Dear Margo: Some Father

Should I cut my dad out of my life? Margo Howard’s advice

Some Father

Dear Margo: In May of ’83, when I was 18 and my brothers were 16 and 14, my mother died after a struggle with brain cancer. By July, my father had disposed of all her things, and by September, he had a girlfriend (14 years younger) and was spending all of his free time at her house instead of with my brothers. By Christmas, he had scheduled a wedding for July of ’84 and made plans to sell our house because his girlfriend was uncomfortable knowing our mother had lived there. When my middle brother and I objected to how quickly things were changing, Dad insisted that his happiness was the only thing that counted.

He got married, moved to the neighborhood his wife chose, and forbade us to talk about our mother. I was not allowed to live at the new house during summer vacations from college or to move home even briefly after graduating. I was treated as though my unhappiness with the situation was that of an immature troublemaker, not a grieving child. Since then, I’ve suffered from recurring depression.

I entered therapy and now am much better, except for one thing: I truly hate my father and his wife for the way they treated us, and I hate that my father managed to replace my mother so quickly and then tried to erase her existence. It’s the most honest emotion I’ve had in the past quarter-century. I want to say, “Bleep you and get out of my life.” However, my father will soon be 80, and I wonder if it would be cruel to tell him how I feel and kinder just to keep avoiding him. This situation is making me ill, but I just can’t figure out what to do. –Tied Up in Old Knots

Dear Tied: It is kind of you to consider leveling with your father as “cruelty,” but I invite you to consider his behavior from the time your mother died. I would, by all means, avoid him and what’s-her-name … who was likely behind his wish to erase your mother. And not letting the three of you speak of her — or come to what was your only home — is simply inexcusable. Along with your avoidance, I would write him (or them) a letter saying his behavior has been unconscionable and only now are you strong enough to consider yourself estranged from the two of them. As you can infer, I do not think age is a get-out-of-jail-free card. –Margo, appallingly

Cad in Camouflage

Dear Margo: I spent nine months waiting for a man to return from Iraq. He told me he was to be stationed in my hometown. When he got here to attend drill sergeant school, we spent as much time together as possible. The day before graduation in June, he told me he would rather go back to war than see me anymore — and this he did via text message. This man met my two boys and talked about marriage and having children with me. I found out via Facebook that he is married and now lives in Missouri. Please advise me on how to move on from the anger and resentment I feel toward him. –Madder than a Hornet

Dear Mad: Perhaps start with a punching bag. That guy sounds like a four-door louse. You don’t say whether he was married when all the romancing was going on, or if he found this woman and then made her his version of “going back to war.” And perhaps there’s no way for you to know. If he was, in fact, married when you struck up the band, then he was just entertaining himself, and you were the entertainment.

As for moving on, simply review the duplicity, the using, the dishonesty, treachery and lack of integrity, and understand that you dodged a bullet with the departure of this skunk. (And breaking it off via text was classy, too.) Realizing that you are one lucky girl to have been removed from this road show will just sharpen your judgment. Do not beat yourself up. This is one of those cases where it really is him and not you. –Margo, forwardly


Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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74 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Jim Martin says:

    Dear Margo, appalledly:
    Here I am being picky as usual, but it disturbed me greatly to see you refer to your excellent and irreplaceable self as appalling. I know what you meant was that you were appalled by the father’s despicable behavior toward his children, so I have taken it upon myself to coin the word appalledly for you to use instead. Although appalledly does turn up in Google searches, and it certainly should be a word, I cannot find it in any online dictionary.
    I love your line, “I do not think age is a get-out-of-jail-free card.” I will be 63 next month, and while I know some would consider me a spring chicken still (that term alone proves my age), the older I get the less tolerant I am of old people who think they can get away with bad behavior just because they’re closer to the grave than their victims are.
    Your grateful and admiring friend, hoping you live to be well over 120 and stay vibrant and brilliant to the very end,

    • avatar Cindy Marek says:

      “…the older I get the less tolerant I am of old people who think they can get away with bad behavior just because they’re closer to the grave than their victims are.”

      I’m 45, and have felt that way since age 25. Some people really do use their “Golden Arches Card” like a weapon. :-(

    • avatar Margo Howard says:

      Well, thanks, Jim! (And those adverbial sign-offs are sometimes tricky.)

