Help! Dad rejects my partner

A man writes to “Dear Ayye” for advice when his father continues to reject the man’s long-term gay partner. The writer has practiced Buddhism for many years, and generally is a calm, happy person, but cannot get past his anger towards Dad. The correspondence includes a few updates.
Hello, Bhikkhuni, I hate to burden you with any of my issues, but I am at a loss of late.
I am having a reoccuring issue regarding anger towards my dad. Since the time I came out, my dad has never spoken to me about this particular issue. On top of that, in the almost 12 years my dad has never said anything to [my partner] James.Last year at my grandparent’s christmas party, my dad actually pulled a drawer out and hit James with it. It was an accident, but my dad hit James [by opening the drawer] rather thanDesk drawer edited for blog 0301131133-00 speak to him to ask him to move out of the way.This triggered so much anger from [me regarding] my dad growing up. I get into horrid episodes of panpanca sankara! [thinking that spins out of control]
I just can’t get over the anger! If I thought talking to my dad or sending him a letter would make a difference, I would do it. But my dad has a character flaw, that when he is directly questioned or “challenged”, he actually acts out even further. It is just a conundrum.Do you have any suggestions of how I may begin to get over this obstacle? I try to send loving kindness. I also try to remember that he did the best that he could with the resources he had. however, I still get angry!
Any thoughts? Tim

 

Dear Tim,

Yeah, that is pretty outrageous. I can see why you would see red when that happened — what a diss! Clearly he isn’t valuing what you value, isn’t loving the person who you love, and it hurts. You feel disappointed, and from that you feel angry. It makes sense, I certainly understand why you’d feel this way. Perhaps this is coming up more strongly right now as the Christmas holidays draw closer, as you will want to spend time with family but certainly will not want to see James so disrespected again like that.
Two suggestions come to mind. 

  • (1) One begins with completely stepping away from the confrontational mode of thought, which as you said won’t work, especially with your Dad. So where do you go with it instead?
Here is an illustration from my own recent experience: A resident kept criticizing a decision I made some months ago to get rid of a set of ten thick useless cartoon books on the Buddha’s life that I found in the attic — it’s part of my job as the monastery’s Librarian to dispose of books that have no use, and these awful cartoons hardly managed to get any facts straight. They were like some strange fantasies that someone might have regarding Buddhist history if one briefly read crib notes on a badly written bio on the Buddha some years prior to drawing the cartoons, and also were on drugs. They’re that off. And I dislike fictionalized biographies of real people, especially anything misrepresenting Buddhism or Buddhist history.

But it turned out that the books were by a famous Japanese artist, rare and valuable, the set being worth (according to the offended resident) about $800. Everyone to whom she bitterly complains reacts with surprise and disappointment to learn that I got rid of them. Apparently the stupid books were beloved by many, and no one had known that they’d been tossed into the attic long before I arrived. This person has held onto her resentment about the lost books like a bulldog, and the way she keeps raising the issue to residents and visitors has been more hurtful to me each time. I already apologized but that didn’t faze her. I was considering how to make her stop, how to make her aware that she has started to really hurt my feelings.

Then finally it hit me: I need to put myself into her place. On trying to see it from this person’s perspective, I suddenly realized that she must be motivated by feelings of hurt, helplessness, disappointment, and feeling a lack of control over her environment (at a time when many things are changing around here quickly without her having any control). My focus shifted from reflections about what I don’t like about how she acts out, to mulling over what may be hurting her. Right away I softened up and resolved not to confront her about her behavior but to gently feel out what is upsetting her, out of loving concern — really out of sympathy, not out of a wish to control her behavior!

I haven’t talked with her about the books yet, as we have been very busy around here lately helping to prepare for the big celebration that we held yesterday, and she is still working on a big project. When the time is right I intend to sit down with her and sound out her feelings —

“I guess you must have felt pretty disappointed to learn that I got rid of those cartoon books that you liked to look at sometimes.” “I suppose you felt pretty hurt that I didn’t appreciate these art books that you love so much, and that I put them down so heavily based on my own dogma rather than considering what they meant to you.”

