I got annoyed at my dad during a phone conversation the other day. I hung up on him which is the first time I’ve ever done that in my life. And now I don’t even feel like talking to him at all. My mom’s family is known for their ability to hold long-lasting grudges and I can almost feel that desire in me. I’m willing to bet that I’m capable of it.
I don’t know if he was in a bad mood or what. He was determined to be crtical about everything which in and of itself is something I can sympathize with, but what bothered me was that he was doing it in a self-righteous way (with an implication that my opinion was worth less than his). He was arguing that there was only one truth and he so happened to be in possession of it.
At first, I tried to point out the positives for sake of balance and then I tried to be conciliatory, but he just wouldn’t have it. He wouldn’t leave it as simply a differences of perspectives… because, as a moral conservative, that smacks of moral relativism. Someone has to be right and therefore everyone else must be wrong (Extraverted Thinking types I tell ya).
He was complaining about the lazy selfish kids these days (not like the good ol’ days when kids were obediant and submissive to authority… sure). Basically, he was coming off as a bitter old man who has forgotten what it was like to be young. He is a moral conservative and seems to think that Obama (who mobilized all those lazy selfish youngsters) is one of the first signs of the end of the world. I’m the last to argue against the imperfections of this existence and the failings of human nature, but I’m not usually one of those that will try to pin it all on a specific group of people.
The thing is that he can be one of the nicest people. He seems to genuinely like people and he is always helping others. At the same time, he can be one of the most arrogantly judgmental people that I know. He sees himself as a self-made man and arrogance is often the flaw of this type of person.
He has had his struggles in life like everyone, but he has never known really hard times… such as involving racial prejudice, poverty, major illness, or long-term depression. I don’t get the sense that he has a deep understanding of or compassion for the suffering of others which are the very things I value above all else. This isn’t to say he isn’t compassionate. He is a caring person in a patriarchal fatherly kind of way. He cares about the poor as one who has never been poor, but he does care. He goes to great effort to make a positive difference in the world.
His morality seems to be primarily based upon intellectual principles and a sense of social obligation. He does have a more accepting side that is very much genuine, but his righteous side is never very far away. It can actually bother me even more sometimes when I sense him trying to hide his righteous side. If someone is going to feel judgmental towards me, they might as well just get it out in the open.
What I was thinking about is how people can have such contradictory sides of their personality. I’m the same way. I can be extremely compassionate and understanding, but there is another part of me that is severely misanthropic. Despite or because of my understanding of suffering, I can simply get stuck in my suffering… even selfishly stuck. My dad, because he isn’t overwhelmed by such an intimate knowledge of suffering, is much more able to actively help others.
Theoretically, balance is always possible and to that extent desirable. However, experience has shown me that this ideal of balance is rarely a reality.
I’m not in a morally superior position to judge my father. I guess what my annoyance comes down to is that he wants to put himself above others as an example of superiority. He wants to be admired and looked up to. He has a side of him that feels quite the opposite of superior, but this is the side that he rarely shows. I know that it bothers him that he feels his sons don’t respect him, but I’d respect him more if he’d let that more vulnerable side show more. However, maybe that is the same as saying that I’d like him better if he was more like me.
From the perspective of the societal standard of morality, he is a much better man than I am. He is a respectable professor and church leader. He has high expectations that he strives hard to live up to. He gives of himself constantly in that his life revolves around others. He is one of those people who needs people to need him. That is what our society values. He is an admirable representative of our society’s aspirations. He is the American ideal of ambiton (with its concomitant shadow of the advantages and privilege of being a middle class white male… which my dad would deny).
He is an Extraverted Thinking type which has been the ideal male personality type of our society. He is a very well developed person in terms of his personality inclinations. He even has come to sense the more Feeling side of life in his older age, but of course this gets subjugated to his dominant function of Extraverted Thinking. His moral righteousness may even be an expression of his being in the grip of his inferior function of Introverted Feeling. Our inferior function becomes stronger as we age which can both be good and bad.
I’m the opposite of him as my dominant function is Introverted Feeling. My being raised by two Extraverted Thinking types has left a lasting impression on me. I sense that a significant element of my depression is how much I’m drawn into the grip of my inferior Extraverted Thinking.
Our weaknesses are simply the other side of our strengths.
