized about it and it makes me feel gross when you such language.

    Dad, aside from you baby talking me, the only adults I know who speak to each other this way are romantic partners. Is that the message you want to be sending?

    And the answer to “why didn’t you say something before?” is “because I was afraid. But I’ve reached my limit and I am done with fear.”

    Which is to say: if you are so inclined, you could move this from the “pet peeve” column into the “full blown concern” one. I am not saying your dad is an inappropriate sexual boundary crosser. I’m just saying an adult man who uses the kind of language he does either knows damn well how weird what he is doing is. Or, he is so phenomenally clueless, it’s shocking. Either way, you can be peeved, you can be really upset. Either one is A-OK within the realm of totally not surprising.

    Yikes, I say. Yikes.

    1. As correct as you are that Dad’s baby talk gives sane adults the willies and likely has a subtle sexual underpinning, I believe spelling that out for Dad in plain language is the wrong way to go. This is a behavior that will get changed with a consequence, not an explanation. There’s a reasonable chance that Dad knows on some subconscious level that he’s making his daughter uncomfortable– that’s why he’s doing it. He may know on that same subconscious level that he’s breaking societal norms– and he doesn’t care. The problem with explanations is that they’re arguable. If LW explains her reasons, all Dad has to do is explain his. Now they’re in an argument, and no matter how right LW is to herself and us and the rest of the world, Dad still has no reason to change. But if LW hangs up the phone or physically gets up to leave the instant the babytalk begins, Dad has a reason to stop. If he doesn’t stop, LW’s problem is solved anyway because she’s not around to hear.

      1. My mother is still sulking that I don’t like it when she rubs my ass, which I tend to limit to people with whom I intend to have sex, or ruffles my hair, which makes me feel both mussed and like an object of condescension. She also, when my daughter was three, took me aside and told me that she was not comfortable with the fact that I gave my daughter extended hugs and let her sit in my lap during reading time because she found it “too sexual.” I guess not everyone has the same boundaries that way?

        1. Uh, wut? Cuddling your three-year-old daughter is sexual? That says a lot more about your mom than you OR your daughter.

          1. I’m pretty sure she was being mindfucked by her then-husband, whom we are pretty certain had/ has serious undiagnosed weirdness. He had also made rules that we were not to use expression or funny voices when reading to the children. Strange, sad little man, and while I have grown to appreciate rules and structure, I am glad I wasn’t particularly inclined to swallow his brand of bull.

        2. I took care of my elderly, disabled, degenerative-illness-having father for many years and I had a family member tell me they considered the fact that I helped him bathe to be incest. Some people are just weird.

    2. I was abused by my father and this sort of language was used as a way to cement the secrecy of the sexual abuse he committed when I was small. It kept me feeling oddly ashamed and unable to speak up and it also alienated me from my mum, as his inappropriate closeness was something I feared would make their problems worse. Back then I felt that I should accept this talk as ‘love’ because he was such a neglectful parent in healthy ways. As an adult I spent a lly of time caretaking for my father who I protested was a good, socially inept man who needed me to mediate his marriage. He exploited that know to avoid his inevitable loneliness. I know of daughters whose fathers cast them in the wife role of confidante and counsellor and that emotional intimacy is not fair either.

      Whether he knows he gains sexual pleasure from your acquiescence or whether this is a twisted attempt at mimicking normal fatherly affection, you do not have to absorb it and absolve him.

      1. THIS FOR CRYING OUT LOUD it is fucking sexual and a HUGE cause for concern. I’m afraid for LW but suggest maybe pointing out to your dad that his behavior plays into a gross sexual dynamic you do not want anywhere near your relationship? A person worth keeping in your life probably won’t try to defend having that sort of dynamic in your relationship. Anything else is radioactive killer bees, to me.

        Hoping it isn’t intentionally titillating for him. Horrifying.

    3. Shortest of all is: “I don’t like babytalk.”

      Just say that, no matter what. And let his brain take the next step: “I should stop doing it.”

      Far more effective than “You should stop…”

      He doesn’t need to know all the reasons. He just needs to stop. Focus only on that.

  27. If he doesn’t stop ACTING LIKE A BABY (because that’s acctually what he’s doing), TREAT HIM LIKE A BABY and talk to him AS IF HE WERE A BABY. The thing with baby talk: if you’re doing it, it’s fun, when you’re hearing it — it’s infuriatingly annoying.


    DAD: Daddy changed the oil and had a weetle weetle steakie fow lunchie…

    YOU: Dad, please stop…

    DAD: And a wee glass of wosey.

    YOU: Aww… did that give Daddy poo-poo a tummy ache? And did Daddy-poo-poo wemembew to take his wee piws fow his wee homowoidses?
    … and so on.