  2. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I don’t know if it’d be cruel; if you really feel the need to “let him have it” and that would help in the healing process, go for it. Sometimes the truth is exactly what people need to hear; especially very selfish jerks. And your brothers, how have they handled this? They were even more directly effected by it than you, as they were younger and still at home. At the very least you can continue avoiding him and whats’ername. You’re my age btw; you’re (understandably) carrying this baggage for a while now. Again, if telling him off helps YOU — do it. Because he does owe you that gratification at least!

    • avatar Sweet Dream says:

      Agreed 100%. Also since you brought up the subject of LW#1’s brothers, my advise is please, please, please reach out to them. You’ll feel better knowing that you help them cope. I think the key to ease depression is by getting out there and help others, because that means theat you focus less on your own problems.

  3. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #2: Try to forget him ASAP. I’m sorry for how this likely impacted your sons as well. And if you’re considering contacting his wife (she has my pity) for revenge…I wouldn’t. As my dad would say, sometimes you’ve got to swallow your pride. Stinks I know, but…try to move forward now and best of luck with a future (good and rewarding) romance. Some terrific guy is out there waiting to meet you!

  4. avatar Anais P says:

    I’m sorry, but any father who practically abandons his daughter after she leaves for college and forbids his children to discuss their dead mother is about the most selfish man I have ever heard of. Never mind that it was probably very tough on him to have nursed his wife through a lengthy illness. His first responsibility was to his children, not to himself, and he only considered his own wants and needs, not theirs. I have no pity for him but only for the children he so ill-treated. I agree completely with Margo’s wise words. If LW1 wishes to write a letter to clear the air and free herself of the depression her father’s actions helped create, I say go for it. He made his choices in 1983, now he has to live with the consequences.
    As for LW2, Margo is right: she should consider herself lucky to be rid of this jerk-creep-cad. It is really too bad he also gave your children reason to hope, but you are much, much better off without him. Don’t contact his wife, and don’t give him another thought unless it helps to punch your pillow a few dozen times each night while thinking of his miserable face. You are now a bit wiser when it comes to men. LW2, I wish you the very best.

  5. avatar K Coldiron says:

    One of the best sayings I’ve ever heard about the death of a spouse is “women grieve, men replace.” Still, LW1’s father behaved very, very badly to his children. Totally selfish.

  6. avatar Chris Glass` says:

    Letter 2: In the day and age of Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Bing and other search engines it makes sense to see if a prospective significant other has a past. This is especially true for those who meet someone online or through correspondence. Everyone should be alert to warning signs such as not being introduced the prospects friends and family or being gone on holidays or weekends. If your prospect is real he will take calls in front of you instead of stepping outside or letting them go to voice mail. Another red flag is getting stuck with most of the expense for the relationship. It won’t help the one you lost but it can help you and your children in the future. The best way to get over the resentment of being used is chalk what happened up to experience and move on.

  7. avatar Kathy says:

    LW2- This guy likely has a girl wherever he’s stationed.  I’m betting they met on the internet – he looking specifically for a girl in this particular town to .. ahem … spend time with.  Then, when his gig is up, he goes back to his family.  Yeah, he’s a louse but she’s naive.  With all the tools at our fingertips via the internet, how can anyone not know their boyfriend is married??

    • avatar Lila says:

      Unfortunately I have seen this all too often in the military.  The guys used to call this a “TDY Wife.”  (Temporary Duty)  Of course the “TDY Wife” never knows that the soldier is already married, or just flat has no intention of maintaining the relationship once his TDY assignment is over.
      In the old days it was much easier for these slimes to pull this stunt.  I agree with you – in the age of the internet, women should exercise a good bit of skepticism and their keyboards before letting a guy sweet-talk them into a relationship, and then dump them like a used kleenex at his convenience.

      • avatar Margy says:

        Several years ago, I knew this Japanese girl who had a boyfriend in the Marines. She paid for all their meals and outings whenever they went on a date. She was talking marriage and living in the states. When he went back to the states, she visited him and his family. His family welcomed her but he was not. Turns out he hooked back up with a former girlfriend. She didn’t feel like giving up and last I saw her, she was desperately thinking of ways to get him back.
        Nowadays with the internet available, who doesn’t do a search?

