Father knows Best…….and he knows it.

I’m tired just reading this poor student’s letter…..

Dear Prudence,
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?

—Great Debater

Dear Great,
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?


5 responses to “Father knows Best…….and he knows it.

  1. I was actually shocked by the response about “father-daughter relationships.” I never once thought this was a woman. Maybe this is because I’ve never really had a debate with my dad, but I’ve watched my brother have several, or maybe I’m stereotyping these complaints as those of a boy trying to live up to his daddy’s dream for him and not receiving the acceptance he so desperately wants. This seems a logical conclusion to me, as the father here obviously likes debating and might do so in order to live out a life he wanted but couldn’t achieve for some reason. Interesting how this seems to be such a universal problem, though, between both sons and daughters.

  2. That’s interesting. Is your brother older or younger than you? I’m sure there are any number of factors that lead to having this kind of intellectual power struggle with a father, but I wonder if one of them might be birth order. The **type*** of debate is also interesting…most people I know who feel like they “just can’t win” with their dads are having intellectual/rational debates/arguments for the sake of being “right.” Just as many people (or at least women) seem to have the same kind of nobody-wins exhausting relationships with their moms, but they’re more to do with how you’re living your life….job, significant other, how you spend your money and your time….Do you think? Or am I making broad generalizations again?

  3. I agree with your assumption that it was a woman — but maybe it’s because I’m also frequently in this situation with my dad. Ha.

  4. I immediately thought it was a woman, too, although that might be because I think a woman would be more likely to walk away from that sort of situation (leave me alone, Dad!), whereas a man would be more confrontational. That’s absolutely stereotyping, and I know it, but that’s immediately where my mind went.I have to say, my dad’s not particularly argumentative in that respect. We tend to align in a lot of ways, but when we disagree, he’s not particularly pushy about it. He’s just pushy in other ways? I don’t know. I need to think about that one some more.

  5. thesamsanator

    My brother is younger, and he and my dad live completely opposite lives, and they both need to have the power, the last word, and they need to be “right.” We were also in an interesting situation when we were in high school where my dad had to take a consulting job that took him to the East Coast for the entire work week, so when he came back on weekends and tried to be a father, it didn’t work so well. I went to college, became a teacher, and no one really questioned that, but my brother didn’t and, although he is successful in his own way, I think he struggled with my dad not accepting that. But who am I to say. They have a very complicated relationship.Since my dad left the house, I’ve done pretty much whatever I wanted, or felt best for myself, and expected him to accept that. If he didn’t, we didn’t debate it. He does his own thing, I do mine, and we rarely even talk about it. Wow… it’s really interesting to think about how your different family dynamics change your entire perspective on everyone else’s family dynamics. Weird… 🙂

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