My Dad has always been disappointed with me. I’m not sporty and have had no interest in watching football. Nor am I particularly ambitious. He was the opposite and so competitive he would even train for Fathers’ Race on my school’s sports day . It also gave him an opportunity to mock me for not winning a single medal. In fact I can’t remember a day when he didn’t try to humiliate me for one thing or another. It took me years to find myself but I am now content. I work as an art teacher at a small country school and have a partner but no children, which is fine by me.
I haven’t seen my father for at least a decade but he has recently written to me to say he is very ill and would like me to visit so he can apologise for being so harsh when I was a child. Part of me feels I ought to go and see him, especially as his illness may be terminal. But I also know he could manipulate the situation to make me feel somehow guilty and end up staying to look after him. Something that no doubt would save him paying for a carer. My gentle mother passed away some years ago and my sister lives abroad and also wants nothing to do with him. What should I do?
You are right to tread carefully. You know your father well and your fear that he may manipulate you into becoming his carer is realistic. If on the other hand he genuinely wishes to apologise and you want to hear what he has to say, think through how to set the scene and only meet him on your terms.
We suggest that you reply accepting his offer of making amends and say that you would like to talk over coffee or lunch at a set time and in a neutral and possibly public place, perhaps half way between where you both live . This assumes he is fit enough to travel. Tell him in advance that you are sorry to hear about his illness and you trust that given his organisational skills he has already made plans for his care and support.
If he accepts your idea prepare yourself well by anticipating what he may say to make you feel guilty and how you will deal with it. Practice saying a firm ‘no’ in your head and have an excuse to leave the room to give yourself space to think.
If he doesn't accept your offer and suggests a plan that either doesn't suit you, or sounds like a trap then keep clear. After his behaviour throughout your life you don't have any obligations, and you will have shown willingness to literally meet him halfway.