    And then remember to talk to him like that each time he initiates the conversation in his “baby voice”. I don’t know your dad, but if you manage to be equally annoying as he, he might just not be able to stand it and stop.

    This is a variation on the method my younger brother uses, though in slightly different situations. At almost 16, he’s the “baby” of the family and although normally he’s treated age-appropriately, there’s always a family member who forgets that he is a rather responsible and smart 16 yo (he does look younger, but still). My brother’s reaction to intentional or (mostly) unintentional infantilization by family member is usually making a creepily “adorable” baby face and responding in a baby-voice: “Ow now, I’m a wee’opless baby! Pweeeeze change my napie! Pweeeze.” etc. Usually, when dealing with reasonable people, the reaction is laughter and apology/acknowledging his age. If he chooses to do his hilariously creepy “baby routine” for more than five minutes, it gets so annoying that everyone wants to strangle him.

        1. I kind of feel like a 30-year-old professional might not want to fuck up her sleep schedule (and, if she needs to set an alarm, possibly the sleep schedule of others in her household) and risk being overheard talking like a two-year-old at work just to score points off someone who is behaving like an ass when what she is looking for is help getting the behaviour to stop, not a way to play into it in a hurtful fashion.

          1. I’m so confused about all the “joke” workarounds. How is this easier or better than “Dad, knock it off”?

          2. It’s not easier, but I’m guessing some folks are working out their anger about this guy’s behavior by plotting revenge.

          3. I suspect so. I kind of wish they’s make it clear that’s what they’re doing before diving in; as is, it seems about as helpful as responding to some who’s asking how to handle an insult by telling them they should smash a windshield or leave a mass of rotten eggs in someone’s mailbox.

            The LW didn’t write in asking how she could live out readers’ revenge fantasies. She wrote in asking for help. “Do this humiliating thing so I can imagine how cool it would be” is unpleasant work, not help.

          4. I think the “joke” responses are because sometimes adults handle their concerns by making a joke of something in “ha ha only serious” mode a couple times before they escalate. It gives the LW a chance to say, “I tried to handle this in a pleasant fashion and you didn’t get the hint, that’s why I’m escalating in this particular fashion you don’t like.”

            To me, simply having the conversation with Creepy Dad* is something no thirty-year-old lawyer should ever have to do. IMHO it gives the LW a chance to keep a little dignity. Maybe humor is the “wrong” response, but there it is.

            * The baby-talk to grown, professional daughter is the second creepiest thing I’ve ever heard.

          5. …”stay up late, mess with my sleep schedule, and possibly have family or co-workers hear me announce I haven’t wet myself” is KEEPING dignity?

          6. I tend to agree with the Captain here. Maybe the right answer is to answer the baby talk with something CLEARLY not baby-like:

            Dad: “Would shnookums like Daddy to read-um a story?”
            You: “Dad, cut that shit out. I don’t like it.”

          7. Thank you, Troutwaxer, for explaining this.

            And for others… No, we who are making jokes about responding aren’t deliberately being unhelpful or making light of the OP’s problem. My impression of Dad is that he’s the sort who will think it’s cute or amusing that his ickle baby girl is annoyed by his behaviour. My experience of this sort of person is that, very often, they can dish it but not take it. It might be the only way to drum it into his head that the baby-talk is Not Okay. I’m not actually suggesting that she mess up her work in order to do this, or working out my repressed issues by trying to fuck up someone else’s life, ta.

          8. It doesn’t matter if Dad UNDERSTANDS it. It doesn’t matter if he has a brilliant flash of empathy beaten into his skull by baby talk after years of tension, or if he thinks LW’s boundary is weird and horrible. It just matters if he stops doing it.

            You cannot make other people get it. LW wrote in asking for help about how she could get her Dad to stop, not how she could get him to understand it was hurtful or gross.

          9. @Aphotic Ink I’m not sure why you’re being so aggressive toward me about this. I wanted to explain that, despite suggesting jokes, people can still be concerned and genuinely want to help. Maybe it isn’t necessary that Dad understands WHY his daughter is upset but you never know – it might be that he needs a lightbulb moment to make him grow up. It’s a “hey, if the other stuff doesn’t get through to him, this might” option. It’s always good to have a plan B.

          10. Honestly, it’s at least in part because I read your comment the same way Karolina seemed to; as a suggestion of revenge, not an attempt to help. I understand that’s incorrect, and apologize; trying to set the irritation at that aside.

            But I still find it pretty upsetting that you’re telling LW that she should be the one doing extra work for her Dad’s benefit. The theory seems well intentioned; it’s coming across as one part “maybe being petty and spiteful enough will have Dad come to a realization and you will have helped him stop infantilizing you in this one way. Isn’t that worth the 4 a.m. wakeups and the announcements that you were toilet trained?” and one part buying into the idea of the Perfect Comeback that was mentioned at https://captainawkward.com/2015/11/16/796-reassurances-for-a-lw-with-some-bathroom-embarrassment/#comment-128210

            But you are still telling the person who is being treated disrespectfully that a great solution to keep in mind is that she should do more work for the benefit of the person insulting her.

