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I was 28 years old when I told my dad I never wanted to speak to him again.

I wasn’t trying to hurt him. I was just defending myself from someone I was absolutely certain was ruining my life.

Growing up, things were pretty tense in our house. One minute my dad would entertain me by reciting poems from Longfellow and the next he’d complain my birth had ruined his marriage. He also had the weird habit of hiding under trees every time a plane flew over the house.

It only got worse when my mother passed away. I realized he wasn’t just moody and a little “off.” He was clinically depressed, highly paranoid, and quickly becoming unpredictable.

Like the time he made me cancel a bike ride with Sheila Widnall (then Secretary of the Air Force) because he felt I was abandoning him. Or the time he sent my aunt a paper bag full of excrement after a disagreement.

One day, I’d had enough. I picked up the phone and ended our relationship forever.

And you know what?

It was the best career move I ever made.

Success is not just who you are, but who you surround yourself with

People who come from dysfunctional families are already at a disadvantage in the workplace.  A longitudinal study found an increase in family arguments from age 5 to 15 led to long-term impacts on career functioning.

This may be because the patterns we learned as children are the first models of behavior we take into the workplace. If your dad was a jerk and your sister a bully, you’ll likely have a hard time with team projects. You’ll either yell to get your way or be afraid to stick up for your ideas.

Extensive research performed by the Gallup organization and reported by Tom Rath in his book How Full Is Your Bucket, demonstrates professional success isn’t just about your innate talents or whether you graduated magna cum laude, but the relationships you surrounded yourself with.

Friends and family either fill our emotional bucket or drain it. Rath shows that the fullness of your bucket influences everything from your productivity and creativity to your confidence.

Rath says the biggest benefit to your career comes from having friends at work. This is why it may make sense to end relations with a bucket draining family member, while still cultivating a friendly relationship with an annoying colleague.

Perform a cost-benefit analysis on everyone you interact with

It sounds harsh. But performing a cost-benefit analysis on everyone, including friends, family, co-workers and customers, is the only way to assure your own needs stay in the equation instead of allowing genetics or social mores to dominate the decision.

Ask yourself, what does this person provide: security, happiness, inspiration, a sense of tradition? But also, what does this person take away? Be honest. Then decide if you want to nurture, maintain, minimize, or eliminate the relationship.

Your birth certificate is not a binding contract

An article in CNN-Money described the benefit of a work-spouse relationship as having the “intimacy [of marriage] without the sex or commitment.” A recent survey showed roughly 65 per cent of married couples have a work-spouse, discussing everything from health and money to sex. A work-spouse can even increase your chances for a promotion or raise.

It’s odd that it’s okay to divorce or supplement your spouse, the one you vowed to honor and cherish, but you’re stuck with the family you were born to. When I ended my relationship with my father, I “adopted” my mom’s best friend, who didn’t have any children of her own. This is a decision that keeps paying dividends. Not only do I get a more stable life, but my daughter gets grandparents who aren’t depressed or weird.

Your co-workers can feel like extended family as well. In addition to those work-spouses, you can find work-fathers and work-cousins (the ones you go to the bars with). When you honestly feel grateful to be attending the Thanksgiving potluck, you know you’ve found a great place to work, as well as a support system you can rely on when your family fails.

It takes guts to take responsibility … and succeed in business

It’s easy to be a martyr, to say you have to keep up a tortured relationship because you feel obligated or loyal or responsible. Some people wear their DNA like a ball and chain, hoping one day their mom will be proud, or their dad will be sober, or their sibling will stop obsessively competing. They hire a therapist to get through the holidays.

It takes courage to put yourself first.

I don’t mean you should use people as stepping stones for your career aspirations. If you want to nurture or maintain the useful relationships in your life, you’ll need to give as much or more than you receive.

But you only get one bucket. You have to prioritize who you spend your emotional capital on. Most managers waste their time dealing with angry customers and poor performers because they lack the courage to just let go.

Tackling your personal relationships will give you confidence to do the right things in your career as well. Firing a poor performer in a recession wasn’t nearly as hard as telling my dad I didn’t want to talk to him—ever.

Seven years after that conversation, I learned my dad died alone. It was months before the neighbors noticed his absence. I was sorry he never found the help he needed, but I didn’t feel responsible for it.

Eventually you realize you can only help those willing to help themselves.

And that begins with helping yourself.

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314 Responses to Why I Fired My Father (And Maybe You Should Too)

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 11:00 am
    • Bernie
    • Said...

    I’m sure it was hard for you to do that at first. I’m also sure it was very liberating. *hugs*

    • Bernie,
      Yes, it was incredibly difficult. I resisted it for years. But it was the right choice, ultimately, and I have no regrets. Thanks for understanding, and hope this is helpful to your or someone you know as well.

        • On
        • March 30, 2011 at 9:31 am
        • James Barnsley
        • Said...


        Can you tell me your dads date of birth and where he was born? Which country?


        • On
        • April 6, 2012 at 6:51 pm
        • James Keller
        • Said...

        Reading this post but I’m sorry you sound like a total heartless bitch. People are obviously “trash” to you, to be thrown away if their “cost benefit” is not profitable to you. To discard your father who raised you and leave him to die alone just shows how shallow of a person you are. I would be quite amazed if you had any friends or anyone how could stand being around you. If you have kids (which I really hope for their sake you don’t) I hope at some point in your life when you get old, they too will see you as a burden and discard you like trash same as you did to your father. Then when you are on your deathbed all alone you will see just how much pain you have caused your father. I hope you will die alone as well with no one to give a shit about you. People like you make me sick. Sorry that your whole life is your job and working. Maybe if spent some of that time out of the office and interacting with people you would have more empathy for people. You are a horrible person.

          • On
          • April 11, 2012 at 7:36 am
          • parabola
          • Said...

          A comment to James Killer:

          life is not a straight line that gets followed according to a nice tidy set of rules taken from the Universal Order of Behavior Code Book that you seem to be reading from. Maybe YOU should reassess how your anger is affecting those around you as you may be the one who dies alone?

            • On
            • August 19, 2012 at 2:19 pm
            • Tinydancer22
            • Said...

            Actually I don’t agree with you at all Parabola. Basically the same situation happened in my family and had to cut ties because my relationship with them was making me so depressed that I couldn’t function enough to live a normal life or get out of bed in the morning. They were highly abusive to me and I waited for a long time before deciding to end the relationship. This kind of decision is NEVER an easy one. In fact it is one fraught with loss, heartache, pain, anger and desperation to fight for your own sanity. My point is that I waited YEARS before deciding that it was not mentally healthy for me to have a relationship with these people, before making this decision. They almost hospitalized me. It is VERY HARD DECISION to turn away people that you love tremendously because they abuse you. You want to love them and care about them but you have to stop because if you don’t, you know that it will literally ruin your life. I also told them what was wrong with the relationship, asked for change and waited for A LONG TIME before realizing that our relationship was never going to change or be healthy for me to be around. I have gone to YEARS of therapy because of my abusive relationship with them. I am still going to therapy to this day. I have cried countless times about missing them but realizing that I can’t go back because it would drive me to insanity. I have wanted them to love me more than you can imagine, but have come to a point of sanity where I realized that that was simply never going to happen. I would rather die alone and have people that love me and appreciate me for who I am, than live with people who feel it is ok to abuse me for the rest of my life.

          • On
          • April 14, 2012 at 12:14 am
          • Yuliya
          • Said...

          That’s entirely unfair. You don’t know what her father put her and her family through. She may have written the words in a ‘cold’ manner but I’m sure the decision to sever ties with her father was made from necessity.

          Some people are a destructive force. They refuse all compromise and help. They will not benefit from your love and support but only drag you down into their own misery.

          • On
          • September 24, 2012 at 1:46 pm
          • Michelle
          • Said...

          I guess you say that because you never came from a dysfunctional family that why is easy for you to speak but when you have everything against you there is a saying you have to survive as best as possible so you really stupid for not understanding people and i agree with her since you come from a stable family is hard for you to understand so come down from that high horse of your and land earth

          • On
          • November 18, 2012 at 2:57 am
          • Renee
          • Said...

          James, her point is that sharing a bloodline does NOT give someone the license to be hurtful and abusive. Duh. There is no obligation to someone like that. Ever.

          You must resemble her post very much. Your post was extremely intentionally hurtful. I suspect that maybe her post struck a nerve because you act just like her father to some people in your own life, and you’re afraid they’ll wise up and kick you to the curb too?

            • On
            • October 18, 2014 at 7:50 pm
            • John
            • Said...

            That’s what I also suspect.

          • On
          • May 31, 2015 at 4:44 am
          • Caroline
          • Said...

          He definitely is heartless. But you also have to acknowledge what made him heartless.

          Families can have arguments, but they should always be on your side. If families don’t support each other and give each other love, then I don’t know what heartless is.

        • On
        • April 7, 2014 at 2:43 pm
        • Ali Angali
        • Said...

        Hi Jennifer
        Just googled “my dad is an asshole” and stumbled upon your entry.
        I just quit my relationship with my “father”, who was abusive and absolutely selfish. People who haven’t experienced that will never understand. It’s not about being selfish, if you cut off the relationships which drain you the most, but actually the next best thing, do do not let the burners flame you. After I quit my relationship with him, he started stalking my and my wife, trying to blackmail us for money with illusory reasons. Everyone is laughing at him, and I mean all the members of the family and his one friends, but the only who still does not get it is him.
        So yes, you’ve don a good job cutting him off, I know your feelings.
        First comes first!

      • On
      • February 17, 2011 at 3:06 pm
      • karen
      • Said...

      I understand. I have relationships with
      ‘family’ that are unhealthy for me. I minimize contact. No blame. I know there is a higher lesson going on. I let go and let it be.

      • Coming to peace with the situation is the end goal, no matter how one gets there. Thanks for sharing, Karen. We need to keep spreading the word.

          • On
          • September 29, 2013 at 7:02 am
          • Lisa
          • Said...

          I Think your article was one of the very best things I have seen written on separating from a family member. I am 49 years old and come from a highly dysfunctional family. I am the youngest of three kids and the only girl and all of us including my parents are still alive and have no ability to function as a family.

          I have tried for years to somehow being this family together be living a normal existence , getting married, having children and nothing encouraged any of them to truly behave in a normal manner, express their truths so we could move on, nothing. My brothers don’t have anything to do with my children and my parents, each control a boy and the boys don’t speak to each other have abandoned me and my kids along time ago. For my sanity I have had to finally separate myself from all of them. Like others on these posts, I tried for years at some point you have to save yourself. I think you did the absolute right thing.

          • On
          • October 21, 2013 at 1:02 pm
          • Charles Rosenberg
          • Said...

          Selfish, rude and arrogant. Your father whom needed you most, at his weakest point was abandoned by you. When/If you become old and grey your family will do the same to you, you will be perceived as a burden and then abandoned, joining the ques of millions of people whom are chronically lonely.

            • On
            • April 7, 2014 at 2:46 pm
            • Ali Angali
            • Said...

            The only selfish thing is your argument. Read her post again. A dysfunctional has, is, and nevel will look after you, no matter if you’re pregnant, sick, or in old age. Some just do not get it. Maybe you’re one of the selfish peole who cause havoc for others and are just prjecting?

      • On
      • October 21, 2011 at 10:55 pm
      • James
      • Said...

      Yeah, dad’s have all types of problems. I always wondered if anyone else’s dad cared about them. My dad is just rude to me all the time. He always has a straight face. He doesn’t listen to me when I talk to him, or when I need someone to talk to. He doesn’t care about anything about me. Basically, every single time I associate around him, my bucket is lower than it was when I started. He doesn’t understand the whole ‘bucket’ thing. He is just cold and strictly business. He is not a loving caring father, but, he once was about 10 years ago. Now he reminds me of donald trump or someone, except a poor version. He thinks he is hot shit because he has a few rental properties now and I haven’t seen him smile in a long time, atleast not towards me. He tells me things about myself that arent true. He says that I don’t work hard when I am busting my ass at work more than all the other employees combined. I am like a push around for him. I am like a verbal punching bag for him. I think it makes him feel good to make me feel bad. It always seems like that atleast. I have taken your advice and done a cost benefit analysis. My mom didn’t have any costs. My dad had all costs and no benefits. I now only have one parent. I killed my dad. Not really, but mentally, I decided to get rid of him and sever all ties.

      • James,
        I’m so sorry to hear your story. My only advice is this: don’t kill your dad, not even in your own mind. While you may have severed ties for now, leave the door open that it could change in the future, given that certain conditions are met. Think about what those conditions might be. I had very specific criteria that, had my Dad stepped up to them, I would have let him back in my life. If your Dad was loving and caring 10 years ago, it means there is hope. He’s got it in him. But whether or not you ever rekindle the relationship, work to recognize the good in your father. That was what finally helped me heal and love him, even if I couldn’t stand to be around him. It set me free from my anger and disappointment. Stepping away is only the first step to recovery. Best wishes, James.

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 11:05 am
    • Jake LaCaze
    • Said...

    My biggest concern is, Did anyone try to get help for your father?

    But past that, kudos to you for making a very tough decision. Sometimes we give family too much of a pass. It does no good to hold grudges, but it also does no good to let family continue to hurt you just because they’re family.

    • Jake,
      Yes, of course many members of the family tried to help. He took medication off and on for years, and ultimately stopped. That’s the thing–you can’t force someone to seek help, you can only lend a shoulder to help them get where they want to go.

      I think your point about not holding grudges is important. Ultimately, I lost my father to an illness, like a cancer of the mind. I don’t hold that against him.

        • On
        • July 6, 2011 at 3:20 pm
        • Alesa
        • Said...

        Wow. Sounds like our dads were one and the same to the very end, if I’m interpreting your point about his illness correctly. I’m new to your blog – great post.

        • Thanks, Alesa, and welcome. Yes, my father’s condition deteriorated as he got older. Very sad to see. For a long time I blamed myself, thought I hadn’t tried hard enough or was being too hard on him. It was family that ultimately help me see that he needed help beyond what I could provide.

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    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 11:24 am
    • Tanya
    • Said...

    I love this post. So many people and cultures believe that family is an obligation and you HAVE TO help them always, even if that means at the cost of your own happiness. I believe cutting bad ties (maybe for good maybe for right now) in order to succeed on your own is vital for your own happiness and, well, sanity.

    • Great point, Tanya. Nothing says good bye has to be forever. Had my father been moved to re-enter therapy, my decision might have been different. The point is that there are OPTIONS.

      Thanks for the kind words and welcome!

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 11:42 am
    • Kathleen
    • Said...

    I was one of those who “wore my DNA like a ball and chain” I’ve had to emotionally distance myself from my mother. It’s painful at first and I went through a lot of guilt and anger about it. But the up shot is she’s just not a healthy person to be involved with. This article is very truthful in regards to what being in a damaging relationship does to you and about who you surround your self with affects you greatly.

    • Congrats, Kathleen, for escaping it. It really does take a tremendous amount of courage, and I know I felt like, after that, could I not do anything? Use that courage to rebuild your life. You’ve already done the hard part of surviving. Hugs!

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 11:49 am
    • Farnoosh
    • Said...

    A very very brave post Jen, and I had no idea. You have turned out brilliantly. I would have never guessed you had such troubled relations with your dad. I am proud of the move you made. Ayn Rand talked about how we are not stuck to our “blood” relatives (in more eloquent terms of course) and I love your logic and am in awe of your courage!

    • Thanks, Farnoosh. Of course I don’t share this normally–it just doesn’t come up in normal conversation. My hope is that I can help others who are struggling to deal with difficult family situations. As I once said to Nick Cardot, “Helping others is what we [bloggers] do after all!”

      I love Ayn Rand. I should go back and re-read those books.

        • On
        • November 15, 2012 at 12:23 pm
        • Jake
        • Said...

        I’m late to the party, but wanted to respond to your love of Ayn Rand. You personify perfectly her philosophy of objectivism, especially that in terms of morality the only goal worth pursuing is one’s own happiness.

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 12:21 pm
    • Daria
    • Said...

    I do think that we tolerate people that take more from us than they give because of a sense of responsibility. This can be a family member or an employee. I had to fire someone once and it wasn’t because they did anything agregious, but because the energy I would have had to put forth in order to help them be successful and productive was more than I was able to provide and still function well in my own job.

    Could they have improved? Yes. Was it worth it to me to put all my energy into that one person and ignore the other 4 that I had working for me? No. Ultimately it wasn’t fair to them or me.

    I think this is true of family also. My husband recently made that call regarding his two oldest sons. That he could put all his energy into overcoming the negative energy and drain the relationship with their mom was causing, but it would be at the cost of having anything left over for our other 3 kids.

    It is a VERY tough decision when it is family, especially kids and divorce situations. I can’t say for sure it was the right thing to do, but at some point you reach a point of being “done” and it’s time to pull the plug.

    Personally, I have found it to be a huge relief to finally come to that point – both with family and with coworkers.

    Great post Jen and incredibly vulnerable. Way to go.

    • It IS so hard, Daria, and in the end, no one knows if it was the right decision but you. As other commenters have said, situations can change will allow for the reversal and reunion too. That’s certainly the ideal outcome. Best of luck to your husband and the children (and, of course, you!). While it was insanely vulnerable to write this, I’m getting such kind and amazing feedback, here and by email, I feel sure it too was the right decision.

  2. Completely unexpected post from you, but I do love the fact that you (more and more each time you write) allow people to see “YOU” as a person and NOT just as a ‘career advisor’, ‘poet’, blogger, mentor, etc.

