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Man fears 'scorn of society' over estrangement

DEAR AMY: I am in my 50s. Five years ago my wonderful mother died. She was gorgeous, funny, smart, a gourmet cook. She and I talked on the phone -- sometimes several times a day. I miss her very much. The problem is my father. My parents had a long, violent and tempestuous relationship, and there was drinking and infidelity on both sides. When I was a child, I witnessed my father beating my mother. Once I became an adult, he bragged about sleeping with all of her friends. My father has since remarried, become religious and has done a complete turnaround. He wants everyone to forget what went on before and has contacted all of his children, saying he won't discuss the past. I can't quite forget 40 years of craziness. My father and I live in different states, so it's pretty easy to avoid him. I don't want to see him. He still drinks periodically and he is still angry and nasty, but I don't call him very often either. Is there a way to separate myself from him without suffering the scorn of society?

-- Estranged

DEAR ESTRANGED: I'm not sure what Edith Wharton novel you imagine yourself in where you suffer the "scorn of society," but I can guarantee you: Ask 10 people about their family relationships and at least five will report an estrangement.

There's not much room for scorn when most people can identify (at least to some degree) with what you are going through.

Your father's transformation won't be complete until he takes responsibility for the role he played in the chaos and challenges of your childhood. Asking for forgiveness is also called for, but don't hold your breath waiting for it. Society's scorn should be saved for parents who don't protect their children from their own rage and violence.

You are not obligated to have more of a relationship with your father. Your obligation is to work on your own brokenness; once you do, you might find yourself more forgiving and less worried about what others think.

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