Bad Relationship with Dad


Dear Robin:

I have a terrible relationship with my father and I think it is impacting my life in negative ways.  I have been divorced twice and am only in my mid-40s.  I have three boys and I am worried about how they will turn out.

The short story is my dad cheated on my mom throughout the marriage and was violent with her and both us kids.  He was a constant source of pain and embarrassment and would yell at me or humiliate me in public, especially at sporting events.  Leaving home at 18 for college was like being paroled from the worst prison on Earth.  My mom died a year later and it was hard to even come home for the funeral.

Because my dad was so violent and volatile, I am extremely lenient with my boys and never raise my voice to them and have never hit any of them.  However, I worry that I am being too easy on them and it will come back to haunt me someday.

I am also reluctant to make another long-term commitment because after witnessing the lousy marriage my parents had I’m not sure I had the proper “modeling” (my girlfriend’s word) for a monogamous relationship.  Oh yeah, I’m a job-hopper too.  My girlfriend thinks that’s related to my relationship with my father.

Finally, and I’m sorry this email is so long, my father was recently moved into a long-term care facility about 45 miles from my home.  I know I should visit him at least weekly (my sister NEVER does) but I have a lot of anger towards him.  Even at 82 he really hasn’t changed much.

My girlfriend thinks I should go into intensive counseling to understand why I have the issues I do and explore my childhood in detail so I can get over the disappointment that it was lousy.  I don’t want to spend the time rehashing unhappy memories.

Any advice for me?  Thanks!

Suffering Son

Dear Suffering Son:

I am sorry you did not have a happy childhood and you do not enjoy a good relationship with your sperm donor father.  Fatherhood is a blessing and a privilege that too many people squander.


Your bossy girlfriend certainly has lots of opinions!  Clearly she does not understand it is my job to advise you, not hers.  You didn’t really frame the question clearly so I’ll have to improvise a bit and assume you were asking me if you should go to counseling and do a deep dive on your childhood in an effort to make your life better. If that was not your question, please re-submit your thoughts in a more coherent format.

I’m going to have to give you a big fat “maybe” here, and I’ll tell you why: it seems like you already have a good sense of what your problems are:

1. You think you aren’t good at long-term commitments (work or romantic);

2. You are worried about how you are raising your three boys; and

3. You struggle with the guilt of not visiting dad even though he deserves to rot in that hell hole alone.  Hopefully he is at a Holiday Retirement facility…


At some point in life, we have to let go of the navel-gazing and focus on the fixing.

If your father escaped from the Wrinkle Warehouse, came to your place and hit you in the face with a hammer, you could spend a lot of time trying to ascertain his motives, why he doesn’t love you, how this abuse may affect your parenting and whether or not you played any part in his decision to smash your visage with a home improvement tool.

Or, you know, you could go to the hospital and get your face fixed.


I am all for therapy when it’s required but my impression is you have a good handle on the issues.  What you may benefit from more than marinating in the tears of your childhood is coming up with practical answers to what the girlfriend has deemed are your “issues,” insofar as they actually exist.  Let’s address them in the order I assigned them above, shall we?

1. Here’s a news flash for you: not everyone is meant to be married or paired off with the same person forever.  And yet, when we spoke you told me your first marriage was when you were 21 and lasted a year.  That was doesn’t even count: any man who gets married at that age has no idea what love and commitment are all about – they just want free access to unrestricted pussy and the occasional lasagne when they get home from work.

Your second marriage lasted 9 years.  That’s a good run, man!  Seeing as how the marriage ended because your wife had an affair with her boss, I don’t think you have a commitment problem.  I think your girlfriend is the one with the problem, because she equates her empty ring finger with you having issues with monogamy.  She sounds a little desperate, man.

As for the work thing: have you considered that you may be unhappy in your chosen profession?  I can only speak for myself, because this is my blog and it’s all about me, but I was a notorious job-jumper when I was an attorney.  I hated being a lawyer and that led to me moving around a lot.

That, and my inability to stomach office politics and working for people who weren’t as smart or funny as I am.


2. Don’t worry about your boys – they are doing fine.  I commend you for sharing custody with your ex and having achieved a somewhat amicable divorce.  While leniency can lead to runaway brats, you understand this and can make an effort to be more strict with them. It doesn’t take months with a therapist to learn how to take away a cell phone or ground a little shit once in a while.

3. Finally, if you are feeling guilt about not visiting your father in the home, I suggest you think about the years of abuse you suffered at this man’s hands.  You told me when we messaged that you were worried “people” would think you are a “bad son” if you don’t visit your father regularly.

Besides the fact that you shouldn’t care what people think, I would offer that sitting in a room with your shitty dad doesn’t make you a “good son” any more than sitting in a boat slip makes you a yacht.  A bad father does not deserve a good son, so I suggest you limit your visitation to whatever soothes your anxiety but does not exacerbate it.  Perhaps once per quarter?

Accept you did not have the dad you deserved and be the best one you can be to your own children.  If you think it would be cathartic, you may consider expressing your feelings to your father, though I doubt it would change much in your life. He sounds like a real asshole.


At some point you will need to become your own father and nurture yourself the way your own did not.  I think you are already on your way (thanks to me, of course).