Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“I Want a Better Relationship with My Abusive Father”

My father had me relatively late in life and raised me by old-school parenting methods. He wasn’t around much because of work, and, when he was at home, he had a quick temper and extremely flexible definition of “spanking” (which resulted in more than one ER trip for me as a child. I think the only reason he got away with it is that we were a white, well-off, white collar family). I grew up terrified of him and hating him. I never wanted to be around him as a child or let him hug me.

He was upset about this and really did try to get close to me, offered to take me on special outings, and always said he loved me. But it would be that we would have a great day together and I would start to feel close to him and love him, and then he would slap my face for some minor offense and it would ruin it and I would hate him again. This happened over and over until I was (and still am) at the point where being near him makes my skin crawl. I do not want to feel this way; it is involuntary. When I was 12, he wanted me to go to therapy, but I was embarrassed and felt like that would be just another form of punishment. After that I think he gave up on trying to get close to me, and we have maintained a very polite but superficial relationship.

He tells me he loves me and I know he really does. He would do anything for me – maintaining my car, doing my taxes, helping my friends move; once, he even drove 12 hours straight to pick me up when I was having a hard time in college. But we do not have real conversions and obviously are not physically affectionate. My mom (who is still married to him) tells me that to this day he does not think that he did anything wrong, as his parents were just as violent with him and it was typical for his childhood- backwoods, middle of the country in the 1940s. I’ve accepted this now.

I moved across the world three years ago and now I only see him once or twice a year and we do not talk in between. Right before I left, my father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s which has swiftly changed him from the ultimate authority figure to a fragile, confused old man. It is now occurring to me that I am running out of time to connect with my father and have the close father-daughter relationship I always wanted and assumed would happen at some point. I rejected him so much that I know he will never initiate improving our relationship himself.

When I bring up this topic to my mom, she changes to subject. I think this is because she feels a lot of guilt about my childhood and does not handle guilt well. But another possibility is that she knows my father is not interested in being closer to me and she doesn’t have the heart to tell me. I am crying as I write as I am so heartbroken over it. I am extremely close to my mother and consider her one of my best friends, and I wish I felt this way about my dad. I don’t know him at all, and now I am so sad that it’s very likely I never will.

What can I do to start? I am not due to visit home again for over a year so to connect I will have to call him on Skype or email, but I have no idea what to talk to him about. Please help me, Wendy, as I am running out of time. — Not a Daddy’s Girl

You probably won’t ever have the kind of relationship with your father that you’ve fantasized about. Even if you had 100 more years together, you probably would never have that relationship. That’s the bad news. And it’s only bad news if you had your heart set on that fantasy relationship. The truth is, most people do not have dream relationships with their parents. You’re lucky that you have such a great relationship with your mother — that is more than a lot of people can say. Parent-offspring relationships are filled with baggage, and disappointment, and hurt feelings and all that stuff that make an easy relationship hard to come by. But that doesn’t mean that people — and you, specifically — can’t have authentic relationships with their parents — despite the baggage. That doesn’t mean you can’t get to know your father — like, really KNOW him and come to a place of understanding and accepting him and even liking him and enjoying his company and finding commonalities you share and building some happy memories while you still have time. (That’s the good news).

If you adjust your expectations so that you’re pursuing a BETTER relationship, and not necessarily a dream relationship, with your father, there’s no reason you can’t have just that. Start with asking your father questions. Ask him about favorite memories he has of his parents and what he remembers of his childhood home. Ask him about how he spent his summers as a kid and what some of his favorite holiday gifts were and what he can remember about birthday parties he had. What kind of vacations did he take with his family, and what kind of car did his parents own? Ask what a movie cost when he was a kid and how he learned to drive. Ask him how he met your mother and when he knew he loved her. Ask how he proposed to her and what their wedding was like. Ask how they decided on your name and what he felt when you were born. Ask him if he has memories of you as a baby. What were you like? Did you cry a lot? Does he remember your first words? When your father was a kid, what did he want to be when he grew up? Is his life how he imagined it would be when he was 20?

