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Trust widowed father to know what is best for him

Adapted from a recent online discussion.

It is time to acknowledge father knows best what is right for him

Va.: My mom died a couple of years ago, and after prolonged and very public grief, my dad has started dating. He is in his mid 70s and was considerably older than my mother.

I know it's good for him, I know my mother would approve, and it's not like this has escalated to the point where he's bringing his lady friend to family events. Still, my gut reaction is to feel vaguely (ticked) off . . . of all the things he could have found to amuse himself at this stage of life — a book club, volunteer work, his grandchildren for Pete's sake! — why this?

He keeps trying to connect his new friend to my mother, which only makes me more annoyed. I'd stake my life on the fact my mother would have thrown herself into a million other causes rather than the dating scene had the situation been reversed. I realize my feelings are petty, selfish and childish . . . but I don't know how to fake enthusiasm over this. Any advice?

Carolyn: Why do you begrudge him companionship?

Seriously. This is at the heart of your question. You can't say, "I know it's good for him," and then express anger that he chose a woman over "a million other causes." Which is the truth?

Your first view suggests people are more significant than activities. I could argue then that your dad valued his relationship with your mom so much that it's only natural he'd seek companionship — both a compliment to her and a good break for him, to have found someone he enjoys.

Your second view suggests activities are a perfectly good substitute for emotional bonds, in which case I could argue that there's no cause to be upset — new woman, book club, volunteer gig, what's the diff?

The third view is an awkward hybrid: People are significant only when they're so significant that no one else can ever matter again.

Awkward, and also self-serving. While your emotions are natural — you miss your mom! — and while it takes an effort to adjust your eyes to seeing Dad with someone else, please see the practical implications of what you're feeling: You envision him missing your mom until he shuffles off this mortal coil himself, and in the meantime doting on his grandkids. In other words, you're hoping your dad will live his later years less meaningfully just because you like your definition of meaningful better.

The unfairness of it demands that you challenge your vision as the best one for your dad. Unless you see some danger that he doesn't, the person in the best position to know what's right for him is your father himself. And the default position with loved ones who confound us is to be happy when they're happy. Please welcome the new woman into your life (including your family events), out of kindness and respect for your dad. Just that one positive gesture can dispose you more kindly to her.

Trust widowed father to know what is best for him 12/08/08 [Last modified: Thursday, November 4, 2010 11:39am]

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