How can a child make their parent feel bad about their parenting?
May 21, 2014 9:53 AM   Subscribe

Friends told me the reason I'm emotionally unstable is probably mainly because of how I grew up and I needed to reconcile with my dad.

I just have nightmares and sadness from the bad memories of growing up.

When I was in 6th grade, my dad remarried a woman whom I became enemies with, and I don't love my dad any more and don't know how to relate to him either.

-I loved my dad until then. I was his only child (daughter). We went to lots of places and had fun.
-just weeks after my grandfather died, he brings home a woman and told me it's my new mother. (my mother died when I was a baby.)
-he asked me if he could marry her, and I was distraught so I said "Ok. I'll just kill myself." Then he laughed. The end. No talk or anything. Thankfully I wasn't serious, but still.
-he then got a construction company to destroy the old house our family had lived for decades to build a new house (probably to make woman happy), and then moved into a nice apartment next to it with the woman, and put me and grandma into a shitty apartment building across the street, while waiting for the new house for a few months. He would come by to my apartment every few days, but I remember hating him already, so we didn't really talk. My grandma was worried.
-after we all moved into the new house, for all my teenage years I was constantly in verbal fights with both my dad and/or woman, of course to my eyes it looked like he was always on the woman's side, telling me that I had to grow up and change, that I had to see good things in the woman, that I was stupid, and that he would send me away if I didn't comply.
-I cried and told him I was hurt many times, and he would say "I already know how you feel but you are the one that has to change"
-he and woman had a baby right when I had to prepare for a year for an important exam, so I got pissed about baby crying and told dad "why did you have to make the baby right at this minute?!" he laughed.
-one time the woman cried from arguing with me and dad made me go apologize.
-another time woman exploded and grabbed my neck to make me look at her, leaving me a scratch, but the event went unnoticed. (After years when I told him, he was like "oh... I didn't know that." The end.)
-then I went away for college and didn't have to deal with them, thank god.
-after college I came back home but was kicked out because one day woman totally lost it, kicked in my door, and kept screaming at how lazy I was and that she was in so much stress because of my presence. My dad told me the woman actually did go insane, cut own wrist, went to psychiatrist but the meds didn't work, was already stressed from raising two kids, yelling hysterically at them, and then I showed up, so the woman told him she didn't know what she would do if I kept living there. He says the woman is sensitive unlike me and needs care, and that he felt bad and responsible for her well being.
-he told me how all this mess started was my fault - my bad attitude, me ignoring of woman igniting her anger, etc.
-I told him over years that I wanted to actually see he cared about me, to ask me about things I do, how I feel, and one day he told me he's not like that, that he's not one of those sweet fathers who go "aww my baby" to his children and that he doesn't really need to be with me or get to know me and would be ok if he just knows I'm alive somewhere.
-ok.. So when I heard this, I felt like "F this." After all these years I got more and more impression that he doesn't seem to care especially about my emotional well being for whatever reason, he says he feels bad for his other kids when woman gets too angry to cook or yells at them. Ok, but I don't quite get why it was ok for them to attack me for years.. yes I was an ass teen, but I was still a child who felt like she lost her dad that used to be her best friend, the one she thought she could always count on for love. My dad and I even went for family counseling (my idea) - there he was the same, even after me discussing my pain, he immediately lashed out telling the therapist I was stupid, immature and at fault for all, --- so anyway I felt I didn't want to waste more energy trying to build a loving relationship with this person so I disappeared for a few years.
-my friends had been telling me I should really contact my dad, so I did. At first he seemed happy I contacted him and said he was very worried. But soon we got into multiple arguments, blaming and yelling at each other, him calling me really stupid when I'm crying. He said I'm like this because he spoiled me. (<-WTF?)
-so I disappeared for a few more years.
-I recently contacted him and he said he was really worried and wanted to stay in touch.

So the question again is (Sorry after the long post), how can I make him really understand that the experience while me growing up did leave an open wound in my heart AND make him feel bad about what he did and did not do? I feel he was supposed to provide love and protect me, and he failed. If he doesn't get it, then I don't want to try to believe he actually cares and to even like him again.
Am I being way too selfish?
posted by pelu to Human Relations (54 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
You don't have to do jack shit if you don't want to do it. Even (ESPECIALLY) if your friends tell you you should.

There are certainly reasons people might consider reconciling or at least building a stronger bridge with people from whom they have been estranged. But if you're not in a position where you feel like you can do it in the way that will give you the most comfort/benefit, or if you're just not ready to accept that kind of work, you're under no obligation to do so.

You've got the questions of "will I do this ever?" and "should I do this now?" Think long and hard about what something like this could bring to your life at this point. If you don't want to, don't do it. Period.
posted by Madamina at 9:58 AM on May 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

You are not being selfish by protecting yourself from being hurt by him over and over. This was not okay behavior by him. I have a weird relationship with my dad which isn't nearly as awful as yours and I have felt no remorse over cutting him out when he is wildly hurtful to me. Are you in therapy now? That might help you feel more confident in taking care of yourself. I know that friends of mine who had happy and healthy relationships with their parents don't always understand my motives in making sure I'm not hurt over and over again, and I think that might be the case with your friends.
posted by Nimmie Amee at 10:00 AM on May 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Therapy. Seriously, you're too late for the storybook childhood, and really, the only person you can work on is yourself. There's no good outcome in trying to make your father feel guilty or apologize or make it up to you or whatever it is that you want him to do.
The only person's behavior and emotions you can directly influence are your own.

"make him feel bad about what he did and did not do?"
posted by Ideefixe at 10:02 AM on May 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

Am I being way too selfish?

Little bit, yeah, but not quite in the way you're thinking. It should be more important to you that you get better than he pays for his sins. The latter might be part of the former, but it would take a qualified professional to tell you that after getting to know you better.
posted by Etrigan at 10:08 AM on May 21, 2014 [35 favorites]

You aren't being selfish, but I am confused a bit. Other than your friends pressuring you to contact him, do you have any other reason? Making him feel bad probably sounds like it would be good but it really is a weak reason to put yourself back in danger of being hurt again. It sounds like a really toxic relationship and you have nothing to gain here. You almost definitely aren't going to make him understand/believe that he wasn't a good father to you, and even if he does.... is that going to change anything?The past can't be undone, you're never going be able to reclaim or redefine your childhood. If I were your friend and I knew your history (based upon what you wrote here) the LAST thing I would be doing is pushing you to maintain contact with him.

It sounds like this man WASN'T your father, but rather the man that got your mother pregnant. It sounds like he didn't show you love or caring or much respect. I don't think he gets a "father" label, he's done nothing to deserve it. You can try to make him feel bad but it won't make you feel better, not really. You're just risking getting even MORE hurt when/if he laughs in your face while you tell him about all the ways he failed you. The only purpose he should serve in your life is to act as a fantastic example of how not to treat others.

You owe this man nothing, but you owe YOURSELF a future that doesn't include toxic, hurtful, disrespectful people. Sever all ties with this man, get yourself in to therapy, and take care of yourself. Live a good life, have healthy happy relationships with people.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 10:10 AM on May 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

I understand that you feel marginalized by your stepfamily, but you have your own issues you need to work through. Yes, it sounds like there are several serious ways in which your father sidelined your needs during your childhood, but you're also acting like the existence of your stepfamily is a personal affront, like your stepmother and half-siblings are not people, but crimes your father committed against you, and you need to get over it. You cannot reconcile as an adult, either with your father or yourself, while calling your father's wife/stepmother "the woman" and maintaining that your father and stepmother personally wronged you by having their first child during a year when you were going to have exams at school. You're upset that your father emotionally abandoned you, but refusing to acknowledge your stepfamily is not doing you any favors.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 10:11 AM on May 21, 2014 [72 favorites]

When I was in my 20s, I stopped contacting my father. It was not acrimonious and we did not have a discussion about it or a come-to-jesus session. I just...stopped calling, on the theory that I had put all the effort into it thus far and if he wanted a relationship with me, well, I hadn't changed my phone number. There were other reasons I didn't want to put any effort into a relationship with him, snowflake details that don't really matter, but it wasn't just random.

