DEAR CAROLYN: My widowed-for-20-years father is having an “accidental” child with a woman my age. He is an extremely poor communicator (I got that particular gift from him), and repeatedly denied he was even dating this woman when we asked him, point-blank. We are all scattered around the country and he revealed this to us when this woman, whom we barely know, was five months pregnant.
At first I was just shocked, but now I feel so uncomfortable and disappointed. Uncomfortable because this woman is my age, and disappointed because my children (and future nieces and nephews) have not only been robbed of a grandmother, but now a fully involved grandfather as well. In an unfortunate coincidence, I am pregnant with his first grandchild. I had been looking forward to my father becoming a grandfather for years because I thought it would help heal him emotionally from the devastating death of my mother.
How should I behave with him? Is it selfish for me to feel so uncomfortable and disappointed? How do I explain this to my future children?
DEAR R.: People are who they are, no matter how badly you want them to be someone else. The more you embrace this, the better any outcome will be.
And here’s part of who your father is: an adult having a child with a fellow, consenting adult. So?
You want a Norman Rockwell grandpa for your kids, of course, probably everyone does, along with some glue for your disconnected family.
Understandable, but – where is reality here? The hopes you had riding on your dad were so unmoored that you’re the primary agent of your own disappointment.
Investing in false hopes of a cuddly father turned your attention away from appreciating or drawing out the good things he is able to provide.
These self-inflicted injuries can be healed. It’s jarring but ultimately liberating if you let old notions go – like an emotional catapult.
Healing requires that you land in reality, though: Your father, again, is who he is – relationship and secrets and awkwardness and babies and all. And, the main things you have in common right now are poor communication and babies on the way.
How you cope is up to you. You can avoid your dad, or take deep breaths and raise your child alongside his. You can dwell on the other mother’s age, or just approach her as a peer. You can open yourself to what your dad offers, or be consumed by what he doesn’t.
As for telling future children? “Grandpa was sad for a long time after Grandma died, but in time he met someone new.” Why editorialize when a simple truth will suffice?