I’m tired just reading this poor student’s letter…..
I’m a 20-year-old student and generally get along well with my 63-year-old dad. However he is also quite aggressive, and this has been a constant strain on our relationship. He loves to play the devil’s advocate and will argue any side of any subject. Whenever I express any political, religious, or moral opinion, he will argue with me. These conversations almost always become heated and cause me a great deal of anxiety. I’ve told him this, but he thinks it’s all in good fun. I’ve also tried changing the subject or walking away from the conversation, but he gets very angry and demands we finish our “philosophical debate.” I’m pre-law, so I normally love to debate at school, but these arguments last for hours, and not being able to end them is stressing me out. Do I have the right to walk away? Or do I actually owe it to him to finish these debates?
The law does tend to attract more than its share of overbearing bullies, so your father may be doing you a favor by giving you experience with the kind of argumentative know-it-alls you will inevitably encounter. Start learning how to deal with this by dealing with him. Tell him the endless disputes are not stimulating and fun for you; they’re draining and debilitating and are keeping you from enjoying your relationship with him. Explain that for the sake of father-daughter relations, and your blood pressure, you’re going to start cutting things off when they get too heated. Be prepared that this will likely provoke a harangue along the lines of, “Why would someone who says she wants to be a lawyer be ‘drained’ when she’s asked to defend a simple assertion?” Don’t take the bait. Instead, smile and reply, “That’s the fact, Dad.” Then, in the future, when he starts in, have a few phrases that signal you’re ending the discussion: “We’ll have to agree to disagree.” “That’s been asked and answered.” “Let’s drop it.” If he won’t stop, remind your father that you came over to enjoy his company, not relive the Inquisition, and since he wants to keep going, you’re going to go. Then give him a kiss and bid farewell to your man of strife and contention.
I know a lot of dads who do this, to greater and lesser extents. My dad is somewhere in the middle of the spectrum…I can think of at least one friend’s dad who is WAY at the intense end of it. In fact the only out-and-out fight I have ever had with my dad was when I took what I thought was a reasonable discussion too far. (Too far for me, actually, not too far for him–I was unprepared for how strongly he would feel the need to prove me wrong). Are your dads like this? How do you handle it? And why do they do it?
Also, Prudence makes the assumption this writer is a woman–she of course has the benefit of email addresses and possibly names to help her with this assessment, but still….it does sound like a daughter, doesn’t it? All the people I can think of who get in these long exhausting debates with their dads are women. What does THAT mean?