pen rainbow

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Sunday—Have a Private Week

How my dad taught me the value of privacy  


It's almost Father's Day, and every year I send my dad a card.  I sent a card this year, and it was something about how I'm just like him, and he's to blame.  Heh...I don't know if I'm like him or not (mostly not), but it was the type of snarky card that I know he would like.  And, it pretty much sums up the tone of our relationship.

My dad likes honesty and sarcasm, and as long as I play along, we both get a kick out of our relationship.  I think we mutually agree that he should have never had kids, but the fact that he did means that I'll always have the upper hand on that one.

my grandfather & my dad (the baby in the middle)

My dad is a very private person and always has been.  He has a cell phone, but it is the standard corporate-issued dinosaur that he was using on the job before he retired two years ago.  It's about the size of a shoebox.  He has a computer, but I don't know if he has a laptop.  True to his oppositional nature with regards to anything trendy, my dad has never owned an Apple computer.  He was an IBM guy from way back, and he has simply followed the Microsoft DOS bread crumbs all the way to now.

He hates social media and holidays.  Both of those demand social interaction, and my dad avoids human contact whenever possible.  To his credit, he has a dog who is really an extension of his one true love, his wife Margaret, who passed away three years ago.  He hardly ever checks the mailbox out in front of his house.  For the most part, he keeps to himself.

So, when I told him that the condo next to ours in Boulder City was coming up as a rental, what was I thinking?  Well, I was going with the emotional distance and total indifference that defines our relationship.  And, I mean that in a good way.  Whether my dad is across town or right next door makes no difference to me.  I can't see us interacting any more than we do now, which isn't more than a card or two every year and the occasional lunch at the BC Hotel when I'm in town.

At first, he liked the idea.  He owns a home in Las Vegas, but he doesn't like the hassle of finding a house/pet sitter when he goes on a fishing trip.  He called me and expressed interest in buying rather than renting the place.  Again, it didn't phase me because he has shown interest in down-sizing and moving out to BC for the past couple of years, ever since his wife died.  Buying or renting makes no diff to me.

What he did next made me stop and wonder, though.  He called back 10 minutes later and said that he'd changed his mind because he didn't want to live next door to me.  Actually, I laughed because what he was really saying is that he likes things the way they are.  We've come a long way in 55 years, and the physical and emotional distance we have now is the end result of redefining our father-daughter roles.

Ironically, it is privacy that keeps us together.  For all I know, he likes to walk around the house in purple fishnet underwear, and that would be his business, not mine.  More importantly, there's a lesson in there for me with respect to my own adult children.  In order to survive, relationships between parents and adult children must evolve beyond the point of management and judgement.  In order to thrive, emotional distance must occur so that everyone can move on.  It doesn't mean caring less.  It means letting go of the earliest and most powerful human bond.  It means letting go of protection and guardianship and dependence and fear.  Friendship allows physical and emotional distance to happen naturally over the years, but parents and children can drown in the emotional weeds.

Sometimes, it's okay to push the reset button and start over.  More often than not, restarting a relationship follows a period of separation.  Again, privacy is a key component in re-establishing boundaries.  Perhaps, that is why social media packs such an emotional punch when someone shares too much online.  Social networking fails to integrate the complex role of privacy in healthy adult relationships.  It is an intimate understanding that grows and matures over time.  A generation who overshares may be arrested in adolescent-adult limbo partly because privacy has been trivialized to the point of becoming random, arbitrary and meaningless.

So, here's to my dad—a crappy dad if there ever was one!  Thanks for letting me know that you care enough not to move in next door.  :)