Carolyn Hax: Articles of reconciliation

The Washington PostMay 14, 2014 

Carolyn: Many years ago, my father began sending me letters filled with news articles that he thought I'd like. I do like them. And he's funny and sweet in his notes on the articles. The envelopes have funny sayings, too.

I have an overall rocky relationship with my family - they have boundary, intimacy, emotional, physical and even some sexual and substance abuse issues, but my dad and I get along pretty well and he's the least bad of them by far. And he's aged somewhat for the better.

For a while, I got rid of everything he sent after reading it. My parents are also hoarders, and I am trying hard to break the cycle. I've realized lately that I won't have my parents forever, and recently started to keep some envelopes and some of his writing.

How do I balance all of the past pain with present-day love and appreciation, and also future cleanliness?

STUFFED WITH MEANING

People are complicated, ever-evolving and generally all, to some degree, strange. And, even while consciously choosing to act in a certain way, they're inclined also to react on some level to their environment, including the people around them - so you can often see a very different side of a person just with a change in circumstances. Think of people you've known awhile and compare their behavior in one relationship vs. in another, or at home vs. on vacation, or in their element vs. under stress, etc.

Now imagine how different the conditions at home are now from when you lived together as a young family.

All of this is to say that it's not unthinkable for the funny and sweet version of your father to coexist with the "all of the above" slate of issues you ascribe to him and to your childhood in general. How you deal with his contradictions is up to you. Why not simply respond warmly to the good, and distance yourself as needed from the bad?

Physically it can also work to sort things out as you go. If you're not hung up on the tactile, you can scan and save his notes electronically.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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