Tonight, a chat with my dad gets derailed when he notices my voice is a bit flat and I seem a bit distracted. "What's the matter?"
There's new footage of WTC taken from a helicopter's point of view. A still is on the front page of Yahoo. I didn't need to see that.
(You have to keep in mind, 9/11 still hurts me very very deeply. I can't watch movies that allude to it, I have problems reading reports. The only safe avenue is discussing things related to it, like the Patriot Act. I just can't handle 9/11 itself. I know it's been almost ten years, but it's always just beneath the surface for me. I make no excuses, and I don't expect anyone else to mourn as long as I seem to be. All I ask is a little understanding.)
"...well, you know, Pete, that doesn't bother me. I mean, I've seen a lot worse. I've seen buildings coming down with the people inside it. 9/11 isn't that bad for me."
I have long described my brain as being like two separate brains that work in sync but can split up when they need to. At that point, one brain switched to autopilot, going through the motions of discussion with my dad. The other brain just started saying, "Oh, Jesus Christ. Thanks, dad."
It's not the idea of my dad seeing worse than what I'm reacting to. It's not even the trivialization of my reactions. It's the self-congratulations of his statement. He does this a lot. Something gets to me, something offends me, something sets me off, and he makes sure I know he's been through worse than me. When I bottle up, he says he wasn't doing it as a comparison, he was just making a statement. In which case, he's pulling the focus of the discussion on to him. Either way, it doesn't look good.
I'm overtired? He used to go three days straight without sleep when he was in sub school! I don't like sweet potatoes? He used to eat things in Vietnam that would gross out anyone! There's a reason I didn't tell him about the stress of my job in my old position and the effect it was having on me. "I've seen friends blown to pieces by enemy fire! You don't have it bad at all!"
I understand keeping things in perspective, that once we get the bitching out of the way, the situation isn't really life threatening or anything. But when that's all you hear, no empathy, not even validation that you have a right to be upset about something, it gets annoying. Like the only way you are allowed to let anything get you down is to be the most miserable bastard in existence. If that isn't you, you have no right to feel any form of sorrow. The fact that he constantly trumpets how he's overcome stuff doesn't sound like counciling, it sounds like self-aggrandizement.
It's almost as if conversations with my dad are not about me expressing myself, but him testifying how together he has everything. Humans have a remarkable capacity for love. Understanding. Compassion. Bravery. Might as well add "self-congratulation" to the list.