Is Being No Contact Reasonable?
March 16, 2023 10:09 AM   Subscribe

CN: mentions punching and purchase of a gun. Am I the Asshole for breaking contact with my father because he punched some teenagers a decade ago? This involves a pattern of violence AND me noping out of future elder care.

I’m in my mid-40s and my dad has always had anger problems. Our relationship was pretty scary for me as a kid/pre-teen. He was pretty unhinged until I was a teenager and then mellowed out (outwardly) when he found Jesus. We had a distant but somewhat cordial relationship for my 20s. HOWEVER…

About ten years ago, he was in a road rage incident. He followed another car off an offramp into a residential area, honking and driving aggressively because the car had cut him off. Someone threw a balled up fast food container at his windshield and a half full water bottle - neither made contact with the SUV. At the light one block away, he ended up hitting the car and getting wedged between it and the curb (entirely his fault). He got out of the car, and punched the person in the passenger seat in both the rear and front of the car. Both were teenage girls. Their mom was driving.

He got arrested (?) and went to court where he was mandated anger management. He did not complete the course but switched to pastoral counseling, which I guess was ok with the court, because he didn’t get jail time.

AFTER this incident he bought a gun to keep in the car door. He did a private sale because he didn’t think he would pass the safety check at a gun store. I didn’t find out about this until I was on a 16 hour road trip with him and he told me where it was when I took over driving “in case I needed it.” I threw a shitfit when we got home, and he now allegedly keeps it in the house. Before the roadrage incident - which he initiated! - he never owned a gun. He will not get rid of it, and insists that it’s safe even though he has small grandchildren and it’s not properly stored, just “hidden.”

His father and grandfather both got increasingly aggressive with dementia, and I can clearly see the signs. I have talked to my mom and brother about this, and they think I’m over reacting. But I don’t feel safe being in the same location as someone who has had anger management problems my whole life and now has a gun in an undisclosed location that he can reach “quickly.” Especially as his political beliefs get more fringe.

They say I’m the asshole for holding something that happened a decade ago against him. I feel like I’m being reasonable to not want to be around someone who is showing signs of the same aggressive dementia tendencies as his older relatives (both of which escalated to assault multiple times). Because he won’t talk on the phone, this effectively means not having a relationship with him. I’m fine with that, although sad. Bonus AITA for effectively saying that I won’t be involved in his elder care in the decade(s) to come?

I haven’t spoken with him for two years. Nothing has changed that I’m aware of, although my mom has made a few attempts at contacting me. It is not possible (by their choice) to only have a relationship with one of my parents, and I would not want a relationship with my mother regardless.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (28 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You are 100% in the right here—both on going no-contact and on not involving yourself with his elder care. Even if the gun wasn't involved, this would be the case, but if someone brings firearms into ANY situation, you can absolutely and ethically say, "I want no part of this."
posted by miltthetank at 10:14 AM on March 16 [40 favorites]

It sounds like you haven't had a relationship with your dad or your mom in at least two years and that you don't want a relationship with your mom regardless of your dad's behavior. You are perfectly within your rights to draw this boundary, and it does sound like a rather scary situation. Your brother will probably resent you for leaving him to deal with two aging and difficult parents, but you just kind of have to own your choice here.
posted by cakelite at 10:17 AM on March 16 [3 favorites]

It seems to me that you have good reasons to be fearful of being in his presence. The road rage incident, while definitely disturbing, is beside the point. Even completely disregarding that incident, it is eminently reasonable that you don't want to be in the presence of someone with a history of anger management and impulsive behavior issues who has a firearm in easy reach and seems nonchalant about gun safety. Especially if dementia might be coming down the road.
posted by slkinsey at 10:18 AM on March 16 [6 favorites]

It seems to me like this was not a single incident of road rage 10 years ago, right? There was a pattern of violence and perhaps even abuse (if not physical then mental/emotional) prior to that. Then predictably the domestic violence eventually turned outward and he was picked up by the system. He seems to have mellowed out but he continues to keep a deadly weapon in an unsafe manner.

My belief is that no one is owed a relationship with me. No one is owed my time or respect. He has to show you respect as well.
posted by muddgirl at 10:19 AM on March 16 [12 favorites]

You grew up with a man who treated you and your family terribly who has demonstrated the same behavior with you as an adult. Of course you can go no contact.

