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Take dad's recently emerged appreciation at face value

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

Take dad's recently emerged appreciation at face value

D.C.: My father didn't want children, but my mother did. I was their only child. My mom has "made up" for my father's lack of love throughout my life.

I was a real mess for a lot of years trying to figure out what I did to make my father not like me. I'm in my mid 30s now, and as my parents get older, they seem to want me around more.

Part of me is appreciative he finally likes me, but part of me will always keep a wall between us. I'm not really sure if he's trying to be nice because he's planning on needing my help in his later years or if he's genuinely trying to make up for everything.

Is there really any way to tell?

Carolyn: No, not really. However, it is often possible to tell the difference between trying to be nice, and being nice — and that might be the only distinction you really need to make.

Either way, given your history, you'd be within the bounds of decency if you looked at this situation not for what you can do for your father, but instead for what your father can do for you.

His choices left you vulnerable to some very difficult feelings, and any strength you've developed was in spite of him, not because of.

It's okay to make your well-being your top priority.

That doesn't mean you tell Dad to take a hike. You may well decide that it serves your sense of well-being to be charitable toward him — pointedly, in a way he wasn't charitable toward you.

It may be that your dad is struggling to redeem himself, and allowing him room to do that could be a way of saving yourself.

Your decision doesn't have to be that profound, either. If you get anything out of his unexpected attention — if, say, you just enjoy his company — then don't be afraid to take him at face value, and leave behind both the what-is-he-angling-for questions and the wow-he-finally-likes-me relief.

Just take what he's offering without apology, and make the rest up as you go.

If, on the other hand, his presence in your life isn't adding much that you care to have, or is chipping away at your emotional progress, then don't be afraid to keep him at arm's length.

What I advise strongly against is punishing him for the pain you suffered from his indifference. Then it becomes a zero-sum battle, where you punish him for your unhappiness just as he made you pay for his.

Your family has endured more than its share of that attitude, at a staggering cost to you all.

Pay attention to individual, not age, when it comes to dating

Georgetown: At my age (25), and as a straight female, what do you think is the ideal age of man for me to date?

More specifically, how old is too old? Please speak in generalizations, if possible, because they seem to ring true for the men in my city.

Carolyn: There's no answer to this question. There are only individuals, the unique circumstances they combine to create, and the case-by-case answers to the questions they raise.

Take dad's recently emerged appreciation at face value 10/10/10 [Last modified: Sunday, October 10, 2010 5:30am]
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