How children feel about their cheating parents is a topic the Universal Bullshit Translator has rightly shied away from. My standard advice to chumps here is let the kids figure out that relationship for themselves. Tell the truth (“Dad has a girlfriend, that’s why we’re divorcing”) and don’t editorialize (i.e., “Dad’s a slut”). Recognize that kids love their screwed up parent. That is their right. It’s also your right to ex-communicate a cheating fuckwit from your life. There can be a demilitarized zone about everyone’s feelings. Your job is to sane parent and model mightiness. Let them draw their own conclusions.
That’s the CL “Kids and Fuckwits” ethos in one snappy paragraph.
Then an alert chump sent the UBT Jezebel’s advice column “Dear Fuck-Up: Surprise! My Dad Sucks“. A letter from a distressed child of a fuckwit, daughter of a chump.
I am a reasonably successful adult who, up until a couple of weeks ago, thought my parents were in a committed, strong marriage and had been since the ’80s. While I had suspected my parents might divorce, I always imagined it would be because my mother (as many adult children maybe feel) can be challenging to love sometimes.
A couple of weeks ago my mom called me to tell me that my dad had been cheating on her for certainly years if not a decade and that she was leaving him, which I supported.
On one hand, my dad was an incredible father to me. On the other hand, the more I think about it, the angrier I become that despite his pampering of my mom (making her dinner and morning coffee, doing the laundry, etc), he repeatedly and flagrantly violated their marriage faithfulness. I’m struggling to reconcile my loving father with the idea that he could be sneaking off to cheat.
I used to have regular phone calls with my dad and I find myself dreading them. I am no longer interested in sharing all the things in my life I used to; I wonder before and after the phone call if he is meeting one of his Adult Friends. At the same time, I’m worried that cutting him off will cause him to sink into alcoholism (genetic predisposition) or otherwise do something isolating or self-harming.
Dear Person Writing to the Wrong Advice Columnist: His slipping into alcoholism or self-harm is NOT YOUR RESPONSIBILITY. You’re allowed to have boundaries. Did you grow up thinking you couldn’t? That managing other people’s mental states was your job? That this was within your control? Welcome to the toxic cheater/chump dynamic! Wonder why mom is so “unlovable”? She’s been doing the chump shuffle her whole marriage. Trying to please the un-pleasable, control the uncontrollable and not having a clue what was really going on. It’s abuse. Reassess what you thought you knew.
Yeah. That wasn’t the advice given. Chump Kid instead got scolded for her lack of sophistication. The Universal Bullshit Translator shall now stuff the whole mess down the chipper-shredder chute.
I don’t often write about my relationship with my father, because when you’re a woman who has had many sexual partners and a fraught relationship with her father, you learn not to bring it up lest you be met with that look someone gives when they realize where to put all those parts of you they didn’t quite know what to do with.
Let’s make this about me and my daddy issues.
Suffice it to say, I’m an edgy Fuck-Up with many sexual partners and I think you should know this in the lede. Do not look at me askance. You do not know where to put all these parts of me.
(The UBT would like to suggest some spare orifice in your multiple boyfriends?)
Bad dads have a way of making everything suddenly seem quite boring.
Oh the ennui of paying child support!
My dad isn’t a bad person, though—he just made some very stupid decisions that hurt those around him.
As opposed to a bad person who makes sage decisions and refrains from harming others.
Dad just made some very stupid decisions. Okay, he threw a sack of kitten in the canal and watched them drown. Okay, a few sacks. Decades-long kitten tosses. So a few kids are missing Snowball and Fluffy and Mr. Pibbs. Blub, blub… The important thing is protecting dad’s legacy as Not A Bad Person.
The kind of decisions you simply cannot fold into whatever shape your previous relationship took; the kind that demands a new way of seeing each other.
Dad is a casual kitten murderer. This knowledge demands a new way of seeing each other. I, a child bereft of a kitten. He, a man who tosses kittens in canals. Hey, at least he’s not boring.
That too is rather boring, or at least quite common. Most people reach a point where it becomes clear that your parents are people capable of deception or betrayal or disappointment. For some, this is very apparent from a young age, and that comes with its own kind of legacy. But in a way I feel especially bad for those who still hold on to an idealized version of their parents well into adulthood—it’s a sort of embarrassing anachronism, like getting braces at 35.
I feel bad for you, Sucks. Your assumption of monogamy in your parent’s marriage is an embarrassing anachronism, like wearing braces. Parents are capable of deception. Newsflash: that dollar left under your pillow was NOT the tooth fairy!
I, Fuck-Up, am a sophisticated creature since a young age. I knew better than to expect my parents to do what they say they’d do. Show up my choral concerts. Get the car registered. Not fuck the babysitter.
You Pollyannas and your idealized version of parents not crafting Adult Friend Finder profiles and fucking strange in parking lots. I pity you.
It also tends to provoke a childish reaction, and I would urge you to consider there are options here besides “carry on exactly as things were” or “cut him out of your life completely.”
I urge you to consider this straw man argument. You want help integrating this knowledge into your life that Dad spent decades lying to your mother and endangering her health and mental well-being. Instead I shall shame you for judging your father and considering boundaries. #childishreactions
Have you considered telling your dad how disorienting this has been for you?
I’m sure this would be an improving conversation with a man who has been disregarding everyone for his dick for 20 years.
Having a conversation about what this might mean for your relationship?
Comparing dating strategies? Inquire after any half siblings? We’ve already ruled out boundaries and judgement as childish reactions…
Yelling at him for a bit about what a loathsome shit he’s been to your mom?
These are all on the table, now that you’ve realized he is no more and no less than a flawed man you love very much.
He’s not a fraud — he’s flawed.
That’s not embezzlement — it’s a wire transfer.
That’s not rape — it’s unilateral cuddles.
Spackle! The bond that holds dysfunctional families together.
After that, maybe you can think a bit more about why you assume most adults struggle to love their mothers.
Go on judging Mom. As you were.
I Get Paid for This. Really.