Peas in a Pod Can Get Crowded
One afternoon not too long ago, I was walking through a beautiful furniture store near my house on a stroll with my mom. We weren’t really shopping, just admiring some lovely things on our walk back to my house from the local coffee shop. “I love that coffee table” my mom said, pointing at a large, circular table of roughhewn boards. “That wouldn’t be too hard to make. I was just reading about pre-distressing boards.” I quickly replied. “Ha. This is just like being out with Dad. That’s exactly what he would say.”
Everyone talks about how, as a woman, you slowly turn into your mother as you age. That is true for me to a certain extent; I find myself with more patience and humor as I age, traits I admire in my mother. For the most part though, I am continuing my lifelong trajectory of being just like my dad.
It’s easy to talk about and recognize the positive traits I inherited from him: my constant default to DIY mode, my enthusiasm for new projects and acquiring new skills, my love of live music, and my sentimental tendency towards magical thinking when it comes to my relationship with nature. These all come from my dad, and I am proud to share them.
When we were little, my sister once asked me in a whisper “Jill, is it okay that I like Mom better than Dad?”. “I think so” I answered, “I like Dad better than Mom.” As a kid, my dad was always building things, making things, or drawing things he was going to make or build, and he was always happy to share his process with me. I found this interesting and exciting.
As an adult, the tables have turned a bit, my mom is my best friend, and my dad and I tend to butt heads far more often than I do with anyone else in my life. We share so many interests that we don’t linger in disagreement, our mutual enthusiasm for new projects, art, and music catch us up in a new topic moments after any friction occurs. Since having my own child, it has become more important to me to look at why my dad and I have these moments of tension. To oversimplify: it’s because we’re the same.
My dad grew up with his grandpa as his best buddy, and so when he found out I was having a boy, he was over the moon at the idea of getting to play that role in his own grandson’s life. My parents live nearby, and we often see them multiple times a week. Before my son was even born, we started to clash over some little things. The substance of them isn’t important: I see now that the issue is our shared trait of researching and planning things.
With our great enthusiasm comes a stubborn commitment to those plans, and easily hurt feelings when others don’t share our enthusiasm. We get so deep into our own creative visions that when we come together on a project and they don’t quite align, we both get defensive and tend to communicate our hurt in less than stellar ways.
Another way this comes up is when I try to guide my dad toward interacting with my son in a way that reflects the specific values and practices that are important to me in parenting. I don’t bother to correct 99% of people, and what I really need to tell my dad (hi Dad!) is that I only care so much about having him understand my parenting choices and respect them because I do want him to play a huge role in my son’s life.
The impact of other people is fleeting and minimal. It’s not worth it to explain to a visiting friend why I would rather you not say “you’re okay” to my kid when he cries. On the other hand with my dad, I envision such a close relationship, so many hours spent between him and my son, that it means a lot to me for him to make the effort to hear and understand me in those moments.
As I have gotten older my mom and I have fallen into an easy and loving adult relationship; I think this was aided by our being coworkers for a few years, it was easier to start to see each other as people outside of our mother-daughter relationship. My husband reminds me far more of my mom than my dad in temperament, which makes sense in the context of our happy and balanced partnerships.
It’s a longer and more complicated process to fully develop that adult relationship with my dad, and I think so much of that is because of our similarities; it’s just harder to really know and love and accept yourself than it is to love and really see someone else. My dad pushes my buttons like nobody else. When he thinks I am too wound up about a subject he pushes back with a fun-poking humor that only serves to make me feel even less heard. The reality is I need to learn to laugh at myself more, and my dad needs to learn when to poke fun and when to listen further.
Since my teens when I started dating, my dad’s comments about projects and plans were always directed at my male partner, whoever he happened to be at the time. In the years that I have been with my husband this was both frustrating and comical. Like my mom, my husband really doesn’t get too involved until the support and execute phase of a project. I feel like since becoming a homeowner and now a parent, my dad is starting to see past my gender and recognize our similarities. It was a strangely deep validating experience the day my dad turned to me in Home Depot to ask about the details of the bathroom renovation he was helping us with, and not my husband. I felt like he was finally starting to see me as his logical choice of teammate, instead of defaulting to the nearest available guy.
As we grow closer and better able to really see each other for who we are, a vision for my evolving relationship with my dad is beginning to take focus. I know we stand together in our concern for how a traditional educational environment might impact my son in the future. Both of us suffered through school and barely graduated high school, our dynamic brains (read; really significant ADD) and creative spirits served as serious stumbling blocks rather than the assets they should have been.
I know that when the time comes to make educational decisions for my son, my dad will be there as someone who understands the emotional and long term economic impacts of a poor fit, and he will not only have my back but will actively work to support our choice.
When I go to rejoin the workforce when my son starts school, I will look to my dad as a model of someone who has thrived and found great success in his career despite our mutual lack of higher education.
Whatever hobbies my son takes up, I know my dad will be right there with me, thinking of new ways to help express and explore the little guy’s talents. I hope as these next years pass and we work together to care for my son, we will come closer to the relaxed and candid relationship I have with my mother; learning to accept not only each other, but ourselves.