oh, father

Yesterday I received some unsettling news about my dad, which led to a lot of confusion and difficult emotion on my part, and inspired yesterday's post. My sister visited me, and said that she thought I should know that my dad is having exploratory surgery and might have cancer. She knows that even though my parents continue to send evites to holiday gatherings and postcards from vacation locations and random anniversary cards to me, they would not give me this information. (I checked my spam filter - she is correct, they have not attempted to contact me about it.)

This sent me into a loop. My dad is not a bad guy. He's a broken guy. He's a guy with a mean person for a wife. (Although for that matter, my mom is not a "bad" person, just a very broken one more deserving of pity than hatred.) What he has experienced, without going into his personal medical details, is scary. At a bare minimum, his body is betraying him and he has experienced discomfort and embarrassment and possibly other blows to his self-esteem. He is facing surgery, which is never a pleasant prospect. Even with the most benign outcomes, his physical health will never be the same again. On the more extreme end, he may be facing his own mortality. He might have to have more surgeries, radiation treatments, chemotherapy, and possibly other treatments. Even with all this, even if it's a very treatable cancer, there will be no going back to 100% normal pre-problem health.

This sucks for him. I want to hug him. I want to tell him that I hope everything turns out ok. I don't want him to hurt or be scared.

Do I contact him? I want to, but I don't want to. I want to say kind things to him. I'm not sure how he would receive it. Would it be perceived as me trying to draw attention toward myself? Would it be an "oh, sure, when you're sick she comes out of the woodwork, she just doesn't want to feel guilty if something happens"? (Is there any truth to that?) Would he respond positively, angrily, neutrally, not at all? Would it be helpful to him to say kind things or would it just remind him of the interpersonal crap and bring him down even more in a time when he doesn't need more stress?

My husband wisely asked, "how does this change anything? They have still not owned responsibility for how they treat you or shown any desire to change. If it's not ok for them to treat you badly when they're healthy, it's not ok for them to treat you badly when they're sick."

He has a point. But can you be kind to somebody despite all of that crap? If you know to be prepared for a variety of possible reactions and ready to defend boundaries? IS it kind to pop back in (by email, or sending flowers?) when he's sick?

This is also making me confront a stupid fantasy that I had been harboring. My mom had some health problems a decade ago, and I had hoped that with time, the problems would come back and (quickly, painlessly) kill her. With her gone, I could approach my dad, and if he weren't too angry with me to ever speak to me again, we could go to therapy together and possibly rebuild a relationship. I feel like the only way to have a relationship with him ever again is if a) she has a miraculous epiphany and becomes a nice person or b) she's totally out of the picture.

But the thing is, women usually outlive men. The women in my family usually outlive their men. My father's mother outlived her husband. Most of the women on my mother's side of the family hang on freaking forever as tight-fisted matriarchs. There is not going to be any mending of fences with a widowered father.

I have no way of drawing this post to a conclusion because my thoughts about it are just too sad and scattered. I feel like the world's worst daughter, yet at the same time totally stand behind my decisions.

DOES this change anything? I don't know.


  1. I don't think it does change anything. It's incredibly sad, and painful, but I don't think it will change things. And if anything, you mom might use it in order to manipulate you more.

    My sister had some serious health issues about a year ago. Her refusal to even let me know about them was the breaking point in our relationship. She expected me to run after her and give her support, despite not letting me know what was going on. The narcissism continued on, right through the illness. It changed nothing. And as painful as it must be to not be able to visit your father, I don't know if any good would really come of it (and as I said, I would suspect lots of bad would come from your mother).

    I find it telling that, despite postcards and anniversary cards and some sorts of minimal contact, that when something REALLY BIG happened, they chose not to contact you (and your father could contact you outside of your mother). Why would they choose now to avoid contact? That to me speaks volumes.

    Sending you hugs. This stuff is awful and I'm sorry you are struggling with it.

  2. I have saved a little of my self in reserve to feel at least some anger for the enablers. Even if they can only be perceived as being neutral, because if a person is neutral in situations of injustice they have chosen the side of the oppressor. If an elephant has its foot on the tail of a mouse, the mouse will not appreciate your neutrality. That said, you obviously care about your father a great deal. Don't punish yourself and him because of her. I think saying goodbye should transcend your mother's disorder. If you deny yourself this opportunity you mother wins and she will relish denying you a chance to make things right. I hate them for making death a game of brinkmanship

  3. Assuming your father is dying. I am of the age that ill health is the GPS for the grim reaper.

  4. Oh, don't get me wrong, I hold him responsible for not protecting his children. I have learned in recent years that part of the reason for that was that he doesn't recognize her behavior as pathological and harmful to others. But even so, he still bears the responsibility for standing by while she abused us. I think she abuses him, too, but he was an adult and our father.

    IF he has cancer, it's a very common, very treatable form. Excellent prognosis. Even though it will affect his quality of life, it should not be in devastating ways. So I wouldn't exactly be saying goodbye. It's also completely possible that if he gets an actual cancer diagnosis, they will let me know. They just haven't alerted me to the current state of affairs.

    Yes, he could contact me outside of my mother. Historically, however, he does this very rarely. A friend once told me that she had noticed that I don't talk about him much, and it seemed as if he was a non-entity. In many ways, he is. She is dominant, he is subservient. Think of the Queen of Hearts' husband.

    I agree that bad things would probably come from visiting him. I am not currently considering that. I am *only* considering sending a brief email sympathizing with him and expressing my positive wishes for him. I am prepared to deal with whatever response comes. Totally possible that my mom will be a jerk about it, or even that he will. Very improbable that there will be a positive response. My big question is, as a father and as a person experiencing illness, would a loving message from an estranged daughter be a nice thing to receive or a reminder of hurtful stuff?

  5. Regarding "making things right," I don't really feel that I have a responsibility as far as that goes. It would not feel good to still be estranged from him when he dies, which is hopefully 20-30 years away (he is getting older, but is not elderly yet). But I will not feel that I did anything wrong. I will just regret that things never got better. It is, however, HIS responsibility and my MOTHER's responsibility to "make things right." I have nothing to be ashamed of and nothing to fix. :)

    Writing to him would not be a movement toward reconciliation. That move is theirs to make. I don't expect it, though.

    (Queen of Realistic Expectations)

  6. Once again they put us (you) in a no win situation. I heard once that a narc can and will use everything you say against you. The same thing goes for conciliatory gestures. In light of your new comments I am leaning toward agreeing with Jessie. You are playing a rigged game against a stacked deck. You didn't make the rules but they are going to force you to play by them.

  7. My biggest problem is that my mother died last fall so none of it is an option for me any more. The child inside me wishes that it could have ended better and is living in total fantasy and candy land thinking, but the adult in me knows that even if my mother knew she was 10 minutes away from her death she wouldn't have done a single thing differently

  8. Oddly (or not oddly, perhaps), I don't feel any need to touch base with my mother before she dies. That event is probably a very long time away, so who knows what will be going on by then, but I doubt she will change, and I have no plans to be near her unless she changes, because she is toxic. If she died tomorrow I would have no regrets, except for how my father might feel toward me.

    I have no fantasies left where she is concerned. But as I am realizing this week, I do have some fantasies left regarding my relationship with my father. Unfortunately, it is incredibly unlikely that my relationship with him can ever be untangled from my relationship with my mother.