I think my father is cheating on my mother. How do I deal?
March 1, 2013 5:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm an adult who doesn't live with my parents. I've been suspecting something shady going on for the past 6 months and it's taking a toll on my stress levels. How do I deal with this situation?

I suspect that many people will suggest that I butt out of my parents' relationship, but I'll explain anyway.

When I was a teenager, my parents dealt with an infidelity issue concerning my father. It rocked our family life for a while, but ultimately, my parents stayed together and I don't know how it was resolved. I don't know whether my father eventually admitted it and they worked through it, or if he kept denying it and my mother just accepted the denial.

15 years later, this issue is rearing it's head again. My preference is to not have to think about it or get dragged into it, however, my father and I work in the same place and I see him everyday and am exposed to some shady behaviour. Before I begin, changing jobs, while likely ideal, is absolutely not an option for me right now so please don't suggest it.

My family is very close. I get along fantastically with both of my parents, and superficially, my parents get along really well with each other. My father takes care of my mother very well.

Here are the things that make me suspect that he's doing something wrong:

1) Last year, I started noticing that he was texting all the time at work. My father doesn't text. He doesn't even respond to my text messages and claims he "doesn't know how to text". Every time I approached him while he was texting, he stopped abruptly and put his phone away.
2) Not long after that, I noticed that he constantly emailing at work, using a personal email address. My father isn't the email type, and often times, emails I've sent him to his personal email address go unanswered because he never really checked his email too often before.
3) A few months ago, I approached his desk while he was logged into his email account, and he didn't manage to close it fast enough when I got there. I saw the main inbox page and saw that there were many many emails there, all from the same sender. But I didn't see the name.
4) Not long after that, I was helping him with a computer problem he was having at work and his gmail account was minimized on the toolbar. It was an email address I've never seen before and not the email address he uses with us (my mother and I).
5) A female coworker that I had at a another company, who also knows my father, started contacting him often last year, looking for a job after returning to the workforce after a long medical leave. He told me about this often, since this person is sort of a mutual friend (and I use the term "friend" loosely, on my part), and I thought nothing of it.
6) He told me that he visited her in the hospital while she was ill, and I thought, sincerely, "oh that's really nice of you!".
7) A couple of former coworkers that I hold in high esteem told me some bizarre issues and interpersonal relationship problems that this woman was having with them, and in passing, in casual conversation with my father one day, I mentioned this and said how I didn't like her. The purpose of the conversation wasn't to bash her, but we were just shooting the shit and it came up. Since that conversation, my father stopped mentioning her completely.
7) After that, I caught a glimpse of the sender's name in his email inbox while he was scrambling to close it as I approached his desk. It was that woman.
8) He receives phone calls at work from someone who is obviously female (I can hear it in the way he speaks to her), the tone is oddly familiar.
9) I had a chat with my mom yesterday and she mentioned that my father recently went to a funeral of a family member of someone he "used to work with", and then not long after that, he went to a cultural celebration that matches the ethnicity of the woman I suspect he's having relations with. The name of the person involved in these two events that he told my mother, was not her name. It was a name of someone she'd never heard of, and my father is usually pretty open with who his friends are. He didn't invite my mother to attend either of these events with him.
10) My father used to take the train to work and used to come home at the same time every day. Recently, he's started driving to work, and she told me that he leaves at 7:30am and comes home around 7:00pm every night. He usually leaves the office at 5pm, and with traffic, the maximum amount of time it takes him to get home should be half an hour. He claims that he hangs around downtown until rush hour is over so that he can avoid traffic.
11) He recently got a new phone and he has a password on it. Why would he need a password on his phone?! I know lots of people have passwords on their phone, but it's out of character for him.

I don't think that any of these points alone indicate foul play, but all of these combined with what happened years ago, seem to point to a disappointing reality. They're also out of character for my father, who is generally an open person.

I WANT to ignore this. I don't want to be unwittingly dragged into this. I don't want to hear anything about it. I know that my parents' relationship is not my responsibility. But I'm exposed to this every single freaking day and it makes me really angry and makes me want to get to the bottom of it. I've been doing a good job at trying to ignore it to the best of my abilities for almost a year now, but after having spoken to my mother and learning about her own observations has made me feel like I am at a boiling point.

