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Holy Father

Emily Flake

By Mink Stole | Posted 11/14/2001

When I was growing up, my father was what you could call a pillar of the community. My brother and I went to Sunday school every week while my parents went to church, and they were active in charity work. Dad held us up to a high moral standard: I wasn't allowed to date until I was 16 (and then only in groups) and was always lectured on the value of reputation. My brother and I thought he was a little too strict, and we often rebelled, but we respected him and felt he had our best interests at heart.

Now my dad has started an affair with a married woman about my age. They haven't bothered to be discreet about it, so the whole town is talking. It's humiliating to have people constantly ask me what's going on, and I've actually lost my appetite and am having trouble sleeping. I've tried to talk to Dad about how upset his behavior is making me (and the rest of the family), but he says it's none of our business and refuses to discuss it. My mother is throwing him out after 30 years of what had always seemed a strong marriage, but he doesn't seem to care. I love my dad, but I can't deal with this and I've lost all respect for him. How can someone dismiss everything he's always believed in and hurt the people he loves?Dazed and Confused in D.C.

Dear D & C:
It's called a midlife crisis, which is a convenient cliché for what happens when an upsurge of testosterone and an awareness of the passage of time combine to make a relatively conventional middle-aged act like an overstimulated teenager. While some men can handle this disruption of their normal routine with a new sports car, tennis, jogging, or plastic surgery, all too often a man will think the answer to his problem is a younger woman, in whose eyes he can again appear attractive and vital. Her youthful admiration not only satisfies his vanity, it proves to the world he's still got what it takes to keep a gal happy, thank you very much. Never mind that the world wasn't asking. And never mind that what's making the girl happy is as likely to be his money as his mojo. Although I know it's nearly impossible not to take it personally, it really isn't about deliberately hurting anyone else--that's an unfortunate and regrettable side effect. It's about making himself feel young and virile again. Justifications and rationalizations may include feelings of having been a good and responsible citizen who has taken care of his family and done his duty to the community long enough and "I deserve a little excitement for once in my life, dammit." It's even easy for an otherwise sane man to convince himself that God must want this for him or He wouldn't have dropped her in his lap.

I'm not saying this is OK; it's incredibly selfish and you have every right to be hurt and angry. But, while it's important to remain supportive of your mother, try not to take sides against your father, at least not in public. Not only do you not know all the facts about their marriage, it will make it easier all around if your parents decide to reconcile. Even if that doesn't happen and he marries the babe, he's still your father, and life would be better for all if you learn to accept his choice, even if his behavior has been, shall we say, untidy. If your health is really being affected, you should see a doctor or a counselor. As for the gossip, well, unfortunately it's inevitable. But the next time some nosy creep sidles up to you in the grocery store to get the skinny on the scandal, just smile and tell her that if she really wants the inside dirt she should ask your father. That should shut her up.

My husband and I have been married 10 years and have no children. We've had our good times and bad, like most marriages. My husband comes from an abusive family, and a few years ago we were in counseling for a while because he had started slapping me on occasion. He also had some individual counseling and he really straightened up. Last week, however, he grabbed me and slapped me repeatedly because my dog was barking. He wants me to get rid of the dog. I have compromised by sending him off to obedience school and getting a "no-bark" collar, but I love my dog and don't want to get rid of him. And I love my husband and want to save my marriage, but I sure don't want to be hit again either. Do I have to choose between them?

Tough Decision To Make

Dear Tough:
Short answer: Yes. Lose the husband. Keep the dog.

Less short answer: Abuse is never acceptable, and your dog didn't make your husband do it. Plus, the fact that your husband wants you to get rid of a dog you love is just further proof that he's a bullying a-hole and 10 years of your life with him is enough.

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