Monday, March 17, 2008

On Dating Your Father

Okay, all you Neo-Freud-sters, step up to the plate and bat. I'm talking about that moment in every girl's life, at least the life of every girl born past 1920 or so. We've heard, at length, about this tendency that women have to date men like their fathers and we have all SWORN, on our VERY LIVES, that we will not do this. Because, EWWWWWW.

And yet, in spite of our best efforts, this is exactly what we do.

Unfortunately for me, my father is a veritable SAINT, a man who expresses every single good characteristic of the conservative Christian lifestyle--solid, dependable, holds a steady job, puts family first--without displaying any negative traits, like hatred of everyone else, bigotry, hypocrisy, misogyny, homophobia, etc. So in order to date a man not like my father I'd pretty much have to date an prison inmate, or else chase after a series of gay guys who haven't yet come out to themselves. Neither of which I have ever wanted to do, as my father ALSO raised me with a sense of self-respect (and Mom also contributed big time, but this particular post is not about her) and therefore I'm stuck trying to find a nice guy who is not like my father, almost impossible. Or so it would seem.

Because I've learned that women don't date men EXACTLY like their fathers. We carefully avoid men who display characteristics that are OBVIOUSLY like our fathers', not even realizing that the men we eventually choose displays several SUBCONSCIOUS traits that match our fathers' exactly. This post is not about the ex boyfriend of mine who bore my father's actual name, for example, nor is it about when T-Town dated a man (for four years) that bore HER father's actual name, nor is it about the fact that I broke up with a man who watched TV even for one hour daily, because I swore I would never date a man who watched TV when I wanted to take a walk around the neighborhood. It's about the LT, of course. And my father.

My father, despite all his other very charming characteristics--besides all of the above, he does not stay out late, calls my mother every night when he's away, cooks, CLEANS, and wouldn't raise his hand in anger to a housefly--he does have a fault or two. And one I swore I would stay away from in particular: my father, despite tithing regularly and giving to a multitude of other worthwhile causes, is not a particularly generous man.

He gives well to strangers and causes, yes, and that is very important. But my father is not the kind of man who, if out with a group, would offer to pay for the whole bar tab on his card if his friends paid him back in cash "when you can". He does not give the benefit of the doubt in monetary exchanges, he does not offer to "spot" people. At a time in my life when I desperately needed to stay somewhere warm and forgiving, he wanted to charge me $600 a month to rent out my old bedroom. I wish, three years later, that we had both been calmer when we talked about this, because I would have happily paid rent had he charged me a more reasonable price, and he might have happily charged less had he known what the market would bear and understood that I was WILLING to pay a price. This is water under the bridge, but still: this is the kind of man he is. A man who has been on his own since he was 17, a man who put himself through college, a man young for his year and who had to assume the head of household role relatively early; he does not accept slackness or lackadasickal behavior in others, particularly his own progeny.

Meet the LT. A man who has been on his own, ALSO since 17; a man who is young for his year, a man who put himself through college by giving his youth to the Navy and for them traveled 2000 miles outside his tiny hometown to a Super Fancy Engineering School, and fought in a war, and yelled at men twenty years older than he is, and become the kind of man that causes lesser beings to tremble at his approach.

And since he has fended for himself for all of his adult life, neither does the LT accept slackness in others, particularly not his own girlfriend. Saving random people from occasional mishaps, fine. Continually fending off questions about when his girlfriend is going to arrive somewhere and then PAYING for his girlfriend when she arrives because she has no cash, not so fine. Not when it drags on for a year and a half.

I was three weeks late for my own birth and will be late, I think, my entire life. Sometimes I'm better, other times I'm worse. Overall I hope I'm getting better, but introduce new wrinkles, like bus schedules, into my routine and it's a lot worse. On average it might take me five times, FIVE TIMES, taking the exact same route, to arrive somewhere even less than five minutes late, a big accomplishment for me. The first time I have to be at a new place, all bets are off. I might be an hour late, or I might never arrive at all. Lots of my faults I've improved, over time: I'm better with money, I'm no longer in debt, I try to let other conversational partners have the floor once in awhile--so I hope that I'll get better on this, overall. Or it's possible that I might not. My mother, at Over-45, is just now forcing herself to pad her schedule by half an hour for every appointment she makes, and I STILL arrive at our lunch dates ahead of her. (And she is the ONLY person, in the world, that I've ever beaten to a date.) And in spite of my improving relationship with money, I will never, hardly ever, have cash on me.

So when I show up to a St. Patrick's Day celebration half an hour late with no cash, and then ask the LT to pay for me with what little cash HE has, you can imagine how that conversation went. Worse, still, that I asked him in front of our friends. They didn't say a word, but the LT--who hardly ever feels guilt--felt the weight of their unasked questions bearing down on him: Why aren't you buying her at least one drink? Is something wrong?

There was nothing wrong, apart from the fact that his girlfriend had showed up late without money again. He was simply tired of enabling me. And then forced to buy me a beer. My own father, had I happened to be out drinking with him on St. Patrick's Day, would probably have laughed in my face and thanked me for volunteering to drive him home, since I couldn't afford any beer of my own. (This is really an impossible analogy, as my father doesn't drink, but the point is there.) Did the LT eventually buy me a beer? Of course he did, although I took him at his word when he said he didn't have enough cash and found my own beer. Would my father take pity on me eventually in my life? Of course he would, and did; I stayed with them for three weeks (rent free!) at the very start of this blog, and when I was considering buying a condo, he called my phone and left a special message on my voicemail, saying he'd be happy to have me stay with them for free while I looked. It's not that the two most important human men in my life won't take pity on me eventually, it's that they'll probably feel used while doing it. My father is still speaking to me after 27 years; I can only hope that the LT will be doing the same.


MC said...

My husband and my father have butted heads over the years about some issues, which I think is funny because some of the things that annoy each one about the other are things that I would say they have in common! So yeah, in some ways, my hubby is a lot like my father. Not in every way, but in enough ways that I can recognize it. My sister's boyfriend is also like my father in some ways, although not the same ways my husband is. So if you took Bill and James and mixed them together, a clone of my dad would probably pop out!

Aarwenn said...

Hi MC, too funny!