I’m a college junior and my father is an unusually successful businessman with an abrasive side. I hadn’t seen and barely spoke to him for months. He’s taken on a sort of Howard Hughes lifestyle lately.
Using his laptop and cell phone, my father has been working from home, the condo or hotels. He told me he is looking into a major project and just hasn’t had time for me this year. He and my mother divorced a long time ago.
So my boyfriend, Tom, and I are having dinner. I look up and out of nowhere, there is Dad.
At first, it’s a disaster. My father threatens to have Tom investigated to find out what he’s up to with me. Tom offers to save him the trouble and tells Dad he loves me. Dad counters that it does not hurt that I am a beautiful heiress to a growing fortune.
Tom admits to getting lucky on the beautiful part, but says he is not a gold-digger. Tom tells Dad if he was a gold-digger, he would have tried to find a woman with rich grandparents, not a rich father still in his 40s.
Dad got a big laugh out of that. He jabs people and seems to like people who counterpunch. The tone changes, and Dad says when I picked a boyfriend, at least I picked a man, somebody with guts.
Then Dad tells Tom how his other kids are worthless, how a woman is just a woman, but I am something special. The other kids are my older half-brother, by a woman my dad never married, and my younger sister. His comment about them made me mad.
Tom confirms knowing I am special, but tells him he’s wrong about my siblings. Dad asks Tom if he’s locked into becoming a veterinarian because he would hire him. Tom declines. Then Dad tells Tom not to knock me up until I finish school.
He tells us that Tom should hang out with my half-brother because he could benefit from being around Tom. In leaving, Dad tells Tom I am his first thought in the morning and his last thought at night, and if you are good to my girl, we will never have problems.
Dad has never talked about me in such endearing terms. Later, Tom told me that while my dad is different, they would be okay. Please interpret. What happened between the two of them?
Annette, your father wanted to see if your boyfriend was a pushover, a rollover or a stand up man. Caught off guard, how would Tom react?
Tom passed the ambush. At dinner, he was himself, a stand-up guy with his own plans and aspirations. Hard working, independent, knows his own mind.
One male insults another as a way of taking his measure. When the second male responds in kind, the two see themselves as members of the same group, each worthy of respect. It’s a way males bond, a way of expressing equality, a way of saying “we stand together.”
But your father also sees himself as the boss. That’s why he gave Tom three commands: help my son, don’t get my daughter pregnant and treat her well. By giving orders, your father wanted to express his superior rank. If Tom does what he asks, your father will credit himself.
Your father’s remark that your siblings are worthless unconsciously undermines his praise for you. How do you value the opinion of someone who speaks ill of his own children?
You are your dad’s favorite, the pup he picked from the litter. That presents a problem. What if you marry and have more than one child? What if your father picks a favorite pup from your litter? How will you handle that?
~ Wayne & Tamara
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Wayne & Tamara answer as many letters as they possibly can.
Column for the week of April 10, 2017