            Because Dad understanding is to Dad’s benefit. It will help him grow as a person. It will expand his perspective.

            It is not, however, a prerequisite for him to stop using baby talk. And acting like it is required–like you can’t talk to an adult like an adult without some smackdown leading to emotional revelation, which she should deliver–is putting yet more work on an LW who’s already describing dealing with him as being exhausting.

          11. Yeah, I’m a petty, immature, pathetic waste of space who exists just to mess up the lives of responsible professionals and irritate people. Or, yknow, maybe I’m a fuckup who has ENORMOUS difficulty talking to people, and thought I might find a safe space on a forum whose core is emotional and/or social awkwardness. Maybe I thought the LW could use a laugh. AND YES, I WAS WRONG AND YOU’RE RIGHT AND I SHOULD SHUT THE FUCK UP. Sorted?

            Good. I am so done with trying.

      1. Oh my god, this is brilliant.
        It’s not going to take too many midnight “Dada, I had a bad dweem!” phonecalls to make your point.

  28. LW, this is awful and I hope you can get through to your dad.

    I don’t have any other advice to add, other than a funny story: My son is quite gifted. When he was little, about 3-5 years old, he was already speaking pretty adult words (Mommy, I built a cantilevered apartment building with blocks in daycare today!). When adults baby-talked him, he clearly thought that *they* were somehow impaired. He would listen to their baby talk, then answer them slowly and carefully using small words and simple sentences. It got really bad when he had a baby-talking Kindergarten teacher who was convinced that he couldn’t actually read, but was only saying the words on the page without understanding the meaning. He simply thought she wasn’t bright enough to follow the conversation. Kindergarten was hard.

    1. Heh. I can imagine my daughter doing this some day. She already gives baby-talking adults a sort of stare that clearly says “You are behaving rather oddly right now.”

      1. Oh, man, my kid does that all the time.

        And then I get comments about how ‘she’s so serious, we’re only trying to make her laugh!’ Answer: if you do something actually funny, or surprising, or unusual, she’ll be amused. Baby-talking and poking her stomach will get you a glare of ‘what do you think you’re doing and how dare you touch me.’

        Boundaries, yo. 18 months old and they come through loud and clear. Listen to them.

        1. … I’m just realising that I never spoke baby-talk to my nephew, because he responded positively to full sentences. OK, simplified concepts and easier words, but adult-type speech patterns got interactive responses, so I kept them going. Huh.

        1. Yeah but to be fair… dinosaurs.

          (Are all kids still obsessed with dinosaurs at some point? I feel like all kids were obsessed with dinosaurs at some point when I was growing up.)

          1. Well, yes. You know how some people don’t know how to talk to you if you don’t have the spoons to be into sports for their? You can rescue them by asking them what their favorite dinosaur was as a child, and kids today are no different.

  29. All I want in life is a “Ask, remind, enforce, escape” sticker sheet—with 100 stickers—so I can put them everywhere. Or, better: a tattoo. It would be my first, but so, so useful.

  30. I seriously read this whole post with my head craned back so far that I realigned vertebrae.

    This dynamic is gross.

    His baby talk allows him to:

    -not feel old and irrelevant.

    -always keep you in the lesser position.

    -always put you in the position of defending your adulthood and independence instead of focusing on the issue/boundary at hand, i.e., “Dad, please don’t pre-chew my dinner for me.” And he can grin at you, humoring you like an adorable little kitten fighting a ball of yard. “Aw, Daddy’s widdle girl thinks she’s all grown up. That’s sooooo cuuuuute.”

    -discounts any accomplishment you’ve made in life. Your law degree. That nice house you own (I’m assuming). Your marriage. None of that trumps Daddy’s widdle girl label.

    -not listen to any opinion of yours, because widdle girls don’t have valid opinions.

    – dissolve any boundaries a reasonable adult would set. “Widdle girls don’t have boundaries. They only have the boundaries Daddy lets them have!”

    It’s also creepily sexual, in a way I can’t pin down. I may be reading too much into it, but the boundaries are so blurred here I can’t even see where the point of reasonable adult conversation.

    Honestly, this would be a deal breaker in terms of a parental relationship. It’s so disrespectful and wrong, I don’t think I would be able to justify contact with someone who did this.

    1. “It’s also creepily sexual, in a way I can’t pin down.”

