Friday, June 19, 2009

Why I Wanna Be Like my Dad

First, I have to say that I'm really lucky to have really great (albeit flawed) parents. When you enter adulthood with a solid set of life skills, a sense of confidence based on a realistic view of your strengths and weaknesses, and a fairly healthy approach to life and relationships in general, I think you can count yourself among those who were privileged with great parents. That being said, my relationship with my mom wasn't always the greatest, and is still occasionally strained. She's very religious and committed to all the conventional gender mythology to the point where my views and choices tend to leave her absolutely baffled and speechless. And occasionally (especially when I was younger) this has led to some completely unproductive arguments between us. However, living halfway across the country has largely resolved the tension between us, and having a kid has been the best diversionary tactic I ever came up with. Really, I highly recommend it.

On a more serious note, I've always been closer to my dad, and some recent events in our extended family have highlighted to me some of the reasons I respect my dad so much. So just in time for Father's Day, here are some thoughts on why I wanna by like my dad.

My dad is well-educated and thoughtful. Moreover, he has an opinion on everything, and a story to go with it. Seriously, this guy can talk. On the other hand, he also knows when to keep his mouth shut and how to be very tactful. He refuses to burn bridges with those he loves, regardless of the nature or extent of the disagreement. I often wonder if he didn't internalize the advice my great grandmother gave when asked on her 90th birthday by a reporter from the local newspaper on what her secret was to having successfully survived the Depression with 13 children and a healthy intact marriage. She said "I've always found that the most important thing in a relationship is knowing when to keep your mouth shut." I've spent a bit of my feminist life pondering that advice, and I'm sure I'll have something to say on it in a later post. But in some regards, I do think my dad internalized this advice, although maybe he absorbed it directly from her throughout his childhood.

Recently my grandmother (the oldest of the 13) had to move into an assisted living facility, which caused a great deal of scrambling and stress. My dad, who lives in a different part of the country from her, spoke with her several times regarding what she wanted and then flew back for several weeks to help her investigate the options. She was leaning toward the small assisted living home in her old home town, where she lived for most of her life and still has many friends. But just as he started to make the arrangements, my aunt and cousins, who live in a nearby city and had not been particularly helpful up to that point, jumped in and moved her to a large facility in the city closer to them, claiming that my dad was trying to take control for some selfish motives. In fact, he was trying to take control, but only because nobody else was really doing anything. This isn't terribly surprising, since this part of my family has a penchant for manufacturing drama and getting into feuds with each other that sometimes result in a mutual silent treatment that can go on for years. So I wrote it off as some manufactured drama, and my dad sort of silently let it drop, refusing to take the bait and be drawn into the drama. Meanwhile my grandma seems to have adjusted to her current living situation just fine.

But now the issue of her house is becoming a problem, as it is badly in need of repair, and continues to drain her finances each month that it sits empty. Last week my dad went back again to begin making repairs and hire some local help. The locks had been changed by my cousin, and my aunt had told another relative that she wouldn't allow my dad to sell the house, even though everyone (except my aunt) agrees that this would preserve the most money for my grandma's care and a possible inheritance. If the house is rented, Medicare gets every penny and the family still has to pay the taxes and insurance, whereas if it's sold they can invest the money. It's a no-brainer, right? At any rate, my dad is the executor of the trust (or whatever you call it for a trust), so he lawfully broke into the house and commenced repairs. On the same visit he went out to breakfast with my aunt and her family to celebrate her birthday, but said nothing about the locks being changed or the work he was doing on the house. Somehow he managed to be loving and tactful in the face of the attempts to stir up drama and the aggression toward him while still trying to accomplish the work that needs to be done. And by all accounts, everyone had a pleasant visit.

And that's what I love about my dad. He won't compromise his values or goals, but still manages to maintain good relationships with those he loves in spite of petty baiting and fairly direct insults (on the part of my aunt and two cousins), or some very fundamental differences in worldview (between him and his kids, for example). And he's absolutely resolute and imperturbable in this. He simply will not engage in any exchange that damages relationships, even as he holds fast to his own views and quietly insists on maintaining a civil and warm connection. And this doesn't preclude the possibility of thoughtful conversation and vigorous debate on issues of disagreement, which most people in my family love to engage in. But he will not allow it to become personal or nasty. I've watched as this approach enables his relationships to weather all kinds of storms through the years, and to me, this is the embodiment of character and integrity. And this is how I wanna be like my dad.


  1. Heather6/21/2009

    Those really are admirable qualities. My great-aunt, who was widely respected as a relationship expert, told me when I was young that the secret to a good relationship is to learn to fight without doing any damage to each other. These two pieces of advice are related, I think.

  2. Trixster6/22/2009

    Your dad sounds great, and you're lucky to have him. And I've never thought about having good parents as a form of privilege, but it most definitely is one.