I finally found a young single guy who was willing to ask me a dating question! This is just the beginning. Mid-twenties guys are great. Everyone wants to date them, and by everyone, I mean mid-twenties women, who are my main readers here. Also older women, but let’s not get into the cougar dynamic right now. So, please tell all your brothers/new guys at work/mannies/absurdly hot random guys at the gym to write in with more questions so I don’t lose momentum with this key demographic.
Now, here is the question:
Dear Psych Mom,
My dad makes embarrassing jokes and sometimes my girlfriends can’t shake it off. It got to be a problem when my dad insinuated that my girlfriend’s new bicycle was a boy’s bike and my girlfriend responded that my dad should go F himself. How do I diffuse this situation and ensure it doesn’t recur?
First of all I would like to point out, since I live to teach you about male/female dynamics, how differently this is worded than my usual female questions. For example, there is not one single emotion word. Also, the question is about problem solving, not about how to get someone to understand or empathize with him. In fact, I do not even know necessarily what he feels about the dad or the girlfriends. Isn’t this wonderful? Vive la difference. Anyway, here is your two step plan.
1. You need to ask your dad to take it down a notch.
As a guy, it may be tough to say this to your dad, because he may act like you’re being too sensitive. Try to clearly make the point that while you do not personally take offense at his jokes, they have caused you difficulties within your relationships. Do you think your dad will hear you out if you speak to him seriously about this? He may have no idea how offensive he comes off to certain people, and he likely does not want to cause conflict in your life.
2. You also need to prepare your girlfriends for your dad.
You definitely will want to tell them that he has offended other girls in the past, and that they shouldn’t take anything he says to heart. If a girl is really into you, this will bring out her competitive side and she will want to be the girl that your dad likes best and can joke with the most. She will be all like, “No, that’s not a boy’s bike, are you wearing women’s underwear?” And your dad will pour her a scotch.
Basically, what I am saying is, be proactive. Don’t wait for this situation to occur again, as guys usually do when faced with situations involving interpersonal confrontation, parents, and females. (Wait till your mom and your fiancee disagree on wedding planning!)
So what happens if you talk to Dad and you talk to your girlfriend, and then nothing changes when you bring her to meet Dad? In this case, it is incumbent upon you to immediately get in between them (physically and verbally) and mediate, while empathizing with your girlfriend. Your dad doesn’t need your protection in this situation- he is already the dad and has all the power in the situation just because of that. Your girlfriend, however, is entering into a stressful situation and is being made fun of on top of it, so she is feeling vulnerable. Your last girlfriend, despite going over the top with telling your dad to F himself, probably felt very uncomfortable and off balance, and didn’t know what the proper response was.
Here’s how you may want to play it in the future:
Dad: Hey, I like that shirt. We’ll definitely be able to find you in the dark.
Jane Girlfriend: (pause, nervous laugh, red face)
You (the conquering hero): Come on Dad, Jane doesn’t know you yet. She thinks you’re being serious. I like that shirt, by the way.
Dad: I’m just saying you don’t need to turn on the headlights at night if she’s wearing that thing.
You: Yup, okay. Sorry, Jane, this just means he likes you.
I don’t know if Dad would actually go another round like this or not, but as you can see, your role is to step in immediately. This is both the gentlemanly and the assertive thing to do. You’re looking out for Jane, and also showing your dad that you’re not cool with him joking to this extent anymore.
On a serious note, you’re now in the stage of life where people struggle with individuating themselves from their families and seeing themselves as independent, both physically and emotionally. I know you’re not married yet, but you may be sometime relatively soon, so bear with me. Many young married couples have a tough time conceptualizing of themselves as primarily a husband and a wife, rather than primarily a son and a daughter. These obviously leads to conflict with parents and in-laws in early years of married life, when there are many inflection points where you must choose either a partner or a parent, e.g. where to spend Thanksgiving, what to do if there is a disagreement between your mom and your wife, and so forth.
The psychologically healthy outcome is to give the husband role the main focus, and then the son role comes after that. This in no way means you shouldn’t be close to your dad, and I know you’re not married (yet) to any of these girls, but it does mean that you might want to practice standing up for your girlfriends if your dad is, even unintentionally, making them upset. This will only help you in future relationships. And your dad may even be impressed that you’re able to assert yourself so well, and he may limit his jokes to ones about you.