It’s baffling to hear about a father that was never involved with his daughter. Never picked her up or gave her affection. Joy says, “As a kid you were waiting for it to blow up. Indifference and anger. I don’t even think of my life with my dad. He’s always been this fringe character. Present, not absent.” What a shame.
What’s your age?
Are both of your parents living?
What’s their marital status?
Married, living separately for the last six or seven years. They moved apart at 80 and 78. They were selling the home I grew up in. They were alone for a decade. Dynamics happened from the past–Dad trying to purchase that house for them without her input. And he did some squirrelly stuff in order to finance it. After years, it finally blew up, and he decided to do his own thing. They found that living apart worked. I never saw a lot of love. They are entwined in a way that’s dysfunctional. There is mental illness there.
How many siblings do you have?
How often do you see your parents?
Not often. Once every five years.
What are some of the ways you spend time together?
My mom and I have had a complete relationship on the phone. We are in touch a lot. I lived up there for 7 months last year while she was hospitalized, and then I helped her move and get settled.
On a scale of one to ten, how much to you enjoy their company?
I can’t imagine enjoying their physical company, being with them. I would call my mother on the phone everyday after school–in high school. I became a little estranged, I guess. Dad, never. He had nothing to do with me, never picked me up, had a lot of rage. Not someone I wanted to be around. Mom, I kind of fell in love with her up there. I was grateful for having that much time to get used to something. It wasn’t easy living with her and her habits. It was hard for me to not want to change her. I realize since being back how much I enjoyed her. She’s just old and kind of goofy. We watched Real Housewives of New York every night–with my 88 year-old Roman Catholic mother! It was weird, but I miss that. I was glad I felt love for my mother for the first real time in my life. I almost moved back.
Does spending time with them as a unit effect the dynamic of the visit?
Oh, God yes. There is no unit. We didn’t have a dynamic where we hung out together. My parents did not make a family. Things were always tense and Dad had no patience for kids. As a kid you were waiting for it to blow up. Indifference and anger. I don’t even think of my life with my dad. He’s always been this fringe character. Present, not absent.
Which aspects of their parenting have most contributed to a your relationship as adults?
We really haven’t had an adult relationship.
What do you appreciate most about their parenting?
I’m grateful that Mom sent me to the high school that she did. I was becoming a real pain in the ass, wanting to hang out with my older brothers that were causing trouble and experimenting with drugs. It was a good education, a Catholic prep girls’ school. Really small. I was a troublemaker, but I was smart. At least that gave me a great foundation.
What do you wish they had done differently?
Mom married the wrong guy, so she gave me bad advice all my life. When I was a teenager, her message to me was not to rely on a man for anything, do it yourself. She was super supportive in my career. I knew where I was headed. She’s more connected to my professional work rather than my relationships. It’s her damage. I wish she had been aware enough to not inject her politics on my upbringing in that way. That was so unfair. I wish she could’ve gotten around her issues. They didn’t deliberately do much, but I think you have to do some things deliberately.
It could be that I wish my dad were a completely different person. I wish he wasn’t miserable, but I think he’s chemically different.
How well do you relate to your siblings?
I relate to my brother with schitzophenia and my brother in Hawaii. We’re very real and present. He was very supportive during my time with my mom. Even if it was just on the phone, he was there for me to vent to, to talk to, he sent me money because I wasn’t working and commuting 60 miles from where I was living to my mom’s hospital. He helped me with decision-making and emotional distress that erupted with my younger brother. He stayed in touch. He knew to call. I talk on the phone to my other brother, too, a couple of times a month. He wanted to be part of dinner plans with mom.
Do you think they share your same reflections on your parents?
Yeah, they do, in different ways. It’s because of gender difference. They have stronger opinions about my father than I do.
Can you share a defining moment with your parents?
I guess prior to growing up and going to college, Dad was his miserable self and uninvolved with my life in any real way. But, I hadn’t totally turned my back on him being a factor in my life as an adult. When I was in my first job out of college, starting my career with a great company that hired me as an intern when I was still an undergrad, I was living on my own in an apartment and trying to defer my student loans while I got situated. The job was great but my pay was not. I asked my dad if I could list an expense of a car payment to him. I was really nervous that the loan officers might not approve my request and i just wanted to have enough expenses on my application so they would defer. My father would not allow me to list a smalll car payment since it wasn’t really true.
When I was 21 or 22, I was doing my taxes and needed to file not as dependant for the frst time. My father, who would not help me financially in any way, told me that I could not file that way because he was still claiming me as dependent and the money he got back was more than whatever I would gain. He needed it more than I did, basically. I remember being totally shocked and betrayed and disgusted that my dad would do this to me as I was making my way after college. He didn’t offer to share the money or otherwise make up for it what I would lose. A year later, when I was declaring my self on my taxes, he was a bit more comfortable with stretching truth. I don’t know what he ended up doing that tax year, but the conversation ended with me saying that I wasn’t going to lie on my tax return. I remember distinctly drawing a line in my relationship with him–a moment that went from generalized ambiguity to a choice to disregard him from that point on.