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funkdaddy's avatar

What's fair to expect of my dad after my parent's divorce?

Asked by funkdaddy (16844points) May 4th, 2012

My parents let me know they were separating and getting a divorce last November. It was surprising. I’m an adult (34), live thousands of miles away, am married, and have a kid on the way so their job as “parents” is pretty much taken care of. They separated for a number of reasons but in short I guess you could say they decided they’d be happier apart. I hope they both find that happiness.

Before the divorce I talked to them both pretty much every week for the past 5+ years. I genuinely like them both beyond the fact that they’re my parents, appreciate what they did in raising me, and feel I was really lucky to have them. Neither of them “owes” me anything at this point, if anything I owe them.

I went to visit them separately in early December to help out where I could and let them both know I still love them and wanted to have a relationship with them each individually. Since then I’ve talked to my mom every week. I spoke to my dad on Christmas and New Year’s Day, but not since.

I’ve called him a few times since then, left messages, and sent several emails. After not hearing anything back after 4–5 emails and several months I quit writing and figured he’d get in touch when he’s ready. I’m trying not to be angry at him for that.

Last week he called my wife out of the blue to check up on her and her pregnancy. She missed the call, so she sent him several text messages and a sweet email catching him up and just expressing that she misses him and hopes he’s doing well. My hope was that maybe going through her was the easiest first step for him and it would lead to some communication.

He hasn’t responded to her at all. She’s upset and keeps wondering if she said something wrong or if he’s OK. She really wants our kid(s) to know their grandpa.

I’ve tried to not let my family drama affect my wife too much and so I’m somewhat protective of her. If anyone taught me this, it’s my dad.

So I feel I need to say something to him and at least let him know there are some expectations on our side. This is new to all of us and he can’t follow rules he doesn’t know about. I don’t want to be dismissive, I don’t want to be unfair, I understand his life has been flipped upside down this year and he’s in a new city, with a new job, and a completely different future. It’s a lot to take in.

But with the baby coming I feel like we need to know some basics, even if they force some decisions. Does he want to be involved with the baby? Is he OK and just needs time or does he feel we’ve abandoned him? The answers don’t have to stay the same forever but we need to know what his plans are when it comes to me, my wife, and the baby.

I’ve never been through a divorce or had my life changed like that, so I’m looking for some perspective here. Are those questions fair? Are the requests and expectations fair? Would you be offended?

I feel so much has changed and he has so many new people around him that I can’t necessarily count on what I know of him to gauge those questions, so I’m looking for a more general answer.

Sorry for the length here, thanks for your thoughts.

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19 Answers

rooeytoo's avatar

I don’t think I would be offended but no doubt I would be hurt. But knowing what I know of people and divorces the first two words that pop into my head are shame and guilt. I don’t know your dad (obviously) but these are the feelings that dads and moms often have with regard to children when divorcing. I guess if I were you and I really wanted contact with the man, then I would continue to send emails and call occasionally as well to let him know that you love him, have no ill feelings towards him and still want his presence in your life and your family as well. I would do that whether I received a response or not. I think eventually he will realize that you need him and he needs you and he will get over whatever is keeping him away.

Judi's avatar

Could it be that the communication in the past was at your moms prompting and it really just isn’t in his nature? Have you talked to your mom about it?
It sounds like they had a friendly divorce. Your mom might be able to offer some insight if she’s not poisoned by anger over the divorce.

JLeslie's avatar

I am inclined to assume he is more of a phone person than emails or texts. Another thing I would guess is what @Judi mentioned, maybe it was your mom throughout their marriage who made the calls or did the prompting. When the divorce was first happening maybe he was overwhelmed? Or, depressed? Is it possible you have a wrong email address? Asking your mom sounds like a good idea to me. You don’t have to mention your frustration, you can just ask what is the best way to get in touch with dad.

Could he be dating someone? He might have worried how you would react and just avoided talking.

My husband’s family obsesses about calling someone, rather not calling. They all say things like, I don’t want to bother them, I don’t know what time they eat, I don’t know if his wife just got home…and then they never make the call. This is with their children siblings and parents, let along friends.

marinelife's avatar

I think that you just need to talk to him. Tell him that you have missed the chance to talk to him every week. Ask him what his expectations are for the relationship. Tell him, in short, what you told us here.

Try to do it without anger. Perhaps he does not communicate well on the phone. Maybe you could set him up with Skype. Perhaps you coudl set a day and time to talk.

View his having called your wife as an attempt to reach out to you both.

Coloma's avatar

Just call your dad, reach out, and instead of giving a run down of your “expectations”, simply see how he is dong, listen, let him share whats going on with him and let him know how much you care for him, and how much it will mean to you to have him be a grandpa to your coming child.
Don’t make up stories in your head about what his state of mind or life is, don’t “should” on him. Call him, ASK him how he is and initiate the communication.

