[Interview]
Denis – 56-Year-Old Accountant Struggles With a Tough
24-Year-Old Daughter Still Living at Home

Fifty-six year old accountant/CPA

  • Long Island, New York dad
  • Still married to his childhood sweetheart
  • He’s the middle child of six brothers and one sister
  • Has two children – a son age twenty-eight and a daughter, Devan, age twenty-four
  • Still supporting his kids but would like to see them taking care of themselves

 

SELECTED QUOTES

“My father was a wife beater …I mean, he broke her nose.”

“WOW! Where’d this kid come from?  She’s actually made me a better person I think.”

“She was a tough kid to raise …very strong-willed, had her own point of view on EVERYTHING… I’ve had a hard time adapting to that.”

“I have five brothers and one sister.  Maybe that’s the root of the problem.  That I don’t understand women as well as I should probably”

“She lights up my life.  She’s like a spark plug.”

“Advice for fathers, …hold your tongue… you hurt people with your mouth more than you can with your hands.”

“Ah… y’know, it’s funny.  Looking at my daughter I wish I was more like her…”


[INTERVIEW BEGINS]

Do you feel daughters are different than sons?

It’s like Mars and Venus.  Growing up, my son was almost invisible.  He was, kind of like, on the same wavelength that I was on.  [But] my daughter Devan… she was a tough kid to raise.  She was very strong-willed, had her own point of view on EVERYTHING, wanted to do and try everything.  It was tough to keep up with her, even to this day.

Y’know, she’s much different than I am.  Much more outgoing.  She’s willing to try more things.  I’ve had a hard time adapting to that.  It’s caused some friction between the two of us.  But, the underlying love is still there and she understands that.

She has habits that rub me the wrong way.  [But] it’s funny.  When we’re apart, you know, separation thing, I miss the hell out of her and I forget about those things.  It’s… weird.

Do you have brothers or sisters?

I have five brothers and one sister.  Maybe that’s the root of the problem.  [That] I don’t understand women as well as I should probably

What were your parents like?

My father was kind of a disciplinarian.  He was a tough guy.  Used to beat hell out of us. {nervous laugh}. But… uh… you know, I respected him.

And my mother just had so many kids that she couldn’t spend a lot of time with any of them.  She was always on the go.  I knew they loved me and they spent as much time as they could with us, but that wasn’t much.

[And yeah, my father used to] beat the hell out of all of us.  It was mostly my brother, John, and I.  We used to continually fight and bicker.  And my father…he just didn’t put up with it.  He used to whack us around. Throw us across the room on occasion.  He was the disciplinarian, in the military sense of the word.

[My father was also] a wife beater.  He used to beat my mother up.  He was a very jealous person.  He used to accuse her of things, whether they were true or not, I have NO idea, but he was just off the deep end.

My mother was very submissive.  She just stood and listened and took all the crap he’d hurl at her.  That just made him even more angry.

And…I mean, he broke her nose.  He did a lot of weird things.  That’s what that relationship was.

Apparently I guess, before I was born, there was loving to an extent, but I don’t ever remember that in my childhood or adulthood that it was a relationship.

What were you like as a kid growing up?

I actually was a little bit independent – like my daughter, except I wasn’t in my parents’ face all the time.  Y’know, I was kind of under the radar.  I had the other siblings.  My oldest brother took the brunt for a lot of the stuff that went on, and I uh… was kind of under the radar.

I had one good friend.  His name was Bill, and I would probably spend ninety percent of my childhood at his house, to the extent that his parents were going to name their last child after me, {laugh}… except it was a girl.  So, ah… you know, they were like my adopted parents.

How did you meet your daughter’s mom?

[Donna and I…] used to just hang around together [in high school], and it just blossomed… into puppy love at that point.

She’s the only woman I ever dated. {nervous laugh}

Really? 

Yeah!

Are you still together?

Ah…I believe we are.

{Laughs}  Do you want to check?  

She’s somewhere in the kitchen I think right now.

What attracted you to her?

Uh…initially her look.  She was a very pretty girl.  Still is to an extent. {laughs}.

When I kinda had my first date with her, I took her snapper fishing on the handlebars of my bicycle.  She was just so easy to talk to.  I had never met anybody like that in my life.  I was just so relaxed.

I don’t know [what she saw in me]. {laughs} She never told me…  We just hit it off.  We’d talk and talk for hours and hours, for days… just about everything and anything.  It was very comfortable.

We’ve been married… thirty-four years this November.  [So it’s] not as much now. {laughs}  I mean, you run out of conversation with people.  You have to invent things.