My sister and brother remained friendly with him, my brother was in fact very close with him. I just didn't bother with him.

About five years later, I was planning my wedding and I was also in therapy. One day, I went into therapy and said, "so today I guess I want to talk about how my fiance wants me to invite my father to the wedding and I don't want to." My therapist said whoa that's a surprise, your father simply does not come up in your issues at all and I had assumed this whole time that he was long dead and you had come to resolution over it. I laughed. (BTW, we didn't invite him to the wedding in part because the only reason my now ex-husband wanted to invite him was that my ex thought that my father would give us a more costly gift than my mother could which goes a long way to explaining why he is now my ex husband but I digress).

So the last time I spoke to my father was in about 1985. He died in 2010. And you know what? Nothing, that's what. Just because he was my father doesn't mean that he gets special treatment when he acts in a way that is hurtful or unkind or even merely selfish.

My life was better with him out of it and I really did just deal with it like a permanent end and not like something waiting to be resolved. That makes it pretty simple.

All this to say, do what you need to do and stop counting the hurts. The more you stew over what he did or didn't do, the more unhappy you will be. The sooner you can turn your back on them and stop caring, the easier your life will be and the happier you will be.

Good luck.
posted by janey47 at 10:11 AM on May 21, 2014 [22 favorites]

I think this is one of those things that is better discussed with a therapist than with your friends.

I agree with moonlight on vermont. You have your own issues to work through. If you are indeed emotionally unstable, an apology from your dad isn't going to fix that--you still are going to have work to do to address your issues.
posted by inertia at 10:18 AM on May 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

I think you should give some thought to whether you are really more interested in changing him or changing yourself. When you consider that question, keep this in mind: although changing yourself is no walk in the park, changing other people is almost always much more difficult.
posted by Mr. Justice at 10:18 AM on May 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

You can't "make" your dad understand. You can't "make" anyone "really understand" your own personal experiences-- because those experiences and emotions are uniquely yours. You might be able to find someone who empathizes, even deeply, but you can't force that on someone else.

Similarly, you can't "make him feel bad", because you can't make anyone feel anything. You only get to control your own feelings and how you express your own feelings. Other people have feel what they feel and express their feelings however they do.

What you get to do is determine your own boundaries and enforce them. Wanting a parent to love and protect you is a reasonable thing. It sounds like your father did not (or wasn't able to) live up to your expectations of what a loving and protective parent is like. That is a totally okay thing to be sad and angry about.

But it sounds like you might be hoping that if you somehow get your father to "admit" his wrongs, that will somehow fix your feelings of sadness and anger-- and that's just not true. The only person who can control your emotions is you. You absolutely need to get some professional help and therapy to help you deal with your feelings about this and get better.

It may or may not be useful for you to reconcile with your father and stepfamily, but you definitely need to reconcile with yourself, your needs and expectations, and your feelings. And that work is about you, not your father or stepfamily.
posted by Kpele at 10:22 AM on May 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

As a fellow survivor of shitty parents, please let me say: You do what YOU need to do. I've gone several years without speaking to my (mostly absent) father and if I had my druthers, I'd kick mom to the curb, too. I need to do this for MY sanity. I had no say in how the first part of my life went. I'm an adult now. I get to choose how the rest of my life goes and who gets to be in it. And nthing therapy. Stat.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 10:22 AM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

If your 6th grade response to all this was "ok I'll just kill myself," then clearly your problems started before the step family showed up.

Making him feel bad won't make you feel better. What is that quote about anger? Anger is like taking poison and expecting the other person to die.

They way you write this story, you do sound very narcissistic and emotionally immature.

If you were writing different things I would have better suggestions for you, but based on what you wrote, I highly recommend therapy.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:24 AM on May 21, 2014 [29 favorites]

how can I make him really understand that the experience while me growing up did leave an open wound in my heart AND make him feel bad about what he did and did not do?

You can't. You will go insane trying, and then it will be "you were always insane." You will grow more and more shrill and bitter trying, and then it will be "you were always so shrill and bitter." Take care of yourself. He didn't, he won't, he can't. Just be done. It's the healthiest thing you can do.

So when I heard this, I felt like "F this."

You will be so much happier with *your* *life* if you can get this attitude to stick. It's not "F him" with anger - it's "F this," it's not worth the effort. Then you can expend your energy and effort and love and affection on people who reciprocate.
posted by headnsouth at 10:25 AM on May 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

It sounds like you want a relationship where you can explore your feelings. Over and over you acted out in normal teenager fashion and instead of following through your dad shrugged it off.
You haven't really communicated your needs very well... what did you want? Did you want him to listen? Did you want him to divorce step mother? Did you want him not to have more children ?

Before you do anything figure out what you actually want. If you think it may be possible go ahead and try. If it's not then don't. I have no contact with my father because there will never ever be any kind of remorse or understanding for what he did to me when I was a child.

And get therapy to untangle some of this stuff. You don't want to carry it throughout your life unresolved.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:26 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

how can I make him really understand that the experience while me growing up did leave an open wound in my heart AND make him feel bad about what he did and did not do?

You can't.

I firmly believe that parents are not owed any special status in our lives. We are not bound to our parents solely because we are the product of their genetic material (or other means). You're an adult now. You get to choose the other adults who will take up space in your life and in your head. Parents may get a pass on certain behaviors, just as a longtime friend might -- when the sum of the good is more than the sum of the bad. Imagine if a friend of yours acted like this, would you still be friends with them?

Leave this guy (and I say "this guy" because one should earn the title "Dad") in the rearview mirror and carry on living the rest of your life.
posted by melissasaurus at 10:26 AM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

>he and woman had a baby right when I had to prepare for a year for an important exam, so I got pissed about baby crying and told dad "why did you have to make the baby right at this minute?!" he laughed.

That's probably the only selfish thing you've done. It's a little unreasonable to expect a couple to put off having a child due to exams. With that said, otherwise you are in the clear. And that is really not even a big deal. Good luck!
posted by jjmoney at 10:33 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

My own experience has a few similarities to yours. I had cancer three times from the ages of 12-25. My father, who made it painfully clear throughout my childhood that he wanted a boy instead of me, was a-ok with me dying. In fact when I first got sick, the only way I could get to a doctor was through the school nurse because my father refused to take me. When he realised he might get in trouble with the law that's when he began to be a little more proactive in my treatment (when people were around to watch at least). By the second time I had cancer and I was 17 I got into a huge fight with him because he refused to let me see a doctor the first time which caused the cancer to spread when it didn't have to... His response was this- He put his hand on my shoulder, smiled and said- "My daughter, you can go to hell." By the third time I had cancer, he told me similar things that your father has told you- that he worried for me and missed me- and yet he didn't even offer to come visit me in the hospital. Actions speak louder than words dearie.

"... and one day he told me... that he doesn't really need to be with me or get to know me and would be ok if he just knows I'm alive somewhere."

My dear, a parent who truly loves you would not feel that they don't need to get to know you. Knowing someone is in many ways an absolute requirement for love. If he has no motivation to even do this... I'm saying you should probably take him at his word here. Just because he's your father doesn't mean he loves you or even cares for you all that much. I'm not saying that this is your case. In your case I suspect your father 'loves' you in his own way... but his own way is obviously not to the extent it probably should be.

