Passionate About San Diego
and the Moms Who Live Here

I Want a Dad Divorce: How My Dad’s Mental Illness is Creating My Own

I suffer from daily anxieties contributing to what I believe to be mild depression. 

The cause: Worrying about my dad. Not only about him in his own dreary world of depression, but I worry about how he will affect my quality of life each day. 
 
I find this to be a bit ironic because ultimately my dad’s own mental illness is a HUGE if not the only contributor to mine. 
 
I dread the awkward texts from him, implying that he wants to spend time with us by telling me he has steaks that have thawed and need to be eaten by the weekend. One – I HATE steak. Ever since I was a kid. He should know that. And two – The roundabout way that he asks to spend time with us makes me cringe. 
 
Then there are the moments when I give in and spend time with him. It always ends with regret. He barely talks or pays attention to what myself or my son is saying and then randomly talks about himself or inappropriately discusses the context of a sex documentary he watched over the weekend. I can see that he feels the need to talk but doesn’t know what to say. But is that really my problem? I try so hard to talk about normal father-daughter topics but he is not responsive. 
 
In fact, if we are sitting at a dinner table – in the house or at a restaurant, he rarely makes eye contact. He just looks around while we all chatter and then chimes in when he has an opinion or wants to plant a quick comment that will cause you to feel insecure. He’s REALLY good at talking when he’s putting you down or talking poorly about my mom. 
 
By the end of any style of visit with him, I just want to run away. It breaks my heart to see him give my son about 20% of his attention when he literally has nothing else to focus on but yet finds a way to be absent while he’s with us every time.
 
When my parents split a few years ago, my dad decided for some reason that it had to be someone’s fault. Blaming it all on my mom and telling us children (adult children keep in mind) just how crappy my mom is. Every visit would end with him trying to convince us that the reason we don’t have a positive relationship with him is my mom’s fault. Telling us that during our childhood our mom framed him as the bad guy and she always came out on top. Reality is, there may have been some behind the scenes stuff that my mom was doing, but the fact is – my dad was mean, verbally abusive and mostly not there.
 
You see, he’s been practicing his dreaded absence while being present our whole lives. Only ever there to punish us, (scream irrationally while banging and slamming around) never ever a calm conversation. EVER. So this “framing” my dad speaks of was really just protecting us from all the negativity. 
 
My mom spent our childhood protecting us, almost to a fault, because at times we resented her for overcompensating for him. But now that I am a mom, I see how broken-hearted her mama heart must have been. 
 
And yes I know it’s clear my dad is suffering from a mental illness. He has admitted to suffering from depression in the past. But the way he treats us makes it hard for us to be empathetic. Although the fact that we still let him in to torture us mentally pretty frequently is showing some empathy now that I think about it. Why would I keep letting him in when there is no value to our visits except for keeping him content?
 
Sometimes I ask myself why he even bothers to visit? He doesn’t seem to enjoy himself, but I do understand the need to be in good company. He lives alone and I don’t believe he has many friends to spend time with. I won’t get into details about his checkered past with confrontation with the neighbors, law enforcement, retailers etc. But know he is most definitely one to be avoided. ***Sigh***
 
So yes, it’s scary. My sibling and I worry every day – when will he confront the wrong person? When will it be his last? When will he have enough of himself and our unwillingness to agree with his bs synopsis of our childhood? 
 
This is my daily struggle. I feel bad if I don’t reach out to have him over for dinner but then I feel bad if he’s reaching out too. No matter what I do, I feel the weight on my shoulders. People tell me to cut him out of my life, but I know I would still feel this way whether he was in our out. And yes, his visits are awful and I dread them before, during and after. But if they were not to happen anymore, I would still worry about him and live with the anxieties of wondering if he is going to call and lash out, send another text about steaks or even worse harm himself or someone else. Plus, he is in so much denial about himself and how he treats us that I don’t even know how to begin to cut him out? He wouldn’t understand. I have had to say a lot of very hard things to him over the years and he never gets it. He just pushes it aside blaming someone else. 
 
I can’t win. And I find myself wishing I could just be like my mom and walk out and get a divorce. It makes sense, but at the same time rarely happens. Instead, the children young or old have to keep navigating the split. As an adult child going through this I put pressure on myself to make it easy.
 
It must be easier as an adult right? I don’t truly know because it feels SO HARD. I have this irrational expectation of myself to muscle through it, when all I want to do is give up and cry. I’m so lost on how to handle it all and protect my family (mostly my children) from all the harm he causes. I don’t know what to do. 
 
But what I do know is this – I want a dad divorce. 
 
If you know of any outlets or just have some advice, I would greatly appreciate a kind word in the comments below. Thank you for reading my heart today. 

