How to tell my dad about my abortion?
December 10, 2010 10:49 AM   Subscribe

How to tell my dad about my abortion? It seems like the time has come and gone. Do I tell, and if so, how?

My husband and I experienced an unwanted pregnancy this summer. We both knew immediately, for several reasons, that it would be best to terminate this pregnancy, so I did. I think I felt/feel normal sadness about it.

My question is: is it too late to tell my father? I told my mom within a few days, partly because I know she cares about the important things in my life, and partly to explain my despondence and distance over the few weeks prior. I didn't tell my dad because the easy time for a phone call with him came and went, and then I was home with the parents (and other family) for a big happy event and it never felt like the right time. Six months have now passed.

I'm pretty sure my mom didn't tell him. He's also fairly conservative--has grown more so over the years--and I can't read his thoughts/feelings on abortion anymore. We are very close and I tell him nearly everything. He probably understands my emotional world more than anyone besides my mom. He's never NOT supported my decisions, but this feels different somehow. Plus there's the whole "this was my first grandchild" thing, which is why I didn't tell my mom right away and had to work up to it. (I know it was not really fair to tell my mom and not be able for her talk to her husband (my dad) about it, but she more or less offered that option to me.)

Do I tell him, and if so, do you all have any advice for how?

(Anonymous because I don't want this linked to my name on the internets. Throwaway: askmefiabortion at gmail)
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total)
I wouldn't want to know if I were your Dad. I would let sleeping dogs lie.
posted by sanka at 10:58 AM on December 10, 2010 [32 favorites]

Sometimes we tell people things because we think it will unburden our psyches, even though it only creates a burden for the listener.

This sounds like one of those times. I vote with sanka.
posted by John Borrowman at 11:01 AM on December 10, 2010 [28 favorites]

Personally, I don't see a need to tell him unprompted. I'm not sure there's any real reason he needs to know this right now. Is there something inside you that needs him to know? If not, and nothing else related to this is being discussed right now, then I'd say no, there's no need to discuss this with anyone at all, parents or not.

Is it "too late," though? No, I don't think it'll ever be too late - and so there's really no rush. It seems like something you'd discuss in context only. For instance, you told your mother in the context of helping her understand your emotional state. You might bring this up at some future point in discussions about family or marriage or having babies. You might tell him 20 years from now, or it might never come up. But I just don't think you need to tell him just to tell him.
posted by Miko at 11:01 AM on December 10, 2010 [4 favorites]

it's a deeply personal choice. some women would never tell a single soul about their abortion, and not out of shame, but out of being very private. some women tell everyone because they're sharers. many women fit somewhere in the middle and have to decide on a case by case basis.

there are a lot of questions i'd ask myself before sharing something like this with my dad (and, for disclosure, it took me 8 years or more to tell him about a miscarriage i had while underage and in his house) - specifically, i'd ask myself - would you tell your father about minor surgery on an intimate area? if you and your husband were having problems that you knew you'd work through, would you tell him? not that it should be his decision, but does your husband have an opinion about telling your dad? what will you gain by telling him?

you'll come to the right decision.
posted by nadawi at 11:02 AM on December 10, 2010

My mother brought me up watching that old cartoon "Wait till your father gets home", so there was much that we often felt perhaps dear old Dad didn't always need to know... just between 'us girls'. But of course it depends on your relationship with your father.
posted by The Lady is a designer at 11:12 AM on December 10, 2010

This is impossible for us to answer without knowing you and your dad and what your relationship is like.

As others have mentioned, think about what you're looking to get out of telling your dad and what you think that this will do to/for your dad by knowing.
posted by k8t at 11:16 AM on December 10, 2010

If you want him to know for some personal reason, that's fine, but I agree with everyone saying that he probably feels no such need to know these things, and would probably wonder why you bothered to tell him.
posted by hermitosis at 11:16 AM on December 10, 2010

If you don't know his stance on abortion, I wouldn't tell him. Potentially experiencing grief at the loss of a grandchild is a potential downside, and not outweighed by an upsides that I can think of.
posted by BurntHombre at 11:16 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Back when I had a therapist, I remember him saying that people often eventually tell secrets not to make things better between them, but really to unburden themselves at the other person's expense. So ask yourself: is this going to improve your relationship with your dad, or is it just to make yourself feel better at his expense? Who benefits by telling him? Anyone? Would it hurt him more than help?