      Yeah. And even if it’s not specifically meant to have a sexual tone, the way that it allows him to tell himself that the LW isn’t allowed boundaries still echoes the dynamics of sexual abuse. Stripping away someone’s boundaries makes them vulnerable to whatever abuse the abuser feels like perpetrating.

  31. I read through all the comments and didn’t see anything like this, so here goes:

    What if you just let the baby talk hang there like the non-sequitur it is? This probably works best if it’s over the phone, that way he can’t see you sweating the silence, but if he says “how’s daddy’s widdle guwl today?” and you just…don’t say anything? Let the silence sit there. He’ll probably repeat himself, wondering if the connection dropped or went bad, but keep saying nothing. Do not respond until he reverts back to adult conversation: “How are you doing today?” or even “Hey LW, are you still there?” Respond to anything said in a normal voice with real words, and just be silent and awkward as fuck in the face of the babytalk.

    It’s possible that he’ll hang up and call you back (I would if I thought the connection dropped, but I also wouldn’t do any of this in the first place, so…). Take that as an opportunity to start over, and if the babytalk starts again, rinse and repeat. Eventually he’ll realize that he can *only* get a response out of you by talking like an adult.

    If you’re interacting in person, the awkward silence coupled with a puzzled and/or icy stare should accomplish much the same thing. Resist the urge to explain yourself; you’re not the one making it weird.

    If you’re the type of person that caves in the face of silence (and some of us are, there’s nothing wrong with that!) a puzzled, neutral “I’m sorry, what did you say?” repeated like a broken record might have the same effect.

    If he insists on an explanation for your sudden bout of conditional laryngitis, cue the Captain’s scripts for the “Cut it out!” talk.

    Good luck LW!

    1. Yes! I’m not always great at verbally asserting myself (I tend to freeze up if I’m either shocked or angry), but I do a fantastic icy silence 🙂 I find that even tremendously rude people eventually get uncomfortable and stop talking if you just coldly stare at them long enough. For me personally, I would use the Captain’s “cut it out!” script precisely once first because I feel more comfortable using more extreme solutions if I feel like I gave the rude person fair warning. I don’t believe it’s actually necessary to patiently warn rude people that you’re not going to tolerate their rudeness, but it helps me quiet down the “you are just as rude and awful and now everyone knows you were raised by wolves” brainweasels. Your mileage may vary.

      LW, I also highly recommend just not answering the phone if you don’t feel like it (assuming your parents won’t escalate to reporting you missing or anything. Do what you need to do to stay safe). If your Dad calls you on it, maybe you could use some variant of “Dad, the more you disrespect my wishes the less I want to talk to you” and then just repeat that every time he tries to derail by saying he was just kidding or thought you liked it. It doesn’t matter what he’s doing or why, what’s important is that he knows you don’t like it and deliberately does it anyway. Heck, maybe that could be a script too: “Dad, it’s not about the babytalk. It’s about you knowing I don’t like it and doing it anyway. I have to go now.”

      Also, if you can be bothered to keep track, it might be useful to not take your Dad’s calls for a little longer each time he misbehaves. For example, maybe after the first infraction you say “I need to go now. I’ll call you in a week” and after the second “I’ll call you in two weeks” and so on until he either knocks it off or you discover you really enjoy the sweet, sweet silence 🙂 You may never need to escalate that far and I don’t know if I’d use it as a first resort, but I personally find having a backup plan comforting.

      Oh, and it’s totally normal to a) try to ignore people doing stuff that bothers you until it really starts to get to you and then b) feel weird about telling them to stop something they’ve been doing for quite a while. Try not to beat yourself up for not telling your dad to knock it off the first time he did it. You’re allowed to not speak up until you’re good and ready and even if you had once thought it was cute you would still be allowed to change your mind.

      1. My older brothers loved to tickle-torture me when I was a child. And give birthday spankings, with a “one to grow on” that would nearly knock me out of the room. (I could go on, but you get the idea.) When I had kids, tickling and birthday spankings were off limits. My brothers tried to say how it was all good fun and I was so unreasonable and all that. I just kept repeating, “That’s too bad. These are the rules if you want to be around my kids.” It only took a couple of months or so to retrain them. That, and my “tickle-proofing” the kids, by pretending to tickle them, but never actually touching them. They learned to control their responses without actually being tortured.

    2. This seems like a good idea, but I think it might be faster if the LW frames it up for him, once. “Dad, I have asked you to stop using baby-talk. I will not respond to you if you use baby talk.” Variation on the theme of “Ask, Remind, Enforce, Escape.” Then there’s no plausible deniability for Dad to hide behind.

  32. LW I’m so sorry that this has been your life for so long. CA’s scripts sound great (and I pretty much guffawed at the Him blurbs, thanks Captain!) and I hope things go smoothly for you.

