Relationship with my Father
Archived Q&A and Reviews
OK, BPN-ers, it's finally time for me to take the temperature of the community on an issue that I've long struggled with. Without going into tortuous detail, my father left my mother and I when I was very young, and then moved across the country when I was about 8. Between the ages of 8 and 28 I saw him about 6 times (even after my mother died in my early 20s). In my late 20s, we were both living in the Bay Area and started seeing each other more. We developed a friendship, though never quite the parent-child relationship he has with his (much younger) other kids. He's expressed remorse about the decisions he made when I was a kid that caused us to never really have a father-daughter relationship. I've struggled for years trying to let go of the negative feelings I have about him.
He's been an OK grandpa to my kids who are now in their teens. Not overly doting, largely absent, but loving when he's around.
(As a sidebar, please know that I've spent a lot of time in therapy, on meditation retreats and wrapped in late-night talks with my half-siblings who I am close to, trying to sort out my feelings about this issue).
The issue I'm facing now is that he is going to have surgery in a few weeks and will need some serious hands-on help during the 4-week bed-rest recovery time. His wife is wonderful (all his wives have been lovely, btw, and there have been 4 of them since my mother), and I know that she can't handle the whole thing on her own. She's reached out to us, asking for help in a very un-guilt trippy way. Helping him would involve driving about 90 minutes each way, through the worst of the worst bay area traffic. I have a job, I have my kids and I have my life. Having said that, it's not un-doable. Two of my other siblings are in southern california so I don't know how helpful they will be, one is in SF and I'm sure he's on board to do as much as he can.
There were so many times in my life when I needed him and he wasn't there for me and I'm not sure I can do it without feeling resentful. On the other hand, I have two teenage kids who have a decent relationship with their grandfather. What kind of life lesson would I be teaching them if I choose not to help out? Do you help those in need because they need it and you have the resources, or do you maintain a boundary built out of a lifetime of resentment and disappointment. I know that sounds uncomfortably like I'd like to get back at my father for not helping me when I was younger, and it makes me queasy to find myself feeling so unable to get past the past.
So, BPN, should I try to let go of past resentment and work on moving into a healthier future with my father, or should I ''give as good as I got'' and let him carry his struggles himself as he let me carry mine? confused and wanting to do right
I really feel for you and understand why this is a dilemma. What I hear most is that it would be hard for you to consistently help your father and his wife. It's a 90-minute trip and you don't have a ton of time given your other responsibilities.
I do think it's best to provide some help. If you do it you may be resentful, but if you don't do it you'll always wonder if you modeled the right behavior for your kids. Plus, your father's wife is a lovely person and really, she's the one being helped here, not your father. My rule of thumb in difficult situations like this is to behave in a way that I can respect later.
Do you have the funds to pay for a little extra home health care? In-Home Support Services is quite affordable, but there are other options. I like this suggestion because it provides practical support that is probably better qualified than you. Your father's wife won't have to feel funny about directing this person (''I need dishes done, thanks!'' ''Can you help him walk to the bathroom?'' etc.) whereas with a family member it can be awkward to really ask for the assistance you need rather than to just chit-chat over coffee. You could schedule an hour or two of support a day, so that she has consistent support that you likely cannot provide given your schedule/distance. Perhaps your siblings could chip in as well.
Then you can always do some weekend visits also, leaving really early to avoid traffic and so that you can have a little downtime afterwards. Perhaps you can carve out an assistance niche for yourself, like doing all the vacuuming and dusting while the laundry runs, or doing the grocery shopping (or even sitting down with her and ordering the groceries online so they'll be delivered and she can pick exactly what brands she buys). hope some of that helps
Help to the extent that you can without overly disrupting your life. My dad has had terminal cancer for the last four years. I was there every weekend for the first three years. Then his wife turned on me and my dad fully backed her up. We have no relationship at all now. But the good thing is that while I wish I had a better father I have no regrets about my choices. He's going to die but I'll know that I gave as much as I could until it got abusive.
