Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: My parents got divorced when I was a toddler. My father was very abusive — verbally and physically — so I did not have a relationship with him aside from the few court-ordered visits he showed up to. My mother died when I was 10 and my dad had no interest in raising me, so I spent time in foster homes before finally landing with the family of a friend. Grown now and with children of my own, I have always wanted to reach out to my dad. I’ve invited him to my kids’ birthdays and called occasionally. Although I knew I would never receive an apology from him (as he doesn’t see anything wrong with how he treated us), I was shocked when we met for lunch and he expected me to apologize for the “awful” things I said to him as a child. I do not remember these incidents but I did apologize, hoping we could move on. I can’t help but to resent him and find it ridiculous that he can hold a grudge for things I might have said when I was a child. How can I tell him how I feel? I know it’s silly to expect an apology, but I would still like to tell him my feelings. Would a letter be acceptable — as he rarely answers or returns my calls? Or am I better off keeping my feelings to myself?
DEAR DAUGHTER: You are trying to have a relationship with your father, but the abusive and neglectful father who abandoned you as a child has obviously not magically morphed into a loving and kindly grandfather to your children. His manipulative insistence on some sort of “apology” from you is evidence that he is not equipped to be in a family in the way you want him to be.
Write your father a letter. Tell him every single thing you want to say. Ask for what you want. If you want him to be involved in your and family’s life, then tell him that, offering ideas of how that might be possible. Make a copy of the letter to keep.
I predict either no response, or a negative — possibly very negative — response where your father really throws it down, possibly dragging you and your late mother through the mud.
However, all of this might help you to make better sense of your own situation — growing up and now. You may have to mourn the loss of possibility, which your father has always represented. But then you should celebrate what a stellar survivor and success you are — and hug your own children extra close.
Given the extreme challenges of your childhood, professional therapy could have a profound impact on you.
DEAR AMY: My daughter is headed to college in the fall. I have always tried to have open conversations about dating, sex, alcohol, consequences and healthy choices — but college is a whole new adventure. Can you recommend any resources that would help me with a discussion about sex, hookups, date rape, binge drinking, drugs and healthy choices?
DEAR WORRIED: There are several frankly written guides designed to help students prepare for the reality of college life. One guide I like is published by the people behind Hercampus.com, which is an Internet site with on-campus chapters of women at several dozen colleges across the country.
Check out: “The Her Campus Guide to College Life: How to Manage Relationships, Stay Safe and Healthy, Handle Stress, and Have the Best Years of Your Life,” by Stephanie Kaplan Lewis, Annie Chandler Wang, Windsor Hanger Western, and the Her Campus Editors (2015, Adams Media).
DEAR AMY: I read your column regularly and had to comment on the letter from “Worried Mother,” who has a mother-in-law who clearly favors one grandchild over his siblings. We had a similar situation with our children. The oldest could do no wrong, went on “special” visits, received gifts and had his own room at Grandma’s house. While it wasn’t the only factor in our decision, it was definitely part of the reason we moved 600 miles away. That was 25 years ago, and I can say it was one of the best decisions we ever made. I hope this grandmother reads your column and takes heed.
Happy We Left
DEAR HAPPY: I have received scores of responses from parents and from other adults whose grandparents openly favored siblings. The effects of overt favoritism seem to last for a lifetime.