Getting Along with a Critical Father as an Adult

Your dad drives you crazy. It’s okay to admit it. I mean, you don’t HATE him; you don’t even DISLIKE him. You just don’t…GET him. And worse, you feel like he doesn’t get YOU, either.

You think back to your childhood, and, of course, there were happy times. One day, he was out in the garden, and you joined him. He explained how to plant seeds and how to tend them. You became a gardener yourself that day.

Unfortunately, those days when you really felt a deep connection were few and far between. You figured that, someday, you’d connect. If a simple garden could do the trick, you might have thought, then surely we’ll bond when we can commiserate over the difficulties of raising children, the stress of financial responsibilities, or the politics that pop up at work.

Nope. When you go home to visit, you still feel he judges you. You get into arguments. You feel like he sees an eight-year-old, rather than a capable adult. And neither of you is getting any younger.

I can’t guarantee that any of the following strategies will work, but they may very well help you get along better with your critical father.

  • Stop expecting a new guy to greet you when you visit. He judges you. You react. Words are exchanged. Connections are missed. The reason you get so upset is because you hope that this time, magically, he won’t do as he’s always done before. He will. Just show up with the assumption that he will never change.
  • If you can accept your dad as he is, then you have the chance to accept him with all of his flaws, rather than bristling at them and letting them force you back into a dynamic you hoped you’d abandoned after childhood.
  • Along with those steps, accept that you’re just as judgmental as he is. If you sense that he’s judging you, and that makes you upset, then don’t you think he can pick up on your own critical attitude? Sure, he should “know better.” He doesn’t. He probably never will. There’s an old saying: “Most people would rather be right than happy.” Forget “right.” Go for “happy” instead.
  • So, apologize. Yes. He’s the dad, and he SHOULD apologize to you, but it’s not likely to happen. You don’t have to make a big, violin-sawing, scenery-chewing production out of it. Just let him know that you’re sorry for losing your temper the last time you visited. Leave the apology out there, even if he doesn’t accept it or tries to turn it into a new argument.
  • Avoid buttons. You know better than to talk to your dad about certain subjects, even if you’re passionate about them. That may not seem fair, but again, he’s not likely to change. If your goal is to be happy rather than to be right, then you may very well have to be the one who does.
  • Find the good. Your dad may be loud, obnoxious and critical. But he’s also a man who would be by your side if you really needed him. He’s generous and giving. He makes the best beef stew on the planet.
  • Communicate about unimportant stuff. You don’t have to dredge up deeply rooted memories to get closer to your old man. Instead, tell him about “unimportant” aspects of your life. For example, if he did introduce you to gardening, then talk about the success you’re having with your petunias. You don’t have to connect the dots. He’ll know you share a common interest, because he introduced you to one of his own passions.

If you follow these strategies, then they might lead to a thawing in the Cold War you have waged for so long with your father. Once everything starts melting, miracles might happen. Even if they don’t, you are more likely to appreciate your dad for who he is and what he really means to you.

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