I don't know your dad, but it sure feels to me like it won't do any good to tell him, and may just hurt for no reason except to assuage your conscience. If this is true, it's a selfish act that won't do any good to tell now. So don't.
posted by norm at 11:16 AM on December 10, 2010 [5 favorites]

You say yourself that the time has come and gone. If it was important to tell him, you would have done it already.
posted by hermitosis at 11:23 AM on December 10, 2010

Nthing that you don't need to tell anyone, and that "telling" is a very personal choice. There's no shame in aborting in unwanted pregnancy, and everyone's experience will naturally vary on what the feel they should/need/want to do.

I would maybe ask your mom what she thinks. Not that you have to do what she suggest (oh hell no, not at all), but that it might give you some insight on whether or not to tell your dad. Or if he already knows.

Your dad "wanting to know" is completely irrelevant and going to depend from person to person, and probably moment to moment. We ALL know things we may have not "wanted" to know, but accept that the people who share these things with us usually do so out of closeness and trust, not because they really want to tell us things precisely because they know we might not want to hear it.

Anyway. It's never "too late" to tell a loved one of something important you went through. But you might be able to gauge better what to say/how to tell him/if you should tell him, by talking it over with your mom first since she already knows. But do what you feel is necessary for you to unburden yourself.
posted by raztaj at 11:24 AM on December 10, 2010

In "Dance of Deception" Harriet Lerner writes a lot about secret keeping in families and how it creates insiders and outsiders, triangular and often unhealthy ways of relating.

I think there are probably a lot of pluses to sharing with your dad, both in terms of a more honest and close relationship between you and for him to build an opinion on abortion based on people's real life experiences. It's not just about the abortion, either, is it? It's about how you were experiencing where you were in your life then, what you think and feel about circumstances for being a parent, and so on).

(That said, I certainly agree with the other posters that you don't have to tell him and he doesn't have some 'right' to know. Maybe he is the kind of person who'd rather never be told (which would still not put on you some obligation to 'protect' him).
posted by Salamandrous at 11:29 AM on December 10, 2010

Why are you telling him? Are you telling him for you - because you feel you have this weight between you and him.

Or, are you telling him for him - because he would want to know, it would be important to him.

If you are telling him for you - then you should not tell him. It is your weight to bare, don't shift it to him just to ease your burden, and make his more heavy.

If you are telling him for him - then tell him.
posted by Flood at 11:33 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

You say yourself that the time has come and gone. If it was important to tell him, you would have done it already.

I don't think this is true at all. I had an abortion almost two years ago, and am just now telling people I care about. I don't think holding off on it for a few months means it's not a priority, or even waiting later (or waiting until you, if you decide to) have a wanted pregnancy.

For me, a lot of wanting to tell people stemmed not just from having had an abortion, but from the circumstances in my life, both then and now. For better or for worse, it had impacted every important decision I've made since then. Letting people know this important piece of my story allowed other element of my life and other emotions to make more sense. Is this something that can apply to you, and and your father?
posted by Ideal Impulse at 11:35 AM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

I would lean towards not telling, based on your perception of him. The only consideration I might give to this is if you feel that your mom is uneasy with you and she keeping a "secret" from Dad.
posted by mmf at 11:45 AM on December 10, 2010

The time issue, the lateness, is a red herring. You can wait a day, you can wait ten years. The real issue is, how will your father take it, and how will that effect you.

If your gut says that telling him will cause more bad than good, then don't.
posted by Sticherbeast at 11:54 AM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

It sounds like you want to tell, and that you have good reasons ("he probably understands my emotional world more than anyone besides my mom"). Life is complicated, and the beauty of life is to navigate that complexity with people who love and support you. I've been through tough times and have been humbled and overwhelmingly grateful for the support I've received. Sharing the tough moments with others and being real with them brought us much closer.
posted by salvia at 12:03 PM on December 10, 2010

I wouldn't want to know if I were your Dad.
it only creates a burden for the listener.
it won't do any good to tell him, and may just hurt for no reason except to assuage your conscience.
It is your weight to bare, don't shift it to him just to ease your burden, and make his more heavy.

Several people have argued that to tell your father would be wrong because it would lighten your conscience while burdening his: that logic bothers me for two reasons.

First, it implies that you have reason to feel ashamed -- but whatever your father may believe, by making a difficult medical and life choice you have done nothing, nothing wrong.

