DEAR AMY: My father is a 70-year-old alcoholic and gambler who refuses to accept help. My mother kept him in check for 50 years, but she died last year. Being of the “old school” generation, she did everything for him, down to tying his shoes. Now that she is gone, he expects the entire family to just pick up where my mom left off. He refuses to make any effort, whatsoever. I understand he’s very depressed and misses her, but after a year I feel he should step up a little. I’ve tried more than once to get him to accept help for his addictions but as you know an addict cannot be forced to accept help. After a few months of doing laundry, cleaning, shopping, etc., without even a simple thank you from him, I’ve had enough and refuse to lend a hand until he makes just even a little effort. The rest of my family continues to put up with his nonsense and are angry with me for not helping anymore. I know he’s my father, but does that make it right for him to just assume we should all cater to all of his bad habits? My mother chose to put up with it. I’m choosing not to. All I want is for him to try — just a little. What do you think?
DEAR FRUSTRATED: Your mother enabled your father to dive into his addictions, and now your siblings are filling in the void, because she is gone and they don’t know what else to do. Right now, your whole family system depends on your father getting his shoes tied.
People who enable addicts seem to do so out of a need to tamp down their own anxiety, as well as try to control the chaos that erupts when an addict spirals out of control. They often describe their own behavior in very loving and protective terms, but addiction counselors will also sometimes describe it as “loving someone to death.”
Because you have backed away, you are upsetting the whole dysfunctional system. Expect your siblings to blame you, and to be upset.
You and your siblings should meet with a counselor together. You would be doing your whole family a favor if you chose to assist in this way. Children of addicts have a heavy family burden, but you need each other.
Check Al-Anon.org for group support; consider reading (and sharing) the classic book: “Codependent No More: How to Stop Controlling Others and Start Caring for Yourself,” by Melodie Beattie (1992, Hazelden)
DEAR AMY: I’m so frustrated. I’ve known this guy for 30 years. We decided to start something but I don’t know what that something is! We see each other every two weeks and have an amazing time. The rest of the time, we may text a few times in the day — and by a few, I really mean very few texts! I know he’s busy, but it’s frustrating! When I’m with him, I’m on Cloud Nine. The doubt and sadness hits when we aren’t together. I don’t know if I should ask him what the game is or just let it play out!
DEAR FRUSTRATED: Relationships shouldn’t feel like a “game,” and yet they often do, especially in the early days when both parties are playing by different rules.
Each person conducts their side of the relationship according to what they want. If your guy wanted more contact, he would contact you more often, regardless of how busy he is. You might be able to manipulate him or up the ante by not responding to his texts or being less available, but you would do best by living well, outside of the relationship.
If you want more, you should talk about it. He may tell you he is seeing other people — or that he simply likes things exactly as they are. Then you will be in the driver’s seat, as you decide if this is what you want.
DEAR AMY: I enjoy your “Best Of” columns, but a recent one from “Torn (Over) Letter” from 10 years ago drove me crazy! Torn’s mother had given him a letter with instructions to open it only after her death. I liked your advice but now I’m going crazy. What did Torn do? What did the letter say?
DEAR CURIOUS: I’ve heard from many readers who are dying to know what was in that letter! “Torn,” if you’re out there, let us know!