DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: Unfortunately, I think I need to talk to my father about porn. I’d really rather not, but I think this might be a real problem.
I both live and work with my dad because I am a loser. My dad runs his own business and is well known for giving losers second chances. Our workforce consists mostly of people who stay on because there’s literally nowhere else they could get a job that would pay them as much as we do (not much but better than minimum wage) and my younger brother. My brother is great and probably could get a job anywhere doing anything, but he’s decided to stay on and take care of the family business. My family has been in this town and running this enterprise since the 1700’s. We’re old school, and that’s kind of the problem.
When I was a kid, the whole of what we call the Retail Office was covered in explicitly pornographic images taken from magazines and calendars and glued onto the walls in a kind of collage. There were also toys. One of my earliest memories is trying to explain a certain “nutcracker” to my not yet school aged brother. You can use your imagination. Anyway, my dad never cared if my brother or I saw this stuff. I don’t think it traumatized us any; it was just kind of weird. Most parents go through a lot of effort to try to hide that that sort of thing even exists from their kids. Eventually my mom persuaded him to move all that stuff where the customers wouldn’t see it. Trouble for me is, it’s now in the break room.
I’m asexual but I don’t hate porn. I don’t think people who use porn are bad people. I think girlfriends who demand that their boyfriends give it up are irrational. But I really hate looking at it. It makes me uncomfortable in a way I can’t even fully describe. I hate being in the break room. The worst is when I absolutely have to go in their to deliver paperwork or find an employee and someone wants to stop me so we can have a pleasant chat in front of the wall of boobs. I love that we run a business where our customers are mostly old family friends who come into the break room to hang out with us and that we’re super casual, but I hate talking to older men when there’s a wall of naked women behind me even though everyone pretty much knows about my orientation, or lack there of, and I don’t think they even think of me as being the same species as the women on the wall.
The other day a customer yelled at me to get a haircut and when I went up to chat with him about it he was quite abashed to discover that I was female. I’m tall, skinny, hairy, this sort of thing happens all the time. People have accepted my presence in the yard as a given and treat me more or less the same as all the male employees, which I appreciate. It’s also why I don’t want to cause a stink, especially when I’m the new girl and probably will continue to be for years to come.
I consider my discomfort with the wall of boobs to be a very minor issue but there are two other problems with it. The first is that we have a low level sex offender working for us. His M.O. is going to camp grounds and hiking trails, taking off all his clothes, waiting for unaccompanied women to show up and then streaking past them. He’s been caught and arrested numerous times (I think being arrested is part of his fetish, you’d have to make an effort to be caught in the places where he does this). He’s serving jail time on the weekends, which is apparently a thing you can do. I think he’s harmless but he stinks to high heaven and his hanging around the Admin office when I first started working there made me uncomfortable enough that I mentioned it to my brother. My brother had words with him and I haven’t seen the guy since. To be fair, I think he was hanging around to avoid work and not necessarily because of me, but he really really smells bad. My dad uses this guy as justification for why we need transphobic bathroom laws. What I wonder, is if my dad is so worried about this guy that he thinks he ought to be required to carry his birth certificate before being allowed to use the bathroom, why isn’t he worried about what kind of messages the wall of boobs might be sending him?
The other problem is that it’s embarrassingly unprofessional. This is the hard one. My brother and I have gotten into a lot of fights with my dad and the other employees about this because they’ve always made a point of being unprofessional, anti-corporate might be a better way of putting it. This is an old story around here, kids take over the family business and ruin it by trying to turn it into a copy of a giant mega chain store or something. I sympathize, I really do, but I also think life would be way easier for all of us if we had say paperwork for people to fill out when they want to take time off instead of our current system of employees just leaving whenever they want to and then arguing about it for weeks afterwards. This is the tightrope my brother is walking. He doesn’t have any actual authority but people know he’s going to inherit the business (because I don’t want it) and he’s in a really tricky situation. Everyone’s watching him but he can’t actually change anything. When I talked to him about our admin problems he told me the only thing we can do about it wait for my dad to die. Everyone knows the only reason I have my job is because my mom made my dad hire me. I’m not actually qualified (or good at it) and I don’t have grounds to try to change anything on my own.
