My dad left my mom and didn’t lift a finger when she was sick. Now he thinks he can just waltz back into our home. Help!

Our elder shares her own story and makes the case for forgiveness.

Dear EWC

I’ve been having a rough time with my family these past couples of years. While I was on my last year at university my dad cheated on my mom and had a girlfriend while still living under our roof. This event took a toll on my schooling and needless to say my grades suffered. I was able to graduate but I could kiss vet school goodbye because my GPA took a hard hit. I moved back home and this relationship continued for a few months before I decided to speak up. I told my father that my mom is staying true to her vows but I didn’t enter into any and told him he can’t be single and married; he has to make a choice because he was hurting all of us. He decided to leave. We didn’t hear from him for a year and then my mom had a stroke. My mom got a hold of his family and anyone she could think of to locate him because we didn’t know if she’d pull through. He showed up and it was awkward but we all dealt with it for my mom. She is fine now and my mom talks with my dad. I, on the other hand, can’t look at him.

A week ago my dad stopped by and told us he’s moving back home. I asked my mom if he still has a girlfriend and she said I don’t know but we need his help financially and if he comes home that’s a good thing. I’m upset I wasn’t consulted. I pay rent and other bills too. He wasn’t there while my mom was recuperating and didn’t help out during her healing process. Now he wants to move back and I don’t have the funds to move out. I’m upset with both of my parents. I feel like they ruined my future with their marital problems and now that he wants to move in it is not okay with me. He hasn’t apologized for anything. My dad moved some things in today and my mom was folding his laundry and making him dinner. She’s acting like she owes it to him. I am having a hard time with him coming back but an even more difficult time watching her act like a person so desperate to have a man at her side. I understand it’s their marriage but I don’t want to stand by and watch it fall apart again. I don’t like my dad. I don’t trust my dad. And I wish I could move out. It’s just not possible right now. I hate myself too for needing help financially even though I work full time. I don’t know how to deal with everything and it has turned me into a bitter person. I don’t know who I am anymore and I don’t know how I’ll be able to forgive them for this. How/ when can I start to heal? Thank you for any advice you can input.

Linda replies

I am so sorry to hear how you are feeling. Marriage is a complex union between two people. Until I experienced it, more than once, I always thought marriage should be as close to bliss on earth as one can get. How naive I was! Marriage takes hard work. Most marriages start out with the very best of intentions. No one embarks on this journey thinking it will end, and often end badly! When we first meet and fall in love with someone, we don’t notice their faults, or likely turn a blind eye to them because we are otherwise so besotted. As the infatuation fades (and it always does), we are left with someone we have either grown to love or at times merely tolerate. Those faults we chose to ignore are now front and center in our lives.

Learning to navigate all the pitfalls of marriage takes patience, understanding, love for the other person and a genuine willingness to commit to one’s vows. Sadly when friction over money issues, raising children or a myriad of other issues begin to surface, couples can simply grow apart. It is during this period in most marriages when one or the other can sometimes step outside the marital bed.

When I was just 12 years old my father walked out on my mother, sister and me, and never gave so much as a backward glance. It was as though my entire world had quite suddenly, overnight, turned upside down. I had lost my security and I was shattered and afraid. My mother was initially bedridden from the shock and so in a very real sense, I lost both parents for a time. My father had stepped outside the marriage and was having an affair with another woman. Not only was he willing to leave my mother for this person but apparently my sister and I were also expendable. What was left in his aftermath was one very confused, hurt, bitter and angry young girl who grew up distrusting men? Worse yet, it taught me to abandon the other person first before they could do it to me. It set me on a collision course for many failed relationships and marriages.

The reason I’m sharing this with you is that I held onto that anger for most of my life. I carried the burden of all this anger and bitterness on my shoulders like some heavy shroud of pain. I can tell you first hand that lugging around this kind of baggage is no way to live. What happens as we age and wisdom begins to occur is we start to see things through different eyes. As time went on, I looked at my mother through an adult’s eyes and recognized her weaknesses and faults. I started to understand why my dad might have grown disenchanted with the marriage. Although I couldn’t accept that he’d walked out on both of his children too, I realized there is always more to any story.

My father looked me up after 36 long years of silence. At first, I was too angry to even begin to forge a relationship with him. Long story short, I eventually wrote my father a very long letter unleashing all the anger, betrayal and pain he had inflicted by his actions. The very writing of this letter was unbelievably cathartic and liberating. Although I received a letter back from my father, nothing he had to say at that time moved me. I ground in my heels and continued on with my life. A few years later I learned that my father was gravely ill. I talked my sister into going to see him one last time before he passed away. Something stirred in my heart and I knew with absolute certainty that forgiving my father was the only choice to make. I did forgive my father and by doing so I opened the door just a crack to let the light back into my life. I can’t begin to put into words what forgiveness does for your soul. It frees it in the most profound way. It took me almost a lifetime to deal with my anger. The only way to rid it from my life for good was by this one simple act of forgiveness.

I apologize for making this all about me. I can feel your pain and your anger and I understand it better than you know. I share my story with you to show you that holding onto your bitterness will only make your life unhappy. It may not be possible at this time for you to forgive your father for his indiscretion. I think the pain may still be too fresh. Now you’re also starting to view your mother through a slightly different lens and feel some disgust for her neediness where your dad is concerned. When we are young we put our parents on a pedestal. It can be very difficult to realize they are humans first and parents second. They are flawed just like everyone else and can disappoint and hurt us with their actions.

What I might suggest you do right now is find a way to move out, even if that involves moving in with a relative, friend or finding a roommate. You could also look into renting a room someplace. Lots of young people explore that option when they are looking for their first taste of independence. You indicate you work full time and I hate to even suggest this, but perhaps you might consider finding a small part-time job to help make ends meet. Moving out to find some autonomy would be a step in the right direction.

If you don’t think you can sit down independently with your parents to discuss your feelings towards them, then you might consider doing what I did, letting your feelings out on paper. You could write each of them a letter articulating the ways in which they have let you and each other down. Even if this caused a rift between you or them to become defensive, you will have let out all this pent up anger and bitterness. It might be the start of your healing process.

Everyone heals in different ways but until you let them know what you are feeling and why I think it may be very difficult for you to move on from the place in which you find yourself. My hope for you is that one day you find it in your heart to forgive your father and let this go. He screwed up royally but in the end, he still loves you unconditionally. That fact doesn’t change despite what he did to your mom and by the association to you too. You might also consider seeing a qualified therapist. I did and it taught me so much about myself and my feelings. Sometimes we have to do this for ourselves to mend what feels broken inside.

I wish you the best, and I hope you will consider writing both your parents a letter, even if you only hold onto the letters for now until you feel ready to share your feelings. I guarantee the very writing of it would be helpful to you.

I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from the late, great writer and poet, Maya Angelou: “You may not control all the events that happen to you but you can decide not to be reduced by them.”

Letter #: 435636
Category: Family

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