Dear Prudence

Breaking Away

How do I get my abusive father out of my life?

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Dear Prudie,
I am 27, so maybe I’m a little old to be hung up on stuff that happened during my childhood. My father was fairly abusive and hit me for pretty much anything. I can’t remember a time when he was affectionate toward me. A lot of this is history, but the problem is regarding our current relationship. My mother wants us to be close, which I simply can’t bear. This means showing him the same kind of affection I show my mom (who I am close to). He buys me and my boyfriend very expensive stuff that I do not want but don’t know how to refuse. I feel these come with strings attached—how can I accept this stuff and then, well, not hug him? I made my feelings clear to my mother, after he threatened to hit me again while I was at his house. In a moment of complete rage, I told him that if he did, I would punch him back. I told my mother privately that this was a relationship I couldn’t sustain beyond a polite acquaintance. She now pretends the conversation never occurred and is demanding that I speak to him over the phone every week and kiss him on the cheek when he visits (they live close by, and I see them every one or two months). I find these things difficult to do, especially because he hasn’t changed and he has never exhibited any kind of regret for the relationship we’ve had. I feel helpless and frustrated.

—Don’t Know What To Do

Dear Don’t,
This is not history, this is ongoing abuse—your father recently threatened to assault you. Although you feel you and your mother are close, I’m afraid you have to recognize that she has abetted his mistreatment of you all these years, making her, in her own way, just as sick as he is. She now wants you to feel guilty for not being affectionate to a man who beat you while you were growing up and would like to continue now. Since she didn’t do what she needed to do as a mother, maybe she feels she can justify her own behavior if she can pretend you and your father have a “loving” relationship. Bah! It will be a painful emotional reckoning for you to see both your parents in a different light and redraw your boundaries. But for your physical and mental health, you must deal with your childhood and its aftermath—the effects of abuse can cast their shadow over a lifetime. You need help to sort through all this. Start by looking for a therapist at the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy Web site. The Broken Spirits Network is an online support group and clearinghouse for victims of abuse. Stop telling yourself this all happened long ago and you should be over it. It wasn’t long ago, and examining what happened to you can make the rest of your life much better.


Dear Prudie,
A good friend’s teenage daughter just had what appears to be successful brain-tumor-removal surgery, after a long period of illness. The tumor was benign and her recovery seems to be progressing well, which is what everyone wants and prayed for. That last part is the problem. My friend has gotten very religious of late, and it’s starting to annoy me. To keep everyone informed of the status of his daughter, they post updates on a Web site. These updates contain much more than just the facts about her condition. They are full of assertions about religion and who is responsible for the girl’s progress. For example: “Remember all God has done for [her] and for all of us through His son Jesus Christ.” “God gets all the Glory for these medical victories!” This last one really rankles me. So, the nurses don’t get any of the credit? What about the amazing people who invented the medical devices and the people who skillfully run them? What about the surgeon? I’m tired of being preached at. Is there any way to let him know that we really don’t need the church service when pursuing the latest facts about his daughter, without completely alienating him and losing a friend?


Dear Religioned,
So, your problem is that when you voluntarily go to your friend’s Web site seeking information about the condition of his teenage daughter who has just had a brain tumor removed, you are offended to find religious material there. What do you want to do next time you see him? Skip bringing the casserole and instead give him a copy of The God Delusion, with the best arguments for being an atheist underlined? How about if you try instead to understand that your friend’s religious beliefs have helped get him through this ordeal? You should also have faith that he has expressed his gratitude to the medical team treating his daughter (even if he believes God is guiding the hands of the healers). If you truly value this man’s friendship, you could even tell him how glad you are that his prayers for his daughter have been answered.


Dear Prudence,
I threw a housewarming party and noticed a few people I am relatively close to do not wash their hands after using the bathroom. My boyfriend’s younger sister asked me for a female sanitary product, then bypassed the soap and water. In my small apartment, I can hear if the water is run in the sink or not. I’m not trying to be a bathroom Nazi, but it is kind of gross to me when people don’t wash their hands. I also noticed these same people double-dipping chips and forgoing the ice tongs and cheese-picks. I don’t feel comfortable saying anything, but do I need to get tough or should I just get over it?

—Party Wash-Out

Dear Party,
What you can’t do is stand outside the bathroom door with a bottle of Purell and squirt it in the hands of the offenders, saying, “I know it was only a number one, but you still need to kill the germs.” Think of it this way, despite the offensive hygienic habits of a subset of your friends, everyone survived the party, right? I’m not defending the unwashed (please don’t let any of them be my doctor!), but you’ll be much happier if you suppress any desire to turn your social events into public-health lectures. At your next gathering, turn the music up so you can’t hear what’s going on (or not) in the bathroom, and try to ignore the fingers in the food. Just as bad as being dirty is ending up wearing Kleenex boxes on your feet.


Dear Prudie,
I have been married to my husband for 16 years. We have two children. I recently discovered that he has been having an affair for the past 15 years with a woman I know! I thought we had a solid and happy marriage. Now I have no idea what to do. Is it possible for a man to be in love with two women at the same time? Should I just go on as if nothing has happened? Should I tell him I know and demand he stop seeing this other woman? Should I rat out the other woman to her husband (who I also know)? I love my husband and I don’t want to get a divorce.

—Dazed and Confused

Dear Dazed,
In a case like this, I don’t think even Meryl Steep could pretend nothing has happened. The first thing you need to do is discuss this with your husband. (And since you haven’t confronted him, how certain are you of your facts? Did you find a diary of his that says, “It’s now year 15 of my affair with Marlene”?) If it’s true he’s been cheating on you for nearly the entirety of your marriage, do be prepared that he might be reluctant to come clean. But if you are sure your evidence is solid, it will be too damaging to your soul to try to pretend everything is the way it was. Your husband may not love this other woman, and he may share your view that you have a solid and happy marriage—but what keeps it so for him is that he has been able to blithely get some on the side. It’s not going to be so blithe anymore. All this doesn’t mean you’re headed for divorce. But, painful as it is, there’s no getting around the fact that for you to go on, there has to be a profound shift in how you both understand the terms of your marriage.