Were your kids planned?

Five years [after we got married] she got pregnant with Daniel.  Another four years for Devan.

We wanted kids.  And we wanted more than two kids.  Um…but it turned out before Daniel and between Daniel and Devan and after Daniel, my wife had like five miscarriages.  And she got pregnant like six months after she had Devan and she had another miscarriage [so] I just said that’s it, too much heartbreak.  I went and had my… my… ah, thing snipped. {nervous laugh}

So that was the end of that.  I guess God… had us get our ducks in order, because my daughter was enough.  She took up enough time for three kids {laughs}

What was your daughter like as a child?

I can remember to this day, Donna during her pregnancy telling me this kid is going to be a handful, just by the way she felt inside the womb.

She came out and, as soon as she was born, she had this look on her face – her eyes were wide open, and she just turned her head around and stared at Donna.  And no matter what they did, she just kept turning her head to look at Donna in the delivery room.  I was like, WHOA!

But she was a, was a… um, very determined… mischievous… active… happy… I mean, everything you really would want in a kid… as a child, very bubbly, you know.

A lot of things I loved about her and I still love about her.  I do love that she’s very independent and she’s always trying to better herself, trying to find ways to make money, trying to find ways to meet people.  I really respected her for that and I still respect her for that.

What’s a story abut her growing up that you remember?

{Laughs}  There were two stories.

One of them was, she was on the bus going to school and they had to use seatbelts.  She didn’t like using seatbelts.  She was like six years old.  She took her scissors out and cut the seatbelt off of her. {Laughs}.  She cut the strap to the seatbelt so she didn’t have to wear it anymore.

So that’s one.  That’s the mischievous side.

The other one is – I was actually very proud of her.  When she was about nine years old, she was at the playground and ah… there was a kid in her class who was mentally — not mentally disturbed, he was handicapped, he was very slow.  And… the class bully at the time was picking on him, taking his hat, throwing it around, you know, that type of thing.  She got pissed and she jumped in.  She got the kid’s hat back and she grabbed the kid, the bully kid, threw him on the ground and beat the piss out of him.

{Laughs}. Nine-year-old girl!  Then we get a call from the principal to go up to the school.  So we go up there and… “Yeah, so what’s the problem?” {laughing} That was a good story.  That was Devan though.  That’s how she was.

Did anything change when she became a teenager?

[In] junior high and high school she got more sophisticated friends.  [So she] decided we lived in the ghetto because all her friends lived in Huntington Harbor. {nervous laugh}  Y’know she started being competitive that way.

She [also] started wearing make-up and all of that stuff, which was great.  I loved it when she did that.  But she… still remained a tomboy.  She still is a tomboy.

She didn’t change all that much [though]… except a lot of the stupid boy things that girls do, just rubbed me the wrong way sometimes, y’know.

And, again, I think that goes back to being my problem – in that I never really had any exposure to growing up with a girl in the family, because my sister was so much older than me.

I know it was a problem because my wife always used to give me “the look”, y’know? {nervous laugh}

The typical girly thing [did bother me], with… all the cliquey stuff that they do?  She’s got one group of friends one week, another group the next week.  One person would be her best friend, y’know, and then she’d come and start talking about them.  That type of thing.  I used to get mad at her when she would do that.

She probably [remembers] the fun she had playing in the court [yard] with all her childhood friends.  We had a court full of little girls and to this day [she’s twenty-four], there’s three of them that are tight, you know.  They tell each other everything.  Even if they don’t see each other for months at a time, they’re in constant contact.

She just had so much fun growing up in the court.  Last night she was talking about – her favorite game was ah, hide-and-go-seek – because she saw some kids playing it, I forget where we were.  She goes, “We used to play that…  We’d run around the court, but we used to have the whole court to play hide-and-go-seek.”

So that’s probably what she remembers best, just the freedom that she had growing up here.

[And I remember it too]. Oh, yeah, without a doubt.  I used to go out, I used to just sit on the front steps and watch the kids just run back and forth from house to house. {Chuckle}  It was really enjoyable.

Things I hated… She never cared for material things.  She just did not take care of her things.  She’s a slob.  She leaves things all over the place.

And she sometimes… takes Donna and I for granted, I feel, with a lot of the things that she does. Like with the pig [she owns a pot-bellied pig as a pet].  She expects us to take care of it almost, and it gets on my nerves sometimes.

If she were a boy, would you have treated her differently?

I probably would have been a little stricter with her…  I mean it’s hard to understand again where they’re coming from {nervous laugh} y’know, like the ah… little girl thing.   They’re always cutesy and fun and “ta-da”…  They can wrap you around their finger very easily.