The practical purpose of my thinking about this is the consideration of my relationship with my dad… what it could be and what I don’t want it to be. If he was always as righteous as he was the other day, I very well might gladly refuse to speak to him for the rest of my life. Fortunately, he rarely behaves in such an overtly righteous manner. Most often he tries to be kind and friendly. When he is in a good mood, which is more often than not, he enjoys being humorous and entertaining.
In the past, it seemed I was closer to him than my brothers. I’ve tended to be forthright in speaking about my life to my parents whereas my brothers tend to keep the personal out of their relationships to them. Nonetheless, my brothers get along with my dad better maybe because of that formality. My brothers interact with him through more neutral subjects such as computers and finances. I’m the only one who will debate with my dad about what he deeply values (we both love to debate), and I seem to be the one he feels the most comfortable with being honest about his opinions (which was what did happen during the recent phone conversation). Even so, we’re usually both good at coming to a middle ground (which is what didn’t happen during the recent phone conversation).
My famly isn’t all seriousness. My brothers and I learned our humor from our dad, and so humor is a major aspect of how we all relate. However, its my oldest brother who has the most similar personality to my dad and also the most simlar of a sense of humor. They’re both more congenially entertaining in their humor. My humor, on the other hand, goes between the extremes of inanely silly and cynically dark. My dad often uses his congenial nature to try to manipulate people… manipulate in a good-intentioned kind of way. But, good intentions or not, I’m stubbornly resistant (a trait from my mom) to being anyone who tries to change me or my mood. I’m what I am and that is just the way it is.
Because of all this, my dad is an extemely more likable person than I’d ever hope to be. I’m not much of a people pleaser whereas my dad is the gregarious type who is the life of the party. In his adult age, he has gained the confidence and popularity that he feels he lacked as a chld. He is proud of his accomplishments and the person he has become. He is very capable in what he does and he is very knowledgable.
I’ve learned a lot from him. I too have become a knoledgable person in my own way. And one aspect I’m superior to him is in my obsessive compulsion to see all sides to every situation… which he sees as moral relativism. His knowledge is highly specialized and focused, but my knowledge is randomly wide-ranging and motivated by undirected curiosity. I learned my rationality from him, but as an Extraverted Thinking type rationality comes more natural to him as being a well developed attribute of his everyday behavior. His rationality is usually focused on practical matters of living a responsible life (even his humor has a tinge of social responsibility to it). My rationality, because its more of a learned attribute and because its ruled by my Introversion, is more detached and neutral. I don’t try to conform my rationality to any particular moral belief system as he does.
My dad and I live in very different worlds, and yet there is quite a bit that we share. My base personality might be more of my mom’s contribution, but my dad has had an immense impression on me.
He is the standard by which I feel judged in my failure to live up to his example, and he is the standard of our society that just doesn’t make sense to me personally. He has all the proof on his side, the respectability, the “hard-earned” money. He lives his moral ideals. When he dies, there will be a long line of people wanting to make grand statements about what an admirable fellow he was.
I have nothing tangible to show for my life besides who I am as an individual, but to him what matters is what you do and what you accomplish. Its obvious from his perspective that his opinions are superior because the life he has lived is superior. The proof is in the pudding.
I’m sure he’ll want to reconcile, but I’ll always know his true opinions even when he hides them. He wouldn’t judge me directly, but I represent what he sees as problematic in the world. He wouldn’t say it that way to my face. Still, those are the facts. And that is what erupted the other day in that phone conversation.
I really don’t know how to relate to him. If we weren’t father and son, there wouldn’t be much to base our relationship upon. That seems to be the way family is. The close friendships I seek are with people who aren’t like anyone in my family. I get along with my family actually quite well, but family is what they are. At one time, I almost had a friendship-like relationship with one of my brothers, but even that has mostly dissipated with his own family responsibilities and stresses.
My family is there for me in a distant kind of way. If worst came to worst, they’d help me out. But my life would have to be horribly bad before my family would intervene. I’d have to be homeless or suicidal or something. I mean what could they do?
For all my dad’s accomplishments, any good advice he could give me would most likely be worthless to me. He cares about me as a father… in the way that being a father is a social obligation… but he doesn’t know me. And I’m sure that I don’t really know him either.
As I get older, I start questioning who it is that I would turn to in times of need. I’m starting to feel that I’d more likely turn to a friend than to family. I have sincere doubts about the support my family can offer. Then again, I have sincere doubts about the support anyone can offer anyone else.