Set limits in dealing with troubled dad

Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson, Ask Amy Ask Amy

Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.

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DEAR AMY: When I was an adolescent, my father came out of the closet as gay, and my parents divorced. My father, who is also bipolar, made some poor financial decisions that forced my family into bankruptcy. That was 17 years ago. Since then, he has lived out of the country with limited communication. I know my father loves me unconditionally, but with only a handful of visits, I have trouble feeling close to him beyond the obligatory love of distant family. He may have the best intentions in the world, but ultimately he spent my childhood focusing on himself. Now, for health reasons, my father wants to move back to the States to be near me and the rest of his family. This is a positive step for him, but I am terrified of the burden that I imagine it will place on me. I worry about the need to support him financially and the expectation to give him time that I don't really have. I'm also not comfortable with the fact that he will want to hit fast forward on our relationship to make up for lost time. How do I set up boundaries that will allow me to maintain a comfortable distance but still show some measure of respect for the fact that he is my father?Anxious DaughterDEAR DAUGHTER: Unconditional love requires surrendering your personal harsh judgment of your father to simply accept him -- as deeply flawed as he is. This sort of love does not require that you surrender your sense of self, your other relationships or your money.

Your first job is to protect your own health and well-being. You should notify your father ahead of time that you are open to a relationship with him, but that he simply may not receive everything he wants from you.

Be vigilant and honest. You should be aware of the various "hooks" your father may dangle that you must avoid biting.

To attain more clarity and for help creating and maintaining boundaries, you should see a professional counselor.