Reader, I cut off all ties with my father years ago. And honestly my only regret is not doing it sooner. I wasted so many years listening to "friends" who insisted that I should reconcile because "he is your dad" and waiting for him to show me he cared. All I got was a lot of pain in return. Even strangers will always try to get you to reconcile with your parents because of some warped notion that parents are always good people who have your best interests at heart. A warped notion that stands in spite of all the proof in the world and in the news daily that proves it's simply not true. But no one- not even people who know your dad personally know what it's like to be raised as his daughter except for you. You know a side to him that no one else does and this means that only you can decide what's right for you. If you think that attempting to reconcile is what you want then do it- But make sure that if you choose this, you consider the possibility that he will never be able to show you he cares for you, because otherwise you're putting your happiness in the hands of someone who may not be able to give you what you want. If you say to yourself that you're going to reconcile and it's the actual ATTEMPT that you care about rather than the result, that is a healthier approach to take I think. If however attempting this reconciliation is only something you're doing because others are telling you to, then don't do it. You know what he's like as your dad. They don't and they never will.
posted by manderin at 10:34 AM on May 21, 2014 [18 favorites]

Your father chose his new wife over the needs of his otherwise parentless child. He then made a lot of additional decisions that were not in your best interest when you were clearly in distress. His first and greatest responsibility was to you and to say that he should have done better is an understatement. You're an adult now and you don't have to continue to poke at these wounds. Work on healing the trauma through therapy and it's absolutely fine to cut off contact from him. You are not obligated to stay in touch with him if he's not a positive and nurturing force in your life. He's also unlikely to ever take responsibility for being such a shitty Dad, so don't depend on that for your healing.

Also, beware of friends who freely give bad advice. There's nothing intrinsically healthy or good about being in touch with a neglectful parent and it's certainly not a magical fix for past neglect/abuse. Your friend may have good intentions, but the advice to reconcile with your Dad to fix "emotional instability" is wrong-headed and could be damaging. It's ok and healthy to be selfish when the other option is to put yourself in situations and relationships that continue to harm you.
posted by quince at 10:41 AM on May 21, 2014 [16 favorites]

You can't make your dad walk a mile in your shoes. You can't make him feel anything. You can't make him regret what he's done to you.

I stopped talking to my parents in 1999, started again briefly in 2006 or 2007 (when starting an adoption process). It didn't help me any; but at least with minimal contact it also didn't really hurt any. After a few months, I let contact simply drop again. It's really for my best; I have enough issues which aren't solvable that contact, especially with my mother, would just be an emotional time bomb. I honestly don't think I'll have any sudden regrets about the no contact when one of them becomes ill/dies.

Your friends won't be able to know enough about you and are coming from a different place; ignore their advice regarding this.

If you had a therapist (or 3) who were strongly pushing you to reconnect with your family, for Reasons; that's a different story. But from reading what you wrote, I don't think that you can get what you feel you need from your dad.
posted by nobeagle at 10:45 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

how can I make him really understand that the experience while me growing up did leave an open wound in my heart AND make him feel bad about what he did and did not do

You cannot do this. You cannot control minds.

I feel he was supposed to provide love and protect me, and he failed.

That seems like an accurate assessment.

You can't change the past or the choices he made. All you can really do is work on yourself and your future, and if you're going to choose to have a relationship with him (which you do not have to do if it's not productive in your life), you have to have a relationship with who he is right now, not who you want him to be. Like, if all you can manage is a 10-minute phone call twice a year to see if anybody died, then only do that. But don't keep arguing with him to try to make him be someone else, because you will always fail and be hurt and disappointed.

Your friends also sound like they're not very good for you. Are they encouraging you to do this so they can watch the drama?

Therapy is for learning to move forward in your life when you are stuck. I think it would be helpful for you if it's at all possible.
posted by Lyn Never at 10:47 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I just wanted to add because I think it's important. I do not hold any hatred for my father any more. I'm not going to say I forgive him because I think forgiveness is over-rated anyway; especially since it's a word that has so many different meanings to different people. But I have ACCEPTED him. I've accepted the fact that he will never be a real father to me. I've accepted this so fully that any desire I used to have for him to change or for any future meeting with him has completely gone from me. This has made me so much happier in life. The buddha used to say that desire is the source of all pain in life. I can tell you that when all the desire to have a dad- and to have my father love me went away, I finally stopped being angry and became happier. I used to think about him and get angry. Now he almost never even enters my thoughts. In a weird way it's almost like he never existed because I try to live in the present instead of the past. The fact that you still had these screaming matches with your father shows that there is a part of you that is still hoping to make him the dad you always wanted. Whether you decide to reconcile or not the only way you can move forward is to accept what ever your father is and go from there.
posted by manderin at 10:50 AM on May 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

You want to find a way to make your father behave in a way that he never has before, and has never shown any inclination of doing.

This is an unwise goal. Pursuing it is only going to upset you. You need to let go of this idea.

Your father sounds like a selfish jerk. You should accept this, and not expect to change it, ever.

It is very painful that he chose your stepmom over you. He should not have done this. It's normal and right that it hurt, and still hurts. But you can't change it, and you can't change the man who chose it either.

That said, your dad does not sound like a monster. There are some parents that are so awful that their children, rightly, choose to avoid them at all costs. Your dad isn't that bad. You may or may not want to interact with him any more. My guess is, if you can accept him as someone who is basically an asshole, but still your father, you may be able to interact with him in a way that is satisfying on some level. Doesn't sound to me like that time is yet, though.

Again, let go of your idea of making him sorry. It's only going to hurt you to pursue it. You can fix up your life without fixing the past (which is unfixable anyway). Move forward and treat your issues as your own.
posted by mattu at 11:01 AM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Once when I was telling a friend about how I wanted to make someone do something, he said to me, make me move my hand. I poked his hand and I picked it up and moved it but I could not make him move his hand.

I don't think you can make your dad feel anything. You can tell him how you feel, he can tell you how he feels, you can tell him what you want him to do now, he can tell you what he wants you to do now but that's kind of it. Neither of you can make each other do something and neither of you can go back in time to fix something or try again.

What do you want from your relationship with your father? An apology? Do you want to see him once a week for dinner? Do you want him to tell you that he's proud of you? You are allowed to want all of these things and more but the more that you expect from him, the more likely you are to feel hurt because the more expectations you have for him and your relationship, the more likely he is to come up short.

The cool thing about being an adult is that now you set the terms. If you don't want to talk to him for a year, there is nothing stopping you. If you want to email him once in a while, that's fine too. You can't make him be in your life but he can't make you be in his either. If you want to shake hands and walk away from this shit show forever, you totally can. If you're talking on the phone and he starts arguing, you can say, "Gotta go, bye!" He doesn't have the power anymore - you do.

It sucks when people we love disappoint us but that's one of the drawbacks of loving people. I think that forgiving your father will make your life easier because it will feel like less baggage you're carrying around. Right now, if you wait on an apology, he has power over you because you want something from him (an apology) more than he wants something from you (your presence in his life). If you let go of wanting the apology, suddenly you have all of the power in the relationship because you don't want anything from him and he wants something from you.

Take control of your relationship with him by setting the terms. If he comes up short, you can cut him out. Think about yourself as a child and how your father let you down. Mourn for her and for how much she just wanted someone to take care of her and love her. Then picture her as a strong, capable, confident woman. And be that woman.
posted by kat518 at 11:13 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

I came from an unfortunate family situation, too. I cut off ties with my sibling and that's made it possible for me to move past it. I didn't speak to my mother for a few years while I took care of myself. That led her to reflect on what happened. She finally apologized to me, it was sincere, and that made a new relationship between us possible.

Your dad owes you an apology for invalidating your feelings, which were natural for a 12 year old dealing with big changes in her life. But don't expect that to happen. So, like others have said, work on yourself, start seeing a therapist regularly and work through what happened so you can gain some perspective. Don't do it for some idea that you're supposed to have a relationship with your dad or the nostalgia for what you once had.

It does sound like your narrative about what happened does need to mature.
posted by lillian.elmtree at 11:17 AM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Whether you were serious or not, you were in middle school and your response to your parent getting married was to threaten suicide? You're referring to her over and over again as "woman"? Overall, you seem to be looking back and idolizing this relationship that you had with your dad back when you were the only thing of any importance in his life, and what you seem to want to have back is that relationship. But just as you're in no way obligated to have him be a part of your life, he's also not in any way obligated to prioritize you to the exclusion of anything else that makes him happy.