I vented about it to my SO a couple of times over the past year. He is sympathetic and supportive. He suggests that maybe everything just looks sketchy, but isn't. He suggests that maybe he is just providing emotional support to a friend, but isn't actually having any kind of affair with her, and is hiding it because he thinks it won't be acceptable to my mom. I would like to believe this, but I just wish that if that were the case, he would just be honest about it with her.

This is what I tell myself to try to not let myself get affected so much: your parents relationship isn't any of your business. They're adults. Everybody makes mistakes. Maybe you're paranoid because your trust in your father was broken many years ago, and you're jumping to illogical conclusions.

In the meantime, I'm in a state, whether it's right or wrong, where I feel like something needs to be done. My mother doesn't seem overly suspicious, but she makes comments sometimes that lead me to believe that she doesn't trust him 100%. Things like "... that's what he said he did", or "... if that's where he really went" after telling me about something that he said he did. It makes me intensely sad, because my mom is an awesome person and has always been a good partner for him. He keeps her at arm's length about certain things, and I can tell it bothers her, even though she doesn't openly talk about it.

I haven't shared any of my thoughts about this with her because I don't want her to be sad, or to be racked with suspicion and insecurity. But by not telling her, I feel like I'm protecting my father and his shady behaviour. It also makes me feel angry because I feel like he's taking me to be an idiot by exposing me to these things and expecting that I won't wonder what the hell is going on. I wish I could make him know, if he is indeed cheating, that the only reason that he hasn't been caught is because I've been actively avoiding trying this situation. That he hasn't been caught because I haven't tried to catch him.

I'm feeling really emotional right now. I'm an only child and don't have any other family members I can discuss this with. My entire family is my parents and I just want so badly for them to be respectful to each other and to our family dynamic. I feel caught in the middle, and even though they're not intentionally dragging me into it, I can't shake it off. This is stressing me the fuck out.

How the hell do I deal with this? One on hand, I want to turn a blind eye to this. On the other hand, I want to try to find out WTF is happening so that I could tell him to knock it off. If I were to have concrete evidence, I would not tell my mother. But I would tell him that I know, and that he needs to put an end to it. Sometimes I think I want to try to catch him in hopes of finding out that he's not actually doing anything at all so that I can go back to thinking that my father is the awesome person that he's always portrayed himself to be. Should I try to catch him? Should I butt out? How do I butt out when it's always in my face?

Btw, I'm in the process of trying to find a therapist to speak to about this.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (32 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
How do you know they don't have an agreement of sorts? Maybe he's seeing someone, but with your mom's blessing?

The point is, you don't really know what's going on. And in some respects, maybe you shouldn't know. They're both adults and they're allowed to make their own decisions, even ones that may hurt one another. I think finding a therapist is a great idea to help you come to terms with that. Other than that, all you can really do for yourself is to remember that while you love your parents, they aren't saints and they are prone to doing bad things. Maybe try to be extra-kind and supportive to your mom in the meantime?
posted by joan_holloway at 5:10 PM on March 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Just thinking in terms of how to help yourself butt out, if that's what you decide you want to do: have you thought about getting a job elsewhere, or transferring to a different department? You can still be close with both of your parents with a little distance in this regard. One way to get it out of your face is to move your face.

I'm sure others will advise you to ignore it, tell your mom, and confront your dad. I have no idea which one of these will give you the most peace of mind and which one is more likely to lead to the best outcome for your parents. I know the feeling of suspecting trouble in one's parents' relationship, though, and it's not a pleasant one.

If you are considering telling your mother, you could in a roundabout, casual way feel out whether she wants to know: "I was listening to this radio show the other day and someone thought her friend's husband was having an affair and wasn't sure what to do about it. If it were me I would want to know, I guess."