  8. avatar Lila says:

    For LW1 – your father’s behavior is really unconscionable.  I lost my mother at age 6, and my Dad never remarried.  He disposed of her clothing, but insisted that I should have her other things: jewelry, dressing table, etc.  Those things are of a bygone era now, but are still a treasured connection to her.  That your father denied you even this much is reprehensible; also that he denied his children their home, both the old one AND the new one!  Clearly he values his new wife over his three existing children.
    I’d say – ask yourself if, once he is gone, you will regret never airing your grievance with him.  If so – then do it.  Also consider that when you confront him, he may surprise you with his regrets.  Not that it would make anything right, just that it would show he was aware of his actions.

    • avatar Annalyn Stormraven says:

      Seriously, to make things right with his children the Dad shouldn’t remarry?  And YES you should value your spouse over your adult children.  I don’t get this attitude that your children are more important than the person you have chosen to spend the rest of your life with.  Children move out at 18.  You may still have a relationship, but it should not be near that same level as that you have with your spouse.

      • avatar Lila says:

        I said MY Dad never remarried, should have made clear that’s not quite what I was suggesting for THIS father.
        But THIS father erased every vestige of his former spouse for the new one.  The former spouse is his children’s mother.  Their mother, who they knew for 14, 16, and 18 years.  The woman who raised and nurtured them, and they had to watch her decline and die.  And then – while his children were grieving her loss – he erased her and forbade them to mention her, and replaced her as though she were nothing more than a toaster.  That’s pretty damn cold, and I would never have forgiven my father had he done this.   It speaks of a total lack of caring for his first wife or for the children.
        I believe the relationship with a spouse is DIFFERENT, and closer in the sense that you live together full-time, while your children “launch” (if you have done your parental job) and establish their own lives.  But the children are half YOU.  Most good parents would lay down their own lives to save their children, and make sacrifices every day to provide for them.  This man is not in that category.  He gave not a whit for their mental health, their grief, their needs for a loving and connected family.  And this is just as important in the teen years as in early childhood.
        The right thing for the father to do upon remarriage is to tell his children that he knows the new spouse can never replace their mother, and to keep at least some mementos to her memory.  The graceful thing for the new spouse is  to honor the memory of the deceased spouse, unless… of course… she wishes her own memory to be so callously discarded one day, and that memory severed from her own children as well.  YOU DON’T COMPETE WITH A DEAD SPOUSE.
        Think of it:  when you pre-decease your spouse, is this how you see your children, and your memory, being treated?  “Never mention your mother Annalyn again.  Remove her pictures.  Discard her belongings.  And you children will never return to our old home, and are not welcome to stay in my new wife’s home.”

      • avatar Lila says:

        Still thinking about your comment that one’s spouse is more important than one’s children.  I just don’t see it.   I’m curious as to your age and parental status; I suspect you are young and am certain you are childless, because you essentially have said that if it comes to a choice between your child and your husband, the child is the loser.
        Looking at divorce/breakup rates these days, I’d say spending the rest of your life with your spouse is a long shot at best.  Your philosophy would seem to have you discard your children for each remarriage.  Do you really not see the fallacy here?  Your spouse can stop being your spouse.  Your kids can never be anything other than your kids.  And they can never be anything other than their OTHER parent’s kids, too.
        Your kids are half YOU.  You can estrange yourself, but you can’t divorce your genetic legacy.  From a biological standpoint, the children are FAR more important than the spouse.  Parent/child relationships are permanent and don’t magically end at age 18, though the child hopefully will “launch.”  Do you really not want to know your grandchildren?  Do you really not want your children with you in your old age or at your deathbed?
        And one final thought: if the spouse is really more important than the kids, this widower should have honored his dead wife rather than flushing her down the toilet.  Not only was she disposable, his whole family was disposable.

        • avatar stateoflove_N_Trust says:

          I think that your arguments regarding child/spouse are strawmen.  I did not understand the other poster to mean that what you are inferring.  I understand your point of view about children, but I don’t think this is a direct choice between spouse or child.  As to the “biological” argument, I don’t think the point that you are making actually supports you.  Under a purely biological argument, you have propagated the species by reproducing and raising them until a point that they can survive on their own.
          As to parent/child relationships, perhaps you should come into dependency/juvenile court a couple days with me to see how permanent those relationships can be.  No relationship is guaranteed to be permanent nor should it be.  Really, what does a parent/child relationship mean if it exists solely due to volunteering genetic material.