I was probably a lot stricter with my son.  The way he treated other people, manners, that type of thing.  I mean, I was strict to an extent, but I think I was a lot harder on my son, making sure that he was respectful of people, he had manners.  I don’t think I did that as much with my daughter.

Do you remember when your daughter started dating?

Devan started dating when she was a junior in high school.  She started going out with this guy for like three years.  He was a year older than she was.  [After him], it was like, what letter of the alphabet are we up to now?  {laughs}  I can’t keep track of how many [boys] she’s gone out with.

I had no problem with [her dating].  Not at all.  I just had the thing, y’know, with being home by a certain hour, initially anyway.

I didn’t like them going places where they were going to stay overnight or anything like that.  I was kind of, a little bit strict in that manner.  I never let her do that until she was in college.  But it didn’t bother me at all really.  I had no problems with it.

Were the guys she dated, similar or different from you, her dad?

Which one? {laughs}

I’ll talk about the ones she had serious relationships with.  The first one, Mikey, ah,  I wasn’t crazy about him.  He’s kind of… he’s totally different from me.  He was — I view myself, I try to do the best I can at things, I try to be neat, I try to be orderly, I try to use my head.  This guy was just everything I wasn’t.

Other than that though, she went out with a guy she was serious with, Jeremy.  He’s an Army guy.  He was like me to the twentieth degree, so he was at the other end of the spectrum.  He was almost too… too much, y’know?

Then she got very serious with Jason, who she broke up with.  She was going out with him for, like, three years.  He I liked the best out of all of them.  I thought they were going to get married.  He’s very much like me except he’s a little bit more party-ish like my daughter?   Maybe that’s what she sees in him, y’know?

And who’s she going out with now?  She’s not going out with anybody now.  So those are the three ones [that] she was a little bit serious with.  Like, two of the three had a lot of my traits.

How is your daughter similar or different from your wife?

Devan is similar in that she is very carefree — no, I shouldn’t say that — Donna’s not carefree.  She’s carefree but she’s responsible.  My wife is a much more responsible person than my daughter is.

But they are very similar in their outlook on life, [not] letting things bother them, letting problems roll off their shoulders.  They never hold onto grudges for very long or anything like that.  So she is quite similar [to Donna] in that way.

[But] like I said — she’s not as responsible as Donna is.  The responsibility thing, we really had to keep on her tail about that for years.  That’s basically the big difference between the two of them. Donna you can depend on all the time.  Devan {grunt} once in a while.

So is the relationship with your daughter positive or negative now?

I think… the problem we have right now is getting in the way.

I kind of feel, with both of my kids, that they should be on their own by now.  And that’s a big… problem between us.  Y’know, I’m constantly on them with, “I’m only charging you X amount of dollars for rent.  If you lived on your own it would be this.  You’re staying here, so you can make enough money to support yourself.  I can’t support you for the rest of your life…”  That type of thing.  So that’s a problem.

[But the] positive is – she lights up my life.  She’s like a spark plug.  I’m always interested in what she’s doing.  She’s always got her mind going, whether it’s in the wrong direction or not, trying to make a buck… trying to meet people, y’know, networking.  She’s just a go-getter.  She’ll go twenty-four hours a day.  I really respect her and I admire her for it, even though sometimes it drives me crazy that she doesn’t just step back and relax a little bit, once in a while.

I think that far outweighs any of the other problems I have.  I think the other stuff is that they’re just slow bloomers, y’know, with being able to support themselves.  She’s out of college two years so I’m not that concerned. {nervous laugh}

[But] she is a slob, and she drives us nuts.  I know she drove two of her boyfriends crazy with how sloppy she was.

It’s just that type of thing…  Trying to get them on the right track… to be self sufficient… to not negatively impact other people’s lives with their faults, y’know…  Whether they do or not, if they listen to fifty percent of what you say, it’s best I think.

How have you impacted your daughter’s life?

I think Devan has learned a lot from both my shortcomings and what I’m good at.  I think she got her work ethic, a lot of it from me.  But again, she took it to the tenth degree.

Um…I think she has learned to let things roll off her back and not let criticism affect her, but to utilize it positively.  I’m not good at letting things roll off my back and she sees that, I think.  I think she’s taken that and learned from it…

Those are two areas where I think I’ve affected her, both with my attributes and my shortcomings.

What do you think a daughter wants more than anything else from her dad?

a) Love.  That’s always first, and b) Acceptance.  She wants to be accepted.  She wants me to give approval for the things that she’s doing.

