Mom’s not dead

Joey Garcia

My parents divorced when I was a child. I’m now 25 years old. My dad still wears his wedding ring and tells everyone that he “lost” his wife. People think he’s a widower and feel sorry for him. He never corrects them. He wears this long, sad face when they say, “I’m so sorry for your loss.” It sickens me. He’s also unhealthy—he eats crap, smokes and never exercises. I’m sure he’s depressed but not about Mom who remarried and is living happily in Hawaii. What should I do?

Realize he’s the one who is lost. The divorce stripped him of an identity: husband. We don’t know how he feels about his other roles (father, human, son), but it’s obvious that his emotional gears are stuck. Your father never moved through the stages of a natural grieving process. He has chosen instead to avoid reality. That’s why he pretends your mother is deceased. By clinging to the sympathy of strangers, your father absolves himself. Death is out of his control, but he would have some responsibility (as would your mother) for a divorce.

Yes, your father is clearly depressed. But does he understand that he manipulates strangers? Or has he crossed over into the fantasy of believing his ex-wife has actually died? Honest answers to these questions will guide your next steps. If your father is aware that your mom is alive, be his aide memoir. The next time he tells a stranger that he lost his wife, speak up. Like this: “Mom and Dad are divorced. He still thinks of her as his lost love.” If your father hasn’t a clue that your mom is happily married to someone else, please arrange for him to visit his physician immediately. Don’t expect them to figure out what’s wrong. Have a conversation with the doc before your father visits. In the meantime, heal any grief or regret in your own life. It could help to disrupt family patterns.

I started a book club that features a potluck. No matter how clear I am about instructions, it’s frustrating. People promise to bring things, but don’t. People expect to use my kitchen to finish preparing their dish or ask to borrow my serving dishes. These constant interruptions mean I can’t finish my own preparations or even a conversation with other guests. I tried sending emails to clarify the rules but it didn’t help. Advice?

Eliminate the meal altogether. Stop inviting the slackers. Or offer appetizers only and assign responsibility for hors d’oeuvres to one member per meeting. If those ideas don’t satisfy you, begin the next meeting by brainstorming a short list of group norms. Get everyone’s verbal buy-in. Then review the list at the start of every subsequent meeting. During the meeting keep the rules posted in the room where you gather. It’s not sexy, I know, but it works for corporate trainers. You can also ask people privately why they failed to bring a dish as promised. You might discover they couldn’t afford to do so. If that’s the case, perhaps compassion should be on the book club’s menu, too.

Meditation of the week
“I had in my early years a variety of experiences a child shouldn’t really meet alone. Now I know how much that has given me,” wrote Dorothea Lange, whose photography is on exhibit at the Oakland Museum. What reward lives inside your regrets?

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