How should I go about handling my (very) mentally ill father who goes through (primarily) emotionally/psychologically abusive phases with anyone he holds a relationship with? Completely cutting off contact is probably not
a solution for a few reasons.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Sorry for a long post, but...
History: My father is mentally ill, diagnosed as having a number of issues. He does not properly take his medication, and I'm not even sure that he bothers taking it at all, any more. It shows. I have been out of my (now divorced) parents' household for many years, but he calls me frequently--once a week--and tries desperately to keep tabs on what I'm doing, where I'm going, etc. as he likes to try to gain control over people, so he can manipulate situations. It's a taxing relationship that would normally not be worth having, other than there are some issues at hand with cutting all ties. That's where I'm hoping to get some advice.
I thankfully haven't seen my father in about two years, but he's called me and known where I lived, which wasn't an easy place for him to travel to...intentionally. About a month ago, I began a big move, selling a bunch of my stuff with the idea of starting afresh and getting better stuff. I've graduated college, so it is a bit of a new life.
Before leaving where I was, I told my father that I was in the process of moving, but was going to drive around and find a place before settling down, which I have done; I said I'd have trouble getting in touch with him, as I'd be busy, which was/is true. I've only just gotten into a place over the past week. (Maybe it's worth noting that the place is much closer--several hours' drive--and more accessible to him now, which is a slight concern.) My father's been going crazy, though--no puns intended--as he only had my last landline number, so he hasn't been able to speak to me or keep up with what I'm doing. I emailed him a couple of weeks ago, but that wasn't enough, and now he's sending me emails saying I haven't gotten in touch with him for three months. That may be one of his occasional delusions, and I have no way of calculating whether he's reacting angrily or otherwise to it all. Overall, this isn't my problem.
My problem is that...well, really my problem is just that he's crazy, and I'm not (no more so than most!), and there's not really anything either of us can do about it, particularly if he's not going to take his medication and/or consistently go to therapy. When he calls me, he wants to act like he's never treated me badly. He wants to be all buddy-buddy, as if I've never had to keep him, a very large man, from chasing my mother; as if I've never had to call the cops on him; as if he's never verbally disowned me or threatened me to my face in one of his fits. Despite all this, I would still be more than happy to keep a distant relationship with him, where we send cards at holidays and we speak over the phone a couple of times a year. Being mentally ill, though, and pretty damn unapologetic, he can't seem to understand any of this, and he'd even somehow be offended if I tried (yet again) to get him to understand it.
Core Question: With all of this baggage and the issues that still exist, his latest email accusing me of not talking to him for three months (again, untrue) and the fact that he doesn't know where I am / doesn't have an easy means of contacting me leaves me wondering how I should handle it. I have options, but I'm just not sure which I should choose. Should I just cut ties? Should I tell him where I am? Should I give him my phone number? Should I see him again? Is it safe for me to? And on and on and on. I drive myself batty dealing with this.
"So, why are you still in touch with him at all? Why would you even consider it?" you might ask. There are three primary reasons:
1. This is the biggest reason, and it is a material one, but one I care deeply about, nonetheless. There is a lot of land somewhere that, as his only child, will go to me, unless he outright denies me from having it in his will. Some of that land is already in my name, but only a very small portion of it. I want it all, when he finally keels over from all his bad decisions, as morbid and vulturistic as that sounds. I grew up on that land some, and it means a lot to me. I am concerned that cutting contact with him would mean I would never see all of it again. On a lesser note, where he lives is where my parents lived for a long time; it is also the place my mother fled from, finally, a few years ago. A lot of my childhood keepsakes, that I desperately want, are locked up in that home with him.
2. He gets frantic and does some wild things that might affect my life. My father has been known to wiretap, hide recorders, hire private investigators, etc. He currently doesn't know where I am, but if he ever got into the frame of mind where he wanted to know, he could actually easily find out. He would even know if he looked on my Twitter account, but he's too lazy. He loves spending money, though, so if he decided he wanted to track me down, I'm sure he'd hire someone. Doing things like that seem to give him a feeling of importance. Clearly, for my own sanity, I don't want to be tracked down! It seems that minimal, but existing contact is the only way to eliminate this possibility.
3. One of the few ways my father has always tried to "apologize" to both my mother and myself is by spending money. He paid for my college tuition, and a very small part of me is a little bit afraid that if I piss him off, he'll try to come back some sort of way and get that money from me. He'd not have much on his side, as I've got emails from him which don't state I have to repay anything, but I don't want to go through the hassle or heartache of any of that. My father is "lawyer-and-sue happy," so this is a possible scenario, even if small.
So, yes, hopefully you see why I'm hesitant to completely cut ties. I feel like both material/financial and emotional things are at stake here.
Two final things:
Please note that "talk to a therapist" is not the answer I'm looking for, so I'd appreciate it if no one went that route. I have spoken to therapists and guidance counselors in the past, as recently as this year. They all recommend I distance myself from my father, if not completely cut ties. This is good advice, but it doesn't take into account some of the things I have at stake here, which counselors always seem to overlook for some reason. That being said, therapy to help me process all this crap probably is in order, and I'll see to that at some point, when I've got time and a steadier income.
The law is not on my side, really, other than in emergencies, so you shouldn't assume that it is. Restraining orders do little good, other than to rile up the mentally ill party, and it is incredibly difficult to institutionalize someone, even when they have emotionally and even physically abused people. Most of the time you can only get someone locked up for a few weeks; my father has been locked up for that amount of time in the past, only to be released, because of legal reasons concerning how long mental health patients can be kept under certain circumstances. I'm probably not looking for a way to deal with all this, law wise, but if you know of something I don't, I'd appreciate your sharing it.
I hope someone can help me figure out how to communicate with him, but still stay safe and get what I want in the end. Thanks, everyone.