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My dad - this is really starting to bother me

(29 Posts)
EmilyBronte Sun 26-Jul-09 07:13:46

Forgive me if this is a bit long and disjointed but I have a one year-old with me. And, I have name-changed.

So this has bothering me for a long time now, ever since my wedding three years ago really. My dad is a good man, and I admire him in all kinds of ways. He wasn't such a good husband to my mum, but a good dad to me and my brothers. Now I am a parent, I can see all kinds of things that he gave me that I hadn't seen before, and I have some lovely memories of my childhood with him.

But, he has a tendency to put me down. He does it in a jokey sort of way, but it's relentless. I hadn't really realised it until my wedding, until his whole wedding speech made jokes at my expense - no mention of pride, or my achievements, or my abilities, but lots of comments about my age, my pregnancy, my faults... Since then I've noticed that he gets a jibe in almost every time he sees me - and he does the same with my brothers too. I am almost 40, and have two small children, and that is his latest issue - how old I am and how my children have an old parent.

As I said, he does it as a 'joke', and I know he is proud of me (he is a man who shows things through actions rather than words - he has always been crap at emotion). However, I don't have great self-esteem at the best of times, and spent a lot of my 20s almost crippled by it. I've made huge efforts (thanks largely to amazing friends) to overcome this, but now realise that a lot of it must come from the way he talks to me about me. I can brush a lot of it off, but I've been waking up in the morning feeling hurt and angry about it and wondered what to do.

Do I confront him next time he does it (I'm rubbish at that kind of thing, usually cry and there's the risk that the kids will be there so won't want to if they are), do I write him a letter telling him how much it hurts, or do I do nothing? (There's also the added element of his wife, but I won't go into that!)

piscesmoon Sun 26-Jul-09 07:25:54

I think that he has no idea what he is doing-it is a habit he has got into. I would write him a friendly letter explaining that you love him and are very grateful for many things but ................................... (detail)
ending with it is beginning to upset you more and more and could he change?

helsbels4 Sun 26-Jul-09 07:33:10

Does your dh or your brothers hear him say the little comments? If so, I wonder if they could comment after he's said them? Along the lines of......"Ah EmilyBronte, you're not an old mum, your wise and mature and educated!"

If he hears someone defending you all the time, it might make him stop and realise what he's doing. I agree, it's probably just a pattern he's fallen into but it needs pointing out to him if it's making you unhappy.

stubbyfingers Sun 26-Jul-09 07:51:47

you wouldn't need to have a big confrontation scene, at least initially any way. Could you prepare some assertive but friendly responses? It sounds like he has no idea what he is doing and maybe a kind of, "hey you! do you mind not saying that you old git?!" (or something much better to suit your dad) would be easier for you both?

I think lots of people say these kind of hurtful comments when they are just trying to be funny.

EmilyBronte Sun 26-Jul-09 07:52:50

They do hear him - he does it very publicly. People were obviously uncomfortable during his wedding speech and one friend even booed when he mentioned my age!

When he puts my brothers down I do defend them. DH isn't very good at it with me though - I think he is a bit intimidated by my dad and doesn't want to offend him. Which is strange as he is quite an outspoken person in normal circumstances! It's quite a big deal to contradict your father-in-law though isn't it.

I know he probably doesn't realise he's doing it, but I recognise that he's been doing it for my entire life, which means it's become more than a habit by now surely? Which makes me worried as I may be expressing hurt at something that he just can't see.

dollius Sun 26-Jul-09 08:20:05

My father used to do this - constant "jokey" remarks about my weight or my lack of ability in the kitchen.

When I was in my mid-20s, I finally lost it and screamed at him about it. He went really quiet, and then he stopped doing it. So that worked for me.

peggotty Sun 26-Jul-09 08:21:10

I think you have a right to ask him to not do it anymore. He probably has low self-esteem himself, which is probably why he does it. My whole family communicates with 'jokey' sarcastic put-downs and it can grind you down. When you have had it all your life you tend to internalise what is being said 'as a joke' and think that it is actually true. If he is a reasonable and intelligent man he will take on board that it is hurtful. Hopefully he's not saying things in this manner to your children?

