Questions about love and sex in the Iowa City/Cedar Rapids area can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org (queries can also be sent anonymously using this form). Questions may be edited for clarity and length, and may appear either in print or online.
Holy fuck, it was an interesting Thanksgiving. My sister and her husband hosted, and my dad, my partner and I, and some other family stayed overnight. Around midnight, my partner and I decided everyone in the house was asleep and we could get away with a little, er, heavy cuddling. In the middle of things, just when it occurred to me that we hadn’t locked the door, my dad walks in. (Of course. I’d asked him to if he could install something on my computer, and apparently he’d stayed up to work on it and was trying to drop it back off in my room.) He almost definitely got a good view of what was going on, because he rushed out. The next morning we gave everyone a cursory goodbye, avoiding eye contact, and hit the road.
My dad and I live in different states, so it’s not hard to avoid him, but Christmas is steadily approaching. How do I diffuse the awkward — an awkward so awkward it gives the word new meaning?? Of course I’m embarrassed, but I’m also weirdly sad. My dad and I are pretty close, but he grew up in a pretty uptight family and we never, ever discuss sex stuff. I feel like it was a violation of our relationship. Should I pretend it never happened or diffuse the tension?
Scared of the Elephant in the Room
I’m glad you came to me with this inquiry. Everyone who’s ever been parented lives in mortal fear of someday accidentally catching their parents doin’ it — but few people remember to be properly anxious about the flip side situation, which you quite unfortunately found yourself in. It’s one worth emotionally prepping for, no doubt.
But you didn’t get to prep, and I’m sorry for that! If I still owned a physical dictionary, I would clip out your story and tape it beside the entry for “mortified.” Here’s the thing to remember, though: Given that you were likely born in or near the 21st century, there’s a damn good chance that your dad changed your diapers. You almost definitely have thrown up on him. He’s probably brushed your teeth, picked lice from your hair, dried any number of tears — and, most importantly, he loves you. He’s seen it all, he’s been through it all. It’s highly unlikely that an accidental peep show could do any lasting damage to your relationship.
Some folks have super open, let-it-all-hang-out relationships with their parents, and that’s awesome! But there’s no need to force it when that’s just not who he is. Next time you have a chance to get him alone, just say, “Hey, Dad — I’m sorry for the, well, you know. That was uncool.” And if he has nothing else to say about it, leave it be.
The one thing you didn’t mention, though, was what your partner’s thoughts on all this are. Have you two discussed it? Are they going to be comfortable around your dad going forward? Family relationships are important, but if you want a future with your partner, you need to take their needs into account as well — and that might trump the “best” way to manage this between you and your dad.
— xoxo, Kiki