My dad bailed when I was 7. I always pretended like I didn’t care, and that my mom, sister and me were better without him. I’m now 42 years old. My sister died of a drug overdose. My mother died of cancer. My father recently remarried and has reached out to me but I’ve ignored him. He abandoned us, so why should I help him release his guilt by reconnecting? Occasionally, though, I feel like I should see him because he’s the only family I have left. Advice?
Recognize that the only guilt your father has is yours. Yes, that’s an Ask Joey koan, so let me translate. You feel guilty for closing your heart to your father, especially now that your mother and sister have died. You attempted to separate from your father at age 7 (and subsequently) by detaching your guilt from your behavior and projecting that guilt on to your father. Honestly, you can’t know whether he feels guilty or not. You can investigate whether guilt is an honest emotion for you to hold in this situation. Guilt presumes that you have engaged in actions that you know are wrong. It’s the energy feeding the trigger that continues to inquire whether you should visit your dad. You have so much invested in the belief that you should see him that you use extremist thinking to motivate yourself. What’s extremist thinking? The idea that your father is “the only family you have left.” Sweetheart, everywhere you go, you meet family. You are related to every living being through your body, mind and soul. The trees welcome you, the ocean takes you in, birds sing to you, strangers smile. If you stop abandoning your real family (that is, this earth and all in it), your sorrow will lift. Your guilt will dissipate. You will understand that you are no longer 7 years old. You are a man meeting a man, not a boy meeting his father.
So did you father harm you by exiting? Maybe. You can’t know how the narrative would have unfolded if he had stayed. You might have hated living with him. You might have wished he would leave. Reframe what you have called abandonment and be free from the past. Once you do, you will have an honest answer to the next step on your spiritual path.
My sister and her new husband are honeymooning in Europe for three weeks in July and leaving my 17-year-old niece and 14-year-old nephew at home unsupervised. She says both kids are responsible. I agree but don’t think that they should be left on their own. What are your thoughts?
Teenagers want and deserve to be given opportunities to prove their capabilities. But home alone for three weeks while mom is unreachable in Europe? Your sister may be naïve, but it’s more likely that she’s selfish. Adolescence is a time when teens most need adults in their lives who care, understand and support them. When we talked by phone, I asked you how your niece feels about her mother’s decision. You said she’s scared but feels pressured by her mother. You added that her mother dismisses every concern your niece raises and intimidates her into acquiescing. So either invite the kids to your home for three weeks or move into their home. But don’t let your sister bully her daughter into taking over parenting and householder duties at age 17.