Sunday, March 26, 2023
HomeRelationship AdviceMy dad is dying and he still doesn’t care about me.

My dad is dying and he still doesn’t care about me.

TLDR: I (35F) am trying to make some kind of connection with my dad (70M) before he dies, but struggling to get there.

I’ve never had the best relationship with my dad. He is rude and dismissive to anyone in the family, while putting on a charming act for outsiders. He considers himself “an intellectual” and will take any opportunity to try and make you feel stupid. He is obsessed with books and history and is a bit of a hoarder. Just not an easy person to have in your life.

In his later years, he’s written a series of books on local history. As far as I can tell, this is the only thing he cares about. He won’t talk about anything else, won’t ask about my life, won’t be drawn into any conversation. If you’re around him, it’s like being a prisoner while he just talks at length about whatever he’s researching.

He’s been in poor health for a long time, and it looks like we’re heading towards the end now. He is house-bound and can’t do much for himself. He uses every ounce of energy he has to try and get his final book finished.

I live 3000 miles away from my parents. Because of his deterioration, I came for a visit for three weeks. It is not an easy trip to make with work, cost etc, but you have to visit your dying parent, don’t you?

I’ve been here two weeks now and we haven’t had a single meaningful interaction. He just wants me to do menial tasks on the computer for him – sending emails, typing what he dictates, finding files in his mess of a desktop etc. I might as well be a complete stranger – he hasn’t even asked me how my husband is, or how life is going abroad. I’ve tried to start some actual conversations with him, but there’s no use (btw his mind is as sharp as ever, that’s not the issue).

I’ve tried to be patient and just tell myself that I’m spending time with him at the end, and that’s what matters. But last night something really got to me. Today is his wedding anniversary with my mum (realistically, their last). I’d bought a card for him to sign, so he’d have something to give to her. He glanced at it and just made a “huh” noise, before saying “not now”. He had some stupid task he wanted me to help with. I was upset and had to leave him. He spent all f\*\*\*ing afternoon struggling through that task himself but didn’t have ten seconds to sign a card for the woman who has basically given up her life to become his carer. The evening ended with him screaming at me to come and help him email the file to someone.

I suppose it’s too late to expect him to change. And I know he’s scared and dealing with his mortality. I get that he only has a little time left, and wants to focus on the things that are important to him in that time. It is just kind of crushing to finally have it confirmed that my mum and I are definitely not either of those things.

Any advice on how to handle this?

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  1. My guess, first, recognize that when you help someone who doesn’t express appreciation for the help, you allow them to think they’re entitled to it. Then google conversational narcissism (doesn’t mean he’s a narc, just bad at conversation) and intellectualization. These three concepts can in a nut shell explain how your dad came to be who he is. He probably intellectualized at first as a defense mechanism against being emotionally overwhelmed or invalidated. And not having any help with that, and being helped with out having to express gratitude, that has hardened into who he is now. Conversational narcissism is just another outgrowth of that.

    So what to do now, it depends on what you want from him. In his own way he probably does care for you both, just doesn’t realize it very much as he takes you both for granted. So if you’re looking to have him see or value you, you’ll have to tell him directly what you want and why, and he still might not give it to you. But if you want to connect to him, as in seeing him for the vulnerable, flawed man he is and through that vulnerability have empathy for him and connect to him, then use those concepts to readjust how you see him.

    When he intellectualizes see a scared aging man, trying to lose himself in distraction, still trying to prove his worth. When he tries to prove others are stupid, see a man that believes he has to be better than others to be respected, and how much that has robbed him of the joy of connection and empathy. And when he dies, be grateful that you had the chance to see past the mask and notice the scared vulnerable man underneath, that really just wanted love like the rest of us, just wasn’t good at getting it. And be grateful for the lessons he taught you, even if it’s what NOT to do. As you’re a better person for those lessons, even if they were painfully taught. Be well, and I hope you and your father find some level of peace between you before his passing.

  2. It’s painful, but you’ll help yourself best by letting go of expectations that he’ll change. Counseling can help deal with disappointing parents, and so can support groups like Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families. One of the points of such self- help groups is ro recognize the traits you’ve developed as a defense which are getting in in rhe way of a satisfying life. As the child of such a parent, believe me, those traits are there and it’s work to change yourself.

    Also ask your mom what emotional support she’d like to gave from you. But factor him out. He is not going to give you what you crave, for yourself or your mom..

  3. You tired. You can’t change him after 70 years.
    Sit down and tell him how you feel about your relationship, tell him you love him and leave it alone

    I would also suggest counseling for you to deal with these emotions.

  4. This will sound a bit rough, sorry, but if he’s near the end it’s really more about his needs than yours. You wanting him to change doesn’t sound realistic or anything you can ask of him really. I’m sorry if I’m too blunt.
    Try to remember at least one or two good memories you had with him, you don’t have much more time with him, I wouldn’t spending it trying to get him to change. He’s maybe not the best (or good person), but if there was anything good, I’d focus on that.

