Dear Prudence

Mad Dad

My 10-year-old daughter is angry all the time, and it’s my fault.

Emily Yoffe.
Emily Yoffe

Photo by Teresa Castracane.

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Dear Prudence,
I am a father of two incredible children, but my older, a 10-year-old girl, is having emotional troubles. She is temperamental, angry, argumentative, and emotionally volatile. I am worried that it is my fault. When my son was born he had medical issues that required multiple surgeries over several years. My wife and I were worried, not sleeping well, arguing, and not creating a loving, peaceful home. I eventually had to have anger counseling because I couldn’t cope at work. That was several years ago, and while I have been much better, there are times when I slip. I am harsh and cold, I yell and am abrupt. I think I have been emotionally damaging to my child. I am worried that she is entering young adulthood being too demanding of others and unable to cope with conflict, among other negative traits. I’m an introvert and don’t really have friends, so I am very concerned that I haven’t been a good role model for her, and I know how hard life can be for a young woman. I want her to be prepared, safe, and confident, but I feel like I failed.

—Lousy Father

Dear Father,
Your daughter is not a young adult, she is still a girl, and there is a long way to go and much that can be done, so please stop catastrophizing about her future. The most important thing is that you recognize your family needs help, so start with some gentle honesty. You need to tell your daughter how much you love her, and name specific delightful qualities of hers. Then tell her that while everyone gets angry, you see that sometimes she gets so angry that she loses control, and you know when she feels like that it makes her unhappy. The reason you know is because sometimes you are like that, too, and when you get like that, you are angry at yourself. Tell her you have gotten help for this, and have gotten better at controlling your temper, but that you aren’t perfect, because sometimes when you get frustrated you are mean to her. Say you are sorry this happens, and that you want her to know at those times you are more angry at yourself than at her. Explain that you want to help her so that as she grows up, she doesn’t have to struggle with this as much as you have. Dad, you do want to address this now before the storms of puberty take her thermonuclear. Start by getting a copy of The Kazdin Method for Parenting the Defiant Child, read it, and put the principles to work—you will be training yourself as well as your daughter. Alan Kazdin is director of the Yale Parenting Center, and you also contact them for help and referrals. As Father’s Day approaches, instead of berating yourself for what a botch you’ve made of fatherhood, you should seek help yourself for controlling what you do that keeps you from being the father you want to be.


Dear Prudence,
I’m very happily married and we’re also expecting our first child. My husband is a fantastic, smart man and he’s going to be a wonderful father. When he was 8, he was hit by a car and suffered a very severe brain injury. He had to learn to walk and talk again and lost all of his memory from before the accident. Nevertheless, he has made a rather remarkable recovery, with seemingly few side effects. For one, if he’s roused from sleep he suffers extreme confusion for about 30 seconds and it takes 15 to 20 minutes for him to feel safe to drive, etc. He actively avoids the doctor but since he is in his early 30s, I feel there are a few checkups he should have at the physician’s office. But whenever his medical history comes up, he’s terrified of what the doctor is going to say about his potential quality of life. I’m not sure anybody would have answers for us, since there’s limited research on long-term effects of traumatic brain injury, and it’s usually a case-by-case basis. Do we go to the doctor and worry ourselves sick just as we’re starting a family, so we can be prepared? Or do we just pray for the best?


Dear Fearful,
How wonderful that your husband is a living demonstration of the plasticity and healing power of the brain. Of course, not everyone who suffers such a trauma is able to recover as completely, but your husband sounds fully functioning—and lots of people, when roused from a deep sleep, take a little time to come back to reality. But because your husband has such a terror of the medical profession, you two are injecting unneeded anxiety into your lives. He is about to be a father, and he shouldn’t be haunted by his long ago accident. You two want to get reassurance about the present—for example, that it’s safe for your husband to drive your child. And from everything you say, a visit to a doctor is likely to provide good news. So your husband should start by finding an internal medicine physician for a regular checkup. Perhaps this practitioner will recommend a visit to a neurologist for a more focused assessment of your husband’s injury. If so, he should go. However much you both hate doctors, you must have an obstetrician, and you’re going to need a pediatrician for your new arrival, so now is a good time for the dad-to-be to get in the medical mix. If your husband has some deficits he is still coping with, there is a lot of literature by people who have overcome injuries like his. A recent one is this well-received book by college professor Clark Elliott, The Ghost in My Brain. Forthrightly facing what is (and there’s no reason to think what you have to face is bad!) will be a good principle to apply to this wonderful, new phase of your lives.


Dear Prudence, 
About four months ago I started dating a really wonderful guy. He is considerate, well-educated, thoughtful and we have a lot of fun. I could see a future with him. However, there is one issue that I am concerned about. My boyfriend’s father, who was a manual laborer, is in his late 50s and has been out of work for some time. He lives with my boyfriend, who completely supports him financially (the mom is not in the picture). I genuinely like his father. But his dad is an alcoholic and every day my boyfriend brings home two liters of wine for him to drink. I have gently brought the situation up with my boyfriend, but he says this is better than his father drinking cheap booze, and that his dad supported him for his whole life, so it is his turn. He has tried to get his dad to stop drinking, but his father won’t. Is there anything I can do about this or is accepting him enabling his father just the price of admission to an otherwise amazing guy? 

—Blinders On

Dear Blinders,
Your blinders seem to be off because you see this situation clearly: Your boyfriend’s father is an alcoholic, your boyfriend is enabling this, and unless someone wants to change this situation—which apparently neither has the will to do—this is the way it will be, until it ends. Your boyfriend’s father is drinking almost three bottles of wine a night (and let’s hope when he’s doing this he never gets behind the wheel). One of these days his liver is going to give out, or he’ll fall and hit his head, or—you get the picture. The amazing thing about alcoholics, though, is their capacity to guzzle for years, so this could be quite a long-running show. You seem to have two choices: walk away because you can’t accept this, or decide that this is serenity prayer time, which you will keep repeating because your new guy is worth it.


Dear Prudie,
My dad is a talker. He tells long-winded stories and carries on about subjects the people around him have no interest in. He’s also immune to the body language of his audience and misses (either willfully or not) the normal indications that they are no longer interested. He’s that nightmare guy everyone tries to avoid because once he’s got you cornered, you can’t get out. For the past several years I’ve limited the amount of time I spend with him both in person and on the phone because of this. I’ve tried gently bringing it up as well as being more direct, but he just laughs and says he knows. He’s in his 70s, and other than a few hours each day he spends at his part-time job, he doesn’t have any friends. What can I do to maintain a relationship with my father without tearing my hair out every time he corners me into a conversation? Or how do I get him to shut the hell up?

—Please Stop

Dear Please,
To answer your last question, the most likely solution will be when someone else intones, “We are here today to pay our final respects to a man who was never at a loss for words.” Your father suffers from logorrhea. It sounds like a lifetime condition. Likely his own parents, after waiting to hear his first words, must have quickly wished for him to return to his pre-verbal state. You don’t mention your mother being around, so your father’s loneliness and lack of audience only exacerbates his need for compulsive monologues when he gets someone captive. If your father were interested in changing, he could see if therapy and even medication would make a difference. But he’d have to close his mouth long enough to hear what a therapist had to say, and you indicate he has no desire to muzzle himself. Tuning out is really the only rational approach to such a person. You can tell him directly that you are only going to see him and speak to him on a limited basis because, well, you can’t ever get a word in. When you do have your scheduled phone call, do it in front of the computer or TV, put him on speaker, and at occasional intervals interject, “You don’t say.”


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