Stay away from questions that might sting — why he raised you the way he did and whether he has regrets about decisions he’s made. Instead, stick with questions that will open his memory bank and reveal to you a man who is more than your dad — a man with a past, whose childhood and adolescence and young adulthood were filled with experiences and hopes and dreams and failures that all shaped the man he is now. Because he IS more than your father and the mistakes he made as a dad. He is your mother’s husband — one that we might assume is a loving husband. He was someone’s son. Someone’s employer and employee. He’s been someone’s friend and someone’s neighbor. Maybe someone’s brother. If he grew up in the 40s, he’s been alive well over 60 years — he has a million stories and experiences that have shaped him, and, if he’s willing to share some and if you can find the right questions to ask (the ones I’ve suggested are certainly good starting points) to open him up, you may just find that he’s a likable, maybe even lovely, man — one that you may enjoy getting to know.

Obviously, asking questions and learning more about your dad is just a start, but it’s a good start. When you visit him next, you may want to look at old photos with him, share an activity one or both of you enjoys, just BE with him — be with him-the-man and not necessarily him-the-dad-who-used-to-hit-you. If you can find a way to separate the two, it will be easier to truly like one and forgive the other (or at least feel compassion for one or both).

And, look, if it never happens — if your father isn’t receptive to improving your relationship or you run out of time before you start or if you simply can’t get past the resentment you feel about the way he raised you, don’t beat yourself up. It isn’t a reflection of YOU or even his feelings for you. You know he loves you. A parent never stops loving his or her child, no matter how distant their relationship might be. And a father who would drive 12 hours straight to pick up his homesick daughter is a father who loves his kid, despite his imperfections. It may not be the perfect love and it may not be the perfect relationship, but it’s LOVE. And sometimes that just has to be enough.

***************

You can follow me on Facebook here and sign up for my weekly newsletter here.

If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].

57 comments… add one
  • avatar

    TECH July 18, 2013, 9:21 am

    I think Wendy gives fantastic advice. Have both realistic and low expectations. LW, you seem to be someone who expresses yourself well with words. If your dad has an email, email him! Get to know him has a human being, not just as your father. Wendy gives great questions you can ask.

    Also, if you still have wounds from your abusive childhood, I would encourage you to meet with a counselor if you feel comfortable doing so. I know it might have felt like a punishment as a child, but you could view it as a gift now.

    Lastly, I’m sorry your father has Parkinson’s. It’s a nasty disease and sadly, it is only going to get worse. Your father will probably get to the point where he can no longer bathe himself, walk, go to the bathroom, etc. Many individuals with Parkinson’s also experience dementia in the later stages (I know, I’m telling you things you already know.) But I bring that up because when your father does pass away you are bound to experience complicated grief. A support group may be worth considering.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    SasLinna July 18, 2013, 9:23 am

    You’re feeling a sense of loss because the dream that you would one day have a good relationship with your father is soon going to be definitely over. Obviously profound grieving can go along with the prospect of losing a parent even when the relationship has never been good. I don’t think you necessarily need to do much. It might be better to to just allow the grief that you’ll never have the relationship with your father that you would have deserved.
    You can of course try to reconnect with your father. Who knows what might happen. But I wouldn’t expect too much. It’s not just up to you after all. Being the parent, he has greater responsibility for what your relationship has been like than you do. The dynamic won’t necessarily change just because he is ill now.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Older and (hopefully) wiser July 18, 2013, 9:36 am

    My father was also abusive when we were young. But when life changed for him (physically and emotionally),he became a different person and we ended up having an amazing relationship.
    My best friend was terribly abused by her father but when she confronted him as an adult, he, weakened by age, owned up to what he did and admitted that he was abused as a child.She never really forgave him, but they were able to have some connection.
    I suspect that Parkinson’s has weakened your father emotionally as well as physically. I would absolutely reach out to him. Tell him how you feel. Open the door. There’s no guarantee you’ll the response you’d like, but I think it’s worse to leave things unresolved.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    cdobbs July 18, 2013, 9:39 am

    I know I’m gonna get attacked for this but here goes….your mother is as bad as your father LW….he hit you so hard you had to go to the ER!….why your mother didn’t take you as far away from this abusive asshole as possible is beyond me and just as bad as your father as far as I am concerned….it doesn’t matter that he likely was raised in an abusive home….that does not give him the right to hit you, it is no excuse….i think you would do good to get some counciling….i know when they are returning children to abusive households the child will often run to the abuser….this is done out of fear! the fact your father told you to go to counciling to just shows how out of touch he is with his own behaviour….i think the fact that he is ill now and you want to reach out to him shows that you are a compasionate person, but this man does not deserve your compassion

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      TECH July 18, 2013, 9:43 am

      I guess it doesn’t matter what the father deserves. The LW expressed a strong desire to reach out to him. Her desires are what matter here.

