Dear Old Dad
Prudie offers Father's Day advice on secret paternity, absentee parenting, and a dad's dating dilemma.
I'm a single mom of three teenagers. I divorced when they were little and decided to sacrifice my personal life to make up for the loss of their father. I also have a stressful job and a long commute. My kids are wonderful, do great in school, and are in college or headed there. Their father, however, pretty much dropped his involvement in their lives when he remarried and fathered another child. When they visited him, they watched TV while he went about his life. He's now divorced again, and my kids hate going to his house; they say my house is their real home. However, I've come to cherish the time I have alone when they're with him. I need some down time from chauffeuring, solving problems, and providing meals. I want to lie on the couch, eat ice cream for breakfast, and walk around the house naked. Recently my sister said I'm destroying my kids by forcing them to go to their father's when they don't want to. Now, I'm worried that in my old age, when they're stressed out, they'll put me away.
—Protecting My Sanity
Usually people with three teenagers are complaining: "I never see my kids. I only know I have any because the refrigerator is always empty." Yours obviously rely on you, enjoy your company, and want to be around you. That bodes well for you not ending up abandoned in a nursing home in your old age because occasionally you told them to spend some time with their father. Yes, the guy sounds like a washout, but since they're becoming young adults, they should be able to occupy themselves over a weekend with him. Have a discussion with them in which you say you understand their objections, but it's important they maintain a relationship with their father. Help them come up with strategies to connect with the guy. Suggest they do activities with him—play board games, make pizza, volunteer together at a soup kitchen, so everyone's not stuck silently watching TV. You need and deserve time off. So if your kids refuse to leave, use your secret weapon. Say, "OK, kids, you can stay here this weekend, but I'm warning you now, I'm planning to spend it naked."
I got an e-mail from my dad via an online dating service asking that I write a testimonial for him. My dad is 70, and I am 32. My parents divorced when I was young, and I have no desire to be involved in his dating life. Furthermore, I can't honestly give him a glowing recommendation. I believe he's a good person at heart, but he's got some psychological problems that have caused him to not always be there for me and to treat my family negatively. Let's just say that there's a reason he's single. But I'm afraid if I decline to write the testimonial, he will feel offended. I do care about him and want to do what's right, but I just feel weirded out by the whole thing. What should I do?
From what I can glean about your father, your testimonial would sound something like: "My Dad is a thin-skinned guy who won't be there for you. At the end of the date, you won't wonder why he's single, but you may wonder, 'Has he had a psychological evaluation?' In case you couldn't guess, I'm writing this under duress." It's sad not to have done better in the father lottery, but he's what you got. But you're an adult now, so it doesn't really matter if he has a little fit when you say you won't go along with this. You want to be respectful of your father, but he needs to be respectful of you, and that means not trying to coerce you into doing ridiculous things. Simply tell him that facilitating his dating life makes you uncomfortable and you can't do it, then wish him a Happy Father's Day.
Photograph of Prudie by Teresa Castracane.