Dear Thelma: My dad cheats, now he's avoiding me

"Dear Thelma" is a relationship advice column that appears in The Star, a publication that is part of the Asia News Network.

Dear Thelma,

I am happily married with kids, and have been living aboard for the past six years.

All these years, I have been my mother's confidant. She is very unhappy that my dad is having an affair. This bothers me greatly.

My dad is rude and unkind to my mum. Though he does not hurt her physically, he has reduced my mum to an emotional wreck. Sometimes I even blame my mum for allowing herself to be hurt by my dad.

For 10 long years, my dad has been having affairs on and off. My mum will go through my dad's mobile phone and laptop to check for clues.

My mum's latest complaints drove me to the edge. I couldn't take it anymore. Being pregnant and having to hear all this bad news devastated me. I decided to give my dad a piece of my mind and texted him.

He was very unhappy with what I did and he stopped talking to me. It has been three months since and we are not on talking terms now.

I used to be my daddy's girl and now I am a total stranger to him. I have been depressed throughout my pregnancy.

I feel sad about the current situation but at the same time, I am relieved that I do not have to put up a pretence that everything is fine at home with my parents. The last 10 years have been suffocating.

Sometimes I wonder if I have made the right move by texting my dad, or perhaps I should not have gotten involved in my parents' marital problems. I love my dad nevertheless. - No More Daddy's Girl

Dear No More Daddy's Girl,

Family trouble is the worst, isn't it? We struggle with relationships at the best of times, but with family there's always the feeling that it should be totally open, honest, loving and supportive. Of course, no relationship is ever that harmonious!

I can see several issues here, so let's take them one by one.

First, your father had an affair, and this devastated you. We are taught from young to rely on our parents. They are rocks we can lean on when we're little, and we look up to them. When we discover our parents are human and imperfect, it's always difficult.

Small things, like seeing someone get silly at a party, can be embraced as a lovable trait. But when we see our parents do something we ourselves consider morally abhorrent, it's like a punch to the gut.

When a parent cheats, the child is cast into confusion, asking, "How can my wonderful, loving, always proper parent behave like this? Am I wrong about them? Was I wrong to trust them?"

Then the question broadens, "If I can't trust my parent, can I trust anyone?" This kind of doubt is not confined to the two people involved in the adultery, but to all those around them.

Everyone struggles to understand infidelity, and there are no right and wrong answers. So if you're confused, be assured that this is perfectly normal.

Second, you became involved, listening to your mother, and then texting your father. You ask if that was the right thing to do.

From what you said, you were suffocated by their issues for 10 years. Now you feel relieved but also sad. I don't hear you saying you wish you could turn back the clock, and there's that relief from the stress of having to hide your true emotions. On that basis alone, I would say that this path was better for you than simply continuing the pretence that all was well.

But I will say this: you could have chosen a better way to approach your dad. Complex emotions don't translate well over text. With something as delicate as this, a personal one-on-one chat would have been much better.

Your unasked questions are: can you fix it, and should you try to fix it? I'd say yes, you have a very good chance at both.

First, you have to understand something. In abusive relationships, there is power play where the victim is systematically isolated, deprived of friends, family and autonomy until she becomes totally helpless. This is when the real abuse starts, and it can be mental torture, physical abuse or both.

In such cases, the whole family needs to intervene to support the victim and it often takes professional help from counsellors and sometimes police and lawyers, too.

From your description, your parents' marriage doesn't seem to be abusive but rather extremely unhappy. I suspect they are both miserable, and it is up to them to change it.

What is your role? Your first step is to accept that all marriages involve two people, so there are two sides. You identified with your mum, but your dad will have his side too.

They both need someone to talk to, and it's not you. You are their daughter. You cannot take sides. So my advice is this.

Reach out to your mum and dad, and tell them you love them. Acknowledge that you're sorry they don't seem to be very happy. Share that this causes you great pain, and remind them you are pregnant and therefore extra vulnerable. State firmly that you love them both and cannot take sides.

Separately, tell your mum that she has to find someone to talk to who isn't her daughter. A counsellor would be best, but a friend her own age who is not related would be good too. She needs a sensible, safe perspective. Then gently but firmly refuse to discuss her marriage. This will take some resolve, because mum has been used to burdening you.

Remember: it is not your job as a daughter to fix her marriage!

Separately, tell dad you're sorry you texted, that it was clumsy. He's your dad, so he'll probably forgive you instantly. When you talk, remember not to judge. He too needs to speak to someone, a counsellor or a good, sensible, unbiased friend.

It is not your job as a daughter to fix his marriage; it's your goal to reform your relationship.

This means some adjustments. For one thing, you have to get to know the real adult dad, not the hero of your childhood. Take baby steps. Have short friendly conversations about things you both agree on. Remind yourself of all his good qualities. Be patient.

In a few months, you'll become friends. Let it happen naturally. But stick to the rule! He's not to talk about his difficulties with your mum! You are his daughter, not his fixer or counsellor.

Now, something you didn't ask me but that should be mentioned. You are pregnant, which means you've got raging hormones. All this stress may make you susceptible to prenatal and postnatal depression.

Please be certain to maintain solid happy open communication with your husband. Also, do at least one cheerful thing every day to give yourself a lift. And if you find yourself tearful or oddly anxious or down, talk to your gynaecologist.

Finally, about your signature, No More Daddy's Girl - try not to see this as a sad thing, but rather a step in growing up. You're a brave woman to stop hiding your true feelings. Seeing your dad as a whole human being, flaws and all, may be better for both of you in the long run. - Thelma

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