      Reply Link
      • landygirl

        landygirl July 18, 2013, 12:06 pm

        Lots of people have a strong desire to maintain bad relationships due to obligation or a need to fulfill a fantasy that will never be lived up to.

        Link
    • avatar

      kerrycontrary July 18, 2013, 9:45 am

      I agree with you. I haven’t been abused so I don’t really understand the desire to have a meaningful relationship with this man. But both of her parents are at fault, and the way he was raised was no excuse.

      Reply Link
    • lemongrass

      Lemongrass July 18, 2013, 11:07 am

      I agree that the mother failed by not taking her away from her father as a kid but I didn’t bring it up because the lw is wrestling with her relationship with her father. Making her question her one good parental relationship right now is not helpful to her situation.

      Reply Link
    • theattack

      theattack July 18, 2013, 11:08 am

      I don’t think this is what the LW needs to hear right now.

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        cdobbs July 18, 2013, 11:22 am

        i meant no disrespect….i just can’t relate….your parents are supposed to be the two people on earth who you can go to for protection….when your father is abusing you and your mother is an enabler i just can’t even imagine what type of psychological damage that can cause to a child….i just wonder if the LW is reaching out to her father because she needs to feel love and her parents are basically the last two people on earth she can get that from….sorry if what i say offends anyone, not my intention

        Link
      • theattack

        theattack July 18, 2013, 11:25 am

        This is why she needs a therapist and not people on the internet though. IMO, this letter could cause her harm and really should have been left to a professional. I’m sure you meant well, but comments that can reopen old wounds are more harmful than good. We don’t know very much about the LW’s situation at all to be making statements like these.

        Link
      • avatar

        TECH July 18, 2013, 11:26 am

        The reason why I like Wendy’s advice so much is that she is answering the LW’s question. The LW’s question is not about whether or not she should forgive or have relationships with her absusive father and enabling mother. She has already decided she wants those things. Whether it’s right or wrong or adviseable doesn’t address the LW’s request. The LW’s request for advice is how do I reach out to my dad? Because she’s already decided she wants to do that.

        Yes, the LW should probably meet with a counselor. Which is what a lot of people have suggested. But she’s looking for concrete suggestions for how to reach out to her dad and reconcile that relationship, and I’m glad Wendy gave her that.

        Link
      • lemongrass

        Lemongrass July 18, 2013, 11:27 am

        Ouch! The lw made absolutely no mention of the other relationships in her life. I don’t know why you would assume that nobody else loves her. The relationship between a parent and child is so strong that many, many abused children still want a relationship with their parents. You can replace friends and boyfriends but you only get one set of parents.

        Link
      • avatar

        cdobbs July 18, 2013, 11:38 am

        didn’t mean that….i meant she needs to feel loved by her parents (and her dad in particular)….i think abused children want a relationship with their parents because that is what they grow up thinking is normal….when really some people have no business having kids….i guess in a perfect world everyone would have two loving parents, and i get that, that is not reality…..i don’t know when i see kids being mistreated it makes me feel protective and the first thing i want to do is get them as far away from the abuser as possible

        Link
      • avatar

        lemongrass July 18, 2013, 11:58 am

        Of course you want to get a child away from an abuser but this child is an adult and still fragile. The best course of action is to look at the situation for what it is now and what will actually help and what won’t cause more harm. Pointing out the flaws in her relationships isn’t protecting the person she is now.

        Link
    • avatar

      Sistine July 18, 2013, 12:33 pm

      I agree with cdobbs. The father has never apologized for his behavior and in fact told the LW she was the one that needed to go to counseling to deal with the trauma he put her through. He takes no responsibility or sees any fault in the abuse. Just because he was abused and now that he’s ill doesn’t mean he deserves sympathy or a chance at a relationship with her. I think it’s unhealthy for the LW to try to have a relationship with him. She says that every time she tried he would smack her face or hit her or abuse her again every chance she tried to form a relationship. I think it’s in her best interest and health to stay away from him. Stop giving him chances to hurt her. He is NEVER going to apologize or change. If she tries to reach out to him he’s only going to disappoint and hurt her again.

