Monday, July 14, 2014

Daddy Issues

Tonight's cocktail is glass of rosé, with an afternoon thunderstorm raging outside. It's summer, it's hot, and it's time to drink cold rosé.

My parents came to visit over the July 4th weekend, and behold, the crazy ensued. Spacious skies of crazy. Amber waves of crazy. Purple mountains majesty of crazy above the fruited plains of crazy. Recently, I've seen a lot of people posting cute little pieces about how grandparents can be frustrating, like this. But this is not about overindulgence, nor is it about how my parents don't understand things like recycling and nut-free camps and the internet (which they don't). We are talking about crazy. DSM-V crazy. DEFCON level crazy. Hide your kids, hide your wives crazy.

"Crazy? Nah, that's just 'Murrica!"
When I learned I was pregnant, my parents were very excited about the idea of becoming grandparents. Over the years, my mom has always tried to be helpful and positive, and she is very loving with Tink and Tweak. My father, on the other hand, has never been able to reconcile grandchildren in the abstract with grandchildren in the concrete, especially when one of those grandchildren is on the spectrum. It really sucks.

When Tweak was 18 months old and I was very pregnant with Tink, I took him to a restaurant with my parents and a bunch of extended family who, of course, he didn't remember. Because he had just woken from a nap, it was a loud unfamiliar place with food and people he wasn't used to, and he was, you know, a BABY, Tweak whined. My dad, instead of doing something useful like offering to take him outside to run around while I finished my food, got up in Tweak's face and yelled at him. Poor Tweak burst into tears and wailed so loud his prior whining seemed like light chamber music. About a year later, my dad wrote me a letter stating that Tweak was going to end up in prison because he was a sociopath, and I needed to beat him so he would learn how to behave. I'll pass.

Many visits from my dad have ended with him at the end of the driveway before sunrise, waiting for a cab, trying to escape before anyone woke up, with my mother wringing her hands in the kitchen and crying because my dad had blown up the night before. Or if we were at my parents' house, my dad would take issue with something I or the kids did or said (usually I had no idea what), and he would give us the silent treatment, refusing to speak to us and avoiding the house during waking hours so he wouldn't have to see us. After one of those visits, I went home and had a full blown panic attack in the shower. Good times.

During the recent visit, my parents didn't want to go anywhere or do anything, and they seemed surprised that the kids opted to read and play Minecraft instead of sitting out on the porch with them while my dad told the unabridged history of his recent prostate surgery. But at least everyone was chill. That is, until the last night. Tweak was ingesting his dinner one molecule at a time, as he does, but he wasn't bothering anyone. My father asked if he should take Tweak's plate. I said no. After a while longer, my dad took the plate anyway. Tweak screamed, "NO!" Which he should not have done. He knows better. I told him that he had used an inappropriate tone, and he needed to apologize. At first, he tried to argue because he was embarrassed. My father started berating Tweak in a cold voice. I interrupted and told Tweak, "It's OK to ask someone not to take your plate away, but it's not OK to use that tone of voice. You need to apologize." Tweak took a deep breath, said he was sorry, and asked if my dad could please not take his plate. This, to me, was a win. He screwed up, but he recovered.

My father? He said, "Tweak, I've just had a dose of reality about you. You're never going to change. But don't worry, I'll be out of here tomorrow, and you never have to see me again." Tweak started crying. I turned to my dad and said, "It's pretty clear you'll never change, either. He said he was sorry. Leave him alone." About 30 minutes later, Tweak went up to my father and apologized again. My father wouldn't respond, and he stayed in his room the rest of the evening. My parents left the next morning before anyone was awake. I haven't heard from them since.

That afternoon, I sat the kids down separately and asked if they wanted to talk about what had happened. Tweak said not really. I told him that he's a great kid and I love him exactly the way he is. I said that his grandfather is a difficult person, that he had treated me the same way as a child, that it wasn't OK then, and it's not OK now. Tweak nodded, said, "I know," and let me pull him in for a hug. Tink said that she thought Grandpa was mean, and that when he was here, she was always worried he was going to start yelling at someone. She also said he was mean to the cat (he is always a dick to the cat), and she didn't like it.

The cat, by contrast, doesn't give a shit.
I'm an only child, and I've struggled to figure out whether or how I can have Tink and Tweak around my father. My father constantly looks for opportunities to take offense. When I was Tweak's age (10), and I would piss him off, he would refuse to speak to me for days. That was almost worse than the times he would blow up and start screaming at me for being just like the liberal socialists who protested the Vietnam War because they thought they were too good to fight in it, and why didn't I just round up everyone like him and put him in a gulag or, better yet, take them out and shoot them? Given that I was three years old when the U.S. pulled out of Vietnam, I had no idea what he was talking about, but it sure seemed crazy to me. All I knew was that my father sometimes hated me for reasons I did not understand. Sometimes, he did act like he loved me and say he was proud of me, but I never knew which it was going to be, so it's probably no wonder I have an anxiety disorder.

