How Should Adult Siblings Deal With a Dad Who Is Emotionally "Checked Out"?

2 answers | Last updated: Sep 13, 2016
Paulac asked...

My husbands mother died many years ago. All but one of his siblings were young adults. After she passed away, his father married another woman and became distant from all of his children. He was never a loving, kind parent to his children and thinks hard work and money is all you need in life. Over the last 20 years, he spends all of his time working, and with his wife and her adult daughter, going on vacations and spending holidays with them only. He has not seen some of his grandchildren, and doesn't attempt to see them or visit any of his own children. We have lived 30 minutes away from him for almost 4 years now and he never visits us or our children. His adult children are all great responsible adults and have great children. We (all of the siblings and their families) try to get together every 3 or so years and meet up for a vacation together. We all get along well and can't wrap our minds around why he doesn't attempt to spend time with us. His wife is very hard to get along with and is very insecure. She tries to gossip about his children anytime she has been with his family so we have decided to make it a point to never be around her. My husbands youngest brother just had a brain hemorrhage at 40 and was on life support for 10 days before passing away. The siblings, all who live in different parts of the country, flew to their brothers side to be there for him and try to make good decisions regarding his life as he had no wife or children. Their father showed up at the last minute, right before his son passed away, complained about not having any money to help the children with burial costs, and complained about how being there was taking away from his vacation time in Italy with his new wife and her daughter! The whole visit in the hospital was filled with inappropriate comments like this from him. He left immediately, very early the morning after his son died, not even signing papers allowing the family to cremate their brothers body, which is required by law to be done by the parent in the state he was in when he passed away. One brother of my husbands wrote an email to his father letting him know what a bad father he has been to all of them, and said he didn't want to speak to him ever again. My husband has had a terrible time with his fathers lack of caring through the years and talks to his siblings often about it. My question is how should he deal with this? He never wants to speak to his father again as well. Should he send him an email as he will not take my advise and just tell him how he feels either over the phone or personally. Should he just ignore him and pretend he doesn't exist when he calls him every couple of months, which is all he ever has done as far as communication goes? I need advice from a family therapist as I am not equipped to help him with this. I have taken many social science classes in college but can't make this decision for him and when I suggest that he confronts his father either through email or phone call, he gets angry with me. I would tell his father how the siblings feel myself but have tried to stay out of this as it is not my parent.

Expert Answers

Kay Paggi, GCM, LPC, CGC, MA, is in private practice as a geriatric care manager and is on the advisory board for the Emeritus Program at Richland College. She has worked with seniors for nearly 20 years as a licensed professional counselor, certified gerontological counselor, and certified geriatric care manager.

This is so sad for your husband and his siblings. I'm sorry that he has not had a supportive relationship with his father. Shutting a door and completely cutting off contact with an emotionally distant parent is never a comfortable position. There is no closure as long as the parent is living.

You might suggest that your husband write his own medical directives and do not mention his father as a medical power of attorney. He could, however, be listed as a contact to be notified if your husband is near death. He might consider sending a card on Father's Day, just to try to keep any options open. His father may feel guilty about ignoring his children, and think that the situation is hopeless and beyond saving. But that is obviously not the case. As long as your husband can be hurt by his father's actions, he still cares about him.

Community Answers

Ca-claire answered...

Your husband's situation sounds very sad. One thing to remember, is that as his wife, you have a lot of input into your husband's decisions - however, he has the free will to deal with his father as he sees fit. You have said your piece to your husband, and that is all that you can do. His Father's current wife and lifestyle are his Father's business, as his Father's son, the best thing that he can do is keep from making the same mistake his Father has. Sometimes, we try so hard to be different from what we dislike in our parents, that we actually become just like them.

Remember that holding a grudge is like drinking poison and hoping the other person dies from it. Let the situation go, live your life with your family, and your husband's siblings and their families the best you can, and if the Father ever initiates contact, see what he has to say and go from there.