      I was in a similar situation. The best thing I could do for myself was to cut my parents out of my life. Yes, it sucks to not have parents or a good relationship with them. It sad to be alone and not have family to talk to or depend on for moral support, but it was damaging to me to try and keep them in my life. I do think the LW could benefit from therapy to deal with what’s happened to her. Clearly her mother was weak and didn’t put her daughter’s best interests first. What kind of mother stays with a man who beats her child to the point where she has to go to the ER (on more than one occasion)?!

      Either way, I think it’s more important for the LW to protect herself and her well being than to try to bury the hatchet for the sake of her dying father. She’s the one who wants a relationship and it’s clear that it will ALWAYS be an abusive one. If he reached out to her remorseful and apologetic, that would be one thing. But he hasn’t and the LW admitted that he never will.

      Reply Link
      • theattack

        theattack July 18, 2013, 12:39 pm

        “Just because he was abused and now that he’s ill doesn’t mean he deserves sympathy or a chance at a relationship with her. I think it’s unhealthy for the LW to try to have a relationship with him.”

        ” I think it’s in her best interest and health to stay away from him. Stop giving him chances to hurt her. He is NEVER going to apologize or change. If she tries to reach out to him he’s only going to disappoint and hurt her again.”

        Those things MIGHT be true, Sistine. They certainly appear to be from the outside. But the truth is that we don’t know what’s going through the LW’s heart and mind. We don’t know what would be easier for her to live with. We don’t know if the risk of heartbreak outweighs the risk of knowing she could have tried one last time. We have no idea what either of these decisions could do to her long-term, and none of us are in a place to give her advice about it or to make a judgment.

        Link
      • avatar

        Sistine July 18, 2013, 6:03 pm

        It’s true that there is no way to know what would be best for her, but the fact that she wrote in ASKING for advice pretty much means that anybody on here can give their advice on it. The fact that this site isn’t full of certified therapists hasn’t stopped people from commenting. You don’t need to copy and paste what I said in my response as I’m aware of what MY response is and anyone can scroll up to read it.

        MY advice is to steer clear of him. I don’t view this situation as any different than if a LW wrote in and said they wanted to give their abusive boyfriend a second chance. No one would advise said LW to go back to their abuser even if she felt she deeply loved him and wanted the relationship. ESPECIALLY if said abuser never apologized or promised to change. You can want a relationship and love from someone all you want but that doesn’t mean that they are willing/able to give it to you. In fact, this situation is worse because her father beat her when she was incapable of leaving or defending herself. He put her in the hospital when she was a child more than once. That is incredibly serious.

        The fact that he shows no remorse and has manipulated her into believing that it’s HER fault they don’t have a relationship is proof of further psychological abuse. When she tried to have a relationship he continued to beat her when her guard was down, but hey he was trying his best so it must be all HER fault that they have no relationship. SHE’S the one who must have done something to require that slap in the face at the end of daddy daughter day. She “rejected him” because that was what was best for her (I’m sure psychologically as well as physically). I realize she’s sad she’s never had the relationship she’s wanted with him but she never will so long as he refuses to change. And I do think trying is only going to hurt her further.

        Again, the bottom line and the reason I think she should not try to have a relationship with him is because he has shown no change, remorse or apologized. He has shown ZERO signs that if she were to reach out to him it would be healthy. Perhaps with his disease he is no longer capable of physically abusing her, but that doesn’t mean she should be around him.

        If she didn’t say this: “My mom (who is still married to him) tells me that to this day he does not think that he did anything wrong” my advice would be different.

        Link
      • avatar

        lets_be_honest July 18, 2013, 1:11 pm

        Regardless of whether he deserves it or not isn’t the point here. The LW has decided she wants to make some sort of amends, or have a better relationship, prior to his death which sounds imminent. There are plenty of people who wished they’d done that and no longer have the chance. It may be just as beneficial to her to talk it out now and alleviate any guilt (right or wrong, but it sounds like she has some) she may harbor, rather than never have that chance and always regret it.

        Link
      • avatar

        lets_be_honest July 18, 2013, 1:12 pm

        Further, just because it was the best thing for you to cut your parents out of your life certainly doesn’t mean its the best for her.

        Link
      • avatar

        Sistine July 18, 2013, 6:18 pm

        LBH, I wonder if you ever get tired of being a know it all with too much time on your hands. I usually never read any of your responses to anything because I find your overbearing need to insert your opinion into every single topic/comment annoying. And although I couldn’t care less about your opinion, I guess I’ll take the time to respond to clarify my statement in case the LW is reading this.

