Dear John: Bad Dad Wants Back Into Their Lives
Tuesday, August 27, 2013
My father left my mom when my sister and I were teenagers. It was a terrible time and it was followed by more hardship, but on some level, we were all glad to see him go. He was not a good husband, father, or man.
Well, now he’s turned up and wants to re-establish some kind of connection with my sister and me. (My mother passed away several years ago.) My sister has been to see him and says he is in rough shape, lives alone in miserable circumstances, and wants to make the most of whatever time we have left with him.
The thing is, I want no part of this. I was glad when he left, didn’t miss him when he was gone, and have no interest in what his life is like now. My sister does not understand how I feel. Her trump card seems to be, “But he’s our father,” insisting that we are obliged to welcome him back into our lives now that he has reached out to this. I have a couple of friends who feel the same way. I don’t know what to do.
Lost My Father Years Ago
There are some interesting parallels this week between this letter and the first one. Thanks for writing in.
I think parents have absolute obligations to their children, but I think children have only contingent obligations to their parents. And they’re contingent upon parents treating their children with the love and attention they need and deserve. So in my opinion, “But he’s our father” carries about as much weight as, “But he’s our mailman.”
I don’t think you owe your father anything more than you truly want to give. Your sister is certainly not wrong in trying to re-establish some sort of relationship with him, but she is wrong in suggesting you have an obligation to do so.
It can be deeply gratifying to forgive someone who is genuinely sorry for the hurt he’s caused, especially when you will forever lose the opportunity to do so at some point in the near future. But if you’ve looked into your heart and you just want nothing to do with this man, that’s perfectly fine. You needn’t feel guilty about it.
I was in a relationship that ended badly about twenty-five years ago. Over the course of the three years we were together, my boyfriend grew increasingly cruel and even threatening, especially when he was drinking. I finally broke up with him when he pushed me hard one night.
But a couple of weeks ago I ran into him again and he seemed like a different person. He says he hasn’t had a drink in fifteen years, he’s become quite religious, he mentors others who are trying to quit drinking, and he apologized for how our relationship ended. He recently contacted me and wants to get together for coffee. I’m tempted to meet up with him – when things were good between us, we really had a lot of fun – but a nagging part of me doesn’t think it’s a good idea. I have an active social life and a lot of friends, so I’m not starved for companionship. I’m really on the fence. What do you think – can a leopard change its spots?
Fool Me Twice?
Dear Fool Me Twice?,
I think it can, but I’d still approach a spotless leopard very, very slowly.
Of course people can change. The problem is they can also change back. In your case, the physical abuse is extremely alarming. It’s not like he was a serial philanderer (not that you’ve said, anyway). I’m not minimizing philandering, but this guy was threatening your safety, and it was escalating.
I salute anyone who has tried to wrest his life back from alcoholism. From your letter, it sounds as if he has turned himself around. He deserves a lot of credit. Maybe he even deserves a second chance.
But what do you deserve? At the very least, you deserve a relationship free of the daily worry that this is the day it all falls apart.
Your life sounds good without him in it. I’d keep it that way.
I’m a little league coach – the kids I coach are at the 8- and 9-year-old level. I was at a park recently that a lot of parents, kids, and coaches meet up at on Saturdays for informal practice and pick-up games. I happened to be working with my son near one of my players and his father. As the father (who I’ve seen before but never had any interaction with) worked with his son, I was shocked at the way he was talking to him. Critical, mean, foul-mouthed in the worst way – it was bad. I’m sorry to say I was so rattled by the experience that the first thing I did was take my son to another part of the park so he wouldn’t be exposed to this. I couldn’t stop thinking about it, though, and it’s been eating away at me ever since then. I have decided I have to say something to this father. I don’t think anything he did was illegal or anything, but I know it was wrong and I just can’t let it go. Any ideas on how I could handle this?
Good for you for refusing to look the other way. We can give this dad the benefit of the doubt and assume that maybe he was having a particularly bad day, but if your gut tells you that this is more a pattern than an isolated incident, it’s best to talk to him.
First, prepare for the possibility that this guy is a volatile hothead and he may erupt at what he perceives as criticism. You should talk to him one on one so that he doesn’t feel like he has to act tough in front of his kid or another coach, but do tell another adult to keep an eye on the situation from afar and to come over right away if it gets ugly.
Then, when you can talk to him out of earshot of anyone else, let him know that you saw what went on at the park and you know how stressful parenting can be. Don’t make it confrontational or threatening – let him know you’re trying to help. Ask him if there’s anything you can do. Who knows? It’s unlikely, but maybe he’ll take you up on your offer.
And talk to your boy about the possibility of having this kid over for a play date sometime. If this is what he’s subjected to all the time, he needs some carefree fun, and he needs to see how a loving dad acts.
In the future, you can keep an eye on the situation - make sure the kid doesn’t show up with suspicious-looking bruises, etc. – but beyond that, I don’t think there’s much else you can do. A lot of kids are raised with parents mean enough to do emotional damage, but not mean enough to get some type of protective services involved. You’re doing what you can, though, and I think that’s admirable.
John is a middle-aged family man from Providence, Rhode Island. If you learn from your mistakes, he’s brilliant. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note: While John enjoys some much earned summer vacation, he is sharing some of his favorite letters with readers.
- Dear John: An Affair To Forget
- Dear John: Another Dad Gave My Son ‘The Talk’ Before I Could
- Dear John: Are Her Feelings More Important Than The Mortgage?
- Dear John: Bad Dad Wants Back Into Their Lives
- Dear John: Boyfriend’s Sexy Talk A Total Turnoff
- Dear John: Daughter’s Nude Photos Not Welcome in Family Album
- Dear John: Divorce May End The Marriage But Not The Problems
- Dear John: Do I Really Want An ‘Escort’ For My 26th Birthday?
- Dear John: Getting Girlfriend’s Son Off The Couch
- Dear John: He Says I Cry Too Much
- Dear John: He Thinks It’s Hot, I Think It’s Not
- Dear John: Her Grooming Calls For An Air-Clearing
- Dear John: I Think My Boss Is Having An Affair
- Dear John: Is The Problem The Nude Neighbor? Or The Nosy Ones?
- Dear John: It Feels Too Right To Be Wrong
- Dear John: My Boyfriend Is A Pathological Slob
- Dear John: My Boyfriend Overshares Our Intimate Details
- Dear John: My Co-Worker Makes Me Feel Dirty
- Dear John: My Womanizing Roommate Is After a Girl I Like
- Dear John: Pro Golfer Wants To Play Her
- Dear John: Remaining A Couple Will Require A Third Person
- Dear John: She Wants Him To Have An Affair
- Dear John: Should She Leave Her Son With Her Boyfriend?
- Dear John: Ungrateful Birthday Boyfriends
- Dear John: With His Father Dying, So Are His Chances To Talk