I had a bad week. I did something stupid at work and worried about it all weekend. On Monday, I got some benign feedback on a story and got all upset about it. Tuesday evening, I was still feeling bad. Matt was coming home late so the kids and I were on our own for dinner. I made fide – Greek noodle comfort food my Yaya used to make – and decided to make a phone call so I’d have some adult company for our meal.
That’s where I went wrong. I could have called my mother-in-law; I could have called my birth mother; I could have called my best friend, but instead, I called my father. I hadn’t spoken to him since Thanksgiving so he was due a phone call, but I disregarded the cardinal rule: never call my father depressed. It’s ok to call him when I’ve had a bad day – I figure the day’s already ruined, I might as well. But on those days I’m just disgruntled, and he doesn’t get to me the way he does when I’m depressed and vulnerable. When will I learn? This is how it went:
I dialed his number. Put him on speaker. Rose spoke first, “Hi Papou!”
“I got a new dress!”
“What’s she saying?”
“She got a new dress,” I said.
“Oh, that’s very nice, Rose. Are you there Maria?” he said.
“I’m here. We’re having dinner and just thought we would call you.”
“Oh, okay, well, gee, what’s new? What’s new? I went to Beth’s for Thanksgiving,” he said.
“I know. I called you on Thanksgiving,” I said.
“She has a very nice house – with the stream in the back, very nice, and her living room is nice. Have you seen it?” he said.
“Yes. We stay there when we visit you.”
“Oh, okay yeah,” he said. “I’m still trying to get that girl’s insurance company to pay for my car,” he said. He got in a car accident in July. “I figured out the mileage and they owe me another thousand dollars.”
“Dad, this business with the accident has been going on for months. Why don’t you just split the difference, like the lawyer said.”
“That’s five hundred dollars. That’s a lot of money to lose,” he said.
Quick note: Although my father is quite comfortable financially, he does actually think five hundred dollars is a lot for him to “lose,” and worth spending months of work and arguing. He also wants the insurance company to pay for lost groceries that were in the trunk at the time of his accident. He insists he had steaks in his trunk, when I know for a fact that he doesn’t know how to cook a steak and all he eats are TV dinners.
“If you say so,” I said.
“How are the kids? Is that Rose I hear in the background?”
“That’s Christian babbling, Dad. Rose speaks in words,”
“Ohhhh. How is he? Is he walking?”
“Yes, he’s walking. He was walking when we visited you. He’s still walking,” I said.
“How’s Rose? How old is she now, four?” he asked.
“Yes, she’s four, just like you said on her birthday card,” I said.
“How’s the writing coming? What are you writing, short stories now?” Another quick note: I’ve never written a short story, ever.
“No, Dad. Magazine articles,” I said.
“Do they pay you?” he said.
“Of course they pay me,” I said, fielding the question for the fifteenth time.
“So what are they, like the papers they have in the supermarket?”
“No, Dad, full-blown magazines,” I said. “And I’m waiting to hear from the publisher about my children’s book,” I said.
“They asked me to send it,” I added, hoping for some credibility.
“Oh, that’s nice. Did you read the paper from the supermarket that I sent you? That guy can really write. You should read it. You might learn something,” he said.
“I did read it. He buried his lead on the second page and he puts a conservative catchphrase in every sentence. He’s also way too verbose. It takes him half a page to make his point,” I said.
“He sells advertising around town and makes money off of it,” he said.
“Yes, Dad. I saw,” I said.
“You could do that,” he said.
“I already get paid for my work,” I said.
“Papou!” Rose said. “I want to tell you something.”
“What is it, Rose?”
“You’re breathing in the phone!” she said.
“Oh, well I have to breathe, right?”
“But you’re breathing into the phone!” she said.
“Put your mother back on the phone,” he said.
“I’m here, Dad,” I said.
“Well, that’s about it,” he said mercifully.
I hung up feeling much worse than I had before. Not only did I have a few bad days at work, with a few quick words, my dad invalidated my job. My father doesn’t even believe I work. I know because a few weeks ago, he was applying for a joint bank account and the bank called me to validate my information.
“Says here you’re a homemaker?” the woman from the bank said.
“No,” I said, working on deadline with the computer in my lap. “I’m a freelance writer.”
“Oh, okay,” she said.
Thanks, Dad. Why do I let him get to me? He’s always going to be him and I’m always going to be me. We will always have our differences. So what if he doesn’t believe I have a job? Let him think so. So what?
It’s really my choice to feel bad about it. At least it can be. I can choose not to care what he thinks of me. It’s hard, because he’s my dad and the last time I had his approval it was for a report card, but I’ve got to stop wanting it and just live my life. I have a pretty nice life.
My father and I have very different definitions of success. Whenever I was looking for a job, he’d coach, “Everybody hates their job. Just get something and do it. And make sure they pay you enough.” I always wanted a job I would enjoy. Now I have one. I love my job. I feel much more successful now than I ever have, even though I make a lot less money than I have in the past. I just have to remind myself that being successful in my own eyes is much more important than being successful in my dad’s eyes. And I have to remember: Never call my Dad when I’m depressed.