‘My father sells himself as a hero, but I’ve just found out about his affair’
Tell me about it: He sells himself as the family breadwinner hero despite the fact he betrayed my mother
I feel I should confront my father about his affair, but it could cause a lot of hurt. Photograph: iStock
Question: I recently went to a school reunion which marked 25 years since I did my Leaving Certificate. This was an awkward event as I had lost contact with all my old school pals as the majority of them continued to live locally and I moved away.
I ended up spending the evening talking to a girl that I had barely known when in school. After several glasses of wine, she told me she remembered that when she was a child my father would occasionally leave her separated mother home late at night and would usually stay over. I was really upset and took her phone number and met up with her the next day. She confirmed that what she had told me was true, that my father, who was a taxi driver, would sometimes pick her mother up at the pub at the weekend by arrangement and would stay overnight.
She was embarrassed at having revealed this information and apologised for causing any distress and asked that I not raise the issue with my father as her mother is quite elderly now and vulnerable following a difficult life and she did not want her to be confronted with this. I have given the situation a lot of thought and cannot imagine why this lady would lie. It disturbs me that my father, who really sells himself as the family breadwinner hero, gets to enjoy such worship, despite that fact that he has most likely betrayed my mother, who worked equally hard, when he was meant to be out earning.
I have missed several Sunday lunches as I find it hard to come face-to-face with him. He has contacted me and said that he was worried about me. I feel I should confront him about this, but it could cause a lot of hurt.
Answer: You do not say if you have siblings that might be able to help you get perspective on this story, but if you have it might be worth considering talking to them. The tension here is between wanting to protect your mother and confronting your father and if you try to do both, then it is likely that the current awkward situation continues. The pattern of deceit is one that may have been backed up by the idea of protecting the family as a whole – your father may have been struggling in his marriage but chose in the end to stay for the sake of the family – but this action denies your mother the right to be an adult and to make her choices based on reality and truth.
The other mother involved is also being protected, as if she is also too vulnerable to handle what her daughter knows of her past. The theme here is that women need to be protected, but perhaps this also infantilises them and denies them the possibility of courage and strength. The danger is that if you talk to (possible) siblings, the pattern of protection will continue and the secret kept so that your mother does not suffer.
However, most of our important life learnings comes from adversity and you may be denying your mother, father, and the whole family a possibility for development and expansion if you say nothing. How you broach this and your attitude to the situation will, to a large part, determine the possible opportunities or conflicts that might arise and it is in this area that you have most work to do before you speak.
You sound very judgemental and critical of your father and perhaps this latest revelation uncovered a hidden anger at him. This trait of righteousness in him that he is the ‘breadwinner hero’ may have created a reaction in you of wanting to bring him down and in many ways this is a natural response.
However, the question is whether you also have some of this righteousness in you and before you confront your father, it may be worth having a look at this. The quality that opposes righteousness is humility and if your father had some of this you might be able to question, understand and forgive more readily. Can you find some humility in yourself so that when you confront your father, you do so in a way that allows him to answer truthfully?
This would break a family pattern of silence and denial that surely needs tackling. It is likely that your father will struggle to be honest as he has built an image of perfection that will be resistant to challenge. Be patient and plan to have many conversations as there needs to be a lot of honesty and care if the family is to survive this crisis.
Do not leave your mother out of this conversation as she has a right to her own reality and there is a possibility that this situation offers her a chance to engage with her husband in a more real and truthful way.