Therapy is a very good idea - good for you for taking care of yourself in this way. A good therapist should have some solid ideas for how to navigate this situation in a way that makes sense for you.
posted by bunderful at 5:22 PM on March 1, 2013

"I don't want to be unwittingly dragged into this."

Au contraire. Sounds as though you'd like nothing more than to be dragged into it. Case in point... "Should I try to catch him?"

No. Butt out. It's only in your face because you keep searching it out.

Good call on the therapist though, cause it sounds like this has less to do with your concerns about your Dad and more to do with some underlying issue of abandonment, trust, or simply feeling like you're being made a chump.
posted by matty at 5:50 PM on March 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

I think people telling you just to ignore what's staring you in the face, daily, are overly optimistic. It's not possible to put the horse back in the barn: you know what you know. I would approach your dad, and if you are as close as it seems, you can have that awkward conversation. Then leave the ball in his court about what he does with it.
posted by Pomo at 5:54 PM on March 1, 2013 [14 favorites]

I know you said you cannot change jobs, which makes this tough.

Just brainstorming- I don't think that confronting your dad or telling your mom about your suspicions are the right path here. Your dad could just lie to you/deny everything, and your mom obviously is suspicious already and this would be unlikely to improve her outlook.

What about taking a position in between having your head in the sand and aggressive confrontation? For example, if you see your dad doing something suspicious in the office, don't pretend it's not happening/ignore it, bring it up. Say, "hey, I thought you didn't know how to text, but I see you in here texting away. What's the deal?" or "I notice every time I come into your office, you're trying to hide something on your computer. Are you hatching a terrorist plot or something? Seriously, though, it's making me feel really awkward." You can keep it light, and he could obviously still lie to you, but you're getting things off your chest and he will know that you know something is up and hopefully stop being so obvious with whatever he's doing (or maybe even stop doing it, though that's less likely).

When your mom says "if that's what he's really doing" or "if that's really where he is", just ask her "why do you say that, mom? If you don't think dad's doing what he says he is or that he is lying about where he's going, I wish you would address that with him, and not with me, it's making me sad and uncomfortable."

I mean, I generally agree that you shouldn't try to enter into an outright conflict in this situation, but I don't see why you have to pretend you don't hear what they're saying or see what they're doing, especially since it's rightfully and significantly bothering you.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 5:56 PM on March 1, 2013 [29 favorites]

You need distance from your parents: mental boundaries and possibly physical distance from your dad and his relationships.

You say you have to work with your dad for now, but I would suggest that being with your dad is pretty much the core problem.

Until you can extract yourself from a day to day work environment that is toxic for you, here are some things you can do.

1) "Dad, it bugs me that you're texting all the time, when you say you don't know how to text. Could you take it somewhere private if you don't want me to see it?"

2) Therapy.

3) Try to let go of the drama occurring around you (2 can help). That's kind of the key here for sanity's sake. It is not your job to monitor your parents, and it is unhealthy to you to take this upon yourself. Instead of trying to fix them, try to figure out the things you want to do that are good for yourself.
posted by zippy at 5:58 PM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you go looking for evidence that your father is having an affair, you will find it, whether or not he's actually having an affair. You are a grown-up. Parents are fallible humans. Your parents' marriage is not about you. It's their deal. Marriage not not equal family, and family does not equal marriage. It is, however, perfectly fair to refuse to cover for your dad, and you might want to figure out a way to make it clear to him that you will never lie to your mother on his behalf.
posted by ambrosia at 6:00 PM on March 1, 2013

First of all, none of what you mention really seems all that conclusive. Suggestive, sure, but you can find entire Sitcom runs based on exactly that premise. You may want to consider getting more solid proof before tearing your family apart. And no, Mom won't thank you for it; neither with Grandma (either of them) or Uncle Joe or just about any other relatives on either side of the family.

Second, IF I had solid evidence and really felt a need to get involved, I would personally go with "Dad, you're acting like a dick, and I don't mean that in a good way. Cut the shit and have the decency to get a divorce before acting like a horny teenager".

