I had to move back in with my dad

I'm a grown woman who lost her job. Now I'm living with a man who won't wash his hands

Published February 17, 2012 1:00AM (EST)

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       (Zach Trenholm/Salon)
(Zach Trenholm/Salon)

Dear Cary,

I need your help in determining if I am an ungrateful daughter or person reacting to a shitty situation. I am a 38-year-old woman who, like many Americans, has lost my job due to the recession. However, I do bartend part time. Needless to say, I was experiencing financial difficulties and because I couldn't find a job I decided to attend school in an effort to make myself more employable. My father expressed how impressed he was with my educational endeavors and made me an offer that I could not refuse. He said that I could live in one of his rental houses until I was out of school and I would only be responsible for utilities. This was music to my ears. Within no time I was packing my bags and moving out of my apartment. I moved to the house and paid to get new carpet and tile installed as well as have the house painted. My father was working on getting the house up to code so that it would pass inspection and after the inspection he was supposed to go back to live out of state. Here it is one and a half years later and my father has not left. The carpet that I purchased is completely ruined and so are the tile floors.

Why? you may ask. Because he is a complete and utter slob! He grew up on a farm and spends lots of time outside tending to his garden and fixing his many lawnmowers that he has fished out of the trash. I spend hours cleaning, all for him to destroy the house in literally a matter of minutes. It is ridiculous. To add insult to injury he does not wash his hands ... EVER. Not even after going poo ... I feel like I was hoodwinked and bamboozled, because there is no way in hell I would have ever put myself in a situation to live with one of my parents at this point and time in my life. I have expressed my frustration with the situation, but he doesn't want to ever talk about it. I want to move, but right now I am not financially stable and I am so close to finishing school, I don't want to jeopardize my studies.

Grown Woman Living in Daddy's House

Dear Grown Woman Living in Daddy's House

I don't think you are an ungrateful daughter. I think you are a person reacting to a shitty situation in an understandable way.

After years of being self-sufficient you've been thrown back into dependent daughterhood. That has got to trigger some feelings you're not prepared for. That's got to be tough on the ego. It would be hard for it not to matter how well your father handled it.

And he's not handling it all that sensitively, one must say. When our  survival is symbolically threatened, we sometimes reassure ourselves by making our immediate surroundings clean and healthy and spotless. It's a good thing to do if you're feeling threatened and insecure; it can cheer you up to clean house. So here's an interesting symbolic contradiction: Here you have come to your dad to help you survive, and he is providing for you, yet also doing things that symbolically threaten your survival: Dirt, poo, infection, disease, loss of control!

Subconsciously it may be felt as aggression: Your dad is threatening your survival rather than nurturing it. He's bringing danger into the house. He's bringing dirt and disease into the house, meaning, symbolically, into your body. So he's polluting you when you are trying to regain your strength. The literal-minded may quibble but we're talking about emotions that take place below our conscious awareness, in the language of symbols.

On the surface he's doing you a favor, and good for him. But he's also not admitting your personhood or your power: He's retaining his own power over his own place. That's the prerogative of property ownership in a society that worships property. You are expected to grant him the prerogatives of ownership. But he's not accommodating you, really, as a person. It may even feel as though he's trying to push you out.

His hospitality may be begrudging; his messing up the house may be passive-aggressive; he probably wants to go on living as he is accustomed to living. There may also be some unspoken disapproval of your reversal of fortune, and perhaps a little unspoken "I told you so," if you have been too independent for his liking. He may even be enjoying being the father to a relatively helpless daughter once again -- a daughter who cannot force him to wipe his feet.

Assuming your parents are divorced, is he also repeating a pattern of conflict he had with your mother? Could be. They could have had fights over just such things. If those fights led to their divorce, you may also be experiencing uncomfortable memories of an earlier symbolic threat to your survival. Also, not to jump ahead, but this could also be a preview of the role reversal that happens as your dad ages and weakens and you take on the role of caretaker, being sure he washes his hands and wipes his feet, as a mother would do in raising a child.

But that's just the messy symbolic stuff it's my job to dredge up. On the surface, in the practical present, you're a capable adult woman in control of her life and career. You've made yourself a plan that requires you to do some compromising. That's what this is: It's a conscious compromise. You're still making your own choices. This is just temporary.

You've found shelter in a bad time. Your dad is your ally. He loves you. He's providing you a place.  He's doing what he can, in his way.

Hang in there, finish your course of study, thank your dad and stay positive. When you look back on this, as uncomfortable as it is now, you'll be grateful there was a place for you to go. With the passage of time it may even become a fond if bittersweet memory.

By Cary Tennis

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