Dear Amy: My father was critical, critical, cruel to my mother, and generally lacked empathy or love. I don’t remember ever saying “I love you” to any of us. I would start these fights with mom that would make everyone uncomfortable.
Columnist Amy Dickinson (Bill Hogan / Chicago Tribune)
My mother died in 2007. She modeled good parenting, and we never questioned her love for us.
Now I am married (12 years old, second time). I consciously swore never to be like my dad.
I recently visited my brother and his wife. During my visit, I immediately recognized the exact same behavior that I hated in my father, coming from my brother. He constantly looked down on his wife, and was impatient and critical. It was terrifying to see him and it took my breath away.
Recently, particularly during the COVID-19 home stay, I began to recognize my father in me! Innocent little arguments with my wife turned into ridiculous big fights (usually dragged down by me). I started using the same derogatory language and anger tendencies that I recognized from my father (and now my brother) when talking to my young children!
I have tried so hard to model what I remember of my mother’s loving and kind behavior: I tell my children and my wife that I love them all the time.
I intentionally do my best to be a loving and caring husband and father. But now I am recognizing these demons from my father and I am afraid.
This is normal? Is there a way to override this behavior? I want my children and family to love me and always remember me for being a loving parent, not an angry, contemptuous, and critical jerk.
Scared in Denver
Dear scared: You are not required to behave as your father did. You have all the advantages: you have the good example of your mother and (most importantly), you have a conscience and a desire to change.
Stress will always bring these very old scripts to light, but you can intentionally rewrite them, with the help of your wife.
Sit with her for a quiet, private moment and talk about how you intensify these arguments. Always remember: when activated, use the “I” statements and never the “you” statements. So “YOU are such-and-such” becomes “I feel angry / upset / out of control right now.”
Remember that important animal urge to “fight or flee”? You should always choose “flight”. Take yourself off. Cool down. Anchor your best intentions.
Unfortunately, many “I love you” do not delete one “You are worthless”. So always, always apologize, and use specific details that you apologize for. To his children: “I am very sorry to have told you that. I am not being a good father to you when I speak that way. My father acted like this and I know how scary it is to scream and say names. I’m going to remind myself to take a deep breath, count to ten, and stop myself from saying hurtful things I don’t want to say. “
Dear Amy: When I recently wired, there were many depressing tasks to overcome, but some of the financial surprises could have been avoided.
Perhaps some of your readers would benefit from being aware of those surprises.
My husband, without my knowledge, had subscribed to some businesses that were billed directly to our credit card accounts. I only noticed them when deliveries were made, some of which had no return addresses or contact numbers, electronic or otherwise.
Deciphering them was an unpleasant and slow job.
To complicate matters, a credit card vendor I contacted to report my husband’s death and then summarily canceled
me card without as much as a “sorry”, even though we had an impeccable credit history.
My advice is: be sure to share with your partner
all of your account information. It will save you a lot of pain and stress. Not a financial wizard
Dear magician: Thanks for this useful lesson. Now that many of us have revolving automatic billing and don’t even see a paper bill, solving this could be a difficult job at a very difficult time.
Dear Amy: The “grieving daughter” wanted to visit her father, but he would not let her visit unless she stopped smoking. Thank you for pointing out that almost any smoke residue can be toxic to some people. “Dead” residue on clothing can make me violently ill. The “live” smoke will send me to the emergency room.
Clean Air! Dear clean air: Additionally, smokers tend to be unaware of how strong residues are on their own skin, hair, and clothing, even if they have smoked outside.