How to handle an estranged so-called father

  • Tuesday, June 11, 2019 1:30am
  • Life

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Dear Carolyn:

I’m 32, married with a great wife and a 2-year-old son, and my life is pretty good except for my so-called father. He left me and my mom alone when I was just a baby and she struggled to raise me and make ends meet our whole lives. I think the hard life wore her out and was one reason she died of cancer at age 41.

My dad has been contacting me recently, apologizing for ghosting us and wanting to meet me and my family. I think he realizes he burned a lot of bridges and is facing a lonely old age. It’s too little too late if you ask me, but my wife is encouraging me to give him a chance, pointing out that I really don’t know his side of the story and don’t have much other family.

What “side of the story” could explain away leaving a 17-year-old girl alone with a baby, never calling, never visiting, never a penny of child support?

I really just want him to stay away and reap what he sowed, but I wonder if someday I’ll regret this missed opportunity. How do you decide if the risk is worth it?

— Too Little Too Late?

There’s no right way to handle a tough situation that magically fends off regrets. You are fully entitled to ignore your father’s entreaties — and also entitled to listen to what he has to say. And to decide after you hear him out that you do want a relationship with him beyond this, or don’t. You don’t have to find him sympathetic, you don’t have to introduce him to your children, you don’t have to let him any further into your life than you choose to. You can still leave him to “reap what he sowed,” just with more information than you had before.

Simply meeting up with him may affect you, of course, even complicate things, in ways you didn’t anticipate, so do take that into account.

But don’t agree to anything just because your wife thinks you should. Hear her out, of course — but also know that even people who love and want the best for you can’t know how it feels to be you.

If you’re so inclined, a session or two with a good family therapist could help you sort through this decision.

Dear Carolyn:

My wife thinks I’m direct to the point of rudeness when I ask nearby fellow audience members to shush up during a performance, movie, etc. (“Excuse me, please stop talking.”). She doesn’t have an alternative script, however, and being less confrontational in general, would rather I try to bear it. Any suggestions on a middle ground?

— Shushing

The talkers are the rude ones, so I think “excuse me” and “please” are all the courtesy they’re due.

But in the interest of marital harmony, I suppose you can turn it into a question and add some anticipatory gratitude: “Excuse me, would you please be quiet during the movie? Thank you.”

Re: Shushing:

The other option is to say, “Excuse me, I can’t hear.”

Same end result, but you aren’t issuing orders, which is often easier for people to hear without being defensive.

— talley-sue-nyc

— Washington Post Writers Group

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