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 26-Jul-09 08:37:44


I would actually argue that he was also a poor parent to you all when growing up as well as being a poor husband to your Mother. I was wondering whether she ever tried to intervene when he was talking to you like this; if she did not then she was a bystander.

I guess as well the woman he is now with is not your birth mother. Reading between the lines too, she sounds very difficult.

You need to talk to your Dad and say enough is enough. I would seriously consider limiting contact with him to the barest of minimums. The best revenge with people like this is to live well, stuff him and his difficult wife (who has probably done her own stirring as well). Such people can pass on all this to the next generation as well; you need to take care that he is not talking to your children in such a manner because it will affect them as well. Incessant put downs, however jokily they are put, is another form of emotional bullying.

piscesmoon Sun 26-Jul-09 11:29:13

I don't think that you need to limit contact-unless his response is poor. I think he has no idea what he is doing. Write a letter-it is much easier to convey your thoughts than speaking and getting side tracked. It is then up to him to respond and you move on from there.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 26-Jul-09 12:57:25

I would think he does know what he's doing as he is not only putting down EB here. This same poor treatment has been meted out by him to her siblings as well.

piscesmoon Sun 26-Jul-09 14:01:46

The only way to find out is ask him-I still think a letter is the easiest way to ask.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 26-Jul-09 14:11:55

Writing a letter is good in theory but tread carefully. He may not take too kindly to such a thing and a backlash could ensue as a result. Hot suggesting that you don't write it but be careful.

Have you ever talked to your Mum about your Dad's verbal putdowns?.

dittany Sun 26-Jul-09 14:19:52

Message withdrawn at poster's request.

EmilyBronte Sun 26-Jul-09 14:23:41

Sorry I disappeared for a while. Lots of food for thought here. Attila - I hear what you're saying, but for all kinds of reasons that I won't go into here I'm not prepared to have no contact with him. If nothing else, he lives close by and my kids adore him. His wife is bearable - annoying, but I've come to terms with lots of things related to her over the years.

He has occassionally said things to the kids. He calls my son a 'wimp' if he cries (but in a very jokey way, with a smile on his face so although I don't like it it's not a toughening-up type strategy. I always counteract that very quickly too). He's said to my DH that it must be tough living with two such women (meaning me and my DD who is 3), but again in a silly jokey way. But yes, as peggotty said, it does grind me down.

I love my dad, and he's not had an easy life at times, and he's atoned for a lot of the bad stuff he and mum went through. I feel sorry for him a lot of the time too - I think he's learnt to cover up his insecurities with stupid and insensitive jokes. I think a letter is the best way forward, mainly because it'll allow me to say things without crying, and I express myself better through writing.

Why is it though that men especially do this? Is it a warped way of showing their love (like the way boys at school used to tease you if they actually fancied you?)

sleeplessinstretford Sun 26-Jul-09 15:57:38

my dad's the same-but i know he loves me-and he really does-so i can overlook a hamfisted way he goes about saying things.
I wouldn't have though calling ds a wimp was that bad-it's a generational thing-they probably think boys should be boys- i think writing to him is really pass ag.
if my dad's doing my head in i just say 'DAD' sharply and he packs it in.
Your friends were rude for booing his wedding speech-40 is not old,you are being silly and oversensitive imho.

roundwindow Sun 26-Jul-09 16:11:51

EB -- my Dad was mean about me in his wedding speech too sad my friends couldn't believe it. I almost didn't register though as it's very much my family culture... snidey put-downs delivered as 'jokes'. I too suffer from terribly low self-esteem but I'm doing what I can to sort it out.