Don’t fall into the assumption trap like @rooeytoo mentions.
Dangerous turf.
Speculating what’s up with others is always fiction, go for the facts. :-)
Just because someone doesn’t return a communication as quickly as you might like is no reason to jump to negative conclusions.

funkdaddy's avatar

Thank you all for your perspectives and I appreciate the suggestions.

My description of their split in the original question is best labeled as a euphemism. They were best friends for 30+ years and I don’t think you leave that without some damage. Both are really hurt and not really in a spot to provide an unbiased opinion on the other. I mentioned not hearing from him briefly to my mom, it was a bad idea. It basically feels like I’m tattling on him, taking sides in the process, and reinforcing the negative aspects of all the changes in their lives.

I can’t rely on keeping a relationship with my dad going through my mom. It’s unfair to her.

As far as “just talking to him”, at what point am I being dense and just not taking the hint. I tried to get in touch by phone and email a total of 8 times over the course of three months. I don’t believe that’s rushing him into a reply.

Think about that. Let’s say you tried to get in touch with a friend, family member, or even your trash man 8 times and never heard back. How many more time would you try before you backed off? When am I just hurting things by forcing my will to communicate on him as a constant reminder? The phone number and email address are the same as they have been, it’s pretty safe to say he’s getting the messages.

Again, not shooting anyone down and recognize maybe it’s simpler than I’m making it, but not so much wondering how to get in touch, I can think of a dozen ways to communicate with him. I suppose I’m more asking for some perspective on things from his side because I don’t understand and am running out of options that don’t involve forcing things.

Thanks again.

tranquilsea's avatar

I agree with everyone here who said that he may not have been the one who reached out to you while your parents were together. If this is so, then it may take a while for him to adjust or you may have to adjust.

My mom rarely called me. She wasn’t a phone person. But she was good at answering.

Your dad may be a bit depressed too. If I was you I’d keep contacting him until I reached him. Then I’d have an honest discussion about my feelings all the while trying to suss out what may be going on with him.

nikipedia's avatar

You know your dad better than us, so maybe he is trying to send a message by not responding. Based on what you’ve said, though—painful divorce, tried to reach out once unsuccessfully (through no fault of yours or your wife’s)—it sounds more like he is just hurting. And of course now he’s hurting you. It’s only natural that you would be upset by how your father is treating you, and you have every right to be unhappy with him.

But from what you wrote here, I don’t think it’s personal. He probably is hurt, and as @rooeytoo said, maybe feeling guilty or embarrassed.

marinelife's avatar

@funkdaddy Your father may be reminded of your mother and happier days when he speaks to you. But you will never know why he is not communicating unless you ask him. Send him and email or leave him a phone message (whichever you prefer) saying something like:

“Dad, I have been trying to reach you. I have left you eight messages and you have not called me back. I need to talk to you about something, and it is worrying me that you are not responding. Please call me back or set a day and time when I can call you.”

wundayatta's avatar

If he is hurt and depressed, then he may feel he has failed you and has no right to talk to you. If he is depressed, he may not feel he deserves to talk to you. He may feel like a failure and that no one in his old life wants him or needs him.

I think this is the kind of thing you can only find out if you see him in person. I’m guessing that’s not possible. But you need to see what he looks and acts like if you really want to get a sense for the things he is not telling you.

I would keep on contacting him. I’d call him every Sunday, or whatever, just the way you used to. Just make it a habit to call and leave a message. Thinking of you. Would love to know how you are. The baby is coming along. Hope to talk to you next week. Let me know if there’s a better time to call.

Just make it impersonal, like it’s a regular thing, and you have agreed to it. Don’t pressure him. Don’t guilt trip him. Don’t ask him for anything. Just let him know you are there and still think about him and would love to talk to him. He did, after all, call your wife, so that’s something.

If he is trying to cut you off, he will eventually take action to tell you that. Clearly, you aren’t getting the message. But I don’t think he is sending that message. I think you need to keep the door open as wide as you can and hope that one day he’ll walk through.

gailcalled's avatar

If you can write an old-fashioned letter that encapsulates what you say here (keeping it short) and includes what you hope your relationship can be and asks him several questions about what he wants, I would do that.

Personally, if it were my dad and I was an adult child and he was being slippery and uncommunicative, I would send the letter as registered mail. I would also keep a copy.

When I was at a low point with my mother (I was 59), I wrote her a letter. Eventually, with the help of my therapist, I sorted things out. Not, however, in ways that were part of my fantasy, but in terms of the reality.

JLeslie's avatar

I really like @wundayatta‘s suggestion of calling regularly and @gailcalled‘s suggestion of a handwritten letter, or even a card that does not have to say much, but shows you want to be in touch.