There are all kinds of ways he seriously screwed up here, I'm not minimizing that, I'm just saying, I don't think you have expectations for what a healthy father/daughter relationship is like that are reasonable. If it works out better for you not to be in contact with him, great, keep that up. But if you're going to try to reconcile, you need to reconcile with the idea that, yes, when you were a kid, he was your whole world, and you were his, but that this is not a thing you could ever have back even if he was a saint. None of his poor handling of this is your fault, but his wife and your sibling(s?) are also entitled to his care and attention, so your picture of this reconciliation cannot involve your once again having the same relationship you had when it was just the two of you. You may be able to figure something out if you can settle for accepting him as a flawed human being and only one small part of your life, and vice versa.

Again, not trying to minimize the selfishness and bad parenting decisions involved here, but there's other stuff--the resentment of your siblings, the upset about what happened to the house you grew up in, talking about missing him being your "best friend", in general these are not reasonable expectations to achieve of an adult relationship between parent and child. It's normal for families to move, for attention to be divided between children, for you to form other attachments that are more important than the attachment to your parent. Your dad falls short in so many ways, but it hurts you more because you're comparing him to an unrealistic ideal. He's allowed to have other priorities, but so are you, and you don't have to have any more contact than makes you happy.
posted by Sequence at 11:19 AM on May 21, 2014 [28 favorites]

Oh, and I say all that, by the way, it now having been something like a decade since I've seen my own father, and my relationship with my mother deliberately distant based on having had to figure out that same thing, that my mental picture of the relationship I was supposed to have with my mother was unrealistic based on the human being she actually is. So this is experience, not judgment about your standards.
posted by Sequence at 11:23 AM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

No child will ever, ever, ever owe their parents an apology for the way they were raised.

You included.

The child who was hurt is still inside of you. Take care of that person. Listen to him/her. Let him/her grieve and complain in therapy.

If you and only you sometime decide to forgive your father, you can. You have no-zero-nada-zip obligation to do so.

He was the parent. Parenting problems are his fault.

There's a reason that "parenting" is a verb (something you can do to someone else), while "childing" is not.
posted by IAmBroom at 11:30 AM on May 21, 2014 [12 favorites]

It sounds like you want us to find yet more ways for you to treat your father like shit; I'm sorry, but I cannot oblige. You sound like you were a bit of a 12-year-old drama queen in-the-making who expected her father to remain her private property forever. Or in other words, yes you do sound a bit spoiled and selfish.

It's not like he cheated on his marriage vows to your mother: no, he waited twelve years to remarry. And what did your grandfather's death have to do with your father wanting to introduce you to his intended wife --- was everyone's life supposed to simply freeze in tribute? And why on earth have you been so very hostile to her from the very start? Good grief, guessing from your question you're probably near 30 years old now, so she's been married to your father well over half your life; but you don't even have the courtesy to call her his wife, just 'the woman'.

His remarrying did not and does not mean he doesn't care for you; on the other hand, your continual abuse probably does have a lot to do with how you two react to each other: I'm not saying your father was perfect, just that there also appears to be a lot of fault on your own side of this. There is absolutely no requirement that you and he try to develop a close relationship, no matter what your friends may say or think: it's really none of their business, is it?

The best thing you can do, for you, is get into therapy: don't try to fix or change your father, take care of yourself first. Maybe, just maybe, you can someday try to reconcile with him.

(Oh, and the replacement of the 'old house the family lived in for decades' --- you don't know, you were only a kid at the time, but there's a pretty good chance that old house might have needed to be demolished --- maybe it was falling down, maybe it was an unrepairable moneypit, maybe it was a fire hazard and your father wanted a safe, secure home for his family: you don't know, and a 12-year-old's sentiment does not trump safety.)
posted by easily confused at 12:01 PM on May 21, 2014 [16 favorites]


No, you're not too selfish for feeling angry or disappointed with your dad, and you probably feel even more so because you can't make him understand you...

On top of a therapist (which will probably help you unpack and deal with your feelings), do you have supportive friends who understand and support you on what you've gone through, rather than just telling you to reconcile with your dad? Because this advice sounds like it will only make things worse at this point in time...
posted by Tsukushi at 12:10 PM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

"ok, I'll just kill myself." -he laughed

"I had to prepare for a year for an important exam, so I got pissed about baby crying and told dad "why did you have to make the baby right at this minute?!" he laughed."

I'm sure that you always realized that a person can't be asked to time their reproductive habits around someone's exam schedule and you already mentioned that the statement of killing yourself wasn't serious. What I see here in these statements is simply someone who wanted ANY kind of acknowledgment that she mattered to her father. Anything at all. You were trying so hard to get this acknowledgment that as a child you resorted to non-seriously threatening to kill yourself and resorted to blaming a baby... but that's not how you really felt, I see that. You just wanted to see that HE felt something. But your tactics failed. And they only re-confirmed to you that he didn't feel those things. That's fine. You were a child. But now you are an adult and it's time to grow up and realize that you cannot make him feel anything. You're still asking for a way to play this game with your dad. Even if he was to feel sorry how would you know at this point if he even means it? All those things are in the past and he can't change it. And in my experience and in many others as well, many parents- even the most abusive- suddenly become very apologetic for everything when they start getting old enough to wonder who's going to take care of them, if you catch my drift. An apology is just words. Therapy could work for you to help you accept things, but I would not recommend reconciling with your father while you still have this idea that he will change.
posted by manderin at 12:11 PM on May 21, 2014 [20 favorites]

The best thing I believe is to learn to let go and forgive. I'm not trying to minimize your pain nor am I condoning what your father did or did not do. But you're extremely angry and it is very toxic. The one that pays in the end is ultimately you.

And let us analyze the situation:
1. Let us assume your dad is the worst dad in the world. What do you hope to achieve by holding onto a grudge and wanting him to pay? As someone has suggested, if this is the case, get out now and get out fast.

2. Let us assume that he was only human with normal flaws but in your mind his sins were greater than life. You are emotionally unstable (by your friends' admission), very immature (refusal to call your step-mom as other than "the woman"?) and extremely angry ("wanting dad to feel bad"). This is very likely that all of these filter on how you view your dad. Is he really as bad as you have been painting him? If he is not, how is it constructive for him to pay for his supposed sin?

Get out if you need to. Reconcile or not, that's your choice. But let go and forgive.
posted by 7life at 12:16 PM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

Nthing that you can only change your reactions and emotions about the situation and no matter how hard you try, no matter what you say or do, there will never be anything that will change your dad. EVER.

So what is it you want for the rest of your life? Do you want to live with the resentment eating you? Do you want to wonder what you could have done/not done to make him do/not do something? Or do you want to live a life that you imagine? A bold and happy life that your neglectful father has had no part in shaping.

Get therapy. It's ok to be hurt, it is your choice how you handle that hurt from this moment on.
posted by Sophie1 at 12:27 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

You do not sound like you've got an adult perspective on your childhood. Please consider therapy so you can obtain one before making any decisions regarding contacting your father.

This often happens when we experience hurt as a child; our emotions become frozen and we fail to develop. I am 100% in favor of establishing firm boundaries with parents who are hurting you, but it really seems that you are hurting yourself with your anger.
posted by snickerdoodle at 12:46 PM on May 21, 2014 [11 favorites]

I don't think your healing is going to come from an re-established relationship with your father, because he doesn't sound like a father who merely made some mistakes, but a truly shitty father who is never going to love you or understand how he failed you, and the pain you still suffer as a result.