, , , , , , ,

8 Responses to I Want a Dad Divorce: How My Dad’s Mental Illness is Creating My Own

  1. Carly May 22, 2018 at 7:33 am #

    Two years ago, I divorced my mom. A true narcissist and so very selfish; I hadn’t lived with her since I was 5 and removed from her custody because after my dad left, she didn’t get out of bed. When she talks about that time, my father left her with 6 kids. Yet she never talked about our pain. The pain of being raised for the next 13 years by people who weren’t our mother. I wanted to help her. To give her a better life and allow my child to have a relationship with her grnadmother. Huge mistake. I’ve done a lot of soul searching since I removed her from our lives…
    You don’t owe your parents allegiance just because they’re your parent. You don’t owe them shit. You are allowed to speak your mind and you are allowed walk away when your heart hurts too bad. I spent 27 years of my life waiting for my mother to be the mother I needed, she just can’t. So I made myself the mother I needed for my daughter. Mothers day is excruciating every year. Her birthday is hard too. But every other day is not. The judgement is gone. The cruelty and manipulations are never coming back into my life. You are allowed to love yourself more than a destructive parent!

    • Elisabeth
      Elisabeth May 24, 2018 at 7:08 pm #

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience. It truly means a lot to me. I appreciate the encouragement. I wish you the best.

  2. Lori C.
    Lori C. May 22, 2018 at 7:50 am #

    Such a difficult situation. My best advice is to seek out the help of a marriage and family therapist who can help you with your feelings and how to handle interactions with your father if you still choose to engage with him. It also is a huge benefit to have someone to vent to without placing the burden of your situation on a family member or friend. Good luck.

    • Elisabeth
      Elisabeth May 24, 2018 at 7:09 pm #

      I am currently seeking help. My husband can only do so much! Thank you Lori.

  3. Elisa
    Elisa May 22, 2018 at 9:11 am #

    I can empathize with you so much. My husband has a very similar situation with his father. Although his parents divorced when he was a child, he was raised in his fathers home, only visiting his mom every other weekend. Not only has the relationship harmed him, but us as a couple and as a family. Don’t get me wrong, my FIL has good qualities too, that he uses them to have people overlook the mental illness he has and all the “other” issues. Recently he moved out of state and has requested we send our kids for a month over the summer. I don’t want too, I don’t trust him. So I can relate to wanting to protect your kids.
    Something that has helped us is a book called Boundaries, it’s a faith based book, that comes with a workbook of discussion questions. My husband and I took 6 months to read it and discuss it and sought out counseling. This helped so much in giving my husband coping material for dealing with his father and situations. It also allowed for me as the spouse to have validation in my fears. Because your relationship with your dad will also affect your relationship with your husband. It also helped create a sense of non guilt for my husband, since he felt obligated to say yes to his requests. It has been a process, and distance has naturally occurred. Because people that can’t deal with boundaries retreat and get upset and blame others, they don’t take responsibility and they use their depression as an excuse. Again I recommend the book, counseling. My heart goes out to you 💕

    • Elisabeth
      Elisabeth May 24, 2018 at 7:12 pm #

      Oh my goodness. I am so glad you found that book and that your husband was able to recognize your fears and he could learn to cope better. Thank you for recommending it. I’ll look it up.

  4. marysusy May 22, 2018 at 10:34 am #

    Wow, this is super tough. I don’t want to say details, but I can relate. These people exist, and oftentimes, they are the parents, siblings, family of someone, right?

    Ok, so here goes. I come from a Christian background, so I believe the people that are family are exactly the kind of people that we need around us so we can grow and ironically, might try to help them, if they don’t fulfill the role of caretaker as they should have.

    I don’t think you have to include him in the lives of your children if you think he harms them. Now, if all he does is mostly ignore them and talk things that are inappropriate, not sure he has to be cut off entirely. If he were abusive, then definitely yes. It is sad that he does not wish to interact, but he is part of the human race and some people are not kid people. Some people have not evolved to think beyond themselves and never had an example of that way of thinking. I am sure if you learned of his childhood – positive, in fact – you would realize why he is the way he is.

    I do see your mental anguish. This is something where I had to use the “Jesus, help me change my heart – help me forgive – help me have true compassion for this person. It’s not about me – it’s them” SO that when you DO see him, you can be mentally prepared to see all his commentary as his own way of ‘dealing’ with his life choices.

    You don’t have to see him often, and you don’t have to deal if you really think it harms you though. I agree that you are a mother first, and the truth is, you need to be there for your kids.

    The only issue I see with cutting him off is, what if your own kids end up blaming you for their mental issues (even if they don’t compare in any way with this, kids have a way of using our own actions against us when they are grown) and then proceed to cut you off? It’s a tricky circle. Let me say, I know it’s not easy – I saw it first hand and it is painful. And it may never resolve.

    Sometimes we have crosses to carry. You being there for your dad is your cross. No one said being a good person was easy. If it is, you are not really being a good person! Because to love those that are hard to love is the very essence of true love.

    I admire your courage to write about this. And the fact that you hesitate to cut him off. Your instincts, I feel, are right. But please don’t misunderstand – I would not judge you if you did especially if he is abusive – only you can decipher that. If you are open to it – pray and send it up to Jesus. That is what miraculously helped me.

    Love and God bless you and your family – your father, and your decision. This is just a bit of what I experienced, but please understand I know that I cannot possibly compare because only you know what you live day in and day out.

    • Elisabeth
      Elisabeth May 24, 2018 at 7:15 pm #

      Thank you Mary, there is a lot more to the story, but at that time those were my concerns. He is very verbally abusive. But we don’t need to get into that. I appreciate you encouraging words. And you are right, I need to follow my instinct. <3

Leave a Reply