Ask Rene: My Husband’s Father Wants Back in His Life; Should I Help?

By  May 09, 2014

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My husband, “Eddie,” grew up without his father. His dad walked out on the family when Eddie was a toddler. The last time he saw his father was 15-years ago, at a funeral.

About a year ago, Eddie’s father, “James,” started calling him, now he calls once or twice a month. James lives an hour away from us, and I’ve encouraged Eddie to visit and talk to him face-to-face. Eddie is ambivalent about this, which I understand but at the same time, we have a son and daughter who have a grandfather they’ve never met. My father is dead, so Eddie’s father is all they have. I guess my thinking is that James was a rotten father, but he might be a pretty good grandfather. The only person who can determine that is Eddie. I don’t want to push him, but I do want him to see another perspective on the issue. Should I back off?

Sign me: Peacemaker in Portland

Dear PiP:

I think I can sum up the answer to this question in two words. Yes you should help. You want to know how? By butting out. Yeah I said it. Butt Out. That’s pretty much it. Harsh? Perhaps. But here’s why I feel this way and what I would do if I were you.

Family Dynamics Are Complicated
First and foremost you need to understand that the dynamics of certain families (heck, ALL families)  are complicated,  almost like a foreign language. It’s a little like you  visiting a country without a guide book. Not only do you not understand what’s being said, but the nuance completely escapes you and you’re forced to fill in the blanks.

And then there’s this —> “I guess my thinking is that James was a rotten father, but he might be a pretty good grandfather.”  That’s just a whole lot of speculation with a healthy dose of wishful thinking thrown in for good measure.

You Don’t Know the Whole Story
You’ve only heard one side of this story, told by Eddie who probably doesn’t even know or remember all that was going on at the time. Maybe James was involved in drugs or other illicit activity; maybe he physically abused his son. Eddie’s aversion to a face-to-face might be solely visceral because he can’t even remember the details. Whatever the reason, you need to be aware and respectful of Eddie’s feelings and position.

People Heal in Their Own Time and Way
Eddie was a toddler when James walked out which means he went through his childhood lacking what many of his friends had (and probably wanted); a father figure. I’m no expert but I would imagine those wounds will take a long time to heal, if ever. No amount of wishful thinking, pleading or prodding is going to make that happen any faster. Time heals all wounds, except for those too deep. This might be one of those.