My dad - I know he'll never change but he brings me down

mommabirdJanuary 22, 2009

I'm 45 yrs old, married with 3 sons age 8-12-14. My dad has never liked my husband - we've been married 21 years. DH and I own a house built in the 1950's that needs a lot of work. DH has many wonderful talents - but anything handy or tool-related is NOT one of them.

My dad owns a custom home building company. He has been building houses for over 30 years. He can build or fix anything. He retired 2 months ago and talks about all the time he has on his hands. When he brought that up today, I said he can come up and fix all the little things wrong at my house. He said, "You have a husband to do that." He knows DH does not know a screw driver from a hammer, and that I do all the repairs within my range or hire someone to do the ones I can't do.

My dad is 75 yrs old and is getting more and more intollant and narrow minded as the years go on. Anyone who does not fit his definition of what a Man or Woman should be is worthless in his view. Me included - I don't fit his definition of what a Woman should be, so I'm the big screw-up of the family. He's also getting more and more negative by the day. All he wants to talk about is how the world is going down the tubes, there is no future for my kids, etc. He's also a fundamentalist Christian so we don't even talk about religion!

Anyway, what I can't get him to see is that he's only hurting ME by refusing to help DH with minor home repairs. DH and I don't have extra cash to call repair men except for CRUICAL things. I lived without a clothes dryer for a year until we could afford a service call beacuse I can hang clothes. My dishwasher has been broken 8 months but I can wash by hand, so it's not a necessity. The light switch in our bathroom has been broken a year, but we put a lamp in there instead. Little things like this would take my dad a few hours to fix or help DH fix, but he refused to do it because he doesn't like DH's career choice or his interests. Meanwhile, it's me who is hanging out clothes to dry, washing dishes by hand, etc.

I just wish I could get him to see that he is making me suffer, not DH. And how can DH ever learn to do anything handy if no one will TEACH him? My dad learned from his dad and older brothers. DH's dad called a repairman if something broke - DH never had the opportunity to learn.

Sorry this is so long - I'm just so tired of my dad being so unbending. DH works in theater production and his hobbies are singing and playing music with several groups. My dad doesn't consider those a real Man's career or hobbies. He asks all the time if DH is still wasting his time running around playing music. Dad doesn't value the arts at all. And for someone who is supposed to be such a Christian, my Dad is sure unaccepting of people who are different from him!

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Well, you've really defined 2 problems in your post. One--your relationship with your father. And two--your need for home repairs.

I imagine this probably isn't going to give you much comfort, but from what you've described, your dad has been like this for a long time. It's really unlikely that he's going to make a turn around at his age. I honestly think that the best thing to do at this point, is just accept him for what he is, know that you aren't the screw-up he thinks you are, and go happily on with your life without worrying about your dad's opinion. It's not worth getting yourself upset over. Truly,. And you really cannot force someone else to change. Just an excercise of batting your head against the wall to even try.

Now, about your need for repairs. Seems to me, you're limiting your options. There are other solutions. If you can't handle everything, if your father won't help, if you cannot afford repairmen, if your husband doesn't have the skill--there are still other ways to get that work done. And done reasonably. What about your husband making the effort to learn? There are really good repair books out there, that can help anyone who wants to, learn to do at least some of the work around the house. You say he's involved in theater production--that means he must know some folks who know something about electric, construction, etc. Why not suggest that he ask some of THEM over for dinner and to show him how to do some of the simple things. And please, do it soon--I really can't even imagine doing something so incredibly dangerous as putting a free-standing lamp in a bathroom, rather than doing a simple repair that could be completed in 10-15 minutes tops, by anyone with the most elementary knowledge of wiring. And if you cannot find a friend to help with that, you NEED to find a few $$$ to have an electrician in before someone gets electricuted.

And there's another option--you were raised by your father. Surely you have some rudimentary knowlege of home repair. Why can't you expand on your knowlege? see if your father will teach YOU (instead of your husband), and if he won't? Why not take a course or two at the community college or local night school on basic home repair. Would be well worth it, what you'd save on one repair would probably pay for the course.

About that dishwasher--are you aware that these days, the guts in them is pretty much all modular? All you have to do is unplug the broken bit and plug in a new one. No real skill required there. My husband fixed ours easily a few months back--took him about a half hour to take the panel off, take out the bad piece, plug in the new one and put everything back together. Mind you--he's not an appliance repairman, not really an electrical appliance whiz at all. And if I'm being totally honest here--I don't think he's ever even RUN the dishwasher. But he fixed it easily. For which I was extremely grateful!

good luck.

