“Dad! Go To Your Room!”

It’s funny, writing all this recent stuff about my relationship with my father. Not “ha-ha” funny. “How long can I keep boring people with this same topic?” funny.

Let’s find out about that, shall we? Cuz there’s one more thing I thought I might say on the matter.

In my life, my father has not been a terrific burden to me. As I wrote in the first post of this series (Death, Be Not Stupid) I was eleven years old when it fully hit me that the quality of my life would be largely determined by how comprehensively I came to terms with my father not loving me. (To those who’ve been following this series: that realization was largely fueled by my father never responding to the notes I wrote about leaving him in “Love, Whatsisname.”)

I was eleven when I began making it my singular business to process all that my father was, and would never be, to me. And it’s not like I had no tools to apply in that regard. When I was eight, my mother returned to college to take her Master’s degree in psychology; I grew up learning about Freud and the ego theory like other kids might learn about … I dunno, bunnies, or whatever. At nine or ten years old, I wrote a whole book called Getting in Touch with Your True Feelings. (I did it on yellow legal pad, mostly in pencil—so I could erase and rewrite, if you can stand it. That manuscript was huge. I think it was actually book size.)

Point being: I was on this stuff, from way back.

I lived my life, from when I was, say, nineteen onward, without a lot of interior trips about either of my parents. Of course learning to be okay with having parents who couldn’t care less about you is a lifetime process—but by the time I was, say, married (at twenty-three), I was okay with it all. I’d been on my own, living and working, for six years. I’d found the right woman for me. I’d decided to be a writer (as opposed to an actor, which a wide-open door for me). I was okay.

I was okay as a kid, actually. One time maybe I’ll write about how I really survived my childhood. In a real way, my family has always been this … strange abnormality I just worked around.

For now, just trust that throughout my life, I’ve been emotionally okay. Not great sometimes, of course, but, generally speaking, no worse than anyone else. But I haven’t spent my life losing sleep over my dad. I haven’t tripped about my dad. I haven’t lived my life in the long, dark shadow of my dickweed dad. Pretty early on in my life I did, in every last way, write him off as an outstanding sperm donor, and not, sadly, much else.

What recently changed is that this is the first time where my writing off my dad actually hurts him. That’s the radically new dynamic now at play. It was one thing to have utterly dismissed my father from my life when I knew that he was perfectly fine—when I knew he preferred that.

But here, now, he needs my help. Impossibly (and fleetingly) enough, he’s once or twice told me that he wants my help.  So now continuing to ignore him means actively participating in his demise.

That’s … pretty freakin’ different.

And of course it brings into sharp focus the question of what, exactly, do I owe my father? He did, after all, give me my life. He provided me with food, clothing, and shelter. I am a Christian.

So what are my moral obligations to him? Do I really just … let him die? Not fly across the country to see with him, stay with him, care for him? Not arrange for him to come live out here with my wife and me, if that’s what he wants? Turn my back on the possibility that, as his life comes to a close, he might, finally, care to know anything at all about me, my wife, my life?

All those sorts of new considerations are the forest in which I’ve recently found myself a bit lost. This new paradigm is what I’ve lately been thinking and feeling (and writing) my way through. And that’s why I (very barely) decided to go and stay with my dad for nine days. I had to see if anything with him might have changed.

And wow, did it ever not. Completely unsurprisingly, he still has no more interest in me than I have in what he paid for any one of his (literally) hundreds of pairs of shoes. (My dad is insane about clothes. I can’t even begin to tell you how much clothing he owns. He could open a men’s clothing store: Vain and Cheap. Big and Dorky. Golf Asylum. Whatever. But it’s so crazy.) He still can’t stand to have me near him. If anything, he feelings in that regard have increased. (Which I understand. It’s not like he doesn’t know how weak he’s become, and how strong I am. I know that having me, however gently, playing the role of his parent doesn’t exactly warm his cockles.)

And now here I am, back at the place where I have to again write off my father—only knowing, this time, that doing so means he won’t take his medicines; he’ll fall and crack his head and bleed to death; he’ll burn down his house; he’ll as likely as not drive his car through the back wall of his garage straight into his bedroom.