I also suggest therapy. This recent question suggests the ability of the therapist to be a helping witness. I think you've been invalidated throughout your whole story, and you need someone to hear what you went through. Your father is never going to acknowledge what happened. I don't think you're narcissistic or immature. I think you need someone to finally hear what happened to you in your life so you can start to process it. You're dad always dismissed you, merely laughed at you, you can't look to him for anything. I don't think you mention how great your relationship with your father was before you were twelve because you have an idealistic expectation that you should have that same relationship as an adult and he's failing to meet that expectation now. I think you mention that because it was part of the experience of how things unfolded. You went from having your dad be your best friend to losing him, pretty much over-night. That must have been horrible.
posted by Blitz at 12:48 PM on May 21, 2014 [5 favorites]

Two issues here: forgiveness vs reconciliation, and grudge holding & rubbing his face in it, vs your own health.

You had a decently shitty dad. I'm sorry. He said and did some very inappropriate things. I can see where and how they hurt you badly then, and are hurting you today. But, it is likely hurting you more to NOT forgive. Forgiveness does not mean his behavior was or is ok. It does not mean your hurt is unimportant or being swept under the rug. His choices hurt you and cost you. Its ok to be upset and grieve. But there comes a time when you have to be an adult, and look yourself in the mirror, and go 'i'm tired of dragging this around. Its doing me no good. This anger and bitterness at my dad is hurting me, and whatever possible relationship we might have now. It was not ok, I did not get the love and affirmation I wanted and needed and deserved. But I, here and now, chose to forgive my dad for that. For choosing 'woman' and their family over me. for everything on that list'. Let it go. Do it over and over till it feels gone. I personally like ritually burning a little piece of paper with all the hurts on it. Or sharpie'ing it on a helium balloon and letting it go. You might have to forgive lots- each time you remember a hurt or loss or cost. But, it frees YOU so YOU can be happy.

Now, forgiving does not mean you need to tell him you forgave, nor do you need to reconcile with him or be friends with him. That is up to you. As always, protect yourself first. Forgiving him does not magically make him a better dad, a safe person, one with good boundaries, or someone you need to be around, or should be around. That is up to you. Setting and enforcing boundaries is healthy.

Now! Expecting him to feel bad, making him feel bad, rubbing his heart with ground glass.... nope. Can't do it. You can either hold this grudge forever, or accept that he couldn't or didn't provide you with a good childhood where you felt valued and secure and understood. Since you are no longer a child, he never can. You cannot change the past. Also, you cannot change other people. Period. This desire, one I understand 100 %, just isn't healthy. Its not good for you. Picking up hot coals to throw at people tends to hurt you a lot more than it does others. It would be nice if he saw the light and apologized and cried and was a good dad, but..... I doubt it. Holding your breath waiting makes you look like a smurf. You did the best you could, then, but it was the response of a hurt and neglected and misunderstood child. You don't want to carry that the rest of your life. You can be the parents s/he needed. I suspect, if you're asking this, that you're pretty ready to move on. I, from a very similar background, suggest you do :) Won't say its easy, but it is worth it, for you.
posted by Jacen at 12:56 PM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

you suffer from the same problem as me. if my parents can take accountability for all of the hurt they've hurled at me then i could not only move on but salvage my relationship with them. sometimes, you honestly have to move on without the accountability on their part and without the relationship being salvaged too. you have already tried to seek an assertion of accountability from your father and he hasn't taken the bait -- you know why? because parents like that can justify any of their behaviors and actions towards their children. you want a healthy outcome from an unhealthy person.

maybe he does feel bad and maybe that guilt manifests as a complete denial of all the shit you've had to deal with. it's taken me a long time to realize that the paradigm of love and support that i was expecting from my parents is not THEIR paradigm of expressing love and support. your father could very much love you but it is completely alright to say to yourself: "i don't want this kind of love. it's not my version of love. it invalidates me and has ruined my life. if i don't want this love then i need to sever ties with my father and/or maintain a distance from him."

I think you've been invalidated throughout your whole story, and you need someone to hear what you went through.

I wholeheartedly agree. I just attended my first therapy session yesterday and you know what was great? Someone taking my issues and what I had to say about my parents at face value. Nothing else. No justifications, no tearful pleading to have my side of the story be validated......just honestly being listened to and having someone wholeheartedly understanding me. I am the scapegoat of the family (it sounds like you've been made to be one too) and your perspective (if it does get any attention) is always meant to be on the back-burner but with a therapist it's at the forefront and it's taken seriously with lots of consideration. I want you to know how amazing that feels to have a safe space for your intensity and not get blamed, attacked, or have your whole character/personality be under scrutiny.

You deserve that.

People aren't suggesting therapy because it's a non-committal answer that absolves us of responsibility but because more likely than not we ourselves have gone through therapy (or going through it still) and see the rewards of it.

You want to live a life where you're not triggered and reactive to that dysfunction - where you have emotional wellness? Then you need to strip all of the abusive, toxic, and dysfunctional filters you've been conditioned to and learn a healthier language to navigate your life through. Therapy isn't the only way you can do that for yourself (and obviously it can't be the only way) but it can be the first step to all of that.
posted by thischarmingirl at 1:09 PM on May 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

You're asking us how you can get revenge on your father. No, that's not ok.

The way you've written your story raises some red flags. I'm with @moonlight on vermont, @St Peepsburg, @Sequence, and @easily confused.

Check yourself. On these facts, your anger and your revenge-seeking and your lack of empathy for anyone else in your family just doesn't add up. The vitriol you're expressing is way out of proportion to the vaunted offenses as you've described them here. So much so that I can see why others have described you as narcissistic.

I wish you peace, OP.
posted by hush at 1:15 PM on May 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

My father was a bad parent. I've said this in a lot of ways over the years to a wide variety of reactions; from stonewalling to giving a damned good impression of listening. I made him cry on a couple of occasions.

It doesn't work the way you fantasize. Not in terms of feeling better yourself; I was still robbed of a childhood, and now I get to feel awesome about making a sad old man in tenuous contact with reality cry.

Neither in terms of changed behavior: OK, he knows he was a bad parent. That doesn't mean he knows how to be a good one, even if he wants to be. So at best he tries for a bit, then slips back.

For a while I was angry enough that I felt like hurting him back was good enough, but it isn't. It doesn't solve anything, particularly.

The problem is what I want is to find the right words that will inspire him to go back in time and do it right. I think you want the same thing, really.

But he can't and you can't. All you can do is move forward. And if you want to move in a forward that cuts him out, that's your call to make.
posted by PMdixon at 2:08 PM on May 21, 2014 [8 favorites]

I totally disagree with the people slaming you for being emotional / dramatic. You were being dramatic because being reasonable didn't work! If you had been able to get comforting from your dad with reasonable statements like "Dad, I'm upset", then of course you would not have threatened suicide! You only threatened suicide because you were distraught that no amount of calm communication could get a comforting response from Dad.

I posted previously on MeFi saying that I was so upset once at how my Mom was hurting me, and I kept pleading with her to stop saying hurtful things. Finally I started hitting my head against the wall, in the desperate hope that if she could *just see* how much she was hurting me, she'd stop. Of course she didn't stop. When I posted this on MeFi, a few people told me I'm over-dramatic and need to fix myself. They're imagining a reasonable Mom, and that I escalated unnecessarily to self-harming to get her attention. You and I don't have reasonable parents! I told my mom calmly 1000 times that she was causing me terrible pain. You and I only resorted to drama and resentment because nothing else worked.

Like you, I've also had lots of people give me guilt trips over treating my parents better. They told me that I should go see my parents every few days, and forgive them all their faults because they're old and can't change, and they did the best they could. NO. That was so wrong and damaging. I am angry at the relatives who said these things to me.

Recently I had one friend say how I might be able to just "take a break" from my parents and reconcile in a couple years, and how he changed the way he behaves toward his (normal non-neglectful non-abusive) parents and that's improved their relationship. So he said maybe I can change myself to improve the relationship with my parents. I said to him, "My parents acted abusively to me for my whole life. If you found out someone finally after 30 years got the strength to leave their abusive relationship, are you going to tell them that maybe in 2 years, they can change themselves enough to patch things up with their abuser?" That friend immediately changed his position.

