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Dear Care and Feeding,
I’m the mom of two teens. My older daughter, “Jill,” is 17. Now that we’re all fully vaccinated, our family recently made the two-hour drive to my brother’s house for our first non-distanced family gathering since the pandemic started. Part of the reason we’ve all been so cautious is because of my 76-year-old father, who lives with my brother and his family. My father has Alzheimer’s disease and has been living with my brother’s family since my mom passed away unexpectedly just over two years ago. Both my parents used to comment about the uncanny resemblance between Jill and my mom as a young woman. Well, at this get-together, my dad thought that Jill was my mom. This made things a bit awkward, but Jill wasn’t too bothered by it and it was nice to see my dad so happy that his wife was “back.” But then, while we were all in another room, Jill and my dad somehow ended up alone in a room together. My dad suddenly pushed her up against the wall and began kissing and groping her. Jill managed to extricate herself, but she was very shaken. We left shortly after.
Jill has since decided that she will never see or speak to my father again. She says that he is a “predator” and that this event showed us “who he really is.” I completely understand her shock and fear, but I think this reaction is unfair to my father. His disease makes him act in ways he never would if he were well. He’s not a predator; he’s confused. And now that we’re finally able to, I want my family to spend as much time as we can with him while we still have him among us, and I don’t want him to miss out on seeing his grandchild in his remaining years. Of course, we would keep a close eye on him and make sure he and Jill don’t end up alone together ever again. How can I respect my daughter’s feelings about this scary event, while also doing the right thing for my dad?
I’m sorry to hear about your father’s devastating illness. Of course, I understand your desire to spend as much time with him as you can during whatever time he has left. But you absolutely should not—you cannot—force your daughter to join you when you visit him. I’m sorry. I know this is hard to hear. But what happened to her is not trivial. It is horrific. It doesn’t matter that he “wouldn’t have” done such a thing if he were not ravaged by Alzheimer’s; that doesn’t change what happened or its impact on Jill. And even if you could try to make sure he and Jill don’t end up alone together from now on, she will never again be at ease in his presence. Please let her stay home when you see your father.
I don’t mean to be cruel when I say that this determination to keep Jill involved in family visits seems to me to be less about him than it is about you and your wish, your need, to have your family rally round your father. I sympathize with that, I do. And if your father has periods of lucidity in which he wonders why his granddaughter isn’t present, that is indeed a sad state of affairs (at such moments, you might simply tell him that she’s busy that day). But your needs—and his needs—don’t trump your daughter’s. She may decide at some point that she wants to see her grandfather again before he dies. That should be her choice and no one else’s.
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