Learning From Conflict With My Father

Written June 30, 2008, at the Westwood Lodge, Buncrana, Inishowen Peninsula, Donegal, Ireland

Although we’ve seen some marvelous sites, it’s been a bit of hell with my dad on this trip through Ireland. We’ve been cooped up in a vehicle and in the same hotel room every day. All my childhood trauma is coming back as if it were just yesterday. I need a break — I’m going to stay cozy here at the lodge and write about the whole experience.

I’m missing Sacrilege horribly. I don’t want to ever travel anywhere again without him. Twelve days and counting down until we are once again in each other’s arms.

Back to my father. He is a very tough person to satisfy. I’ve tried many methods, including the “shut up” method yesterday, but nothing seems to work. It seems that he is dissatisfied by almost every single little thing. He has to kvetch and he can’t just enjoy things. As we’re driving through beautiful scenery, he’ll spend the whole time criticizing little points of my driving, the Irish road system, the weather, or just about anything.

I’ve asked him to try communicating with me using “I statementsâ€? and active listening so we could resolve conflicts between us, but he can’t express a single feeling to me consciously. He says that he doesn’t want to be forced into the structured system I’m proposing. Of course, he’ll get angry or sad and so on, but he can’t or won’t say “I’m feeling angry” or “I’m feeling sad”. Also, he never says he’s sorry for anything. So we’ll have an argument. I get so activated by some things he does that I fall out of the conflict resolution methods of speaking and into his passive aggressive banter.

The next morning, I’ll feel contrite and apologize for saying some things I said or did that might have bothered him — he just sits there and doesn’t say he’s sorry for his part in it. I guess he’s always right and it’s entirely my fault, right? It would be absurd if he weren’t my father.

I’m learning again how being continuously critical of others can poison the relationship, although hopefully I’m nowhere near as critical of others as he is. He’s quite cordial to people he doesn’t know well — the monster only appears once he’s got you trapped long-term.

Sacrilege says my ability to laugh at myself is my saving grace. I think I’ve learned some controlling behaviors from my father, yet I’m fairly aware of what I’m doing and often include meta-speak about what I’m doing while I’m doing it. Because I’ve done a lot of personal growth work around it, I can acknowledge my controlling tendencies and my feelings around it, which gives people a chance to dialog with me about the situation if they feel uncomfortable. I don’t want to be that way when it doesn’t serve me or those around me well.

The hardest part for me is that my father really can’t express his feelings to me. I remember now that he used to bully me into stifling my feelings. When I got angry, I had to withdraw into myself and couldn’t let out the anger. It wasn’t until Liz and Ruth, two women I lived with in college and who are now lifelong friends, confronted me with it that I learned it was ok to say “I’m angry!”

In the car yesterday, he reminisced about his relationship with his parents. He said that they never had conflicts like the ones he has with his children. At the time, I couldn’t respond. However, last night as I slept, my grandmother Doherty came to me in my dreams and reminded my of some of her fury over my father. I could hear her frustration as she told him that it didn’t matter what she said to him, he’d just do it his way anyway.

I found out the Doherty clan motto is “Ar Ndutcas” in Irish Gaelic, which means “Our heritage”. Sacrilege says it actually means “Our Nutcaseâ€?… LOL! I think his version may be closer to the truth.

I was supposed to ride with my father around Inishowen peninsula today, but I honestly couldn’t do it after our trip around the Donegal coast yesterday. When I woke up yesterday morning, I was a bit groggy, but I vowed to do whatever I could to make him happy. So I asked him where he wanted to go. He couldn’t just answer me in a pleasant way. He had to harangue me even in answering where he wanted to go. After a pleasant visit to the Donegal Castle, I started driving him where he said he wanted to go. He gave me continual comments about my driving. I told him I don’t mind those comments because I want him to feel safe and comfortable in the vehicle while I’m driving. He sort of laughed when I said that.

I asked him to help me navigate along the route, but he acts like I’m bothering him to ask him things like that as if I should just figure it out myself. Instead, he looks around at the scenery or tries to learn to play the tin whistle. He often treats a simple question with a simple answer as if it is fraught with some sinister intent or is just too troublesome for him to take the time to respond. I guess he thinks I’m supposed to be looking at maps while driving — well no, he complains about that too — or stopping to look at them or the signs. That works well on back-country roads with no traffic but, of course, when you’re on a high-speed highway, stopping isn’t a really good option. Then, he tells me it’s just easy to drive around, so I should be able to do it without looking at the map. Of course, it’s really quite complicated as he found out when he started driving. Earlier in the trip, I told him I thought of driving as a team activity with the passengers helping the driver to navigate. He seemed to understand it while Grégoire, our French hitchhiker, was in the car, but he didn’t put it into practice ever again after that.

