Daughter struggles with hostile parent

Dear Annie: My father was always a good financial provider to our family when I was growing up. Beyond that, he showed us little affection. He is now 69 years old and has had some health issues over the past few years. My parents recently moved to be closer to me, and I have found that with that also comes a lot of stress, anger and resentment. I have tried very hard to help him with things around the house and help him keep his emotions under control, but I typically leave more upset than when I arrived. He has become increasingly worse over the past year, calling family members every terrible name you can think of. He threatens to do hurtful things just out of spite, and he frequently has tantrums.

We have had several sit-down discussions with him, but nothing ever changes, and he refuses to talk with a professional, as he does not see what he is doing as wrong. I sent him a message over the winter telling him that I needed to step away for a while because the hurt and stress that he was causing me was too much. I was trying to start a family with my husband, and I did not need the additional stress. This was met with more hurtful messages and his signing his emails, “Your former father.”

I have started talking with him again, more to keep the peace for my mother, but I find it extremely difficult to be around him. I fear that one day he will be gone and I will regret not seeing him more now. I am constantly torn between being hurt by him now and the prospect of being hurt with regret when he is gone. At what point should I stop? — Hurt Daughter in New Hampshire

Dear Hurt Daughter: First, I would have him tested for dementia, as this can cause some of the behaviors you’re describing. But if that’s not the case, then we’re back to your question: When should you stop trying to have a relationship with him? Stop when to continue would only be toxic. You may be at that point now.

He’s your father. You will always love him. And I am sure that deep down he will always love you. But he’s repeatedly shown himself unable and unwilling to have a close relationship with you. Take all the space you need to have a healthy life.

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