Finally - Your parents have their own lives apart from you. Butt out. If you know, your mother knew months or even years ago. If she has chosen not to act on it, you don't get a say in the matter.
posted by pla at 6:56 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If you want to alert your father that you might know what's up, and/or get him to stop rubbing it in your face all the time, find ways to talk about this woman.

Say her name is Melissa.

"Hey do you remember Melissa? I found a job she might be interested in, I wonder if she's still looking"

"Hey! That lady over there looks kind of like Melissa"

Eventually he'll probably know that you know or suspect something, or he'll just generally feel very uncomfortable or maybe even stop or at least be more discrete?

I think you know that this might constitute emotional abuse of your mother, and you want to protect your mother and feel that you owe her that much. Screw today's society's standards- you don't have to let adults be adults. Confront him if you want but get ready for a lot of pain, awkwardness, denial, and probably having to find yourself a new job. But I think you'll feel better.
posted by cacao at 7:05 PM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Stop "noticing" stuff your dad does. Noticing the email address in his toolbar goes beyond a casual glance. This much I know from personal experience.

Were I in your situation my main issue would be that he was taking advantage of me, my good nature, and the strength of our relationship. That would piss me off mightily. But that's why I don't work with or even live near my family. I needs me some distance. For an adult not living with her parents, you seem to be pretty involved in their lives. Is there a way you can create some distance, even without finding a new job? That might let him know that you are suspicious of something, and also would give you less opportunity to be confronted with this.

Besides, who's to say that if you had concrete evidence he would stop? He might just hide it better - which would solve your original problem.
posted by lyssabee at 7:28 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

You absolutely need to butt out here and stop playing Miss Marple.

If your Dad does something hideously indiscreet you say, "dad, keep your private life private, as you're putting me in an impossible position"
posted by unSane at 7:32 PM on March 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

The relationship between your mother and your father is just that, between them. Stay out of it.
posted by Silvertree at 7:48 PM on March 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I feel like your intuition should not be dismissed -- if you think something shady is probably going on, then it very well may be. The excuse that he leaves work at 5 and hangs out downtown for an hour and a half sounds sort of ridiculous to me, unless he going to work happy hours or something other people can vouch for. If he's claiming to just hang out downtown by himself, that seems silly. But then again, maybe that's the sort of thing your dad would do. You know him and you know if it sounds like a bullshit excuse.

Anyway, bringing this up to your mom is a definite no-no. If you had absolute, indisputable proof that he was cheating, it would still be up for debate if you tell her. But at this juncture, you absolutely cannot. The only person you could say something to is your father. You can risk making things super awkward between you two and making your job awkward by asking him what's going on as a concerned son. Maybe this is at the beginning and being found out will scare him off (optimistic), or maybe it's been going on for a while and even if you do know, he won't want to stop, which will put him in a position to make a choice (pretty possible). Or you can drop hints that you know what he's up to and see if he addresses it. Maybe you can talk about how great your mom is and how she deserves so much from you guys. Or you can talk about how shitty cheating is.

It's a sticky situation and I know everyone is telling you not to do anything, but I know how difficult that is. Good luck.
posted by AppleTurnover at 7:51 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I read once about a woman whose husband was coming home late and she found a credit card bill for a flower order. She was suspicious of an affair and hired a detective. It turns out his abusive dad had died. The flowers were for the funeral. The missing time was spent sitting in his car at the cemetary regularly, smoking and apparently making his peace with his personal demons.

In short, I would be reluctant to accuse anyone of anything on circumstantial evidence of the sort you have. As someone above noted, you see stuff like that in sitcoms all the time. It is funny on TV but it is very not funny to accuse someone of something like this in real life and be in the wrong.

Having been around the military and known people in black ops type jobs, I would also be reluctant to make jokes about being a terrorist or similar. If he is involved in some sort of political thing (or organized crime or other secret something), it might be in everyone's best interest for you to believe it is an affair. Schindler, of "Schindler's List," got away with bringing food to Jews in Nazi Germany and smuggling them out in part because he was known to be a philanderer and scoundrel. When he brought food to a young Jewish woman, everyone assumed he was using her for sex. He was not. He let them wink and assume. So did she. It kept her alive and adequately fed.

