Book Review: Dear Dad, It’s Over by M. Dickson

[Today is the kickoff of my super-informal Summer Reading Challenge for adults (all ages, really). It's the grown-up version of the summer reading programs you used to do at the public library as a kid, in which you'd pledge how many books you were going to read over the summer, and then if you made your pledge number you'd get a prize. If you're on Facebook you can Like the Summer Reading Challenge page there, and post your pledge and talk about books. If not, just do it at home on your own. The rules are simple:

1. It runs May 15 through September 15.

2. Pledge how many books you'll read, and when you hit your goal, buy yourself a present.

3. All books count–cheap romance novels, graphic novels, YA, whatever. Unless you've read it so many times you can recite huge chunks of dialogue.

4. You really only have to get through 25 of the shades of grey to consider that book finished.]

Now, in honor of the first day, I'm reviewing M. Dickson's Dear Dad, It's Over, a memoir of her life as a child of divorce. (A specific interest of mine for obvious reasons.) M and I know each other and she sent me the book to review, but there was no money or anything else of value exchanged (except thoughts) in exchange for this review.

I started reading the book thinking it would be funny, because M is funny, and it's kind of a funny title. The idea that your dad would piss you off so much that you'd tell him "It's over" was kind of an old-style, All In The Family trope, and I was ready for something overblown and cartoonish.

But the book is really the narrative of how M.'s dad failed to be a decent father once her parents divorced. There is dark, biting humor, but this isn't a comical sketch about a loveable-but-annoying dad. M's father is a bad person. Not an evil person, just an ordinary bad person who can't get past his own selfishness to be able to think about what a little girl (or a big girl) needs and be able to give it to her. He can't get past his own selfishness to allow her to be herself, to allow her to love both her mother and him, and to do anything that interferes with his ego or comfort.

The title of the book refers to the fact that after years of thinking she could repair the relationship with her father, M. finally realized that it really wasn't in her control, and for her own emotional health she needed to cut off contact with her father.

I cringed while reading most of this book, because no child–no person–should be treated the way M's father has treated her. But I struggled with the idea that this was a book about divorce. The setting is divorce. But the actual plot and characters are just people, who are acting within the divorce setting. Getting a divorce didn't turn M's father into an emotionally abusive asshole–he was already one. (This may have been a contributing factor to the divorce.) And if her parents had stayed together, her dad still would have mistreated her–she just wouldn't have had any other place to go. The book describes the experience of a child whose parents are divorced, but it isn't a proscription. Any parent can be a better parent than M's dad was. Any parent needs to be a better parent than M's dad was.

What I, as a divorced parent, really took out of this book was the need to look not just at what my children need, but at how things feel to them. I have already tried extremely hard to allow them to have all of their feelings, and not to force them to pretend loyalty to me or my family if they aren't feeling it, and to affirm their relationship with their dad's side of the family. But I need to continue to pay attention to the transactional things, such as which clothes are where (they don't care now but they might soon), and making sure that the kids know the whole week's schedule at the beginning of the week.

I also realized that just because my own kids have a father who cares about them doesn't mean that there aren't other single parents struggling with trying to protect their children from an abusive other parent. And they might need some support from me. And their kids might need support, too.

15 thoughts on “Book Review: Dear Dad, It’s Over by M. Dickson”

  1. This looks interesting. I haven’t read the book so am basing what follows 100% on what Moxie has written but M’s dad sounds a lot like my own. My mom stayed married to him until we two kids were both grown and out of the house, and I now recognize that while this was tremendously costly for her, it was tremendously good for us (in relative terms). I don’t know how (nor do I think it’s possible to) one calculates that tradeoff, but I do think it exists. By staying married to my dad (that is, by not leaving him), my mom avoided what he would have done (which is drag everything bad that was real and probably some things that weren’t about my family out into the public eye and rake us all over the hot coals in an attempt to ‘hold the family together’ — and punish my mother for leaving) and also kept herself in a position where she was always able to serve as an insulator, buffer, and protector for us, rather than letting my dad have access to us independent of her (he wasn’t abusive, at least not of us and not to my knowledge physically of her, but was careless, clueless, dishonest, and neglectful).I don’t know how you decide, as a parent, to do that, and I don’t know how you find the strength to do it either. Nor am I saying I think it is always obvious when it is the right thing to do (I am definitely NOT saying that I think parents should usually “stay together for the kids.”). But I think it can be the right thing to do, and will be forever and always grateful to my mom for having done it.