Now my writing him off means sending him, with no goodbye, straight into his grave. (Though, that said, the man seems incapable of dying. I’ve been basically waiting for him to die ever since, at thirty-nine, he had his first massive coronary. Everybody has. He’s just … a horse.)

And I have written him off, again, forever. My door is now closed to him. I will not open it again. He can die.

It’s over.

And what makes it so “easy” for me to do that now is the same thing that made it so (relatively, I guess) easy for me to do it before: it is precisely, and only, what he wants.

And what else do I want, but to give my father what he wants?


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  • Ow. This hurt my heart.

  • Suz

    You sure can’t force him to accept what he needs, if he doesn’t want it. If he decides to move to CA, I bet you’ll check to ensure that he gets proper care. Beyond that, you’re doing the right thing for both of you. If being together disrupts both of your lives, there’s no reason for you to engage him. For your sake and Cat’s, I’m glad you’re at peace with it. If he (miraculously) changes, it would be a great gift, but you’re very wise not to hope for it.

    Hmmm. On the other hand, if you’re up for a little taste of hell, you could always force him to accept what he needs,against what he wants. It’s not like he could resent you more than he already does. Ugh!

  • Lisa

    John, am I the only one who wants this story to have a good and happy ending?

    For the last couple of weeks, your story has distracted me from what I am going through myself by allowing me to be torn up about your relationship with your dad. Though what I am going through does not even resemble what you have been writing about, there is one common sentiment or question I have: why doesn’t God help people see things from MY perspective?

    In my case, it is my wife. I thought time would help her come to terms with my transition and gender reassignment almost a year ago. At the time, she told me she needed space to figure things out and to give her time. That is what I have done and I have been hoping an praying that she would find it in her heart to stay married to me, though in a much different relationship form what we had before. I wanted her to be my companion for our remaining years, to be my best friend.

    But I am as good as dead to her now and no amount of kindness and gentleness and consideration on my part seems to have made a difference. I have pleaded with God to let her see how much she means to me, love her and need her. But it is as if she is blind to that.

    By the time summer comes, it appears now, we will have sold our house and our life together will be over. My question goes begging, why doesn’t God change people when we ask him?

    I know, it is as absurd as me wanting every story to have a happy ending.

  • i am sorry.

  • Tim

    I too want my ex to come to the conclusion that she threw away a perfectly good husband and family. She may find a satisfying relationship with some other guy, but he will never make her forget how she gave up on God, on me, and on her family. But she will do what she will do. That is free will and God gives us free will as a gift of sovereignty. What we do with it is up to us. We can use a hammer or a shove as it should be. To build good things or repair broken things. We can also use a hammer to bash in a skull and shovel dirt over the body to cover our deed.

    Stories will continue to have unhappy endings as long as we choose to leave God’s abode and do things. I try hard…every day…to make the decision to be happy no matter what circumstances come that day. When my heart is overwhelmed…I still weep. I still mourn. But I still choose to follow Christ. He is my happy ending. I pray that He is for everyone else too…friend or foe. But that is ultimately their free will choice. GBY, Lisa

  • Tim

    The will is an awesome thing. But it can be our awesome undoing. The honor of it all is what we do with our own choice of will. As far as I’ve read, your choices have been stellar. Your dad…well age and wisdom don’t always go hand in hand. But I know what you mean when you say that you want to give your father what he wants. Sometimes the best place to be is alone with our thoughts. Still praying.

  • Don Whitt

    John, The fact that you did so well in liberating yourself from your family’s dysfunctions provides you with a great luxury: a blank slate. In that blank slate world, how would you deal with any man that was like your father? Pretty much like you have so far, and that’s been with patience and compassion. You’ve done a great job providing the support that you have.

  • Julie

    Sometimes when I’m reading about your dad, it reminds me of the character Kate in Steinbeck’s East of Eden. If anyone remembers that book, you might recall that in the story she is more or less born, as sort of a birth defect, without a soul, without a conscience. I wonder if that sort of thing is really possible — I want to understand what makes people behave so hatefully. Your dad is one sad case, John.

  • Melissa Chamberlin

    Wow, what a wonderful twist at the end!! How true. True resolve can be so peaceful, so freeing, so liberating. Live on, John, there are plenty of folks who will love your love.

  • Diana A.

    Yeah. I’ve thought much the same thing.

