I’ve been dealing with my feelings toward him and his new family, but I also want my items that belong to me and the items that were my mother’s that I want. Do I have the right to sue if this continues? — Ignored Daughter
For legal advice, you’d have to speak to a lawyer, and if you don’t have anything in writing — like a will or some kind of agreement — stating what items should be returned/given to you, I’m not sure you have much of a case. But, again, you’d have to speak to a lawyer for legal advice. As you know, I’m not a lawyer; I’m a relationship advice columnist. And since you chose me to reach out to, I have to assume that what you’re really asking for is not legal advice, but relationship advice. So here we go: It’s natural that you feel betrayed and hurt and angry at your father for ignoring you, abandoning you, and replacing you with four soon-to-be step-kids. It’s natural that you want to get his attention and even seek some revenge — make him take notice you, if not hurt him the same way he’s hurt you. But I’m not sure continuing to ask him for a key to a house you say is falling down and for items he may not feel are appropriate to give to you (either now, or at all) — like your mother’s wedding rings, for example — is the best way to get that attention from him.
I know it’s difficult, but you need to separate your feelings toward your father from your desire to get certain items. You need to assume you can’t accomplish both at the same time, so decide which is a more immediate need — trying to heal your broken relationship with your dad or retrieving your items? Since there is a likelier chance of your retrieving items if you can get a relationship with your dad back on track, I’d focus on that if I were you. How can you do that? Well, for starters, you could reach out to him as you would someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. You could wish him happy holidays and ask if you could get together at some point and celebrate the new year. Have you congratulated him on his engagement? Maybe you could ask to take him out to lunch. Does he work anywhere near you? You could suggest a lunch date during the work day when you both have a break, rather than waiting until a day when you’re both off. You could simply tell him you miss him and you love him.
If you make a point to focus on simply being together and catching up rather than on getting a key from him or asking a favor of him, he may be more responsive to you. Then again, maybe enough damage has been done that meeting for lunch is too little, too late. And when I say “damage has been done,” I don’t just mean damage he’s caused you. I don’t know the details of your relationship, either before your mother died or after. All I know from your letter is that you left the state, you returned, and now you want your belongings. Is it possible that your father felt abandoned by you? Does he feel like all you want from him is storage space and rides to the hospital? I don’t know. I’m merely suggesting what might possibly be going on in a father’s mind to foster such apathy toward his daughter following the death of her mother. Grief, as I’m sure you’re aware, affects everyone differently and can test even the strongest of bonds (and if your bond with your dad was shaky at all to begin with — as many father-daughter bonds are during the teenage years, even without a huge loss or the absence of a biological connection — then the grief you both felt having lost your mother may have had an even greater affect on your relationship).
If you decide that the bigger and more immediate need is to get your things back and to secure the possession of your mother’s wedding dress and veil and rings, then I’d suggest reaching out to a lawyer for advice because I’m not sure you’re even legally entitled to those items. Just be aware that if you do turn this into a legal case instead of just a case of hurt feelings, the broken relationship between you and your father will probably never be healed. And the sad fact is that it may not be healed no matter what you do. And that is especially painful considering he’s your only living parent who raised you.
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