Tell Me About It: He was never really there for us as children and he regrets it now but my mother and siblings are still very angry
PROBLEM: My parents separated when I was a small child and my mother worked very hard to bring up the children on her own. My father’s job meant he travelled around the country a lot and after the marriage ended we would only see him about once a month. His financial contribution was minimal and he never really provided emotional support to myself or my siblings. Over the years, he had numerous girlfriends and as children the focus of our meetings with our dad would be on impressing his new partners.
I am now in my mid-30s, have a successful business and am married with three small children. My father is in his late 60s, lives in a small bedsit and has a lot of debts from years of lavish spending. As his oldest son, I have started to spend a considerable amount of time getting to know him better. I can see that he is regretful about his failings as a father. I hate seeing my father struggle and whilst I am angry at the way he treated us as children, I don’t want to see him being isolated and living in relative poverty. He is very charismatic and my wife and children adore him and love spending time with him.
My wife’s parents are both dead and she would really like our children to grow up in the company of their grandparents. We recently moved into a house with a large garage that could easily be converted into a comfortable apartment for him.
My mother and other siblings are all very angry with my father. They know that I have been seeing him regularly and it has put considerable strain on our relationships. My mother is an amazing person. As children, she always put us first and she did absolutely everything to make sure that we became successful and rounded people. She also struggles financially but not to the extent that my father does.
I know that she will be deeply hurt if I offer my father a home.
ADVICE: Your mother has raised you well and you have grown into an adult who has strong principles of duty and responsibility. However, your first duty now is to your mother as she is the person who catered for the family and stood by you when she was abandoned by your father. Her current sense that you are favouring your charismatic father over her is one that needs to be attended to before any offer is made to house your dad. It may well be that your dad is remorseful, and forgiveness is a gift that works for both the giver and receiver, but your dad needs to earn this by showing that he understands his behaviour and he can demonstrate his remorse through actions as well as words.
A family is a big web of interconnected people and being part of that web means you need to take into account the feelings of all the people in that web. The legitimate concerns of your siblings and mother need to be heard fully before any action is taken. Your desire to offer a home and companionship to your father is laudable but this could cause massive disruption to your larger family web and so you must proceed with extreme caution. You could send out the message to the family that the damage done in childhood is of no consequence and this would not be true.
Operating from the principle that people can change and learn from their lives is a very important one but this applies to your extended family as well as to your father. At this point, you need to operate from where your family of origin are at so that you can move them slowly and gently towards a less resentful place – and do this out of care and love for them and not to manipulate them into supporting your wish for your dad.
A suggestion is that you operate an open house one Sunday a month, let your extended family know that your dad will be in your house and is open to meeting everyone. Do not protect him from their hurt as they need to be fully understood before they will consider any move on supporting him. Your siblings and mother need clarity on their position in your hierarchy of loyalty so this is something you can work on straightaway.
Consult with them, enquire about their experiences and only make suggestions when they feel that you understand everything of what they have gone through. While this is time-consuming and demanding of you, as the eldest child you have a leadership responsibility – and in the same way that you would wish for your own children to assume parental loyalty, offer this to your mother and then you are free to consider your father’s needs.
You need to know that you might not get everything you hope for: a connected family and a supported father.
Proceed with the widest possible care for the extended family and exercise patience and consideration for all (including yourself).