She’s doing something right now and I’m trying to control myself. {chuckle}  She’s doing Amway, and… but she’s into it in a BIG way.  She’s really out there working.  She goes to the city, meets with people, things like that.  And she’s making, y’know, a few bucks, extra bucks right now.  I’m trying NOT to be negative about it.  I’m being positive to her about it, and I think it’s making a world of difference… in how she’s approaching the whole thing.

Can you think of a time your daughter really needed you as a dad?

{laughs} Colorado baby!

AH….that was her dream from when she was in high school, to move to Denver and get a job with Snowboard Magazine, which she almost did, but she didn’t.  She was an apprentice there…but she never got hired as a full-time person.

We used to talk EVERY, EVERY day.  “What would you do, Dad?”  “What do you think?”  “What do you think about this”, y’know?  “I don’t know if I’m doing the right thing.”

She would call me every day.  I don’t know if it was the distance thing or what, but she — I just felt very close to her then.  Felt sorry for her too ’cause she got herself into a situation where — I mean she wanted to be out there but… it was just too much, all the things at the same time, trying to support herself, with the economy and all of that,.  [But] she used to call me… all the time.

How do you think your daughter would describe you to her best friend?

‘He’s an idiot.’  {laughs… then long pause}

I’ve heard her say, “I love my Daddy”.  My wife has heard her say that.  I don’t know what that means, but… I know she loves me. Her friends know she loves me.  But I think she probably also tells them that I’m a little… wacky when it comes to… y’know, certain things in my life. {nervous laugh}  Don’t ask me what, there’s a lot.

She doesn’t hold anything back. Her friends know me as well as she does.  But, I think overall… I know she tells them she loves me.  But I think she probably also says he’s a little, ah… he is a little too uptight, maybe that’s the word.

What about how your daughter is turning out, makes you proudest or saddest?

Proud that she just has become this phenomenal strong person.  Before she came home from Colorado, I wrote her a letter and told her, “I can’t believe what a strong person you are”.  ‘Cause Donna and I are both… y’know {nervous laugh} namby-pamby type of people.  She has just turned out to be a really good person.

I’m saddest [about], um… I know she always has to have a love in her life and I don’t think she’s found anybody that’s even close…  And… and… it’s sadness when she, y’know, breaks up with a boyfriend or something.  That’s probably about the only thing that I’m sad about with her. {long pause}

I was [also] very sad when she was in Colorado.  She seemed lost, very lost to me, and just for some reason, that made me super sad.  Walking around in a fog, thinking about it all the time, y’know.

If you could change one thing in your relationship with your daughter, what would it be?

The pig… {laughing} I can’t tell you how much stress that thing has brought into my life.  Right now!  That’s the only thing I would change.

It’s kind of a sore point, because she loves the pig.  The pig was her salvation in Colorado.  She was just so lonely there and she had this pig {laughing} and it used to greet her when she came home from work, and stuff like that.  She got so attached to it.  [So I said,] “Okay, bring her home”.  And she walks in the house and I’m like, what the hell did I do.

We had [the pig] in a rescue last week when Devan was away, and ahhhh, MY OWN house.  It was just like heaven in my own house, being able to walk around and not climb gates and stuff like that.

Right now, that’s the only thing I can think of.  We have a good relationship.  She’s very open with me.  I’m open with her.  When I get mad, I don’t hold back.  When she gets mad, she doesn’t hold back.  So it’s an honest relationship.  I couldn’t ask for more than that really.

Can you think of any mistakes you’ve made with your daughter?

{Exhale} I mean, I’m sure I make tons of mistakes.  I’m very harsh with her, I guess, when I’m mad.   Sometimes I’ll try to scare her… get her to do things my way.

Like, I’d like to get rid of the pig, okay?  So I’ll say to her, “You know, what are you going to do in five or six years when you start having kids?” Or “What are you going to do when you move into an apartment?  Nobody’s ever going to take the pig into an apartment”.

In situations in the past I used the same… and I kind of regret it.  I kind of try to throw fear into her.

She doesn’t take crap though, so I don’t think it affects her at all.  But that’s the one thing – always using scare tactics with her to get her to do things.  I don’t enjoy doing that. I don’t know if that is a good answer?

I’m feeling good when I’m doing it.  But afterwards when I look back on what transpired… I’m like, “What the hell am I doing?” {nervous laugh}… Doesn’t make me feel good.  This is very eye opening!   I have to admit.

What makes a great dad and a lousy dad?

