Does my father really need to know my last name?
December 12, 2009 11:52 AM   Subscribe

My father doesn't know my last name. Should I clue him in? How?

I'm going to try to keep a long story short. Even as a child, I had a distant and strained relationship with my father. My parents divorced when I was three and I saw him for a month or two every summer, until I was a teenager when he basically kidnapped me (by keeping me, out of my home state, past the time allotted in the custody agreement). I ran away from him (back home to Mom). I married (VERY young) and he took my husband and I to court for an annulment. He lost that court case and I didn't speak to him for about 8 years.

I divorced 3 years ago and instead of reverting to my maiden name, or keeping my married name, I took my mother's maiden name. Two years ago, my father's father's dying wish was that my father and I reconcile. Fine and well, I guess, as an adult, I have no real obligations to this man, but I'm willing to grant my dying grandfather's wish.

So my father and I have been speaking for two years now. He's the same misogynist I've always known; patronizing females, talking down to me as if I have no intelligence whatsoever. He rarely asks my opinions and hardly ever asks about my life. He prefers to discuss the not-so-important - his cats, food, antique shopping. I'm not sure we've had any conversation of substance in the two years I've accepted him into my life. I'm kinda ok with this, actually.

Given our track record, I haven't actually told him my last name changed. So far, it hasn't been too much of a problem. I still live at the same address as I did when my divorce was finalized, so his mail still makes it to me. My bank account has been notated with "AKA Married Name" because of a surprise check he sent me for my birthday last year (my father has a tendency to show love with money, which *almost* encourages me to keep him in my life for the financial assistance, but I feel slimy using *anyone* like that, including him).

I took my mother's maiden name. He'd recognize it, he wouldn't be happy about it. Do I tell him? When I mail out his Xmas present via FedEx, do I put my current or my married name on the return address? (When sending regular mail, I usually just put an address without a name, but baked goods need to be sent overnight.) It's not that I'm *actively* hiding it from him, it's just that he's never asked and I've never really found a good way to divulge. I'm also kinda worried that if I move from this address his mail will get lost or returned to sender. I don't plan on ever having kids, but if I'm female, so I likely wouldn't be passing along my last name anyway. I'm my father's only child. Advise me, Hive Mind!

So much for long story *short*.
posted by MuChao to Human Relations (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I might also mention that I have good reason to suspect that my father (ex-airforce intelligence) is possibly working for the CIA, and could very easily have had this information (and tracked me down years ago) without asking, if he'd wanted it.
posted by MuChao at 12:05 PM on December 12, 2009

He'd recognize it, he wouldn't be happy about it.

Who cares how he feels about something that's entirely your choice? He's lucky you even talk to him. Tell him or don't but don't factor in his feelings about your name change.
posted by desjardins at 12:12 PM on December 12, 2009 [7 favorites]

Here's a vote for coming clean but also fudging a bit by sending out the Christmas present with a return address label in the format Yourfirstname Yourfatherslastname (treated as a middle name) Yourcurrentlastname.
posted by gudrun at 12:12 PM on December 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't bother. It's not really any of his business and doesn't directly affect him. And by not telling him, it's an extra step of distance between the two of you, which seems like a good thing.
posted by Solomon at 12:16 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

I think you have to answer this question for yourself, and reading between the lines I think your answer seems like Yes.

The practical considerations are honestly pretty minimal and seem like a pretext to bring this up: maybe your bank is more persnickety than mine, but I've deposited checks with all sorts of bizarre variations on my name without any problem ever; you're choosing to send him something that requires your full name on the return address. Mail forwarding can certainly handle two names for you if you give it to them; and anyway it doesn't last for more than a year, and what, you're not going to tell him your new address in the event that you maybe move someday?

Is it important to you that he know you have repudiated him in this way? Is the prospect of future surprise checks something that you really want to structure your relationship around? Do you want to remind him that your reconciliation was grudging and you don't really like him that much?

