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Toxic parent pushed me to independence

Published December 21, 2013 1:01 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2013, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

While I'm away, readers give the advice.

On growing up with a toxic parent • My father was, in retrospect, amazingly insecure and passively abusive. If I misbehaved or otherwise gained his ire, he would sometimes not speak to me for a week. When I was about 9, I remember I had done something that really angered him. He threatened to take me to a psychiatrist! I wasn't quite sure what that was, but I said, "Let's go now." He was stumped with nothing to say. It was the first time I remember, in a naive way, prevailing. I feel I chose my issues, those where I stood up to him, by accident. In my first university term, I plotted to visit a girl who lived out of state. My parents did not approve of her family. I carefully organized guys on my dorm floor to have a consistent story for my parents if they called. It was a great trip but my parents figured out what I had done and my father informed me that I was coming home to finish my education. I immediately went to the dean, who opened the scholarship/work door to my staying at the university. I wrote to my parents that I was not returning home. My father's ever-present weakness pushed me to be independent and accept risk. I learned to get along on my own and to do what I could to achieve my own goals.

L.

On people's varying responses to a death • When I returned to work after my dad's funeral, everybody avoided me like crazy. I guess they thought I would burst in to tears if they even said hello. Who knows, maybe I would have. I felt so sad, so alone, and isolated. His obituary had been emailed to everyone, so all the details were known. After lunch on my first day back, I slipped off to an empty conference room to collect my thoughts, and a man I only know marginally saw me go in. He came to me and started this conversation: "I was so sorry to hear about your dad. I didn't know he was a music teacher! Tell me about him!" I was so happy to have someone to talk to about him. We talked for about 20 minutes about my dad. Yes, I cried a little. But at that moment, that was what I needed so much.

J.

Carolyn Hax's column runs Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.