You have (and I used to have) this belief that of course our parents don't *intend* to hurt us, so if they're hurting us, it's because they don't realize they are doing it. If we just show them how hurt we are, they will stop. This is false. They know they are hurting us. They just don't care enough to stop. Maybe they're super emotionally damaged themselves, or they're freakin' selfish. But they will literally watch you go through agonizing pain due to their actions, and they know full well what they're doing and will continue to do it.

Your dad might express worry and a desire to stay in touch because of selfish reasons like wanting to feel like he's a good dad, or not wanting to be embarrassed that he is estranged from his kid. When I told my dad that I'm finally going to avoid him due to his behavior, he said, "But who's going to pay for me and take care of me in a few years when I need medical treatment?" I'm sure he was also worried that he was going to be embarrassed when people asked why his previously super-loyal kid is now not speaking to him.

Good luck. Hugs to you.
posted by cheesecake at 2:36 PM on May 21, 2014 [20 favorites]

OP, I don't think you're a narcissist but I agree that you could cultivate more empathy. However, that doesn't come natural to everyone, especially if you've been invalidated most of your life. I can see why you would refer to your stepmother as "woman" but you do have to realize that it can come across as jarring to other people and not respectful (which I totally get it - why do you have to respect your stepmother or your dad when they've been very hurtful towards you but there's a common respect everyone deserves - you wouldn't want to be referred as to "that child".) Also, I did think the whole "getting mad at your father for having a baby during exams" did show a lack of empathy. I wholeheartedly agree with @moonlight on vermont and I would really encourage you to read that as not a personal attack but for your own good because it would be a shame for you not to pay attention to that post's insight that your step-family deserves to be acknowledged. That might honestly be part of the healing process for you.

Still, the way your dad dealt with it was really inappropriate. That's not to excuse your lack of empathy and respect but you can earnestly work on that. I'm never in the camp that thinks forgiveness is essential but you know what it is? Understanding your abusers on a fundamental level to differentiate yourself from them. Cultivating empathy and respect will make that possible and also make it to where you don't become that kind of person yourself. And that's how you "win". Not by guilt-tripping (which may or may not even work based on the personality of your dad depicted in your examples).

I am making another comment not just to say that but because it does sound like you have tried counseling at one point but that was with your father. Like other posters have said, you should really pursue individual therapy. There is a difference.

And also, the friends telling you to reconcile, are probably operating on their own paradigms where if you try with your parents you can salvage the parent-child relationship. So, they probably have good intentions but are misguided.

Please do not make reconciling with your dad the priority - make yourself a priority.
posted by thischarmingirl at 2:42 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

If you had the power to make your father see what he's done, you could have made him be a better parent in the first place.

I hope this illustrates for you how futile it is to pursue an apology or admission or change of behavior from your father. I'm so sorry you have to deal with this. Please talk to a therapist, as the only thing you can control in this situation are your own reactions. And the longer you continue to see yourself as a powerless victim of your father, the longer it will take for you to deal with the pain he caused you.

My credentials: Grew up with an abusive mentally ill parent (who is getting more ill and abusive as she's aging), a neglectful one, and a mentally ill sibling.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 2:47 PM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

The answer to your question is: no, do not harangue your dad or contact him with the intention of making him feel bad, acknowledging how bad he was, etc. Your friends do not know what they are talking about.

A therapist might help you be able to both get an adult perspective on the narrative you've created (which really does not sound like your vitriol is objectively justified,) and to come to a better emotional place. At that point maybe you could get in touch with your dad -- once your goal is to share your new understanding and reconcile. But not right now, not with the objective to accuse him more and try to make him feel bad. That will not go well.

Good luck, I know dealing with a stepparent and a parent's new love can be very painful.
posted by fingersandtoes at 3:09 PM on May 21, 2014 [2 favorites]

Don't make your happiness and emotional stability dependent on him changing! That way lies more hurt and invalidation.

I get the impression someone mentioned reconciling with your dad and that immediately threw you back into this maelstrom of misery and betrayal you were in as a teenager. You're worked up because the possibilities of him finally coming round to be the dad he should have been, or of him engaging with you, or of you shouting at him how much he has hurt you and trying to make him finally aknowledge you, are all in the room again.

Your emotional coping tools, they haven't developed much since then. This post wasn't written by adult-you but by the mistreated child who has none of an adult's perspective and distance.

Change your goals. Change your goal to "I will be happy and stable, and I will put this misery behind me" - regardless of what your dad does or whether you ever speak to him again.
Another vote for therapy.
posted by Omnomnom at 3:27 PM on May 21, 2014 [3 favorites]

Just like it's not up to a child to validate a person's parenting style, it's not up to a child to dismantle the image a parent has of one's self. Not that a child doesn't have a right to confront past wrongs, but it's got to be about you processing and letting go rather than needing a specific reaction from a parent.

Parents are people. They aren't elevated humans by virtue of creating progeny. My dad, well, he can be a dick. He treated my mother like crap, he wasn't around, we've had harsh words -- but since he is my dad I choose to work over that stuff and accept him like he is, because he also has a lot of good qualities -- he can be surprisingly patient, generous and he's fun to be around. He's a person and I choose to pursue a relationship with him as a person, dick though he can be.

Your dad sounds like kind of a dick, too. You're remembering some seriously shitty stuff that clearly impacted you throughout your life. However -- wanting to make another person actually feel bad is also kind of a dick move. I would be more supportive if you wanted to heal yourself with this process and demonstrated a readiness to find closure regardless of his response, but you actually want to make another person feel bad. He made you feel bad because he's a selfish asshole. Do you really want to stoop to that level?

Nthing therapy to sort out your motivations. Closure comes from within. This is probably a horrible thing to say, but if he got hit by a bus tomorrow before you had a chance to make him feel bad, what would you regret more? That he's dead, or that you missed a chance to make him feel bad? Seriously, chew on that and talk it over with a therapist.
posted by mibo at 3:28 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have gained so much perspective on my parents and their failings by having my own child. Everyone said this would happen but I didn't really imagine how it would. You see yourself encounter a situation with your child, you react in a certain way, you find yourself thinking, "Wow...I had no idea I would react that way." And you flash back to the ways your parents reacted to you as a child. You can now see both sides. It's startling.

I didn't come to fully realize something pretty huge about my childhood until I had a kid. One thing that bothered me greatly was my father's abuse (obviously) but, more indignantly, my mother's reaction when informed of this abuse. That gnawed and weighed on me growing up in various ways and at various times. It wasn't until I had a child that I recalled something that just took my own narrative and slammed it to the ground: I had lied to my mother. I had lied by omission. I had let her know just enough to get her to intervene but not enough to disrupt the whole family life. As a child, you view your parents an omnipotent – they know everything. Growing up, my internal narrative was: she knew everything, why didn't she take more action?

Now, I can see both sides. I still find her action lacking but I can also recognize that, as a child, I didn't have the ability at that time to tell her everything. I knew there was a line where if I crossed it, it would blow the family apart or, perhaps even worse, it would change nothing and I couldn't bear that outcome either. I fessed up to just enough to get the abuse thwarted and then we all moved on. I forgive my child self for this. I see her point of view. But, I can recognize that my mother had a point of view and it was not omnipotent.

Look, this may not be your story but I just want to throw out there that there's the possibility that your father is not a monster. I can see myself reacting to the "I'll just kill myself" line in a similar way to your father, if circumstances and relationships were a certain way. What I hope, hope, hope is that if I was in that situation and when I am called to be in a situation like that that I will recognize when my daughter is calling for help -- calling for it in a small, personal way and that I will realize this is tied to a much more immense emotional weight. But, I might not. I might miss the cue. That's terrifying for (most) parents. Terrifying to me.