    This happened to me recently. I received baby talk from my dad and Uncles. I’m also 30. However, I had a curious question. Probably not directed at the LW but other Awkwarders who speak more than one language. You see, my dad and Uncles – only adult men, surprise, surprise – do this in English which is my dominant language and not theirs (ex. Korean), yet I always converse with them in Korean (my first language but not my dominant language). I tried to set the boundary with them by saying, “no, I’m an adult now, you use the term ‘woman'” – and it went well, so I guess it was simpler for me to set the boundary. However, it made me wonder if it was just them not being used to it as a language? Sorry if I’m not making sense here. Again, I’m quite convinced LW’s dad is doing this to re-establish whatever power, but I wanted to share this thought.


    Uncle (in English): Aww, don’t be sad my “Blooper-do” (baby-tized my name too), you’re my fav girl!
    Me (in Korean): Uncle, I’m an adult now, use the term Woman.
    Uncle: OK.

    I love reading Captain’s work and definitely try the scripts with my adult family members, but sometimes it doesn’t go too well in Korean since my sentence structure/vocabulary isn’t the best >_< I just end up saying it in both languages anyway. Sometimes it's about the tone and not the words.

    1. Blooper, I think you are correct in thinking that the language might have made a difference in your situation.

      I am not multi-lingual (English is my native language, and even though I know a little bit of French, Spanish, and American Sign Language, I am not fluent enough in any of those to hold a conversation above basic baby-talk level), but many of my friends and coworkers are multi-lingual. I think that a lot of nuances are easily missed by someone who is not speaking their dominant language. In the example you gave, “girl” is so often used in place of “woman”, that I think many people will use “girl” to refer to an adult woman without even thinking about it (that doesn’t make it right, just commonly done).

      The fact that your uncle responded well to being corrected about using that word is a good sign that he respects you and did not intend to use that word to express power or dominance over you. If he had not responded well to that, then I think the issue would be partly language and partly a lack of respect for you.

      On a slightly-related note, about noticing the nuances in language:

      In my perspective, people who are used to being in a position of respect and authority are sometimes slightly less careful about making sure they are using the right word when they talk to someone who is a peer or who is subordinate to them. I think this is because they expect their listener to deal with the potential awkwardness, to interpret what was probably meant, and to be understanding that no offense was meant. An otherwise respectful privileged person will respond positively to correction about this (as your uncle did), and will try not to say it again, but might not be very pro-active in making sure ahead of time that their language use is inoffensive.

      A person who is used to being in a subordinate position in society, however, tends to be much more cautious about saying the right and wrong things. This is just my experience, but it has been true from what I’ve seen. A few years ago, a classmate of mine (a single mother from Kuwait) told me “I wish I didn’t have to stop talking every three sentences to ask ‘What is the right word to use here?’ and ‘Does this make sense to you?’ When I talk to my friends back home, I just talk so much that they can barely get a word in, but that’s because I already know all the words in Arabic, so I know I will never say the wrong thing! I hate worrying that I might offend someone here just because I don’t know the right way to use some English words.”

      1. In some languages, (I don’t know about Korean specifically) one shows affection, familiarity, or sometimes rank, by using the diminutive – i.e. if you are speaking formally, say “woman” or affectionately say “girl.” Etc.

        1. This very much. I’m thirteen years fluent in Japanese and good gravy, the amount of terms you can use to refer to people’s rank can be pretty astounding. Chinese can get pretty out there too. I believe Korean has similar words at least for family (older/younger sibling, mother, father, cousins, etc) but don’t quote me on that…

          1. Whereas in Te Reo Maori there’s a bunch of words for siblings depending on relative age and gender, but beyond that it’s mostly just like… women in mother’s generation, woman in grandmother’s generation, man in father’s generation, man in grandfather’s generation. There are technically different words for uncle and aunt as well but they’re relatively interchangeable with those for father and mother. And the word for cousin is a transliteration.

  33. This is how my MIL talks to my spouse (he’s a 34 year old man) and this letter finally puts down in words the creepiness that I’ve always felt but never been able to adequately explain.

    Bonus creepiness – she wants to talk to ME this way too, and I just retreat like an angry cat under a chair. Spouse has been protecting me from her baby talk for 4 and a half years now.

    What’s really unsettling to me is how Spouse will “shrink down” into MIL’s baby talk, and respond in kind. It’s a sort of grooming, I think. We’ve talked about it, and he’s brought it up with our therapist, and it’s gotten better. But sometimes I just can’t be around him when he’s on the phone with MIL.

  34. LW– Answer something for me. Does your father do the babytalk thing when others outside the family are around? If so, what has been the response? As we’ve been talking about how creepy this is, how subtly sexual, I’m asking myself what I would do if I were visiting friends when their adult daughter dropped by and I heard the father call her widdle and speak to her in the 3rd person. I’m trying to imagine it if it happened in a store where I was the sales clerk.

