Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Boyfriend Is Obsessed With Fulfilling His Dead Dad’s Dream”

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My boyfriend of six years lost his father unexpectedly two years ago. They had a good relationship the last three years of his life. A year before he passed, I purchased a boat to fulfill a dream of mine. During the next year my boyfriend and his father started shopping for a sailboat. The sailboat was his father’s dream, but it didn’t transpire before he died. Since his father passed, my boyfriend has spent the last two years buying, restoring, obsessing with a sailboat. The plans he and I had have fallen to the wayside. He now thinks of no one nor ANYTHING else except that sailboat. I have lost both parents and I KNOW grief. But this is not healthy. He is smoking his dad’s pipe, wearing his clothes, and cutting his hair like his father. He will not go to a grief support group. He gets angry and drinks if I bring it up. I am at my wits’ end. His father was a semi-absent father, an alcoholic, and a womanizer.

I KNOW he has to grieve, but he is living his father’s life. I don’t want to be with a reproduction of his father. I want to be with him. HELP! — Wanting My Boyfriend Back

This is more than simply grieving (or even fulfilling a dead man’s dream). Your boyfriend sounds like he’s having some sort of midlife crisis (you don’t say how old you both are, but I’d put money on your boyfriend being in his mid-40s to early 50s?). It’s almost like his father’s death was a trigger, but ultimately not the cause, of this behavior. Like, maybe there was a predisposition for this behavior — and, assuming this was a biological father, an argument could be made that a predisposition for some of this behavior was passed down genetically (alcoholism, for example, runs in the family).

The cause for the troubling behavior, though, is beside the point. Whether this is a true emotional/psychological crisis or depression or mental illness or simply transitioning from one stage of life to another — albeit, in a way that seems unhealthy and worrisome — unless your boyfriend gets some professional support and guidance, he may be stuck in this way of being for a long time. It may get worse. It may swallow him. He needs help — therapy at the least, maybe some prescription medication (like anti-depressants). He has refused to go to a grief support group. What about seeing a therapist? Maybe one who specializes in grief or midlife transitions? If he refuses to address his behavior and to seek help for the underlying issues, you are at a crossroads. Do you let him pull you down into the sinkhole of grief and depression and whatever else is going on? Or do you set yourself free — free to move on and live your life and pursue your dreams and perhaps find someone with whom to share those dreams?

As much as you are concerned for your boyfriend and worried about the turn his life has taken, if he won’t acknowledge what’s happening and seek help, you have to focus on your own life. If you’ve survived the deaths of both your parents and know grief and have made it through the other side, then you already know some of the strength you possess and your ability to find joy post-grief (and maybe even in the midst of it). Leaving a longterm relationship — especially under these circumstances, where you feel the person you love is lost somewhere and if only you could find him your relationship could continue — brings grief. You will have to move through the stages of that grief before you’re whole on the other side. But, I think you probably started the grief process a while ago. Like your boyfriend, you can decide to wallow in it indefinitely and maybe lose yourself to the world, or you can decide to push through, accept the loss, and move forward with your life.

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

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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy@dearwendy.com.

13 comments… add one
  • avatar

    em August 12, 2016, 8:55 am

    Per usual, Wendy’s advice is good. I am just commenting b/c you mentioned that the father was absent and womanizing in his lifetime. I have read before that when someone starts idolizing/revering a dead parent, it often can mean they were abusive during their life. Has anyone else found this pattern to hold true?

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    • avatar

      pho_sho August 12, 2016, 9:37 am

      There’s the idea of complicated grief, where grief takes an atypical form, and one of the predictors of complicated grief is when there was a challenging or ambivalent relationship between the deceased and the griever. This situation seems to fit that model.

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  • avatar

    Essie August 12, 2016, 10:12 am

    “I don’t want to be with a reproduction of his father. I want to be with him. ”

    This was very powerful, LW. Did you say it to him? Just like that?

    This is one of those conversations you have to have quietly and gently. I’d be angry and frustrated at this point, too, but saying it while you’re upset is just going to make him defensive. He clearly needs help, and you’re not wrong to gently insist that he see a therapist (I think this goes beyond a grief support group).

    If he refuses to get help? Well, as Wendy said, then it’s time to consider what’s best for you, going forward.

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    • avatar

      I WANT MY BOYFRIEND BACK August 24, 2016, 6:31 pm

      Thank you. I did tell him word for word.He deflected the entire conversation. Then tried to turn it around on me. Telling me that I am being unreasonable.

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  • avatar

    Andrea G August 12, 2016, 11:40 am

    He needs professional help. I get from your letter that his father was mostly absent from his life. Maybe his behavior is some weird way of trying to have a relationship or connection with his father that he didn’t have. Maybe, in his mind, by taking on this small (only the recent 3 years) and idealized perspective of his father’s life and who he was and trying to emulate it is a way for him to old on to this connection that he went so long without.