  2. I agree with @ Moxie that what happened to M isn’t really about divorce.My father didn’t divorce my mother, but behaved exactly the same way until his early death. It was not possible to love both and he essentially took revenge for her gradually developing a severe mental illness. She heard voices on the phone, so couldn’t relay messages.
    Cue the silent treatment and the cold war he waged. Loyalty could be to him only. Thing is she was scary, so I was.
    I’m fine now! I love my daughter and she has a good daddy, and he loves me and her and she loves us.
    Bad stuff happens, in and out of divorces. You tend to describe the misery by the setting it took place in.

  3. I just added this book to my to-read list. My mom stayed (and still is) with my father. He’s emotionally abusive to her. And he was to us, too, growing up.What I don’t get is why my mother stayed. My father certainly would not sued for custody. My mother worked a job that would have easily provided for her and for her children. I can’t decide if she stayed / stays because she just doesn’t love herself enough to make different choices or because she’s still clinging to the same illusion of a dream she’s been clinging to for 35 years.
    Sad.

  4. Just added this to my must read list. One of the many things that happened during my parent’s divorce (I was in 1st semester of college), was when my dad threatened to take away all my and my sister’s college savings – forcing me at that point in the game to take a few semesters off of school to find out how to pay for it – unless my mother signed away everything in the divorce.Now my dad is sitting on millions in retirement while my mom is mid-50’s and will probably never be able to retire because her fair share was stolen from her (she was a stay at home mom during the divorce). The sad thing is, he didn’t want custody and certainly wouldn’t have been in the poor house to give her something after 25 years of marriage, it was just his way of gaining control over everything.
    Now as an adult, I’m trying to reconcile the two people that make up my father – the man (bad person, not necessarily evil, just ugly and bad), versus my “dad”.

  5. I think this is way more common than people think. My parents didn’t divorce until I was an adult but my childhood was full of this kind of stuff. My mom was the one who saw me as an extension of herself and my father was just an angry man in the closet. If anything it has made me feel I will never be a good enough mother. I’m constantly combing blogs like this for help because I don’t ever want my kids to feel the way I did. I don’t have a mom I can turn to for advice or support. It comes with too many strings attached. I sometimes feel jealous of other moms in my neighborhood who have parents that are actually still parents to them as adults. What would that be like to have a mom that actually came to visit and took a genuine interest in my kids instead of seeing them as a distraction of my attention toward her? How wonderful it would be to feel I could trust my dad babysit my kids. But he has continuously proven over and over that he has horrible judgement and despite his requests this will never happen. My husband and I joke that basically our plan is “Don’t Die” because between us, there isn’t one competent adult in either family that we would trust with our kids. My main hope at the end of the day is that my kids will still want me and my husband in their lives when they are adults. That guilt and obligation are not the motivating factors in spending time with us. I hope to create the kind of family I wish I had. That if my kids someday have children I can be there for them. I think about this shit all of the time and I’m so tired.

  6. did not read the book. but i read the comments and was inspired to post. i came from a home with a power monger, emotionally abusive father and a weak, subservient mother who i had to emotionally care for. it was horribly taxing and if some adult were able to see what was happening and just let me vent or affirm that indeed my family was messed up, it would have helped a great deal.