If it were me, I would use my Real (i.e. mother's maiden) Name on the return address. What you have to decide is what you want to say in the event that he both 1) notices and 2) wants to talk about it. (He's a patronizing misogynist: even if he might not like it on principle, if he thinks you're stupid, he won't be surprised that you do things that he thinks are stupid, and may not deem it worth a conversation if you don't have substantive conversations anyway.)

What do you want to say if he brings it up? Do you want to smooth it over as a past decision, say "oh it's nothing, just that you were dead to me when I got divorced, so I took the name of the parent I was closer to at the time"? Or do you want to make it clear that it's an ongoing slight: "you're a misogynist bastard and I want your name no more than I want any other part of you in my life"? I think that's the real decision you need to make.
posted by xueexueg at 12:20 PM on December 12, 2009

I think you should just act like he already knows. Use your real name (whichever name you are using) on the address label, and if he asks about it, go ahead and answer "Oh yeah, sorry, I thought you knew. I've been going by that name for awhile now." And then talk about his cats some more.
posted by arcticwoman at 1:26 PM on December 12, 2009 [3 favorites]

I like arcticwoman's idea. Just start using it (like on the FedEx rec't, return addresses, wherever he might see it) as if he already knows.

If he asks, it's "Yeah I went back to mom's name after the divorce", shrug, no big deal.
posted by rokusan at 9:44 PM on December 12, 2009

What's the big hesitation in divulging it? Do you need to? No. But you've set yourself up to do it -- sending him an overnight package. If that's what you want to do, just put your name on it. If he brings it up, just tell him the truth. Are you afraid this is going to turn into a shouting match? That he'll take you back to court? I don't get it. The man is lucky you acknowledge his existence; you don't need to be afraid of his reaction to something as (forgive me) completely trivial as your name.
posted by asciident at 10:08 PM on December 12, 2009

Don't go out of your way to tell him, but don't go out of your way to hide it from him.

I believe our society puts in us a guilt complex over continuing our relationship with out parents despite any harm they may do us.
posted by meadowlark lime at 5:13 AM on December 13, 2009

You decided to reconcile with him to grant your grandfather's wish. That's done. Some reconciliations are permanent, some aren't. Don't make a thing of it, just use your name. And if he brings it up, gently asks "Is that a serious question?".
posted by hawthorne at 5:58 AM on December 13, 2009

Two years ago, my father's father's dying wish was that my father and I reconcile. Fine and well, I guess, as an adult, I have no real obligations to this man, but I'm willing to grant my dying grandfather's wish.

Are you really trying to reconcile?

Building friendly relationships with distant people can be hard work. Anybody can build relationships when things are new easy (like romantic relationships) but relationships that are strained by history are the hardest to maintain, yet can be the most self-revealing and worthwhile.

When parents patronize their grown children, I think part of the responsibility is on the child to demand her respect. The parent is pulled between two perspectives: that the child needs the parent's guidance, which is attractive because it provides a feeling of utility especially after the parent retires; and, that the child needs security in her independence, which is critical for the child's happiness. Reconciliation means having these challenging "conversations of substance" wherein you insist on your autonomy.

It sounds to me like your father is overbearing but well-meaning. Why would he try to annul your marriage if not to spare you from making what he saw as a mistake of youth and ignorance? It also sounds like you are pretty dominant yourself, having pushed him out of your life, and boldly declaring to us your perception of him.

Do you think that not letting him find out your surname might be a continuation of keeping him out of your life? If he notices your name, and brings it up, that's your perfect opportunity to have a "conversation of substance" about why you chose your mother's surname.

Yet, here you are asserting your independence from your father with the very name you sign every day and you're worried about him noticing? The mark of your independence is this:

Don't go out of your way to tell him, but don't go out of your way to hide it from him.

...because then you're just being yourself, independent of him.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:09 PM on December 13, 2009

I mean:

...because then you're just being yourself, with him in your life, but independent of his feelings about your major life decisions.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 10:15 PM on December 13, 2009

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