Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas: Our dad abandoned the family. How can we forgive him?

This reader's father left the family for another woman last year. Now mum's taken him back, but his children are in a less forgiving mood

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The Independent Online

Dear Virginia,

I’m 15 and last year my dad left us to go off with another woman. It made us all so unhappy but in a way it was a relief when all the rows stopped. My younger brother and I took our mum’s side and we didn’t want to see him again. We’d moved into a smaller home, and things were just starting to be OK again and mum had got a job and we were starting to be happy again, when dad asked to come back. Mum took him back at once, and forgave him, but we just can’t.  We hate him for what he did. I feel so let down. What can I do?


Yours sincerely,

Sonia (15)


Virginia Says...

What I want to know is: Have you told your father how you feel? I imagine that before your mum took him back, they had some proper conversations about what had happened. Presumably he didn’t just walk back in. No doubt she explained how betrayed she’d felt, he apologised and was bitterly remorseful, and he assured her it would never happened again. They might have tried to wipe the slate clean and build up a new relationship from scratch.

But, as you’ve pointed out, he’s forgotten about one thing: his children. Or so it seems.

Now, it could be that he thinks that since you thought so little of him to start with, your feelings towards him haven’t changed. It could be that he thinks, perhaps because you’re an undemonstrative family, that whether he’s there or not doesn’t make a pin of difference to you. Maybe – and this is a real possibility – he’s actually frightened of  discussing what’s happened with you because he knows how angry you’ll be. Or maybe he actually returned because he missed not just your mum, but you two.

I think it’s a lot to ask for you to have a conversation with your father. I think it would demand a maturity beyond your years – but if you felt you could have a proper discussion, without getting too emotional and accusatory, then by all means initiate it.

But I don’t see why you shouldn’t tell your mother how you feel. It was her decision to have him back, after all, and she should have perhaps made it one of the conditions of his return that he would have a long talk with you and your brother about what had happened. 

It sounds as if you’re not just angry at his causing so many rows to start with, and angry with him for leaving, but also angry with apparently being side-lined in all the discussions about whether he returned home or not, as if your feelings simply didn't count.

Join forces with your brother – two are always stronger than one – and ask your mother to sort this out on your behalf. And tell her you feel upset that she took a unilateral decision in allowing your father home without consulting you two. And don’t leave it open-ended. Tell her what you want to make things better. Insist on having a proper talk with your dad, after he’s been primed by your mum, and an acknowledgement, from him that you two have been almost irrevocably hurt by his behaviour.

After what’s happened I doubt it’ll ever be the perfect family – and remember that few families are perfect, when you scratch the surface – but it could be lot better than it is now.

Readers say...

Learn from this

Your parents have made a massive mistake one way or the other, either by splitting up in the first place or by subsequently getting back together. My family set-up was very similar and believe me, the difficulties you overcome now will make you more resilient in the future. Most importantly, learn from what is happening all around you and don’t repeat their mistakes.

Zoe, by email

Let him know

It’s understandable that you feel betrayed. You now need to be very careful and open both eyes wide to human nature. Your mother wants him back and you have to accept this. Hate is natural but ultimately destructive. My suggestion is that you ask for a specific time to sit and talk to your father. Say exactly how you feel – directly to him. Don’t bottle it up. Don’t lie awake at night thinking hateful thoughts – get it out in the open.

Your parents’ marriage might get stronger and survive this betrayal but it might not. Whatever you do, don’t start living off this hate and upset that you feel. Be bigger than this situation. Your father is still your father; tell him how you feel.

Maureen, by email

Next week’s  dilemma

Dear Virginia,

My six-year-old son nagged me so much for the past year that I gave him a puppy for Christmas. He loves it and so do I, but my partner (not his dad) hates it. He claims to be allergic to it (he’s not) and I once caught him kicking it when he didn’t know I was in. He thinks it should live all the time in the garden, even when it's freezing, and won’t let it on any bed or sofa. It’s causing real problems and last night he said I must choose – the puppy or him. But my son would be heartbroken. I wish I’d never got it. What can I do?

Yours sincerely,


What would you advise Esther to do?

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