I totally get how Tweak can be stressful to be around sometimes. In the early days, I was at my wit's end. Tweak could be very sweet, but he would melt down so easily, and I didn't know why. Sometimes I wished I could be anywhere else, but I did not have that option. That's autism. He is doing so much better, he tries so hard and wants so badly to please, and we are working to help him learn better coping skills. Of course, sometimes he is going to mess up, because everyone does. He's not obligated to be perfect, and he is sure as hell not obligated to walk on eggshells so as not to upset his grandfather.

It's not like my father is without redeeming qualities, and I work very hard to see them, but at this point my first responsibility is to my children. They deserve to feel safe. It's sad that their grandfather can't give them that. Some folks reading this might say that I should just write my father off entirely. I can't. It's fucked up, because it's not like I don't know what he is, but I still love him. That doesn't mean I can let him hurt my children. It breaks my heart that I have to think this way.

For everyone out there who understands why families throw chairs at each other on Jerry Springer, (1) continue NOT throwing chairs, but it's OK to think about it, and (2) you're not alone. If you need me, I'll be checking out The Dysfunctional Family Drink Book. I could use some of the recipes.


  1. Please protect your children. If your father cannot behave, then he has to leave or he is not welcome to anything other than the briefest of visits. I am sorry you were subjected to his emotional/mental abuse as a child, but you are under no obligation to inflict him upon your children.

  2. Mike Cruse from PapaDoesPreach.comJuly 15, 2014 at 7:05 AM

    I applaud you for so many reasons.

  3. Sigh. I'm crushed that this happened, and I am really sad for the little girl that was you. How that must have affected your relationship with men! (I have my therapist hat on, but seriously, a daughter's relationship with her father can make or break your interactions with men. Mine wasn't angry; he was detached. But I can't help but feel that angry must've been so much worse). You can still have a relationship with your dad because you're a stable and healthy adult, and you can handle his power plays and his tantrums (I'm assuming) but there's no way I'd let him around the kids again. What kind of adult acts like that? Says that to a child? That really burns me up! I'm just glad they have such a kick-ass mother. Love to you!

  4. Thank you for this. It home on a number of levels. I actually had to sit down with my father and tell him that if he continues to behave in that manner then he can no longer spend time with my son. It was frustrating and hard. He no longer, behaves that way to my son, now I get to have the brunt of the parenting advice, but that's ok I am an adult and can handle it.

  5. I think we may be related. I ever grew up with a father, but my family is just as cray cray, which is why we never see each other. I'm good with that.

  6. Ugh. How horrible. And what a really awful, difficult situation for you. All four of my kids' grandparents are dead, and the one who lived the longest was mostly fine with the kids. You have my sympathies--I have no idea what I'd do in these circumstances, but I feel for you.

  7. It breaks my heart for you and your babies. I knew, even as a young child, that I had the best parents ever and wished then that everyone could have parents like mine. Isn't it funny the courage we gain when we have our own children? I wish I had the solution for your very difficult situation, I really, really do. Just make sure your babies know you love them, you are there for them, and in his own very weird way, their grandpa loves them. Deep down he does, and he loves you too. You are worth it and so are your beautiful babies!

    On a side note, I didn't get my kittens till Mr. Wonderful left us. He didn't like cats, and I didn't want to bring a kitten into the home with the chance he would be mean to it at every opportunity.

  8. sorry, I forgot to extend my thoughts to your mom as well, I am certain this is also difficult and unpleasant for her. Poor woman is as "stuck" as you, if not more so.

  9. I am so sorry--this is just awful. You're a great mom with great kids. I wish you peace and love as you navigate this situation. But I know you'll do what's right for you and the kids. xoxo

  10. Sounds like you are doing a great job of teaching your children how to deal with the spectrum of lousy behavior out there in the "real" world. Hang in there. For years I cried after/during every visit with Dad. Things got better. Then things got good.

  11. Appreciate the honest share. I have come to realize that even family sometimes needs to be kept at a distance, that it's ok not to share your space or your child's with anyone that my bring negative energy.
    Great lessons your teaching:)

  12. Oh boy. It's hard to take a deep breath and accept their limitations and abusive behavior isn't it? It's hard to be WAY more modern and way smarter and more sensitive about human behavior than your parents. Give yourself HUGE credit for writing such a thoughtful and lovely essay in response to events that would have most people running for a bottle of Valium. Seriously. That's a huge accomplishment. I have written a bit about my dad and the complications of my youth and I get why you cannot write him off totally. I SO get it. I also get protecting your children from the nonsense and cruelty. Maybe when they are older it will be safer. Also, your dad will be older and less talkative, let's hope. Sending hugs!


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