    Bookmark   January 22, 2009 at 11:03PM
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You are obviously disappointed with your father and how he treats you. Do you think he will change his attitude ? Perhaps you could talk to your Mother.

Maybe its time to just accept the way he is and put it behind you. Think of ways to solve the problems without bringing him into it. As the previous poster has brilliantly suggested.

I know it is unfair that your father is not the man he should be.

Have you told him that he is hurting you with his attitude ?

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 1:50AM
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Azzalea hit it on the head. You're linking two problems that really ought to be separate.

I do have a couple of other thoughts that might help you regard your father a little more charitably. Is it possible that some of his increasingly bad attitude might be depression? I have a friend whose husband was irritable had an increasingly gloomy view of the universe. As far as he was concerned, the glass wasn't just half-empty. It was also a chipped glass, certain to break, and the drink didn't even taste good. It took her several years to finally get him to recognize that it wasn't the world that was a grim and annoying place: it was depression making it look that way. My friend was finally able to get her husband to seek treatment a few months ago, and he's starting to do better. It doesn't sound as if your father would be open to getting help, but seeing him as a depressed individual may change how he makes you feel. Your father's attitude may upset you less if you can have sympathy for the unhappiness that may be driving it.

My other suggestion is to let go of the expectation that your father could and ought to help out at your house. He may say that the reason he's not helping is because your husband ought to do it, that may not be the case. Are you sure that you know the real reason he retired? I'm just thinking that if he worked for so much longer than many retirees do, it may be that the only reason he left is because he couldn't physically keep up with it any longer. At 75, he may have physical things going on that he doesn't want to discuss. He may have arthritis or other problems that make using his hands or knees painful. He may be losing some of his finer motor control or having a hard time seeing as well as he once did. Instead of feeling hurt that he's not helping, it might be better get rid of the expectation that he ought to do so. Tell yourself that at 75, he deserves to rest and take care of himself.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 12:29PM
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I know its unfair that your father is not the man he should be........What the?????? Surely you are joking..What should he be? IMO at 75, you should be taking care of HIM...Cant believe you think he s making you suffer..Did dad sign up to take care of you from cradle to grave? I feel badly for you thinking you re a screw up in his book, but that is squarely on your shoulders, you allow him to make you feel that way...A whole lot more independence needed on your part, and less resentment of what dad doesnt want to do...A gift is offered(a gift of time or skill in this case) not demanded, or resented if not received...Just seems like a lot of wrong thinking to me...

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 6:10PM
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Thank you all for your suggestions. azzalea, I do many of the repairs. I am more handy then most men and can do a lot of things except electical and appliance work. In the past month I've hung a new door on our coat closet then painted it and put in a new knob, which meant moving the striker and redrilling the striker hole in the jamb. I've also removed our handrail on the stairs going to 2nd floor because the original builder didnt' sink the screws into studs, just the lath and plaster, and after 50+ years the handrail was hanging by a thread. I patched the holes, sanded them down and painted, found the studs, moved the brackets & re-hung the handrail. I also patched the plaster in the downstairs bathroom ceiling when the upstair toilet overflowed & leaked through, then sealed and painted it. So construction type work doesn't scare me. I grew up in the 60's and 70's who while Dad was taking my brother to job sites with him, it would never have occurred to him to take me or teach me anything. What I know I've learned through "osmosis." I did replace the light switch in the bathroom but the problem isn't in the switch - and I am not qualifed to tear into the walls for the wiring or the service box. And the lamp is far, far away from any water. We have a 6' counter, with sink at one end, and the lamp is on the other end.

And at 75, my dad can run rings around most 50 year olds. Through exercise, eating right & right living, he's never taken and Rx, never had a major illness, and is more physically fit than I am. He retired because he and his partner just finished a 15 acre development, and his partner ran for a state-level polical office and won. Dad decided rather than do it all himself on the next develoment since his partner would be tied up most of the time, he'd just end the partnership. I give it 6 months - he'll be buying more land and doing another development on his own. My dad can't sit still for 5 mintues.

You are all right - my dad is who he is and I will never change that. He is not the way I want him to be and that will not change. I need to let it go - and let go of letting what he thinks of me bother me. What is hard is that I call every Thursday night and have for the past 25 years. My dad answers EVERY TIME (in his world, women don't answer the phone). Before I can talk to my mom, I have to hear him groan and moan about how awful the world is for about 15 minutes. He grew up dirt poor and has become wildly successful by any measure - wealth, status, friends, etc. Yet he still complains to me every week about how the world isn't a fit place for my sons to grow up in. I bite my tounge every week and every time they visit or I visit them (2x a month). I tell myself, it's only 24 visits a year and 52 phone calls a year.