    One thing I would add is that growing up with a dysfunctional family can lead to 2 things: There are the majority of people who DO follow the example (or lack there of) set by parents. But there is also the other ‘set’ (like you, like my husband) who looks at their parents and promises themselves, “I will never be like that” and they end up being 10 times better than most parents.

    Now onto how you segway this into careers; I love the cost benefit analysis as that’s basically what I do with everyone in my life; are they adding or taking away. Here is my question to you – at different points in our lives, people are going to “add” or “take away”. How long would you ‘wait’ before engaging in that cost benefit analysis? Someone may give great advice / add great value NOW and 2 years from now have a meltdown. Do you help them even though your analysis is not becoming of them??? Is that too black and white? I ask that because I’ve been TOLD I’m too black and white when it comes to this and interested in your opinion.

    Bottom line here – you make 2 great points: It takes courage AND the ability to be self aware enough to know it’s about who you surround yourself with to do well in business. As with most things in life – school, sports, etc. this remains true -what interests me is the WAY in which you go about doing so that has helped you to succeed.

    • You know, I’ve often wondered why I’ve turned out so “normal” given my upbringing. I couldn’t put all the details in here of course. Just too much to dump on my poor readers and not relevant. But I wonder, a lot, what made me so resilient? Is it in my DNA? Was it my mother’s example? I still don’t know. But if I ever figure it out, I’ll be looking for sainthood! :)

      To your question: you are doing the cost-benefit analysis all the time, but you are taking the full range of behaviors into account. So if someone was awesome to you in the past, but is crappy now, you have to weigh those two events against each other. There is also, I should say, some guesswork on trends. Is the recent bad behavior due to some event or do you expect it to be permanent? Or was the nice behavior the anomoly?

      It’s hard because depending on the nature and length of the relationship, you’re holding up all these different factors, when it all ultimately comes down to emotions. I did, many times, write out the pros and cons of my relationship with my father. I finally got to the point where the pros were all memories. He wasn’t offering me anything positive and hadn’t in a while. Nor did I see it changing.

      I tend to be conservative when it comes to ending relationships but liberal when it comes to minimizing them.

      In this case, the question of black and white is how the end result makes you feel. If you’re no happier, you’re probably not considering some important factors.

      Hope that explains the process a bit. If not, we can discuss on our chat.

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 12:48 pm
    • Lach
    • Said...

    Wow—tough call, Jen. But good for you for having the decisiveness to make it. That took courage; as did writing about it. The whole cost-benefits discussion makes perfect sense from a rational standpoint. But, for better or worse, that’s not really the frame that we tend to approach many relationships from. They are emotional bonds. Sometimes (often) we hold onto relationships because we feel committed or obligated to them even though they are not really serving us. That can be a tough issue in situations where the other person is heavily dependant upon you. Congratulations for choosing freedom.

    • Lach,
      Actually, I would say the cost-benefit analysis becomes emotional pretty quickly. You’re weighing the emotional benefits and costs a person brings you. It’s necessary, as much as possible, to get down to the roots of the emotion. That is, someone may do something that makes you angry, but to do this exercise, you have to understand why it makes you angry. Does it tear at your self-esteem? Or does it challenge your world view? Two very different negatives, and I would weight them differently.

      I like these questions though because they force me to be more specific about a process that was murky and lengthy. And yes, I have never held my breath as long as I did after hitting the publish button this morning! :0

  3. The comment that resonates with me most here: “You have to prioritize who you spend your emotional capital on. Most managers waste their time dealing with angry customers and poor performers because they lack the courage to just let go.”

    We do this too often in our careers and in our life, some of us more so than others. Unfortunately, the fallout on either side– overspending personally or professionally– inevitably has a debilitating effect on your entire life. To keep the metaphor going, there’s little profit in permitting folks to drain your energy unchecked.

    I now have a habit of saying, “No more drama.” The people (especially family members) who tax me are people I have cut off or deal with at arm’s length only. Same thing with the friends and boyfriends over the years who were toxic to me. I draw a line now. My time is valuable, in work and in life, and I refuse to give it over so gladly.

    • Oh my goodness, here here to the “no more drama” clause. I do feel I’ve had enough for one lifetime, thanks. And I know you have too. Courageous freedom fighters are we!

  4. A courageous post that cuts to the root of survival of the “self.” You have a true poetic talent for seeing through pain to discover many universal truths. Whitman would love to have coffee with you, I suspect.

    I have spent most of my adult life surrounded by my handpicked family of friends, people who give me a sense of belonging and unconditional acceptance. My path was different from yours but led to a similar place.

    Courage borne of introspection and awareness is a priceless asset. Thanks for this moment! ~Dawn

    • Dawn, I love you for saying Whitman would love to have coffee with me. What a perfect compliment!

      Yes, I feel so very fortunate to be in the place I am now, not only surrounded by handpicked friends and family, but now also wonderful readers who help me shine. Can’t thank you enough!

  5. Incredible post Jen. Life it too short to spend it with toxic, energy draining people and as I get older, I have begun to lump my friends, family and business associates into two distinct categories. The drains and gains columns and the drains are kept at a distance with very little attention paid to them and the gains – that’s where I focus all my energy. Thank you.

    • The drains and the gains. You got it. Good point too that it’s not necessary to dump all the drains, just minimize them. There are a range of options, and we should use them all to enrich ourselves and those we care about.

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 2:08 pm
    • Lucinda
    • Said...

    Having grown up with a similar father and made much the same decision as a young woman, I admire your ability to be so rational about it. As Lach says above, “that’s not really the frame that we tend to approach many relationships from.” In my case, cutting myself off was absolutely necessary, but it also meant cutting myself off from a dear younger sister and a step-mother I admired and from whom I had hoped to learn how to deal with my father. And, of course, I never really was able to separate myself from the longing for a different relationship. Though the logical brain was clear, when he died I was shocked to find myself overcome with emotion for the end of the possibility of reconciling or at least gaining some acknowledgment, even though I knew all along that it was futile. I still feel this pain decades later at holidays and certain milestones of my children. And it is impossible to escape the cultural definitions of the American family and the alienation those images have always caused in me.

    Like you, most who know me would be shocked to read this about me, as I also hide it well and have tried to create my own family and other relationships in a better way. However, the old patterns and fears and uncertainties are always there in the background. They color my interactions with my spouse, my in-laws, my children and absolutely my colleagues.

    Your connection to work relationships is extremely rare and very important, in my opinion. We do spend so much of our waking hours with work family. But it is not always possible to disconnect from toxic co-workers, especially if they are not your direct reports. I find it helpful to pay attention to myself by asking what is triggering my negative reactions to a person. Is it related to my father or other early relationships? Can I protect my tender spots without severing the connections?

    It is not a good idea (for the CV) to leave every toxic environment. Some have to be worked through or worked around. My own growth has come most from self recognition. Though I admit that recognition often came after the fact and is most valuable in prevention of future issues. These are not usually rational, either. But it is important to value the emotional and intuitive ways of knowing. They are far larger parts of our brain mechanisms. It is a lifelong process, especially for those of us who have not had good parental models.

    • Lucinda,
      All of us take different emotions away from family trauma. Because each has our own strengths and weaknesses, even children in the same household will process the relationships differently. Time has allowed me to approach it more rationally. There was a time (after ending relations w/my dad) that I bawled, unconsolably, any time I watched a movie with a complicated parental relationship. I wanted to believe he could change, but no amount of emotion would convince me otherwise. So perhaps it is best said that one must balance the emotional and rational in this process.

      Fortunately, it is getting more and more acceptable to change jobs. If a situation is truly toxic, I recommend leaving as soon as one is able. But it is also important to point out I tend to get along with many people others don’t. I work hard to find what good I can, focus on those attributes, and limit exposure to the deficiences. It works surprisingly well.

      I agree 100% your intuition knows best. You’ll know when you have it right. And when a decision is made for you, as in the case of death, one can only seek resolution from the inside. Our lives are more than just one relationship, even one as important as a father.

      Hugs and let me know if you ever need to talk. :)

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 3:12 pm
    • Aileen
    • Said...

    Jen, this is an incredibly powerful story. Many, many people need to read this and gain the understanding and perspective that you share. It’s incredibly challenging to find the self-empowerment necessary to become one’s own person free from being bound to the reality they were born into.

    You are the light to many of those who have not yet found the way out.

  6. I had to cut ties with my mom after many years of trying to get her to respect my boundaries (among other things). As a therapist, I usually encourage trying to repair relationships but sometimes with some people the healthiest thing to do is to end the relationship. Thanks for sharing this Jennifer.

    • Great point, Katie. I would encourage people to try to repair a relationship before ending it too. This is a last resort, but it certainly should be on the list of options. It’s actually really good to hear that even therapists sometimes have to come to this. Thanks for sharing that.

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 3:53 pm
    • Linda
    • Said...

    Hi Jen-

    Love the honesty and focus on the benefits of firing the toxic family members. I agree with Dawn and Katie, too–there are great benefits to letting go and handpicking those in your life who can be stand-ins (and wonderful ones, at that).

    I didn’t even realize immediately that I’m part of the “fired fathers club,” as well. I’m so far-removed from my dad, that I literally forgot for a moment…not that my dad was nearly as bad as the examples you provided.

    It’s so amazing that some of the most resilient, high-functioning folks were born under mountains of dysfunction.

    Thanks for the inspiring read.

    • It is amazing, Linda. In your therapy practice, have you found a common thread of people who survive and even go on to thrive after abusive/very difficult upbringings?

  7. Great post! My old man and I had a pretty toxic relationship (off and on) and his influence lasted a good 40+ years (my fault for trying to beat him). That said, the competitive edge he gave me/work ethic, etc., definitely worked to my favor. I found it better to cut off our relationship from time to time (and did the same with my sister for years—literally 10+ years until she was a few months from her deathbed) and I insist it was to my benefit (growing, accomplishing some goals, etc.).

    Now, the interesting question (I think) is … does a parent get to fire a child? I’m not talking about while the child is in need. I’m talking about once the child is no longer a child (21+ if we need a yardstick). I recently fired my daughter for not making me meatballs on my birthday a few years ago (obviously it goes deeper than that) and we made up for a few weeks for my son’s wedding but were soon back to the family feud (which I suspect may last a long time to come).

    I’ve had that war with one of my sons as well, but firmly believe (and told all my kids) that sometimes a kid needs to distance themselves for whatever reason and either work it out or not. Me and the boy are fine these days (which makes me very happy) but the daughter and I, quite frankly, I think are quite relieved.

    So, do parents get to fire their kids?

    • Charlie,

      Yes, of course you can fire your children. Here’s the thing: just because you fire a family member doesn’t mean you don’t still love them. Doesn’t mean you don’t hold out hope of reconciliation. I think of it like tantrums in little children, just on a much longer time scale. You don’t reward bad behavior, but given a change, you’re more than welcomes (assuming the abuse/emotional damage hasn’t been too great), to let them back into your life.

      I’m so sorry to hear that you are going through this. I look at my wonderful relationship with Ingrid and can’t imagine my life without her. Hope I never have to, and hope your situation has a happy ending. Hugs!!

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 5:40 pm
    • Sandra Lee
    • Said...

    Reading this I could only feel incredibly sad for you and your father. May we all be released from suffering and find unlimited compassion in our hearts.

    • Aww, don’t feel sad, Sandra. My situation is worse than some and better than others. I don’t actually wish to be released of all suffering. It’s that suffering that so helps me appreciate where I am today. I’m all for unlimited compassion though.

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 8:07 pm
    • beachbum
    • Said...

    I just wanted to say that I ended up on this website via ZenHabits so I had high expectations, especially with the domain “everyday bright” but I am sad to say that this is the first post I read. I can see where you are coming from but there is nothing uplifting about this post. Giving up and cutting family off when they are dealing with mental issues is not inspiring. Sorry to be so critical.

    • Sorry this post wasn’t inspiring for you, but glad you enjoyed the one at Zen Habits enough to click over. You win some, you lose some.

      • I, on the other hand, found this inspiring and challenging because I’m raising two adopted kids and two bio kids. Inspiration comes in the tough stuff of life! The two older ones are heartbroken, and suffer from mental and mood disabilities. They are hard to live with. It grieves me to read this post, but in a way that makes the stubbornness inside want to prove Gallup wrong :). (I love them btw. I’m training to become a Strengths coach with them :).

        Nice to meet you through Linda from Talk Therapy Biz. Looking forward to reading more from you!

        • Do it, Laurie. Prove them wrong! LOL. Look, this is not a happy result, no doubt about it. I don’t wish it on anyone. I just want people to know there are options, a whole range of them, and sometimes we have to do hard things in life. It’s just the way it is. But for your sake and theirs, I hope your story enjoys a very different ending.

          Great to meet you too. I’m a big fan of Linda. :)

  8. Jen,
    What a beautifully honest post. It is gut-wrenching when you come to the realization that one of your parents is diminishing your life so much that it’s either you or them. You were courageous and smart to do what you did with your dad. When parents emotionally, psychically, or physically abuse their kids, they lose the privilege of being part of their kid’s lives. Only you know the circumstances and incidents that accumulated to lead you to that point. I’m sorry you had to go through that, but I am glad you have come to the other side stronger.

    • Barrie,
      Thanks. Yes, it is gut-wrenching. That’s a good way to describe it. And I’m happy to be on the other side of it as well. As I said to Sandra, surviving our suffering allows us to appreciate the present all the more. It’s my hope this post helps others survive.

  9. Michelle,
    One of the reasons I didn’t write about this for so long was that I in no way feel qualified to advise you on something this personal. Even toxic relationships with family contribute something positive. The question is where the balance lies. It sounds like you have found an effective way to minimize their influence and that will hopefully be enough. I wish you luck, and if you ever need a sympathetic ear, don’t hesitate to contact me.

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 10:01 pm
    • Louisa
    • Said...

    I read the post very carefully, and then each reply, also carefully, wondering if I would find anyone in my camp. My husband and I are on the other side. My stepdaughters, around the age of 40, fired him/us. One has said it’s permanent, the other hasn’t been so final, but there are no signs of encouragement. Neither are not being open or clear about their reasons. For both of us, it is the hardest thing we’ve ever been through in our lives. It sounds like you made the right decision for you, I’m just saying, it’s awful over here.

    • Louisa,
      This is a good point, and I’m glad you brought it up. The other side totally sucks if it’s not a mutually shared decision. Obviously I can’t know your situation, since it sounds like you don’t know what happened yourself, but I will say I have seen this happen many times as the result of a divorce. It’s sad, because in many cases one parent is fueling the hatred of another through the children. It breaks my heart. Given the age of your stepdaughters, I know it doesn’t seem likely they will change their minds, but you can only leave the door open and patiently wait for them to walk through it. Know that they may have emotional reasons for needing to reject you that have little association to anything your or your husband did. Emotions are complicated.

      I don’t have any good advice, but lots of sympathy. It would be devestating to lose the relationship I have with my daughter. Hugs!!

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 10:16 pm
    • Mia
    • Said...

    I could not disagree more with Beachbum. As part of the fired fathers club (and also recently, fired mothers as well) I am gobsmacked, inspired, blown away and damn near speechless at the courage you have writing about this. You are my new hero. If more people talked about this there would be less suffering in the world.

    In my case, it took my until the age of 27 to realize that it wasn’t right for every single other adult in my life (teachers, parents, friends and other family) to go on excuse both my parents’ obivous neglect and alcoholism with the platitude “mother/ father is always right.” Even when mother is a rage-filled alcoholic who erupts in violent fury at the slightest provocation? Even when father has been so stoned for the past 30 years that he believes things that never happened and cant understand logic? Apparently, yes. We live in a culture where mother is sacred, and father is always righteous, and anyone who dares go against the norm is an abherration who must be ridiculed and punished. As if not having a loving and supportive family isn’t bad enough?

    You sound brilliant, well adjusted, optimistic and hopeful. I am happy to say that I am doing well at all those things myself. Dont stop believing!

    Mia xxx

    • Thanks, Mia. I anticipated this would be controversial and would anger some. So actually, the response so far has been pretty amazing. Definitely not giving up now. Thanks for adding your voice of support. It’s amazing how many of us have been through it.

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 11:02 pm
    • Lorraine
    • Said...

    Recently my mother in law was cut off from her two daughters because they felt she abandoned them when she separated from her husband and moved across the country. She said goodbye to 35 years of a bad marriage and embraced an entire new life with someone who treats her with respect and actually listens to her and her daughters can’t be happy for her because they are only thinking about themselves. It boggles my mind because I would think they would be happy for her. Of course it pains my mother in law for her girls to shut her out and not let her have contact with the grandchildren but she’s so happy with her new life that she’s accepted their decision and can move on and no longer grieves over the loss.

    My sisters in law booted me from family gatherings because I avoided family gatherings and my response to them was. “Works for me” because they gave me exactly what I wanted in that I was no longer obliged to go to family gatherings. If I had a relationship with them or valued their opinion of me it might have bothered me but all their huffing and puffing was simply amusing because they just didn’t get it. We place value on the opinions of those we esteem and don’t want to disappoint them but sometimes we have to re-evaluate why we give certain people so much power over us but letting their opinion matter in the first place.

    I never thought of familial ties in relationship to my career so I appreciate how you made this connection as it’s given me something new to ponder.

    • Yes, divorce does such strange things to people, but especially children. It saddens me to hear this story, though as I mentioned to Louisa, it’s all too common. Glad to know both you and your mother-in-law have moved on.