So, should you listen to your friends and keep your father in your life? Not necessarily. Not if you are keeping him in your life to try to cause him pain. It won't work. It will cause you as much pain as he. It took me 25 years to have the realization above. Does that make me forgive my father? No. Does that make me forgive my mother? Not really. You do need to own your own emotions -- think through why things made you angry. Being angry at feeling sidelined as a kid is valid. Were you sidelined? Hard to say.

I sort of believe that you really can not go through life without fucking your kids up. The very act of coming in to your own means separating from your parents. It means learning that life is a certain way -- mostly brutal, weird, terrifying, magical but not the way you think it should be and strange. Disappointments are how we transition from childhood to adulthood. Parents, I think, do try to manage that as much as they can for their children but they bobble, too. And what for one kid is no big deal can take down the world of another.

I guarantee you that your father feels bad about his parenting of you. But whether you can ever have a productive conversation out of it is hard to say. If you want a relationship with him, I'd suggest that you ask him about particular times in your shared lives where things happened that bothered you. Listen to his story. Ask questions. Let it sink in. You may find that his version tells you something new.
posted by amanda at 4:07 PM on May 21, 2014 [4 favorites]

he then got a construction company to destroy the old house our family had lived for decades to build a new house

People don't usually do that unless a house is so old and so poorly maintained that it is beyond repair. It feels weird to spell it out here in a forum for grown-ups -- "Houses are expensive and need to be kept safe, dear" -- but I agree with the idea that you may have been kind of frozen in childhood and are unable to progress to having an adult perspective on these issues.

It seems bizarre to be angry with somebody who had to tear down a house and re-build. It would have been enormously stressful to raise a kid in a house that was at that point of disrepair. I wonder if the re-marriage was not critical to his financing re-building. It seems telling that he chose to re-build on the same site instead of just pulling up and buying elsewhere; that's quite the investment in a child's stability.

There's loads here to sort out but I just wanted to weigh in on that one point, that the odds are excellent that the tear-down was a thing that had to happen, was a thing that was probably extremely stressful for your father to handle and finance, and was a thing done not "because of woman" but because he knew he was going to keep raising a kid in that house. You're angry at him for not caring for you but you're also angry at him for giving you a safe place to live -- and you are stalled at a point where you are not able to imagine what sort of adult stressors were at play behind the scenes. That's quite a lot of unpacking to do just on the housing issue.
posted by kmennie at 4:11 PM on May 21, 2014 [7 favorites]

I wanted to add something, because I feel like I glossed over the actual awful things that happened to you as a child in my first comment. Your father should not have chosen his new wife over you, or vice versa. He should have been trying as hard as he could to integrate his two families. Instead he seems to have left you and your stepmother to hash it out by yourselves, and when it became clear that you two were fighting each other for his affections, he doesn't sound like he did anything to stop it.

Instead it sounds like he let both you and your stepmother's emotional and mental health deteriorate-- I think it is probably NOT a coincidence that both you and your stepmom have had periods of intense emotional instability and turned to dramatic suicidal gestures to try to get your father's attention. I don't know anything about your siblings, but I would not be surprised if they also feel uncertain of his love and support.

When you were a child, you thought the problem was clearly the new family and thought that if you could fight them you would get your dad back... and as an adult you're still trying to win that fight-- like if you can finally push "the woman" aside, or pretend that your siblings' births never happened or were somehow ethically wrong, your father will acknowledge you and finally start to be the caring, responsible, loving father you need him to be. I don't think that's true, and I think your projecting your legitimate anger at your father onto your stepmom and siblings is holding you back.

I think it would be really helpful for you to do one on one therapy to try to sort out your feelings about your childhood and get some perspective on what a healthy mixed family relationship would have looked like. Your father having more children, or making you apologize to your stepmother after making her cry, or getting remarried at all, were normal and healthy things. His dropping the bombshell of a new wife on you as abruptly as he did, and then vanishing from your life except for weekly visits, was neither. His routinely calling you stupid and threatening to expel you from the family when you were a young teenager was abusive. And I'm willing to bet that if your father hadn't made you feel like your place in the family was so tenuous, things like the new baby being born during finals, or the house needing to be rebuilt, wouldn't seem like such offenses. Good luck.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 4:16 PM on May 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Listen to his story. Ask questions. Let it sink in. You may find that his version tells you something new.

Just to follow on to my own comment. You also don't have to do this. I was not ready for that kind of conversation until I had my own child. I had some of these kinds of conversations with my mom after my kid was born -- some of it was illuminating in a positive way and other things just cemented my feeling that, 'whoah, yeah, that was a major screw up.' The positive thing to come out of it was that I feel a little more settled with the past. I can focus more on my life today and my relationship with my own kid. In a way, it's a gift to have a lot of catastrophe in childhood -- I have a picture of what I don't want to do.

Best of luck to you no matter what.
posted by amanda at 4:16 PM on May 21, 2014

While your father was certainly dismissive of you as a child, and I certainly know how damaging that can be, you weren't exactly a ray of sunshine yourself. Your entire story (list?) of how your father wronged you starts out with you acknowledging everything was fine -until- you were no longer the only important person in his life (ie: his remarrying). Seems like at that point 6th grade you turned into the quintessential tantrum-throwing, stepmom-hating jealous child - resentful for having to 'share' your father. Likely this created all sorts of feelings of jealousy, betrayal and abandonment that you then expressed in negative ways. Your father handled these negative expressions incorrectly (by being dismissive). There was some serious failure to communicate in these areas.

Unfortunately, the only area you guys seemed to actually communicate on was that you hated (for seemingly no reason) the woman he decided to spend the rest of his life with. You created a 'you vs. her' scenario and come across as bitter over the fact that your father did not take your side like you anticipated - perhaps because the blind hate for his new wife (which is evident just from your post) painted you as unreasonable/selfish/spoiled.

So I have to ask... WHAT did this woman do (other than marry your father)? He presents a woman he likes enough to marry after -12- years being a widow, and you threaten to kill yourself. He tears down the old house and you -automatically- assume new wife is the reason (couldn't have possibly been because the house was too old or too small for their family plans). Your teenage fights seem to center around him trying to REASON with you about accepting his new wife. He has a new baby with his wife - your new baby brother/sister - and you respond with anger over how your life is now inconvenienced. You say the new wife grabbed the back of your neck once and left a scratch. "Um ok" is my response too - every kid I know, myself included, was grabbed like that at least once (and rings leave scratches!). If it was happening regularly, that's different...but once? You say you got in an argument with his new wife and she cried, so your father made you apologize - which adults tend to make children do when they make an adult upset. You bring up a single mood-related episode new wife had (where medical intervention was required) - she snapped at you (and in general) over the stress in her life. Were you contributing to the household when you lived there after college? Were you helping out in ANY way to make her life easier? Because it doesn't sound like it. Also, you HATE her. You've hated her from day 1. You don't even hide it - you can't even refer to her as your father's wife - you just refer to her as 'the woman'. Your arguments with your father center around you hating her. Did you think she'd be HAPPY that you were coming back to live with them? How would you feel if you had to live with someone that you KNEW hated you and after 10-20(?) years STILL treated you like the evil stepmom that stole her daddy away?

Look, there's no obligation to keep people in your life even if they're related to you. If having your father in your life makes you miserable then don't maintain a relationship. That's the joy of being an adult - you get to decide who is or isn't in your life. But you shouldn't be bringing anyone back into your life just to make them feel bad. IMHO, I think your priority should be counseling/therapy and afterwards, with the help of your counselor/therapist, explore the idea of maintaining (or not) a relationship with your father and the rest of his (your!) family.
posted by stubbehtail at 4:31 PM on May 21, 2014 [10 favorites]

Your story has many ambiguous details that could be interpreted different ways, and people seem fixated on those. To me, these details stood out as your dad being unambiguously hurtful:

1. Your father calls you "stupid, immature, at fault for all". He called you "really stupid" while you were crying. He said he would send you away (!!!) if you didn't do what he wanted. Some commenters are saying that they might also have laughed off a cavalier-sounding comment from their kid about killing themselves. I agree. But I presume those people are not also telling their sobbing kids repeatedly, "You're stupid and everything is your fault, and if you don't do what I say, I'm giving you up for adoption."