I don't regret any of the time that I gave him even though it took a toll on my marriage and when I needed support I got publicly attacked instead of helped. I can look myself in the mirror and I wouldn't trade my life for theirs for anything.
We don't get the parents that we want or need. You'll never get what you deserve from him. What matters is feeling proud of your own actions. Don't get sucked into doing more than you can but I would at least try to go for a couple hours each weekend. sorry you are going through this
I got some good advice about a similar situation that really has become a centering thought for me. So here goes... You should do it - not for him, or for your kids, but for you. Because that is the kind of person you are - someone who cares for those who are special to you, regardless of how they have treated you in the past.Yes, it will be a pain in the arse, and yes, it is inconvenient, but it will make you feel like you walk your talk. And that will feel good. break the cycle
I think it would be ok to run some ''numbers'' in your head and see how few visits you could do without feeling resentful (1 per month? 1 per 6 weeks, 0?), commit to that, DON't feel guilty about it. Forget worrying about the lesson for your kids. The lesson is, you are at peace and in integrity with yourself. Why would they attach any judgement to any particular number of help-visits unless you cast it in a guilty way to them? ''Oh, we can't go out to eat tomorrow, kids, it's my visit to Grandpa'' and maybe it's bi-weekly or every 6. Your gut is a good enough guide.
Hi, I understand about your dad. He wants to make up and I think it would be good for everyone. You need to let go of the past. Living in the past is not good. You create for the future. I know you are super busy and have kids. 90 minute drive is a real bummer. What if you helped out once or twice a month? Also, you can help by getting someone else to help his wife out. Maybe someone from the hospital. Or you can get money from siblings who can't visit and pay for someone to come clean the house. That is a great help in its self. I would spend some time learning about your dad and maybe his history. Wouldn't be interesting in learning about his family tree and his life. The more you talk with him the more you will get to know him and maybe even understand his view point. Everybody has some kind of dysfunction in their lives- welcome to the human race! To make someone's life a little better is worth it's weight in gold. You won't have this chance after he is gone and you will I promise, will feel bad later about it, when he is gone. Good Luck! j.
Dysfunctional relationships are hard. Lots of baggage. That said, I think you answered your own question. Regardless of past transgressions, it sounds like he's been nice of late. They've reached out. You want to be an example to your kids. It's do-able. Do what you can. Maybe you're not there the whole time, but for part so you can limit the resentment. Sometimes doing a nice thing and seeing someone be vulnerable can soften your stance. Be the better person. Show him, your kids, the world, how someone ''should'' act in this situation. You can do it. Caretaker of my 97 yr old grandmother who lives with me
''I've struggled for years trying to let go of the negative feelings I have about him.''
Your father is a very lucky man to have snagged a series of nice women and to have a much-neglected eldest child who is willing to be part of his life. So you still have negative feelings about him? Of course, you do--nothing wrong or strange about that. Resentment and affection and obligation co-exist in most relationships, even good ones. The positive part is that you're honest with yourself and understand the importance of being a good example to your own children. (You're also close to your half-siblings, which I think is wonderful behavior from all four of you.)
Expecting you, or expecting yourself, to struggle through hours of heavy traffic several times a week, especially since you have so many other obligations, and this is not a life-threatening situation, seems unrealistic to me. Your father should be able to get some in-home help during his recovery--hospital social workers and/or his medical insurance would know about that--and presumably your stepmother has other relatives and friends/neighbors to call on as well. Perhaps you and the other children, including the ones in Southern California, could each volunteer one long weekend and stay overnight in the vicinity, giving your stepmother some real respite for a few consecutive days a week. Your kids might also want to come with you to help out and spend some social time with their grandfather, assuming he's up for it.
