I am a reasonably successful adult who, up until a couple of weeks ago, thought my parents were in a committed, strong marriage and had been since the ’80s. While I had suspected my parents might divorce, I always imagined it would be because my mother (as many adult children maybe feel) can be challenging to love sometimes.
A couple of weeks ago my mom called me to tell me that my dad had been cheating on her for certainly years if not a decade and that she was leaving him, which I supported.
On one hand, my dad was an incredible father to me. On the other hand, the more I think about it, the angrier I become that despite his pampering of my mom (making her dinner and morning coffee, doing the laundry, etc), he repeatedly and flagrantly violated their marriage faithfulness. I’m struggling to reconcile my loving father with the idea that he could be sneaking off to cheat.
I used to have regular phone calls with my dad and I find myself dreading them. I am no longer interested in sharing all the things in my life I used to; I wonder before and after the phone call if he is meeting one of his Adult Friends. At the same time, I’m worried that cutting him off will cause him to sink into alcoholism (genetic predisposition) or otherwise do something isolating or self-harming.
My Dad Sucks
I don’t often write about my relationship with my father, because when you’re a woman who has had many sexual partners and a fraught relationship with her father, you learn not to bring it up lest you be met with that look someone gives when they realize where to put all those parts of you they didn’t quite know what to do with. Bad dads have a way of making everything suddenly seem quite boring.
My dad isn’t a bad person, though—he just made some very stupid decisions that hurt those around him. The kind of decisions you simply cannot fold into whatever shape your previous relationship took; the kind that demands a new way of seeing each other.
That too is rather boring, or at least quite common. Most people reach a point where it becomes clear that your parents are people capable of deception or betrayal or disappointment. For some, this is very apparent from a young age, and that comes with its own kind of legacy. But in a way I feel especially bad for those who still hold on to an idealized version of their parents well into adulthood—it’s a sort of embarrassing anachronism, like getting braces at 35.
It also tends to provoke a childish reaction, and I would urge you to consider there are options here besides “carry on exactly as things were” or “cut him out of your life completely.”
Have you considered telling your dad how disorienting this has been for you? Having a conversation about what this might mean for your relationship? Yelling at him for a bit about what a loathsome shit he’s been to your mom? These are all on the table, now that you’ve realized he is no more and no less than a flawed man you love very much.
After that, maybe you can think a bit more about why you assume most adults struggle to love their mothers.
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