        I never said it was best for her to cut her parents out. If you read the letter, the LW says “I rejected him so much that I know he will never initiate improving our relationship himself.” I was merely saying I could relate to her and that if she cut him out to protect herself sometimes that is best. She doesn’t need to feel guilty about rejecting her father. ESPECIALLY if time spent with him always seemed to end with a slap in the face. She has every right to reject someone who is an unhealthy influence in her life.

        I’m more concerned that she’s blaming herself for why she doesn’t have a good relationship with her father when he’s the one that beat her and put in the hospital and refuses to admit he’s done anything wrong. She rejected him because he was abusive. She does not need to feel bad about that.

        Link
      • Imsostartled

        Imsostartled July 18, 2013, 7:02 pm

        Come on, let’s be civil people. Name calling isn’t The SW style.

        Link
      • Imsostartled

        Imsostartled July 18, 2013, 7:03 pm

        Damn autocorrect *DW

        Link
      • avatar

        lemongrass July 18, 2013, 7:58 pm

        Whoa. Let’s be mature here. We’re all going to have differing opinions but you don’t need to insult people. Especially LBH, she’s awesome!

        Link
      • avatar

        redessa July 18, 2013, 3:27 pm

        “He is NEVER going to apologize or change.”

        You can’t know that. I’ve had all sorts of childhood issues with my mom. I tried a few times to reach out to my mother, to work through things with her and she shot me down every time. She would justify why she did the things she did – how they were in HER best interests and told me to get over it.

        Eventually, I accepted the fact that this was never going to get discussed, she would never so much as attempt to see my point of view and she would NEVER apologize.

        And then she did all of those things. A few years ago something happened in her own life and she realized she was experiencing exactly what she’d put me through. She called me and apologized and offered to listen and talk through anything I wanted to. It hit me totally out of the blue and I was speechless. When I picked my jaw up off the floor, I accepted her apology and told her I’d made my peace and didn’t need to talk about anything. I wouldn’t say we’re super close, but our relationship is okay.

        Something similar happened just recently with a friend of mine. Except her mother wrote letters to each of her children. My friend said she had to keep looking at the signature because even though she recognized her mother’s handwriting, the words in that letter did not connect with the mother she knew. And same thing, they aren’t suddenly best friends, but they’re building a better relationship.

        Healing can happen. I’m sorry it didn’t happen for you but we can hope it does for this LW since that is what she still wants.

        Link
      • avatar

        darci July 18, 2013, 5:12 pm

        Having been to therapy myself to resolve feelings around a similiar type upbringing, i have learned that while they are my parents, they are not perfect people, and they too make mistakes and have regrets, and would have maybe chosen to handle things in a different manner. I would be missing out on so much love and joy, in my particularly situation, had i completely cut my parents out of my life. It is possible to work through some of these issues and come out on the other end with stronger, healthier relationships. I hope the LW gets that opportunity.

        Link
      • avatar

        Sistine July 18, 2013, 6:08 pm

        The difference is that eventually both your mother and your friend’s mother DID in fact apologize or at least acknowledged their wrong doing. This LW’s father has not. In fact he still claims he did nothing wrong.

        The reason I assume he is never going to change is because the LW said this,
        “My mom (who is still married to him) tells me that to this day he does not think that he did anything wrong”

        Until he does, I don’t see the LW having the relationship with him that she wants.

        Link
      • avatar

        redessa July 18, 2013, 11:07 pm

        It may not be the relationship she wants, but if she’s able to let go of that image, she might still be able to have a decent relationship with him. That’s how things were with my mom before she apologized. She hadn’t done anything so egregious that I felt the need to cut her out of my life, I just knew to keep my distance emotionally. For years, I had a fantasy that if she could just acknowledge how her choices affected me, things between us would change dramatically. But the reality is that when I did finally hear those words, they didn’t have the power I thought they would. Maybe it’s because I’d already come to a point of accepting our relationship for what it was. Maybe it’s because she’s still ultimately the same person. She has a little more insight and has learned to let things go a little better as she’s gotten older. Things are definitely better now, but nothing can erase the roughly 30 yrs of having had a strained relationship. The reality is we’ll never have that “my mom is my best friend” type of relationship. And I’m okay with that. Like Darci, I accept the situation for what it is.

