Care and Feeding

I Want to Cut Off My Father Completely. My Wife Is Holding Me Back.

Does she have a point?

A two-story house.
Photo illustration by Slate. Photo by Getty Images Plus.

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Dear Care and Feeding,

My wife and I are having a difficult time agreeing on how to navigate past trauma now that we have a family of our own.

I love and adore our two children, but watching these babies approach the ages when so many awful things happened in my own life, or realizing where my parents were in their lives when they were my age, has dug up more grief and anger than I ever knew I had in me. I’ve recently restarted going to therapy, and I understand I have a lot to work through.

The sticking point between my wife and me centers around whether to completely estrange my father. My relationship with him began to crumble when I became an adult, and has deteriorated badly enough over the last several years that I have barely cared to stay in touch at all. My wife argues that stoically going through the motions may encourage him to leave his late parents’ house to us upon his passing, which she argues would provide a financial safety net for our kids.

Moving on as though nothing happened doesn’t really feel like an option for me, but she is worried that speaking my mind—however politely—may convince him to leave us with nothing out of spiteful pride. Do I grit my teeth and fake it?

— Rock and A Hard Place

Dear Rock And A Hard Place,

The retraumatization you’re describing is so common after becoming a parent. We may have an intellectual understanding of how vulnerable and innocent we were when bad things were done to us as children, but actually looking at your own vulnerable, innocent child brings it home in a new way. We may struggle to understand how adults in our lives chose to do the things that harmed us, when we can’t comprehend parenting that way. I’m glad you are dealing with these very difficult feelings in therapy.

Financial safety nets are well and good, but so many times the purse strings are what bind a person to a dysfunctional or unsafe family situation. Money also makes it harder to set boundaries and can be used to retain control and perpetuate unhealthy dynamics. Your kids will not be better off with a financial safety net if it comes with a parent who is unable to heal from the past.

Discuss the decision of whether to cut off contact with your therapist, whose only motivation should be your wellness. The decision should be entirely based on what is good for your mental health, not the hypothetical promise of some future payday. Assuming she has your best interests at heart, I hope your wife will come to see it that way, too.

—Emily

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