Sunday, January 1, 2017

Epiphany

It seems so obvious now, I can't believe I didn't think of it before. I'm so on top of analyzing my own family dynamics and trying to understand how people operate, but I was largely blind to this dynamic in particular. Until today. Maybe because I'd just caught up on months' worth of Carolyn Hax columns (which I've curated for you and will blog about tomorrow); maybe it's because I bitched to Nina this morning on our New Year's walk and she said "yeah that's pretty much my family," and the event that triggered it the night before was so egregious, so obvious. I'd also bitched about it, by text, to the guy I've been dating, and he pointed out that it was part of a pattern before I did.

The dynamic: nobody in my family *listens.* That's part of why there's so much yelling: no one feels heard, because nobody listens. I've known for a while that mom didn't listen, but it's taken mom's being in the nursing home and dad's being the head of the household for me to appreciate the fact that he doesn't listen. I mean, I sort of knew that he didn't listen to mom--because she'd always yelled at him for it--and I wasn't sure I blamed him, or her. I'm not sure which is the chicken or which is the egg or which came first: mom being so bossy that one simply quits paying attention to anything she says, or dad not listening to the point where mom felt the need to go full bossy and constantly tell dad what to do. I know that I have a tendency to see dad's side of things, given what a nightmare mom was in so many ways, but that having to deal with dad as head of household has made me appreciate mom's point of view.

The data points: I've found dad to be super stubborn about low-risk, non-issue things where anyone else would just *listen.* For example, last night he wouldn't refrigerate the champagne we would bring to Nina's parents'. He said he'd stick it outside, except he didn't. But he could have just stuck it in the fridge when I suggested it and he wouldn't have had to remember to stick it outside. But my whole family has a tendency to resist when someone else tells them what to do. I can understand that for more complicated things, but not for chilling champagne and such.

More explanation: Mom loves (loved?) to boss people around. It's what she did. As you know, she liked to tell me in what order to eat the food on my plate. No decision was too personal for her not to feel like she should be the one to make it for me. When I was little, mom would make a mess of coupons and circulars--maybe even newspaper sections--on the floor. She'd go through them and just throw them on the floor. And then order me to drop what I was doing and pick them up. And I'd tell her I was in the middle of something and would pick them up when I was done, and she'd get mad that I didn't drop everything and pick them up and I'd ask her why she couldn't throw things straight into a paper bag for recycling. And the answer--which she of course did not provide--was because she enjoyed telling me what to do.

I found this unacceptable and refused to do it. Dad pretty much also just wouldn't do anything mom said, even when it made sense. Again, I don't know if dad was just always like this or if it was his resistance to mom's overbearingness.

I am not my mother--I make a point of not being my mother--and I *don't* like to boss people around. I do ask people to do things as appropriate. For example, I would ask my former roommate to clean out the crumb tray under the toaster oven and toss anything with food scraps only into the covered trash can. I would explain that these actions would help us prevent cockroaches. And I would get very, very annoyed that he didn't do these things, that he would go about as if these conversations never happened. My point: I don't tell people what to do so I can feel like the boss or so that I can hear the sound of my own voice; I tell people what to do when appropriate. When there's a good reason. And therefore, I expect people to listen. And I get angry when they don't.

I've told you about the times I've yelled at my dad--it's in instances of abject not listening, where there could have been very real consequences to not listening. The time when he wouldn't get the fuck away from the car I was parking on ice, and I was afraid I'd lose control of it. I yelled at him to get away from the car; he yelled at me to stop yelling. I yell when I feel like I really need someone to do something now; when inside voices just won't do. When I fucking mean it. So fucking do it.

Meanwhile, my dad--like my mom--responds to being told what to do by refusing to do it, no matter how much it makes sense. I don't know if it's a post-Soviet resistance to authority thing or if it's just them, but--CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS JUST HIT ME TODAY--they both respond with defiance to polite requests as well as to panicked orders. It does not cross their mind that maybe there's logic behind their request; their gut reaction is "someone is telling me what to do so I'm going to not do it."

Naturally, the response of the person doing the asking/telling is yelling.

I don't yell easily, but I yell when I feel like I'm not being listened to and--because I wouldn't be telling you what to do if I didn't have a good reason--you need to be listening. The respect issues are clearly there--not listening is a passive-aggressive way of showing disrespect--but really, I feel like something real is at stake and on a gut level, I need the other person to act on what I'm saying.

So tonight, we were not far from home on the way back from the nursing home when Nina texted to say that she'd retrieved my dad's hat from her parents' (where we celebrated New Year's last night) and had brought it to her airbnb, not far from where we were. So I said to dad, "Nina has your hat, let's go get it. Keep going straight."

At which point, dad turns left.

A.: WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
Dad: Getting the hat.
A.: I said go straight! Nina's that way.
Dad: Oh, that Nina. I didn't know. Why are you yelling.
A. Because you don't listen. I said go straight.
Dad: I didn't realize.
A.: But I said go straight.
Dad: You shouldn't yell at me.
A. :You should listen to me.
Dad: You shouldn't yell.
A.: You should listen.

We were both right.

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