        The LW today may not get her apology but it doesn’t mean she can’t make peace with her dad just as he is. It’s all about expectations. Right now, she’s expecting, or at least hoping for, something he can’t deliver. If she can manage her expectations, she might still be able to forge a meaningful relationship with her father. And who knows, one day he might surprise her.

        Link
  • theattack

    theattack July 18, 2013, 9:46 am

    This is a question for your therapist, LW. IMO, this isn’t something lay people can or should advise you on. There can be severe consequences for you for whatever action you take. You need some support in processing that before, during, and after you make a move. I would absolutely not make yourself vulnerable to him right now (and that’s effectively what you would be doing) without a support person for your mental health.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Sophronisba July 18, 2013, 9:51 am

    I think an important step would be to let go of any guilt and self-blame you carry for “rejecting” your father in the past. You acted normally and correctly by distancing yourself from his confusing mixed messages of casual cruelty interspersed with occasional good experiences. His behaviour made him untrustworthy and you protected yourself and that was right.

    Reply Link
    • Fabelle

      Fabelle July 18, 2013, 10:02 am

      This. I wasn’t quite sure how to approach this letter, but the main thing that came through for me was the LW’s guilt. I agree with those who suggested counseling.

      Reply Link
  • Lindsay

    Lindsay July 18, 2013, 10:08 am

    You don’t say it explicitly, but it sounds sort of like you’re blaming yourself for your relationship with your dad. I feel like you think that he didn’t know any better, so your distancing from him was unwarranted. I get that he was raised in a way that teaches him it’s OK to abuse your children, but he still made the choice. Assuming you guys lived in society (and the fact that he tried to put you in therapy), he knew that parents don’t HAVE to do that. If he wanted a better relationship with his child, then he could have not been abusive. Period. That doesn’t mean he didn’t love you, because he obviously did, but it’s certainly not your fault for the relationship you have. It’s his fault, from the very beginning.

    Also, don’t come up with backstories to why your mother avoids the topic. It’s very likely guilt. I think you’re projecting your fears about your father’s possible rejection onto your mom’s behavior. But there’s no reason to assume that it’s because he doesn’t want a relationship, if you have no reason to think otherwise.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Older and (hopefully) wiser July 18, 2013, 10:11 am

    cdobbs– glad you said it. If my husband ever lifted a finger to my kids, we’d be out of here. There isn’t a mother in the entire animal kingdom that would let anyone hurt her offspring.

    Reply Link
    • avatar

      iseeshiny July 18, 2013, 10:22 am

      Except hamsters.

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        bethany July 18, 2013, 10:27 am

        Yeah, they eat eachother, don’t they?

        Link
      • avatar

        iseeshiny July 18, 2013, 12:30 pm

        Sometimes they eat their own babies! Giving birth is hungry work, I guess.

        Link
      • avatar

        GatorGirl July 18, 2013, 12:31 pm

        Cats eat their dead kittens. Gross.

        Link
      • Imsostartled

        Imsostartled July 18, 2013, 6:59 pm

        Mice sometimes do the same thing if their stressed after they give births. Moral of the story, it’s ok to eat your babies if your stressed out?

        But really I agree with others that trying to demonize the mother isn’t helpful. She needs to work through that with a therapist.

        Link
    • avatar

      Nadine July 18, 2013, 1:31 pm

      Dont you understand that blaming the woman who stays is blaming another victim??! Sheesh.This disdain for the mother, who may have her own unexamined (we don’t know anything about her or her marriage) is shocking.

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        oldie July 18, 2013, 3:03 pm

        No it isn’t shocking. She has an absolute responsibility to protect her child. Yes, she may find the thought of leaving her husband and being without a man for a while to be scary, but she has to protect her child. No excuses accepted.

        Link
      • avatar

        cdobbs July 18, 2013, 4:22 pm

        i agree so much with that statement….you have to protect your child

        Link
  • avatar

    Turtledove July 18, 2013, 10:41 am

    Some of what you’ve said resonates with my situation. It’s not exactly the same, but I am not close with my father at all. We rarely speak. I see him occasionally in the context of other family things.

    My first observation is this- he has most of the ownership for the breaking of things. It isn’t your fault you pulled away. He was not a safe person for you to be near and creating physical and emotional distance was the only power you had to protect yourself. Imagine the size difference between your grown father and your child self, imagine the power difference between a parent and a child who is dependent on them for everything. Let go of the guilt you feel for your child self not handling things as your adult self might have.

