Dear Prudence

Help! My Father Pushed Me Into Sports to Cover Up an Affair With My Coach.

In We’re Prudence, Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. The answer is available only for Slate Plus members.

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Every week on Twitter @jdesmondharris, Dear Prudence asks readers for their thoughts on a question that has her stumped. She’ll post her final thoughts on the matter on Fridays. Here’s this week’s dilemma and answer:

Dear Prudence,

When I was 15, my world exploded. My father had been having a years-long affair with my personal coach. In fact, the entire reason why he pushed me into the sport was to cover up the affair. It devastated my mother and showered me with crippling doubt about my own ability and self-worth. My coach talked about me being Olympic material and nearly all my free time went into training. After the divorce, I refused to speak to my father, and I gave up the sport. I had severe depression and even with therapy, it is very hard for me to look in the mirror and not see wasted potential.

Now, I am engaged. As an olive branch, I have been slowly talking again to my father. But I am not ready, and might not ever be, to speak to his new wife. In some ways, her betrayal hurts worse than what my father did. She exploited my dreams and ambitions and drove me to levels that left me with injuries, some lifelong. And it was in service to fucking my father. My father and I were never close. My relationship with my mother is an entirely different kettle of fish. My coach was very much the most important adult in my life at the time. I want my father at my wedding. I don’t want his wife there. How do I get this across? Every time I try to make more than small talk with my father, my throat closes up.

— Dead Dreams

Dear Dead Dreams,

I aim to answer the question asked—and I understand that you’ve asked about how to invite your dad to your wedding while excluding his wife—but when I shared your letter on Twitter, so many people who replied encouraged me to push back on the idea that you would want him to be there. You say in some ways your coach’s actions were more painful, but that doesn’t mean your father’s weren’t absolutely awful. Several readers made the point that extending an olive branch doesn’t have to mean extending an invitation:

I would ask LW to ask herself why she wants her father at her wedding, given that it doesn’t sound like their relationship brings her any joy. Is it to meet someone else’s expectation (real or imagined) about what a wedding should look like? A wedding does not have to heal broken relationships; it’s just a (hopefully nice) day. LW should not feel any obligation to try to fix a lifetime hurt for the occasion — @jhedelstein

If you can, let go of any internal pressure to repair your relationship with your father in time for him to attend your wedding. This is his damage to fix, and not yours. Until you’ve received a massive apology from him (and her!), there’s no work here for you to do. — @amykate75

I’d say that if at all possible releasing the idea that their father being at their wedding is wise—a high-pressure, high-stakes, time-sensitive date is something you never want to attach to things like forgiveness or healing. — @Kathriller

I’m on team “honestly, do you really want the guy there at all?” — @emccoy_writer

“Is that reasonable?” is such a hard question! Of course it’s reasonable in that you’re not doing anything wrong; you have the right to invite who you want. But if you’re asking whether it seems like a sound approach, I think your physical reaction is telling. —@lindaholmes

I thought it was especially perceptive of some people to pick up on what you said about your physical reaction to the idea of speaking to your father. Listen to your body!

She shouldn’t be talking to her father at all, as her body is communicating. But hey… — @Camille_U_Adams

“Every time I try to make more than small talk with my father, my throat closes up.” Your body is having a physical response that’s perhaps worth listening to before you continue to pursue this relationship. Take a step back and ask yourself what you really want from him. More importantly, is he able to give it to you? What conversations have you had w/ your father about the affair & its effect on you? And while you rightfully hold your coach responsible for the pain she caused, your father actually created the environment where it could occur.? — @JWhitePubRadio

It’s also worth exploring whether you want to label what happened to you as child abuse.

Whew. This is really heavy, but a place to start is by pointing out that what happened here was child abuse. It may not look like “normal” child abuse.

But pushing a child in sport to the point of injury, based on a lie, to cover up your own bad behavior? That’s abuse. — @courtneymilan

I wonder if this framing could help you get to a place where you feel less of an obligation to repair the relationship and extend an invite.

That said, if you think all of this through and what you really want is still to invite him and not your coach, yes, absolutely, that is reasonable. Readers emphasized that this is your wedding and you can do whatever you want. That’s true for anyone getting married but especially true when it comes to guests who really don’t deserve to be in your presence at all. They get what they get and they can take it or leave it!

Completely fair to limit people to your wedding when they have wronged you. — @Keith_Wynne

I think it is reasonable for her to feel that way, she needs to take as much time as she needs, and let her father know how she feels about the wedding/wife etc. If he pulls a protest, then he can’t come — @Slutting80

I think it’s not fair to invite only dad, but it is reasonable. It’s where OP is and what OP is prepared to offer. Make the invite, acknowledge it’s not “fair,” but it’s what you’re able to handle at this time. If dad decides not to come then 🤷‍♀️ are you any worse off? — @Samquilla

This woman was terribly manipulated by her father and her coach/father’s new wife. She can and should set whatever boundary she feels appropriate, including not inviting the new wife to her wedding. If her father can’t respect the boundary, he doesn’t get to come either. — @andrabelknap

To communicate the request, lay out what you’re asking clearly. I love the idea of using a letter. This will avoid any misunderstanding and allow you to control the conversation:

Oh, heck yes it’s a more than reasonable ask. One way to frame it: 1) start by thanking her father, celebrating the rebuilt bond with him; 2) state that though it has been painful, she respects and accepts he is married to her former coach; 3) then make the ask. 4) Frame the ask as: “It’s been a long road to healing from what happened and how it happened - I’m happy for you, but I’m still healing. It will help my healing to have you there only. Not my former coach/ your wife, and not [try to think of someone else not to have there.]” 5) She can frame this as an ask, saying, “It would mean a lot to feel like you are holding my hand in this journey of recovery from all the hurt I experienced and how much it changed my relationship to my sport. I need your help with this Dad. I need you to smooth it over.” — @chayab77

I think she should write her dad a letter, outlining the issue, what she wants and why. This way she has completely control over her side of the conversation, can pick and choose her words, and gives both parties time to digest it not right in front of each other. But she Also has to be prepared dad may say no, it’s all or none, and be okay with that. Part of making this a healthy relationship is setting her boundaries and sticking to them. If she can’t handle the new wife right now, that’s the boundary that needs to be respected. And dad needs to Show her that he can respect her boundaries, appropriately, in order for any healing in the relationship and for it to grow. Having the boundary well layer out may help both of them. Even if respecting her boundary means he isn’t involves or at the wedding, it bodes better. — @AttyErinS

Is it possible that he will say he won’t come? Yes. And once again, I don’t think that would be the worst thing in the world.

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