      The career connect is handy, though as I said to others, I tend to be liberal in minimizing relationships but very conservative in ending them. It’s amazing how you can turn a negative relationship into a positive one that way when you don’t have years of emotionally charged conflicts complicating things (sorry for the massive alliteration there).

    • On
    • January 11, 2011 at 11:52 pm
    • Robin
    • Said...

    I too am a first-time reader via Zen Habits, and I have to tell you, my first thought at reading this post was, ‘wow, she’s got balls to be writing this!” My second thought was, ‘Amen.”

    I watched my mother suffer FOR YEARS from a toxic relationship with her emotionaly abusive and ungrateful mother. When Granny finally died I remember feeling immense relief. Like, ‘thank god the wicked witch is dead!”

    For the last six years after Granny died, I referred to her as ‘evil’ and carried a GREAT deal of anger. I adore my mother and it has been hard for me to forgive my grandmother for the damage she did. But, it also hurt that I too was damaged by their relationship. She’s dead and I was still pissed and still witnessing and feeling the hurt she caused my mother.

    Fortunately, last fall I heard a wonderful story/sermon at my church (I’m Unitarian Universalist) about anger and atonement. Right there in that fellowship I vowed to LET GO of my anger.

    I am def. more at peace with myself and granny and am truly grateful I no longer feel the need to refer to her as ‘evil’, because really, she was doing the best that SHE could do and what more could I ask.

    I think it is critically important that we remember that not all people will think the same way we do. If we can remember this and give folks the benefit of the doubt (that they are truly doing the best to THEIR abilities) we can be happier.

    Your dad was likely doing the best HE could do – perhaps not in your eyes, but the only thing YOU could do, is to do what was best for you.

    I am very proud of you. It took a lot of guts to do what you did, but you are a happier and better person for it – and you are setting a great example for your children. I hope my children have the courage to dump toxic relationships EARLY before they do YEARS of damage.

    • Robin,
      Another great point! YES, my father was doing the best he could. He loved me, he just didn’t know how to express that love in a healthy way. I don’t hold a grudge, though it took a long time to let go of the anger. Now I just feel sorry for him and wish things could have been different.

      Thanks for sharing your story. I think it’s important for people to know that just because we’re not all discussing them over lunch doesn’t mean they didn’t happen and affect us deeply.

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 12:03 am
    • Lach
    • Said...

    Oh, totally. The cost-benefits are emotional in nature—but your analysis of them is not. It’s coming from a more objective/rational standpoint. If you’re consumed with anger or guilt or helplessness you can’t do that kind of thinking. You have to rise above the emotional turmoil first before you can become empowered enough to make that kind of decision. So, self-mastery always comes first.

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 12:10 am
    • Farnoosh
    • Said...

    I should too it’s been about 20 years since I read them. I read them very young and miss the passion and the fire with which she wrote – been on hiatus from books to work on deadlines but I am so happy you wrote this and got it off your chest and got so many reactions! Keep It Up, Jen!

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 1:46 am
    • Di
    • Said...

    Hi, I came over to your blog from Zen Habits where I read your great post on Losing Your Stuff (Not Your Lover). I tried to read some of your posts on your blog, but I’m finding it very difficult to read the gray print. Seems like you have some great things to share, so this is just a suggestion that it would facilitate reading your thoughts if the print were darker. Thanks.

    • Di,

      Sorry to hear the gray print is a strain on the eyes. This design is new and is still being tweaked. We’ll take a look at making the font darker. Thanks for the suggestion.

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 2:12 am
    • Kesha
    • Said...

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been searching everywhere for someone to say what you did, and it has given me an incredible amount of encouragement in dealing with my mother.

    I agree with Mia’s statement: “We live in a culture where mother is sacred…” I have definitely been judged for not groveling at my mother’s feet for the rest of my life, but I know it’s been the best choice. It’s so helpful to know that I’m not the only one who is choosing to walk away from a parent and embrace healthier relationships. I also appreciated reading that you didn’t feel responsible for your father after he had passed away. It’s helpful to hear that you did not allow regret to make you question your decision to “fire” him. You made the best choice for yourself, and that’s something I admire.

    Oh, and I am a first-time reader who clicked over from Zen Habits. I love your blog here and will frequent it in the future! Thanks again.

    • Kesha,
      You’re exactly the kind of person I was hoping would read this. There’s nothing wrong with the decision you made. Society is full of inconsistencies. If a man abuses his wife, people tell her to get out. When a parent abuses a young child, we take them out and put them in foster care. But when an adult child makes the decision to cut off a parent? Heretic!

      We can all only do the best that we can. There’s nothing to regret beyond that.

      Looking forward to connecting more.

  10. Hi Jen,
    Whoa, what an intimate post. I am a firm believer that we don’t have to play martyrs and always have to take responsibility, and fire some people from our life, especially when nothing seems to work anymore. I guess sometimes the best approach is an extreme approach. I think it all comes down to pain-pleasure principle. When we reach enough pain, we will take action. We can analyze this to death but it maybe as simple as pain and pleasure.
    Very good post, unusual in the world of blogging. Welcome to real life.
    I’d like to finish my comment with the final words from Desiderata (the poem I love):
    “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world”.
    Wishing you nothing but success Jen.

    • It’s true. You get to the point the pain is too much to justify the pleasure of having a family. I think even in the worst circumstances there is some pleasure. It’s important to acknowledge that.

      It’s funny you picked the poem Desiderata. It used to hang on the wall of my father’s office. It’s a happy memory and a poem I believe in.

      Thanks Derek.

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 2:58 am
    • Kate
    • Said...

    This was a blessing for me to read thiis post! Thank you SO much for writing it. I’ve had the same issue & have never felt resolved about it. but it’s getting better. Thanks fir helping.

    • This is absolutely the value in talking about the things we are not supposed to talk about. When you realize you are not alone, when you understand the decisions you have struggled with are the ones plaguing someone else. Thanks for adding your voice here. Every one of these comments helps another!

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 4:04 am
    • Annabelle
    • Said...

    Oh wow, what a great post! You are so brave and you bring to the table an amazing subject that is extremely difficult to discuss. THANK YOU!!!

    I really like one response you received, ‘NO MORE DRAMA’. Perfekt! For a long time I felt like a ‘drama magnet’…then I learned over time to let those people go; they were only taking taking taking from me, and I was giving, thinking I was helping them, but then they didn’t return that, they just kept drama-taking. Then I realized maybe I was in the relationship to make myself feel good that I could help someone. WRONG! I can truly only help myself (and be a solid example, and not let folks drain me of my good energy!)! Good lesson to learn. Having healthy, active, happy, laughing friends is such a delight! We all have issues/problems, but it’s not fair to drown the rest of the ship with our crap. ‘NO MORE DRAMA’!!!! I’m rowing a single person canoe, TRUE friends can row their own canoe’s alongside, but don’t drown my ship! 😉

    • You got it. You can only help yourself and those that desire your assistance. You can’t force a lesson on anyone. Good for you for getting it and for eliminating the drama in your life. I love stability! :)

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 4:40 am
    • George
    • Said...

    Well, I don’t think, that this is the right solution for you father problem, coz I know this situation from my own life. My parents have been divorced for 15 years. In my case it was my mother and my grandma who always told me, that I am nothing, I can’t be successful etc.
    So I decided to move and live without them. I lived alone 3 years. Maybe I was a little bit more successful. But my mother changed so much during these 3 years and I discovered that the problem wasn’t in her, my success doesn’t depend on her.
    Even in bible (I am not a Christian) is written, that you should respect your parents. And I agree. You don’t have to agree with them, but if you accept their opinion and if it doesn’t resonate with yours, you can let it go and do things on your own:)
    Success isn’t all. Peace of mind and happy family is much more :)
    I hope you can read it and understand :) coz I am not sure about grammar in few sentences:)

    • George,

      I assure you it was the right decision for me, but it is certainly not the decision for everyone. That’s why I gave a range of options: nurture, maintain, minimize or eliminate. Which one you choose depends entirely on your situation.

      There is a huge difference between mental illness and simply not seeing eye to eye. I have friends who I maintain in my life with very different worldviews. So I agree with you. Differing opinions would not meet my criteria for severing a relationship with a parent.

      And your English is fine. Much better than my Spanish, even after many years of classes. Un dia!

  11. Hey Jen, that definitely takes guts…I’m surprised, in some way, that you haven’t been criticised more than you have. Being a coach I’ve always had responses, when making decisions like this, “you didn’t try hard enough; you’re a coach, you shouldn’t be giving up on people so easily;” and a whole plethora of other really silly statements. But kudos to you! I don’t think those kinds of people realise this guts it takes to make decisions like these.

    I can’t say I’ve ever made a decision like that with someone so close but I sure have recently with many people I used to consider friends. I find it really hard to walk away but I’m getting better at it. I’m starting to feel a bit like Lord ‘Alan Sugar’ from the show ‘The Apprentice’ “you’re fired!” LOL

    • I’m surprised too, really. I got some less than supportive comments on my personal Facebook page, maybe by friends who felt threatened by the idea they could be cut off. Dunno.

      I too find it difficult walk away. I’m not sure I’d want it to be easy. But there are times it’s necessary and I’m glad I eventually found the courage.

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 4:59 am
    • PaprikaPink
    • Said...

    Some commenters seem to be confusing “having an argument and angrily no longer speaking” with “recognizing a relationship that causes more harm than good and rationally choosing to end it.”

    Especially when the parent is harmful to the child. Even if the “child” is now an adult, that relationship is so powerful, it can be truly damaging if the parent is unwilling or unable to keep the child’s best interest at heart. I think when a parent’s psychological state is such that they are harming the child’s well-being and need help themselves, it is up to another family member, not the child, to help the parent. As a parent myself, that is what I would want for my child if our relationship ever came to that. I am raising her so that she can go forth and live a successful life, not so she can thwart her chances for happiness trying to fix a broken parent. In life, we frequently are called on to help others, and I believe it’s appropriate to do so, even if it’s difficult, even if it costs us. But, in my opinion, not when you are a child of a damaging parent. It’s a unique, powerful relationship with a different set of rules than any other.

    • Thank you, Paprika. Yes, there’s a huge difference between those two scenarios. One of the things I always struggled with was dealing with my father as an adult. As many discover, old patterns of behavior are hard to change, even for those of us without mental illness. Thanks for bringing out this wrinkle. It’s important.

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 7:07 am
    • female
    • Said...

    I got rid of both parents. Best thing I ever did. They were barely in my life, but there enough that it was causing me distress. In my case it was because there was zero connection between us & because of an unhappy childhood which has affected my whole life (in addition to other things of course). It’s assumed that parents are significant and you should always keep them in your life. That’s false. You need to do whatever is beneficial for you. Same with any other relative. Relatives don’t equal family. You can take any person in the world and give them significance and have them be more family than any blood relative.

    Anyone who doesn’t believe this is the correct choice is wrong. No one can tell you who you should & shouldn’t have in your life. You’re doing others a disservice when you try to convince them to keep people in your life that make you miserable.

    ~a female

    • I’m sorry you had such a difficult experience, either in having the relationship or in ending it. I think we can all acknowledge we wish these measures weren’t necessary. It’s not as if anyone wants, fundamentally, to lose their parents. But it is sometimes necessary and a tragedy. Thank goodness, as you point out, that we can supplement those relationships with others. I don’t think they are ever truly replaced, but enough that one can feel loved. It is enough. Hugs.

      • On
      • August 22, 2015 at 9:23 pm
      • A 30 year old guy
      • Said...

      “Female”, your comment is one of the most validating and healing remarks I have ever read, being estranged from both parents.

      I’m very sorry for what you had to go through. You are definitely not alone, and I cannot tell you how much your comment means to me. I always feel so alone being estranged from *both* parents. I hope you are happy.

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 9:53 am
    • heather
    • Said...

    Jen, I admire your courage to end a toxic relationship. I think folks who don’t get it either don’t have anyone this damaging (damaged) in their own lives, or just can’t see it. Those of us who do have truly unhealthy people who are close to us have to make a choice: us or them.

    For years I have stood by, pointing out the unhealthy and unkind behavior, and telling them it is unacceptable. But as long as I remain in the relationship, I am there to be mistreated; my calling the behavior is meaningless. Ultimately, if I don’t stand up for me, no one will.

    thank you again for sharing yourself and your story! you’ve been an excellent source of support and encouragement to me.


    • You’re welcome, Heather. That’s what this blog is all about. Encouraging others to do what they need to do. Glad to have you here.

  12. There’s always hope. Remember, I’m a Buffalo Bills fan … (so maybe some masochism there too). Either way, all the kids can read, write, are independent and have good hearts (utlimately, what I want for them).

  13. That was incredibly inspiring. This was my first time finding your blog, and I’m committed now.

    The story you shared made me think of those people I know who are very similar to your father. Thankfully, I’m not kin with anyone like that so it’s much easier to avoid those draining types.

    Looking forward to more. Love your unconventional style and fresh look on topics.

    • Thanks, Bryce. Wonderful to have you here and I look forward to sharing many unconventional conversations with you. :)

  14. Good for you Jen, for getting that out. I always said, “Giving birth doesn’t make you a good mother, you have to earn that.” But I really love your line so much more… A birth certificate isn’t a binding contract! PERFECT.

    I can relate to Jamie’s comment about how her husband has promised himself never to be like his father. I always strove to be the complete opposite of my mother my entire life. My brothers chose to be victims, and that has created an estrangement we haven’t gotten over. Which in some ways is like them divorcing me, who for all intents and purposes was their mother most of their pre-adult lives.

    I also agree with your statement that suffering helps you appreciate the life you create for yourself even more. I wouldn’t wish my childhood on anyone, but it has made me who I am… an optimist. Something about ‘if it doesn’t kill me it makes me stronger’ working there.

    As for the critic… I created a separate page on my blog for 0-18, so those who found it too difficult or depressing to read the childhood stories could skip them, and those who found hope and inspiration in them knew where to find them.

    I’m very proud of you for opening this up. It feels so good when you realize your pain can help someone else deal with theirs, no matter how long it’s been buried.


    • Barbara,
      So glad you saw this. You asked me once to write about it and I thought, “Whoa, she has no idea what she’s asking for!” And then it all turned out alright. So thanks for the nudge. This has been a very affirming experience, as a writer and a human being.

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 1:52 pm
    • Eric
    • Said...

    Is your relationship with “father” really over? It seems like the memory of the difficulties and the choice to not speak continues to nurture you. So, inwardly the relationship continues to support you and now – beautifully – expands to support others in their lives.
    The relationship, from what I read, isn’t over and never really ended. You don’t talk to your father on the phone or visit him. But, the connection is there. And you, by your hard inner work, transformed it into a source of on-going strength, success, and meaning.

    If you were a soul interested in developing a strong sense of autonomy, self-nurturing, and creativity – what kind of a family situation might you choose to be born into? It seems there are two basic choices:
    A family that models those qualities. Or a family that requires you to evoke those qualities from within yourself – in order to deal with the dysfunction.
    Either design works.
    The first design – being born into a fully functional family that models the way – is less common.
    Dysfunctional learning environments (i.e. families) seem to be the norm.
    In any case you’ve certainly worked with the raw materials to craft an artful life.

    • Eric,
      That is truly beautiful. All I can say is “wow.” I really like your view of the situation. Thanks and a huge, hearty welcome!

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 4:08 pm
    • Erica
    • Said...

    Wow. First post I read of yours, too, Jen. I am in awe of your courage, both to fire your father and to write about it publicly.

    I did something similar with my sister. She is 13 yrs older than me, and was more of a mother to me than our mother was. She has the habit of telling people what to do, and exactly how to go about it. Not insurmountable, but when she freaked out when I told her my dreams (which were not ‘reasonable’ to her), I told her I just wouldn’t talk to her about them any longer. I didn’t speak to her for about three years. Now we still don’t talk often, but when we do, she is careful to ask me if I want her advice. And me…I’m less upset at her attitude. It took 3 years, but I’m much more confident in myself and my choices.

    Keep up the great work. I’m off to read more of your site now.

    • Wonderful story, Erica, and the best ending you can imagine. Change is hard, but both you and your sister found a way to make the relationship work. Thanks for sharing that. And welcome!

  15. Good on you Jennifer for your courage and for writing about this publicly.

    Coming from a loving and caring family, until a few years ago I could never relate to people who told me about their unhappy family situations. And then I got into personal development and realised how “lucky” I was in having a not so dysfunctional family.

    Of course, we had our own challenges, but I can now really understand why one would want to let go off any people in their life who are no longer supporting you. And hard as it sounds, this includes close family members.

    Good luck Jennifer with your ongoing life journey and with your amazing blog:-)

    • Yes, you don’t have to talk to too many people before you realize how common this untold story is. That was one of my motivations for finally going public. Thanks for being one of the many wonderful people in my life.

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 7:04 pm
    • Linda S
    • Said...

    When my mother, brother and I walked out on my father he finally went for the help he needed. That made me furious. Why couldn’t he do it while we were still there? It took me years to forgive him but we now have a minimal relationship which helps me deal with the guilt I still feel. In the meantime, I learned many of the perceptions my mother fostered in me were lies. Now I’m trying to work through the results of that. I’m probably too old now to recover completely from all of that but life gets better every year. I still mourn the family I wish I’d had and the undesireable side effects of that I passed on to my daughter. I wish someone had helped me see how toxic my family was years ago instead of just trying to modify my own behavior. It’s a lot easier to change when you understand your own history but most therapists are trained to ignore the past while trying to change the present. That didn’t work for me so I’ve continued my defective behavior for nearly 40 years after leaving Dad. Your post helped me enormously. Thanks.