I say that my father made his decisions how I would be involved in his life when I was a kid. He choose to be abusive and my natural response is to not want to be around him.
posted by AlexiaSky at 10:29 AM on March 16 [8 favorites]

well your dad sounds pretty scary and what I'm hearing from you is that you don't feel safe around him.


make this a daily affirmation if you need to. your family members may be caught up in their own co-dependent toxic dynamics with him but you don't have to.
posted by supermedusa at 10:30 AM on March 16 [8 favorites]

Holy moly. Yeah, your brother and mom are not exactly objective observers here. They've made peace with or enabled this or whatever. Them being mad at you doesn't mean you're wrong.

You are right. It's totally okay not to have a relationship with your dad.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:42 AM on March 16 [9 favorites]

Your father is dangerous, and will probably only get more so over time. Your brother can make his own damn choices and pay his own consequences.

You are correct to bail.

TBH, if it were me, I’d probably see if there was a way I could warn relevant authorities, just in a “hey, not saying there’s an immediate risk but put a note in your files that this guy is potentially dangerous” sort of way.
posted by aramaic at 10:43 AM on March 16 [6 favorites]

At the very very least, I would not allow children into a house where there's an unsecured firearm.
posted by cubeb at 10:56 AM on March 16 [6 favorites]

Elder care for this guy would involve setting yourself on fire to keep him warm.

In your position I would choose not to have anything to do with him.
posted by flabdablet at 11:04 AM on March 16 [4 favorites]

If it would help you feel better and preserve your relationship with your brother, you could lay out for your brother what (assuming there is anything) you are willing to do to help share the load of eldercare when the time comes. There is plenty that would not require any interaction with your parents (lots of it making phone calls and the like)
posted by DebetEsse at 11:10 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]

I would say the road rage and gun are precipitating incidents for a permanent cut-off. They are the culmination, not the sum total of problems. So people who are trying to convince you that those incidents are “not that bad” are not seeing the full spectrum.
posted by haptic_avenger at 11:14 AM on March 16 [5 favorites]

Here's the thing about trust: there's no way to just wave it into existence. You do not trust your father to be in control, and knowing there's a gun involved the risks of him being out of control are significant. That's the base truth; trust can be rebuilt when all parties are willing and involved, but you can't just "turn on" trusting your father again.

Family telling you you're overreacting are doing what families always do: try to normalize, get things back to easy for everybody (well, the parents, usually the father …). Everybody else is sweeping this under the rug because it makes their lives easier, even if it increases risk.

You don't have to do that. Your lack of trust is real, and reasonable.
posted by wemayfreeze at 11:54 AM on March 16 [11 favorites]

I have written before about going no contact with my family of origin. I've never considered that I had a financial (or otherwise) responsibility for any of them, although I'm sure they disagree.

The question I asked myself, that I am asking you, is whether you'd change your mind if your father changed his? Like if he got rid of the gun, or took real accountability for his anger issues and went to counseling, or something like that. Basically, is there anything he could do that would salvage the relationship? Knowing, or not knowing, the answer to that doesn't impact whether your decision is reasonable (it is) but it could help you frame and make peace with it.
posted by sm1tten at 11:55 AM on March 16

I'm with haptic_avenger. But even if he'd been a fantastic dad and kind all his life, I would be very frightened of him after that incident, and the gun purchase only underlines his determination to make an even worse decision next time.

I'm no contact with my dad for a similar, though much less intense, reason. He was always kind to me, but lashed out at others in ways that were frightening. I didn't want to get roped into elder care for someone who has physically attacked strangers when at any given moment I might be a stranger to him because of memory issues. So you definitely have my blessing to cut him off. It took many years, but my brother eventually came around after seeing him assault a nurse once when he was hospitalized. (My mother divorced him early in my life, so she never needed convincing.) I'm sorry you're going through this, as it really is very difficult when your sibs and other parent see things differently. But you are not being even a little bit unreasonable.
posted by the liquid oxygen at 12:25 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

I would respond to family statements by stating that you are concerned with current behavior of a hidden gun and unresolved anger issues.
Tell them you are concerned that you or one of them might be harmed by your father or his firearm.
Go as little contact as you need to feel safe.
Keep to this script as a statement of facts and don’t feel the need to argue with anyone.
They’ve made their decisions and now you have too.
posted by calgirl at 12:29 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

I'm 45, and have always had an on again/off again relationship with my father. I could list all the awful things he's done, but let's just boil it down to "he displays a long habit of toxic behavior." Things really went off the rails when TFG got elected in 2016. I haven't spoken to him since.

