Dear Carolyn: This fall, my father left my mother at home while he went to spend the winter with friends in Florida (she still works and he does not). He did not tell my mother of his intentions until the week before he left. He did not tell me of his plans at all; I learned about it from another family member. I recently learned that he intends to make this change permanent, though he has not yet discussed this with my mother or me.
I am an adult with a family of my own, and I recognize that he has fulfilled his obligations to me as a father. He has no obligation to stick around and be an involved grandparent to my son. I recognize his right to live where he wishes, and am supportive of his choice to separate from my mother, as their relationship has been tense and bitter for decades.
However, I resent that he has lacked the courage or integrity to discuss his plans openly with my mother or with me. I also resent the fact that he has chosen to seriously limit his relationship with my young son, who adores him, by moving to the other side of the country. My impulse is to end all communication over social media (he loves to follow us on Facebook) and to refuse to engage in back-channel conversations until he gathers the strength and courage to speak to my mother and me directly about his plans.
I can’t tell if this response is purely spiteful, or is an appropriate response to our family’s poor communication style.
It’s an extension of your family’s poor communication style: To deliver an unpleasant message, you’re not saying anything at all. Just like Dad.
The best response, for you and especially for your son in the future, would be to use your father’s silent departure as inspiration to break the old pattern for good.
And that means not going silent on him or imposing emotional sanctions, but instead actually talking to him and saying what you mean: “Dad – I understand it’s your life to live as you see fit, and you and Mom need some space from each other, and you’ve long since fulfilled your obligations to me as a father. Yes, go to Florida, of course – but please talk to us about this stuff. I found out through the grapevine! Please have the courage and respect for me and mom to share with us directly.”
Show him that two people who love each other don’t have to pretend the bad stuff doesn’t exist. Include the good, too, to prove this point – that your son is nuts about his grandpa.
If you can’t clear this hurdle, then a good family therapist can help.
To get what you want, you have to give what you want. It’s not foolproof – your father may well hide for the rest of his life – but it’s eloquent, not to mention necessary to a life lived with integrity. You can’t expect others to do what you yourself won’t try.