Cheshire Cat's Grin


It’s funny how spending time in your parent’s house can turn you back to a little child the moment you walk in the door.

Recently I visited my Dad in Charleston. It had been a year-and-a-half since I’d seen him, so he was really excited I was coming. A couple of days before we drove up, he called me. The conversation went like this:

Dad: What would y’all like to eat?

Me: We’re not too picky. We prefer lots of veggies and fruits, maybe some fish.

Dad: You don’t eat meat?

Me: No, we’d rather not.

Dad: What? No meat?!?

Me: It’s not that we don’t like it, it’s for health reasons. I feel better if I don’t eat it.

Dad: My grandmother ate meat all her life and she lived to be 96.

Me: If she could have regular bowel movements, then more power to her!

Thursday night when we arrived, we had spaghetti with meat sauce. I politely ate but left some of the meat to the side. Friday morning, we had another conversation:

Dad: I’m going to the grocery store to get something to cook on the grill tonight. Anything you want?

Me: Are you grilling any veggies?

Dad: Corn on the cob, acorn squash, and baked potatoes.

Me: That’s enough. I ate some meat sauce last night so I shouldn’t eat any meat, or maybe one taste at most.

Dad: Really?

Me: I told you, I feel crummy when I eat meat. No, thanks.

Later, Dad returned from the store beaming from ear to ear. He showed me two huge London Broils.

Dad: Look what I got!

Me: (Shrugging) That’s nice, but I’m still not eating any.

Dad: (Laughing) They were on sale!

This is the stuff comedy is made of. The best comedy comes from being able to laugh about our pain, right? But I wasn’t laughing. All day I felt grumpy, anxious, kind of like I was being harassed, but I wasn’t sure why until I texted my friend Chris to report on our stay at the Hotel California. She texted back: “He must’ve been invalidated a lot as a child.”

Yep. That was what I was feeling, as I had also felt at times as a child. Invalidated. Like my needs weren’t legitimate.

I feel sorry for Dad, I thought. Oh well, I’m a big girl now, I should just forget about it and move on.

But that was not to be, because Charlie took up my defense during cookout time. Over beers around the grill, he pressed the issue man to man (hence, the graphic nature of this conversation):

Charlie: You know, it’s true Amy can’t go Number 2 when she eats meat. She gets backed up for days and has to take all these pills and laxatives and sometimes they don’t even work and only an enema will get it out.

Dad: Has she been to the doctor for this?

Charlie: She knows what’s causing it and she can control it. Why bother?

And this was not to be the last of the discussion. In his usual uncouth fashion my Dad took it up with my step-mother, a nurse, as we were finishing dinner.

Dad: Amy says she can’t go to the bathroom when she eats meat. Have you ever heard of such a thing?

Patty: Yes, it’s not uncommon for people to have chronic constipation. Some people have a sensitivity to certain foods that cause it.

Dad: Is that a serious problem?

Patty: If it’s not controlled it can lead to a bowel obstruction, or diverticulitis.

Me: Or colon cancer.

Patty: Sounds like Amy has trouble digesting the complex proteins in meat. But she eats a good diet and still gets enough protein, so it should be no cause for concern.

Dad: Oh, well good.

Dad, like most of us, has a preconceived notion of how the world works, and at his age it’s no wonder he has a hard time adjusting to my aberrations that disrupt his ingrained beliefs. For all I know, maybe he associates vegetarianism with spoiled rich kids and communist hippies. Or bought in to the myth that meat is a dietary requirement and an entitlement. Whatever. Who cares?

I wrote a nice, tidy ending to this piece about how I was finally “heard,” but deleted it because I think it’s too trite.

The reality is, if I spend more time with Dad I can expect him to do something like this again. It’s up to me whether I choose to hang my head and sulk, or speak up for myself.


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5 thoughts on “Validation

  1. Amy Cherie Copeland Post author

    Did I mention I hate this auto-tagger. I deleted all the nonsense tags before I published but it put them back in. Maybe I should uninstall it?

  2. Wendy

    Speak up for yourself! I’ve learned to finally express my feelings with my Dad too and we are getting along better than ever.

  3. Carmen

    Oh perfect. I’d be angry and anxious too. The last two years I’ve had a tough time finding work and last year the ONLY job I found was in Polk County, where my mother lives. So, I moved in with her. It was so horrible that I tried to relieve my pain by moving to South Carolina with a guy I’ve known since middle school but hadn’t seen for years. What? It could’ve worked…it didn’t. Either way, it’s extremely difficult to be around someone like that and moving back in with them is like signing up for hell. At least you don’t live close…or have to live with him! I guess we should wake up grateful for that every day. :-)

  4. Laura Morey

    Adult Parental relationships can be so difficult (I speak from experience!). He just isn’t seeing you as an adult yet. If you want a relationship with him, you need to tell him that he needs to hear you/validate you. But the problem is, he may not change the way he speaks with you (Old dog new tricks?). Is that something you can handle?

    They say you teach people how you want to be treated. For your own sanity, you have to decide what is better for you – speak to him with the possibility of him not changing, or live with it. (Or simply stop trying!)

    BTW- Kudos to Charlie for stepping up in a non-confrontational way to back you up!

    Full Disclosure: I have not seen my Dad in about 7 years, only speaking via emails for the last two years. It is complicated, especially when adding in his alcoholism and possible bi-polar issues. I stepped back because the exchanges became way too painful for me. I tried, but it hurt every time I tried to have any conversation with him. As I said, parental relationships are difficult!

  5. Amy Cherie Copeland Post author

    Wow! Based on these responses I’d say I hit a nerve with people. I think our adult relationship with our parents is an issue many of us struggle with. It becomes even more problematic if we find ourselves in a position where we have to depend on them again for our basic needs.

    @Wendy – Thanks so much for your supportive comment. I remember when we were kids your relationship with your Dad wasn’t so great, so I’m really glad to hear you’ve found a way to make progress. I’m so lucky to have Charlie to step in once in a while to make it easier for me.

    @Carmen – When I saw your blog about your Mom and the “vegetarian” soup with hamburger in it you blew me away. I had already written this draft. There are many irritating things about my Dad and his house, but it would be slightly easier for me to live with him than my Mom. At least my insensitive Dad will usually come around in response to a dope slap.
    Unlike my Dad, my Mom likes to accommodate guests by making sure there’s a special dish someone really likes or that there’s enough vegetarian fare for us freaks (LOL). But when I need help with groceries, instead of giving me the money, she wants to take me shopping — at 5 different stores because each one has the lowest price on something. (I don’t think she’s ever heard of the concept, “Time is money.”) She doesn’t trust that I’ll spend it wisely and lays a guilt trip on me when I want a particular product that’s more expensive because it’s HEALTHIER, for example, organic milk.

    @ Laura – having been married to an abusive alcoholic in the past, I can understand why you had to back away from your relationship with your Dad. I think the key is finding the balance that’s healthiest for YOU. I have come to terms with the fact that my Dad isn’t likely to change at his age, but there are times when I’ll need to speak up. I choose my battles.

    Because I find myself in the awkward position of having to depend on my Mom for some of my support right now, it will be much more difficult to address the issues with her. My Dad is a simple guy, but my Mom is very complicated to deal with.

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