    1. Hrmmm, since we live many states away he mostly only does it on the phone. I think he’s done it at family events (Christmas, etc) and the rest of the family is just used to it by now. It isn’t 100% of all our conversations, but it happens often enough that its a “thing” (at least once a phone call). Honestly, I haven’t lived at home in 12 years and I only see him at Christmas, so I’m not sure if he does it in public. I think he’ll talk about himself in the third person to me in public, but won’t use the cutesy voice (so, “Go get Daddy some cheese from the deli” but won’t use a baby voice). They’re all part of the same parcel though, and annoy me about equally.

      1. Thanks for the follow-up. The question is something I’m thinking about. In a total stranger situation, if I see a parent do something downright child abuse illegal (like hauling off and hitting a kid hard), I know to call cops. If I see a parent do something disturbing but not by a long shot illegal (like speaking in a demeaning way), I carefully consider what real good saying something would do. There’s a good chance that stranger intervention would make the situation worse. But I’m getting off topic, and there are variables upon variables here as to adult relationships, how offensive, how often, what my relationship to the offending party is, etc. Thanks for writing back. I sure don’t blame you for being annoyed.

    2. I would certainly be disturbed if I overheard something like that, and depending on the social situation I can certainly imagine saying something.

  35. I heard my sister use baby talk with a waitress last summer – she was ordering dessert and she said in a “widdle wee” voice “ice creem wid lots and lots of chocolate sauce pweese!”
    I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I realized i had noticed her doing this type of thing before, and it seemed to be some sort of “cover” for her to use baby talk to order something caloric or somehow “bad”, as if then it didn’t really count because she was doing it cute.
    But really, why should she have to feel apologetic to me or the waitress or anyone about ordering dessert?
    So I said, using my best ” normal” voice “you mean you want to order some ice cream with chocolate sauce ” and she mentally shook herself and said “yes, that’s right” in a normal voice. I haven’t heard any baby talk from her since.
    I think it had become such a habit that she didn’t even realize she was doing it.
    By the way, we’re in our mid-60s.

    1. My ex used to do this when she wanted me to do something, usually something like agreeing to financially support her for the foreseeable future (hence ex). She did stop doing it, but only after I told her very bluntly that not only did I not think it was cute, but that it made my skin want to crawl off my body and hide. I think she had previously dated much older women who wanted her to be their “little girl” (*endless screaming*) and had just learnt that the cutesy act worked. Boy did it not work on me.

      I’m with Cap and others that bluntly telling him to cut it out and removing yourself from the conversation is the way to go. Easy to say, hard to enforce, but knowing that he’s almost certainly doing it BECAUSE he knows it makes you uncomfortable may help?

    2. I’ve known people who occasionally used baby talk when they were trying to be cute. It doesn’t always creep me out the way the “parent or boss talking down to an adult” examples do, but I always struggle with it. I have intermittent problems hearing conversation when there is too much background noise – not enough to get hearing aids, but enough that I’ve learned to read lips. I cannot properly lip read baby talk, so if there is enough background noise that I am relying on lip reading to understand a person, I can’t parse what they are saying.

  36. Thank you, everyone, for confirming that the father’s behavior is soooo wrong on soooo many levels. The infantilization is creepy, weirdly sexual, and speaks to a not-so-subtle attempt to control/subjugate the LW. I kept saying “What the hell?!?” out loud when I was reading the original post. I can’t even describe the look of disgust on my face right now…

    LW, what I’m about to suggest to you may or may not work. It was useful for me when my father was alive, and he tried to tell me what I should do about (insert topic) after I’d already made a decision. Imagine a middle-aged man with all the straight, white, male privilege we all know and detest, throw in a dose of Fox News- level right-wing clueless with an opinion on EVERYTHING, and you have my father. In a discussion where I’d already stated what I was going to do about anything, if he kept up the “Blah blah you’re my daughter blah blah blah” crap, my response would be to start addressing him by his first name. You could use his full first name (Richard, for example) or a more familiar form (in this example, Dick).

    The point is, you change the power dynamics. He is no longer “Dad” (which implies some level of authority). He becomes the annoying guy at work who oversteps his boundaries and needs a reminder to step the hell off. I suggest you use a flat, somewhat forced tone when speaking to your father. You can raise your voice if he doesn’t get the message in the first time around.

    For example: “Car maintenance is important, Richard. Sounds like you’re on top of that.”

    Follow up: “Dick, I have a conference call scheduled in about two minutes. Have to wrap things up for now. You and (your mom’s first name) have a good day. Goodbye.”

