Q. I am a 30-something daughter of divorced parents with two younger siblings. Our parents divorced 25 years ago. Neither of my parents have healthy coping skills, but my father has really gotten extreme with his co-dependencies. He has always needed his children to constantly shower him with love and attention, specifically by spending tons of time at his house, and prioritizing him over other family members.
Of course he is particularly sensitive to any infringing time spent with my mother, since he was the better parent (mostly true). Holidays have always been a nightmare for me, as I am the one corralling my siblings and accommodating his feelings the best I can.
However, now that I have children (and we are in the middle of a pandemic), this baggage is too much for me to bear.
He had another one of his self-pitying meltdowns on Father’s Day because we did not plan on “stopping by,” despite having exposed ourselves and all of his friends and family at his house the previous weekend for his 60th birthday party.
I’m at my breaking point. His complete lack of empathy for anyone else makes it difficult to even enjoy his company. I know he has a lot of issues (with his own mother, alcoholism, the divorce), and I want to be compassionate, but at this point I feel as though I’m just enabling him. When I try to talk to him about how torn I am all the time, he either blames my mother or becomes completely self-pitying.
I’ve tried emotionally distancing myself and stopping the accommodations. But if he’s upset, I’m upset.
Should I approach him about coming to therapy with me? Cut off ties unless he completes a 12-step program?
I love him, but I don’t “like” him, anymore.
MAD AT SAD DAD
A. You recognize this dynamic as a codependency — and you are right!
Your father raised you in a way to guarantee that you would always meet his emotional needs. He didn’t need to heal from the divorce (25 years ago!), and didn’t need to deal with his drinking or other relationship problems because he always had someone (you) to relieve his loneliness and anxiety, and then someone to blame (you) when his loneliness and anxiety surfaced again.
You have (other) children now, and so — at 60 — it’s time for dad to grow up.
You could suggest joint counseling for the two of you, but my instinct is that he needs to take responsibility for his own life and his own emotional needs.
When you allow him to manipulate you, you help to keep him in his needy state (that’s the “co” of codependency). He doesn’t need to change, because you are carrying the burden for him.
I suggest counseling for you, and this book: “Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself,” by Melody Beattie (1986, Hazeldon).
Q. You suggested that a person who didn’t want to spend time with family members should say, “I just don’t want to do that right now,” when pressured to attend family events.
What is the appropriate response to: “But why?” This is where I get stuck.
A. You could answer, honestly, “I’m trying to take better care of myself, and I haven’t enjoyed these gatherings, so I’m going to stay home for a while.”
Q. “Confused in Kansas” was a liberal who was worried that flying the American flag would be misconstrued as a politically conservative gesture. I loved your answer.
Thirty-two years ago, my husband and I had a disagreement about displaying the flag on Memorial Day. We had just moved into our home (whose previous owner had left a large flag and had installed a holder).
I asked my taller husband to put out the flag, as he wouldn’t require a stepladder. He objected because he didn’t want our new neighbors to think we were right-wingers. My argument was that both our fathers had fought in World War II and we were honoring their service and that I as an American citizen felt the flag represented all of us.
Further, I said that we were demeaning the flag if we allowed its message to be co-opted by one group who wrapped themselves in it. And that the pledge of allegiance that we had recited every day in our childhood meant something!
The flag went up that day, and I didn’t have to get out the stepladder.
A. Well done.
Amy Dickinson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.