Amy Dickinson is a general advice columnist.
DEAR AMY: I’m a married father of three. My father has long held the belief that I am a disappointment to him, due to some poor choices I’ve made in my life. Last year things hit a wall when he told me that he considers me a lifelong disappointment. He said that my wife is lazy because she stays home with our children, and that my children are mistakes. He told me calmly that he is not saying it out of anger but that he truly feels it. After that evening I didn’t speak to him until Christmas. I didn’t want to rob my children from a rare opportunity to see their grandfather, so I agreed to a holiday get-together. That was a poor choice. Not only was it awkward, but it created the impression that I accepted what he said. After that evening I decided to stop speaking to him. I’m not resentful at what he said about me — he’s made it clear for years what he thinks of me — but he criticized my wife and basically told me I shouldn’t have my children. Due to his pride and his belief that he did no wrong, he is waiting for me to call him. I won’t be doing that. I really have nothing to apologize for; it’s not like this is an argument where there is some sort of compromise. He thinks I am a failure, that my wife is lazy and that my children are mistakes. Am I wrong to act this way?
DEAR DIVIDED: You are seeking validation, because you are a loyal father — and being a loyal father makes you want to be a loyal son.
Family estrangement is never ideal. It doesn’t feel natural, and it doesn’t seem right, but estrangement is quite common in families, though it is seldom acknowledged.
Your primary job as a parent is to put your children first. Every single day you should take your father’s example as a reason to love your own children openly and fiercely, and to lead by positive example.
If you choose to communicate with your dad, you need only to speak your own truth.
This dynamic will only improve when (or if) your father forgives you for past mistakes. If you acknowledge your own past behavior, this might help. However, for now at least, it seems wisest if you don’t deliberately expose your children to someone who seems to wish them out of existence.
DEAR AMY: I’d like more feedback on teens and tattoos. So far we are telling our children that as long as we are covering their health insurance, we will not allow them to get tattoos or piercings. (Our nephew was hospitalized with a very serious infection after a bad piercing.) Although it may be our daughter’s body, I don’t think my teen realizes “risks and consequences” yet. Of course, if she gets one anyway, I’m not sure what my consequences to her would be.
DEAR MOM: When you decide what the personal consequences are for a tattoo without parental permission, you should let your daughter know. If I were you, I’d keep it simple: We don’t approve, we don’t like it, we won’t pay for it or any expenses that flow from it.
If she goes ahead and gets a tattoo anyway, you should convey your extreme disappointment, stick to your agreement and move on.
DEAR AMY: Recently you printed a letter from “Worried Mama” who was upset because her boyfriend wanted to go out with his children, excluding her (she was not the children’s’ mother). I learned the hard way that it is essential for a dad to make exclusive time for his children. As a stepmother, I thought I had to be included in all activities with my husband and his kids. This created resentment and caused my marriage to fail. My relationship with my husband and stepchildren would have been stronger if I had actually encouraged them to have special time with their father. In my second marriage, I encourage my new stepchildren to have lots of alone time with their father. And guess what — they love me for it!
DEAR HAPPY: It’s a delicate balance; birth parents need to make sure their spouses and children don’t feel in competition. One way to do this is to make sure that each party feels special — and to also build up a strong group identity as a blended family.