What bothers me the most is that if my brother, who also lives in my town, calls and wants Dad to do something on his house, my Dad drops everything to do it. He has helped my brother finish his basement, install sheetrock in his garage, build an arbor and porch swing, and finish the "bonus room" over hisgarage. He says it's because my brother's house is new (new build develoment house - about 10 years old) and it's easier to work on a newer house. My brother fits my dad's expectation of what a Man should be - he works in a factory, rides a motorcycle, is the "ruler of his household," etc and his wife is the traditional wife. They don't have kids.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2009 at 9:47PM
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You're father may be who he is and he probably will not change, however that doesn't mean that you cannot stand up for yourself. It's not okay for him to run you down. It's okay for you to let him know how you feel. He may not change but you will and maybe you will start to feel empowered and much better about your life. Your father's negativity is all about him--it's about his deficiencies, not yours. He sounds unhappy and he is taking it out on you. As is typical of selfish people--they tend to focus only on their needs, ignoring other people and how their behaviors impact them. It isn't nice and you don't deserve it. Let him know you don't like his constant criticisms. Turn the tables around and ask him how he thinks it makes you feel. It sounds to me like you don't feel close to him, and his behavior is alienating. When he starts whining about his life, tell him he's repeated this to you for 25 years. Suggest that he volunteer his time to a worthy cause and maybe it will improve his outlook and disposition. Cut him short and ask to speak to your mother, or tell him you will call back at a later time. Stand up for yourself--why expose yourself to his tiresome negative caterwauling--if he can't be bothered with your feelings, why cater to his. He sounds very selfish, and very uncaring towards your feelings. Relationships are a two-way street. Stand up for yourself and you'll feel better about you. The old dog may get resentful at this new approach, but then again, you may be able to teach him a few new tricks and your relationship may improve.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2009 at 11:55AM
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mommabird - Perhaps you could vary the time that you phone your parents, then your father may not ALWAYS answer the phone.

Don't listen to him, he is bringing you down, how does he get on with your mother ?

Live in the moment - a good mantra to get you through the tough times. Try not to dwell on the injustices in your life.

Sorry to sound so preachy !

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 12:40AM
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I think I would be more disappointed with my husband than my dad. Your husband needs to learn home repair and there are a lot of good books on the subject with simple step by step instructions. When my husband died I started learning to fix things. My sister hangs her own ceiling fans, she even replaced her dishwasher. Your husband can save you thousands of dollars over his life time by repairing things and he will feel good about himself..

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 4:14PM
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Why don't you ask your Dad to show your sons how to do the home repairs? They all might enjoy it.

As for his negativity, well, let him vent provided he doesn't insult you or anyone you know. You are allowed to set the boundary that he can't insult the people you love; you don't have to listen and you can respectfully stop him. If he ignores your request, you can interrupt him, remind him, and end the call, or say you want to talk to your mother now, maybe you can continue the conversation when he isn't insulting your loved ones. One technique is for every criticism he makes about your husband or you, you get to make one of him. Insulting people can be a hard habit to break, but age does not give anyone a right to be nasty to others.

As for the his world view and dire predictions, you can quote some Socrates to him, Socrates deplored the frivolity of 'the young people of today' and the lack of ambition, and ending of the old noble order to be replaced by that which was only shallow, immoral, and cheap.

One of the tasks of the elderly, which cannot be avoided, is to come to peace with the reality of their own death, and the reality that the world will continue without them and that all men will eventually become irrelevant and forgotten. It's easy to confuse the fact that they have no future with the fact that their is no future for anyone.

Antother developmental task is to come to gripes with life's regrets and all the has been left undone and how short life is. Going through this stage in life often produces intense anxiety, depression, pessimism. It's the psyche's way of forcing the issue on a person. People who successfully pass through this stage and resolve these unpleasant issues, often have a blossoming. Those who don't can become increasingly unpleasant. Busyness can be a way to avoid thought, but it doesn't work. Rigidity and dogma is another way to block introspection.

There are excellent books on geriatric psychology and how to help aging parents; reading them might reassure you and give you an idea on how to handle some of these issues. Sometimes gentle probing questions about their youth and asking them about their life lessons is very helpful.

But in any case you are not obligated ever to listen to anyone disparage your family members; but it's easier to say, "Dad, if you don't stop talking about DH that way, I'm going to hang up", if you also say, "But Dad it seems to me it was harder for a young man in the 30's (or whenver your dad hit 21) than now, in the 30's there was a depression...".

Good luck. Draw firm boundaries, but try some patience. And see if he doesn't like the idea of showing his grandsons how to wire and hammer and use a circular saw.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2009 at 9:01PM
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