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Dear Carolyn: Dad drifts as kid tends to sick mother

Hi, Carolyn: My dad is getting married soon to a woman he loves very much. She has two daughters, younger than my brother and me. My dad has gotten very close with them.

But I have seen him less, mostly because my mom was sick and I wanted to spend as much time as possible with her. She has now passed, and it’s become increasingly apparent that Dad has slowly stepped out of the picture for me. He rarely calls or asks how I’m doing (even after a lot of tragedy this past year), and every time we talk it’s about the fiancee’s daughters.

I am truly happy that he’s found someone and been accepted by her family, but it hurts that he’s committed to being their dad and has stopped being mine. As we all congregate to celebrate his wedding, how can I reconcile these feelings and enjoy a moment that is important for him? I keep thinking that he won’t be around forever either, that someday I’ll regret letting my jealousy/resentment/sadness cloud our time together. Any advice?

– Left-Behind Daughter

Give yourself time to recover, even if that includes setting aside worries until you feel ready to take them on.

The problem might not be as drastic as it seems, though. My hunch is that it’s in your father’s emotional makeup to live in the present as a passive participant, meaning that his attention rests on whatever his current circumstances offer him. You probably know people like this, like the friends who are always warm when you see them but are terrible about staying in touch. This trait can be hard to spot in people who serve as your emotional pillars, though. Often, we see them more for their role in our lives than for who they really are.

Of course it hurts when they drift.

If he is this way, then maybe he didn’t leave you so much as you left him to attend to your mother.

That would also mean it’s a simple problem to correct: You just need to be steadily present again, the way you were before Mom needed your full attention.

This will take patience. He will be focused on his new wife, and that includes her own focus on her family – especially if he is, indeed, a go-with-the-moment guy.

You will have to be flexible, too, because any new bond to him will be different from the old.

By being with him as you’re able and embracing new family members, you can renew your relevance to him and bring him back to you. I flinched on your behalf as I typed this – a child has to establish relevance? – but this isn’t about being close because you’re supposed to be – it’s about wanting Dad back in your life.

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at washingtonpost.com.

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