    • It’s complicated, isn’t it? I did the same thing. For years, I kept wondering what I could do to make the situation better. I went to a therapist briefly, but all that did was reduce me to a sobbing mess and made it hard to return to work. The answer is always inside us. Letting go is hard, and that includes guilt. Hugs!!!

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 8:22 pm
    • Joanna
    • Said...

    What you are describing here sounds like running away from a situation versus leaning in and learning from the difficulties in life. There are no winners in a situation like this. Sometimes a machete doesn’t clean up all of life’s messes. There are relationships where the “cost benefit analysis” makes a lot of sense, but when you are considering your family, especially parents, where is the history in all of that? I mean, years of raising you, sending you to college, etc. amounts for nothing and it’s all about “what have you done for me lately”? You had a messy situation. There were lots of options, and you seem to be saying there’s only one.

    It was brave that you wrote all of this about your father. But you still seem to be running away from something. Your decision was difficult and had both positive and chillingly negative consequences, but you are hiding your pain in “advice” dismissive of those who are dealing with messes in their families and realizing that some things don’t have a quick fix. Or maybe they haven’t yet determined what they will do to handle their situation.

    Every situation is different, that’s for sure. And what was right for you may not be right for someone else. What feels like the right thing to be doing for me, may not work for the next person.

    I have siblings who cut off my parents, effectively placing the sole responsibility of caring for them on me, now that they are in need. The parents were and are narcissists. And so are my siblings. So, I’m dealing with this and it can be a challenge, seriously. But I am not convinced my siblings are truly better off for having done this. I see them justifying their decision, however creatively, and I can see where there are costs and benefits to every choice. There’s no one right way to handle things sometimes.

    • Joanna,
      If a husband abuses a wife, do you tell her to stay? If a young child is beaten by her parents, do you leave the child in place? Most of the time, we urge people in those scenarios to get out and get help. Why is it different when you grow up? The pain isn’t any less harmful.

      Narcissism and mental illness are very different scenarios. I am not suggesting everyone cut off family members merely because they are annoying or mildly difficult. I completely agree there’s no one right way to handle things. But everyone should know there are options to their relationships, regardless of their origin. And I believe everyone has to earn a place in your life.

  16. Josh,
    You’re clearly right about the catch-22, though I must admit people have been much more understanding than I anticipated.

    Getting to the point where you can manage a difficult parent without isolating yourself from them entirely is ideal. I applaud you for finding a way to make that work. It’s not easy. What are your suggestions for maintaining control of the conversation? I think those tips would be helpful.

    Thanks for sharing your story. I understand all the implications of your final statement. Best wishes.

    • On
    • January 12, 2011 at 10:53 pm
    • Jessica
    • Said...

    Thank you for this article. I stopped speaking to my father about a year go and it has been one of my best decisions. It took me years to finally make it and I was torn up with guilt, but it has alleviated so much stress from my life, and I am so much happier now. Its nice to know others have dealt with similar issues and I’m not the only one out there.

    • You described my feelings exactly. You’re definitely not alone.

  17. Carrie,
    First, you are definitely not alone. You have my post and lots of comments as proof of that. Second, I think you did the right thing. I always recommend taking the high road. You’d likely feel a lot of guilt and second guess yourself to death, and perhaps get the exact same result you have now. You can’t force someone not to have a relationship anyway. So you do the best you can and hope your children know you well enough to understand. As for the rest of the family, I’m so sorry to hear it. Devestating is the only thing to say. I was lucky I had a family to fall back on.

    Good luck as you continue to deal with it. And may the drama find a miraculous way out of your life. Hugs!!

  18. My husband has amazing parents as well and I’m still completely bowled over that such families exist. I’m happy they do. But it’s still sort of magical to me and I can’t believe that I not only found an amazing man to bring into my life, but that I get his spectacular family as well. It’s a gift.

    And great that ending the relationship with your friend is what spurred the reunion and hopefully, a better friendship than you had before. That’s what we all hope for. I know I wished that my departure from my father’s life would have resulted in him committing to therapy, but I also know how hard it was for him. As I said elsewhere, he did what he could.

    I agree. Too many wonderful people in the world to waste time on those that don’t enrich you.

    • On
    • January 13, 2011 at 10:52 am
    • Zentropist
    • Said...

    As Tolstoy wrote, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

    I admire the candor, courage and frankness with which you addressed this subject, Jennifer. Dealing with a parent (or any close relative) suffering from a mental illness isn’t easy under any circumstance, especially when this leads to unhealthy dynamics in the relationship, or if such dynamics were present prior to the onset of illness. Ultimately, I believe that we all must give account for our actions, whether in this life or beyond this realm (if one believes in such things), and we must live with our decisions. It appears that you have reconciled yourself to this, and that’s one of life’s lessons.

    The truth is, I suspect that on many levels, most families have an element of dysfunction, at least when this term is used in the most general sense. While we have the freedom to choose our friends and acquaintances, we are born into a family and most of us remain pretty tied into that family for the first 2 decades or so of life,if not longer. And unless we experience pretty obvious abuse of one kind or another, I suspect that most of us assume our situation is “normal,” even if outside observers might question that assessment.

    My parents are well-meaning at heart, but tend to suffer from a pretty pessimistic worldview which influences their attitudes. It took me a long time (pretty much until I met my wife) to realize that this was the case, and that it probably was influencing me in not so healthy ways. A minor example was this notion that anyone in sales was somehow dishonest by the very nature of their profession; considering the fact that all of us, whether we acknowledge it or not, have to “sell” ourselves everyday, this attitude can be very limiting. I ultimately learned to “sell” not by adopting the inauthentic, transparently fake approach that the worst sales people exhibit, but by building on my strengths, which were my integrity, principles and character. Clients have come to understand that I won’t make recommendations to promote myself, a product or a third party if I don’t honestly believe that it’s the right solution.

    Ultimately, I’ve learned a great deal about diplomacy and dealing with people from my wife; I’ve learned that many people are intimidated by a blunt, straightforward approach which is what I subconsciously observed during my formative years. While my parents have been married for over 40 years and probably have a “good” marriage by most yardsticks, I don’t think it’s accidental that 2 of their 3 children had short-lived, ill-conceived marriages.

    My wife tried her best to get along with my parents, but after a few incidents where from her point of view they displayed incredible insensitivity and selfishness (and refused to acknowledge it as such), she decided that she she simply prefers not to associate with them. That has invariably impacted my relationship as well, although their rather perfunctory relationship with my son was also disappointing; while there’s a lot of geographical distance, I also felt (and continue to feel) that they don’t make much effort from an emotional standpoint, aside from complaining that I have not set up a Webcam for their convenience.

    Such is life…


    • Jonathan,

      I’m glad you introduced the Tolstoy quote. I agree with it, and it’s why no one can truly offer a prescription for dealing with something as emotionally complex as one’s parents. In fact, one could easily argue that two parents exhibiting the exact same behaviors with their children could and should elicit different responses, based on the abilities of each child to handle their own parents. The whole of this post is to allow people to think about their own situation outside the generally confining social mores and have a range of options to choose from.

      Thanks for sharing your story, and the fact that you and your wife came to very different ways of dealing with your parents. It’s a good example that what works for one doesn’t always work for another.

    • On
    • January 13, 2011 at 11:01 am
    • A hoarders daughter
    • Said...

    I’m a new reader after seeing your article on Zen Habits. Congratulations on having the courage to share this story. It is so helpful to read of others who have faced such an incredibly difficult decision. So far i haven’t had the courage to make this decision mainly because my mother needs my help. This is the first time i’ve spoken of my fathers problem outside my immediate family. It isn’t something easy to admit. I really believe an army of experts could not help my father even if he could admit he has a problem. I know its an impossible situation that is steadily deteriorating.
    Your readers have brought up many good points but i do feel that a few take it for granted that all parents do their best to provide the basic foods, clothes, shelter, education and emotional support that all children need whilst growing up. This is not always the case. Though i appreciate my parents did the best they could in their circumstances.
    Children are ofen guilted into feeling they are the cause of their parents problems and made to feel they have the responsibility to solve them. Ironic when it is unlikely that they will have learnt the necessary skills needed from their parents.
    In making such a difficult decision we also need to consider whether our maintaining a relationship with such a person is having such a detrimental affect on our lives that it hinders us being a good parent to our own children.

    • I’m glad this was helpful to you. My only advice is to say if you choose to remain in the relationship in order to help your mother, then be at peace with that decision as well as you can. The lovely thing is that you are making a personal conscious choice. That’s okay. When we say, “Do what’s best for you,” people misinterpret that. What’s best for you may be to hang in there in your relationship with your parents, even though it comes at great cost to you. The cost-benefit analysis is intensely personal. And if that balance should ever tip so that it no longer works for you, then be at peace with that too. I love the part of the safety announcement on planes when they tell you to don your own mask before assisting others. It’s good advice in life too. Hugs!!

    • On
    • January 13, 2011 at 11:10 am
    • Miriam
    • Said...

    Hi Jen,
    This post makes me think of the movie “Love Actually” and the character who essentially ruined her own life to take care of her mentally ill brother. My husband and I love the movie and when we watch it now we fast forward through her parts. It’s just too painful to watch. But I do understand both sides of the dilemma. The side that needs a self and a life and that can’t sacrifice self for the sake of family. Then the other side that has something to do with the family – the family story generations back and how our parents ended up the people they are. I’m not laying down on either side of the dilemma. It’s the most challenging thing we do in life sometimes is to figure this one out. Glad you posted it. Obviously brought out a lot of emotion and thought from lots of people!

    • Miriam,
      I love it when people can see both sides of an issue. A hearty welcome to you and I hope you come back. The world needs more thinking like that (in my ever so humble opinion). :)

    • On
    • January 13, 2011 at 11:11 am
    • Sam
    • Said...

    it must have been tough. And I cant disengage even from those friends whom I know are obstructions in progress and cause for tension. But dont you think you were being selfish? Your father was sick and that is why he needed you- sick people are not able to choose about the options.

    • Sam,
      It was incredibly tough. I agree, sick people are not able to choose among the options. But I am not able to choose among the options for him either. I think the most important lesson we can learn is that we can only help those who want to be helped. Many have given their lives valiantly trying to prove otherwise. I didn’t want to be one of them.

    • On
    • January 13, 2011 at 12:59 pm
    • Josie
    • Said...

    I found this post really helpful. I have been trying to eliminate energy draining relationships from my life over the past few months. I often feel guilty, like I should give the person one more chance, even though I know that they will only continue to drain me. I admire your courage and your outlook.

    • Thanks, Josie. I know what you mean. How many chances mark the right balance between optimism and foolishness? There’s no way of knowing, unfortunately. You make your best guess and make peace with it. Good luck!

    • On
    • January 13, 2011 at 1:53 pm
    • Vani
    • Said...

    Hi Jen!
    My first time here and I am bowled over by your writing style and candor. I am a fan now!!!!!!!!!!!! Much of what I would have liked to say has been said by others above. But, I would still like to add my two bits ;-). This post is highly inspiring… Firstly, because I feel like the others above that I am not alone. Secondly, as a “been there, done that”, I totally understand the place you came from and where you are now.

    “Your birth certificate is not a binding contract” … how beautifully said!…It took me 40 long years to understand this and break the shackles holding me to my parents. I was ostracized by family and even a close friend. This was followed by 4 long years of depression, guilt, anger, cynicism and finally a deep quiet. It may have been hard for them too, but I ultimately underwent an inner transformation, thanks to my extended family, my co-workers, and emerged on the other side totally positive. Things are better now and though they still pull me down, I have been successful in blocking the dramas due to my positivity and I believe as Derek quoted “With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams, it is still a beautiful world”.

    Thanks for the awesome post. Look forward to reading more inspiring posts.
    Wish you the best always!

    • Fantastic story. Really, I think these positive outcomes NEED to be shared more widely. There is a perception you can’t recover from the intential loss of a parent. Stories like ours show that isn’t true and you needn’t make yourself miserable for fear of some unnamed emotional loss. Light at the end of the tunnel is best performed in life, not death.

      Pleased to meet you and look forward to many more exchanges. Welcome!

    • On
    • January 13, 2011 at 3:08 pm
    • Kate
    • Said...


    I actually found time to look at facebook today and I’m glad I did! I think I should send your post to my “adopted sister”. I think she needs to read it. Two years ago she did the same thing, for similar reasons. I was proud for her and sad for her at the same time. But she is very much a part of our family now, and I think she chose us just as much as we (my parents, siblings, and I) chose her. She is a happy, married, sucessful person now, going on to get her masters in Entemology. She never would have finished a high school degree had she stayed with her dad. So, I think her life proves your point quite well (as does your own). However I can’t decide though, whether the business side of your arguement is really more of a side benefit of your decision or whether it was the true benefactor of your decsion. Either way, I’m not sure it matters. What REALLY matters in the end is that you and my sister made that decsion and I think you actually became “whole” people when you did. Your hearts became competely your again. In doing so, you both had the ability to give it to other people that you love. I am so glad that you are at peace with it (as you should be). I’m hoping she’ll come to peace with it soon. She’s still young.

    • Yes, please do send it to her. It’s so terrible to go through this “alone” when no one else talks about it publicly. I’m so glad your family took her in. She’s lucky to have such a wonderful adopted family. Happy to help in any way I can.

  19. Wow, this had to be tough to write. I have also been pretty transparent on my blog on some emotional issues, so I know how difficult it can be.
    Both of my parents have passed now, but I did distance myself a bit for years. Later in my dad’s life he was battling cancer and mellowed out quite a bit. We got closer than we had ever been (but still not very close). I learned more about his past and why he was the way he was. I was his only family member around when he died.
    I have a brother that is mildly mentally handicapped. He has lived on own (with friends) as an adult (he is 41), he can drive and read. I had him tested and put on SSI and was his financial payee for a while, even bought a small house he could afford to pay rent on. He became increasingly more defiant, wouldn’t follow the rules about the house (having people move in with him) and eventually signed his finances back to himself (he could do that) and moved out. I have only heard from him twice and actually don’t care to hear from him. He put me through a really rough time last summer and I felt very responsible for him. If he has to come back in my life, it will be for me to have him declared a ward of the state as I cannot and will not allow his irresponsibility to run my life anymore. I never thought I would feel this way, but my mental health is more important.
    Thanks for sharing and being so vulnerable!
    There is a God and it isn’t me

    • My goodness, those are tough stories. I’m very glad to hear you found way to be with your father in his final years. I’m sure that was a huge relief for you to finally understand the real issues and hopefully absolve yourself of any remaining childhood guilt, which is so common in these cases. As for your brother, I completely understand. Sometimes there are no good choices and we do the best we can for ourselves. Hugs!!!

    • On
    • January 13, 2011 at 5:15 pm
    • Doris
    • Said...

    This is my first time I have read your site, so please pardon me as I don’t want to offend you, but must speak my mind. I think it is sad (for both parties) that one would divorce a parent who is suffering from depression and perhaps a mental illness. Whatever happened to unconditional love and acceptance and understanding of his situation rather than just focusing on your own? Your father did not have the capacity to be the type of father you wanted or needed. Divorcing him because it was not good for you seems selfish.

    • Doris,
      Separating from my father did not mean I did not love him, or accept/understand his condition. All of those things were still true. Selflessness in the name of helping others is admirable and I support it. Selflessness for people who are incapable or unwilling to accept help is just folly.

    • On
    • January 13, 2011 at 6:53 pm
    • Theo
    • Said...

    Hi Jeniffer!

    Congratulations for making a decision that made your life happier.

    Having said that, I wonder if you only “fired” your father because you could not cope helping him.

    Ending the relationship was the easy way, but what about helping him ? Did you try it at least ?

    I agree we should all “fire” the asses of people who poison our mood with bad thoughts, but should we do the same to our parents ?

    • Theo,

      I’ll say it again: you can only help those willing to be helped. I could not force my father to take medication or attend therapy. Nor could I have him committed against his will, which I believe would have been counterproductive in any sense. Ending the relationship was not easy by any stretch. It remains the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

  20. Jen! I love this post. The only thing that shows greater courage than your firing your father, is your willingness to talk about it in hopes others might find the same strength. I am happy that you have found peace and love with your ‘adopted’ family where I am sure you can give and receive without apology. Thanks for sharing.

    Amy Parmenter

    • Thanks, Amy. I greatly appreciate those words. I agree, writing this post may well be my second most courageous act. :)

    • On
    • January 13, 2011 at 8:51 pm
    • CJ
    • Said...

    Wow Jen. I happened upon your website, this post, in particular, one day after having a conversation with my mother in which she indicated that my dad was hinting around about contacting me…again.

    See, I’ve actively fired an abusive step-dad, and have not spoken to my bio-dad in…hmmm, more than eight years. The second by his choosing to drop out of my life over a perceived slight, for the third time.

    I have forgiven both of them.

    I question whether renewed contact with my dad would only start a negative cycle again. However, this time around the spiral, I’m in a much better place to maintain boundaries. We’ll see what flows.

    I haven’t yet found a way to explore this subject on my blog. Huge hugs and high fives to you for sharing this. People need to hear it.

    And in general, I’m just so happy to have found you. Love the site.
    Resonation abounds.
    Thanks for being here.

    • CJ, I feel your pain. I remember my indecision when I learned my father was trying to contact me. It’s SO HARD. Best of luck.