Second, the logic is being imported from inapplicable contexts. In some relationships (and in contexts where you actually bear moral responsibility for the anxieties) it is indeed best not to unload your anxieties onto other people -- but in others, including many parent-child relationships, one of the ways a person expresses love for another is precisely by making himself available to accept some of her anguish or anxieties, if by doing so he can lighten her load.
posted by foursentences at 12:24 PM on December 10, 2010 [6 favorites]

Do you think he would want to know? My father would not want to know. Not knowing either of you I can't answer for sure, but I will take a guess and say that your father does not want to know either.
posted by crankylex at 12:32 PM on December 10, 2010

As to the how, you could say something like "dad, I have something kind of personal that I want to share with you, but I also wonder if you may not want to know. I went through a tough time lately and it involved making a decision that goes against what some [in the church / on the conservative end] would say is wrong. It was a tough decision for me. I'd like to talk to you about what I went through, because I love you and want to be close to you. But if you'd prefer not to know, we honestly don't have to talk about it. And if we do talk about it, it really is okay with me if you feel upset or disapproving or disappointed, and I hope you will eventually talk to me about that, rather than feeling like you have to hide it. It's still a tough topic for me, and your love and support would mean a lot."

That's how I'd do it -- give him the option and let him know it's okay to opt out; let him know his real feelings are ok; do this in a way designed to encourage communication rather than isolation but without pressure to communicate before he's ready. To that end, I think waiting until now was actually good, because you sound like you're in a place where you could now hear and help him process feelings like "I'm sad that this would have been my first grandchild." When it was fresh, that might've been too hard for you. You could even say, "I apologize for not talking about it sooner, but I had to come to a little more peace."
posted by salvia at 12:34 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Would it create a problem that he didn't know while your mom and husband knew this whole time?
posted by anniecat at 12:38 PM on December 10, 2010

The decision to terminate your pregnancy is a private matter between you and your husband. Again, this is private matter between you and your husband. If you didn't seek your parent's counsel during the decision making process (and why would you??) then I see no reason to clue them in after the fact.

If you feel the need to talk (which would be understandable) see a therapist.

In terms of your marriage and your parents, you should re-examine what is acceptable to disclose and what isn't. I'm sure you did fine with this particular event in your life by telling your mom (since you seem close) and not telling your dad (since he is conservative.)

That said, your lingering doubts about who should know what tells me you might be crossing the TMI line between your parents and your marriage. You are an adult now. You are married. It might be a little weird for your marriage if you don't keep certain things between you and your husband sacred and just between the two of you.

Your need to unburden yourself to your father could mean you need to discuss your grief further with or husband, or it could mean you need the help of a therapist to process what's happened on a deeper level. Whatever is going on, I doubt it means you need to run and tell your father about this 6 month's past decision between you and your husband.
posted by jbenben at 12:52 PM on December 10, 2010

Several people have framed this issue in terms of "what's good for you" vs. "what's good for your father." But I think it may be more useful to instead think about what would be best for your relationship with him. In close relationships such as the one it seems you have with your father, both people willingly accept that difficult or even somewhat unpleasant demands may sometimes be made of them for the good of the relationship, because they value it more than they value avoiding an inconvenience or discomfort. There are certainly times for me when loved ones have had an emotional or practical crisis that on one level I would rather not have had to deal with, while in the larger scheme of things I was glad both to help them and that they felt able to come to me for help. So if it would help you and your father become closer and be more able to understand and care for each other, then I don't think his potential discomfort with your disclosure should dissuade you. On the other hand, there are some things I choose not to share with people I love because I think the person would, due to their own emotions and beliefs, hear something entirely different and more damaging than what I was trying to say. Honesty is great if it's conducive to intimacy, but not always so much if its primary result is hurt and alienation. So I think the real question is whether you think it's more likely that having this conversation (whatever its immediate emotional impact) would ultimately be a bridge or be a wedge between you. You, and not any of us, are the one who knows your father and can make that judgment.
posted by unsub at 1:07 PM on December 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Are you that sure your mother hasn't already told your father? I've always considered it to be a given, even if someone promises not to tell their partner, that they will anyway. I know I certainly do.

I wouldn't be surprised if your father has known since you told your mom, but has not brought it up because he knew you weren't comfortable talking to him about it.
posted by M.C. Lo-Carb! at 1:18 PM on December 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Unlike sanka, if you were my daughter, I would want to know. But then, I am not exactly a conservative. I don't think a bunch of random strangers on the Internet (i.e. us) can tell you what's right for you in this instance. You know your dad better than any of us; you know yourself better than any of us do.