  7. @anon: I hear you on feeling sad that you don’t have parents to turn to for advice as you raise your own children. I’m the child of an extremely narcissistic parents who somehow manage to enable each other’s narcissism (my step dad is the dominant one though– he’s very abusive to my mother) and are completely incapable of being loving and supportive to their only child (it’s not enough to do what they want, you have to *feel* what they want you to feel, say the right things on cue and even then, they may still go off on you for being a horrible, selfish human being).However, after five years of therapy, reading many books on parenting and many books on surviving emotional abuse and 14 years together with a man who has taught me what loving relationships actually look like, I’m over the fear that I’m going to do the same thing to my kids. Here’s why I don’t think you should worry either:
    1) Self-awareness; if you are aware of your self and your parenting, actively trying to improve, willing to admit mistakes and able to see parenting as a set of skills you need to acquire, you are already extremely different from your parents. Self-awareness and being able to genuinely say “I’m sorry” to your kids is *HUGE*
    2)Respect for your kids: the fact that you respect your children’s agency enough to realize that it is their choice whether or not to have contact with you as an adult means you see your children as people; if you see someone as a person and respect their right to make choices, then it’s much harder to be emotionally abusive toward them. My parents don’t even recognize that I have a right to my own feelings–nothing is more painful to a child than a parent annihilating their right to basic personhood.
    You have already made a huge journey and taken important steps in breaking the cycle. You are already very much not like your parents. Take heart!
    Here are two more things that I’m still working on:
    3) Not making my kids responsible for validating my feelings of being a good Mom; or, in other words, not making my struggle to be a good Mom an emotional burden on my kids. That means allowing my kids to be angry with me, allowing them to express negative feelings and be unhappy sometimes while I still do the dirty work of parenting, like setting and enforcing limits. That means that if I feel like I’ve done a shitty job at parenting on some particular day, I don’t bring it to them (e.g. saying things like, “I’m a terrible Mom” or “I don’t want you to hate me” or whatever). It also means having my own life and getting emotional support from other Moms so that parenting isn’t my only big focus or emotional outlet.
    4) Letting go of the perfect and recognizing that I will make mistakes and that’s ok. I used to be devastated every time I had a “bad Mommy moment” (e.g. yelling at my kids or losing my patience or whatever). I’m working now to see mistakes as an opportunity to teach my kids how to handle mistakes: acknowledge the mistake, apologize if you need to and clean up the mess you made. This also means letting go of some notion that my kids will have perfect love for me or think of me as their best friend or the greatest Mom of all time or whatever– they might end up in therapy for stuff I’m doing that’s not even on my radar right now. That’s ok. I just want to make sure they can recognize they need therapy, pay for it themselves and be supportive and open if they come to me with issues of ways that I’ve let them down.
    @anon, my heart goes out to you– I’m right there with you. It’s a lot of hard work (therapy helps!) yet it is doable. You’re not your parents, and it’s not inevitable that you’ll repeat the cycle.

  8. Es kommt mit zu viele Bedingungen geknüpft. Ich fühle mich manchmal neidisch auf andere Mütter in meiner Nachbarschaft, die Eltern, die eigentlich immer noch Eltern, um sie als Erwachsene haben. Was würde das sein, eine Mutter, die tatsächlich kam zu Besuch und nahm ein echtes Interesse an meinen Kindern Statt sie als Ablenkung von meiner Aufmerksamkeit auf sie zu haben? Wie wunderbar wäre es, zu fühlen, ich vertrauen konnte mein Vater meine Kinder babysitten.

  9. if I’m bad, I hit you with this flashlight, hee hee. , how to stop the hands of a small Lei-lei things? The reason, he was self-defense based on small-Lei-lei do not understand any technology, dedicated to refining the small Lei-lei, if not magic, but hard to explain the magic with a unique atmosphere, admire. Yingying laughed: Unlike the bud bowl, living in a noble family, know nothing, she knows now how to get these things valuable, determined to follow after Cheap Air Jordans , do not want to return to the mercenary trade unions,? Li planet outside in the deep attracted her. bowl bud now, of course agreed, and interest in full, can not wait, said: Long country only a vital place, rulers for their own interests, the construction of very great importance for the Qincheng, the important forces are deployed in Qincheng, Qincheng troops alone now reached three hundred thousand, one million population is up to the dragon country larger cities. Although rulers attached great importance to Qincheng building, but with age, and in recent years by mountain bandits occupied Man Suit , very few students Qincheng war, yet Lindbergh and to stabilize their political status, and vigorously develop their own forces, construction of less importance for these now Qincheng look dilapidated, the city gate two characters look Qincheng up somewhat vague, the soldiers on sentry lazy the station, sit sit, chat, chat, do not look like a guard. a more than 20 years old clothes are worn by soldiers of another young soldier that said: it really was not where people stay, the day lying here sick, and that there is inside the city guard Chashao comfortable, but also earn extra money, this place really *** tired, old and even I said, you are here for several years , you will not bother you? her husband is a city guard captain, arrange for you to stay here after the first half of other arrangements, small eyes, how to say let a brother, you had better pull my brother I *** a future. little daydreaming, a city guard captain count ass, I am his mother

  10. i could’nt begin to tell you how wrong your review is and how messed up this book is and what a lie it is. how do i know? the “asshole” you decried is MY DAD! he has always been a good father and always will. funny that she didn’t feel this way when he drove all the way to tennesse to get her and drive her back in one day because she “home sick” . i don’t what happened to emily but i can tell u this is 99.9% a lie. she never felt this way on holidays, taking a trip to disney, or when we kept a spare bedroom just for her for years!!! even when she barely gave us the time of day. so calling someone a bad person, a failed father, an…”asshole”, and not even knowing him…well couldn’t be anymore WRONG! such a lie… and i hope you know that this book is fake and probably just for money. my dad is the BEST FRIKIN FATHER IN THE ENTIRE WORLD! no matter what “m” says….

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