DEAR KELLY: My dad and his “girlfriend” were together for six years. They lived together and we acted like a family. I used to call my dad’s girlfriend “Mom” because my own mom moved to Washington to live with her new husband, so my dad’s girlfriend was more like a mom than my own mom. “Tammy” had two kids who were like a brother and sister to me. Since we were all kind of close in age we went to the same school and a lot of people didn’t even know we weren’t related. Tammy treated me like her own child and did everything for me that my mom would have never done. It’s because of her that I had birthday parties, got pedicures and got to go shopping all the time.
About four months ago, Tammy found out my dad had cheated on her when he was away on a business trip. Apparently, he had hooked up a few times with a lady from his work and they had a thing going on the side for a few months. I was so angry with him and so sad to see Tammy so hurt. My dad promised me he would do everything he could to make it up to Tammy, but I guess she was so upset because her first husband also cheated on her and she couldn’t trust my dad again. About a month ago, she and the kids moved out and left me and my dad.
It’s horrible at home now. My dad acts like he’s sad but he’s the one who cheated on Tammy, and I don’t know if I can forgive him. We don’t talk anymore because I hate him for what he did to our family. Tammy and the kids now live close to her parents, who I call Gramma and Papa and who have been like grandparents to me for the past six years. I know all of Tammy’s brothers and sisters and cousins, and they made me and my dad part of their big family. All of that is gone because of my dad.
Tammy said she would always be here for me, so last weekend I spent all weekend with her. It was so much fun and I was so happy being with her and her family. No one blamed me for how my dad had messed up and everyone told me how much they still love me.
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When I came home I told my dad that I want to move in with Tammy for next school year, and he freaked out. He yelled at me and told me that would never happen. I know he still loves Tammy and I think he’s still hoping she will come back, but she told me over the weekend that she’s had to move on. I’m old enough (in high school) that I should be able to choose where I live. Plus, my dad works all the time and sometimes travels for his work and that means I’ll be home a lot by himself, which scares me.
Please help. How do I convince my dad that because he messed up (again, because he also cheated on my mom, too). I want to go live with Tammy. We aren’t even talking right now, I can’t stand to be in the same room as him.
– Girl Without A Family
DEAR GIRL: There are so many issues to look at before the best answer can be determined. The easy answer would be to go where you are happy, but that may not be the best answer considering all that is involved. Slow down your desire to do this quickly and focus more on doing it with a clear understanding of what this entails and what your best option is.
One of the first suggestions is that you and your dad need to go to counseling together. It’s obvious you are upset with your dad, and I don’t blame you for your feelings. Talking with a professional will help you communicate your hurt and anger with your dad, open the doors for better communication between you both, help you to heal quicker, and help you figure out what is the best place for you. Trying to do all of that alone could be very difficult. Plus, my guess is that there are old wounds from your mom leaving that you might need to process as well. Find a good counselor you feel comfortable talking with and let him or her help you navigate through all the feelings and decisions.
Don’t jump too fast to move in with Tammy. Maybe you can figure out an arrangement where you split time between the two and there is a mutual agreement that if your dad is gone, you spend that time at Tammy’s. That way you don’t have to worry about being alone and there is some structure in your life. Moving away from your dad might not be the best solution and needs to be explored completely before you jump to any final decisions.
You are upset, hurt and angry, which makes rational thinking difficult. When we react on our emotions, we can react impulsively and without thinking things through. Agree to let some of the feelings cool down before you jump to any changes.
Your dad is human. And he clearly has some areas in his personal life that he needs to explore. But that doesn’t make him a bad father or someone to exclude from your life. Your feelings are valid, but shutting him out because of it won’t help the situation. Sit down with your dad and try to explain your feelings or fears around all the changes. If you feel like this is impossible, let the counselor help you do it. Regardless of where you do it, you have to open the lines of communication with him.
Get a journal and give yourself a place to write your feelings, fears and concerns. Use your journal as an outlet for all that you have experienced in the last few months. Trying to hold of that internally can be very difficult and cause things like headaches, depression, stomach aches and other ailments. Encourage your dad to set a counseling appointment and go speak with a professional before you make any decisions. Take care of yourself and work at healing with your dad instead of pushing him further away.
Kelly Richardson, a Folsom therapist, works with adolescents.