Mine is also a rather 'stiff upper lip' kind of family, terribly lacking in any ability to express emotion openly, not very mature or healthy imo. I just don't think anyone's ever been shown much kindness so haven't really learnt how to be kind themselves. Can't really offer much advice, just wanted to say how much I empathise. We'll be doing things very differently with our DCs, eh smile

IneedacleanerIamalazyslattern Sun 26-Jul-09 16:16:04

I'm not sure the friends were rude atbooing the wedding speech TBH. I think it showas the EB was not being over sensitive about what her father was saying but that other people had noticed felt uncomfortable and possibly tried to break the tension. As for generational thing there are many many things that our parents generation did but it doean't automatically make them right or acceptable.

It is not always easy to talk to a parent especially that says things like this my mother does it. I know my mum loves me I love her but I often don't like her much and avoid prolonged time in her company because of this. SHe puts down little things all the time makes little jokey comments and it is hurtful and I have tried to approach her face to face but she doesn't take it in, doesn't listen and will not admit there is anything wrong in what she is sayingwhich in itself is hurtful because whether her intent was bad it still hurts and didmissing the fact that it hurt I feel isn't nice.

I could never ever say my mum was a bad parent and I am certain I know some of the reasons behind why she does and says these things but it doesn't make it any less frustrating in the long term.

Ealingkate Sun 26-Jul-09 16:34:30

I haven't read all of the thread, but just wanted to say on the subject of letter writing, I think it is a great idea, but it is so important to think about every single word carefully, just because the things you write will be 'in' your relationship with your father for good, you can't take them back. Not that I mean that you were just going to write something in 5 mins on the back of a shopping list, but think about how it sounds as it is written, without your intonation. You should run it by a friend.
Just had a similar type of thing with my mum and brother, (she wrote to him), I don't think she thought about the letter enough and now relations have become a little frosty.

edam Sun 26-Jul-09 16:59:44

You don't have to send the letter if you don't want to. Simply writing it down might be enough - you can always set fire to it ceremonially. (Someone very wise on here once suggested that. Oddly enough it really helps.)

Agree with Dittany that you should decide on a set phrase that is firm but polite, such as her suggestion or whatever works with you, and just trot it out every time he insults you. Practise in front of a mirror if you have to so you have it ready and waiting and don't have to work yourself up to challenge him. And don't feel obliged to get drawn into long explanations. Just say whatever it is and then stop. This can be surprisingly powerful.

He may well not realise just how often he says hurtful things - or that they are hurtful, as he's fallen into a pattern of doing this that has lasted for decades, he probably doesn't stop and think.

AttilaTheMeerkat Sun 26-Jul-09 17:34:30


Perhaps his own parents treated him like this with constant putdowns of their own, his parents behaviours are likely where this has come from. So it is deeply rooted in his past. His low self esteem (likely also as a result of being on the receiving end of verbal put downs himself) also has a lot to do with it as well but that is his issue and not yours to own or try and fix. You are not responsible for him ultimately and you certainly don't have to feel sorry for this man. He is clearly not giving you (or your siblings) the same consideration is he?. He has not wanted to change his ways nor likely will.

Your Dad may not have had an easy life - but nor have many others frankly and they still don't act in such an awful manner towards their now adult children. Its a poor excuse frankly, I would not let him off so lightly. To my mind such putdowns are said deliberately; he knows what he is doing to my mind. Such putdowns have an extremely deleterious effect on your self esteem as you have yourself discovered. It still affects you even now and perhaps since you've had children yourself all this has been brought to the forefront again. And now he has said things to your children which can also be emotionally harmful to them over time. Your kids may "adore" him now (my guess is they do because they see you put up with him) but what about later on when they are teens?. They will answer him back or not want to visit him at all. This is why it needs addressing by you now, not just to say your siblings.

If you want to stay in contact with your Dad that is entirely your perogative. All I suggested was that you limit it to the absolute minimum. What he has learnt is that there are no consequences for his actions; no one person has seemingly tried to stand up to him here re these putdowns. Someone needs to take a stand here and show him that there are indeed consequences for these actions. Like walking out when he starts the verbal rubbish.