  5. Make sure you show him your absolute best version of yourself. When he’s gone, you will not regret how you conducted yourself. That’ll stay with you for the rest of your life.

    Keep your chin up, smile, be awesome. Show him the best version of yourself.

  6. First of all, I’m sorry this is happening to you and your family. I went through a similar experience – your dad and mine sound very similar and I did all I could to get his attention, care, love, without ever feeling truly acknowledged. My dad passed away 2 years ago (I was 29, he was 82) and it was very difficult to come to terms with never having a chance of developing the relationship I wanted with him and acknowledge that I was not a priority.

    My advice is one that’s given a lot here on Reddit, and for good reason: get therapy. He is unlikely to change now, and it’s not your responsibility or duty to change him, talk sense into him, or open your heart to him just to be ignored or hurt by his reaction. Work on what you have control over – yourself. You may not get closure or even just some quality time with him before he’s gone (though you can still try!), but you do get to work on your feelings with someone who will listen and is there to help. Caring for another person is incredibly hard. Make sure you take good care of yourself first, physically and mentally.

  7. Oh, honey. I am late to this thread. But as someone that has lived through family disfunction at the end of life, I am so sorry.

    From this point out, please do what feels good to you. You may never get his approval,so please stop trying. If it makes you feel good to continue to engage, please continue. If you are hoping for some acknowledgment from him, please just stop for your own sake.

    I have personally lived through the end of life with someone that alienated one child and maintained a relationship with the other. For the alienated child, they said goodbye with minimal contact and and felt tremendously at peace. Do not feel like you need to do the work that the parent should have done.

    Sometimes, no matter how much we love them, our parents are simply flawed people. It is not on you to patch up those flaws. We simply go forward with what we have.

    Honestly, my aunt said it best: “I mourned my father years ago. I don’t need to do it again.” She did come by one more time with dinner to help her dying father and sister. This was a gift for her sister, and closure for her.

    Please think about what is good for YOU. And proceed accordingly.

  8. Its not about saying goodbye – its about saying hello. If you spent time trying to be part of his life but he is dismissive – that’s on him, you can only look at your actions.

    Sounds like he may have ADHD? Poor communicator etc. Not going to change him now.


    Why dont you tell him you want to study some very important local history – him. Have some questions about him and his life his parents grandparents and take notes.

  9. He isn’t going to change, and you’re going to have to come to terms with that, as well as the fact that you did absolutely nothing to cause it (which is why you can’t fix it).

    I think you have a couple of options. You can make him sit there and listen to what you have to say about your feelings (although this likely won’t earn you anything beneficial). Or you can make peace with the fact that you have to let this go. You can say goodbye to him in your own way and accept him as the dad you got instead of the one you wanted.

  10. You don’t have to visit your dying parent.

    He’s also not going to be a completely different person just because he’s dying.

    By all means keep visiting him if you want to, but go into it based on what’s important to you rather than for what you want out of him. If he’s the exact same person up until he dies, and he probably will be, will you regret not being there, not making the attempt despite its failure, not supporting your mum or giving her a break from being his primary caregiver (damn hard even if she and her spouse had a healthy, loving relationship)? It’s ok if the answer is no, you wouldn’t regret it!

    (I suspect, btw, that you have a relationship with your mum that would make doing this work to support *her* a meaningful thing to do, but again, it’s ok if the answer is still no, or if you’d prefer to find other ways to support her that don’t involve visiting with your dad)

    I am sorry that your dad is so limited, and I know it’s hard running up against a hard deadline on the hope that he might become the dad you deserve.

    If you want to keep visiting, I think it will be easier on you if you shift your expectations to acknowledge that your dad is going to be himself. Don’t expect anything from him. Try to connect if it’s important to you to try, and to know that you did everything you could on your end, but letting go of expectations about his behaviour will help you reframe. So, eg: ‘he’s going to be him, and I’m going to try to connect so I know I made the effort’ or ‘he’s going to be him, and I’ll put up with him to give my mum a break’ or ‘he’s going to be him and I’m going because I believe it’s important that family takes care of each other and I want to live by my values’.

    And ‘he’s going to be him’ DOES NOT MEAN that you or your mum weren’t good enough. He’s him because of his limitations, not yours.

    I’m sorry you’re going through this.

  11. *He is rude and dismissive to anyone in the family.

    You just gave yourself the answer. Don’t people please not even your parents. Some people only made children because they enjoyed sex. You got a life out of the deal now go enjoy it as his comes to an end. He will have to answer to God for how he treated you and your family, you will not have to answer for him.

    Your job is to go make a family and give them the love he didn’t give you to break that negative cycle.

