Dear Fiona: Nothing I do is ever good enough for my father – should I give up trying?

·4 min read
Nothing is ever good enough for my father (Alamy/PA)
Nothing is ever good enough for my father (Alamy/PA)

The problem…

“I’m 55 – and nothing I have done has ever been right or good enough for my father, who is 75. Over time, I’ve learned what to do and not do around him to avoid confrontation; he’s not an easy man to get along with.

“For example, when I was in my 20s, I had sold my car to buy a foreign sports car – but that made my father so furious, he wouldn’t talk to me for four years. He moved without telling me, and only through family friends did I eventually find out where he had moved to. They encouraged me to contact him and we met for breakfast, which was a very awkward affair, although it did start us talking and we gradually got close again.

“As he’s grown older, he has seemed more able to have a relationship of some sort with me, but even so, he never calls or texts me, unless it’s an emergency or he’s sick. A few months ago, he texted me wanting my son’s mobile number, which I though was odd because they had had almost no contact.

“At the time I was busy and forgot to reply until three days later. He didn’t respond, so I tried again the next day and each day for the rest of the week, by which time I was worried he was ill, I sent a text to his wife. She replied that he’d spent two months in hospital for Covid and was still not fully over it. It was the first I’d heard about it, but then I got a text from him telling me to stop bothering his wife, and that if I can’t respond to his texts, he will ignore mine!

“I was really hurt by this. Now, out of the blue, he’s sent me a text to say he needs to have surgery for possible cancer. I can’t sleep for worrying or crying and am desperate for help. Do I call to offer help, or ignore him and move on with my life?”

Fiona says:

“You really don’t have a good relationship with your father, and it seems he is the kind of person who takes offence at whatever you do, if it suits him. It seems to me that you are desperate for your father’s love and affection, and that this has never been forthcoming.

“You mention ‘his wife’ so I’m assuming that this person is not your mother, which leads me to wonder if your parents separated when you were a child. Did you, as unfortunately many children do, blame yourself for the separation? As an adult, I’m sure you realise this isn’t logical – whatever happened was not your responsibility – but could you possibly, as a child, have felt this way? Could you be carrying some baggage from this, and is it perhaps time you thought about trying to let it go?

“As your father is now in his mid-70s, the chances are he’s not going to change his behaviour. But it’s not too late to change yours. I would encourage you to think about getting counselling of some kind (see the BACP website – bacp.co.uk) to help you deal with his cruel behaviour and unpack the impact it’s had on you.

“In terms of what’s happening with your father’s health now, you suggest you’ve got two options – to call and offer to help your father, or ignore him and move on with your life. I’d suggest a third option: continue to call, text and message him regularly, if you want to, without any expectation of a response – just let that go.

“You’ve tried to get your father to recognise and accept you. You know who you are, and you know you’ve tried your best, so get yourself some counselling help to recognise the fact.”

If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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