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Carolyn Hax: Birth dad is a ‘disappointment,’ claims he was trapped

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: My mom never talked about my birth father much as I was growing up. She just said he had a lot of problems that made it hard for him to be a real father to me. My grandparents, though, always told me my father wasn’t a good man.

I took that as a challenge, and as soon as I was 18, I met him. But he was a big disappointment. He doesn’t work much, smokes pot, sits around complaining about everything and mainly mooches off his mother, who must be like 90. All his problems are someone else’s fault.

I really tried to make a connection with him, but when he contacts me, I always know it’s because he wants something — usually money. I help him out but then feel angry and used. I can’t seem to break away, though. I think I’m afraid that, if I abandon him, it will mean I turned out like him.

Recently, he went into this long rant about how I shouldn’t let my girlfriend trap me like my mom did him. He complained about her not aborting me. I finally got mad and asked how my mom trapped him when he was eight years older than she was, didn’t marry her and paid like a total of $1,000 in child support over my entire life, if that. I swore that was the final break. I haven’t been answering his texts. He’s getting more frantic, and I feel guilty.

I shouldn’t respond, right? I have a great mom and a good stepdad, so I don’t need him. Right?

Walk Away?: Right. But “need” isn’t really the standard here, is it?

Your choice to make a connection and decide about him for yourself was valid and fair and completely understandable.

Confirming your dad had a lot of problems that made it hard for him to be a real father to you was hard stuff. But you were brave, you absorbed hard information, you stood up for your mom, and you put a stake in the heart of any what-ifs. Good for you.

Deciding now that you’ve gotten as much from him as is healthy for you, then walking away, is not “abandonment.”

Having a child makes a parent responsible for that child. But being born does not, does not, create an equivalent responsibility of child for parent. Your bio dad shirked his responsibility when he opted out of you unilaterally; if you opt out of him, that’s just exercising your prerogative not to interact with harmful people. There is no equivalency here.

That’s why the question isn’t, “Do I need him?,” or even, “Does he need me?” It’s: “Is there any purpose to being in touch?” Even if you didn’t have a good mom and stepdad, I can’t see your needing this dad.

If/when you do opt out, then tell him clearly that you will not be remaining in touch.

I’m sorry it has been such a difficult experience.

· My vote would be to run, not walk. Exactly what are you getting from this relationship except guilt and giving him money? Please don’t let him suck the life force out of you.

· I too had/have a family member like this, and I second the advice to run, not walk, in the other direction. People like this generally don’t change. He absolutely will take more and more as time goes on, without giving back. The guilt might hang around like a mysterious smell for a little while, but let time and the knowledge you did what you could be the Febreze.

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