communicating with my dad — criticisms of others

Previouscommunicating with my dad — waiting for the phone to ring

The current low-key weirdness with my dad has got me thinking. I’d never really given his complaints about other people a great deal of thought — I find them unpleasant, so I mostly try to tune them out so they don’t affect me too much — but it’s now taken on more significance, so perhaps it would be worthwhile to explore the issue and see what I could figure out.

The complaint I interrupted on Christmas Day was about his neighbours; there’s apparently a light mounted on the outside of their house that they have aimed into one of dad’s windows. It’s a weird thing to fabricate and I think it must be true but it’s also a weird thing to do in the first place. Given the fact that this is far from my dad’s only complaint about them, I’m left wondering whether they don’t understand what the problem is with the light, or whether it’s a deliberate retaliation for something dad had done previously. Either way I suspect dad has handled it poorly, since he’s prone to biting his tongue until he explodes.

I don’t recall what prompted this particular odd diatribe, but during one of our recent calls prior to Christmas he started bitching about naming practices among Black people. The names were made up and sounded silly, he fumed. This seems like a same-sex-marriage sort of situation to me: if you don’t like it, don’t do it. Problem solved. I don’t see how the names of Black kids affect his life in any way, and the complaint strikes me as petty, not to mention racist.

He has also complained about his friends not returning his calls, though I’m sure I don’t have all the facts. Are they not returning his calls at all, or are they not returning calls as promptly as he wants? Maybe they’re legitimately busy; maybe they’re returning the calls in a reasonable time but he’s impatient. Perhaps there actually is a pattern of people not returning calls, and that raises some questions in my mind; I can see it happening with one person who may be being kind of a jerk, but if this is a trend among his friends, then it’s dad who is the common factor.

He often calls me, not to talk to me, but because he was trying to reach my mom and she wasn’t there and he wants to know if she’s around or not. She’s super busy all the time, so I’ll ask him if he left a message. But he doesn’t like to leave messages, so she probably doesn’t know that he even called. When he does leave a message, she has explained to me that she doesn’t return the call right away because she needs to be in the right mood to talk to him. I wonder if others do something similar.

He has friends who he used to stay with when he came to town, but that stopped after they had some kind of confrontation, which he complained to me about repeatedly. The way he told the story it certainly sounded like it was all their fault, but now I’m not so sure. He didn’t speak to them for months, maybe a year. And then somehow they started talking again and I’m not sure how.

By a wide margin, the number-one subject of my dad’s complaints is his wife’s son, complaints about whom I’d estimate have featured in about half of our conversations over the last 15-plus years. (The son is, I admit, very difficult — manipulative, entitled and dependent.) Complaints about her daughter are not infrequent. He complains about his wife’s anxiety and how she doesn’t like to be left at home alone so she comes with him everywhere and he never gets a break.

He scorns the uncle whose thinking is wrong despite his extensive education. He resents the aunt who is self-centred and makes every conversation about herself.

What I think these complaints reveal is that he has specific expectations of people and when they don’t meet those expectations, instead of adjusting the expectations (or discussing the issue with them calmly with a view toward mutually satisfactory problem-solving), he gets angry. But expectation causes disappointment. Or to put it another way, I think he’s making himself miserable.

My dad isn’t stupid. He’s very clever when it comes to figuring out mechanical things and building things, and at the same time he can be very sociable. I think he could figure out people if he chose to, but he seems to get more pleasure and/or satisfaction (if you can call it that) from judging them.

Next: communicating with my dad — criticisms of me

5 thoughts on “communicating with my dad — criticisms of others

  1. It does seem to me that he is the common factor in those incidents.

    I know the things he needs to learn. Which is, essentially, that if you’re not good at picking up social and inter-personal signals by empathy, then you have to do it by intellectual processes. Like reading a book on manners and applying it.

    You find parts of his behaviour toxic, and you’re absolutely right to say you won’t have that.

    The things he needs to learn and apply, he probably can’t learn from you. For various reasons.

    So, I don’t know, but you can only wait for him to contact you, and remember that his behaviour, that seems to be putting off a lot of people, is not your responsibility.

    It’s a hard situation to be in, and you have all my sympathy.

    A great post, by the way. Insightful, thoughtful and well written.

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    1. I don’t think he’s a full-on narcissist, but I suspect he has narcissistic tendencies and I do think he lacks a certain amount of empathy. I don’t think he misses the cues because he’s bad at picking up on them but because he just doesn’t really care that much about other people. So learning it intentionally by study is also not going to happen because he’d need to care enough to try.

      I know his behaviour is not my responsibility but there are still consequences for me. Right now the consequence is that I’m not having phone calls where all I do is be an audience for his complaints and judgment. It’s not ideal because I’d rather have some kind of relationship with him, but it’s OK for now.

      Thank you for the sympathy, the vote of confidence, and the compliments. It’s nice to know you have my back.

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  2. You’ve done a good job if thinking through what could be his issues. I haven’t managed to really think through my mother’s issues, but I’ve done better at setting boundaries (she calls too often and can’t manipulate and guilt in certain situation). I think of you often in relation to your father.

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    1. Thank you. I think of you and your mom too. Glad to hear you’re setting boundaries – sometimes it’s the best and only thing you can do. Ultimately, I don’t think it’s necessary to figure out their issues – it enough to know that they’re coming from a place where their behaviour probably makes sense to them. But I’m also very analytical and I like to know where things come from so this process helps me a lot. Everything I figure out about my parents is something I figure out about myself too, either directly or to understand how to better interact with them. I’m practicing forgiving their foibles and trying not to judge while still taking care of my own needs – it’s not easy.

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