I spoke to my very strict and control-freak father about it yesterday, and he was screaming, telling me that I am prohibited from moving in with my boyfriend. I expressed to him that my desire to move to Colorado is my own, and my boyfriend is just along for the ride. I did not base my decision on a boy; in fact, he chose this location to make me the most happy. My dad told me that he would cut me off financially if I decided to go out to Denver. He has ruined my childhood because he has been the biggest control freak, demanding every little thing to be done as he wishes or he would cut my funds. I have inheritance money and plan to get a part-time job next year while studying in order to pay for my living expenses. Finances will not stop me from my dreams.
My question for you is: How I should go about making my dad understand this better and how I can make him approve? He is enraged now, and even though finances will be my responsibility, I would like to keep my relationship with my dad. My boyfriend is also hurt because he doesn’t want my dad to hate him forever. How would you go about this? — Wanting Dad’s Approval
The short answer is: You can’t make your dad approve of your decisions, and I would advise you to reframe your question. You say you want to keep your relationship with your father, so instead of asking “How can I make him approve of my decisions?”, you could ask, “What are some ways I can help support and maintain my relationship with my dad?” Do you see how the latter question removes the responsibility of your bowing to your father’s control? Maintaining a relationship — even one between a parent and his or her adult child — should never be dependent on one person approving of another’s decisions. Maintaining a relationship should be about communication, respect, and finding common ground, to name a few things.
Essentially, when your father threatens to cut you off financially, he is telling you exactly what your personal freedom costs. It’s costing you whatever financial support he is willing to give you. As long as you follow his wishes, even if they’re in direct opposition to your own dreams, you have his financial support. If, however, you value your freedom more than his money, you can have your freedom. It sounds like you’ve thought this through and know which is more valuable to you. And if you’ve decided that being “cut-off” is a price worth being able to follow your dreams, then the question no longer is “How can I make him approve of my dreams?” — because you don’t need his approval (or his money) to follow them–it really is: “How can I work towards maintaining a relationship with my father?” And the answer to that is: the same way you work towards maintaining relationships with other people you care about.
To work towards maintaining a relationship with your dad, you can keep in touch (calls, texts, emails, FaceTime chats, and visits if you can afford them emotionally and financially); share any personal news you’re comfortable sharing; discuss topics that are of interest to you both (like sports teams you both root for), and tell him that you love him. You can’t control how he responds to any of this, of course, but that isn’t your job. You are 50% responsible for maintaining a relationship with your dad. If he doesn’t put in 50% effort and meet you halfway, you can’t take the blame for that. Of course, you don’t want to lose a relationship with your father, but if the cost of keeping it is to put your dreams on hold indefinitely, or to be his little robot and do whatever he tells you, then what’s the point?
All of that said, I’m going to say something you may not like: Some of the decisions you make are not going to pan out. Those decisions may involve your boyfriend or school or your future career in law. There will be things you pursue that you may later regret or that prove to cause you pain or discomfort. There’s no way around that — it’s life and it happens to all of us. And when that happens, you’re going to need to be extra strong, especially in the face of what could potentially be your father saying “I told you so.” He’s going to be watching you carefully and waiting for his chance to show you what a mistake it was to defy him. And when that happens, you may be dealing with heartache or grief or disappointment, and your guard and defenses may be down. It may feel tempting to give control back to your dad because taking responsibility for your grief is hard. It’s hard for anyone, but at your age even more difficult because you have very little experience being fully responsible for yourself, and you may even have very little experience making decisions that don’t pan out. It’s going to happen eventually, it’s going to hurt, and you’re going to have to be extra strong and stay steadfast in your ability to drive your own life. That’s the price you pay for personal freedom. I wouldn’t say it’s a “small price to pay,” but I do believe it’s worth it.
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at firstname.lastname@example.org.