He has this silly thing about stopping to ask people for directions even if I already know the way we need to go. For example, he trusts the person selling petrol in a convenience store who gives him stupid wrong directions, rather than just asking me. He’s too proud to ask me for help, but will go to anyone on the street and chat them up instead.

At one point he tells me he wants to drive. This happened after I’ve been telling him I’m fine with him driving for about four days. All I asked at the beginning of the trip was for him to agree to drive safely at a relaxed pace. He decided that meant that I had to drive all the time with him nagging me all along the way, that is until he decided he wanted to drive yesterday. So as he started driving, I told him he might want to start off taking it easy since it’s quite different driving here in Ireland than in the US. He said he’d prefer that I didn’t talk. So I said, I’ll be quiet for an hour. I didn’t say another word for an hour. After the hour passed, he still didn’t seem to be interested in conversation, so I just didn’t talk. It lasted most of the trip that way.

All that time spent not talking gave me time to experience my feelings and to think about the situation. My heart felt like it opened to a bottomless pit. I felt really sad, and frustrated, and angry. I’m sad because I’ve really made an effort to work things out with him and it doesn’t seem to work. I’m frustrated because I don’t feel he’s really trying to make things work with me. And I’m angry because he seems to want to kvetch and argue, rather than just enjoying the trip.

Finally yesterday, I decided to start talking to him again even though he was still continuing the silent treatment. He had stopped three times on the road to look at the map, apparently quite confused. He stopped the car again when we saw three women walking on a gravel road through the turf with a baby in a carriage. He wanted to ask them for directions. As he stopped, I said that I knew where we were and all he had to do was ask. He refused. I think he wanted to prove to me that he didn’t need me to navigate for him like I had asked him to do for me. Perhaps because he was such a jerk about it when I had asked him for help, he may have been afraid I’d remind him how he behaved or treat him tit for tat. Ironically, I would have been happy to help had he asked. It is true that I wanted the subtle acknowledgment of the usefulness of a passenger assisting as navigator that his asking would have meant.

I noticed as he was driving that he had most of the same difficulties that I had with driving. He had pointed them all out to me as I drove.

He knows I’m a bit uncomfortable as a passenger in cars, especially when someone drives fast around bends or in a reckless manner. Rather than asking me, “How are you doing?” or “Could I drive some way so you’ll feel more comfortable?”, instead I get “Perhaps you should ride in the back seat” delivered with a little smirk. That was the remark that got me angry enough to tell him about his driving.

When I got angry, I told him it would have been nice if he had told me that he had the same difficulties driving and he now understood what it was like for me to drive. Then, I started listing off the difficulties he had while driving. He told me in a threatening voice that I’d “better stop now”. So, I didn’t finish off the list with the grand finale where he grazed the two concrete posts sticking out from on a wall on the left side of the road.

I also told him he’s stubborn and proud.

After that, I just gave up. I just got this really depressed feeling. I wanted the drive to be over as soon as possible, so I navigated for him anyway, even though he didn’t ask for help, so we could get to the guest house quickly. Honestly, I just wanted to escape from him. It was such a relief to get to the guest house finally.

What have I learned? My father comes from a different background and has lived a different life than I have. He is a quite different individual than I am. Just trying for us to get along may not be enough to make it happen, due to our differences. Perhaps the best we can hope for is to be cordial when we do spend time together and to spend time together in small doses, never more than a day for example.

Unless he finds a way to open up to himself and to me about this stuff, I don’t really see how we can make any further progress.

Manchester, England, England

Written June 21, 2008, on train from Manchester, England, to Holyhead, Wales, for ferry to Dublin, Ireland

I met a friendly fellow named Tony while waiting for the train on the platform. He is a manager of a 3D modeling and animation firm, who grows his own vegetables and bonsai, and plans to retire before turning 60. Even though he is a straight guy, when we arrived in Manchester, he took me on a short tour of the gay district in his car, then dropped me at a hotel he felt would be inexpensive. Normally £61 (~US$122), it was at £75 (~US$150) because it was an “event� rate, but it was late so I took the room anyway, after checking that another hotel down the street was full. The room was nicer than the one in London, but was for disabled folks and smelled of mold and mildew.

I checked out the gay district on Canal St. and saw the Rembrandt Hotel, where I ended up staying for the rest of my time in Manchester.

