Father’s Day is approaching and my wife and I will be traveling to see my parents. I’m looking forward to spending time with my mother but don’t want to see my father. He was an alcoholic who often yelled and sometimes smacked us around. My father’s never been abusive to our kids and my wife and mother think it’s important they see their grandfather.
Although his drinking has lessened since he was diagnosed with liver disease, he’s never acknowledged he was physically abusive and our family doesn’t discuss it. I don’t want to feel hate or be angry with my father anymore, even though a part of me still is. How do I even begin to have a different relationship with him?
If you want a different relationship with your father it begins with defining your expectations, then initiating a conversation with him.
What to Expect When It’s Unexpected
When exploring your expectations, think about what outcome you want to achieve. Regular phone calls? Weekly text or email exchanges? Monthly in person visits? Keep in mind you can’t control or change your father’s responses or behavior – that’s up to him. You can only control what you’re willing to accept.
Understandably, the need for control can be paramount for many adults of alcoholic parents. Children quickly learn if things are out of control, their home can become dangerous. This can lead to an if-this-then-that lifestyle.
For example, a child might think: “If my father comes home drunk he’s going to be very upset and maybe even get violent if he sees I haven’t cleaned my room; I better clean it before he comes home.”
As a child, you may then believe you have some control over your father’s behavior. This can lead to feelings of undue responsibility and guilt when the alcoholic parent is hurt or angry. It can also result in resentment and anger. Hate seems like such a bad thing to say out loud or even feel, but understand it’s normal to feel anger towards an abusive parent.
Decide whether you want to have a conversation in-person or over the phone. Writing down your feelings or a few important points can help. That way, if you start to feel overwhelmed, anxious or angry there’s a game plan.
If you feel the anger is consuming you take a step back and ask yourself:
- Is my father still hurting me?
- If so, how can I be safe?
- And if not, what function does holding on to the anger serve?
It might also help to write down what boundaries you want to develop to protect you and your family if your father becomes abusive in the future.
Starting the conversation is the one thing your family has avoided your entire life. However, it is generally the most beneficial way to begin a new relationship.