      Thanks for the kind words on the blog. I’m deeply grateful for all the wonderful people who have found their way here. It really does make my day to connect with intelligent, like-minded folks with heart. Here’s to the future, in every sense. :)

    • On
    • January 14, 2011 at 6:23 am
    • A hoarders daughter
    • Said...

    “Separating from my father did not mean I did not love him, or accept/understand his condition. All of those things were still true. Selflessness in the name of helping others is admirable and I support it. Selflessness for people who are incapable or unwilling to accept help is just folly.”

    Beautifully explained. I totally agree. I,ve copied this and will show my mother as i feel she will find it helpful. My mother has stood by my father for many years but simply cannot stand the conditions any longer. She has a physical condition of her own to deal with and is being treated for depression. She is desperate for a new start, with my father if he can change but if he can’t how can i ask my mother to stay with him to protect the little quality of life he has left himself. I physically heave when i go into their house, i wouldn’t ask anyone to live that way.
    So yes i am asking myself and i believe my mother is asking herself too, are we looking for the easier solution rather than the “right” way forward? This isn’t a recent problem, its been there for years and its getting progressively worse. But who’s rights are more important? My mother who wants to live a regular life having the very basic amenities working and the opportunity to have her grandkids come to her home. Or my father who doesn’t see he has a problem and will not let the family help or seek medical attention.
    I have to admit i am guilty of judging others in the past thinking they should have done more to help family members or friends. But how can we judge when we never know the full facts.
    Thank you Jennifer for having the courage to write this post and the heart to respond to the many comments. Thank you too, to the many that have shared part of their stories and differing views. Exploring such a difficult problem from as many different angles as possible before making a decision will hopefully make it easier to be at peace with the outcome.

    • Best of luck to you. Realize there is no “easy” solution in this case. Both paths are hard and will take tremendous courage. So do what makes the most sense to you and your mother and be at peace with it. That’s all you can do. Hugs and well wishes as long as you need them.

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    • On
    • January 14, 2011 at 9:53 am
    • David A. Streat
    • Said...

    Hi Jennifer, I’m honored to have met you while at AFOSR. Love your work! I too can relate to a disfunctional family. I realize how hard of a decision it was for you to “fire your father” because I had to fire mine as well. Here is the interesting thing, although I fired him, I still look after him because as a Christian I have to forgive just like God forgives and forgave me many years ago. It was not until I forgave him that I had inner-peace. Thank you for your encourging words from such a personal place!

    • David,
      So good to see you here! Thanks for sharing your story and your heart. Much appreciated. :)

    • On
    • January 14, 2011 at 2:05 pm
    • Aylin
    • Said...

    Hi Jennifer,

    I too think it’s extremely courageous of you to write about this tough issue. Although I have a different standpoint, I can totally understand not wanting to associate with an abusive person, even if he’s your dad. On the other hand, it sounds to me that you were dealing with an extreme case (i.e. someone with a mental condition) and I’m not sure whether that comes across as strongly as it perhaps should in your post. By all means, if someone is threatening *your* mental well-being, you would be foolish to not move away from that situation (Although having that person treated might also be a very viable option). However, no offence to anyone, but from the responses written, the “trauma” of Western lifestyle is just too apparent: The individualism, the disintegration of the family unit, the preference of self over others, the being too stuck in one’s own tragedies at the expense of overlooking larger tragedies of life.

    I think this is the result of an individualistic and capitalistic way of life that is so prevalent in the Western world. It is also the reason why my husband and I have decided to leave the UK and move to Turkey, which has a closer-knit, louder, warmer Mediterranean lifestyle where families are still hard work but worth all the trouble :) Of course extreme cases do happen in this culture too, but the norm is for both parents and children to make an effort to live in unselfish harmony. The result is less crime, less stress, fewer single-parent families, fewer old people’s home residents, fewer homeless in the streets.

    • On
    • January 14, 2011 at 7:32 pm
    • KCLAnderson (Karen)
    • Said...

    I am 48 years old and have cut ties, once again, with my mother, who seems hellbent on keeping me under her thumb…and from being who I am (especially career-wise). I am proud, this time around, that I did it without drama, arguing, or stooping to her level. I think what makes doing this so hard is that we’ve been programmed from a young age to think their behavior is normal. We don’t want to believe that they’re “crazy” for lack of a better word.

    And like some of the others have said, I tried and tried and TRIED and tried to establish appropriate boundaries and then I’d start thinking that there was something wrong with me. It seems like I’ve spent my whole life in one of two modes: bitter, angry, reactive hateful daughter or nicey-nice conciliatory walk-all-over-me daughter. And I don’t like being either of those! Now I understand that there are other ways of being!

    I still hold out hope that things can be better, but it’s a more realistic and well-defined hope.

    In a cruel twist of fate, just two days after I cut ties, my father died very unexpectedly (on New year’s Eve). He was my bright, shining, positive parent (he and my mother were divorced when I was three).

    So. Here’s to us.

    • Aww, Karen. That just sucks. I’m so sorry to hear about losing your parents. You’re doing exactly what I would do: hold out hope for things to change, but find a good place for yourself in the meantime. Hang in there. HUGS!

  23. Jennifer/Jen (I’ve seen both here),

    Thank you for sharing a piece of you with the world. This is my first stop on your blog, and I am awestruck by the impact your story had on me and so many others. I have believed for many years that I had an incredibly negative parent relationship; it’s amazing how reading someone else’s story has the ability to open your eyes to the perspective of everything.

    I grew up dealing with my mom and bio-dad divorcing, being confused as to why my bio-dad never seemed to be able to get his act together, and wondering why I could never make my step-dad satisfied with my actions (whether it be in school, with chores, etc.).

    Telling my bio-dad that I no longer considered him my dad and that I didn’t ever want to speak with him was no doubt one of the toughest things I’ve had to do. Like you’ve expressed, the positive change that occurred afterward made the stress of the whole process worth it. For me, the stress reduction happened instantly.

    Since that day, I’ve been able to release myself from years of agony, stress, and general negativity. I still struggle with my relationship with my step-dad (who I actually consider and call my dad), but it is still one that I’m not ready to give up on, especially when I put my story into perspective with yours and so many of the other brave people that have shared in the comments.

    I am learning to forgive and move past all the things that I consider negative from my past. It isn’t always easy, but like Lindsey Donner’s comment “no more drama” seems like a much better place to be. I think I’ll adopt that mantra myself.

    Sorry to write such a long comment, I just felt compelled. Thanks again for sharing this. It has obviously been helpful to so many people (including me).

    • Michael,
      Sounds like you’re in a really healthy place. Pat yourself on the back for that–it’s not easy to do. I am so glad I could write something that could help even one person, much less the many here, deal with the pain of losing a parent. This is what the internet is so wonderful at: connecting people we might never meet otherwise. Best wishes and look forward to connecting more!

    • On
    • January 15, 2011 at 2:50 am
    • Kosum
    • Said...

    Hello Jennifer,

    I would like to say that it takes more courage to take action than to stay silent. I am from a culture that encourages silence and tolerance. I stayed silent because no one would have supported me if I had spoken.

    It’s strange how certain situations lead us to certain paths and people. Some bring us great joy while others pain, but both give us a renewed outlook on life and all that it holds.

    You sound like you finally have shanti(peace), and how many of us can say that;)

    thank you for sharing.

    • Exactly. I have found peace and it is a wonderful place. When we talk about “no more drama” that also means no more drama inside us or created by us. I am thankful to be here and surrounded by so many wonderful people. I hope you have or will find yours as well. We deserve nothing less. Thanks for your words. :)

    • On
    • January 15, 2011 at 4:07 pm
    • Dooley
    • Said...

    Thank you.

    I finally had enough over the holidays and declared that I was never returning home, and never wanted to speak to my father again. I don’t think anyone took me seriously, but I may have finally convinced my mother.

    Everyone I tell, exempting my very close friends who understand how much he has hurt me, is horrified. But I know myself, I know what I need. I have been emotionally abused my whole life and I don’t need to put up with it any longer. It takes me months sometimes to emotionally recover after visiting. It’s not worth it.

    • I’m so glad you found this post and can realize you are not alone. Life is short. Don’t beat yourself up for wanting to enjoy it. Hang in there. You just committed a huge act of bravery, and not many people understand the concept. Come back any time you need a supportive community. We’re here for you!

    • On
    • January 16, 2011 at 10:51 am
    • Jo
    • Said...

    Hi Jen,

    Just a word to tell you that your site is wonderful. Like many commenters, I clicked over from ZenHabits, because I liked your text about decluttering :)

    Your site is very neat and well written, and except the occasional typo your commenters write in very good English … as far as I can judge, because I am a French-speaking girl and English is only a hobby for me.

    At first sight I was very reluctant to click the ‘continue’ link on this post, because firing my father is something taboo for me, altough he fired us first. This year it will be 30 years since a lady we didn’t know phoned my mother to tell he died of a heart attack and she needed money for the funeral.

    As you said we have childhood characteristics that we tend to reproduce in our work life, and I am sorry to say that it is true. I have been reproducing traits from my father and my mother for years …

    I like your idea of analysing pro/cons of every person we come in contact with.

    Thanks for your insights!


    • Jo,
      Wow, I can’t imagine how you must have felt getting that phone call. It makes sense that firing a family member is taboo after being on the receiving end of that action and for no reason that makes sense. I’m sorry you had to go through that.

      In some ways, we can say we pick up the traits from our parents because that’s all we know. But I wonder sometimes if we don’t hold onto them, even after we’ve been introduced to many different styles, because it’s a way of staying connected (even when we aren’t). One thing I’ve tried to do is to think of some specific traits I loved about my father and replicate those.

      For example, he was the cook in our family and was always experimenting with new recipes. I’ve taken that sense of risk taking and adventure and applied it outside to how I live my life. I also let my husband take over the cooking. :)

      I think your English is superb and your comments are more than welcome here!

    • On
    • January 16, 2011 at 11:41 am
    • Alex Work
    • Said...

    Awesome post.

    We are who we hang out with. There are people that will never cease to disappoint and bring us down, and unfortunately, sometimes they are related to us. Like you said, blood isn’t binding.

    I have two cousins who have been trouble since day one. Always getting into trouble, needing to borrow money, until they became adults and their problems became adult-sized. Jail, running with shady people, and more. If people don’t have your best interests at heart, that’s too bad– time to cut ’em loose. Life’s too short.

    Alex Work

    • Thanks, Alex. I’m glad you’re protecting yourself in this sad situation. Because it’s worse than just not having your best interests at heart. They don’t even care about their own.

    • On
    • January 16, 2011 at 12:21 pm
    • ellen
    • Said...

    Hello! I am new to your blog like many others through the Zen Habits article you wrote. I thank you for sharing your experience. I did a similar thing with my own dad after years of struggling to make the relationship work and then after years of feeling guily because he is “my dad”. However, I finally found the courage and I made sure that I communicated the love that I have for him in conjunction with the need to have a healthy relationship. I also left the door open do to speak in that if he will/can find and get help, then perhaps we can try and reconstruct our relationship. Like many of your readers and what you yourself have stated many times in your responses, I let go with love. I sincerely am grateful for the gifts my father gave me throughout my life, but unfortunately they don’t outweigh the dysfunction.
    That said, I haven’t had any communication with him for about 4 years. I believe it actually has helped me immensely personally in mnay of my other relationships. Thanks again for your post. Best wishes!

    • Ellen,
      I’m so happy to hear that you were able to let go of the guilt. As if saying good-bye isn’t hard enough, the wringer we put ourselves through afterwards! Good for you for finding that peace, and getting the emotional distance you need to appreciate the good while steering clear of the bad. Brava!

    • On
    • January 17, 2011 at 7:33 am
    • Charlotte
    • Said...

    I think that’s a very brave post Jennifer.

    It’s quite difficult to admit that a close relationship offers you nothing in return for your hard work and attempts to have a ‘normal’ relationship. For some people it’s sadly best to close a door, permanently or temporarily.

    I think that for many people these ‘life-suckers’ are friends that you’ve clung to for many years because you feel you ought to. Your post reminds me that it’s okay to move on from relationships and that there’s if a relationship doesn’t come naturally then it’s probably not meant to be.

    I hope both you and your Father have more peaceful lives.

    • Charlotte,
      Great point! The “life-suckers” don’t just reside in your own family. I hope that came through in the post. You’re absolutely right that many make this mistake with “friends” too.

      My father has passed, so he’s definitely more at peace (and I don’t mean that to be funny). The difference in my life is that of night and day, hence the name of the blog, Everyday Bright. I feel fortunate to be able to say that after my beginnings.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts!

  24. Pingback: forehead, desk … repeat?» Blog Archive » be warned though: the next person that pees in my cornflakes is a dead man!

    • On
    • January 17, 2011 at 3:27 pm
    • Stephanie
    • Said...

    Jennifer, this is an amazing, unforgettable article. I just want to pull you into my personal biosphere. For now, I’ll have to be content to connect with you through these courageous, raw and inspiring pieces. Thank you.

    • Stephanie,
      Anyone who uses the world “biosphere” naturally in a sentence has full rights to access me. LOL. Really, thanks for the kind compliment. You’ll only encourage me. :)

      All kidding aside, meeting up is not so far fetched. I’m planning some reader get togethers this year and will coordinate them on the Facebook page. So if you’re interested in hosting, let me know.

    • On
    • January 18, 2011 at 3:35 am
    • Dan Lew
    • Said...

    I admire you for expressing your points, it doesn’t come easy when it comes family to talk about these issues, I myself have had issues with my mother and father which I have bottled up for a very long time.

    • Thanks, Dan. It’s true, not easy, but wonderful to see people benefitting from it. I hope you are finding healthy ways to deal with your own relationships. It’s such a wonderful feeling when you can let go of the anger and disappointment and find a healthy place to exist, either with or without them.

    • On
    • January 18, 2011 at 11:17 am
    • Rose
    • Said...

    I didn’t expect a post like this that would be so close to home for me. I have a toxic mother (nothing “clinically” wrong, I guess; just had a strange childhood she won’t get out of) that I had to leave behind at 19. And because my dad (who is a solidly good person) loves her so much, he didn’t see what was happening, and so I’ve had to cut off contact completely with him too. I haven’t talked to either since. Sometimes I look back and feel guilty, but I know that I couldn’t live my life with her pollution in it.

    Just wanted to tell you your post really connected with me, and I’ll keep opening your post emails for sure. Thanks!

    • Rose,
      This is possibly the worst of all scenarios, where you have to leave a “good” parent to escape the “bad.” I’m so sorry. I know how doubly hard that must have been, but I’m glad you see the necessity of it. You’re a very courageous woman. Thanks for the kind words. Look forward to connecting more. Hugs!

  25. Pingback: Extraordinary Insights Volume 1

  26. I came from Zen Habits and looked forward to another blog to follow but I came up empty here.

    Your father died alone??? One day you will get older, wiser and realize that family is very important. And you will regret letting him die alone and writing this blog post. While I agree that you had to let him not run/ruin your life, some of your choices are downright cold.

    • On
    • January 20, 2011 at 11:45 am
    • Jen
    • Said...

    Just to reiterate what so many others have already said: thank you for such an honest and brave post. I am much more aware these days of the positive / negative influences others have on my life and am being continually proactive about keeping the first high and the second low. I think many people (myself for a long time) feel mean for stopping or minimizing friendships or relationships but it is truly crazy to keep associating with people that drain us.

    • Jen,
      You’re right–we worry people will call us mean or as some have said, selfish. And I think in the end, the biggest realization is, it doesn’t matter. If people don’t like you when you’re honest, it’s not worth being quiet and having a dishonest friendship. The only opinion and struggle with right and wrong that matters is your own. Thanks for your support. We Jen’s have to stick to together. :)

  27. Thanks, Keith. I agree. I wish it weren’t so taboo and we could all at least agree that there are options. I hope this post helps to get the word out.

    • On
    • January 25, 2011 at 2:31 pm
    • Shannon
    • Said...

    I haven’t fired either of my parents, but a few years back, I did put a restraining order on my mom, e.g. I told her in so many words that she was toxic for me, I needed some time to focus on me, and not to contact me. It’s sad that it comes to this, but it really is SO important not to carry toxic relationships in our lives. I’m so glad you had the courage to make the tough choices with your father and that it had a happy impact on you.

    Hugs, Shannon

    • Thanks, Shannon. I’m thankful I didn’t have to go so far as to get a restraining order against my dad. I’m sure that was enormously painful while necessary. Hugs right back atcha.

    • On
    • January 25, 2011 at 6:10 pm
    • tmk
    • Said...

    There’s a difference between boundaries (not letting someone’s behavior control you) and selfish cruelty. This kind of behavior is so reliant on the bright-siding, only-good-feelings bullshit that pseudoscientific practitioners of the art of self-help-book-selling toss around.

    I know toxic people, I’ve backed off from toxic relationships, I’ve cut off acquaintances who were bad for me. But cutting off a parent because they’re mentally ill? That’s not bravery.

    • On
    • January 27, 2011 at 7:33 pm
    • Adrienne
    • Said...


    Go you!!! So much has already been said here, but this just rung so true for me that I had to chime in. You said you were 28 when you told your dad you never wanted to speak to him again…I was 26. It was just last year…after he remarried without even telling me or my sister. I guess it was the straw that broke an already crippled camel’s back.