          I am assuming that you are old and almost certainly single with children.  I don’t know that you are, I really am just guessing.  Please don’t take offense.  I am just making stuff up to show you how ridiculous that statement was.

          • avatar Lila says:

            State, my points were not solely about biology.  I also ask about ongoing life relationships, which is where the damage was done here.  In fact – since I am adopted, my own situation is not really about biology either.   It’s about family loyalties, secure relationships, and responsibilities.  Also, I read Annalyn’s other comments in this thread and they seem unnecessarily heartless toward the kids, particularly the 18-year-old.  You work in juvenile court; how many of those kids are there because their parents weren’t much of a parent?
            I admit I am very sensitive to this topic, having lost my own mother at an early age and then having seen our whole family – having lost Mom – basically discarded by my mother’s side of the family.  I know how it feels to be thrown away.  And I know how fiercely loyal I still am to my Mom, even having only known her for 6 years.  I know that I appreciated how my Dad kept her things for me, and kept her photos around the house to keep her memory alive.  Had he remarried but still honored my mother’s memory, I would have appreciated that.  Had he remarried and “erased” my Mom, I know I would have resented it.   Had the new spouse approached with “I know I can never replace your mother, but I want to be part of this family and care for you the way she would have,” I could have respected that; had she come in and erased my mother and banned me from my home at age 18 on the dot, I would have opposed her with every fiber of my being, gone forth and never looked back no matter what.
            As it was, my brother and I gave my Dad a lot of pride in our careers, we made sure he stayed in his own house and never went to a nursing home, and we were both at his side when he passed away.  We repaid his concern for our childish selves, with the loyalty of adult children.  Had he done as LW1’s father has, he would have had none of that.  Why can’t a new spouse be incorporated into the family, without estranging the children?
            PS, I am middle-aged, married and childless.  I know you were just pinging me but I stand by my statement.  I cannot imagine a parent really believing the relationship with the spouse trumps that with the children, on the basis that the kids move out at 18.  Good Lord.  Children are NOT a temporary 18-year project and then done.  I am not a parent but if I were – I know which relationship I would value more.  Spouses can stop being spouses.  Offspring cannot stop being offspring.  If more parents valued their kids this much, you might see fewer of them in juvie.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Lila, I love my children fiercely. I divorced my second husband partly because he just couldn’t seem to understand that we had a whole, new life and person to care for, nurture, and be responsible for, and his own extremely selfish needs came first. His true colors began flying as soon as he actually had to be accountable for a helpless little life. He had nurturing (in fact, spoiling parents). I did not. So it goes.
            R., my husband of nearly 17 years, is a nurturer, a family man, a wonderful father, compassionate, kind and caring. Together, we raised my first son, and our younger son. We’ve mad plenty of errors along the way…but we have also persevered, and worked at our job with love and dedication. The relationship between us and the children holds enormous importance for us.
            So does the relationship between us. I would say that neither trumps the other. R. is also my best friend, my passionate, funny, delightful lover, the sharer of my secrets, and my other half. Our personality types are precisely matched (which we discovered inadvertently). Our opinions don’t have to be, nor our taste. We are very much yin and yang. Our love is very deep and abiding. We have known each other for 26 years, first as best friends, then more completely.
            My children will always be my children, but they will not always be my babies, or my friends, or even favorably inclined toward me, as I have already learned. My oldest turned on me at the age of 16 because he preferred to go and live with his biological father’s family (who allowed him unlimited access…and I do mean unlimited…to ultra-violent movies, cable, and video games. We had no cable, or gaming systems in our home because of the advice of many school specialists, his psychiatrist, and his therapist). He assaulted me and his six-years younger brother (he is 6′ tall and 280 lbs.). I would not hurt my own child, so I had his father come and get him. Three years later, he has socially and psychologically regressed into a manipulative, avaricious, narcissistic adult whom I truly fear will eventually harm someone. O, yes, I love him, and I do everything I can to help him…but neither he nor his father want to here anything I have to say…because my way involves effort, and accountability, and responsibility.
            My younger son, raised the same way, is welcome anywhere, is compassionate, kind, funny and loyal to a fault. But Lila…I didn’t have my children to take care of me in my old age (or as a matter of biological clocks, friends having babies, or familial pressure). I always knew that they would grow up, not stay babies, and that my job, and my delight, and my love would go into helping them be the best people they could be. That doesn’t mean wealthy, or socially prominent, or a celebrity to me…that means content, and functioning, and experiencing some degree of joy in their lives. My older son is never truly happy. My younger son sees wonder in a newborn kitten and butterflies. He says he will take care of us when we are old…and he is only thirteen. Sometimes it breaks my heart.
            But I don’t know if I would quite be where I am today without R.’s love, respect, honesty and devotion. I can’t put my relationship with him, and my children, on a scales and determine which is the weightier…each has mass and significance, just of a different sort.

