I don’t know what to do or who to talk to about this, so I thought I’d ask you. I grew up on Long Island, graduated college a year ago and got a job with a PR firm in New York — which means lots of going out for lunches and dinners (also lots of drinking). I currently share an apartment with two roommates in Brooklyn. So, one night six weeks ago I went out to dinner with my boss and a client and who did I see across the room as I entered the restaurant but my father. He was with a very pretty young woman (she was maybe thirty-five to his fifty-eight) and he was fondling her, rubbing his fingers up and down her arm as she leaned forward and stared into his eyes. I watched for a moment, sickened. Then I told my boss I didn’t feel well and fled the restaurant. I’m quite sure he didn’t see me (he was too busy looking at the girl). If he had I don’t know what I would have done, and I still don’t know what to do. My parents have been married over thirty years and I always thought they were happy. Now when I talk to my mother on the phone or see her in person, I feel terrible. She blabbers on about things she and dad are up to and I sit there thinking, do I tell her? Do I burst her bubble or let her continue clueless and kind of making a fool of herself as my father leads a double life? I’ve successfully avoided my father the past six weeks, but should I confront him about the situation? (This isn’t something I want to do.) I have to figure this out if I want to have any kind relationship with my parents. Please help me.
Thanks in advance,
Dear Confused Daughter,
You are in a difficult situation. Frankly, witnessing what you did counts as trauma. First, know that while your parents’ marriage may not be what you thought it was, they still love you. The situation has nothing to do with you — you didn’t cause it and you can’t fix it. What you can do is speak to another relative such as an aunt or uncle, a sibling, or close friend. You need to be able to open up on the subject and air your feelings. A few sessions with a counselor or therapist would be good to help you sort out emotions and decide how to move forward in your relationship with each of your parents. Your parents’ marriage is really none of your business, especially as you no longer live in the same house. There may be a time when you can talk to your mom or dad about what’s going on with them, but you would be ill-advised to go behind the back of either parent with information. While it’s upsetting to learn that one parent may be cheating on another, you’re in no position to judge the actual situation. Witnessing what looks like an intimacy may be misleading. You don’t know the facts or circumstances. So, my best advice is to seek guidance from friends or relatives close to you and your parents, to try and emotionally detach as best you can, to understand that you are an adult separate from your parents and that they have their own independent lives and problems. A thirty plus year marriage is likely to be filled with ups and downs. Try to see your mom and dad as separate individuals rather than as a unit and start developing separate relationships with each while avoiding finger wagging or criticism. You’re an adult dealing with adults who may or may not be at a difficult point in their lives. Avoid falling into the trap of being a confidante to either and concentrate on your own life and the excitement of a new job and home of your own.
All the best,
REACTIONS TO DISTRAUGHT MOTHER
I really feel for you. There’s nothing worse than seeing your child in despair. I agree with CD that she needs therapy and tender love, but also perhaps distraction like having friends over to talk with her, and going out for new clothes, a haircut, a sporting event, the movies — whatever floats her boat. Hope that helps a little,
Jane B., Boston, MA
Your daughter needs a purpose. If she lives at home for longer than a designated period of time, she should be obligated to pay rent. Allowing her to steep in her despair is a disservice. Make some demands on her and you’ll see: she’ll snap out of it. Also, someone needs to tell her what a schmuck her boyfriend was and that it’s time to start dating again and find a decent guy.
Ross G., Dallas, TX
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Disclaimer: CD Knowles is not a doctor or psychotherapist. Any opinions expressed on Knowles Knows are just that — opinions.