Best of luck whatever you choose to do and sorry that you felt you had to get and got an abortion.
posted by aroberge at 2:33 PM on December 10, 2010

I wouldn't want to know if I were your Dad. I would let sleeping dogs lie.

I wouldn't want to know, if it was just a daughter telling me out of a feeling of obligation. Because it's one of those things that nobody is really obligated to share with anyone.

I also wouldn't - at all - want to know it second hand. If it isn't something she wanted to share with me, then I absolutely wouldn't want to know.

But I would welcome a daughter wanting to share it with me. If sharing is what she wants to do.

But the whole "want to know" language seems odd. Why would anyone *want* to know something that someone else didn't want to tell them? Loathe as I am to notice or point these things out, it seems dangerously close to "I have a right to know" or "you'll feel better, I know your feelings better than you do".

Look at it from the viewpoint someone above mentioned: why do you want to tell him? Are you conflicted because you do want to share, but are worried about how he will react, or about whether you are doing the right thing "keeping a secret"? Figure out what outcome will give you the most peace and comfort, and then do that. Either tell him, or make peace with not telling him. Whatever the reasons are.
posted by gjc at 3:05 PM on December 10, 2010

You have to do what feels right for you, first of all, and for your husband, second of all, and then for your father and mother.

If you and/or your husband and/or your mother feel weird that this is information you all have that your father doesn't, then it seems right to share that information, regardless of whether he will find it upsetting or not.

If there is some reason it is objectively important for your father to know this information--if the termination was connected to some genetic issue that would affect other people in his family, and if it would be most appropriate for him to share that information with them--then I think you have a moral imperative to tell him, so that he can tell the affected people.

If it doesn't feel important to any of the people who have this information, especially you and your husband, that your father also has the information, then you don't have a moral imperative to tell him.

The famous old saw about evaluating all utterances with the following questions: "Is it true? Is it kind? Is it useful?" is something to think about. Obviously, it's true. Whether it's useful or kind in this particular instance is something you know and we don't.

My father and I never discussed my abortions; I don't know if he knew about them or not (I have written about them, but my father didn't necessarily read everything I wrote). But I didn't need his input on them for myself, because to me they were no more traumatic than any other medical procedure. But that's me. You know yourself best. You know your husband best. You know your father best.

Have you asked your mother what she thinks would be the right thing to do, from her perspective? Not that you need to take her advice, of course, but I think she would be a helpful datapoint.

Also, the pregnancy you terminated wasn't your father's first grandchild. It was a human organism that had a 50% to 65%* chance (at most) of making it to term and becoming your father's first grandchild. This is something I think we forget when we choose to terminate pregnancies; many, many much-wanted pregnancies never make it to term just by the sad luck of Nature's draw.

(*depending on which studies you find most solid)
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:18 PM on December 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Previously Not totally applicable, but helpful
posted by Ideal Impulse at 3:25 PM on December 10, 2010

Would he be pissed at your mom for "keeping secrets" from him? I agree with asking your mom what she thinks. Unless you really want to tell him, and then you should. But you should still give your mom a heads-up that you're going to tell him now.
posted by ctmf at 8:38 PM on December 10, 2010

I'm not sure the risk of getting a load of judgment from your dad is worth the potential benefit of sharing this info with him*. Of course, you know your family best - but since there doesn't seem to be any pressing need to tell him now, why not give yourself some more time to heal before deciding? What does your husband think?

*Having been raised by conservative parents, telling would pretty much violate all my boundaries but I realize that's my own baggage.
posted by Space Kitty at 12:06 AM on December 11, 2010

I have seen a very conservative dad be a wonderful source of reassurance and unconditional love to his daughter after her abortion; It only happened because she trusted the relationship enough to know she could confide in him about it. If you have that sort of relationship, let him be there for you.
posted by anildash at 9:45 PM on December 11, 2010

I wouldn't tell him, unless you feel he's likely to find out some other way (e.g., your mom might eventually tell him). It's not something he needs to know, it's not something that's going to make him feel better - and it's would all be that much worse if he knew you hid it from him for six months. What's really to be gained from telling him?
posted by anonymously at 5:58 PM on December 15, 2010

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