Ask Amy: Should abused son support parents now?

September 16, 2011

DEAR AMY: I’m an adult man, nearing 50, with a very difficult family history. My parents divorced when I was 9 years old. I lived with my mother and stepfather. Their relationship was quite twisted, and between the ages of 14 and 15 he sexually molested me, with my mother’s knowledge.

I have done lots of healing about this, and today I have a great life.

My question is this: Now that my mother and biological father are elderly (my stepfather committed suicide), what kind of “allegiance” do I owe my parents, in terms of caring for them in their declining years?

I have been on my own since leaving home at 15, and the thought of spending time and money on two people who were such poor parents makes me angry. Then comes the guilt.

What’s your perspective on this? -- Wounded Son

DEAR SON: If assisting your parents would further your healing, then you should do it. Rising above the horror show of your childhood to support your abusers would be an extraordinary act of grace.

However, I don’t think you should consider yourself a failure if you can’t reach this extremely high standard.

You don’t illuminate your relationship with your father, but my perspective is that the fact that they have survived long enough to be elderly should not confer any more obligation upon you than when you were an abused 15-year-old victim, with no parents to protect and support you.

This sounds very harsh, but I feel that they renounced their kinship to you and your allegiance to them when they victimized you.

You also don’t say if your parents have reached out to you or if they have made any attempts to explain, atone or ask for forgiveness.

Forgiveness is very powerful. Forgiving them for their failings does not mean you have to support them.

The work of Dave Pelzer, a survivor of horrific childhood abuse, will provide a valuable perspective. Pelzer’s writing about healing and forgiveness will inspire you. Start with his book “A Man Named Dave: A Story of Triumph and Forgiveness” (Plume, 2000).

DEAR AMY: I turned on our family laptop and saw that my fiance hadn’t logged out. I saw that he had visited a Web site for “hooking up” with local singles. He had also visited pornography sites.

I know he looks at pornography; he did that before I met him and has continued since then.

However, the “hooking up” Web site was a new one. I’m hoping it was a mistake, but frankly I’m scared to find out that my worst fear has come true.

I don’t believe he has actually taken the steps to meet with anyone; we have pretty set schedules, and he always comes home at the same time.

We have talked about cheating before, and I have told him that I consider sexual “chatting” to be a form of cheating.

Should I ask about this Web site and make it clear that it is unacceptable, or just talk again about cheating in general?

We are getting married in a little more than two months, and I do not want our marriage to start with this sort of suspicion and lack of trust that is creeping in my mind. Help! -- Worried

DEAR WORRIED: You should consider this incident to be an engagement gift.

Your discovery will enable you to have a conversation you desperately need to have before you get married. I’m not talking about you restating your views on cheating, but your asking your fiance honest questions and receiving honest answers.

You sound frightened to learn the truth about him, but your fear speaks volumes.

You cannot have a fully functioning marriage without trust — and you don’t have it.

DEAR AMY: “Wondering Mom” was worried about her son-in-law’s manners.

While saying that you didn’t expect anyone to open a door for you, you then offered a primer, basically agreeing that men should open the door for women. That’s a bit outmoded, Amy. -- Disappointed

DEAR DISAPPOINTED: To restate my position more clearly, I believe that whoever gets to the door first should open it, and the younger, stronger and less encumbered among us should hustle to get to the door first.

Thank you.

Write to Amy Dickinson at askamy@tribune.com or Ask Amy, Chicago Tribune, TT500, 435 N. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Ill. 60611.

2011 by the Chicago Tribune

Distributed by Tribune Media Services

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