Stop giving father power to upset you

By Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar

Creators Syndicate Inc.

DEAR ANNIE: My mother passed away unexpectedly four months ago. My 71-year-old father has had a hard go of things, needing to learn how to cook, clean, wash clothes and pay bills. Until recently, my husband and I had been having Dad over once a week for dinner, and we checked in frequently to help him with bills, etc.

Dad’s not an easy person to get along with. He’s negative, overly critical and outspoken. Mom was the glue that kept us together. A month ago, we took Dad with us on a brief vacation. After spending a great deal of time together in the car, he and I had a blowup. I’m almost 40 and had never stood up to my father before. I’ve since seen a counselor who has advised me to establish boundaries and only interact with my father in public until some time has passed. I suggested a counselor to Dad and even gave him a phone number.

Because we live in a tightknit community, I often see people who know our family and inquire how Dad’s doing. I’m reluctant to say, "I don’t know," so I usually say, "OK" and change the subject. I’m guilt ridden for not being there for Dad, but the very thought of being in his presence makes my heart pound and my stomach churn. How do I get through this tough time? — Grieving Daughter


DEAR DAUGHTER: You don’t need to offer details to acquaintances on the street who are simply being cordial. All you have to say is, "I’m sure Dad is fine" or "He’s managing, thanks." The distance the counselor suggested should not be only physical. You must work on creating enough of an emotional distance that Dad’s criticisms and negative remarks no longer have such an extreme effect. Your counselor can help you learn how to stop giving Dad so much power to upset you.

DEAR ANNIE: I am married to "Oscar," a wonderful guy, and we have two children. When I was in my early teens, my mother was arrested for fraud and spent six months in jail. I have never told Oscar about this because I felt it had nothing to do with him and it’s hardly a point of pride.

We are very close to my mother, and I am not sure how he would handle this news. My siblings’ spouses, however, all know about the family secret. Should I tell Oscar? What should I say? — Asking for Guidance

DEAR GUIDANCE: Since the rest of the family knows, you should tell Oscar before he finds out from someone else. The fraud conviction happened many years ago and we assume Mom has been a good girl since, so Oscar may be surprised, but he will eventually get past it. Start by telling him there is some confidential information about your mother that you want him to know and you hope it won’t change his good opinion of her because their close relationship means the world to you. It would help if Mom would agree to be there when you talk about it, but either way, inform her that you are telling him so she isn’t blindsided.

DEAR ANNIE: I had to laugh at the letter from "Baffled in the Midwest," whose brother-in-law drives seven hours to drop in without advance notice.

Several years ago, my uncle and his wife came by our home to pay us a visit. We had not seen them in over 10 years. To make a long story short, we had moved and, since my uncle never bothered to knock on our door, they just walked right in and sat down in the living room. All of a sudden, the new owners came in from the backyard, looked at them and asked, "Who the hell are you?!"

My uncle called his sister to ask where we were, and she said, "This is what you deserve for staying away all these years and then not calling in advance." — Lesson Learned

Annie’s Mailbox is written by Kathy Mitchell and Marcy Sugar, longtime editors of the Ann Landers column. Please e-mail your questions to, or write to: Annie’s Mailbox, P.O. Box 118190, Chicago, IL 60611.

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