I guess what I'm saying is that it's not all on you, not even close. Please don't guilt-trip yourself because you're not longing to play the saintly daughter to an inadequate (to say the least) parent. You do have a part to play, should you care to, and your questions to BPN demonstrate what a decent, conscientious person you are. Whatever happens, I hope your father appreciates you and shows it. But even if he doesn't, the rest of your family will. Been There
First, to me, it sounds like you (both) have worked hard to have a FUNCTIONAL relationship, and that's what you have now, so good for you both. (My father left my mom when I was a baby and never looked back; he's long dead now - so that's where I'm coming from.)
Next, I would say the issue of how much time you can give him is one you should discuss with your family, yes including your teenagers. You can express your concerns about taking time off work and time away from them to caretake. Maybe you can limit your caretaking to a set amount of time (3 days?) and one or both of them can accompany you on one or two of the days? Help/moral support for both you and your father? Maybe your whole family thinks you owe him nothing and doesn't want to spare you - at least they are included in what is of course a complicated decision.
Personally I think helping out to the extent you can (time legitimately permitting) will help ease your ongoing resentment and provide a good example to your kids. But it is an obstacle for you, you have reasons for that, so lean on your own nuclear family for some support here! Good luck.
Of course this is ultimately a question only you can answer. Isn't that the frustrating truth? I have a mother who was *too* involved in my life, relied on me too much, and essentially parentified me. She is mentally ill and it has only grown worse over time. About 10 years ago I decided to cut off pretty much all contact because it was so painful. She is growing older and almost every day I wonder what I will do when she has a serious illness. So I can related, though our circumstances are different.
I guess one thing I'd look at is what will the actual experience be like, in the moment, while you are helping your dad? Will he be grateful, or will the actual interactions be really painful? If you think he will be grateful (and certainly his wife will be), or even if he will be neutral, then it seems like you might want to help out some. You can of course still set boundaries around what you can do -- like, I can do it once a week, or one time only, or whatever it might be.
It means a lot that he has shown remorse. My mother hasn't. Of course you are still angry. But if, in the present day, your interactions are decent, then I think you should consider helping out some. anon
The worse of the two is one who, when abused, retaliates. One who does not retaliate wins a battle hard to win. Buddah
Thank goodness that there are younger half-siblings, and that you are close to them!
Even when our parents have fallen short of what they should have done when we were children, doing something to see that they have end-of-iife care is the right thing to do.
Considering you and the half-sibs, how much elder care is each of you good for? Those who do not have jobs or young children, or both, may be willing/able to do more days per week of caretaking. Quasi-full-time caretakers are grateful for respite, and if you could, say, bail out the caretaker when the crosstown traffic is minimal on Sunday mornings and cover for 4 - 6 hours, that would be a meaningful contribution. Maybe your teenagers could be roped into doing an occasional part-day shift, since they have a relationship with their grandfather.
Has anyone figured out exactly what scope of care your semi-deadbeat father will require? What resources does he have at his disposal - in-home supportive services, funds for assisted living, Medi-Cal nursing home care (careful - Medi-Cal does asset seizure for this).
Someone, maybe you, should look at what is needed and how to pay for it. Know your options. Local elected officials sometimes publish handbooks with compendia of local eldercare resources. Try Loni Hancock's office.
Once a plan has been figured out, look at what resources are available. Maybe you can simply throw money at the problem, skip the cross-town driving, and know that you gave more than any moral duty would require.
And yes, I have been there myself with the lousy parent, for whom I lined up care. But it was not me who did the butt-wiping. Amelia
I think you know the right thing to do and basically said it yourself. You need to find a way to help your father. I would pose it to you this way: you should approach this as a parent demonstrating to your kids what the right thing is to do and not as the daughter who has been wronged. (And I don't say that lightly--you WERE wronged.) but now you can and should find a way to help out. As you both age, I'm sure you realize you have less time with your dad to chip away at the dysfunction you say you still have. Opening your heart to help can be a part of this healing process.
This doesn't mean you need to be a selfless martyr and go see him everyday. Maybe you can offer to come once each of those four weeks to help out with whatever is needed or to give your dad's wife a break. You can be clear that this is what you can handle.
