Dear Carolyn: My father was a nightmare. When I was a kid, he would throw things at me; he even threw me down the stairs once and broke my arm. Eventually I convinced my mother to leave him. I was 15 then and it’s been about 10 years since I’ve seen or spoken to him.
Over the years, my father has sent me cards on my birthday. He always sends sizable checks, usually several hundred dollars. I’ve always cashed the checks and thought of the money as child support.
Now I’m done with school, have a good job and don’t need the money, but the checks keep coming.
On the one hand, I feel he still owes me a lot. On the other hand, through the process of repairing my relationship with my mother, I’ve found I no longer hate my father.
I could donate the money to people who need it more than I do, but if I cash the checks I’m most likely going to spend the money on myself.
I’ve been thinking the right thing to do is release him from my life permanently. I think if I stop opening the cards and cashing the checks, then I can give him back to God, if that makes sense. What do you think? – Torn
When someone has been through what you have, I’m inclined to vote for whatever you believe will help, as long as it isn’t destructive. Your idea for releasing him is not a destructive one – and yes, the way you describe it makes perfect sense to me.
The opportunity: Depositing your father’s check and writing another to an organization that, say, helps abused kids, might provide you with a surprising source of strength and validation.
You could also use the money – or your own, certainly – for good counseling.
Not that you need to choose either of these paths to prove your worth. You don’t need to prove a thing to anyone.
Except, perhaps, yourself, which is ultimately how I suggest you frame this decision: Do yourself proud, in whatever shape that takes.