I do understand why you are wondering if you should be taking some sort of grand hint that he simply does not want to talk or be in touch. I would not assume that if before the divorce you never felt anything that implied such a thing. Change in behavior after a huge event like this to me implies it has more to do with the event than with you.

The baby (congratulations on the pregnancy by the way) will be a wonderful time to try to contact him again if for now you choose to not to contact him. After the birth send an announcement, photos, ask him to come out and visit. If this is your first baby you will have opportunity to talk about being a new dad, maybe it will open him up telling you stories of when you were first born. I realize he has to actually respond to you to have a time of bonding like that, I remain hopeful he will eventually return your calls.

Most people I know are devastated after a divorce for at least 4 months, even if they wanted the divorce, and then slowly get back to normal, much like grieving a death. I don’t think you mentioned how long it has been since they separated? I would assume your dad still wants you to think of him as strong, someone to look up to, and if the divorce has left him an emotional mess, you might be the last person he wants to reveal that to. Or, if he feels like he failed, many people who divorce feel like failures, he might feel some shame, and shame is a horrible burden.

I am guessing all over the place, you know your father best, I could be totally wrong on all counts.

Elm1969's avatar

To answer your question What’s fair to expect of my dad after my parent’s divorce? I would say, Nothing. You are a father to be, you will have the same responsabilities as he had soon, you are 34 years of age.

My parents divorced when I was 12 and I lived with my dad for 5 or 6 years and then I left home at 18. He never bothered to contact me I did all the calling and going to see him to no avail.

I have my own life now and he has his. I am happy that we both do the things in life that we want to. I don’t need his support as I am a grown man and have my own responsibilities.

Try contacting him to a point that you feel that you have done all that you can, then at least you can feel that you have done what you needed to do. Don’t have rules. If it bothers you that he doesn’t reply to your calls etc, don’t contact him, it will only make you frustrated .

I hope that it is just that your Father is trying to resolve his feelings and that all of you will get what you need in your relationships

fluthernutter's avatar

Weddings and starting a family can already be tumultuous times. You start realizing who your real friends and family are. Not just related to you, but will actually be there for you.

It’s terribly unfortunate that your parents’ divorce is coinciding with this. I think you need to make a concerted effort to separate the two (parents’ divorce/behaviour and deciding who to keep in your lives).

Their separation is bound to leave things in a bit of upheaval. It’ll take time before the dust settles and you know what’s going on.

Baby’s coming. (Congratulations, by the way!) And I can relate to the time-crunch and nest-building (both physically and emotionally).

Easier said than done, but try to give them some more time and space. I’d take the suggestion from @wundayatta and just try to keep those doors open until they’re ready.

Good luck!

Skaggfacemutt's avatar

I wouldn’t lay any “expectations” on him – after all, he’s not your child. Just call, text and e-mail now and again to let him know you’re still there and still interested in him. There might be a number of reasons why he is not responding – and for us to guess would just be speculation. Hopefully you won’t back him in a corner by demanding that he respond now – or else!

funkdaddy's avatar

@Skaggfacemutt – Come on now, that’s not fair. There are “expectations” in any relationship, and definitely relationships that are less personal than family. When you call someone, you expect to talk to them eventually, that’s not a complex social contract that I just made up especially for him. I also mentioned several times that I’m trying to avoid ultimatums or forcing anything on him.

I didn’t ask here to get permission for anything, I asked here to get a better understanding of his side, what he’s going through, and how it might be affecting him. That hardly implies my intent is to “back him into a corner” or treat him as my child.

Neizvestnaya's avatar

I think he’d appreciate an email from you asking directly how much he wants to be involved with his grandchild since you and your wife are first timers and don’t know what to expect. Reassure him you welcome contact with him and that you and your wife feel confused and anxious when he doesn’t respond to your outreaches. Tell him you you and your wife have been assuming all’s well with him but would rather have a bit more response if he could manage.

Elm1969's avatar

@funkdaddy What your expectations in a relationship might be, may differ from your dad’s.

When you call someone, you expect to talk to them eventually

Not if they don’t want to talk to you. Is that not their choice. I know it is hard to deal with when someone does not want to communicate. You may feel that the right way would be to have some sort of contact, How do you know that your dad has even recieved you messages?. Do you know for sure he still has the same phone number (he may have changed it due to your mum knowing it) are you sure he still has a computer to recieve e-mails? Does he still have your phone number and e-mail address. If you know where he lives, why not try and visit him that might resolve all your concerns.

This must be a dificult situation to deal with and I am not trying to tell you what is right. I am only hoping that you can resolve your situation so that all parties are happy.

JLeslie's avatar

@Elm1969 I don’t think you fully read @funkdaddy question nor his answer in the thread. He says he is wondering if he should just take the hint his father does not want to talk. His dad lives a thousand miles away. And, he feels quite sure the phone number and email for his dad is still the same.

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