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            Apologies for all of the typos…it is 5:00 am and I should be taking advantage of the opportunity and sleeping in. Ah, insomnia!

          • avatar Lila says:

            Briana, thanks for your voice of experience, and so eloquently stated.  This topic just pushed my buttons due to my own background.
            You are so lucky to have found your soul mate.  I think you did right by your son to go the way you did.  Unfortunately we can’t control everything to get the best result, but we are still obligated to DO everything in our power to AIM for the best result, and you did.  I have a friend who had 2 kids and a husband like your first: no interest in being a parent, only interested in his own juvenile desires.  Like you, she divorced and is now remarried to someone truly wonderful, and he is such a good Dad to the kids.
            I hear you on the point about the spouse and child relationships being different but equally important, with your CURRENT soul mate; but it was not so in the case of your former spouse, or my friend’s former spouse.  Both of you booted the bad-parent spouses at least in part for the good of the children.  Now that you have found such good spouses and co-parents, things are different, thankfully!

          • avatar Briana Baran says:

            The most important difference in the two relationships might be this: you and your spouse voluntarily go into your relationship, and choose to work at it, devote energy to it, change or maintain its direction…or end it if things do not work out as planned. Children…whether conceived biologically or adopted as infants or when young…have no choice in the matter and nature of their parents. They are trapped in the parent/child relationship.
            I therefore feel that we, as parents, have an obligation to our children to do our best to, even to the extent of putting aside our own wants and needs, to give our children every opportunity, bit of support and care that is necessary to help them succeed in this world. As I said before, for me this does not entail riches, fame and social standing. Sometimes it does mean going without certain things…such as sleep, and material items, and entertainment (which I never considered sacrificing…I had them with forethought, and I am not a martyr) for a time.
            Yes, there are frustrations, hurt and anxiety. But I do believe that the moments of pure joy, and ridiculous laughter, and love are worth it all. One of my sons is not a person I can easily like…but I do love him, and I care, and I worry. He is not a disappointment…he is just who he turned out to be, and all I can do at this point is hope that no harm comes to him…and that he brings none to anyone else. My other son…so far…is vastly different…and we are trying hard to gently keep him on the upward path he has set his feet upon.
            Lila, what disturbed me about the letter is that the writer has carried so much unresolved hatred for almost 30 years about a situation that seems so heavily weighted to one side. I am very wary of something so badly out-of-balance after so many years, and a hatred that seems to have been well fed, and to have grown so exponentially. She isn’t asking about the events so long ago…which is what everyone seems to be focusing on…but about right now. I can’t see anything good coming from an all out attack on an 80 year old man and his wife…or anything healthy about a woman still so filled with rage, loathing and embitterment. Something is askew in this story.
            But maybe that’s just my instincts speaking…although they’re usually pretty accurate.

      • avatar Ellie M says:

        Lila, I don’t understand your attitude about adult children not being as important as a spouse.  Do you even have any children?  It doesn’t sound to me like you would be a very kind mother.  I’m not saying that parents need to be totally selfless and forgo personal happiness, but children should be the most important thing in one’s life when they are small, and at least as important as one’s spouse when they are grown.  That doesn’t mean you have to pay their rent or let them walk all over you, but they should still know that their mom loves them and will be there for them if they need it.  If your children don’t have that then I feel sorry for them.  If you don’t have children, maybe you should keep it that way.