Carolyn Hax: Readers on difficult parents, grief

Carolyn Hax:

December 23, 2013 

While I’m away, readers give the advice. On growing up with a toxic parent:

My father was, in retrospect, amazingly insecure and passively abusive.

I feel I chose my issues, those where I stood up to him, by accident. In my first university term, I plotted to visit a girl who lived out of state. My parents did not approve of her family. I carefully organized guys on my dorm floor to have a consistent story for my parents if they called. It was a great trip, but my parents figured out what I had done and my father informed me that I was coming home to finish my education. I immediately went to the dean, who opened the scholarship/work door to my staying at the university. I wrote to my parents that I was not returning home.

After earning my degree and being accepted to grad school, I decided to join two other grads on their European trip. My father’s reaction was predictable: If I went, I was financially cut off. I accepted the “offer.” Cut off, I went to Europe for 12 weeks. It was life-changing.

My father’s ever-present weakness pushed me to be independent and accept risk.


On people’s varying responses to a death:

When I returned to work after my dad’s funeral, everybody avoided me like crazy. I guess they thought I would burst in to tears if they even said hello. I felt so sad, so alone, and isolated. His obituary had been emailed to everyone, so all the details were known.

After lunch on my first day back, I slipped off to an empty conference room to collect my thoughts, and a man I only know marginally saw me go in. He came to me and started this conversation: “I was so sorry to hear about your dad. I didn’t know he was a music teacher! Tell me about him!” I was so happy to have someone to talk to about him. We talked for about 20 minutes. Yes, I cried a little. But at that moment, that was what I needed so much.

This man, who hardly knew me, reached out for just a moment and cared. I can’t tell you how much his gesture helped me to cope.


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