The following conversation is a shortened representation of what was a much more convoluted discussion. I’ve just skimmed the essence of what was said to present here:
“He’s squashing my life!” bemoaned Kiki. We’d just spend an evening with a writer’s group in our home, during which Howard had pulled Kiki aside and corrected her on a particular social interaction. After the group left, Kiki and I washed up in the family room and her woes began to spill forth.
“Yes. Dads do that sometimes.” I answered. “It is impossible for your behavior not to be affected by the presence of your Dad. It is also impossible for my behavior not to be affected by the presence of one of my children. This is still true for me and my parents.”
Kiki nodded. I could see she got what I was trying to say, but she was not yet calm.
“But Mom, I don’t want to be that teenager. I don’t want to be crying about how my parents ruin my life. But that is how I feel. I don’t want to feel that way. I don’t want to be that person.”
“Feelings are not really in our control. You are having a specific reaction to a specific situation. The fact that you are not generalizing that reaction, making your dad into the bad guy, demonstrates great emotional maturity. The truth is that you and your dad are increasingly sharing adult friends, and what he did embarrassed you in front of your friends.”
“Yes. And I felt squashed.”
“So you’ve identified a specific interpersonal situation that troubles you. You can either respond by spending less time with your dad to avoid the situation, or you can confront him about it in order to stay close.”
Kiki nodded and our conversation wandered for a time into topics that were tangential. This continued until Kiki saw that Howard was upstairs cooking in the kitchen and said “I’m ready to talk to him. You have to come with me.”
And so I did. The conversation began a little on the wrong foot. Kiki expressed her squashedness and Howard responded with a bit of a lecture about how people who hadn’t done the reading should not speak up in writer’s group. Kiki folded inward and I intervened just a little.
“There is a larger issue here than just writer’s group. Kiki feels the same squashed feeling sometimes when you are playing RPG games together.”
Kiki nodded. “Getting into the role is easier when you’re not there. I can just be the person.”
Howard turned and leaned against the counter. He was quiet for a minute, then said. “Sorry. I’ve just had a whole chain of thought and there is some stuff you need to know Kiki. Any time one of my kids gets up to speak in public, I feel a sick feeling in my gut. I know how hard and humiliating public embarrassment can be and I don’t want my kids to ever experience that. This is why I always step in and correct. I’m trying to prevent you from having pain, and therefore also prevent my pain at your pain. The result still causes you pain, but prevents mine. I need to learn how to step back and let you make your own mistakes.”
Kiki nodded, absorbing this new information about how her father thinks. Then the conversation moved on, but not before there were hugs.
Once again I am impressed by Kiki and Howard. I was not able to have that sort of peer-to-almost-peer conversation with my father until I was much older than she is.
Epilogue: They had a game session two days after this conversation. It went very well with no squashing.