Dear Margo: Some Father

Should I cut my dad out of my life? Margo Howard’s advice

Some Father

Dear Margo: In May of ’83, when I was 18 and my brothers were 16 and 14, my mother died after a struggle with brain cancer. By July, my father had disposed of all her things, and by September, he had a girlfriend (14 years younger) and was spending all of his free time at her house instead of with my brothers. By Christmas, he had scheduled a wedding for July of ’84 and made plans to sell our house because his girlfriend was uncomfortable knowing our mother had lived there. When my middle brother and I objected to how quickly things were changing, Dad insisted that his happiness was the only thing that counted.

He got married, moved to the neighborhood his wife chose, and forbade us to talk about our mother. I was not allowed to live at the new house during summer vacations from college or to move home even briefly after graduating. I was treated as though my unhappiness with the situation was that of an immature troublemaker, not a grieving child. Since then, I’ve suffered from recurring depression.

I entered therapy and now am much better, except for one thing: I truly hate my father and his wife for the way they treated us, and I hate that my father managed to replace my mother so quickly and then tried to erase her existence. It’s the most honest emotion I’ve had in the past quarter-century. I want to say, “Bleep you and get out of my life.” However, my father will soon be 80, and I wonder if it would be cruel to tell him how I feel and kinder just to keep avoiding him. This situation is making me ill, but I just can’t figure out what to do. –Tied Up in Old Knots

Dear Tied: It is kind of you to consider leveling with your father as “cruelty,” but I invite you to consider his behavior from the time your mother died. I would, by all means, avoid him and what’s-her-name … who was likely behind his wish to erase your mother. And not letting the three of you speak of her — or come to what was your only home — is simply inexcusable. Along with your avoidance, I would write him (or them) a letter saying his behavior has been unconscionable and only now are you strong enough to consider yourself estranged from the two of them. As you can infer, I do not think age is a get-out-of-jail-free card. –Margo, appallingly

Cad in Camouflage

Dear Margo: I spent nine months waiting for a man to return from Iraq. He told me he was to be stationed in my hometown. When he got here to attend drill sergeant school, we spent as much time together as possible. The day before graduation in June, he told me he would rather go back to war than see me anymore — and this he did via text message. This man met my two boys and talked about marriage and having children with me. I found out via Facebook that he is married and now lives in Missouri. Please advise me on how to move on from the anger and resentment I feel toward him. –Madder than a Hornet

Dear Mad: Perhaps start with a punching bag. That guy sounds like a four-door louse. You don’t say whether he was married when all the romancing was going on, or if he found this woman and then made her his version of “going back to war.” And perhaps there’s no way for you to know. If he was, in fact, married when you struck up the band, then he was just entertaining himself, and you were the entertainment.

As for moving on, simply review the duplicity, the using, the dishonesty, treachery and lack of integrity, and understand that you dodged a bullet with the departure of this skunk. (And breaking it off via text was classy, too.) Realizing that you are one lucky girl to have been removed from this road show will just sharpen your judgment. Do not beat yourself up. This is one of those cases where it really is him and not you. –Margo, forwardly


Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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74 comments so far.

  1. avatar Davina Wolf says:

    You don’t just “let it go” when someone treats you and your siblings like LW1’s dad did.  The letter writer is completely normal to feel rage and hate for as long as she wants.  There are so, so so many people who should skip having kids.   

    My dad has done many many many–nothing but–things like this over the last 50 years to me, my brother, sister, mom, his second wife, the zillions of women he bedded, coworkers, neighbors, acquaintances (he never had real friends) and relatives.  I’m certain that he’s a psychopath and that it runs down his side of the family.  Now he’s 84, in contact with only his second wife, who’s got to be as sick as he is to have watched him treat everyone like crap for the last 40 years.  He implied last year that he doesn’t think she’s good enough for him either, and keeps trying to manipulate me back into his life.  I feel sad and appalled that his life is such a disaster, and didn’t have kids for fear of passing what I feel is a genetically-based defect on to them.  I need to send him a letter letting him know how sickened I am by the way he’s treated everyone before he dies.  (He sees himself as an aging prince.)  It will be a stressful writing session, but as a wise person said above, I’ll regret it forever if he dies before I tell him.     

    Margo’s advice and (most) comments to LW1s dillemma have been very helpful to me also–thanks.  

  2. avatar Fortuna says:

    Nothing is more loathsome and despicable than a parent who chooses a partner over his/her children.

  3. avatar katzamboni says:

    My father did the same thing as the LW#1’s father, exactly. My mother died when I was 20, I had two teenage brothers at home, my father was engaged four months after my mother died, they moved into her house, we weren’t allowed to talk about her or put up pictures of her, and I was at college and not welcome to stay for longer than three days in that house, even during summer break. I also lost having my own bedroom, so when I did come for the three days at Christmas I slept in the guest room and shared with her granddaughter, and my father gave away my mother’s things, including some of mine in the sweep. Also, I was not allowed to come to the wedding, because they married quickly while I was on a trip across the country. According to my dad, when I protested that, at least, don’t change our lives without me, him marrying my stepmother “had nothing to do with [me]”.

    After about six years of blaming myself as being as difficult and morbid and unlovable as he told me I was for not joining in the celebratory parade, four things happened:
    1. I stopped hoping for approval. Some parents suck, and I would never, ever be able to change my dad. Turns out most of the happy childhood was due to my mother, I guess.
    2. I turned, instead, for that care and guidance that even adult children sometimes need from parents, to my bishop (religious leader) and my mother’s sisters, who were missing my mother as much I died. It was incredibly helpful and healing to talk about my mother with people who loved her and mourned her, and my bishop gave me the help I needed, including guiding me to a counselor.
    3. I went to therapy, recovered from my feelings of guilt for being a bad daughter while my mom was alive, and learned how to rebuild my life even without the rock that had been the foundation of it.
    4. I stopped talking to my stepmother altogether and informed my father, gently but firmly, that he could replace his wife but he couldn’t replace his parenting partner, and that it didn’t matter if he remarried: he was a single parent. Man up.

    My father, fortunately, heard the last point, and it’s been better, a little. It’s still not great, I live on the other side of the country and only see them once a year, and when I talk to my dad it has to be when he’s at work because she doesn’t like him talking to me when he’s at home, but it’s better. I call my dad at work about once a week, and I’ve replaced what he should have been with church, aunts, and friends.

    What happened to LW#1 was a terrible thing. She not only lost her mother, who surely sorrowed to leave her, but she lost her family altogether, and that time seemingly by her father’s choice. There’s no getting around that it completely sucks, and I suspect her father knows that. In my experience, when someone fails as a parent and yet would make the same decisions again, he will blame the people he hurt (“immature troublemaker” is almost certainly a quote, and I heard it, too), because they are the reminder of his failure.

    If she wants to write him a letter, I’m actually fine with that. If she is feeling charitable, then she could include something he could do to try to begin to atone, a little. I don’t know what – maybe write down happy stories about her mother. That was one of the things I wanted from my father. Her father probably wouldn’t do it, but at least he would have an idea of what to do if he wanted to do something to begin restitution.

    More importantly, I strongly encourage therapy and forgiveness. Not for her father’s sake – he doesn’t deserve it – but for her own. She’ll never completely get over it, but maybe she can let go of the burden a little bit and build another emotional life. It won’t be the one it should have been, but it could be better than the one she has right now.