Best wishes to you. Elizabeth
It sounds like the care he needs is more than you can give. For one thing, 90 minutes each way is a lot. For another, you aren't that close family-wise. I think you feel unnecessarily guilty which is making you think you should do more. Maybe you could help his wife out by getting all the kids to pitch in some money to hire a person to come in and help for a while? Prevent resentment
As hard as it may be, try to take the high road. Look at it this way: it is not forever - only 4 weeks. Also, you'd be helping not only your father, but the people that are helping him: his wife, who you say is a good person, and your sibling, who is willing to help too. By pitching in you are taking a little bit of load off of them.
Do you have to be there every day? Perhaps just a few days a week would be enough? Or maybe limit your help in some other way, but do something. If you do nothing at all, I think you might regret it later. A.L.
Your role here is clearly as relief and back-up, and the thing to do is to determine what you can offer that will not drive you into exhaustion and resentment. Yes, you have work, and a life, and the drive is a real issue, and commute traffic can be madness.
You need to figure out what, given these things, would be reasonable to consider. Could you maybe arrange to help out during non-commute hours - perhaps offer a series of Sunday visits, you and the grandkids? You'd avoid the commute traffic mess, and not disrupt your work hours. Check with his wife ahead of time, and arrange for some idea of useful things to do while you are there. (She may not yet know what these will be, so stay in touch about it.) You might end up sending the kids out to catch up on yard work, or recycling, or maybe even just the lot of you taking over being there while your step-mother can get out of the house for a few hours.. Bring along take-out dinner for all, and clean up before you leave. I've had to handle post-op care at home, and my guess is that what your step-mother will need most is just a break, and someone to pick up the less-essential tasks that fall by the wayside at times like these.
You aren't the only child, and it sounds as if there isn't actually ill-feeling involved, so you only need to find a level of help that doesn't offend you. Yep, he messed up, he wasn't a good father, and when you needed him he wasn't there. But if you were going to have it out with him about his failures, you've left it too late. You've met as adults and at least on the surface you moved past his abandonment of you, and established a relationship, adult-to-adult. Two wrongs don't make a right. You don't have to abandon your life and spend weeks attending his sickbed. And you don't have to feel guilty that you are not doing so. Luckily the burden can be shared among the lot of you. But you do need to step up and do a share of it, not merely as your father's child, but as a member of the extended family. Those siblings you have good relationships with will need your help now. And, however lacking he was as a father, he's also your kids' grandfather, and you have treated him like family. Helping your kids to help out their larger family, their grandfather and their assorted step aunts and uncles, is the right thing to do. lw
You know what? There is no right answer. Whatever you choose is okay, and is not to be judged. If you were a Christian, you would be told to ''turn the other cheek'', and to help him out. I was raised a Christian, and I know that that is what I ''should'' do in that situation. But, whether I would do it or not I have no idea. I know that my daughter, with whom I have these kinds of conversations, would say ''no way.'' There are arguments to make for each side. It's okay to honor your feelings and memories, and the fact that you spent therapy dealing with your dad's abandonment of you, and not help him out. You have your own family now, and you have not abandoned them.
If you can help them out and not feel resentful, do it. If you feel resentful, do not do it. Send a card and wish them well. good luck!
Wow, your relationship with your dad sounds exactly like mine. My dad was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer and the prognosis is excellent, but it prompted another round of soul-searching on my part. I spent many years exerting a lot of energy being angry at my dad for failing to be there for me, but at a certain point amidst work and motherhood and wifehood, the feelings have mellowed to the point where I can appreciate my dad as he is, flaws and all, and not silently seethe at him for being a bad/absent dad during my childhood.
