Auntie SparkNotes: This Is Serious [S-Word].
My parents are crazy. My biggest problem with them is their lack of ability to control their anger and discuss things with me in a mature way. Particularly my dad, who doesn't respect me at all. Even simple requests, such as the one that he knock before he come into my room, that he try not to cuss around me, that he doesn't look through my things, that he doesn't grab me or my stuff, are completely ignored. Most of the fights we get in involve school, my room, or my lack of a social life. I know you can't tell me who is right or wrong in these situations, but I feel like they are getting out of control. The last conversation we had ended in him:
Accusing me of:
1) being a "[f-word]-ing spoiled, ungrateful little [b-word] and a prostitute"
2) having no respect or care for my family and possessions
3) trying to start fights between my mom and him and break up our family
He threatened to:
1) smack me
2) throw away all my "[s-word]"
3) take all my "[s-word]" away
4) smash my "[other bad word] laptop, and run over my mother-[f-word]-ing phone with the car"
1) screamed in my face
2) grabbed my arm (I had a bruise)
3) pushed everything off of my desk, consequently breaking over half of the stuff
4) got mad at my mom for trying to defend me
5) went and screamed at my sister when he was done screaming at me, even though she had done nothing wrong, which made her go into hysterics.
All this because he had forgotten that he allowed me to make plans, so when I told him I was going out he flipped like some sort of pancake being made by people who actually know how to make pancakes and can actually flip them, which would not be me. It really upsets me when he brings other people into our conflicts, I know my mom is in an awkward position between the two of us. Fights (big ones, like this) between us occur at my household at least 3 times a month, but after them my dad just acts like nothing happened. I don't know what I do to set him off, we could just be sitting at dinner and he will start yelling and screaming over the smallest thing and it turns crazy. My neighbors have called us more than once after arguments like this, asking if we are all okay because they heard my dad screaming. How do I get him to a) stop blowing up at me and b) not take his anger out on my sister or mom?
If this column were a 1990s TV show, this letter would be what's known as "a very special episode"—a moniker which was essentially code for "an episode in which we deal with deadly-serious subjects like pregnancy, drugs, and stranger-danger, so don't expect any jokes, because this [s-word] is not funny."
Which is to say, Auntie can't crack wise about this letter. Because what's happening here is scary, serious, and not funny at all.
You say that I can't tell you who's right or wrong in these situations, but as a matter of fact, I can: it's your dad. It doesn't matter what you're arguing about. An adult—as in, a grownup person who votes and works and has taken on the responsibility of creating and raising children—should never terrorize, assault, or scream in the face of a kid. EVER. What you're describing is abuse, and there's absolutely no excuse for it. To put it bluntly: your father has a problem, and your family needs help.
And this is where things get complicated.
There is nothing you can do to "get" your dad to stop; a person with out-of-control anger issues will always find a reason to fly off the handle, no matter how non-confrontational or well-behaved his victims are. (If you look at your letter again, you'll notice that you and your family are already walking on eggshells, terrified of doing anything that might set him off.) But your mom, a.k.a. the other adult in this situation, is undoubtedly aware that her husband's anger creates an unhealthy (and unsafe) environment for you and your sister—and she should have insisted that he get counseling the first time he lost control.
For you, this means that your first stop is your mom. Talk to her in private, and say something like, "Mom, I'm really concerned about Dad. He obviously has a problem. And it's gotten to the point where [sister] and I are constantly terrified of setting him off and we don't feel safe at home. He needs to see a counselor about this."
Hopefully, hearing from you about the effect your father's behavior is having on the household will be the wakeup call your mom needs to step in and tell your dad that he needs to enter therapy. But, given what you've told me, it's also very possible that she's just as scared of him as you are and won't intervene.
In which case, you need to seek help on your own. Immediately.
Talk to any adult you can trust—a school counselor, a pastor, an aunt or uncle, or even the concerned neighbors who know just how bad things are at your house. And if none of those options are available, please call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD, and talk to an operator about the situation. (Both of these hotlines are anonymous and confidential; the operators won't know who you are, and you don't have to tell them if you don't want to.)
And the one thing you absolutely shouldn't do?
I don't want to scare you, but I also can't stress enough how necessary it is that you take this seriously and talk to someone right away. It is absolutely, vitally important that you alert an adult to what's happening, especially since your dad has already gotten violent with you. Out-of-control screaming, destroying your possessions, grabbing you hard enough to bruise—all of these things are warning signs of a serious problem. And if you don't get help, chances are good that things will get worse, and you (or your mom, or your sister) could get hurt.
Good luck, and please write back to let us know that you're doing okay.
And for any Sparklers who think the dad's behavior in this letter sounds even a little bit familiar, please read this checklist to determine whether you're being abused. (Replace the word "partner" with "parent" where necessary.)
Comments? You know what to do. And to get advice from Auntie, email her at email@example.com.