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  • avatar

    yeah...but August 12, 2016, 2:37 pm

    If the dad was absent for most of the child’s life he may be still trying to get his father’s acceptance and approval. When a parent is missing during childhood, the adult still reverts to childhood and tries to get that parent’s attention, love, acceptance and approval. He may be thinking, if I only get that sailboat dad wanted, he will love me, he will be proud of me,….he will not leave me like he did when I was younger. But he’s gone. As a child he may have done anything he could have to have his father in his life, and he may be repeating that pattern. Alternatively, he may just not be ready to let go, and with this sailboat, dressing and behaving like his dad, his dad is still here, and not really gone. He doesn’t have to really say good-bye yet. Whatever the reason, a good therapist or counsellor will him hash this out. However, it’s not a problem that can be worked on, unless he sees it as a problem. He seems to be fine with his life, which makes seeking an outside perspective more difficult.
    If it was me and a loved one, I would say something along the lines, of, as a parent, I don’t want my kids to be like me or to be like their dad. Each generation wants their kids to be better them, and to take their life experiences and learn from them. If they were like me, it means that I didn’t give them an opportunity to be like themselves. There already is one authentic person like their dad, and one authentic person like me. They need to learn from our lives to go further, to be the most authentic person that is an individual identity to themselves. To truly honor his dad, if he can take his father’s life experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly, take the best parts that was his dad and become the best and most authentic man that he is meant to be. There was only one person that was truly the unique person that was his dad, the best way to honor your parent is learn from them, and their mistakes, lest they be for nothing. Good luck LW.

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    • avatar

      I WANT MY BOYFRIEND BACK August 24, 2016, 6:50 pm

      That’s exactly right. I have told him this same thing. He dismisses it. He turns it on me. He says I am being crazy. When He was young , elementary age. He would hide in his father’s car so he could be with him at work. His father worked away from the home 5 days a week. Only home on the weekend. Then his mother and father divorced due to his infidelity. My bf high school age went to live with his father and he was witnessed a lot of adult activity. He tells me he grew up in a bar. Apparently when his father was home on weekends he would take my bf with him to clubs and give him quarters and send him to the arcade. He has a 10yr old daughter that he does not see. I think he is turning into his father. I don’t know how to help. I can’t go along with this

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  • avatar

    dinoceros August 12, 2016, 4:21 pm

    I assume that the issues in situations like this tend to be that you either feel bad abandoning someone when they are going through a rough time or feel like if this is a rough patch, they might come out of it, and you don’t want to lose them in that case, or a combination of both.

    You can see if he’ll seek help, but if not, there’s no guarantee that this will clear up anytime soon. At a certain point, you have to accept that at the present, this is who he is, and make a decision based on that. If he’s not actively trying to get out of this, then you can’t wait around for something that may never happen.

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  • avatar

    I WANT MY BOYFRIEND BACK August 24, 2016, 6:25 pm

    Wendy,
    When I sent this I was in a dark place. And I thank you for your response. I have read it over and over and over again. Your words are helping me.
    An update. Since I wrote you, my be has had a distant relative pass and is now receiving a large inheritance. He plans on buying another larger sailboat and sail to the Keyes. He said he wants me to come with him. But when I ask him what about our plans and dreams that we already have committed too? He says he never wanted to do any of that. Now he wants me to sell my home and go with him. He said he would pay FOR the cruising but not my bills while we are gone. I won’t do that. So he told me it’s his way or the highway. Now I realize I don’t trust him with my future . do to the fact I have been through a lot of infidelity and alcohol abuse with him. I don’t think it is going to work. If it can please tell me how.
    I WANT MY BOYFRIEND BACK

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    • bittergaymark

      bittergaymark August 24, 2016, 7:31 pm

      Christ. Tell him if he ever has hand an BI tendencies to shoot me a message on here. I’d give anything to run off on some big adventure right now. Life is short. Your boyfriend HAS realized that. Clearly.

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    • avatar

      dinoceros August 24, 2016, 7:38 pm

      Yeah, I think it’s over. A lot of the advice centered on seeing if he was willing and/or able to start on a path toward some kind of normalcy. I think you have your answer in the fact that he’s getting even further from reality. I think it’s time to end it before it drags on further.

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    • avatar

      Rava August 25, 2016, 3:02 am

      It is not going to work, ever. And apparently it didn’t even work to begin with. Infidelity? Alcohol abuse? And you’re still thinking about how you can help HIM? Seriously? You’ve got to start tending to yourself, because this is fucked up. How much do you think you have to put up with, as a girlfriend? Maybe you should discuss the answer to that with a good therapist. Your bf will not change, except for the worse. I’m sorry you’re going through all this. Best of luck.

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      • avatar

        Vathena August 25, 2016, 9:07 am

        Infidelity, alcohol abuse, and a daughter he has abandoned. I think this is what they call “burying the lede”. Yes, LW, it’s long past time for you to move on from this relationship.

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