God only knows.  Combination of genes… luck… uh, I mean…

One thing you can give a kid and you just hope that they go in the right direction, is your love and your attention.  I think the rest of it… A lot has to do with just being lucky, and that the genes the kids inherit, and your family… their extended families.  {laughs}  I think basically it’s love and attention.

I don’t think I’m the world’s worst dad or the world’s best dad.  I really don’t know how I could have done a better job.  There’s always something in there that you’re going to doubt yourself about.

Who’s someone you know who is a great or lousy dad?

I know my brother John, in my eyes, is a fantastic dad.  I don’t see what goes on behind the scenes but… his four kids.  He just did EVERYTHING with them.  He used to take them to work camps every summer.  He’d take them into these poverty stricken areas.  They built houses and they re-built houses.  They worked at soup kitchens all the time.  He just showed them the other side of life.  And they’re good kids in that way, y’know.

There’s so many different factors to being a good father I guess?  Why did [his kids] move… 700 miles away?  I don’t understand.  But that’s, y’know, that’s [my perspective] from a distance.  I’m saying he was a good dad.  You don’t know what the chemistry inside the family is when they’re alone [though].

How has your daughter affected you?

Devan actually has made me a better person – in having to deal {nervous laugh} with the stuff that she has done.  In a good way.  Not the negative, not the cutting of the seatbelts or anything like that, but the million’n two things she’s gotten herself into the last four or five years, the Army ROTC, this, that, y’know?

WOW! Where’d this kid come from?  She’s actually made me a better person I think.

Ah… y’ know, it’s funny, looking at my daughter I wish I was more like her… in a lot of ways.  The outgoingness and the confidence and the strength that she has?   She’s a much stronger person than I am.  That’s something I would like to have been.  Again, it’s not in my genes I guess.  Or maybe it wasn’t in my upbringing ’cause you know… I got a wacko [one].

Is there something your daughter doesn’t know or understand about you?

She knows nothing about my childhood.  She knows nothing about my father being a wife beater.  I didn’t say that to my kids.  I don’t think that’s important.

Other than that, I think she pretty much knows just about everything about me.  She watches me.  She’s got a good intellect.  She picks up on things – good mood, bad mood, why you’re in a good mood, things like that.

I don’t think it’s even important to understanding that anyway, because  I really don’t think my childhood has affected how I am as a father.  I think I would have been this way whether, y’know, I had a normal father or a not normal father.

Sometimes I get in these depressed moods and I try not to let it show.  I don’t even think my wife knows. {nervous laugh} It’s mostly as I’m getting older.

How is your life different because you had your daughter?

There definitely would not have been as much action, both fun and not fun.

She was an athlete.  We used to love going to her baseball games, softball games, soccer games.  And she was just a funny kid.  She was this little pint-sized girl who had the ego, and the… balls, y’know {laughs}. She would say anything to anybody.  It was just hilarious watching her.

So I think life would have been much more mundane [without her], because my son is, like I told you before, he’s very much like me.  He’s mostly even-keeled.  Not much excitement going on there.  Big excitement with him is when he gets a TV.

What advice do you have for a new dad of a daughter?

Whether it’s a daughter or a son, [the advice I give any parent is to] love and accept them.  With a daughter, I would add a lot of patience.  And hold your tongue, to sort things through… Because you hurt people with your mouth more than you can with your hands.

[And] you know, going back to that thing where I said I try to keep her from doing things by frightening her and stuff like that.  That’s just not right.

Y’know, patience is a big thing with a girl, I think, as I’ve learned.

And then, know when to turn around and just walk away and let your wife handle it. {laughs}  You can only go so far in the world of women, and then you just have to drop it…  You’ll be in situations where they ask you a question and you answer the question.  Then they come back with another question and you answer it and… and…and you just don’t get anywhere!  Then it turns into an argument, like giving the wrong answers. {nervous laugh}

To me… sometimes their brains make absolutely no sense.  That’s when I know I have to turn around and walk away.  There’s no winning — it’s not even an argument… there’s no discussion sometimes.  They’ll ask you for your opinion… You give the opinion and then, you’ll be in the doghouse, y’know…  WALK AWAY!

And it happens with both of them, my wife and my daughter.  Mars and Venus.

Do you have a final comment for your daughter?

I haven’t emphasized it and I really think it’s important that she realized that… her brother… the two of them… have to stick together in this world.  It’s great that they kind of have a connection with each other.

Being a boy and a girl, it’s a little bit different.  [But] they both have to realize that when they get older, they’re going to have to depend on each other a LOT.  I don’t think I stressed that enough with them – that information.  Because, y’know, in the end that’s what you have… your family. 

[INTERVIEW ENDS]