It’s almost impossible to talk to my dad. Everyone I know is terrified of him. I can’t even explain why because he’s not a bad person but it’s not just family. Nobody at work ever wants to talk to him either. People come to me to get me to go tell my dad things. My mom thinks it’s because he’s unpredictable. You never know how he’ going to take anything and sometimes he flips out at you when you’re just trying to help. He doesn’t stay mad for very long, generally, but he’s got a way of yelling at a person that makes you feel small. I’ve been yelled at in the past. I’ve had fights with bosses and school administrators and my very formidable grandmother and nobody has ever made me feel as bad as my dad can make feel. I don’t understand it. My brother won’t even talk to him at all and they work in the same room all day. I don’t even dare mention that the wall of boobs makes me feel weird. I don’t even know how to start. I asked my mom about it but she says you have to pick your battles very carefully, at least the customers aren’t seeing this stuff any more.
This all came to a head yesterday when there was a postcard with a naked woman on it in the mail. I’m 90% sure it was an ad. I threw it out and my dad’s secretary flipped out at me, even though it’s an expected part of my job to sort the mail and I’ve been reprimanded for failing to recognize adverts and dispose of them in the past. She got it out of the trash and propped it up on the desk, where it’s stayed, sitting in between the photo of my brother with his first turkey and the portrait of me from senior year of high school. I’m not great at math to begin with and it’s especially hard when I have a pair of nipples staring at me. I am trying to work in a goddamn office. If the damned thing stays there I will snap and tear it up, damn the consequences.
Not In My Office
DEAR NOT IN MY OFFICE: Alright, before I get into this, NIMO, let’s be clear. The problem isn’t the porn. The porn’s a symptom. The problem is your father and that’s what we need to address here. So, let’s get down to it, shall we?
First and foremost, NIMO: you’re not a loser. Not for living with your father, nor for working for the family business. There’s nothing wrong with either of those, especially at a time when the economy is still in shambles for anyone who’s not managing a hedge fund.
Secondly: you’re not unreasonable for feeling uncomfortable at work. Yeah, there’s an old-school-manly-men-doing-manly-things air to collages of boobs all over the break-room walls. It’s also, as you say, pretty damn unprofessional, even when it’s in an area where only employees go. And while you may be the only employee who has a problem with this, that doesn’t make your issue with it illegitimate. Just because you don’t feel like you’re in a position to complain doesn’t mean that you don’t have the right to be uncomfortable or upset – both by the decor or by the way you’re treated.
Unfortunately, the harsh truth of the situation is that it does mean that there may well not be much that can be done about it. If everyone else is either cool with it or goes along to get along, there’s not really going to be much impetus to change outside of a legal challenge. It doesn’t sound to me like this is necessarily a route you want to take, but it is an option. But like I said: just because everyone else isn’t bothered by you doesn’t mean that you have to pretend it doesn’t bother you.
The problem is two-fold. The first is that your father is set in his ways and doesn’t want, nor sees the need to change – either his inefficient business practices or his wall o’ nudes. The second is that your father is his frankly abusive behavior. Those sudden outbursts of anger and rage are designed to keep people in line. Believe me, they’re not nearly as random or unpredictable as you may think. In fact, I’m willing to bet that they coincide with moments where he feels his authority has been challenged or questioned. After all, it’s not as though he’ll flip out when someone does something he wants, now is it?
So I would suggest you check out “Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry, Controlling Men” by Lundy Bancroft for some insight into your father’s behavior as well as ways on handling not just him but his outbursts. This will help give you some much-needed tools for maintaining your sanity in your relationship with your father and how to handle him at work and at home.
With that being said, I think what you need to do is tell your father the same things you’ve told me. In fact, you could pretty much cut and paste major sections of this letter and present it to him. It might help to frame it as just getting this issue off your chest, even if you’re not expecting anything to change. There might be ways of reassigning you to have a more customer-facing role or a position within the company that doesn’t require you spending so much time at the office or in the break room. But even if there isn’t, registering your complaint is important. This way, at least, you’re on the record with how you feel, even if you’re not in a position to affect any material change while he’s still working there. It’s important to establish and your boundaries, in your personal and professional life.
It may also help for you and your brother to make your case together. This way, the two of you will be able to support one another when you go to talk to your father. Presenting a united front can help the two of you buttress the other in the face of your father’s temper tantrums as well as make your arguments more effective in general. Both you and your brother are set up to fail; any authority the two of you may have in your respective jobs is undercut by your father and the way he runs the company. Being willing to step up and present your case may not make a difference, but it could also be first step to making effective change. The right pebble in the right place can start an avalanche after all.
(If your brother really is being groomed to be heir-apparent at the company, he has his own issues with your father’s management style; being a figurehead this early on is a great way to make him effectively powerless when he does take over. King Tommen, anyone?)