  12. Do you expect or require anything from his estate? If not then have it out with him; get up in his grill and demand to know where the fuck he gets off treating you with that sort of disrespect, and do not let up until you’ve dragged a satisfactory answer out of him and made damned sure he’s heard you speak your piece. Let him get upset, let it ruin his day, let it make him even worse.

    your father is a mean piece of shit that doesn’t love anybody, and you will feel better about him when you believe that he *hates you specifically* because that will mean that you matter to him.

    there isn’t really a happy ending to be had here, so the best you can hope for is a bittersweet Pyrrhic victory. But there *is* a silver lining; once he’s gone, you can stop trying to salvage your garbage relationship and move on with your life. There is real peace and freedom to be had once “it is what it is” becomes “it was what it was” and then you can finally stop trying to gain the approval of someone who just doesn’t approve of you. If anything, I bet that you’d regret not taking the chance to tell him exactly what kind of a father he’s been.

  13. At his age it seems unlikely to make much progress. He had a lifetime with you but he only managed to push you away. Don’t do his busy work for him but help make meals and keep the house clean this will also help your mom. I also discuss with her what life will look like after your father passes away, maybe she’ll want to live closer to you. Focus on strengthening that meaningful relationship in your life.

  14. I would second the suggestion of therapy, but also maybe a grief counselor. You have a LOT of grieving to do, not least of which is grieving for the father you wanted but never had. Just because he can’t help how he is (IOW, even in a very best case situation) doesn’t have any relevance to your feelings about your relationship with him.

    Especially if you find you need to wait for a regular therapist, a grief counselor would be be a good start that can help you now.

  15. Sounds like my “dad” 72 and last I saw was something I couldn’t invest in. Terrible human my whole life would literally ditch me over anything. He would make no effort to be in anyone’s life. He spent so much time being chased and he doesn’t care and I’m happy he doesn’t.
    You’re better off without him I cannot imagine this torture.

  16. It’s hard. My dad hasn’t bothered with me most of my life. But I’ll still be there when the emphysema kills him in a few years time. It sucks but you just gotta do what do what you gotta do.

  17. Tell him your feelings.

    Start with you know what?

    Dad, I love you and I always will, but I want our last memories to be the best. Then tell him your worries and what’s been on your heart.

    He being rude might be his way to deal with his situation, he is a grumpy, proud man after all. Break that shell with telling him you love him.
    If you never have, it might shake him, to hear that lill child he held all happy once, still loves his grumpy old heart

  18. A few things. First, he reminds me of Saul’s brother on Better Call Saul.
    Anyway, sometimes people will act like that because they build up walls because they’re afraid of what will happen if they get close to someone. It’s almost easier to not become close to someone than it is to develop close relationships because, if you’re close, it’s harder to go through all the emotions you do with people.
    I guess what I’m saying is that if you’re close with someone, it’s harder to see them hurt, see them struggle, let go of them when they pass etc. If you don’t invest in someone, you don’t have those close invested feelings to worry about. I don’t know, does that make sense? And this is just a theory.
    He cares about you but finds it too hard to show it because that makes it real.
    Best of luck with everything.

  19. I would tell him you care about him and if he ever wants to talk that you would call or take his calls. Also, give him a big hug before you leave. It might be the only good memory you’ll have. Take it from someone experienced in losing both parents and one was just a terrible person.

    To be blunt about this. It doesn’t matter what HE thinks in the end. It matters how you deal with his passing as you will still be there to remember him. Give him the hug and tell him to call you if he wants to talk.

  20. I think it will be good for you to sit him down and confront him, bluntly, open, and honestly about how you feel about certain things that were swept under the rug and how his dismissal of anything meaningful makes you feel in your own words. Really have a heart-to-heart. In the worse case, he might shut you down (or try to) and tell you he doesn’t want to talk about it or he’s not comfortable with the discussion or it’s not your business, etc. but even so, he’s still going to hear you if you show you are firm in having him hear it, and he will see it expressed how you truly feel right before his eyes. He won’t be able to dismiss it from his mind even if he seems to be able to shut you out. It might just have the right effect on him. Because until then, everyone would just placate him and brush it off as “it’s just how he is” but without giving him a true, raw indication of how they were feeling anyways, which allowed him to remain in his comfort zone of detached emotion and ignorance.

    If you feel like you have something you need to say to him and he might not have much time left to hear it, regardless of how he might respond, it’s best to get it out there for him to know it rather than being stuck with these thoughts and feelings alone when he is gone, questioning if he ever really understood how you felt at all and how he might have felt in return had you just been totally honest with him. He may be oblivious to just how much pain you’ve been put through by him because you’ve chosen to be quiet for his sake. Or he might not be so oblivious and he really does have his own thoughts on the matter but has been too conservative and bottled up to express them. Sometimes you have to just be the one to open the floodgates if you want things to change and to get the closure you seem to desire.

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