    My mom married him when I was 9 or 10 and he adopted me. Things were fine for the first couple of years…then he basically turned into a cheating workholic/drunk. Since my mom and I are really close, I was always angry with him for how he was hurting my mom and slowly sucking the life out of her. Finally, after 11 years, he left. The actual divorce process took a long, drawn out two years, but in that time, I watched my mom come alive again. It was like that George Strait song, “She let herself go.” :)

    Anyway, even after they were divorced, I felt like I still had to keep up this whole dad charade with him. After all, he was the only dad I had ever really known up until college (when I got back in touch with my bio dad). Finally, I just couldn’t take it anymore. I was sick of being hurt, disappointed, and angry because of him. I told my mom, “You got to divorce him. Why can’t I?” So I did.

    Hands down, it was the most liberating decision I’ve ever made. Sometimes I worry that the same thing that happened to you will happen…that he will die alone without us having spoken in years. But then I remember, do I really care? Nope. My life is better without him. :)

    So, cheers to kicking dads to the curb and liberating ourselves of a toxic and unnecessary burden!

    • Thanks, Adrienne. Yours is a particularly interesting story, since you were bound by a concept, not biology. It just goes to show how strong the pressure to maintain a parental relationship can be. I’m glad you found your freedom, and your biological dad. Did that have a happy ending?

    • On
    • January 27, 2011 at 10:15 pm
    • Angela C.
    • Said...

    It took a lot of courage to write this post. It is such an individual choice to distance yourself to this degree from your father (or any family member for that matter). It sounds like it was the right decision for you based on your circumstances.

    • Absolutely. It’s a personal decision and I’m not advocating everyone go out and disown their parent. But everyone should have it in their option box, to be used with discretion.

  28. Oh Kirsten, that’s really hard. Have you tried talking to them about your feelings? Let me tell you a story about my mom.

    She was very dominated by my father and by the time I was a tween, she didn’t feel she had a place in the parenting relationship. My dad very much excluded her and at one point even told me, “She just doesn’t love you. I don’t think she knows how.” It was horrible manipulation on his part, but based on my mom’s distance and his statement, I believed him.

    It wasn’t until I went to college and got some distance and perspective that I understood the whole situation. She loved me madly. It was the only reason she stayed in the house, to protect me as best she could. I tell you that so you know that sometimes our parents have issues themselves, which we may or may not be able to see at the time, that prevents us from understanding their behavior. Had I told her how I was feeling, I’m sure we could have gotten to the truth much sooner.

    I hope that helps. Best wishes!

    • On
    • January 29, 2011 at 10:01 am
    • ChrisS
    • Said...

    I agree with everything you said, but the part about making work colleagues “family” had me squirming. Early in my career, I thought a close group of colleagues were just like family. I had a work “dad” a work “mom” work “sisters” the whole bit. Then, a new addition arrived, a “brother” who harrassed and stalked me and even threatened my life. What did “mom” and “dad” and “sister” do? Turned their back, didn’t what to be viewed as “causing trouble” to the boss by supporting my complaint (even though the police wholeheartedly supported my complaint). I was devastated. Sorry, but for me, work will never be a family again, because I would never ever make that mistake again.

    I moved to a new workplace 10 years ago. I am polite, I am professional, I am “work-friendly” and that is it. I think my co-workers are great, as co-workers and co-workers only. My work is work, I enjoy it and I do a great job and we have lots of laughs. But my friends and family (whether they be blood or soul “family”) are OUTSIDE work and will firmly stay that way.

    Just my 2 cents

    • Chris,
      It’s a good point of discussion. I had a somewhat similar experience, though not nearly as bad, at my very first job. I was the unfortunate “victim” of a sexual harassment/assault case. It was my supervisor. I went to his boss, to explain the situation, though I wasn’t looking to formally charge, etc. I felt I had handled the situation so it wouldn’t happen again, but was concerned for my ratings. My boss’ boss forced my hand (as he should have, really), but when the case became common knowledge at work, several co-workers told me “I deserved it” due to my friendly nature.

      My response was similar to yours. I changed jobs, but ultimately withdrew. I was pleasant, sure, but I didn’t feel I could really trust anyone. But at some point I had to realize, my own father said the same thing. A blood connection didn’t make support in tough times automatic.

      We take risks with people and sometimes we misjudge them. In the end, I think the risk is worth it. Those first co-workers disappointed me. But over the years, I’ve had co-workers go to the ends of the earth for me too. I’m glad I let them.

      Thanks, truly, for bringing this up. It’s a important piece of the puzzle to consider.

  29. Brave post. Any time you share something that’s completely personal and sensitive, you’re bound to have a few detractors.

    My Papa always told me “Todd, there are two types of construction workers in this world. One that builds buildings up… and one that tears them down. Don’t be the latter.”

    I’ve always tried to surround myself with ‘builder-uppers’, and it was obviously difficult to fire the foreman at your family’s homestead.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks for the kind words, Todd. I appreciate it, and especially like the quote from your dad. Builder-uppers. Gonna have to use that myself! :)

    • On
    • February 1, 2011 at 6:30 pm
    • Sonia
    • Said...

    I respect a person that has the balls to say what others won’t. I always call it as I see it and don’t pull no punches period! I fired my dad a while ago when he decided to simply ignore the fact that I existed and chose his new family over a person that was already here before they ever came in the picture.

    I respect your honesty and ability to tell it like it really is!

    • Thanks, Sonia. Best of luck in finding a family of your choosing. The world is full of wonderful people–it’s just a shame they aren’t always officially related.

    • On
    • February 1, 2011 at 7:17 pm
    • Karen Swim
    • Said...

    Thanks to Jon Morrow for sharing the link to this post. Your story and the core message is an important one for all of us, whether or not the toxicity is from family or other relationships. Women, especially tend to fall into “rescue” mode. My faith tells me to trust God but admittedly I have been guilty of taking on His job. Over time I’ve learned it’s not my job or obligation to rescue the world. Sometimes the most loving thing I can do is walk away. None of us is obligated to abuse ourselves by continually dipping into a well that will always be empty.

    • Yeah, Jon is a peach. Totally agree. It took me years to escape the “rescue” habits I’d developed as I grew older. Very destructive, ultimately for everyone. Thanks!

  30. Three thoughts:

    1. quote: “God gives you friends to make up for your family.”

    2. Book: Toxic Parents

    3. I soooo get this.

  31. Love this post! And the first commandment shall now be, ‘help yourself first before you help anyone else’.

    And I ditto Karen Swim about thanking Jon Morrow.

    Way to be in your power Jennifer!

    • Thanks, Gina. It wasn’t easy getting here, but every step gets easier. I’m grateful to have people to share the journey with.

  32. Nothing to add, just wanted you to know I’m here:)

    • And I’m so glad you are! Remember that interview, long ago, about doing scary things? I owe you one, Annabel! :)

  33. It really is true about who you surround yourself with.

    I work now in oncology and I have had many conversations with patients and how they have to separate themselves from relationships that are draining or they have no energy to fight their disease.

    • Yes, my mother’s family felt certain my father was a huge drain on her energy as she tried to fight cancer. It’s hard to say, but it certainly didn’t make her last days any easier.

  34. It’s such a wonderful moment when you are able to let go of the anger and to forgive while still protecting yourself. I’m really happy to hear that others are finding that peace. It sounds like you’ve found a great solution. Thanks for sharing!

  35. Hi Jen,

    I so admire your courage here, both to end your relationship with your father and to write about it here.

    I didn’t have the chance to “leave” either of my parents, because both of them died when I was relatively young, my father when I was 11 and my mother when I was 24. There was so much loss and grief associated with this that it took me till I was in my 30s to understand the toxicity that had existed in my family system and its impact on me. In fact I only really uncovered it by going into therapy to help me understand why I kept reinventing relationships, both personal and in business, which left me feeling bullied and abandoned. Confronting the fact that, I felt sad at their passing, AND that how they had treated me had not been okay was hard indeed, but enormously healing. Because they were dead I could not move away from them in a concrete sense, but I did it in the next best way which was to leave the toxicity I subsequently reinvented. So, I quit a marriage and a business partnership that were recreations of that old thing.

    It’s tough to take some self-supporting measures and some people just don’t or won’t get it. But pushing past that is part of it too. So long as we hedge in life in order to make other people feel okay about their position, we’ll never feel okay about ourselves.

    Thanks for such a brilliant post. It’s so good to meet you!

  36. I could not believe what I was reading! You were actually writing about one of those topics that we never speak about!

    Years ago I would look sideways at people that would say they don’t speak to their parents. I had in my mind that you had to stay connected to your family no matter the damage. As I got older I realized how important it is was to protect me.

    Now my relationships with my family is limited to what I can handle not to what their want to take from me. I am happy with that decision but I don’t share that information.

    As I read your post I cringed and felt I could not RT this! If I RTed your post people might thing that I don’t talk to my parents! It only took me a split second to remember that it is OK to me without my family. Thank you for reminding me.

  37. It takes courage to do what you did – and on many levels, too. Taking stock of what is and isn’t working in your life, then acting on the decision to do something about it is admirable. Bravo! Much of this ethos lies behind my compass jewellery – Choosing Your Direction with Elegance. Thanks for sharing this important post, Gee.

    • On
    • February 5, 2011 at 7:19 am
    • Joe
    • Said...


    Having come to this blog via Zen Habits, I confess I was stunned by your story about firing your Father, him dying alone without your nurture and presence. Many of those who have responded to your story, particularly women who have been very supportive, caused me further dismay.

    Reflecting on your piece, I thought your decision brutal, inhumane, an act of a “me generation” person. Your sick Father with his several material psychopathologies was toxic, giving him the chopper was liberating, uplifting, and energising. Putting your self first has facilitated you leading a happy life. You can now live your day everyday bright, and shine. You have a buzz of righteousness, triumph and ruthless selfishness, a succumbing to the reptilian part of our brain.

    Your action flies in the face of the wisdom of many cultures and religions over many centuries. All religious, philosophical and ethical traditions are based on the principle of compassion. They speak of ‘putting the self to death.’ One thinks of Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Confucianism, Daoism, Judaism, Islam and Christiantity. Also the Upanishads, the Buddha, Confucius, Laozi, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Socrates, Aechylus, Nelson Mandella, Ghandi, St Augstine, Prophet Mohammed, Diana Princess of Wales, Mother Theresa, Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King et al. Compassion, plus cultivating compassion, is key and central to each. Most suggest that instead of pursuing self interest to the detriment of others, to live morally is to live for others. “Love must be all embracing and exclude nobody” said Confucius. The Great Rabbi Akiva taught that the commandment “thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” was the greatest principle of the Torah. Jesus said that “you have heard how it is said eye for eye and tooth for tooth, but I say to you offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well.” The Dali Lama said the third millennium should be based on a “radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self.”

    The Golden Rule tells that we not do to others what we would not wish done to ourselves i.e. if you become dysfunctional with psychopathology, would you wish your daughter/sons to fire you cold and hard? Would you hope through the madness of your mind, that your child show some compassion toward you, some care, some love? Does not your society hope that you show some compassion toward a difficult Father? Be with him as he dies? I wonder how much you really knew of the psychodynamics that caused your Father to behave so badly? I suspect if you really knew, you would have had compassion for him. 50% of your genes come from your Father. He supported your survival and foibles for the first 15 years or so of your life. But he was mad. Your HP 12C shows he calculated badly negative on your Capitalist cost-benefit equation. He was not even downsized, just caste out. A dead loss. Now you are free. Happy. Shining. But are we not all flawed human beings?

    I wonder Jen if we all follow your lead, what suffering will occur in our older generations, as legions of parents are heartlessly dismissed for their inadequacies before their deaths. I fear we will be entering a virulent nihilism, a marching toward a soulless desert, but a desert full of our own inner suffering. Compassion surely offers a kinder and more humane way.

    Your blog cast a worrying dilemma of our age starkly: your philosophy of “help yourself first” Vs the many ancient and modern traditions and cultures that tell “care for the other first.”


      • On
      • March 19, 2011 at 12:49 pm
      • Silv10
      • Said...


      I have just read this article and some of the first reactions to it and some of the last. I came across this particular reaction and would like to respond with some thoughts. I am not sure if I fully understand the post as I am not familiar with all the religious and spiritual teachings mentioned.
      But I want to respond to the idea that it is an economic decision or a selfish act to leave your parent in the cold. I don’t believe it is a selfish act to ‘quit’ with someone, even if it is your father or mother. In my own case I had to have a long temporary no-contact with both of them when I was 27. My divorced and still ‘fighting’ parents, my mother was severely mentally ill, my father addicted to alcohol and not actively taking responsibility for his life into his own hands.
      Here are my thoughts.
      1) There is only so much you can do (as a child or a young adult) to help your parents.
      2) Mostly when someone is severely mentally ill, and they deny it themselves and attempt to manipulate everyone around them, there is nothing you can do to help. I have tried and tried and tried and spend 25 years trying with absolutely NO effect. My mother was in a different world. In the mean time, I was on my way to a destructive negative life which was ruled by my mother’s toxic influence. The only solution out of that was to create as much distance as needed not to be toxified anymore.
      So even though the phrase ‘firing your father’ sounds like an economic and almost rational decision, I think it is the sheer need for survival that leads us to fire our toxic and mentally ill parents.

      Sometimes only something like that leads to a wakeup call and change (in my father’s case it did, in my mother’s case it did not).


      • I think you’re right. We so overestimate what a child can do with a parent, even once that child is grown (I’ll argue that in many cases, but esp. in abusive ones, the child may grow but the nature of the relationship remains where it was when the child was very young). Thanks for understanding the intent of this piece. I didn’t know we shared this experience as well. No wonder we are friends!

      • On
      • August 15, 2011 at 4:23 pm
      • John R. Smith Jr.
      • Said...

      You’re wrong Joe. You can only be self-less for so long, the evil reptilian family members will eventually eat your heart. Some people are evil and cannot be helped, remember Jeffery Dauhmer had a sister. Maybe she should have stayed around till he ate her and froze her head in a freezer. My Dad complained my birth ruined his life but had 7 more kid’s after me. Bell’s rang when my Dad started calling my wife and son names, like he did to me all my life. Me and my sister are normal, the others rob, cheat and love to tell lies. Getting over on good people makes them feel worthy and dignified. The latest victim is a hot dinner table subject, so pathetic. I had to move out of State and hope to never see any of the evil brood again. My life is now so much better and things are looking way up. I love the saying sometimes “The most resilient and high functioning people are born under a mountain of dysfunction”

      • John, I’m so sorry to hear your story. The worst is when dysfunctional parents do produce dysfunctional (and traumatized) children. It breaks my heart.

        I will say that not all dysfunctional people are evil. My father certainly wasn’t evil, he just wasn’t capable of a normal, loving relationship. He took advantage of people, not out of evil intent, but because he’d never learned another way. I think it’s important to acknowledge that where it’s true. It really helped me make peace and have compassion for the whole situation.

        Glad to hear that things for you are looking up. I always took comfort in the saying, “What does not kill me only makes me stronger.” No one wants to experience what we have. But I am grateful nonetheless for the strength it’s given me.

      • On
      • August 26, 2011 at 9:23 am
      • Natasa
      • Said...

      Thank goodness there are people like you Joe out there. It is so sad how majority of people easily drop their mentally ill members of the family. Goes right with Nazi ideology… Yes, it is hard and yes in our country there are hardly any support systems for mentally ill. But, to abandon your father and let him die alone! WOW. I don’t even see abuse here – Jen even says he read poetry to her. HOw many kids can say that? SOunds to me like spoiled brat whining and doing an awful thing to her parent (oh yeah – he hurt her feelings). I am not sure why Zen habits has you as a guest blogger. Compassion sure is lacking here.

  38. I so understand, Christine. Ironically, shortly after ending my relationship with my father I started dating a man much like him. Go figure!

    Completely agree here too: But pushing past that is part of it too. So long as we hedge in life in order to make other people feel okay about their position, we’ll never feel okay about ourselves.

    I think this serves us well in business too. Wonderful to meet you as well!

  39. Yes, this was the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. I’m glad I did, but it certainly isn’t for the feint of heart! LOL

    And I totally understand not wanting to RT something for fear of how it would look. I think it’s interesting to look at the set of responses here–most are supportive, some are understaning, but a few are judgmental. We know this, of course, but the ratios are important. I suspect they’re pretty indicative of real life as well.

    Be you, be proud, shine on! :)

  40. Sounds lovely, Gee. I like that.

    • On
    • February 10, 2011 at 8:17 am
    • Another woman
    • Said...

    I’m really glad you wrote about this, and that you had the courage not only to do so but to answer the comments that didn’t agree with you.

    I can relate very much with your story. I also cut off my father and so did my mother and sister. Like yours, mine was mentally ill and paranoid. Like yours, he refused to get help and got worse and worse. In my case, my father was violent and severely emotionally and physically abusive to all three of us. Finally, a year after I left home, he was admitted by force to a mental institution, but refused treatment, escaped and attacked my mother and smashed windows in her home. Since then none of us has spoken with him despite his pleas of “I’m sick, I need your help, it says in the Torah to honor your parents, you’re heartless/selfish/ me generation.”

    Since we cut him out his mother (my grandmother) refuses to have anything to do with us.

    When people ask about my father and I say I am not in contact with him, sometimes they argue and tell me it’s my duty to be, because family always comes first. Since I cannot explain what happened without crying, and it’s none of their business, I now just tell people my father is dead. Only a handful of close friends know what happened.

    So thank you for sharing your story and breaking a taboo. I hope that many people reading it will be helped even if they don’t or can’t comment.

