Shirah Vollmer MD

The Musings of Dr. Vollmer

The Disinterested Dad

Posted by Dr. Vollmer on August 30, 2012

Samantha, fifty-seven, calls her dad once a week, every Sunday. The conversation is the same, she tells me. “We talk about his medical problems, he does not ask about me or my children. Sometimes I volunteer information. Then, he has to return to his poker game.” Samantha tells me with a resignation that implies she knows how her dad feels about her. By her account, her dad appreciates Samantha’s interest in him, but he does not, has not, reciprocated that interest. “I always feel sad when I hear about how other people have fathers that take an active interest in their lives. That is so foreign to me,” Samantha says, letting me know that most of the time she does not think about this painful relationship, but occasionally there are triggers which bring her back to the pain. “Not all dads are curious about their children,” I say, demystifying the belief that all who become parents have a deep emotional connection with their children. “Yea, I know that. Sometimes my friends feel that because I came from an upper middle class family, my dad cared about me, but it certainly did not feel that way to me,” Samantha says, voicing her frustration about the assumptions her friends have made about her life. “It sounds like you need affirmation about how you feel.” I say, wondering why she needs her friends to understand this. “It is not so much that I need affirmation,” Samantha responds, “it is more that I need my friends to give me the space to have my experience of my dad, and not the experience they think I had.” “Oh, I see what you mean,” I respond. “You need your friends to accept your perceptions and not try to talk you out of them.” I say, understanding that the issue is not how she feels about her dad, but how she feels about her friends. “That’s right,” she says, affirming me in that moment.

4 Responses to “The Disinterested Dad”

  1. Jon said

    Samantha’s situation seems to be a conflict of many possibilities of perception. There is the perception that she has, and the perception that she would like to have; there is the perception that her friends would expect her to have, and, of course, there is the perception of an “objective observer.” It would be ideal if all could be aligned in a nice happy situation, but, as has been stated many times before in this musings, the real world is far from ideal.

    • Yes, Jon. Perception is what we always discuss, with all of the inherent distortions. Validating one’s perceptions, knowing that there are distortions is often the role of friends. This validation is not an agreement of the situation, but an acknowledgment that is how the other person feels. This is the art of relationships. Thanks.

  2. Shelly said

    The issue is never about what Samantha’s friends’ perceptions of what a happy father-daughter relationship should be, and they are wrong to try to convince Samantha that it is other than what it is. They are uncomfortable hearing that her life is not perfect and are trying to distort the expected reality and make it something it is not. Not all people who breed are great parents, I’m sorry to say. Samantha must always wish for a different relationship with her dad; unfortunately she cannot change the reality of her disinterested, selfish father. She must come to the understanding that it is not because she is not worthy of his love and attention, but it is because he is unable to give it–a defect in his character, not hers. No amount of her wishing nor talking to him about it will change that reality because he simply doesn’t see it the way she does. He is happy with the relationship as it stands. What Samantha needs are new friends who accept her the way she is and don’t judge her based on her class or social status.

    • Thank you, Shelly. Your comments remind me of Winnicott’s quote, as I said in a previous post, “to be alone in the presence of another” is a true gift of friendship. Very few relationships allow this kind of space where the individual can express themselves without the intrusion of the other’s projections or wishes about what a family should be like. Your comments are helpful and to the point. Thank you again.

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