Father Figure

My father is an interesting case study if there ever was one. He assumes that everyone else is stupid and less capable of operating cars, garage doors, and a slew of other mechanical things. If you appear to be having trouble working some certain device, he will first jump to the conclusion that it’s operator error, and that you have no idea what you are doing. Then when he tries his hand at it and realizes that he too cannot get it to work, he will devise some sort of excuse or otherwise explain away his shortcoming.

Typical dad behavior. On top of that, he loves to talk down to people. Ask him a simple question, and he answers in the most condescending tone, as if you were truly inept. If I ask you a question, father, it’s because I suspect you either A) know the answer, or B) have some additional preference or forewarning that, if I don’t heed now, will later come back to bite me in the ass in the form of you complaining and berating me to excess when you find out. Not C) because I want you to insult or speak down to me.

He had a stint in the military, where he dutifully executed orders that were barked at him by superiors. He then spent 30 years (a good half of his life, that is) in a position professionally where people had to take orders from him. He’s great at barking orders and expecting that they will be dutifully carried out by subordinates. But when it comes to his own family… he has always been met with opposition and unexpectedly defiant behavior. My mother, brother and I have never been ones to go along with his vision of the proper family order of operations without protest. Each of us in our own unique way has put up a fight. He is perpetually frustrated over the fact that we don’t behave like his subordinates used to. With us, it has never been “Yes, sir.” or “Right away, Mr. Long.” It has always been “No,” “I don’t want to,” or even just “Why?”

You cannot treat your wife and children as if they are your employees. I think this is what has driven him up a wall since he retired 11 years ago. I I think it’s tragic, but also positively hilarious. My mother and brother have both gotten to the point with him where they have stopped caring and have given up on fighting. They know that he is who he is, and is likely never to change. They can never win the battle. I however, am still young, and although I know he will never change, I have not yet given up on the thrill of sheer disobedience. I’m tired of this, but eventually I will reach my brother and mother’s level of tiredness, and I will cease asserting my independence in favor of saying “Fuck it.”

Let me explain: When I was but a wee little girl, I was apparently a daddy’s girl (*ralph*). His right-hand man. We were two peas in a pod or whatever. I sat next to him at the dinner table and tried to clean my plate just like his, and I hung all over him on the couch while he used to watch PBS. I basically functioned like his little minion, and I think that’s why he and I had such a good relationship when I was small. But then, his job was transferred to Huntsville, AL for 4 years when I was between the ages of 9 and 13. At the end of that 4-year period, he retired and returned home to St. Louis full-time. Obviously, by that point, a transformation had occurred. I was becoming my own person. (*gasp*) All of a sudden, I had developed opinions that didn’t coincide with his own, and I was intent on speaking my mind. Let’s just say that none of that sat very well with him. At all. He probably felt that my mother and brother had corrupted me in his absence.

He considers all three of us to be stubborn. However, all three of us realize that it is he who creates the pressure against which we feel the need to be stubborn in the first place. He has always been at odds with my brother, and his relationship with my mother is inexplicable at best (why didn’t they divorce the first time around??) But I think that the breakdown of his relationship with me has probably been the toughest one for him to deal with, since I used to be Little Miss Complacent. Little Miss Can-Do-No-Wrong. Little Miss Daddy Knows Best.

That being said, I have no apologies for the results of adolescence and my own personal trajectory in his opposite direction. Too much has transpired and has reshaped my point of view on life and on this family since I was 5 years old. I cannot return to that prior, ill-informed version of myself, nor do I ever intend to. There’s a lot that my dad can figure out when left to his own devices, being a smart, know-it-all kinda guy of course. But my decreasing willingness to be malleated into submission is the one thing he still hasn’t really wrapped his mind around. I understood it when I was 13. He’s 65, and seemingly still has no clue.

Go ahead, dad. Take your best shot at trying to figure that one out, and let me know what you come up with.

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