She’s made all the mistakes, so you don’t have to… Ask Erin is a weekly advice column, in which Erin answers your burning questions about anything at all.
The man who raised me (he is not my biological father) and I have not spoken in almost three years. I used to call him Dad, but no more.
Three years ago I found myself in an awful position. My husband was having a mental health breakdown, exacerbated by a seriously painful physical problem that eventually resulted in a life-altering major surgery: a full hip replacement. We also had a two- and three-year-old at the time. My husband was entirely unable to work at that point (he has since gotten back on his feet and is working). I was working but had to quit my job because my husband was unable to take care of himself, let alone the kids too.
It was a nightmare I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy. His mother helped us financially, but I had about $800 a month to pay on my student loans. I had no choice but to let them go into default.
My Dad was my co-signer. He was furious. He accused me of being a drug addict and a drunk (we were actually too poor for that, even if we had wanted to). He accused my husband of lying about his injury. My dad said he would call child services if I didn't pay up. He screamed all this while in the room with my kids.
It never crossed his mind to try to help me, only threaten me.
After that, I was essentially cut off from my family by my fear of what he might do, and later on, because he managed to turn quite a few people on me.
Now he is sick. He was in the hospital. My grandmother whom I never get to see is writing me letters telling me "to forgive and forget.” I feel embarrassed and ashamed about the situation and don't necessarily want to tell them all he did and said. The bottom line is I lost my whole family over this and would like to have them, minus him, but that is not an option.
How do I either forget this, forgive it, or be okay with not having the family I grew up with?
I’m sorry to hear you went through such a rough time, both financially and emotionally. I hope that you and your husband are both doing much better and are back on track with your life.
I can imagine how much worse it felt to have the fallout with your dad. It can be so painful to have those divides with our families. And sadly, sometimes the best thing to do when we have a toxic parent is to distance ourselves.
Now that three years have passed, you need to decide on what terms you can have these family members in your life again.
I do think it is worth finding a way to do so. It’s clear that you miss them or you wouldn't be conflicted about what to do now.
I would start by responding to your grandmother. Let her know that you miss her and the rest of the family and that you want to be a part of the family again. On some level she is right, you may have to let go of what happened both to reconnect and to heal.
The second step is to reach out to your father. Write him a letter, one free of heated emotion. This may take time. You may need to write it out, expressing all your anger and pain, and then put it away for a week. Come back to it, and rewrite it, with a little space from venting. It may take more than one revision. The letter you finally send should be clear and direct.
You can absolutely set a boundary that, for the sake of the family as a whole, you both put the past behind you.
Perhaps at some point, you can have a discussion about what occurred, but now may not be the time. This isn’t to give anyone a free pass for their behavior, but to rekindle the relationships you have with everyone else in the family.
If you reconnect and your dad begins again with the threats or hostility, you can again remove yourself.
I know it feels risky to reach out and potentially be hurt again. But, I do believe that benefit of having your family back in your life is worth the attempt.
You can take this one step at a time and on your terms. If it doesn’t work out, you will know that you tried. But, if you do nothing, I think you will regret missing the opportunity to have your family back again. Good luck and don’t hesitate to reach out again if you need any more guidance.
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