Dear Mary: Should I relent and allow my father see his grandchildren?

By | September 18, 2020

I have not spoken to or seen my father in five years. Growing up, he was emotionally unavailable and prone to mood swings due to unstable mental health. He was on occasion physically abusive towards all the family when he lost his temper. He comes from a very large, disturbed family, who will never acknowledge their own upbringing as the root cause of many of their problems.

y father was a hard-working man who was often very stressed running his own business, but was helped in spades by my mother, who always put his needs before hers. Over the years, she brought him to counsellors, psychologists, therapists and other medical professionals to try and get him help. He rejected all of this because he believes there is nothing wrong with him. He is a toxic individual but he had a bad childhood, or so we believe.

I have suffered huge anxiety in my adult years due to his behaviour in my childhood. Thankfully, I have gone through counselling and come out the other side. I am now married to a wonderful person and have two small children and I am very happy.

I didn’t invite my father to my wedding, nor has he ever seen or met my two infant children. I have heard that this upsets him. I do not want any of the negativity from my childhood to pass into my children.

Recently, the father of one of my closest friends passed away suddenly. In a strange turn of events, the day after the funeral, my father happened to be in a shop at the same time as my husband and I. I immediately froze and pretended not to see him. He saw us and left quickly. Thankfully, my children were not with me as this would have been his first time to have seen them.

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My very understanding and supportive husband recently got a great new job and we have moved location to be nearer to his work. This happens to be closer to where my father is living. Therefore the chances of me bumping into him are higher, and if it happens again, my children could be with me.

I get anxious thinking about this scenario. Should I reconnect with my father and allow him to meet his grandchildren occasionally in order to spare us all much public embarrassment in the future?

Or should I stand firm in my beliefs and stay estranged from him? To be clear, I am perfectly happy not having him in my life – in fact, I would prefer it that way. He was never a father figure growing up; therefore it’s not something I miss.

Mary replies: I am sorry that you had such a miserable childhood at the hands of your father. Nobody deserves that. Well done on having counselling and overcoming your anxiety. But it is this very anxiety which is now returning when you envisage yourself bumping into your father with your children in tow.

I do not feel that the fear of public embarrassment should change things for you. You have already suffered a lot and should not have to suffer any more because of your father. As things stand, your children are growing up in a loving household with a father that you speak of very highly, and as their mother, you probably dote on them and only want the best for them.

However, as a grandmother myself, and observing how my grandchildren enjoy the very special love of two sets of grandparents, I have to ask if you are sure that you are not depriving them of a grandfather’s love? Are your husband’s parents in their lives? And your mother? In other words, are they going to lose out on anything by not having their maternal grandfather meeting with them on occasion?

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Your father must remember how badly he treated you all when you were growing up. His running away so quickly in the shop shows his guilt. I do not think citing a dysfunctional family of origin is a valid excuse for his abuse of your mother and his children. He could have taken the help offered by your mother and worked through its effects, just as you did in counselling. But he chose instead to ignore it all and pretended there was nothing wrong.

In years to come, your children will no doubt ask about their grandfather and you will have to be prepared as to how you will explain the situation to them. But there is very little to be gained by worrying about what is ahead; it is better to stay in the now. It was a very strong statement not to invite your father to your wedding and it must have taken an awful lot of courage.

Naturally the sudden death of your friend’s father made you reflect as to how you would feel if the same thing happened to you. But if the thought of introducing your father to your children now, after all that has happened between you, fills you with dread, then that should give you your answer regarding reintroducing him into your life.

If this all continues to prey on your mind, then I suggest you see your original counsellor for a couple of visits. She knows the full story of what you endured and will be able to help make sense of what is happening for you right now.

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You can contact Mary O’Conor anonymously by visiting or email her at Alternatively, write to Mary O’Conor, c/o 27-32 Talbot St, Dublin 1. All correspondence will be treated in confidence.

Mary O’Conor regrets that she is unable to answer any questions privately

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