My sister, and a couple other family members have encouraged me to re-establish contact, but I am done. I very much appreciate a quote I found somewhere online. "You only have one family." Yeah, well you only have one appendix too, but when that fucker goes toxic on you, you don't hesitate to cut it out.

I am... happier now. More at ease. Life is less complicated, more joyful, less stressful. If that is what results from cutting someone out of your life--no matter what the relation--I say it's worth it. You do not owe space in your life, or in your head, to people who are a detriment to your quality of life.
posted by xedrik at 12:39 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]

You're entirely reasonable to remove yourself (and if they're yours, the small children) from the situation completely, including elder care etc.

If your brother is the one with the small children, please please please make sure that you tell his partner about the gun and anger issues if there's any chance they're unaware or have been misled by your brother about the risk (like "oh dad has a gun but it's safely put away"). Kids are so very good at finding hidden things, and parents are often unaware that their kids do in fact know exactly where their "hidden" items are.
posted by randomnity at 12:40 PM on March 16 [8 favorites]

Like randomnity, I am concerned about the grandchildren. If any of them are your brother's, and he won't listen to you, I think talking to his partner is a good next step.
posted by BibiRose at 1:30 PM on March 16 [3 favorites]

My eyebrows went to the ceiling reading this-- he hunted a driver down, rammed her with his SUV, and then punched her teenage daughters in the face... and you're worried about him becoming even more aggressive??! IMO people can get a little melodramatic on AskMe in terms of pathologizing described human relations situations, but this is some real-deal miles and miles outside of the norm scary behavior. Given that you haven't even indicated any real contrition or introspection on his part, this is not someone I would spend even a moment feeling bad about not wanting to put myself into physical proximity with.
posted by dusty potato at 1:33 PM on March 16 [21 favorites]

I don’t feel safe

That’s really all anyone needs to know. I am so sorry that your dad is the asshole and on such a massive scale. Do not fall for the story that your mother and brother are trying to sell you. If your dad eventually dies without hurting anyone else, that won’t make you wrong. That will only mean your family got lucky.
posted by Bella Donna at 2:29 PM on March 16 [8 favorites]

Damn, yeah, I cut contact with my family for way less and I had multiple therapists who were confused as to why I hadn't done so already.

You're not the asshole. As someone helpfully told me, you only made this choice after the other person made a series of their own choices, any of which they could have chosen different but didn't. That's on them, not you.
posted by brook horse at 2:49 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

For your brother, you can consider a financial support negotiation if you want to keep that going. I have various people related to me that other people also related to me are no contact. For one, I handle the social check ins and relay information to another who does the financial admin but has no direct contact by choice. For others, I arrange the financial support and don’t relay any info beyond major events to the others at their request. It’s a fairly common arrangement in Asian families in my experience where parents are abusive - one sibling does the legwork and the other siblings chip in financially, so there’s a sense of rough fairness in the burden sharing.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 7:22 PM on March 16 [2 favorites]

Dear sweet heaven, he rammed a woman's SUV and punched two teenaged girls, then went out and got a gun? He has an unsecured gun in a house with small children? Your brother and mother ignore and excuse this? Sorry, they're almost as fu*kin' crazy as he is.

Please, for your health and sanity, go no contact with this man. You owe him NOTHING. He took away your support and safety as a child, so if he has nothing left in his senility, then tough. Let the state take care of him.

As far as your brother and mother, just tell them no. You don't have to explain, justify, rationalize, or even sympathize with them. Just plain no, and they are not to even bring up the issue or talk about him. Tell them that if they can't respect that, there will be no contact with them also. Obviously your mother and brother are in complete denial, but if your brother won't acknowledge the damage done to you, is it because he was the preferred child?

You are NOT overreacting. The people around him are enablers, and Bella Donna is right, everyone will be lucky if he doesn't hurt or kill an outsider or even a family member.

AFAIC, the man has two weapons in his possession: an unregistered gun that should be reported, and a car that he uses as a combat vehicle.