I believe strongly that marriage is a private matter between two people. You don't know what goes on behind closed doors. Sometimes, there are secret agreements which they would deny if asked. Sometimes one partner simply will not (or cannot) meet the needs of the other. An affair may help stabilize the marriage and may be preferable to a divorce, especially if they have been together a long time. That isn't a can of worms I would want to open. Most folks really don't want to know that stuff about their parents.

I think the emotional piece of it is absolutely none of your business. The one sticking point I might have is the question of STDs. I think I would be super tempted to drop a few hints that unfaithful men have a moral obligation to the wife to use condoms (and deserve a good thrashing if the wife catches something). Beyond that, not my problem. Their personal crap is between them and I don't want to know how mom won't put out since she started menopause and never did like blow jobs and...blah blah blah. I have enough to deal with just trying to figure out how to deal with my own sexuality. Generally speaking: If you ain't in my bed, your sexuality is not my problem. (Or business or concern.)
posted by Michele in California at 8:23 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

You could always just ask him if he's cheating on your mom.
posted by brownrd at 8:34 PM on March 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

From what you say, it definitely sounds like your father is having an affair, and it equally sounds like your mother knows or suspects. So you don't have to get involved to protect your mother or to help her discover the truth - she is a grown up; she is probably as suspicious as you; and she can find out more for herself if she wants to play detective.

So basically your question (to yourself) needs to be, "How can I come to terms with the fact that my father is having an affair and my parents marriage might be on the rocks?" The answer to that is about the ways you frame the situation to yourself, how you think of your parents and your relationship to them, etc. It has nothing to do with taking any actions in the real world. (Except that I think you would be within your rights to tell your father his behaviour (secretive texting, secretive emailing, etc) is disturbing you and to be more discreet.) And if he ever asks you to lie for him, the answer should be hell no.
posted by lollusc at 8:51 PM on March 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

You are building a mighty big skyscraper there but any engineer or architect will tell you if you build something that high you better have a very solid foundation. Building a structure that high on mud is a very bad idea.

The next thing to think about is it really necessary to build a building that big? Big buildings are great to store a lot of stuff but sometimes too much stuff can block the clear view and can weigh you down with keeping track of it all. How much stuff do you really want in your life? Simplify.

If you start to realize you are only responsible for your own stuff and that your mother and father can store their stuff in another building it will make your building more manageable. It is noble that you want to keep track of their stuff but maybe they want to arrange it in their own place without you butting in.
posted by JJ86 at 8:52 PM on March 1, 2013

IF it were me, and I am not sure I can put myself into the position of being an only child which I think is relevant, I would have a talk with my father. I would not accuse him of anything or demand he stop something you know nothing about. I would tell him that he has been acting out of character lately and you are concerned for him and mother. The real tough part will come with your reaction to his response. You can either keep it lowkey and just say you have no specifics but you are worried about him or lay out your case. Play it by ear. You seem to want to get involved in a protective way for your mother, it seems to be part of a long held family dynamic, so why not? Sitting around wondering will drive you batty. You will trust him less and less. You will start obsessing with finding something.

The other course would be to talk to your mom. Tell her you are worried about Dad that he is acting out of character. Play dumb to the specifics but mention he seem to be changing long term patterns. Then let her do with it as she wishes.

Or, just butt out.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 9:06 PM on March 1, 2013

Did you ever have a discussion with your dad about the way his infidelity impacted you? I think you should have a heart-to-heart with your dad and tell him that because he cheated on your mom when you were young, you've had a hard time trusting him since then, and have found yourself seeing infidelity in everything he does. If he's not cheating this will be a good way to clear the air and get some emotional stuff resolved. If he is cheating on the other hand, then this will at least give him a heads-up that you're on to him.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 9:23 PM on March 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your parents' marraige already has survived a period of fedelity issues- what makes you so Sure your mom isnt aware of whats going on? If She Did know/suspect, I can imagine you are maybe the last person in the World She would like to know or talk to about this.