(She is artistically inclined; although she is brilliant she hates to read, and she prefers something like the cartoon books; they spoke to her.) Can you imagine how much better this approach may be received rather than criticism from me or a heavy-handed attempt to silence her rude jabs!

As it happens, however, while drafting this, I got a call from the former resident to whom I gave the books (he scooped them up before I took them to a charity as I’d intended), and it occurred to me to ask whether he still has the books. He readily agreed to bring them back; he just didn’t want them to get discarded. So my problem is going to be solved in this other way it seems. But I have learned something important from this experience.

How do you think this other approach may apply to your Dad? What could you say to him if you were to REALLY stand in his shoes for a few moments? Write back to me what you think.

  • (2) Second approach is to reflect on reasons for gratitude. Given your Dad’s aversion to the whole topic, he has been pretty mild. And aren’t there other reasons for gratitude towards him as well? Go on, give it a try:
  • “I am grateful that Dad clammed up on the topic rather than tell me exactly what he thinks even once, let alone repeatedly every time we see each other!” (There could have been some hurtful, hard-to-forget comments from him if he hadn’t chosen to bite his tongue — perhaps in order to save the father/son relationship.)
  • “I feel grateful that Dad hasn’t expressed his negativity directly to James.” (Bad as his silence is, bad as it is that he ignores poor James, Dad could do worse!)
  • “I’m grateful that Dad hasn’t severed our relationship but chose to salvage what he feels he can.”
  • “I’m glad Dad doesn’t make snarky comments that would make it unbearable to be around him.”
  • “I’m grateful that Dad didn’t go on to whack James in the HEAD with the drawer in a fit of pique.”

Not to mention:

  • “I’m glad that Dad made such-and-such personal sacrifices to give me a stable childhood.”
  • “I’m glad that Dad took responsibility for our family, taking care of us.”
  • “I’m glad that he taught me in these and those ways.”
  • “I’m grateful that Dad continues to support Mom,”
  • “I’m grateful that he hasn’t got dementia,”
  • “I’m grateful that I am one of the lucky ones to have my father still alive into my adulthood,” and
  • “I’m grateful that I still have opportunities to be with him, hug him, remind him how much I love him, do little favors for him!” 
  • (
  • My Dad died 9 years ago. I sure do miss him. I can’t do anything for him now. But if I think he may be in trouble sometimes I do some chanting for him.)   
Best of luck.
  • Metta, [with loving-friendliness]
Ayya S.
November 19, 2012
 

UPDATE 1:

Dear Bhikkhuni, Thank you for sending the email. I appreciate it. I have been working with the suggestions you have provided regarding my dad. I was at my family’s for Thanksgiving. My dad was there, but, for the first time, we didn’t speak at all. He usually says hey, but this time — nothing. I am going to continue to work on it. I wonder if it is even salvageable at this point.

I am feeling that the issues I have with my dad are really with me. I am finding that all of the things I dislike about my dad, are inherent in me. I am very much like my dad. I even look like him! So many of my traits are his. I am very much fallen from the same tree. I feel that if I can heal that in my self, that it would heal the issues with my dad.I will continue to work on these things, but this is very difficult for some reason at this point.

Thank you for continuing to support me! I appreciate your wisdom!I know you are traveling now. I hope you have a safe trip. I hope that I may get to see you!

Tim  November 29, 2012

UPDATE 2:
Dear Bhikkhuni, Merry Christmas!
Christmas miracle! My dad spoke to James and even shook his hand!!!
Best present ever!
Tim, December 25, 2012

  • Dear T.,
    Spoke? Shook his hand?! Wonderful! I want to hear the whole story!
    Merry Christmas indeed!
    Metta, A.S.
December 25, 2012

UPDATE 3:

Dear Bhikkhuni,
The Christmas surprise from my dad was a complete shock! I will go back to your advice in a previous email to put this into perspective.