    • Yes, that’s the problem isn’t it? You can’t tell them everything, you shouldn’t have to, and even if you could or did, would they really understand? How bad does it have to be to justify the action in their minds as opposed to your own? It’s why we can’t seek other’s approval, we can only make our own best judgments and live with them. And when we are brave enough, we can support those who have done something hard and unconventional. Hugs!

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  42. I heard a quote once that said — you are the sum of the 5 people you hang around with most. I believe for a fact that negativity can rub off on us, but so can a good, positive influence. Good for you.

    • Thanks, Sherice. Very much in line with the bucket theory. I believe it too!

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    • On
    • April 11, 2011 at 8:58 pm
    • Geeta Ramani
    • Said...

    Well..did the parent not need some care, understanding, or even some kind of medical help to get on with his life too..? My mother too, was a very difficult person to deal with and I almost abandoned her. But with grown up children myself, now, I am better able to understand their priorities. I wish they would give me a little time, for I spent the best years of my life caring for them and they mean a lot to me. So I am not sure that firing parents or children from our lives is good for either of us. Geta

    • On
    • April 18, 2011 at 10:21 am
    • Martin
    • Said...

    I am sure your father is happy to see his daughter considers him disposable due to an illness that was completely beyond his control and one he did not ask for. You think you are enlightened, yet all I see is a shallow, selfish woman. You should be ashamed of yourself.

    • Interesting. I didn’t ask for the abuse either. I was born into the circumstance.

      • Jen,

        As this was one of the most powerful articles I’ve EVER read, I decided to read over some of the comments. I h-a-t-e that you have to deal with the ignorance of others shoveling their subjective righteousness.

        It makes me wonder how you deal with it, and how I would deal with it. I only hope I would remember what I’m telling you now.

        • On
        • August 26, 2011 at 9:27 am
        • Natasa
        • Said...

        I have seen abuse and abused children. What you describe as abuse in your post is nothing! Sorry but you do not know what abuse is. And to leave your father to die alone. Appalling!

        • Actually, I think that’s one of the biggest misconceptions about abuse: that you, from the outside, can recognize who is and who isn’t an abuser. It’s like that poster I’ve seen: “Do you know what a terrorist looks like? They look just like you.”

            • On
            • August 26, 2011 at 2:32 pm
            • Natasa
            • Said...

            I have specifically referred to your post – you may have many other burdens that you do not mention in this post and I feel for you if that is the case. But to drop your mentally ill dad and leave him to die alone just because he did not let you go on a bike ride? that is just awful. I also cannot believe how many people support your cold blooded behavior. I hope your child never does onto you what you have done to your father. Nothing in your post says you even tried to help him.

            • On
            • August 26, 2011 at 2:43 pm
            • Natasa
            • Said...


            I think this video is very moving and appropriate

  45. This is one of the most interesting posts I’ve ever read. Do I agree with your decision to break away from your father?


    I have dealt with severe depression for a long period of my life and it’s not an easy thing to overcome as I’m still dealing with it. For those who’ve never dealt with it, it’s easy for them to make certain comments but I completely understand. Most people also forget that energy rubs off especially negative energy. The longer you stayed around that, the more it dragged you down. By cutting him off, you saved your sanity and your career. It’s not that you didn’t love him, it’s not that you hold a grudge, it’s not that you can’t forgive him, you just couldn’t have a stable relationship with him and there’s nothing wrong with that. At the end of the day, he did have to want to receive help and he wasn’t willing to do that. In the end, he dug his own grave because he chose to live in fear.

    It’s sad you had to find out from the neighbors about his death. You’d think after sometime, he would’ve decided to reach out but he was run by his own fears. While you may take a lot of criticism, I agree with your decision. It’s hard to make negative comments because many of us didn’t grow up in that type of environment or we don’t want to admit that we did. I certainly didn’t grow up with a peaches and cream childhood…

    • Tim,
      Wow. It’s like you took all collective all my thoughts and emotions from the negative replies and captured it in one reply. Thanks for understanding. I’m glad this spoke to you, though sorry for the reasons that’s so. I love that the internet allows us to bring comfort to those who need, regardless of distance. Thanks for adding yours.

    • On
    • July 1, 2011 at 7:25 pm
    • Susan Kuhn
    • Said...

    Jennifer, This is a beautiful, brave post that stayed in my thoughts for weeks after I read it. So let me add to the comments just these thoughts:

    (1) Anyone as ill as your father who managed to marry and have children is someone with pluck and persistence. I expect that, while you may abhor his less than stellar qualities, he passed on that strength to you. Its a possibility to ponder.

    (2) Be open to learning more about this issue of being “your father’s daughter.” Fiction is full of these ironies: The evil Darth Vader is father to Luke Skywalker, the good son.

    I too had a contentious relationship with my parents and moved away at first opportunity, never to return. But when my mother became ill, I became her legal guardian for several years. At the end she couldn’t speak (she had dementia), but somehow, by caring for her, all my issues with her were healed in the most soul-satisfying way.

    At her funeral, her best friends told me stories I’d never heard; my godmother told me that they all “felt sorry for me” even as an infant. It took many years to overcome my resentments, but what ultimately did it for me was, you might say, “rehiring” my parents, but on my terms. Now, I feel a pleasant sense of ease and sureness when I see myself acting like my mom or like my dad.

    What I liked so much about your post was your clarity and bravery. I wanted to share with you how subsequent chapters of a similar story have unfolded in my life.

    • On
    • July 2, 2011 at 9:10 pm
    • susan kuhn
    • Said...

    Jen, one clarification: Peace didn’t come from my efforts…it just came. From the mystery of life unfolding as it should, if that doesn’t sound too mystical. I wanted peace…I prayed for it, and it came in its own way.

    Those who wrote that “you can’t abandon your family” have a point: we can’t eliminate our heredity or our history. There is something vital in what is passed on through the generations, and also in what we each can change. Both are what make a life.

    • It’s a good point, Susan. I don’t know that peace came from my efforts either, probably not. But I do think that ending the damage cycle helped. It was a lot easier to forgive and see the situation more objectively after that.

    • On
    • August 16, 2011 at 1:06 am
    • Lynn
    • Said...

    Hello, thanks for writing this. I’m celebrating about 6 hours of peace from breaking contact with my parents (after years of brutal contemplation) so it was timely to find your article.

    10 months ago I severed contact with my parents after a near nervous breakdown. At 30 my magical capacity to devote endless energy to their more endless problems had fizzled out and my body made the choice that my mind and heart were fighting. Luckily the effects were not lasting and I began recovery soon after cutting contact.

    Children of dysfunctional families often learn about the limitations of the human body and life span in a more heart breaking and profound way I imagine than others. No amount of love is enough to stop the destruction. Its enough to shut down your heart for good if you are not careful.

    Since stopping contact, I’ve tried to write hundreds of letters to them, maybe thousands of pages of paper. Letters explaining why, specific incidents, how I felt, trying to set boundaries that might work. Pouring my heart out, drawing on the deepest wisdom, trying to really give them something to move forward with and improve their lives. But every time I would write something I would collapse in this complete exhaustion and feel like I was imploding with helplessness.

    I could already hear their loud brash objections to each careful concisely written point, obliterating all the insightful observations with denial and blame, automatically refusing to create the capacity within themselves to just hear me, calling me up immediately and repeatedly to tell me how wrong I am.

    I couldn’t just tell them what I needed, I felt like I had to justify it so seamlessly in order for it to have a crumb of value, I felt that GOD would practically have to shine forth from my decision in order for them to take notice.. and even then.

    I’ve become increasingly exhausted by this in the past weeks, until today I just dialed their number and told them point blank. I need this to end. I need closure. No personal explanation. No more contact.

    The very fact that I felt so deeply helpless and powerless to communicate anything to them at all, and for it to effect change, to me is evidence of the degree that the relationship was toxic.

    The funny thing was, I WAS their employee in their minds. My Mother called me at the six month point to inform me in a nasty tone over voice mail that she felt my “sabbatical” from her should be over now.

    Thank God we live in this modern age, where we have options and information and honesty and self respect and social structures to intervene where family cannot be effective, and that women can prioritize satisfying things like work outside the home above some forced obligation to care for everyone.

    • Lynn,
      I’m sorry you had to go through this ordeal before giving yourself permission to take care of your own needs. I’ve been there though. I know the crazy nightmares that go along with making this decision, the second-guessing the second-guessing. It really does drive you mad.

      And then you make a decision and stick to it. And the world settles down.

      I hope you find this peace. It’s so important. And who knows, it may be what’s needed to heal the relationship. Of course, it’s okay if it isn’t too. Don’t try to explain, just focus on healing yourself. The rest will take care of itself.

      Hugs! I know how hard this is, but pat yourself on the back. The hardest part is behind you.

      P.S. I recommend you don’t listen to voicemails or read letters. When you cut off contact, do it completely and don’t reinitiate until you’re ready.

    • On
    • September 4, 2011 at 2:20 am
    • Barbara Gini
    • Said...


    I found your site through “Zen Habits” and I have to tell you how this post spoke to & reassured me.

    For many years I have been wondering if my decision to step (way) back from my family was the ‘right’ one and now I realize that I am not the only one dealing with this challenge.

    I’ve had the residual questions of my ‘responsibility’ to the people who raised me, and have come to terms with the emotional pain I felt in their presence. I have finally come to a place where I know they did the best they could with what they had, yet I have no desire to re-initiate any kind of ongoing relationship with them.

    I admire your commitment to yourself and can identify with how hard it was. Thank you for sharing your insights and your experiences, and for giving so many of us in the same boat the encouragement to also take the necessary steps to commit to ourselves.

    I have no more doubts about my choices any more.

    Barbara Gini

    • Barbara,

      Glad this spoke to you and provided reassurance. Sometimes the best places are the hardest to reach. It’s so much better not to have to do it alone. :)

    • On
    • September 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm
    • Mahmood Ali Nasir
    • Said...

    Dear Jennifer,

    It is one of the most honest posts I have read.I truly admire your openness about it!

    I truly stand by the point that relationships (if they are not going anywhere), need to be parted with; but when it comes to the parents though, I do hold exceptions.

    The reason is simple Jennifer; you still feel their need even if you leave them. There is an “unfilled void” which always bugs you at first and then stifles you.

    In the past, I hated my mother, her pointless criticism on my writing/video making work. I hated the fact she embarrassed me in front others, I hated the fact she never came close of understanding who I am and what I wanted to do.

    So I decided to quit the relationship (because I thought it was not helping me fulfill my dreams and moving forward in life).

    But,I learned from time that I was just feeling the “stress of a bad relationship”.

    Instead of just”calling it quits”, why not I win her once and for all!

    Yes, it required a lot of effort and thrive. But I realized that every human being can be won (you just have to accept them the way they are) and soon they will accept you too (it’s not rocket science, it works!).

    Jennifer, I just think there is a “lure” of just leaving your relationships for your “ambitions”, but I know you would know, you have that nagging void in you.

    I think “quiting relationships” looks good from the outside, gives you temporary pleasure, but eventually you suffer in the long term.

    The final point is that it is worth hanging your lives with a parental relationship. I know it “sounds” prison like, but if your “learn the skills” (just like driving a car), you make it better.

    I have found nothing better in this world than having the love of my parents (my father died when I was 8).

    Jennifer, I would love a response from you :)


    • Well, I don’t think quitting relationships looks good either from the inside or the outside. It’s a last resort. And what you are suggesting may be possible with some, it simply isn’t with others, especially those who suffer from mental diseases. I do accept my father for who he is and was, but that doesn’t mean he’s capable of what you’re suggesting. I don’t think it’s fair to generalize your experience to every experience. I whole-heartedly support trying everything one can to continue the relationships in one’s life that are important. But there comes a time when you can’t try anymore without severe self-harm. At that point, I recommend breaking the relationship.

    • On
    • September 8, 2011 at 9:37 am
    • Mahmood Ali Nasir
    • Said...

    Jennifer, I have understood your viewpoint. I wish you best of luck for the present and the future.

    • On
    • September 13, 2011 at 1:04 am
    • Tracy
    • Said...

    Thank you so much for this story. I finally get it at 41! I’ve wasted so much time feeling guilty about not being good enough, when I have always been a really great person. What’s ironic is my parents disowned me. But you know what, the end result is the same, I don’t ever have to witness their insanity again, and I don’t have to tell them how great they are when I’m thinking how they are completely nuts! Thank God my wonderful kids won’t have to be hurt by them. Now I am going to go out and sell or give away everything they ever gave me and wash them out of my brain forever.

    • Tracy,
      I feel your pain, and I’m glad this post could be there for you. I hope time heals some of the wounds. I know it did for me, but it took years. Now I focus on being the best parent I can be, and well, I suppose in a sense I have my father to thank for that. Had it not been for my experience, I might not appreciate a healthy, loving relationship with my daughter as much as I do.

      If I may offer one piece of gentle advice: don’t throw away everything your parents gave you just yet. Put it in a box and stuff it in your garage or attic. There may come a time when you can reflect on the past without as much hurt or anger, and you will be happy to have it. I kept all my father’s photo albums and a couple of things from the house that are clear memories from my childhood (like some glasses my parents used at parties). My childhood may not have always been happy, but it is mine, and I don’t want to forget.

      Hugs and peace-

    • On
    • September 16, 2011 at 1:15 pm
    • Vicki Childs
    • Said...

    Hi Jen
    I’ve only just read this (I came to it from your interview with Leo that he just released.) Thank you for having the courage to write about this. I had a similar experience with my Dad. I offered him the choice to continue down the path he was on or to be involved in my life – not both. That was 6 years ago and I haven’t heard from him since. He’s missed me getting married and having two children. I don’t think he even knows he’s a grandfather. It’s kinda sad but as you said, they’re adults and they need to make choices about their behavior. I miss the relationship we could have had, not the relationship we did have.

    • This is a lovely way to say it: I miss the relationship we could have had, not the relationship we did have.

      Thanks, Vicki, and welcome. I look forward to having many more positive experiences to share with each other!

    • On
    • September 27, 2011 at 2:52 pm
    • ES
    • Said...

    I guess its quite ok to isolate yourself from your father, but its a little bit insane to know his death after months it actually happened. You could have stayed away, but how difficult would it have been to call once in a month or visit him once in a couple of months to just see how he’s doing? What’s wrong with just keeping in touch?

    I can tell you one thing with confidence : Your kids will certainly follow your way. Don’t feel surprised if you die without anyone having to attend to you.

    I’ve had my differences with my family and I follow my own path being in the same house, even though they do not approve of what I am doing. I wonder how so many commenter’s have approved your action.

    I really liked your other posts, except this ‘most popular’ one…

    • ES,

      I know it’s hard to understand. We see other people’s stories through the lens of our own. It simply was not possible to keep in touch or visit without all the baggage and emotional turmoil, for both of us really.

      I personally think the suggestion that my child will follow in my footsteps is an unnecessary attempt to be hurtful, but that’s okay. There’s a fundamental difference between families that “have their differences” and families that have a cycle of abuse. It’s not something I’d wish on anyone.

        • On
        • October 3, 2011 at 3:45 am
        • ES
        • Said...

        I credit you for approving this comment and even replying to it… All I see around me is people neglecting their parents for the want of ‘freedom’ and ‘independence’, without knowing the meaning of either.

        But I still want to say one thing – You’ve definitely played a part in that cycle of abuse. No one abuses you without your permission. For example, being passive is one way of encouraging abusive behavior.

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    • On
    • January 17, 2012 at 5:26 am
    • G Angela
    • Said...

    Very honest and brave post, I empathize with you, and I appreciate you for writing and posting it ! I also admire the clarity in your thinking, it brought to my mind about certain relationships in my life, which i have cut off, and am happy being who i am.

    Thanks for daring to be yourself

    • On
    • February 10, 2012 at 1:09 am
    • Sai Kulkarni
    • Said...

    Hi Jen,
    After reading this I just wondered why I didn’t read it earlier before I fired my mother!
    It happened just around three months back, (I would have had more courage if I would have known I was doing the thing which you also approve of )
    when my mother(widowed around 12 years ago)threatened me in all possible(including a police report, court case, and commiting a sucide and finally thrown me out of the house since that property belonged to her on paper) ways she could in order to not to let me marry the guy I’m in love with(who’s also a childhood sweetheart)
    I did spent a lot of energy, patience and money in convincing her that this is what I want to do, we both have similar intutions.
    My family(mother,brother) practically became dysfunctional after death of my father(who was very compassionate at heart, and a succesful Architect who was active in international projects inspite of living in a small town in India). And the broken bond of mother-daughter relationship has soared badly in last decade.
    Mother accused me of not respecting her who has given me a birth and who has given money for my education(actually she never needed to work at all to earn that money which all came from my father’s savings)
    She was also not happy about my thinking on finding alternative career options by which I can be self employed.
    I stood in front of her and told I,m not sorry and I don’t apologise because I’ve married to a person I love and who loves me back for what I am and not for what he wants me to be. I have got home, family(in-laws) and freedom to follow my intutions. We don’t need you to approve our relationship and actions. We are aware of it already

  48. I just recently discovered your blog and wanted to say how much I enjoy it! This was a great post!

    • On
    • March 7, 2012 at 5:57 am
    • Becci
    • Said...


    I would just like to know, would you judge me for staying in an abusive parent child relationship? I have had and continue to have an interesting time with a difficult parent. I soul-searched for years and get a lot of people tell me I should leave, it’s holding me back, affecting my health etc etc. Eventually I decided it was my path to stay. There is much another person can do to clear someone elses issues, why just this morning I cleared the family issue of safety and I will no doubt see the benefits in the days, months, years to come as my behaviour changes and I become a positive role model for others. I know that beyond her difficultness, my mother is grateful we do this as she is unable to. I take responsibility for my family’s trauma and it that way I am able to clear it for everyone. You could say it is my career and I’m doing pretty well, just not in the conventional sense (but I’m right up there on the compassion stakes).

