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Annie’s Mailbox: Talk to estranged dad with a friend

Dear Annie: I have an elderly father with a bunch of serious medical problems. We’ve never had a close relationship. I suspect he could pass away soon, and I would like to have some meaningful dialogues before that happens. I also have a terrible secret I’d like to tell him before he dies.

Dad and I have an awful relationship. He always yelled at me, and was extremely rude, boorish, critical, cranky, crabby, sarcastic and angry all the time, for no reason. He was like this to my mom and sister, too. Once, he threw me out of a slow-moving car. He was a heavy drinker. I’ve attempted suicide three times, and Dad refused to visit me in the hospital. I’m still angry about this.

He no longer drinks heavily, but he still drinks, and I’m sure it interacts with all the medication he takes. Thank goodness he no longer drives.

Since his health problems started, Dad has changed for the better, but we still never talk to each other. I’ve tried to have normal conversations with him, but it’s almost impossible. How do I begin to tell him my terrible secret? – Scared Son in Sarasota, Fla.

Dear Scared Son: Since you and Dad have such a hard time communicating, it might help to bring in a third party to facilitate the initial conversation – perhaps an understanding relative, mutual friend or clergyperson. You can always start by telling him you care about him and worry about his health. However, we have to wonder why you are so desperate to tell him a “terrible secret.” It doesn’t sound as if you seek his counsel on the matter, only that you are trying to unburden yourself at his expense. Examine your motives. If telling Dad will bring him some peace of mind and make your relationship better, go ahead. Otherwise, please discuss your secret with someone who can be of assistance or support.

Please e-mail your questions to anniesmailbox@, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611.