Dear Amy:

I have been estranged from my birth father for 23 years, since I was 13.

My father was a workaholic. He was very vindictive toward my mother after the divorce to the extent that he denied his children financial support and heating oil, and declined to pay for my brother's opportunity to attend his dream college. He forsook the conservative religious tenets that he had raised us with. He became involved with a woman who was a recreational drug user, and who shared hash brownies and a water pipe with my older brother and me when I was only 12. He eventually married her.

After watching the man I had respected so fully remove himself from all of the values that I was raised with, I decided to no longer have any contact with him. I called him up and told him so. He did try to contact me for a short while after this, but he was rebuffed.

I used to be angry with him, but that is long gone. I heard through the grapevine that he had heart surgery, and I simply didn't care at all. I really don't have any feelings for him, other than pity and sadness. He chose a life of selfishness over his own children, and I don't think I can ever understand that.

I have a close friend who says that I should try to contact him to reconcile with him or I will regret it if he dies. I have no wish to have anything to do with him or to share any details of my life with him.

What do you think?

Fine in the Northeast

Judging from the bitterness that you express in your letter, it's a good thing that you're fine. I shudder to think how you would feel if you were any less fine.

Do you see my point? You probably aren't fine, and you know what? That's okay. You got a raw deal, and I can understand why you would want to put a lot of distance between you and your father.

However, if you still ascribe to the values with which you were raised, then it's time to forgive, if not forget. Forgiveness isn't easy. In fact, forgiveness can be as tough as it gets. And I know that it might sound counterintuitive, but forgiveness will get you where you need to be.

I mostly agree with your friend. You should contact your father. You don't have to reconcile with him. But you should reach out to him with at least some measure of the compassion that he denied you. Does he deserve this? Probably not. So why should you bother? Because it's the right thing to do.

A book on forgiveness that you might find helpful is "Forgiveness Is a Choice: A Step-by-Step Process for Resolving Anger and Restoring Hope" (APA Lifetools) by Robert D. Enright (2001).

Dear Amy:

I have a close friend who has suffered from depression for many years. She has suddenly decided that she is unhappy in her marriage and wants a divorce.

While she claims that she has been unhappy for a number of years, she just told her husband this. He is willing to go into counseling and do anything that he can to save the marriage, but she seems determined to go through with this.

She has two young children who will be totally devastated.

She refuses to admit that her depression has anything to do with this.

Four of us who have been friends for ages want to help, but we honestly feel that she is making a huge mistake that she will regret.

How can we help?

Friend From Fresno

You don't say whether your friend is under a doctor's care, but she should be. You should encourage her to see a psychiatrist for an evaluation and to see how she is managing her depression. If her depression is somehow inflaming this situation, then she should hear it from her doctor.

Urge your friend to put the brakes on, slow way down and make sure that she is making choices that will be best not just for herself but for her children. I don't think that it's wise to insert yourselves too much into the inner workings of this couple's marriage, but you four friends can continue to support her while trying very hard to guide her to consider her choices very carefully.

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