Gifts from my Father

Dear AskDesCamp:

I am 46 years old.  My father and I have a very complicated and difficult relationship. I purposely moved to the other side of town to avoid him and have cut off much communication with him.  The long story is too long so I’ll just say that he is very abusive and disrespectful of me.

My mother died two years ago and ever since then it has been easier to avoid him because I had a good relationship with her and I would tolerate him to see her.  He did not treat her very well during the marriage but she never left so I guess that’s not my business.

Two weeks ago my father reached out to me and my sister (no other siblings) and said he missed us and wants to spend more time with us and our families.  He has offered to buy us houses in his neighborhood to facilitate the relationship.

I am torn, because my financial situation isn’t great and I am in a pretty expensive rental right now and would of course love to live in my own home that is paid for. However I don’t think my dad has changed, I just think he’s lonely.  The past for my sister and me is filled with very depressing memories of intense criticism, physical abuse and humiliation.

My husband tells me I am insane and of course we should take him up on the offer. This is causing a lot of arguments in my home.  What are your thoughts?

-Torn

Dear Torn:

Congratulations!  You have what we refer to as a “first world” problem.

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I don’t mean to belittle your conundrum but I just couldn’t help myself.  The last thing you need is another person belittling and embarrassing you, however, so I’ll stop now and get to the problem-solving portion of today’s blog.  Are you ready? Here we go!

The decision to move is a big one and should not be entered into lightly.  I understand your financial motivations but if you go blindly into the new house in dad’s hood, you may wind up with problems far more serious than making the rent.

As Steely Dan once so wisely noted, “like a weekend in TJ, it’s cheap but it’s not free.” Obviously you know the “free” house comes at an emotional price and the question is: can you afford it?  I’m not so sure you can after speaking with you yesterday, but I think there are some safeguards you can put in place to protect yourself if you make the move.

1. Because you both have a deep fear of your father, you and your sister have never directly confronted him about his awful behavior.  He may be a jerk, but perhaps he is capable of change?

Now that his wife is gone he knows he has lost the main connection to his children and I think it is positive that he is reaching out, even if it is in a misguided effort to buy your affection.

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The first thing you and sissy need to do is meet, draft a list of issues and arrange a conversation with your father in which you express to him how devastating his treatment of you both has been over the years.

BE SPECIFIC.

For example, don’t say, “you are mean to me.”

Do say, “last year you told me I was so fat that a water buffalo standing next to me would look anorexic.”

2. As part of that conversation, ask your father if he thinks he can change.  If he acknowledges the pain he has caused and says he will make efforts to treat you with kindness, love, and respect give him a few months to prove it before you take the leap and move into the new house.  Spend regular time with him and see if he can actually be a nice dad and grandfather and make your decision accordingly.

3. Consider your husband’s feelings too.  The opportunity to live rent-free in a home which (according to your dad but I’d make sure if I were you) will immediately revert to your name when dad dies is a fantastic one that would create an enormous positive change to your current financial situation.

I’m not surprised your husband wants you to make this move.  I’m not saying he should be the driving force, but rather that you should keep in mind that this is a family decision, not just yours to make.

4. Be prepared for things to go wrong.

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46 years of bad behavior by a man towards his family is disturbing.  I’d sure hate to be on this guy’s shit list, because some of the details you gave me when we talked were chilling.  Regardless of your decision on the move, I urge you to seek professional counseling to process the decades of being treated like shit by someone who is supposed to love and protect you.

You told me your father wants to buy the homes in his name and put them in a trust for you and your sister so when he dies they are yours.  As I mentioned above, you should get the details on this deal because unless the trust is of a certain type he could always change his mind.

REMINDER: I AM NOT YOUR LAWYER! Please see disclaimer.

Even if the homes are irrevocably yours, your dad could be intransigent regarding his propensity to be an asshole.  Now that his wife is gone, he may just miss the joy of emotionally torturing people and thus wants you and your sister closer.

Your new home will be within 2 blocks of your dad’s – is that distance far enough when he starts questioning the paternity of your oldest child and dropping off Weight Watcher’s meeting notices on your doorstep?

Unless his health is failing and you can count on him checking into the Horizontal Hilton sooner rather than later, you better be prepared to pick up stakes and move again if his behavior doesn’t improve.

I believe many people are capable of positive change at any age.  Perhaps he is one of those people.  Perhaps he is not.  While I hate to abdicate my responsibility twice in one blog, I think you and your sister should ask your father to participate in some family counseling together.

His attitude towards attending and participating will shed light on whether this old man can truly change or if he is merely trying to buy back the family he threw away via his reprehensible behavior over the years.

Please follow up with me and let me know what you decide.  And love your children well, because as you know a lack of love and the application of anger and indifference can affect children well beyond childhood.

-Robin

PS: Please tell your father I will happily accept a home in exchange for weekly berating and personal abuse.  Have his people contact my people if you decide not to take the house.

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Lolo

    Two thoughts:

    I’m not sure I agree on this: “I’m not saying he should be the driving force, but rather that you should keep in mind that this is a family decision, not just yours to make.” If the possible upsides don’t appear to outweigh the possible downsides in Torn’s mind, then I think the decision should be Torn’s.

    That said… wow, yeah, huge opportunity, Torn – you have a chance for a huge financial weight to be lifted in exchange for giving your dad one more chance. Even if it’s temporary free rent and you feel you have to move out after a while, that could be really meaningful stress reduction, depending on your financial situation. And, if the deal really is honestly that you get the house, could you move out and rent it if your dad doesn’t keep his end of the bargain? Sounds relatively like a win-win (in what is already not a winning situation).

    I hate to sound like I’m suggesting you line up for more abuse – I guess I hope that’s not what you’d experience.

    PS – if your husband pushes you into this even if you decide it’d make you feel sick inside, he’s just really a jerk – I hope he leaves it the decision to you. I hope he remembers lots of people have to muddle through without any possibility of a windfall like this, and that he may have to find happiness while muddling through like the rest of the world!

  2. Addie

    Excellent words of advice. Not knowing the entire story my 1st response was — the guy’s lonely & remorseful & wants his family around — the majority of us mellow with age. But after reading “he may just miss the joy of emotionally torturing people and thus wants you and your sister closer” I stepped back!

    I don’t know if you have children or not but if so they’ll definitely need to be a major focus of your discussion with dad — last thing you’d want is him undermining your authority or worse a repeat of your abuse. If there’s no children involved, personally I’d think your decision would be easier (but again I don’t know all the circumstances).

    Needless to say I honestly believe Robin’s advice is not only good, but solid. Just PLEASE be sure — if you do decide to move, make sure he doesn’t have a key &/or access to your home 24/7 (or anytime for that matter).

    ETA: If you do decide to move & things don’t work out — look on the bright side — for that time period — hopefully you’ll be able to get ahead or at least get your finances in order. Best of luck to you. Addie.

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