I think a couple things helped. One was realizing that my dad is not a great father/grandfather to *anybody*, my kids and half-siblings included. He's just one of those people that's better with adults. And in getting to know him a little bit better, I have come to see more clearly how he is flawed (aren't we all!) -- emotionally immature, sort of insecure -- and how his mind works in certain weird ways, which sheds some light on some of his seemingly uncaring behavior. Seeing my dad's flawed self more clearly helped me let the anger go. And his own feelings of guilt are a balm too -- at least he acknowledges he wasn't there for me rather than somehow convincing himself that he was a great dad. That would be worse. My feelings err more toward pity than anger these days. One last thing: watching my friends lose their parents. That was a big wake-up call. If your dad wasn't a monster but was merely flawed and crappy and absent early on, yet tolerable and loving to your kids in later life, that's still a better person to have around than to lose.
I'd like to think that if I were you and had some emotional energy to spare (not easy with kids, work and marriage, for sure), I would try to pitch in and help out. It might help you get past the residual anger and at the very least, when your dad is gone, I don't think you'll look back and regret helping him when he needed it. You *might* regret not helping him. Also, it's nice that this will be for a set amount of time. I think protecting your boundaries as you describe would be important if your dad was coming to you for help again and again and it was running you ragged, but this one self-contained situation could be a good opportunity for you to get past the baggage, approach your dad with a full heart, and help him recover. And wouldn't it be nice if it helped *you* recover too? fellow member of the bad dad club
Dear Daughter of a Dysfunctional Father- I think you are placing an undue burden upon yourself. I'm glad your father's wife is lovely but that doesn't mean you should make an effort that would be an enormous strain for you. If you help take care of him, he won't become a better person or miraculously resolve your relationship. I don't think you need worry about your children. You set a fine example loving them and holding down a full time job. You can honestly tell yourself and your children, if they require an explanation, that his needs exceed what you could do for him. Your father can hire help for his recovery. The social work dept at the hospital can locate agencies to provide him with people to hire. Cut yourself some slack. You've worked hard for years to deal with him. In this instance there is no reason to disrupt your life, neglect your own family, not to mention ignore your own needs. Others can do this job. He won't suffer and you shouldn't either. You've had enough pain because of your father. Be kind to yourself. You've worked hard over a difficult and sad relationship. Calmly tell his wife (and yourself) that you won't be able to step in and refer her to the social services dept. You have nothing to feel guilty about. Take care. Support our Daughters
I can appreciate your predicament, having had a similarly absent father who broke my heart so many times, but with whom I now have a friendly relationship as an adult.
That being said, what you describe doesn't sound like an issue of boundaries. Boundaries are about needs. So, a boundary would be respecting your limits of energy and time and not *over* giving of it, depleting yourself too much. What you descirbe sounds more like vindictiveness, borne of the resentment you describe. Ultimately, this comes down, as you intimate in your post, to what kind of person you want to be in the world. What course of action matches your principle and who you want to be? Is there a balance that can be struck here?
I would invite you to ask yourself some questions:
1. What are all the ways I might be affected if I do this? Will it ultimately be a good or bad thing? 2. How will I be affected if I don't? Will it ultimately be in a good way, or a bady way? 3. How will the people I care about be affected if I do this? Will it ultimately be positive, or negative for them? 4. How will the people I care about be affected if I don't do this? Will the affects ultimately be positive ones, or hurtful ones?
Finally, if you haven't already, try asking: what is the benefit of holding on to the resentment? What is the drawback?
Wishing you the best! Anon
I have a similar feelings about my father. In my case, he didn't stand up to his second wife who insisted that my brother and I be treated like second-class citizens. My dad's wife died a couple of years ago, and after decades of having distant, rather formal relationships with his children, my father is emotionally needy and looking to us for company and comfort. Unlike your father, he has not acknowledged how he wronged us. Still, I feel bad for him, but like you, resentful. I struggle all the time with not doing so little that I feel bad, but not doing so much that I feel angry. And, like you, I tend to think that no matter how much I don't want to do something and no matter how inconvenient, if it's at all doable I'm somehow a bad person for not doing it. I'm fortunate in that one of my step-brothers provides most of my dad's social support. I don't feel guilty about this anymore because my dad has been closer to his step-children than his own children since were kids.
