My dad scorns my career goals. How do I keep us from falling out? | Annalisa Barbieri
I have just turned 17 and will soon go to college. I have always done well at school; I don’t drink, use drugs or even have a boyfriend, and would like to think I’m responsible. But choosing a career path has been rough.
I wanted to be a teacher, but my dad incessantly told me not to pursue that path because the salary isn’t great. I ended up agreeing and not going down that route. He wants me to study law; I said I would try to get into a good place to do it, as that is what he seems to want.
My dad worked really hard all his life and we are comfortably off, but he never got to spend time with his family. I don’t want that. I want time to spend with my kids and be close to them. I also don’t want my dad to see me as a failure, but it seems that I can’t change his mind, no matter how much I comply with his wishes for my future.
I said I wanted to live a happy, comfortable life, and wanted time to spend with my family. He got really upset and told me I would destroy his life’s work. I’m at a loss to know what to do – he is not satisfied whatever I do.
I’m also the opposite of a big spender – he is, surprisingly. Money makes me anxious and I don’t care about designer brands or expensive assets. The only thing I spend money on is some video games and my tuition.
How can I make my dad understand me in a way that doesn’t ruin our relationship?
I have lost count of the number of people who tell me they are now pursuing a second career because their parents wouldn’t let them choose the first time.
How not to ruin your relationship with your dad? That’s not all down to you. He has to take 50% of the responsibility for your relationship – you don’t carry that alone. Children – even grownup children – are never responsible for their parents’ happiness or for making their parents satisfied with life. That is the parents’ job alone, just as, ultimately, your happiness becomes your responsibility.
I was full of admiration for you and how thoughtful you are. I wondered where your mum stands on all this? Is she around? Do you have anyone in the family to act as a bridge between you and your father, and to help you put your point of view across?
In terms of getting your father to understand you, ask him for a time to talk (don’t wait for an argument to say how you feel). Think about how and when you both communicate best. Is that face to face, or while doing something together? If you have someone who can act as a mediator (and feel you need one), then have them there for the chat. Otherwise, helping people to absorb information they may not want to accept is a skill, so don’t be too hard on yourself if you haven’t managed it yet. They need to be receptive to it.
Try to find common ground. What was your dad like at 17? Did he do as his parents wanted? If you can help your dad to remember what it was like to be 17, it might help. If it goes wrong, try again. Your dad is a businessman, so he will be used to negotiating. If he says inflammatory but catch-all things, such as “you’ll ruin your life”, ask him to explain in detail.
Did he have an inspirational teacher at school? Many people had at least one person who understood them and helped them. If you could remind your dad of that, he might understand that some professions aren’t all about money. It’s probably best not to use what your dad did “wrong” to get him to agree that what you want to do is “right”. So if you were to say something along the lines of, “I want to spend time with my future family and not be like you”, that could make him defensive and widen the gap between you.
Your dad may never understand you in the way you want, but that shouldn’t result in a broken relationship. He should respect your choices, because they will be the building blocks of your life, not his. You are a whole different person from him, with your own fears and hopes. These are worthy of discussion.
Every week Annalisa Barbieri addresses a family-related problem sent in by a reader. If you would like advice from Annalisa on a family matter, please send your problem to [email protected] Annalisa regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence. Submissions are subject to our terms and conditions: see gu.com/letters-terms.
Conversations With Annalisa Barbieri, a new podcast series, is available here.
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