QUESTION: My parents divorced when I was 14. I'm now 23. My father left my mother for her best friend. We'd been happy before, and the break-up was really awful. I have tried to keep up a good relationship with him but it hasn't been easy. He's selfish, is often unpredictable and moody, and when he does turn up in my life, he expects me to drop everything for him. He's made it quite difficult for me to trust men and I've never had a successful relationship.
I'd pretty much decided not to see him any more and just put it behind me - but now he's announced he's getting married (at 61!) in November (to a different woman, who he's been with for the past two or three years). Obviously, I'm expected to go - my older brother's going and says I really can't get out of it. His girlfriend is fine, but I think I'd find it impossible to turn up and pretend to be happy and that everything's fine when it's not. What can I do?
ANSWER: Your father dropped a bombshell on your life when you were at a vulnerable age, and I can still sense the traumatised and confused adolescent in the way you write about him. In years, you are grown-up and I'm sure you are wonderfully mature and competent in all the other areas of your life, but with your father, quite understandably, you are still the child he hurt and abandoned.
A better man - a steadier, more self- aware one - would have had quite a job on his hands making things up to you over the years. But your father is not that man and he seems to have made a total hash of it. Hence, the 14-year-old in you is stamping her foot and looking for a grand gesture with which to get him back. You've been brewing some sort of boycott, and now here's an opportunity with bells on.
You love your father, however much you resent him. Part of you longs to hurt him by parading for all to see the parental shortcomings of which he himself is likely to be well aware. That doesn't sound like putting things behind you; it sounds more like the opening salvo in a whole new phase of warfare.
The trouble is there's no going back on something like this. At the moment you're in a real stalemate: you resent his sporadic appearances and his appearances become ever more sporadic because, with your manifest resentment, they're probably hellish for him as well as for you, however much he loves you. Someone will have to break the hex, and maybe it's just going to have to be you.
I doubt whether the problems with your love life can legitimately be laid solely at your father's door. Your father is not “men”, he is your father and, for all his shortcomings, he's the only one you've got.
So you know what I think you should do? I think you should turn up and pretend everything's fine when it's not. Think of it as an act of generosity on your part. Maybe it can help to heal things between you, and maybe it can't. But I doubt wounding him by staying away would feel as good as you think. - The Independent on Sunday