Every week, Daniel Mallory Ortberg answers additional questions from readers, just for Slate Plus members.
Q. My deadbeat dad won’t leave me alone: I’m a woman in my mid-20s who was raised by a single mom. My father had four kids by three different women. Growing up, I was forced to spend a few weekends a year visiting with him and my stepmother. They always compared me with my “prettier” half-sister, constantly made negative comments about my weight, barely spent time with me, etc. When I got old enough, I stopped going. I haven’t seen my father in maybe 10 years. He still sends birthday cards, and he would text occasionally, but it was always BS so I told him to stop contacting me and I blocked him. I don’t feel deprived in any way; my godfather is the best I could have ever asked for. In therapy years ago, I made peace with the fact that there’s nothing I could have done to make my father be the parent he should have been physically, financially, and emotionally.
As an adult, I’ve tried maintaining relationships with his mom and sisters independent of him, but I know that when they visit or speak to me, they relay information to him, which incites him to make new attempts to contact me. Recently, he’s made calls to my mother’s house even though he hasn’t talked to her in years, and I know it’s a weak attempt to get in touch with me. I just want peace. I’m not interested in reconciliation. I live my life happily without him, and I don’t understand why he won’t leave me alone. I haven’t responded in years, but his attempts piss me off. What can I do? I know speaking to him won’t result in anything good from me.
A: Have you ever asked your grandmother and aunts not to pass along information about you to your father? If you haven’t, I think it’s way past time. That’s tricky territory, understandably, because he’s still their son/brother and they might be sensitive about acknowledging his failures as a father. But it’s still worth asking, and maybe also explaining that “it’s best for both my father and I to keep our distance, and when you give him updates on my life, he starts contacting other people in my life in order to try to get around my boundaries.”
If you ask, and they keep doing it, I think you might have to start limiting your conversations with them: “I’d love to catch up, but if you can’t commit to respecting my decision to keep my distance from my father, then I’m afraid I can’t continue this conversation. If that ever changes, I hope you’ll give me a call.” I don’t know why your father won’t leave you alone, either, although if I had to guess I’d say it’s because he needs to feel like you forgive him and even approve of him in order to assuage his own guilt over how he treated you as a child. That is, of course, not your problem, and I think the boundaries you’ve drawn are perfectly understandable. I hope your grandmother and aunts stop trying to fix his mistakes for him, although I don’t think you should hold your breath waiting for them to do so.