I took much of your advice. I work around the idea that my dad did and is doing the best he can with the resources he has/had. It was a difficult task because I have had many issues with episodes in my childhood where I feel that my dad did not respect me as an individual with my own needs, likes, and desires. I felt that he was intent on making me into the man he wanted to be.

For instance, his greatest dream was for me to go into the army. He sincerely wanted to join the military, but his step-father wouldn’t allow it because my dad was the bread winner of the family. You see, at 16 years old my dad had to start working in a cotton mill in order to provide for his family. His step-father went on disability due to several massive heart attacks. At the same time, my dad was in high school. He went to work third shift, went to school during the day, and after school had to do chores and such. He got little sleep and had little time for doing his homework. Despite being a fairly smart guy, his grades suffered. When he wanted to join the military, he was told no because he had to work to provide for the family. He had a tough time.So, fast-forward to my childhood and my father wanted me to do the things that he never got a chance to do. The issue was of course, that those things did not interest me. There were more than a few tiffs as a result of my not meeting his expectations. Looking back, I can see that he thought he was doing me a favor by making sure I had he chance to do these things. His error was that he was confused by thinking those things were an interest of mine.

These types of situations come into play with my current situation because once again, being gay and having a partner and choosing not to have children, did not fit with what my dad wanted in his life. Again, he is confusing his desires with what he thinks my desires should be. There have been, like I said, years of my dad ignoring James and ignoring the fact that I am gay. It has had a strong impact, in the negative, on our relationship.

Starting in early November, I think, I reached out to you regarding the issues I was having. Your advice struck home on many levels. I worked, as I have said, on the fact that my dad is doing the best he can given his experience, kamma, and resources. I chose not to confront him directly. I actually chose a passive-aggressive approach. I simply did not speak to my dad unless he spoke to me directly. We did not speak on Thanksgiving and we did not speak at my Grandparents Christmas party. James did not attend the Christmas party this year due to my father’s behavior. Two major events and we had no communication.

Moving forward to Christmas, James and I went to my parents home. Again, I went in and spoke to my sisters, my mom, brothers-in-law and all. I did not speak to my dad. He was walking by at one point and nudged me. At that point I said, “Merry Christmas.” That was it. We had breakfast and then exchanged gifts. My dad always holds his gifts to unwrap after everyone else is done because he is busy playing santa. He opened his gifts, one of which was a gift card to a hardware store from James and me. I wasn’t paying attention really so I don’t know what his reaction was to the gift card I selected to put it in. It is funny that I had such a hard time selecting a card for him, because I did not “feel” the words in the card. However, I decided on a nice card with kind words and determined that I can at least give him this much. It was much like doing metta [loving-kindness] meditation actually.

After my dad finished opening his gifts he was walking through the house. I was sitting next to James, and my dad grabbed my head in a rather awkward hug. I patted him on the arm.
HERE IS THE KICKER: my dad reached over and shook James’ hand and said, “Thank you.” I was floored! I really didn’t know what to make of it. But there it was: after 12 years, my dad acknowledged my partner. I could not have asked for a better Christmas present.
I am still not sure what prompted the change and I really don’t care. I sent my dad the following text:

“Thank you. You gave me the best Christmas present I could ever have asked for. I love you. I hope that you know that. I am really blessed and very happy with my life.”

I have never received a response and I do not feel that one is warranted. I received what I needed.
I apologize for the lengthy email regarding this. I have spent some time thinking through this episode and I could not think of a short way to express what has occurred.

I understand that this is possibly a beginning. It may have been a one time Christmas miracle. At this point, I will trust that what I saw was genuine and I will try to have a relationship with my dad from that place.I would appreciate continued good thoughts to this situation!

Thank you for your advice and wisdom!
Theruvan Saranai! [Triple Gem bless you]
Tim, January 8, 2013

* * * Ever wish you could ask a senior Buddhist nun your question? Go for it. Post your question by writing to DearAyye [~at~] gmail [~dot~] com. (Please spell ayye in the email address with an ‘e’.) * * *

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