Your dad is Being weird in front of youand making you uncomfortable. You can call him on weird behavior without accusing him or getting into his business. "Oh, dad where do you hang out after work, maybe I can meet you and we can grab a drink?" At least he'll be aware your are aware and he'll be less likely to inconsideratly cover his tracks so very poorly.

As for it being impossible for you to change jobs... Ok. But really you should may be start positioning yourself to change jobs. You are an adult working with your dad and having serious problems emotionally seperating work and family life, as well as having a difficult time not involving yourself in your parents'possible drama. This isnt a good place to be .
posted by Blisterlips at 9:31 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

You may find this thread and its comments helpful.
posted by ApathyGirl at 9:32 PM on March 1, 2013

Maybe your father is into bondage and can't get what he needs at home. Maybe your mother is into voyerism and has given your father permission to have affairs so that she can get off on hearing about it. Maybe he makes videos of it for her. Do these scenarios make you uncomforable or even gross you out? Well, be preparered for learning this and more if you insist on poking your nose into your parents' sex life any more than you already have done. You need to butt out, ASAP.
posted by ptolemy chennus at 10:27 PM on March 1, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your father's relationship with your mother is their business, but your relationship with your father is your business. If my father was engaged in what I thought was unethical behaviour, I'd confront him about it and give him the opportunity to explain. Friends and family members have a duty to intervene when someone is doing something evil.

Also, if your father is cheating, he could be putting himself and/or your mother in significant danger, in terms of sexually transmitted disease. And he could be putting all three of you in financial danger.
posted by klanawa at 10:52 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

What I think you should focus on is why it's making you so angry. You should explore that with a therapist and see if you can get to a point where you don't feel that way.
posted by Dansaman at 11:16 PM on March 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Ask him. "Dad, you've been acting really weird. Are you having an affair?"

And assuming he says no, all you can do is ignore it. This is not your marriage and you have NO IDEA what the internal life of your parents' relationship is like. I know you think you do but you don't. This isn't about you, this is about two other adults and the choices they're making that don't have anything to do with you.
posted by DarlingBri at 1:20 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just want so badly for them to be respectful to each other and to our family dynamic.

I'll take a leap here. I know this is what you want, but I suspect the family dynamic you want them to be respectful of may have never existed in the way you thought it did or need it to. You sound like you've known for some time that your parents do not have a happy marriage and that there was and is a good deal of tiptoeing around that fact. Dad's distant about stuff, doesn't talk about why. Mom's hurt by this, doesn't talk about it. Mom suspects something, makes digs about it. You've been eating yourself up for a year. Dad may not be assuming that you're an blind idiot, just relying on long patterns of everyone not talking openly about things that are right in front of them. Your weariness at getting sucked in and caught in the middle sounds like it comes from experience.

It does not matter if your dad is having an affair. What matters is that you have to confront the possibility that the kind of family your heavily invested in isn't the family you have. So maybe the affair is a red herring. Maybe the thing to do is nothing except percolate for a spell on the family you want and the family you have and how to make peace with whatever disconnects there are. Talk to a therapist, they're really good at helping people come to terms with family issues.
posted by space_cookie at 2:23 AM on March 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Your mom probably already knows. You'll probably just embarrass her by bringing it up.
posted by empath at 2:54 AM on March 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

but your relationship with your father is your business.

This is true, at the very least. Yeah, ok, maybe you should just butt out of your parents relationship. But there's also your own relationship with your dad to deal with. His irresponsible behavior had a big impact on you when you were a teenager, and here he is doing it again, right in the office where you both work. Yeah, maybe he's hurt your mom, but he might have hurt you even more. I mean, what kind of message did he send you about trusting your romantic partners, and at such an important time in your social development? I'm not surprised that it's eating away at you, watching him doing it again. And even if he isn't actually cheating again, the fact that you're seeing it that way is a sign of the damage he did way back then. If this was me, I'd feel like I had to talk to him before I could move forward. He's your dad, and he loves you, and he'd want to know what you're going through.
posted by MrOlenCanter at 3:16 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

If you really want to try to force his hand you could couch it in terms of corporate espionage/sabotage. All these emails, calls and secrets at work, changes in behaviour at work, contact with someone outside of the company who I guess works in the same line of work. Tell him all these things you've noticed and then ask point blank whether he's doing something dodgy related to the company. And if you don't get a straight answer or an answer to your satisfaction tell him that you'll report him to his superiors and let HR/management deal with it. The pressure of being investigated might cause all of it to unravel. And if it does and he blames you, remember that you gave him the change to come clean.