You will be in my thoughts, and I wish you strength and healing.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:18 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]

I came here to defend both solitary incidents of road rage and gun ownership but HOLY FUCK NO. So please take that as an indicator that you are so far from being out of line here. Hidden guns by a dude that punched teenagers? OH JOHN RINGO NO. absolutely not. Run don’t walk away. Please.
posted by corb at 8:18 PM on March 16 [6 favorites]

he won’t talk on the phone

sounds like no contact is actually his choice, then.

but even if it were 100% your choice, any grown-ass man who punches two teenage girls is someone I give you 100% permission to never ever talk to again

because he punched some teenagers a decade ago

that said -- it's clearly not the only reason, and you don't need to accept your family's manipulative, minimizing and dismissive framing. why you're actually breaking contact:

--terrifying and horrible to you as a child when you were vulnerable and relied upon him to keep you safe

--owns a firearm and is clearly not reasonable about when/how/why it's appropriate to use one

--won't talk on the phone (manipulative people usually do shit like make it so you "have to" put yourself at their mercy btw)

--family history of physical violence with increased age, meaning you can reasonably expect him to be getting even worse

Like...even if it were "just" punching two defenseless teenaged girls (again, terrifying and horrifying behavior) you would have my blessing 100%,. But it's so much more than that.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 8:35 PM on March 16 [1 favorite]

"No contact" is your choice. You have reasons for this decision.

Your mother thinks you should visit. You and she both agree that visiting with only her isn't acceptable.

Your father won't talk on the phone. That's his decision.

This situation has been in place for two years. The issue isn't one of whose right, and the situation is a result of decisions the three of you have made.

I'm reading between the lines, sensing that your mother may also be worried about your father's deteriorating condition. Something about the way you described her seems like she may share your concerns and perception of your father's deteriorating condition. Maybe she's asking for help. None of that is actually implied, so I wouldn't push that notion further into this dynamic without knowing more.

I'm not clear about whether the tag "asshole" is a term someone (your brother or another relative) pinned on you or whether you're just trying it on for size. It doesn't matter, actually, because one person's "asshole" is another person holding to their convictions. Anyhow, it's not unusual for someone who wants you to do something you won't do to use the term "asshole" to express their opinion. If you came up with that word yourself, maybe you wish you could make a different decision. That doesn't mean you should change your mind, it just means your emotions are in working order. This is a sad situation, and you are right to feel bad about making a sad decision.

The narrative you gave is compelling, and not a little harrowing. If you can talk to your brother, or other relatives in way that doesn't require you to defend yourself, you may find a course of action that doesn't involve a total "no contact" course of action. You absolutely do not have to defend yourself.

To be clear, I don't think you are under any obligation to be around your father. I'm sorry about all the stuff you had to endure. I'm also sorry that you can't have some sort of relationship with your mother. I hope this sorry state of affairs doesn't also cost you further estrangement with your brother, or other members of your family. However, if they can't respect your views, then they'll decide how they want to handle it.

I am not a stranger to family squabbles that turn into heartbreak. This may never turn out well, but you seem to have a clear head about your position, and, truly, you have my sympathy.

I wish you well.
posted by mule98J at 12:17 AM on March 17

A. You didn’t make a decision to go no-contact; your father made the decision that being a violent asshole was more important than his relationship with his family.

B. As a domestic violence advocate, one of the first things they teach you is that on the Lethality Assessment, there are two warning signs that put a victim into immediate GTFO territory - a history of strangulation, or gun ownership. Your risk of being killed is much, D much higher when there’s a gun available.

It’s also been my experience that even elderly people who are not experiencing dementia often “lose their filters” as they get older, and are much more impulsive, sometimes in negative ways. Generally this seems to manifest as saying outrageous things - sometimes not even things they actually believe, but they say them just because they know it will upset people and get a reaction. (An example would be someone who was always very careful with language suddenly starts using the word “fuck”, and takes the same delight in cursing that little kids do when they first learn curse words.) I wouldn’t take the chance on someone with a history of violence and abusive behavior *not* escalating to using a gun in an impulsive moment.

And I agree with what others have said about the safety of grandchildren. Those kids are absolutely not safe being in that house. Do what you need to do to protect them. In fact, if it’s your brother’s children and not yours, and he insists it’s ok for them to visit Grandpa, then I might even consider notifying the police or even CPS, depending on that department’s reputation in your area.
posted by MexicanYenta at 1:33 AM on March 17

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