Lunch With Andrew, Oxford and the Ashmolean Museum

Written June 21, 2008, on train from Manchester, England, to Holyhead, Wales, for ferry to Dublin, Ireland

After a good veg breakfast the next morning, I took two buses to Salisbury, then continued on to Oxford. I walked from the train station to the Ashmolean Museum, where I met Andrew Hodges for a pleasant lunch. We hadn’t seen each other for six or seven years since he stopped at Mills College as part of his lecture tour for his book on Alan Turing.

The Ashmolean has a wonderful collection of 25th dynasty materials, which I photographed along with a few contemporary Assyrian items.

On Andrew’s advice, I took a walk through town to see the old campus halls, the church, and other beautiful buildings. Then, back to the station and on to Manchester.

Silbury Hill, Avebury, and West Kennet Long Barrow

Written June 21, 2008, on train from Manchester, England, to Holyhead, Wales, for ferry to Dublin, Ireland

On the way to Avebury, we stopped at Silbury Hill, a grassy mound which is apparently the largest prehistoric mound constructed by people living in Europe.

At Avebury, the two women and I enjoyed a walk around the stones, those at Avebury far more deteriorated than those at Stonehenge. We visited the gift shop where we chatted with the friendly Irish proprietor.

They went on their merry way to Bath and I explored Avebury in more detail, skipping the museums, and meeting a delightful woman over lunch.

At her recommendation, I hiked through gated fields to the West Kennet Long Barrow, with its several subterranean chambers.

After the hike back, I caught the bus to Amesbury and chatted politics with an Australian fellow until the driver let me off just across the street from the B&B. I freshened up a bit, then decided to go out for another walk to see King’s Long? Barrows and Woodhenge.

On the way down the road to the trail gate, I ran into a cute French hitchhiker named Grégoire. After chatting a bit about the best place for him to camp if he didn’t get a ride, I asked if he wanted to join me on my hike. We settled mostly on conversation in French and he decided to go on the hike with me.

We checked out the barrows first, then after a couple of false starts, went to Woodhenge.

As we returned to the B&B, I agreed to fill up his water bottle, then invited to pay part of his meal if he’d join me at a pub in a hotel in town. I enjoyed getting to know him better over a cider and lasagna, then we walked back to the B&B where I had stashed his backpack and sent him off to go camping in the wild blue yonder. We agreed we’d try to meet again, possibly in Dublin.

Ritual Circle at Stonehenge

Written June 18, 2008, on the train From Liverpool to Manchester, England, United Kingdom

On the morning of Sunday, June 16, I woke up at 6:00 to get ready to leave the lodge by 6:30 for a brisk walk to Stonehenge. I walked on paths through sheep and cow pastures. I took some pictures of the sheep and the sun rising in the sky, then of Stonehenge and surrounding burrows (or burial mounds) from some distance away. Time grew short and I had to run the last half mile through sheep pasture to Stonehenge. I arrived just at 7:30 for the special early bird bisit with only about 10 other people. We paid a bit extra and reserved in advance for the privilege of walking in and around the stone circles and touching the stones. The massive stones, some fallen or covered in lichen, evoke a sense of mystery. Stonehenge radiates ancient energy, the sense that generations have stood hand-in-hand in circles within the stones for rituals of consuming importance.

The latest archaeological digs suggest the stones mark an ancient burial ground. The excavations also suggest the Cursus, a short distance away, was used for processions and possibly a settlement of some kind. Not much further away at Woodhenge, of which nothing survived except buried wooden post holes, now reconstructed with low concrete posts painted various colors. Nearby is Durring Walls, perhaps one of the largest prehistoric enclosure mounds.

After wandering through the stones at Stonehenge for quite some time and satisfying my yen for photos of the stones and of me posted with the stones, I got to chatting with some other visitors on that day from Slough, Germany, and Virginia. The two women from Slough were the most friendly. A site employee was checking pictures of the stones against the actual stones, so that any damage to the stones during the upcoming solstice celebrations could be logged. Last year, about 30,000 people visited Stonehenge for the solstice, the only time everyone can go right up into the stones for free. Chloe and ???, the women from Slough, offered me a lift and I told them I wanted to go to Avebury to see the large stone circle around the village there, along with nearbly Silbury Hill and the West Kennet Long Barrow. They decided to take a small detour on their trip to Bath to join me for the visit to Avebury.

On the drive to Avebury, we chatted about the differences between American English and English English. We decided to play a little game where I’d tell them about any cases where there were differences between the two dialects of English. I thought I’d only have to mention something every ten minutes or so, but it ended up more like every minute!