For that situation, I don't think the advice of "you'll understand once you have kids; everyone messes up their kids" applies.

2. When you were in the sixth grade (10 to 11 years old), your dad had you live for several months in a different apartment and only visited you once every few days, while he lived across the street. Your mom had already passed away, so your only parent suddenly evicted you and would only visit you rarely. That's so neglectful! Why didn't he have you live with him and his new wife? Even if there was some good reason for living separately, why didn't he just walk across the street every day to check on you? I can't even imagine forcing a 10-year-old to live across the street and then only seeing them a couple times per week.


You sound like you're really hurting, and I feel sad that there are some really harsh comments on this thread against you. Now, I do think it's your responsibility to work on healing. You have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and find a way to get healthy. But I for one have empathy for how painful it is at the beginning of the road to recovery, and how we can't all go from a lifetime of neglect and abuse to instantly being completely rational and describing everything impartially and magically letting go of all resentment.

I think it's natural to feel the way you do for a while, as long as you are working on healing yourself.
posted by cheesecake at 4:36 PM on May 21, 2014 [14 favorites]

I had a really shitty relationship with my dad growing up (divorced parents, dad lived in another state, won't bore you with the details of his lifelong shittiness), but when I graduated college, I thought "I'm going to try to have a relationship with this man, because that is what grown adults do, they forgive and they move on and they have healthy relationships."

I was only half right. Later, I realized that what grown adults do is have healthy relationships with healthy people.

I had to be told this, and just in case you need someone to say it to you: You do not owe him anything. He was the adult in the situation, and he was not a good parent and still isn't a good parent. I know it hurts and I know its easier said than done, but you can walk away from a relationship with this person (and any other person) who treats you poorly.
posted by nuclear_soup at 7:37 PM on May 21, 2014 [6 favorites]

Your dad has many shortcomings. But your anger and pain will keep you unhappy for ever unless you find a good therapist and work through them and make peace with your childhood. It will probably always make you sad to reflect about your childhood but it should not tear you apart for ever the way it does now.
posted by koahiatamadl at 11:08 PM on May 21, 2014 [1 favorite]

Pelu, you deserve sympathy for the hurt you suffered, and it seems like your dad mistreated you and was inconsiderate of your needs and feelings throughout your childhood. But your desire to make your dad "feel bad" about his parenting-- that is, your desire to punish and shame him, to make him suffer as you suffered-- is an unattractive human impulse and that's what I think people here are responding to when they push back and question you about your "narcissism" or "lack of empathy." There's a lot of self-pity and stewing in one's own victimization here. I get it, I have all the same feelings about one of my own parents. Part of the problem is that there's always an unequal power balance between a parent and a child, and a parent can so easily abuse that power through his unilateral decisionmaking, with only a dim appreciation of how it feels from the child's perspective. Treated individually, many of the grievances on your list can seem petty or unreasonable (like the house demolition thing, or the fact that you once had to apologize to your stepmom), but taken as a pattern, they all point to your long-standing feeling of helplessness and subordination to your dad's whims. I think your anger, when you reflect back on how your desires were laughed at and disrespected, is valid. But perhaps not very mature or productive.

So yeah, you can try to "work through" your anger towards your dad, and your resentment about feeling pushed around as a kid, but in my experience there really is no solution to this sense of resentment as an adult who is unhappy about her childhood. Confronting your dad, or trying to make him feel bad, is pointless (not to mention mean-spirited)-- that way lies tears for both of you. Trying to empathize with him, and recognize his needs and motivations and those of your stepmother, may not bring you peace either-- for me, anyway, empathizing with my flawed parent always feels a bit like colluding in my own abuse. Sure you can talk to a therapist about it, but I'm not sure if more stewing in the same set of personal injuries is what you need. You've already identified and verbalized all those injuries, and you've already published them (on the internet!) for recognition and validation by other people. So you're through. I think just limiting your contact with Dad from now on may be the best way forward for you-- without acrimony, and without giving him an itemized list of all the hurts he inflicted on you. Easier said than done, I know.

I also wonder if there is an element of culture clash between you and your dad-- did you grow up in the same country and general cultural background as he did? You're clearly a native speaker of English, but the telltale omission of articles ("one day woman totally lost it") is something I hear in the speech of my American friends who were partly raised in Korea or China. If you are, say, more American while your dad is more exclusively Asian born-and-raised, you might consider that middle-class American standards for parental enlightenment are really high. There's a general demand that parents put the needs of their kids first, that they offer their kids emotional as well as material support, and that they work on their own self-actualization in order to saddle their kids with as little psychological baggage as possible. These messages about being a good parent are everywhere-- they're all over our movies, our self-help literature, our metafilter questions. I think these are really noble ideals and I personally agree with them and am happy to live in a culture that espouses them. One downside of these ideals, however, is that they raise our expectations for our own parents-- and our parents may not ever have recognized that this was the high bar that they were supposed to meet. Again, I have no solutions to this basic mismatch between ideals and reality, except to say that recognizing the problem brings a little bit of acceptance and comfort.
posted by ms.codex at 12:05 AM on May 22, 2014 [2 favorites]

Trying to make your father feel bad is a road that only leads to more hurt for you. It's better to work on forgiveness.

Your father was saddled with raising a child alone after the death of a spouse. I'm pretty sure that's not what he signed up for. He was scared and lonely and in our society (pretty much everywhere around the world) being a single dad is an anomaly. It's not like there are lots of role models out there. He did the best he could, with the information and the tools at his disposal.

Then he springs a stepmother on you. You were a kid and reacted badly. He didn't give you a chance to get to know her, or she you. If there were a textbook about how NOT to introduce a step-parent into a family, what happened to you would be the illustrations in it.

You never gave her a real chance, and your adolescent anger and petulance made a bad situation worse. You pinned all of your anger, frustration, and hurt on your dad and stepmother. She probably felt rejected by you and your hurt and her hurt fueled a crappy relationship. What could she have done to make you happy?

As for siblings, it's okay for parents to remarry and have more children. As a youth you were selfish because that's the nature of things, your dad should have laughed when you complained about the baby crying, because that's how families are. If your mother had lived, she may have had a lot of other kids and you STILL would have had a crying baby while trying to study. That's not something anyone did to you.

All of that said, forgive your father for his mistakes, and own the fact that in some cases, you were very self-centered and kind of a jerk, because that's how teenagers are.

You don't have to talk to him, you don't have to make up with him, just tell yourself, "I was miserable as a kid with my Dad, but it's not all on him. He tried, but failed. He didn't intentionally hurt me, he loved me, but he was an ineffective parent." Keep saying it, and eventually, especially as you get older, you'll understand that he was a Person. With his own needs and desires.

As for your friends pressuring you to reconsile with your father, simply say to them, "for a lot of reasons, I don't think that's right for me." Let it go.

I suspect that since this traumatic event (your father's remarriage) happened when you were around 11 or 12, that you may have ceased to mature emotionally past that age. A lot of what you write is pretty typcial stuff that happens between kids and parents at that age. The difference is, we aren't holding onto it and those experiences aren't shaping our current relationships.

If you can, work with a counselor to understand your emotions and to sort all of this out. Your father will never be the parent you want, or wanted him to have been. But, you can eventually emerge from these experiences with maturity and with understanding of other people's failings and weaknesses.

Learning to forgive can be very helpful for you. Wanting to inflict pain onto your father is pretty immature and childish, and ultimately will keep you feeling weak and vulnerable.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 6:24 AM on May 22, 2014 [6 favorites]

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