    My other observation is this, people who do the breaking frequently aren’t the ones who do the fixing. I don’t know if this can be fixed. I don’t think you will have the fantasy relationship that you want, but there is no shame in wanting to love and to be loved and to know the folks who raised you and be known by them. But I think the first thing you’ll need to do is let go of the fantasy relationship that you want. Then you’re going to have to let go of the broken relationship you currently have. Both these things you will have to understand and grieve for their loss. Then you’ll have to set about patiently exploring what kind of relationship you can have. (And as an aside, it is OK if you can never let him touch you, either in love or in anger. You can still have a meaningful and enjoyable relationship without touch and that may be one of the things you need in order to feel safe)

    I highly recommend therapy. This kind of pain runs deeply and it does tend to spill into other areas of your life. Therapy can be hard and it can be painful, but it can also be very very freeing. It can help you to let go of what’s gone and to understand and love and protect the most vulnerable parts of you.

    Reply Link
  • lemongrass

    Lemongrass July 18, 2013, 11:02 am

    This is great advice, Wendy. I have, to a much lesser degree, a superficial relationship with my mother. She just doesn’t click with me on an emotional level and never will. Accepting this has made it easier. Once, I told her that I wanted a better relationship with her and she told me to lower my expectations. It hurt a lot but ultimately it was true and things got better once I did. Once I stopped trying to fit our relationship into this picture perfect mold and accepted it for the authentic, flawed one that it is then it was easier. Like your dad my mother shows her love by actions. She’s not affectionate or gives me compliments but she spent weeks making the favors for my wedding and hours perfecting the cake for my baby shower. Accepting that love, even when it’s not the way that you choose to show it, is still love.

    Reply Link
  • FireStar

    Firestar July 18, 2013, 11:13 am

    It’s not my place to say don’t forgive your dad for abusing you or to blame your mom for her inaction. If you want a relationship with both of them, that’s your choice. I would say though that you should seek some counselling to put things in perspective first. You sound less forgiving of yourself for not forgiving your father fast enough over the abuse and that is totally unfair…to you. So speak to someone first – they may be able to give you additional tools to re-establish a relationship and to implement whatever boundaries this type of situation calls for. And Wendy is right. Let go of the fantasy relationship you are holding onto. Those aren’t the cards you were dealt…and feigning it will do you no good in the long term. Accept your dad for the type of father he was in the past and perhaps the different person he is today. He may have INTENDED to be a different type of father and have a different type of relationship with you – but that is why they say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Intentions matter less than actions. Deal honestly with the reality of your situation and I think you will achieve the best possible relationship you can have. Good luck.

    Reply Link
  • mandalee

    mandalee July 18, 2013, 11:26 am

    Wendy gave you some great advice. My father, and mother to an extent, was very abusive both physically and emotionally when I was growing up. We have a much better relationship now that I am older and moved out of the house, but that’s only because I’ve tempered my expectations about the kind of relationship we can have based on our past. I know there’s still resentment on my part, and even though he’s worked on a lot of issues and I’m proud of him, I can’t lie that there’s a lot of negative feelings in our relationship.

    When I let go of the fact that we would never have a “daddy’s little girl” relationship that I really wanted growing up, things got easier for me. I accepted my resentment and his inability to be an effective parent when I was growing up was going to always be a part of our relationship. We talk and we’re much closer now, but there’s still a distant element to our relationship, kind of like he’s a close uncle or family friend, more than a dad.

    So, my best advice would be to re-establish a relationship, if that’s what you want, based on the present. Slowly, set boundaries based on what you are both comfortable with. Maybe start out with an e-mail asking him about how he is feeling and updating him on what’s going on with you currently. I think if you keep your inquiries on a casual, more detached basis- some kind of relationship may build easier than if you bring up topics that would upset the both of you. I’m not saying you shouldn’t bring those up, but since you really want a relationship with your dad now and his health is declining, I’d start small and work towards those heavier, hard topics.

    Best of luck with all of this. I know how much of struggle it can be.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Elle Marie July 18, 2013, 11:27 am

    LW, I know this will pain you, but you will never have the kind of relationship you would like with your father. He’s just not capable of it.

