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Carolyn Hax: It took a disaster for ER nurse’s dad to check in — is that a good thing?

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)

Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I am an emergency room nurse, so of course I’ve worked through this pandemic situation. I live in a large city so it was pretty crazy.

My father, who lives a couple of states away, started contacting me often, saying how worried he was and that he loves me.

I do not know what to make of this. I even checked at first to make sure it was really him. Since my parents divorced when I was 15, he's never had time for me. His life has been wrapped up with his job and the woman he left my mother for. He never visits me and rarely arranges his life so that I can visit him.

Is this what it takes for him to notice me? I’m afraid he’ll just disappear on me once things go back to “normal.” I almost resent the fact that I have to constantly reassure him that I’m okay and that I love him, too. I don’t need this emotional wham on top of everything else I’m dealing with. What should I do?

— Is This What It Takes?

Is This What It Takes?: Thank you so much for being out there this past year-plus for the rest of us.

I think you can safely say, yes, this is what it takes for him to notice you.

Crises have a way of shaking people out of their complacency.

Except when they don't, and we're all left to watch those people carry on as if nothing important is happening, reminding us constantly we're sacrificing for them and will continue to do so just because it's the right thing to do, even when they're not only not returning the favor for us but also actively putting us at risk with their insouciance — but that's a whole other answer.

I wish I could give you clear insight on what he’ll do when this “normal” arrives and proves it’s here to stay. There’s just no saying whether he is caught up in a moment or undergoing a permanent change.

I think most of us are asking ourselves questions like that right now.

And for all I know, by the time this is published, he may have adjusted to the new reality and stopped checking in on you already.

However, whether he’s still making an effort or not, you can use these circumstances to make conscious decisions about managing your own needs and fears, and to learn to do your own risk-vs.-reward assessments. You can decide whether it’s helpful to you to keep your expectations to a minimum — or whether you’re emotionally ready to dispense with caution, on the theory that loving fully is good for you, even when you get your heart broken in the end. Even when, in fact, you have every reason to expect that.

If you decide you're not ready to trust his attention as anything more than a blip, then don't be afraid to say that to him out loud. That you appreciate his concern, but you're also taken aback by it, given the precedent. That you would appreciate it if he _________: meaning, spell out the terms upon which you welcome this renewed contact, if any.

Then hold to them. Seriously, do what you need to take care of yourself. And thanks again.