    Let him fumble and stumble. The discomfort is – and should be – his. If the wheedling baby-talk commences, cut him off. Be sure to use his first name as often as possible. Remember, he’s that annoying guy at the office. If/when he reverts to speaking to you like an adult, you can make the decision whether or not to call him “Dad” ever. It only took a few of these episodes with my father to get him to stop. As I mentioned though, YMMV. My relationship with my father was wrapped up in a constant atmosphere of mansplaining. Best of luck to you!

  37. LW, I just wanted to say, the scripts here are really good, and the best way to reset things to a cordial relationship. But… if you wanted to lose your temper at this guy? If you wanted to cuss him out or snap or refuse to answer his calls because of this creepy stuff? That would be totally fine. Some who pushes your boundaries, and treats you like a child to make it easier… Yikes. Sooo much yikes. Your anger would be totally justified, here.

    How would it make you feel if you just… didn’t answer his phone calls for a while? If you just didn’t have to talk to him? Would that make you anxious, or would it be a relief? Because you don’t have to put up with this shit, at all, and you have a good eye for noticing that this is meant to keep you “in your place”. It absolutely is. Like I sad, the scripts are good! But you don’t even have to give him the benefit of the doubt if you don’t want. The option is there. Even if you decide not to take it, I do want you to know, that option is there.

    1. Yep. Seconded. Sometimes the best kind of communication is no communication. After years of suffering through my dad’s disrespect, I’ve decided not to deal with it anymore by just NOT. And it’s GREAT. You’re not failing at standing up for yourself if you take time and distance from awful relationships.

  38. Re. joke workarounds and responding in like manner: Nope, I wouldn’t. Directness is merited, but directness should not be confused with antagonism. The LW should set the tone she wants.

  39. I like the be direct, strong boundary, escape, technique as a first line of action. But if it doesn’t work and someone is truly trying to be hurtful then I often can’t resist outing them, usually with sarcasm. “Damn, Dad, I wish I had royalties on that story. If I had a nickel for every time you’ve told it, I’d be rich.” Smile and then repeat every time he starts to tell the story “Poor Mom, I can’t believe I spilled milk as a child, but look at all the great stories you’ve gotten out of it. You should be grateful.” smile “Dad, you know you sound weird when you talk like that right? I don’t particularly care, but it is seriously weird. And kind of concerning.” Puzzled concerned look. “Yeah, man, those shoes were really stupid. Poor little 14 year old me. Here’s to hoping it’s the dumbest thing I ever do!” Raise glass.

    And when they try to use something normal as a negative, out them. “Yeah, I wouldn’t have made it through organic chem without Bobby E’s help, so, daughter, try to find study groups and don’t be afraid to use tutors or go see your TAs. “

    1. I don’t know, those scripts sound to me like fairly cheerful, if mildly exasperated, agreement that this is a normal way to behave.

      My dad constantly repeats the same stories (about himself, not me) but when I say “yes, you always tell us that” I’m not trying to communicate that I hate it and it makes my skin crawl, so please never do it again.

      1. I don’t disagree with you. But when the perpetrator knows that you hate what they are doing and that it makes your skin crawl, when they revel in behaving outside normal bounds because they are so special normal rules don’t apply, pointing those things out often only feeds them. With such people, if I can I prefer to give myself the gift of my absence from their presence, but when I can’t, I find being breezily dismissive of or oblivious to their ridiculous and hurtful behavior often frustrates them to the point they give up. It’s no fun to float a turd in the punch bowl if no notices. Works for my high conflict individuals but ymmv.

  40. One thing I do want to say since I think some people here may be… a little harsh as a first tactic? Speech patterns can be hard to change. Habits are hard to change. It might be helpful to focus on his attitude and willingness to change the habit, not the habit itself at first.
    Red flags –
    *Mocking, dismissing, minimizing your discomfort with the habit.
    No no no no no. Bad. Your feelings are valid. It doesn’t matter what the word/tone is, you’re allowed to have feelings.
    *Blaming you for asking too much. “Oh, I’m sorry, did daddy swip up again? Maybe if you didn’t ask me to do something SO HARD….”

    But just going to say, if he’s done this for years he’s going to slip up, a lot, even if he’s doing his hardest. What matters is when you correct him he immediately apologizes and makes an effort not to, and/or starts correcting himself and not in condescending way. No sarcastic “Whoops, I forgot. SOMEBODY gets hurt widdle feefees when I do that.”

    I mainly say this because I had a roommate in college who talked normally on the phone…. unless her parents called. Then she’d slip into babytalk. Every few days “Hii dah dah. Is sooo good to hear ooo. I wuv ooo so much. Cwasses are goood. I maded an A on my hwistery quizzie!” And when I asked about it she swore up and down that she did no such thing. She talked to her parents the same way she talked to anyone else. She’d never be caught dead babytalking. I ended up just leaving the room or putting on headphones every time her parents called or she called them, but I honestly and truly believe she didn’t realize she was babytalking.