    Therapy may be a really great way for you to work through these feelings and reach a place of acceptance for the things that happened during your childhood, and the relationship you have with both of your parents.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Addie Pray July 18, 2013, 12:21 pm

    This reminds me of my friend’s super funny FB status update on father’s day this year. Her status was “Happy everyone-pretend-their-dad-was-the-best day!” Hahaha. Just once on father’s day I’d love to see a FB status update that says “Happy father’s day, dad! I love you! You were an ok dad, nothing that years of therapy didn’t help me overcome.” Haha. Come on, that would be really funny!

    Other than that, WWS!

    Reply Link
    • theattack

      theattack July 18, 2013, 12:23 pm

      One of my friends posted a status like that on Mother’s Day and tagged his mom in it. I can’t imagine she appreciated it.

      Reply Link
      • avatar

        Addie Pray July 18, 2013, 12:25 pm

        Aww, I’m sure she did, if she has a sense of humor!

        Link
      • theattack

        theattack July 18, 2013, 12:28 pm

        Maybe. I don’t think they have a great relationship though, so it just seemed kind of mean. It would be funny with someone who did have a good relationship though.

        Link
      • avatar

        Addie Pray July 18, 2013, 12:30 pm

        Ruh roh! Yes I guess you’d need a solid relationship to pull it off without tears/hurt feelings.

        Link
      • iwannatalktosampson

        iwannatalktosampson July 18, 2013, 12:48 pm

        I am totally doing that to my mom next year. She needs thicker skin anyways. She recently wrote on my wall that she was offended that my dad was in 5 profile pics with me and she was only in 1 out of 80. Emotionally unbalanced? Type A competitive? Either way she needs to be shamed into having a sense of humor.

        Link
      • Lindsay

        Lindsay July 18, 2013, 1:03 pm

        My friend’s mom got pissed that my friend was Facebook friends with her father but not her (the mother). The thing is, the mom isn’t even on Facebook…

        Link
    • avatar

      redessa July 18, 2013, 3:32 pm

      LOL I could totally see my oldest DD posting something like that. And my husband would think it was funny.

      Reply Link
  • avatar

    lets_be_honest July 18, 2013, 12:58 pm

    Great advice by Wendy. I don’t have the relationship with my dad that I want, and I’ve tried to just accept that and enjoy it for just what it is. Good luck to you. If reaching out to him will make you feel better, especially since it might be your last chance, go for it.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    oldie July 18, 2013, 3:01 pm

    It may be all for the good that LW isn’t able to attempt a physical meeting for over a year. Starting with slow baby steps via e-mail, written letters, then phone calls and Skype seems the better approach. This is what LW should do if she feels a need to re-establish contact.

    I think she is doomed to disappointment, because she is trying to fill a hole that can’t be filled, because it was a lack of paternal approval and acceptance which she missed in her youth. That has understandably left her feeling that something important is missing from her life. Even if her father were able to tell her that he was wrong and she was a good girl and daughter, which I think is what she is looking for, it will be too late to really fill that particular hole. It doesn’t sound like her father is capable of admitting his errors or acknowledging the value that she had as a child, which he couldn’t acknowledge at the time.

    As an adult, LW needs to look to herself, her SO, her friends, and her colleagues for her sense of self-worth and importance and try to leave the mistreated girl behind.

    I am always upset when an adult offers “I was physically/verbally/sexually abused as a child” as an excuse for perpetrating that same abuse on another child, especially one’s own child. The adult knows that the treatment s/he received as a child wasn’t right. The adult also knows that in treating his/her child in the same way, that the child will inevitably be harmed. We all have less than great experiences from our earlier life, but adults are expected to know right from wrong and to behave properly. If you are unable to treat a child appropriately and nurture and love that child, then you really need to make certain that you never have children. The “I just treated her as my parents treated me’ is the lamest excuse in the world.

    Reply Link
  • avatar

    Sue Jones July 18, 2013, 3:43 pm

    My parents were also very old school, born in the 1920’s and my dad liked to use the belt, as did every other dad in my neighborhood in the 1960’s (think Mad Men and the scene in Season 1 where some dad spanks a kid that isn’t even his during a neighborhood party…) I kind of also feared and hated my dad. Then I felt sorry for him. We never got super close, but were able to be civil friends until he died. My older sister, on the other hand, worshipped him. Sometimes it is just like that. You cannot, perhaps WWS, have the dream relationship, but you can perhaps have the best relationship that is possible under your circumstances. And therapy on your end is probably important so that you do not end up being attracted to an abusive mate because that is often the template (having an abusive father, being attracted to abusive men….)

    Reply Link

Leave a Comment