Skip to main content
Advertising

Originally published Wednesday, March 20, 2013 at 5:00 AM

  • Share:
           
  • Comments (1)
  • Print

Rough childhood haunts woman through birthday money

Carolyn Hax tells a woman to do what is best for herself when it comes to interacting with her long-lost dad.

Syndicated columnist

Most Popular Comments
Hide / Show comments
We are not created equal in our abilities to set and adhere to higher minded standards... MORE

advertising

Dear Carolyn

DEAR CAROLYN: My father was a nightmare. When I was a kid, he would tell me I was “a b---- just like your mother” and throw things at me; he even threw me down the stairs once and broke my arm. By the time I was 13, I realized I hated him and wanted him gone. Eventually I persuaded my mother to leave him. I was 15 then and it’s been about 10 years since I’ve seen or spoken to him.

Over the years, my father has sent me cards on my birthday and other holidays, telling me how much he loves and misses me but never acknowledging what he did. He always sends sizable checks, usually several hundred dollars. I’ve always cashed the checks and thought of the money as child support he owed me. When I was younger and struggling to put myself through college, I desperately needed the money.

Now I’m done with school, have a good job and don’t need the money, but the checks keep coming.

On the one hand, I feel he still owes me a lot. On the other hand, through the process of repairing my relationship with my mother, I’ve found I no longer hate my father. I’ve come to understand he is severely mentally ill.

If I were a better person I could donate the money to people who need it more than I do, but if I cash the checks I’m most likely going to spend the money on myself.

I’ve been thinking the right thing to do is release him from my life permanently. I think if I stop opening the cards and cashing the checks, then I can give him back to God, if that makes sense. What do you think?

— Torn

DEAR TORN: When someone has been through what you have, I’m inclined to vote for whatever you believe will help, as long as it isn’t destructive. Your idea for releasing him is not a destructive one — and yes, the way you describe it makes perfect sense to me.

There’s one thing that stops me, though: “If I were a better person.” That’s both an alarm and an opportunity.

The alarm is self-evident, since you spent your formative years being systematically put down. That means putting yourself down, even with just a throwaway comment, is no throwaway matter.

The opportunity: Depositing your father’s check and writing another for the exact amount to an organization that, say, helps abused kids, or aids the mentally ill, or supports struggling parents to help break the abuse cycle, might provide you with a surprising source of strength and validation. Inform your father of the donation with a brief note, even.

You could also use the money — or your own, certainly — for good counseling, if “torn” is a chronic condition for you, and not limited to matters of money from Dad.

Not that you need to choose either of these paths to prove your worth; you’re grounded and self-sufficient at an age and to a degree that would be impressive for someone without a rocky childhood, much less for somebody with one. You don’t need to prove a thing to anyone.

Except, perhaps, yourself, which is ultimately how I suggest you frame this decision: Do yourself proud, in whatever shape that takes.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com and follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax. Find her columns daily at www.seattletimes.com/living.

News where, when and how you want it

Email Icon

Subscribe today!

Subscribe today!

Get 8 weeks of digital access to The Seattle Times for $1

Advertising

Advertising


Advertising
The Seattle Times

To keep reading, you need a subscription.

We hope you have enjoyed your complimentary access. Subscribe now for unlimited access!

Subscription options ►

Already a subscriber?

We've got good news for you. Unlimited seattletimes.com content access is included with most subscriptions.

Subscriber login ►