    There was also an instance I heard of where a friend of a friend was known for using a tone and speech pattern invocation of mocking the mentally disabled when she talked about anyone she didn’t like. And then she met a guy she wanted to impress, was talking, started to slip into it and he went “Don’t do that. My sister has Downs Syndrome.” and my friends enjoyed a good bit of schadenfreude as she kept doing it over and over out of habit and he kept correcting her less and less politely and she was getting flustered and nervous and it was a train wreck.

    So… if you truly believe he’s making an effort, reward the effort. It’s probably much better to end the call after he slips up a couple times because if he is making an effort he might start spiraling into doing it more when he’s called on it multiple times and that gives him time to collect himself. And if he’s ‘slipping up’ to be a jerk then you’ve enforced a boundary, so win-win. If he wants to change, he’ll want to be corrected.

    I know I’m probably giving him waaaay too much benefit of the doubt here, and he’ll likely try to assert social dominance either through outright refusing or “haha I’m so clueless I had no idea that would bother you, but I’m so perpetually clueless I can’t remember it even though you keep telling me. Look how charmingly clueless I am maybe you should stop being mean when I’m so harmlessly unable to understand a boundary.”

  41. I have a somewhat related issue with my MIL. When she talks to my 45 yo partner about her (partners) father she always refers to him as “Your Daddy” as in “Your daddy went to the store to pick up some milk.” No one else ever refers to him as Daddy ever and they arent a very cuddly or emotionally sharing crew. Its a small thing but makes my teeth all get up and run around my mouth. Its not my boundary though so I just have to let it be.

    1. Ugh, my mom does the same thing. I think the last time I called my father “daddy” was when I was four. It skeeves me, but not badly enough to correct her.

  42. My mother delights in telling embarrassing childhood stories. She uses childish language sometimes with “baby” voice. I usually just glower and ignore.

    When my father was alive he did none of that. I can’t even remember hearing him using baby talk, not even to babies. Babies LOVED him. Adults thought him to be a bit scary looking.

  43. I don’t have anything to add as far as how to get your dad to stop, but holy balls, that is so creepy. Eeeeeeee.

  44. I’ve dealt with this multiple times as a nanny. Entire households devoted to babytalk. My response has always been, “I didn’t understand that, try it again in polite speech.” No “I’m sorry”, no jading. Just a very strong and repeatable line that sets a hard boundary while naming the shame: bad manners. I repeat it twice and the third time is “I can’t understand what you’re saying when you refuse to speak to me politely,” and I walk away. In your situation, it would probably be a good idea to attach a consequence. “So why don’t you give me a call in a month and try again. I won’t be accepting contact before then.” And blackhole any attempts to step past THAT boundary!

  45. ‘What have I told you about trying to sound ingratiatingly cute, Twyla?’ she said.
    The little girl said, ‘You said I mustn’t. You said that exaggerated lisping is a hanging offence and I only do it to get attention.’

    I don’t have any useful advice, I’m afraid, but I saw this quote from Hogfather and was reminded of this letter.

  46. In defense of Dads, it’s a hard thing to give up. My girls (twins) are 8, and I still vividly remember them as little babies. I still tuck them in most nights, they still sometimes play their little baby roles, and I still tickle them and pick them off the ground. But they’re growing all the time, and they’ve asked me not to call them their baby nicknames, and they have their secrets that they don’t want to tell me, and there are times they don’t want to be tickled or touched, and I thank them every time they tell me something like this. Because if they never say anything then I won’t know to change my behavior, and I’ll be calling them Maya Papaya and Apollonia the Amazing into their 20s (n.b. not their actual names but you get the gist). And if I insist on still tickling them whenever I want, I’m not teaching them good body autonomy, and if I insist on their telling me their secrets I’m teaching them not to even let on that something’s on their minds (instead, I keep reminding them that they have lots of friends and family members and teachers and the principal and our doctors [pediatrician, therapists], and as long as they have at least one other person they feel they can tell this to that they’ll be all good).

    It was hard to hear they want to give these things up! But I’m infinitely more happy that they’re being honest with me vs. doing something because they think it makes Dad happy. So as one Dad to another’s daughter, please speak up for yourself. I hate to invoke a logical fallacy, but in this case, I really believe if your dad really loves you, he’ll put his own sad feelings aside in favor of your happy ones. And probably have his own happy feelings that you’re grown up enough to really adult.

  47. I’ve never seen you more succinct about setting boundaries: “Ask, remind, enforce, escape.” This is brilliant and it really helps me run through how I should go about setting boundaries and what to do when I’m facing resistance! Also, it helps remind me what the problem is…sometimes it’s that I haven’t actually done step 1: Ask, and that if I want something to change that’s MY responsibility, not theirs.

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