  • Anonymous

    John, why did your father want you? I didn’t get that. Did he need your help? Or did he ask for your company? I respect your story but feel there is a part missing.

    You did say this is the first time your rejection hurts him. I think that is the key. If it hurts him, is there any way to dig that out with him? To have some conversations strictly about why he is hurt not seeing you?

    It seems if he just wanted a care taker he could hire one. So don’t be dismayed because you can’t take physical care of him. He’s too stubborn anyhow to take care of himself.

    Maybe he wants to connect with you but doesn’t know where to start.

    Sorry to be the antagonist. But that lept out at me.

  • Sheri

    I was not expecting that ending…and do not want it to end this way…have to absorb all this.

    What happened since you have been home, walk us through how you got to your closing argument emotionally.

    All in all, your feelings matter!

  • Susan in NY

    Thank you again, so much for sharing your life with me.

    I hate abusers. Jesus says to forgive, and I’ll try. I’ll try to forgive those who hurt me. But I will not forgive those who hurt others. I’m a mother and a teacher and a sister and an ex-wife and a girlfriend and a daughter, a neighbor and a mandated child abuse and neglect reporter.

    I may need to forgive those who hurt me, but I will not forgive abusers who hurt others.

    I’d help abusers, in a professional capacity – as a social worker or teacher or mentor. But I still would not forgive them. And I would not forgive the people who abused the abuser and made them that way.

  • Melissa Chamberlin


    This is sad news indeed. <3<3<3 I am praying for your heart to catch up with this news.

  • Kim

    Keep speaking your truth John. As painful as it sounds to me, I haven’t walked one inch in your shoes.

  • When push comes to shove, I’m feeling your dad is a ‘victim-become-perpetrator.’….babies aren’t born angry….children become angry when their dignity is eroded by abuses and violations of their childhood rights to innocence, affirmations and loving words. I don’t blame you for not wanting to go back to more of the same treatment…..Jesus did say: “woe to the man who causes one of these little ones to sin…it would be better that a millstone be hung about his neck and he be cast into the sea”…. this is something that only you, John, can decide…..but there seems to be a lot of support out there on your side. Bless you!

  • Makes me feel like crying, and I just want to hug you even though that’s not possible from the Internet.

    None of us can control others’ lives and hearts, even for their own good. As they say, you can lead a horse to water, but you cannot make him drink. (Sometimes even sweetening the water with molasses does not work).

  • Don Rappe

    Blessed are those who mourn.

  • Don Rappe

    Somewhere today I saw an Einstein quote that made me think of you. Along the lines of: Reality may in fact be an illusion, but it is very persistent.

  • Debbie

    Love doesn’t grow on the tree of death…

    How will you really feel if he dies ‘alone’? I may be out of line here yet I recall two little peeps stuffing themselves with oreo’s being totally alone and a certain cold hearted bastard put his key in the door…wouldn’t surprise me if you discover that your dad never threw those letters in the wastebin…she did…the ones in the envelope were the ones he got to first…maybe…your father seemed to have married two very cold hearted women…did you ever know any of your grandparents?

    You have been blessed to have married such a fine lady…your daddy wasn’t so…do you know what women like that can do to a man? Your daddy does…I only know a very short snippet of your mother from what you shared and that was enough to tell me that she may have torn your daddy’s heart to shreds long before you even arrived on this planet…

    Your story is far from over…don’t miss the gift God may be giving you John…have faith that something of great worth could be coming…

  • Further proof (as if more is actually needed) that we were not made for this world.

    Thank you for not not telling the truth simply because it is raw. Too often, the Christian community only wants the restoration/happily-ever-after stories that reveal God’s mercy and love. However, most stories exist for extended periods of time just like your story of your father. Restoration in this world is always at some dissatisfying level. It is never complete or whole (baring extremely rare miracles and situations). The level of restoration in your life is absolutely amazing, even miraculous. The level of restoration offered to your father is completely unwarranted and therefore gracious.

    Just as Jesus lets the rich young ruler leave, sometimes we have to as well.

  • Mindy

    I didn’t read that John’s writing him off hurt his dad emotionally, but that without the help of his son, the old bastard will die. Because he can’t live alone. Because he can’t take care of himself. So somehow, he will wind up doing himself in because he refused to accept help with even a modicum of decency.

