Dear Amy: I’m a young woman in my 20s. I live some distance from my parents, but we have always been a close family.
A few weeks ago I found out that my father has been unfaithful, and that he and my mother are separating.
My relationship with my father has always been a nice one: He gives me advice about work and my car; when I visit, we go out for burgers or to the movies and watch TV together. I don’t talk to him much about emotions, love and intimacy because he gets awkward and gruff.
I’m angry and hurt by the choice he made, and angry that my family is now broken. I’m angry that he said, “You’re the most important thing in this world,” instead of, “I love you and your mom, and we’re going to try to work this out.”
I can’t imagine speaking to him, though we’ve kept in contact by text message. But I feel like I should call him to comfort him, because isn’t that what good daughters are supposed to do?
I know the infidelity was not about me, and it’s not my fault and not my job to fix it. I know, too, that too many daughters and sons grow to loathe their parents, and I don’t want that to happen.
How do we move on? When is the right time to be brave and generous, and when is it OK to self-preserve?
Amy says: First this: You are already the “good daughter” your parents raised you to be. You are compassionate about both parents, even the one with whom you are angry. So now you can throw out the rule book about what good daughters are supposed to do, and respond honestly.
Your father has hurt his family, and now he is hiding because he isn’t sure what to do next. Your job is not to comfort him in your hour of need but to do what you need to do to receive comfort.
Your father didn’t promise to reconcile with your mother because he doesn’t want to. And you are the most important thing in the world, and yet your father is breaking your heart. The ability to break a loved one’s heart is the essential contradiction in human relationships.
The time to be brave and generous is — always.
Communicating is how you will “self-preserve.” Writing him a letter (not a text message) might be a good first step toward a conversation.
Rent is due
Dear Amy: When I lost my job, my boyfriend invited me and my daughter to move in with him. After three months I got a job, and he told me I would have to pay rent. I agreed and started paying rent. I also gave him money for food, cable and utilities to help out.
After a year, I lost my job again and I was jobless for four months. When I got a new job and received my first paycheck, he forced me to pay rent. I told him, “Not this month but for sure next month, because I have to pay my credit cards first.”
Amy, do I need to pay him first to make him happy — and forget my own bills and suffer the consequences?
Amy says: By my math, your guy has already sheltered you rent-free for a total of seven months during your stints of joblessness.
You don’t seem to take your financial obligation to him very seriously, and he might be so insistent in order to make this point. The fact that he is both your boyfriend and your landlord is confusing, but he has been clear.