#16: My Father Has Serious Issues. Should I Move Out?
Saving money is important, but so is saving your sanity.
I have quite the dilemma. I graduated in 2021 and have gone through a tough period of bad living situations and incompatible careers. Back in February I decided to move back with my parents. It’s a decision I resisted for many years, but it’s allowing me to save a ridiculous amount of money with my new job — the most tolerable job I’ve had yet. I meet my basic needs, have room for fun money, and save $1200 a month. I’m beginning to feel like myself again. But there’s one problem.
My father has serious issues. The main points revolve around his emotional immaturity, incompetence, and apathetic arguments disguised as “logic.” His behavior affects my mother, my brother (who visits often), and myself deeply. We all know it. Nothing changes. It seems as if I am the only one willing to call it out. When I approach him verbally or by written word to communicate, he grows reactive. By reactivity I mean screaming, a loud voice, and an accusatory tone. This is also coupled with personal attacks and unnecessary cruelty. When he does not grow volatile, he says he will change — but the change never lasts. And calling him out on the lack of the change, leads to the same verbally abusive behavior.
I have a deep hope in humanity and people’s ability to grow. Unfortunately I think it’s a long shot to expect that from my father and his generation (X). I have tried to introduce my family to mental health conversations and neurodivergent awareness, as I believe 3/4 of us have brains that are not neurotypical. I go to therapy. No one else in my family attends and encouraging them to go is pulling teeth. They say “they don’t need it.”
For these reasons, five months in, I’m considering moving out. I’ve made a pros/cons list and debated it five ways from Sundays. I just cannot rationalize spending 50% to 75% of my paycheck on rent/utilities/and pet fees (I have two cats). Currently I am able to save 50% of my paycheck for savings. I want to be my own boss someday, either freelancing or as an artist, so this kind of savings is imperative to accomplishing dreams that are very difficult financially.
I am the eldest daughter trying so hard to break cycles, but is it time to call it quits? How would I even make co-existing with my father bearable? Do I suck it up?
Hello Eldest Daughter,
The summer before my senior year of college, I did something odd. I decided to stay on campus. Alone. The lease for our 9-bedroom house began in June, and while my roommates wouldn’t arrive until August, I moved right in.
Going home for the summer is what everyone did. Home or to New York City for an internship. But for me, going home that summer could have been disastrous. I say could because I’m guessing. It might have been fine. I doubt it though.
I was not healed by that summer, but I was healing. I was eating disorder free for a little under a year, prompted by a canceled trip to Paris with my grandma that I hoped would get rescheduled but now understand never will.
Despite my progress, my therapist was adamant that I don’t return home. He never said it outright, an old school psychologist like him would never tell me what to do. But he did guide my thinking. Why would I stop doing something that was so clearly working for me? Did I think it was a coincidence that, once I started taking my mental health care *extremely seriously*, I started feeling more in control of my behavior? Better about myself? Less angry? I see his smile now. He enjoyed asking me these questions, watching me learn. I see his patches of white hair and ironed Oxford shirts and the way we both cried when we said goodbye the following year.
The decision not to go home was challenging, mostly because I didn’t know what to tell my family. I didn’t want to hurt their feelings. Even though I knew it was right, I couldn’t quite imagine myself not coming home. How could I possibly do this? How could I abandon my siblings for the summer? How could I say, mom, I love you, but staying here is the best thing for me right now? Please don’t take this personally, even though I know it seems personal?
Deciding to stay at school that summer, to stay close to my therapist and away from my family and friends — the me who made that decision is the me I recognize today.
This story came to mind as soon as I read your letter, Eldest Daughter. I’m the oldest daughter myself, and while I don’t think we struggle any more than our siblings do simply because of our rank in the lineage, we do notice things first — and with our noticing comes a specific type of responsibility. We were the first to notice something was off, to take that something and carry it on our back. If we’re not careful, we’ll carry it until we’re brittle and break.
I understand why you decided to move home. Saving money is a valid and important reason, especially when you’re saving 50% of each paycheck. You’re right, that money will go towards your future well-being as an artist, as a human. But so will every other choice you make during this pivotal era of your life. Every day you stay at home with your verbally abusive father, everyday you try to convince your family to become people they are not, those days will impact your future as well. Money can buy you food, shelter, experiences, but it cannot undo your trauma. (Unless you find yourself an expensive ass, highly talented therapist.) That’s how I would rationalize the cost of leaving.
If I were in your position and if I could afford to pay rent somewhere else — even if it meant I was no longer saving as much — I would. And if I felt unsafe at home, I must.
What does it mean to feel unsafe? There’s physical danger, of course, which you don’t appear to be in. But abuse comes in discreet packages, and if your father’s words are interfering with your sleep or your sanity or your sense of self-worth, then that, to me, seems like an unsafe place for a young person, an artist, to be.
You and I are not the same though and I respect your ability to make decisions for yourself. I trust that you will move out when you feel ready. So if you are going to stay, I would be clear with yourself about why you’re staying. It’s to save money, sure, but as you allude, it’s also because you want to break cycles in your family. You associate moving out of your parent’s home in your mid 20s with quitting. (“Is it time to call it quits?”) That’s not a comparison made by someone who lives at home just to save money. That’s someone who feels responsible for the evolution of their family. You must stop that if you are going to stay. You should also stop if you decide to leave. Trying to change your parents is a futile effort, Eldest Daughter. Especially when they are not open to change.
Since your father becomes reactive or abusive when you approach him for his “emotional immaturity, incompetence, or apathetic arguments disguised as ‘logic,’” then you should stop approaching him for doing those things. You confront him for these behaviors because they hurt you, because you think they’re wrong, because you want him to be a better version of himself — the version you imagine other dads are like with their kids. But he’s not. He’s your dad, and he’s the only dad you are going to have.
This advice does not mean that you need to “suck it up,” another question you ask me in your letter. There’s something in between “suck it up” and “speak your mind” and it’s “accept the truth.”
Acceptance does not mean “being okay” with or “endorsing” your dad’s behavior. It’s about facing reality and deciding to not put your energy in places that don’t fulfill you. I think you begin this work by saying the facts aloud. Do it with me, and replace whatever needs replacing: My father can be emotionally immature and incompetent and cruel. It is deeply painful for me. I wish it was different, I wish that I could come home for a few weeks, a few months, and my parents would welcome me in the way I want to be welcomed. I wish my dad would get help. I wish my mom would stop enabling him. It breaks my heart that we don’t have the relationship that other people have with their dads. I accept that these things are true. I hate that it’s true.
You mention in your note that you’re starting to feel like yourself again, which is a beautiful and precious thing. It made me smile to read. I’m so proud of you. I suspect that once you stop pushing back against this reality of your life — the reality of your father —- you will continue to blossom into the free artist that you are. I’ve noticed in my own life that once I begin the work of acceptance, I continue to become more of myself. When I accept the people I love for who they are, even the parts I don’t like or agree with, instead of trying to change them into the person my inner child wishes they could be, I find new tenderness for the situation, for them. For myself. They are not my responsibility, and my relationships have improved when I free myself of that burden. When you let go of one responsibility, you have room for another. Your next one can be whatever you want it to be. For you, I hope it’s filled with color.