As far as your situation, I certainly wouldn't think of yourself as ''getting back at him'' if you don't help out. It's perfectly natural to want to protect yourself from too much investment in someone you have not been able to rely on. Forget for a minute that he's your dad. If you had that level of relationship with anyone else, would you feel obligated to help in their care? And ask yourself this: if you were the same sort of parent to your kids as your dad has been to you, would you expect them to want to help take care of you when you're older? Would you even feel comfortable receiving their help after having done so little for them?
I'm a little surprised that your dad's wife reached out to you for help. Even if your Dad had been a fantastic father, you live 90 minutes away, you have kids at home, and you have a job. It's not really fair to ask you to be a care-giver too. Since she's the one asking for help, maybe you could just be honest with her. As a 4th wife, she most know he has problems with relationships. Commit to what you feel comfortable with--maybe visiting once or twice during the recovery period.
I'm sure your kids have seen many examples of you being a giving person--they've been on the receiving end of it. They're old enough to know that family relationships aren't always simple.
You sound like a wonderful person. Take care of yourself! anon
It seems like you're leaning in the direction of helping him out.. and I would second that notion! I have a lot of resentment towards my mom and have considered cutting her off for my own sanity. However, I also know that she's human and I have empathy for the deficits that she grew up with. This helps me ''do the right thing'' by her - call, visit, help her out - even if I don't really WANT to. When I really have trouble, I think about it as good modeling for my sons. I think it would be courageous if you could find your way around the resentment and help your dad and his wife. Don't do it all, but do as much as you can without feeling yucky.. good luck!
I haven't been exactly in your shoes but my husband had surgery about 8 years ago that required a pretty lengthy recovery time and my thoughts are related to that. I'd focus on the fact that you want to help his wife - as big a jerk as your father is/was, you sound as if you like the wife (who is maybe also the mother of one or more of your siblings?) and from my experience, she's the one who needs help and respite from taking care of him. It's lonely and boring taking care of an invalid, especially if they're in pain. (Maybe suffering improves some people's characters but it definitely did not make my husband more pleasant to be around.) The 90 minute trip sounds brutal, however. I'd try to call and email her every day, and visit on weekends (maybe once during the week - maybe). And since part of what's motivating you is to model for your kids - they should be helping too, either going with you or doing extra work at home to lighten your load there. Same with your husband. Lesson is that it's not ''your'' family needing help here, it's ''our'' family. My sympathy!
This sounds difficult but it's better to be kind and good than to be right. I'm not sure how much you should do for your father but you want to model kindness for your child. and you don't want to have any regrets later when there's no going back and your father is dead. You could also do something for him by paying to have cooked food brought over to his house or something like that. I encourage you to do something, however minimal, so that you can live with yourself and feel that in the end, you were the better person. wishing you well
I am lucky to have had a great dad... but, you know what to do. Life isn't fair and you can set a great example. When your kids are older, you can discuss the $h:/ he did, but now, do what you can without compromising caring for your own family. a father and son
Hi, After reading the responses to your question, I felt I had to post. You are wondering whether you need to drive 90 minutes each way to help your step-mother take care of your father post-surgery, despite having a full-time job and two children? I think your misgivings and some of the responses to your question are being driven by the guilt you feel about your continuing resentment over your father's failures as a parent. It seems you are considering overdoing it to compensate for the negative feelings you have about having to help care for your father at all. Ask yourself what you would do if you had a great relationship with your father, but had to drive three hours round-trip to care for him, after a full day of work, especially if it meant sacrificing the time you usually spend with your children. I do not think it is reasonable to expect you to spend three or even two days a week doing this. Your children need you, and you also need to consider just how much time and energy you have to give in a day. Visiting your father and helping out your stepmother once a week on the weekend would be kind to her, your father, your children, and yourself. And certainly if you or your siblings can help pay for outside caregivers, that would be ideal. Yes, it's important for your own peace of mind and as an example to your children that you are kind and caring toward your father and his wife. But you do not need to martyr yourself and relegate the needs of your family just to prove you are the better person. Sarah