    He does not WANT John in his life, so John is giving him what he wants, and at the same time protecting himself from the rampant verbal abuse he would obviously have to endure.

    Heartbreaking, yes. But I don’t see this as John doing anything that he will ultimately regret. He visited, and came away from that visit clearly seeing the reality that still exists. I’d wager that if this angry man had shown John or Cat even a tiny sliver of . . . . not gratitude, because he’s not capable of that – relief, maybe, that they’d come to help him – they would continue trying to help. As it is, John has made it beautifully clear that nothing at all has changed except his father’s health.

    I am proud of him for giving himself the freedom of a decision, one not made hatefully, but realistically.

  • Thanks, Ric, very much.

  • Exactly. Perfect. Thank you, Mindy. (And no, as you say, of course I won’t regret leaving my dad to his own devices. It’s what he wants; it’s what he’s insisted on having. Regret is predicated upon an earlier choice. In this I have no choice. No choice; no regret!)

  • Lili Crawford

    If John’s father dies alone, it will be because of his choices, not John’s. He has cultivated this ending for himself for years, and I don’t read any posts from John that indicate he was a weak victim of dominearing women. There is a difference between vindictively striking back at someone to punsih them, or simply choosing not to protect them from the consequences they have wrought for themselves. It seems to me John has chosen the latter, and it is not for us to try to shame him for it, or to defend his father, when we only know snippets of the whole story.

  • Thanks, Lili. It’s actually a little more than even that: I CAN’T protect him from the consequences of the choices he insists on making. He’s not so incompetent I can win over him power of attorney. He’s an adult; he gets to do what he wants. And he does. And what he wants is for me to go away. So I have.

    And no, Debbie, my father is certainly NOT the victim of strong women. You’ll just have to trust me on this.

  • Lisa, I am sad for your situation. Loving someone can be very painful at times.

    We can only change ourselves, others we can only love. Imperfect as it may seem, that is how we were designed. God gave us free will. I imagine our rejection is as painful to him as it is to us.

  • Debbie

    Forgive me if I came across as shaming – that wasn’t my intention – and yes I trust you about your dad, though I didn’t say ‘strong women’ I was hinting at ‘mean women’.

    @Lily – if John’s father has a mental illness is it still his choice to be the way he is? It seems to me if this is the case then is the father accountable, can he really be labelled an abuser if he is mentally unwell? This is also a question very personal to my heart as the father of my children suffers psychosis, we are no longer together though. I have often contemplated this in regard to God’s Grace. I am still not sure what I think about it either…have you ever considered this John? Do people choose to be mentally ill and therefore unable to love?

  • My father is not mentally ill; he would test perfectly sound. I know about this stuff. Phenomenally immature? Yes. Mentally ill? Nowhere near it.

  • Debbie

    ok – I just get confused I think because of the ‘professionals’ here suggesting that was the case, that he is mentally unwell.

    I also am not suggesting in anyway that you change your mind…as you said your dad wants you to go away and so you did…I understand that … my ex wanted the same thing…I carry in my own heart lots of raw questions as well.

    Forgive me if I spoke out my bum…

  • I am not aware of any “professionals” who have ventured to opine that my father is mentally ill. And no mental health professional, with so little information to go on, would dare proffer such a diagnosis. But I appreciate your concern, sincerely.

  • DR

    What gift could God be giving that John would miss if he allowed his father to experience the consequences of the choices his father has made (time and time again)?

  • DR

    There is SO. MUCH. in this sentence. Our ability to truly mourn, at least in North America is so totally diminished. False hope is postponed grief. That John has embraced the reality of what is probable and not living in what is possible – magical, really – for me points the way to a loving God who has absolutely guaranteed to us that if we refuse to allow Him to protect us from ourselves, He will let us choose to be destroyed by our sin if that’s our call and those around us as they watch us make that choice? They mourn.

  • Rhonda Sayers

    So imagine that you had not gone back, and then he died.

    All the voices that could have condemned, all the what if’s, and nagging questions…

    God in His grace disarmed those possibilities with you seeing it the way it really is.

    Your hands and heart are clean. You can be in peace.

    The pain of rejection still hurts, but your pain and how you have faced all this, will be helping others to walk in freedom.

    Peace and comfort to you and your wife.