DEAR AMY: I have not spoken to my father in months. This followed a phone conversation with him during which he asserted that the real reason a certain government leader is so hateful is because the leader is fat and bald. During this conversation, my father crossed the line and made extremely personal attacks toward people close to me, implying that being overweight or bald would lead to people becoming hateful. I asked him multiple times to please stop. He buckled down to defend his point of view each time I asked him to stop. I told him I was becoming furious at the personal attacks and prejudice, as well as his failure to recognize that I was asking him to stop. He did not stop, so I hung up. Since then, he has only said that he is sorry that I was offended by what he said — a classic non-apology. We live thousands of miles apart. My father has a tendency to offend and then just wait until the other person eventually caves in, pretending like nothing happened. If I overlooked this, I would degrade myself, due to his biased stereotypes. It upsets me to no end to not speak with my father, but I also can’t just overlook this. I don’t see validity in “being the bigger person” here because I’ve continued to ask him to revisit this rationally, but he refuses. I’m not the type to normally hold a grudge, but he really did some damage and I can’t shake it. Can you suggest a healthy way to attempt to repair this damage?
DEAR UPSET: It might help you to recover from this if you take a fresh look at your own narrative to recognize how (basically) dumb it is. Essentially, your father asserted that fat and bald people are prone to be hateful.
But this is not really about how ridiculous his assertion is. This is about your father baiting and bullying you, and about you taking the bait, absorbing the bullying, and then being furious for months.
According to you, this is his pattern, and so in the future you might see this behavior coming down the pike, and instead of asking him to stop (he won’t) and then asking him to apologize (he won’t), you could say, “Well, this has gotten pretty ridiculous, so I’m going to take a pause and talk to you another time, Dad.” And then you hang up.
Bullies receive their fuel from others’ reactions: fear, intimidation, bewilderment — along with the drama of dominance. Don’t feed the beast. Laugh about it.
If you want to continue to have a relationship, you’ll have to retrain him that when this sort of thing starts, you will disengage.
I suggest that you drop this specific issue, and work on your long-distance retraining and general detachment from his ridiculousness.
DEAR AMY: I divorced four years ago. Our divorce has been quite amicable. I am proud of how we have handled it. We have remained friends, although from a distance. I have also remained friends with my ex’s family, and refer to them as my sister-in-law and mother-in-law, even though that is technically inaccurate now. While we don’t share the Thanksgiving table anymore we are there for each. I continue to call them my in-laws, which, apparently, confuses people. I guess at this point I should really call them my friends rather than in-laws but I think in-laws gives them a special place in my life forever. A few of my friends say that it is inappropriate for me to continue doing so. Who is right? Does it even matter?
DEAR WONDERING: You are right. Furthermore, your friends don’t get the last word on what is or isn’t appropriate regarding these family members.
This in-law relationship matters to you, and so you should continue to honor it in whatever way you choose. If you remarried, you might choose to refer to your ex’s family members as your “former in-laws,” for clarity’s sake.
DEAR AMY: I appreciated the question from “Caught in the Middle,” regarding the dilemma of hiring a contractor who had a bumper sticker on his truck supporting the current president. Caught was offended by this. I almost hate to admit this, but your answer was persuasive, especially your comment that talking with people who have different political views is the true “progressive thing to do.”
DEAR LIBERAL: Thank you.