At least this way it isn't about your family relationship.

Having said all that, if you don't get the result you need I think you should really talk to your mother. because this stuck out at me: "My father takes care of my mother very well.". My immediate impression is that it suggests that your mother doesn't have any finances of her own and is dependant on him, or doesn't really study the incomings and outgoings of any accounts that they share jointly. My concern would be that if he is having an affair or has started a new family with this woman, he could easily leave your mother with nothing.
posted by urbanwhaleshark at 3:41 AM on March 2, 2013

Just want to say, this is why grown folks don't intermingle work and personal lives, it can lead to sticky situations.

You say you can't find another job, I say you need to have done it years ago.

What your dad does is his own business. If your dad is cheating, it's your mom's problem, not yours.

It sucks but that's the way it is.

If you feel you must say something, you need to bring it up with your dad. "I can't help but notice that you text up a storm, are emailing a shit-ton and according to mom disappear for hours daily. It looks like you're cheating on mom, and frankly if that's what I think, it's certain that she thinks it too. It's none of my business, but it makes me really uncomfortable to see this going on right in my face. I don't want to get in the middle of anything here, so I'm not going to. I'm just here to ask you to be more discreet."

Then leave it alone. It's not up for discussion, at least not with you. What your dad does from there is on him.

Do whatever you have to do to have a different work situation from your dad. No good can come from this situation.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 8:55 AM on March 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

OK, if you don't want to be told to butt out of this, than let's think about it this way. You say you have a great relationship with your parents. You are an adult. Do the adult thing and talk to him. Tell him you have noticed his weird behavior. Don't talk about seeing his email, but the texting and the driving and stuff like that. Ask him to tell you what's going on. He will either:

A) tell you to butt out
B) lie to you about it
C) tell you the truth, which may or may not be uncomfortable to hear

If he tells you A than you do so. If you feel the need to talk to your mother about it I don't think that's unreasonable. If my significant other were doing something behind my back, and my child new about it, I'd want them to tell me.

If he tells you B, and you know it's a lie, you do the adult thing to do and you call him out on it. You tell him that your relationship with him is important, and when he lies to you he is breaking down that relationship.

If he tells you C, you then have to live with that knowledge, whatever it may be.

If this is something that is straining your relationship with your father, than you need to get it resolved. Much better to do it now than to wait 10 years and have things get worse. Who knows, there may actually be an answer here which isn't as bad as you think.
posted by markblasco at 11:21 AM on March 2, 2013

An afterthought. It might be helpful to do some reading up on a family/relationship dynamic called triangulation. The dynamic has different characteristics and the people involved have different roles depending on the context. Kids do it all the time when their parents create a good cop/bad cop split.

They type I am thinking of here is when two people in conflict - a perpetrator and a victim - discharge their anxiety via a third person - a rescuer. The roles are fluid and changeable. The function is often fairly stable - the two people in conflict don't have to deal directly each other and they don't have to assume responsibility for their feelings and roles in the conflict. Usually the perpetrator isn't as guilty, the victim as blameless and the rescuer as innocent as they seem.

Onlies are particularly vulnerable to this pattern - especially if their parents' marriage is troubled and/or the grown-ups have some wonky ideas about the appropriate boundaries between parent and child. Your turmoil about diving in and pulling out and your desire to bust dad/protect mom reminds me of this dynamic.

So yeah. If you confront dad, tailor it narrowly as the others have suggested. Then stay out of it. On one level, their marriage really isn't your business. More importantly, you'll be much better off when your parents don't have such a disproportionate influence over your sense of well being and security. Good luck.
posted by space_cookie at 4:01 PM on March 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

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