Thursday, December 13, 2007

Pain and Resentment

Let me start out by saying that if you meet my father, you'll probably really like the guy. He's very personable, friendly, and good in the room. He tells funny stories. People like him.

And spending time with him makes me grind my teeth.

It's all old stories, and not very original ones. He wasn't very emotionally involved in my life after I entered my teen years. His interest in me felt centered on my academic achievement, which made me feel like he was only interested in reflected glory. When my parents marriage soured and ended, he accused me of poisoning her against him.

Wow, those words always sounded strange coming from your mother. But now that I hear you say them, I know where she's gotten all these ideas.
And while we've never really addressed any of these issues, he's tried to reach out to me. To be interested in my life. Which is horrible. I can't really spend any time with him without thinking about those things. Well, and the fact that I've heard all his funny stories over and over, so they're not fresh. Or funny.

The horrible thing for me is that the rest of my family doesn't seem to feel the same way about him. He gets invited to all the family birthdays, holiday celebrations, etc. And I have to decide if spending that time with my family is worth the teeth-gritting time with my father. I resent my family for subjecting me to this. They know how I feel and keep inviting him.

It really isn't that they don't know. I've told them. I've asked them to let me know when he's going to be around so I can decide whether or not to attend. And there are times I've done that. On Christmas Eve 2005, my brother text-messaged me late at night that my mother wanted me to know that my father would be there the next day. That was infuriating. They wouldn't respond to my questions about the timing of this revelation, and I decided not to go. Which pissed them off to no end, especially my brother who couldn't understand why I wouldn't "just suck it up and spend time with the family."

Our experiences with our father were very different, of course. In one of the last fights I had with the man before I went to college, I warned him that he should be more involved in my brother's life. It's possible that he took that advice to heart.

I'm not sure which is worse, spending time with my father or the resentment towards my family for subjecting me to him.


  1. I can relate to much of this. I have a lot of anger towards my father. If nothing else, you have my empathy.

    What's more, out of a sense of solidarity with you (knowing that you have a rocky relationship), I limited just how friendly I was willing to get with him at the last gathering. I'm not sure if that's good or bad.

    One of my great fears in life is that I'll perpetuate the whole father-son distance with my own son.

  2. JohnR: Or overcompensate. I'll say this: My grandfather was physically and financially out of the picture during my father's childhood, which my dad was certainly not.

    Will we become incrementally better fathers over the generations?

  3. Well, I hear you. I was around for some of this stuff with your day (back in tha day)... and I had some serious issues with my step-father at the time. I know it sounds cliche - but I wish I had resolved them.

    There were certain things about my step-father that were fundamental to his character, things that I would never relate to, nor want to associate with. Yet, he did try in his own way to be a father. And as he grew older, I think he "grew" too as a person. And then he died when I was still a resentful 26 year old.

    As I'm now facing the prospect of being a father myself, I've learned a lot from my wife about the centrality of family in my life. For her, family is absolutely important - but at the same time, it's up to us to maintain boundaries that are both transparent and fair. It is these boundaries that keep us sane, keep our family in our lives, and yet keep us from succumbing to the virtual exile resentment