It probably comes as no surprise that I have had difficulties with my family. My parents, while very supportive in many ways, have had areas where we did not see eye to eye, which is probably putting it mildly. When it came to teenage rebellion, I, the bookish, introverted nerd, was the rebel in the family – I had difficulties in high school and I had a goth phase (and no, you still can’t see the pictures), while my sister did well all through high school, became co-captain of her school’s cheerleaders, and even dated (and, many years later, married) her high school football team’s captain.
Primarily, my issues seem to be with my father. There are definitely reasons to why I say this, from the fact that two of my three non-psychological fears, sharks and aliens, are a result of being made to watch Jaws and Aliens when I was 9, to the fact that my father is a high-powered businessman, while I am an English student aspiring to be a teacher or writer. There are parts of our personalities that just don’t mesh very well, and it has caused a lot of friction over the years.
Some of it is just that we don’t have very similar interests. I like to read fantasy and science fiction, whereas he prefers crime and thriller novels like those by James Patterson and Vince Flynn. I like to play video games and RPGs, while my father prefers to sit on the beach, go find a good place to eat, or occasionally play Tetris or Dr. Mario. He is a little less picky about his choice in movies,and while I like the occasional good drama, he tends to avoid them. During my teen years, when I was very into being a Boy Scout, my father was one of the few fathers who had absolutely no interest in being out camping. Our chief areas of corresponding interest seem to be action movies and football – though even there can be tricky, since my father liked The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, while I thought it was a crime against film.
On a more personal level, we also don’t have a lot in common. My father works in business, primarily marketing, and has for most of my life. He is very interested in concrete details, numbers and progress he can see, and being in charge. He likes lists and charts and hard data, even if he does still write things out longhand before getting someone to type them out. I, on the other hand, am a classic liberal arts person; I like to think in abstract concepts and metaphorical terms. I read and write long papers on ideas, not facts, and opinions are the rule of the day in my field. I avoid being in charge like any such position would give me the plague, and I am OK without having all available data on a subject.
It has been pointed out to me that my aversion to positions of authority is likely rooted in a desire to not be like my father – which was a false aversion, since regardless of whether or not I held a title or official position of power, I still had power and influence over the lives of those who cared about me, especially when I do something like try to commit suicide. Even after that was pointed out to me, though, it was only with a great deal of anxiety that I took a position in patient government at Menninger. Maybe that’s a trend that will continue, though I think I am happy not always being in charge.
On an emotional level, my father and I were alike for a long time – both seeming very out of touch with an emotional side. My father has said that for him, it is because showing most kinds of emotion was regarded as weakness in business, and I can imagine that is true. But it was also a model for me, because I never saw much in the way of emotion from my father, and so I had difficulty with my own until I essentially just ignored them and pushed them aside – which, as you might guess, had unpleasant consequences for me. Now that I have been to Menninger, it has been a lot of work to realize that emotions are necessary, and they can’t just be shoved aside and forgotten. They need to be dealt with, and felt, if you want to get through them.
There were things that my father never told me that probably could have been very helpful earlier in life – the fact that he used to be shy, for instance. I’ve been painfully shy for a long time, and all my life I have thought of my father as the high-power businessman who has no problems in social situations, but after hearing this, it kind of made sense, because I rarely see my father interacting with someone he doesn’t already know. But never knowing he felt shy too made him seem like an intimidatingly social figure. Knowing that he had had problems in school as well might have also helped, because then I would have felt more comfortable talking to him about it. But those are issues that are in the past, and I can’t change the past.
On the other hand, my father has been incredibly supportive in some ways. He was willing to financially support me through the years I worked on my MA, and while I’ve worked on my PhD, even if he doesn’t always understand what I’m doing. He made a real effort – a successful one – to help me get into the PhD program when I had initially been rejected. He even supported my coming to Menninger, which, no matter how long it took, was a big step. Despite the many disappointing things that have happened in my life over the years, he has never disowned me or thrown me out, though I often feared he would.
Right now, I’m just trying to work on understanding my father, and trying to show him who I am in a more honest way so he can understand who I am. It’s not an easy process, since this is pretty far out of either of our comfort zones. We both find it tough to try to explain to each other how we feel about things, and so sometimes we rely on my mother and my sister to try and help us out. I know it is difficult for him to talk about, and read about, things like this; I can’t say that I wouldn’t feel the same if my (hypothetical) son were to start a blog along these lines. Our relationship is a work in progress, and while I’m not quite sure where it will end up, I think it will be in a better place.
If not, I can always drag him back to camp.