The Help Desk: A tricky father-daughter dilemma


Q. My parents divorced more than 10 years ago, when I was a teenager. I still live close to both of them, although now independently. In general I have a good relationship with both my parents.

However, my father still expects me to tell him about my mother's life, something I believe it is not my place to do. Over texts he tells me not to have secrets at my age. I know this is him acting juvenile but I feel I cannot stand up to my father for fear of losing him.

I have a younger sister who he never does this to and feel he targets me as I did the peace-keeping during their divorce. I don't know how I can approach this subject without coming across like a child; I honestly don't know how to move on because clearly my father won't let either of us.

A. It's a little sad that you have to worry about "coming across like a child". I think, with our parents, we should all reserve the right still to be children at times. Ideally, they should be the keepers of our childish selves, to whom we can periodically retreat from the grown-up world.

When it comes to negotiating relationships after divorce, there are still few satisfactory emotional templates to work from. Unfortunately for the offspring, divorce and separation can turn parents from a pleasantly dull joint entity that provides a reassuring background to the rest of our lives, into two separate adults, each with manifest needs.

Your father seems to have opted for the role of buddy and co-conspirator, the better to keep tabs on your mother's love life/ financial affairs (or whatever it is). In order to move on, you need to push him gently but firmly back into the parent box. This might need to be a gradual process.

As his daughter, you shouldn't have to worry about keeping your father onside, and your fear of losing him suggests he's in the habit of being manipulative. But sharing this fear with him might be a good place to start. Somewhere in there is the grown-up, the man who raised you, and being reminded of how much you value him might awaken this version and give him a warm feeling.

Of course, this kind of conversation isn't easy. But the fact that he's conducting his vexing campaign by text seems to me to be an opportunity. Modern technology has given us a wonderfully easy way to confront difficult issues with our nearest and dearest without having to look them in the eye.

Keep explaining that you are in a difficult position, caught between two people you love. But add that you're afraid your refusal will make him think less of you and create a distance between you – and say how much you would hate to lose him.

You'll need to repeat your message. The idea is to fully relinquish your past go-between role and allow him to see you as vulnerable, so you can go back to being a daughter again.

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