April 18, 2012 in Features

Less time with dad won’t change him

Washington Post

Dear Carolyn: Just been uncovered that my dad has been having an affair. The other woman is a friend of my mom’s.

I would be happier never seeing my father again, but I don’t want to make this any harder for my siblings. My mom wants an amicable divorce, purely to make things easier for my siblings and me – we’re all in college/living at home – and is taking steps toward that.

But how do I get over this betrayal, humiliation, anger and sadness? I am fed up with his deceit and surface-level emotional depth, and just want to move on with my life without the weight of wishing my dad loved me better. – Anonymous

I’m sorry. Life is challenging enough when loved ones behave themselves.

While there’s no shortcut through grief – this is the death of your nuclear family, after all – there are things you can do to clarify your sense of purpose, which will keep you on the recovery path.

You’ve spelled out one priority yourself: supporting your mom and sibs instead of cutting ties with Dad.

I do think you’ve conflated two separate issues, though: what you think of your father, and the time you spend with him.

By accident of birth, this is the father you got. He’s not getting any more honest, any deeper, any better. That means that if you keep expecting him to behave with integrity, or hoping he’ll become a good father, or decrying that he isn’t one, you’ll keep renewing your disappointment, and grief, in perpetuity.

You don’t expect you’ll grow 10 inches and play pro hoops, or that your dog will learn to drive, right? You accept limits and live accordingly. So, build expectations of Dad that reflect nothing more than the reality of who he is – then watch as existential letdowns stop dominating your life. It’s wish-fulfillment with no change in paternal dosage.

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