But let’s be real: this is a pretty intolerable situation. So I need to ask: how long are you willing to put up with this? Let’s game this out a little. Are you willing to deal with this for the next six months? The next year? The next five years? The next ten years? Are you really willing to sit around and eat s
t over and over again until your father either retires or gets carried out of the office? I would suggest that you quietly start putting out feelers for other jobs and setting aside as much of each paycheck as you can afford as part of a “find your own place” fund. Finding a job and a living situation that doesn’t require putting up with, frankly, abusive behavior from your father will go a very long way towards saving your sanity and soul.
Good luck, NIMO. Let us know how it all goes.
DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I was wondering if you could shoot me your two cents on how to help my situation. I’m a 15 year old who goes to an all boys catholic school on a scholarship and doesn’t get out much, as a) I can’t drive yet and b) only plays one fall sport unaffiliated with the school. I don’t use Snapchat or Instagram or any of that, and the last time I even saw a girl my age was about 3 months ago.
I understand that good looks and clothes have an impact on dating, but my family doesn’t have the money to buy nice clothes since I’d probably outgrow them in a year anyways. I’m the image of a nerd: skinny, and totally clueless in terms of females and social life. I recently tore my ACL playing hockey so my already low levels of social activity are in the crapper.
I have no idea what the hell to do about any of this and could really use some help, if you’ve got the time.
Stuck In The Middle Without You
DEAR STUCK IN THE MIDDLE WITHOUT YOU: OK, SITMWY, I’m gonna give you advice you’re probably not gonna like, but it’s the advice you need right now:
First of all: don’t refer to women as “females”. It’s dehumanizing in general and, at best, makes you sound like a Ferengi.
Second of all: don’t sweat the dating thing right now.
Yeah, I know: that probably sounds like the exact opposite of what you want. You’re surging with hormones, you’re getting boners from a stiff breeze and every cell in your body is screaming for action. I imagine your friends and classmates are all making a big production about who’s dating whom, which affiliated schools have the hottest girls, who’s gone how far, etc. There’s a ton of pressure to get on board and join the rest of your peers in the “gonna get some” train.
Here’s the thing though: dating in high-school? It’s kinda bulls
t. Pop culture loves to sell the idea that high-school is the most important time in your life and that you need to be all over finding yourself a girlfriend because it’s going to change your life, everybody needs to get laid before they graduate, etc. In reality: nobody has any clue what they’re doing. Everyone’s confused and scared and it’s one giant damn quagmire as everyone tries to sort out social rules that don’t resemble the real world so much as it does a 4 year stint in prison.
So what should you do instead? Quit worrying about dating and focus more on you. Right now, you’re in a position to do something most of your peers won’t: to invest in your future. You should spend less time worrying about getting laid now and more about setting yourself up for getting laid when you get to college. So how do you do that? By laying the groundwork for becoming the person you want to be.
Start building the habits that are going to serve you well for a lifetime. For example: you don’t need to worry about buying “nice” clothes, so much as understanding what looks good on you. If you focus on fit and versatility instead of price, you can find build an awesome wardrobe at Goodwill. Similarly, don’t sweat finding a girlfriend so much as making friends. Getting more accustomed to building your social circle and navigating other people’s is going to put you in an advantage in future years where networking is going to be even more important. It doesn’t seem like much now, but simply being comfortable talking to people – including women – is going to help far more than any amount of studying flirting theory.
You actually have a pretty good base to start from, SITMWY. As much as nerds love to dump on sports, team sports are good ways of developing yourself physically and emotionally. Building habits around healthy eating and exercise will get you in shape, keep you healthy and make you feel better. You don’t need to be a jock by any stretch of the imagination, but if you have a love of a sport, playing it is a great way of pursuing your passion. Those passions are going to be a big part of what makes you attractive to others. Cultivate your intellectual curiosity. Pursue some interests just because they seem cool to you and you have the time to indulge in them. Get involved with some clubs or meet-ups for teens and get used to meeting people who share your interests.
And over all: just relax. You’re 15. There’s a lot ahead of you and it will all come in time – from driving to girls to college to life in general. You’re barely even at the starting line. Those opportunities will come to you. And by putting in the work now, you’ll be in the perfect position to take advantage of them when they do arrive.
(And hey: if you want an additional head start, get yourself a copy of my book “New Game +: The Geek’s Guide To Love Sex and Dating”. You’ll be ready to hit the ground running when the time comes.)
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org)