These people never stop and think, do not play by the "normal" rules of family behaviour nor take any responsibility for their actions. Dittany's suggestion of the book "Toxic Parents" may indeed be helpful to you as a starting point.

Be careful with a letter - it could be used to bite you back, at the very least be prepared for a frosty response.

pagwatch Sun 26-Jul-09 17:56:04

My brothers used to do it to me all the time. One day when we were together my youngest brother did it to my son. Fortunately DS1 has never had any one mock him like that before and seeing his uncomprehending face made me realise that whilst it had been the norm in my house, it was very odd when you think about it.
So I asked him my brother
"why do you do that? Do you even know that you do - because it is quite strange really. My DS1 is looking at you oddly now because we never taunt him like that"
He looked really taken aback and said he was just joking and that "everyone" knew it was just joking.
" But" I said ( now feeling clear on the subject grin) "think about it. Why would you think it is OK to be endlessly making jokes at somone elses expense when you are supposed to love them? It is actually harder to hear someone you care about say hurtful things so why do you do it - what do you get out of it? Have you ever thought about it?"

"Er. No I haven't really. I was just joking "
- he said

"OK" I said " So now I have told you that I find it really hurtful and unpleasant, the next time you do it you will know EXACTLY how you are making me feel. We will both know that you are choosing to say things that hurt me. OK?"

"OK" he said

Never made a joke about me or my family since

Miggsie Sun 26-Jul-09 18:13:42

I know someone where the family norm appears to be the dad putting everyone down.
My friend's a very pretty girl but not much self confidence...then I met her dad.
It was her birthday party, she was 20-something.
We cut the cake and there was applause and then her dad says "well, your looks will be going soon so don't be surprised when your husband gets another woman".

The friends were just gobsmacked. There were other comments in this vein. I recall one about how her sister had got kids because at least "the man" (her husband, in the room at the time) would be duty bound to give her some money as she'd had his kids.

But she and her family said "oh, don't worry, that's how dad is."

Yes, rude, insulting, undermining and not nice at all.
They thought it was normal.
Suddenly we all realised why she was so insecure and not very happy, and why her sister got married at 18 and moved out.

You are only begininng to realise his comments are awful because your protective mother instincts are aroused when he criticises your son. Your instincts are right.
The fact your normally confident husband appears nervous of your dad...does this not make you wonder? Why is he afraid of your dad? Have you asked him?

The family dynamic is definitely not right.

blinks Sun 26-Jul-09 18:16:41

he sounds like the kind of person that os uncomfortable with showing affection or being truly intimate- maybe he's afraid to be vulnerable?

anyway, upshot is it's effing annoying and wearing. you either have to accept that's the way he is and let it wash over you or tackle it directly.

a good way to deal with people like that is to give them a genuine compliment after one of their snidey/jokey remarks.

'well i wouldn't say that about you- i'd say you're very handsome/funny/young looking'.

he'll feel pretty small after that response and it might be enough to make him rethink how his comments might be received.

EmilyBronte Mon 27-Jul-09 04:18:31

Blinks you have hit the nail on the head. I like your suggestions. Edam - I've been thinking that too - write the letter but not post it. That way I can get the feelings down but not do anything with them if I don't want to. Lots of good advice from others too, thank you.

Just a note on the booing - it was one, quiet boo after he made yet another crack about me being an old mother. It wasn't a mass 'get off the stage'-type boo! And I don't think I'm being over-sensitive - no, 40 isn't old, but the way dad goes on about my age you'd think I'd given birth at 70, not 35. He makes me feel past it basically. shock at Miggsie's experience though.

piscesmoon Mon 27-Jul-09 07:47:16

I would say that binks is right, which is why a think the advice to sever contact is much too harsh-I expect he is really proud of you underneath but can't express it.
I have often written things down and then torn them up-it is very therapeutic.
I think the genuine compliment idea is great and it avoids either putting up with it or tackling it head on.

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