    I don’t judge you in the slightest for what you did, you did what was right for you, well done. I just wanted to share a different view, as I know some other people will feel like me and might find this post confusing because it’s only got one perspective. I want them to know there are people out there that will support them and they don’t have to sack their parents to get success/peace if they don’t want to. We’re all different, every cloud has a silver lining and if you want to stick by the difficult people in life, go for it – I’m putting my faith, support, love and trust behind everyone all the way (even or maybe especially the difficult ones) because maybe, just maybe they’re making the world a better, more loving more inclusionary place.

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    • On
    • April 11, 2012 at 8:22 am
    • Apierion
    • Said...

    I just wanted to drop in to tell you that you are a horrible, evil person and someday when you have kids, they will probably fire you and leave you to rot.

    I feel sad for that man. He clearly needs help and the one person he should’ve been able to depend on is a selfish asshole.

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    • On
    • May 13, 2012 at 3:32 am
    • Lucille
    • Said...

    Jen, I’m a newbie here but your post resonates with me. Am heartened to see that you have the courage to publish comments that are downright nasty.
    I completely understand your decision. I have a cantankerous and challenging parent too. Cutting off ties wouldn’t work for me but I still take a hard line attitude. Most abusive people think kindness is a weakness so I stay strong. I believe that you reap what you sow and what goes around comes around – that’s not harsh, that’s reality. Your father reaped a bitter harvest as any one who has not sowed the seeds of healthy love does. Of course, I understand that they may not have enough healthy love to give…and that’s my path of compassion. I will be thinking differently about my bucket list after reading your post, so thanks for your bravery in speaking out so honestly.

    • Thanks, Lucille. And thanks for understanding that I’m an advocate for whatever solution works for you, not just to cutting ties willy-nilly. Totally agree with you: compassion is the salve for us all. It’s what allowed me to survive and thrive despite my childhood. Thanks for the note!

    • On
    • May 24, 2012 at 2:43 pm
    • Aubrey Salmins
    • Said...

    Wow, what a raw and inspirational post. Just talking about that must have taken serious balls…

    And you read every comment and replied to nearly all of them! I am seriously impressed and loved reading some of the conversations here. Thank you for saying such things, and doing what you do.

    • On
    • June 9, 2012 at 1:24 pm
    • Valerie
    • Said...

    I just read your article for the first time today, one day after deciding to sever all ties with my own dad… and I too, am 28. My dad is a drug addict and abandoned my family when I was 7. For the past 2 years, he’d been sober, but I just found out he’s back on drugs again. The first thing he did, was call to ask for money, and when I said no, he told me a bunch of nasty things. I wasn’t rude or anything, but I was so hurt, because I remembered he used to do the same when I was younger. Even when he was sober, he was never a real father, always unstable, always selfish. He’d send money once in a while, but my mom, brother, and I worked hard to study, work, and pay bills. Dad never rose to the occassion… so after being hurt by him, once more, I decided that it was time to let him out of my life completely. I needed a father when I was a child, but he scarred me so much, that what I need now is peace, not a burden. I loved your article, it came in very handy :)

    • On
    • July 25, 2012 at 2:20 am
    • SNH
    • Said...

    I came across this article unexpectedly, and I have to thank you for it. I too have decided to stop trying to have a relationship with my dad and was insecure with my decision at first, but this just confirmed that I did the right thing. He never made an effort to have a relationship with me while I was growing up at all; he would come home from work and lock himself in his bedroom. He refused to buy me new after school clothes or let me do extracurricular activities because he didn’t want to pay for them. He would buy other people clothes before me because he was desperate to impress people. My mom had to start working to buy me basic necessities because he refused to. When my mom filed for divorce when I was 13, he all of a sudden was telling everyone how he never saw it coming, he loved his family and we had an awesome relationship. We were in therapy for years (that I paid for out of my own pocket because he refused to pay child support, insurance, or support me financially at all. He even cleaned out my college savings to spite my mother), he would always tell me he never recalled any of the situations I had grievances about, but he’s sorry I feel that way. He never makes an effort to call me or take an interest in my life unless it makes him look like dad of the year. We can go without talking for months, and one day he’ll randomly show up to a concert of mine and hang off my neck and act like he supported me the whole way. I used to, as you said, “wore our DNA like a ball and chain”, and would reach out to him because I felt like I wasn’t trying hard enough, especially since he moved five minutes away from my mom. After doing this throughout my teens and into my 20’s, I realized I did the best I could, and he won’t change. I’m tired of nodding and smiling and pretending we have a great relationship when we have no relationship at all. Other people tell me he’s a great person, but I never knew that person because he never cared about me. If he cared about me, he would call me and ask how I was doing regularly, and he doesn’t call, so he doesn’t care about me.

  53. Jennifer,

    I feel sorry for your day, but you did the right thing. That would take guts. I had a friend who’s mother was ruining the relationship between him and his wife. He called her up one day and completely cut ties. About a year later she apologized. Either way, he was happily married after the fact.

    • On
    • September 24, 2012 at 1:49 pm
    • Michelle
    • Said...

    thank you so much for the article i knew some stuff but reading it from someone else gives me reassurance i come from a dysfunctional family, and im actually planning on not ever speaking to my parents who knows if they my real parents they dont act like parents you right kudos

    • On
    • September 24, 2012 at 1:53 pm
    • michelle
    • Said...

    thank you once again for the article was really reassuring that i am making the right decision, my mother drains me emotionally and my father drains my mental energy

    • On
    • October 29, 2012 at 2:34 pm
    • Michele
    • Said...

    Hi Jen, I am thouroughly inspired by the level of comments (and your replies) that your post generated. You really have created an amazing community here. Kudos!
    I believe that we chose our parents, often for what they could teach us about who to be or who not to be, what to do or what not to do. You may have chosen your father to repay a karmic debt to him through trying to help him heal his soul. Unfortunately, he just wasn’t ready to accept or recieve that healing.
    It is very important for us to surround ourselves with people who support, enhance and elevate us. Sometimes we sacrifice to help others and that sacrifice is often worth it when that person is benefiting from our sacrifice. But if that person will not allow or recieve the help and healing we have to offer,then no one is gaining from the sacrifice and it is a lose-lose situation. When this becomes obvious, it is in our best interest to end the relationship that is draining us. It is never easy, but highly necessary as a matter of self-preservation.
    I commend your courage to do what was in your best interest after your recognized that your sacrifices were not helping anyone.
    Blessings to you and for your continued success.

    • On
    • November 3, 2012 at 1:42 pm
    • Sandra Simmons
    • Said...

    So your father has mental health issues, clearly needs help…and you kicked him to the curb because you wanted to focus on your finances. God help any poor fool who ever trusts you.

      • On
      • November 5, 2012 at 1:03 pm
      • SNH
      • Said...

      I’m going to have to disagree. If the person refuses to acknowledge their problems and it’s starting to affect your well being, you’re well within your right to cut them off.
      I’ll us myself as an example. My father is a narcissist. I’ve been to countless court required therapy sessions with him because of my parent’s divorce, but with each one, he refused to admit anything he’s done wrong and managed to spin everything to make it look like I was at fault. He had three therapists convinced that I was lying for attention, and I came to find out he was bribing one with money and gifts so she would make him look favorable in family court. I tried in vain to have a relationship with him for years after the divorce was final, but he was more concerned with making other people think he was a great guy than with his own children. I would get a text on my birthday and Christmas, otherwise I could go years without hearing a peep from him. Why should I force myself to have a relationship with someone who obviously don’t give a crap about me or my well being? He refuses to acknowledge his mental disorder, and the one therapist who tried to he immediately stopped seeing. So no, I don’t have to see him if he refuses to get help. There’s no point in making myself miserable for the benefit of someone who doesn’t even care about me.

  54. Pingback: 50 Personal Development Posts that Will Inspire Change

  55. Pingback: 5 Steps to Creating an Everlasting Gobstopper of Sweet, Sweet Traffic

    • On
    • November 15, 2012 at 5:32 am
    • Zain Munawari
    • Said...

    Being humble and straight forward, that wasn’t a right move at all. Because no God, no holy book, no religion, no Prophet, no saint teaches us to have such kind of behavior with your parents.

    You must have forgotten that you are in this world just because of your father. That was the biggest favor of all time that your father did on you!!

    Unfortunate of yours, instead of repaying for what he did for you, you cut off tie with him and led him die alone. So sad…

    I might sound very aggressive with my words, but believe me, if you have kids, then you will realize what wrong you did with your father, but only when you are at the deathbed, probably not before than that, and that time neither you’ll have father around to seek forgiveness you nor time. And that’ll be already too late for you. :)

    And after reading my comment, if you get a feeling of “who cares” instead of repenting, then consider yourself cocky and arrogant. And you know what, arrogance diminishes wisdom. :)

  56. Pingback: Brave New Business Blogging Success Story: Jen Gresham - Successful Blogging

    • On
    • December 4, 2012 at 11:29 am
    • Jamie
    • Said...

    I had to cut off all contact with my brother 4 years ago, because he treated me badly, and it just brought me down. My dad continues to not understand why I won’t speak to him. I’ve explained to him why I can’t speak to him, but he doesn’t seem to get it. He thinks I need to talk to my brother. Wrong. My dad is very close to my cutting him off, as well.

    • On
    • December 16, 2012 at 1:54 pm
    • PRFred
    • Said...

    Thank you for sharing your story. It’s actually one that gives me hope for a happy ending! It is sad how your father passed without getting help, I fear my mother will do the same. My mother did get some raw deals in life including a developmentally disabled child . My father suffered for fifteen years from Parkinson’s disease until passing in 2009. He spent his last year of life in a nursing home. I understand my mothers sadness, but now she’s let it take over every facet of her life. She actually got (for lack of a better word) crazy after my dad was gone. She’s always had a problem going overboard on whatever medication was available to her. She’s really a poly-pharmaceutical abuser now. Her laying in bed up to twenty hours a day for the past four years has messed up her weight, blood pressure, vitamin D level, potassium level and also her heart. I’ve tried to help in various ways over the past decade but nothing works because she doesn’t want it to work. She’s made a pig sty out of her home with the bathroom being the single most disgusting place I’ve ever seen, she’s let her teeth go bad, she no longer bathes except for maybe twice a year and she is no longer able to balance her bank accounts, ( she spends about $3000 a year for bounced check fees ). She’s very good at playing ” normal ” and almost everyone around buys the act. So, on that note I’m taking my act in the road! I’ve allowed her illnesses to cause me problems with stress, problems in my personal life and she longer has any ability to consider others for any reason; so I’m done, stick a fork in me!! I wish her well but I can longer have her in my life. The price I pay is far too great.
    From MA2CA

    • On
    • December 27, 2012 at 8:53 pm
    • Jason
    • Said...

    I kind of disagree with this and the whole longitudinal study statement but I was probably raised considerably different compared to most people. I strongly believe that my troubles with family have molded me into the “perfect” businessman. My dad is so bad that every single person that knows us has told me that they couldn’t have done what I’ve done and that they felt sorry for me. I literally could not eat the wrong way or blink my eyes the wrong way without starting a confrontation. My dad makes up about 85% of the bullshit that I have to deal with when it comes to family so I’m just going to leave out the other stuff. But with each and every day of bullshit piled on more bullshit I still stand by what I said back then and I still say today, and that is that I wouldn’t change a thing. Yeah you could say that being cold, conniving and cruel are not positives but it has made me very successful in the software industry and I never had to break up my family to achieve any of it. What got me through it all was the comforting feeling that I knew I would make it big one day. I can’t explain it but it comes with growing up the way I did. “Graduating” from my house was harder and more rewarding than any college degree.

  57. I know this is very late, but if someone is still here I would like to know there thoughts on my predicament.
    From birth to the age of 9,I had a false sense of my father.I thought he was good, and maybe at first he was.
    But not anymore, he used to lie to me and my brother,saying things like “I used to change your diapers as well” or “I was always spending time with you”. But the truth is he wasn’t and he didn’t. I remember things from when I was young so I know what he did and didnt do. By the time I was 11, we were living in Australia and he started to shout at us more, even though we never did anything wrong. He began using curse words like the F word and others in front of his 11 and 7 year old, so I really dont know what to think other than he was crazy. Once when I was 12 I gave him an opportunity to criticize me, and ofcourse he jumped at the chance to do so. That is when, at the age of 12, I realized that he was not a good father, and ever since then I made boundaries. When I was 14 my family with my uncles family (brother of my father) had to go out for dinner. My mother (Who my father and his family have abused in their entire 16 years of marriage) was getting ready, and my uncle insulted her. I told him to be respectful and to not say anything like that again. Then I went and told my father what my uncle said, and my foolish father (who could not bear to hear that his precious FAMILY were in the wrong) told me, his SON, to go to hell. Now I do not know what the norm is in other cultures but in mine that is a very serious thing. But honestly I think telling your own child to go to hell is not something that is normal for parents to say in other cultures either. Now I know everything. I know what my feelings towards him are, and his family. I hate him. He is the only one in the world who I hate. If he dies I honestly dont think I would care. Not anymore. I forgave him so many times in my life and he kept breaking my trust and trying to break my mom (But she is a strong woman so she never was, and as long as I am alive, never will be). My father even tried to hit me on multiple occasion. And do you know what I was doing on said occasions? Trying to stop him and my mom from fighting,
    trying to study, or trying to finally enjoy myself and let go of the household tensions.

    During my O levels,(Exams that can change my life)
    he would come when I was studying and would start talking to me about divorcing my mother or problems that my mother caused(which would obviously make me dwell on these things instead of properly studying).

    In the end I got 1 A,3 Bs a C and D.
    I know I could have gotten a much better result. But he would obviously not leave me alone. I know I could have got four As and a B instead. And of course bad grades, means he is angry with me. Yet its his fault. You cant tell a child about your problems with his mother and that you want to divorce her while he is studying for a crucial moment in his life that could mean his success or failure in the future.But that did not stop him.

    Now I am 16, and I am powerful. I am powerful because I have drawn boundaries, I have covered my heart with an iron shell (where there is only room for my brothers and mother). And I wont break my ties with any of my relatives, because that is not who I am, but I will always be careful.The way I see it my father will never stop owing me for the rest of his miserable life.The kind of things I had to live with, these people who I used to call family.They are just family in name.
    So I am going to take back what is mine. They used me and my family now I will use them. My father thinks everything is alright between us but he couldn’t be more wrong.I am going to strip him of everything he has and isolate him from his family. I have already begun and believe it or not I am succeeding.
    Now I know some of you might say that this is too dark for a 16 year old, or he doesnt deserve even this much.
    But there is only so much that I can write down. Only so
    much that I can express. He tried to isolate me from my brothers, from my mother, from my good family. What he has done is unforgivable. And I dont plan on letting him know just how much he has lost over the stupid choices he made.

    Please dont think I am a bad person, I am not. I am kind to those who are kind to me. But I believe in Revenge.
    And I will have mine. He is an abusive man and he deserves everything he is going to get.

    I apologize for the long comment, but I would really like to hear your thoughts on this.

    • I haven’t been replying to this thread because I felt I’d already said everything I needed to say. In your case, I feel moved to add more.

      In my opinion, revenge will hurt you. I understand WHY you feel that way right now, I really do. But if there is a message that I want people to get out of this post, it’s this: forgiveness is the only thing that will set you free. So you have to do the work to get there. Sorry, I know you probably feel like you got abused and it’s not fair you have to do the hard emotional work too. But that’s the truth. Forgiveness does not mean you have to give him your trust or continue to have a relationship with him. It likely means you need to get some therapy, so you can get an objective, outside view of mental health. It may mean you never talk to him again. I don’t know.

      What I do know is that cruelty breeds cruelty. If you let it, revenge will eat your heart out.

      I recommend reading some Parker J. Palmer. Here is an excerpt of an interview he did with The Sun Magazine: “Violence is what happens when we don’t know what else to do with our suffering. That applies on every level of life. When individuals don’t know what to do with their suffering, they do violence to others or themselves.”

      Realize that the mental and emotional violence your dad has done to you is the result of his own suffering. That was the truth that put me on my path to forgiveness. I hope this helps spur you to find your on way there as well. Best wishes and blessings…

    • On
    • February 8, 2013 at 9:07 pm
    • Pauline
    • Said...

    I see so much of myself in this post. I did the same when I was only 20 years old and it was so hard and yet so beneficial. It has been 12 years and every once in a while, a family member would come to me and ask me to make peace with my father. I see some harsh comments around here too, but really, blood isn’t everything. You have to look out for yourself and if your father is not doing his part as father you owe nothing as a kid.

    • On
    • February 24, 2013 at 8:51 pm
    • Heather G
    • Said...

    The irony of finding this article today is not missed by me. I literally “fired my dad” a few days ago by hitting send on an email that I had written for two months but fearful to send to him.

    I realized after 35 years that his BS was his own; not mine. Being called “little bitches” (my sister was included) because he was annoyed that we were even born was the catalyst that I needed. He has his own demons and I am fearful that he will never figure them out. But I’ll be damned if I’m dragged down with him because of his inability to see his own shit and the destruction it causes.

    There are always signs that are present in our lives regarding decisions that we have to make. Sometimes, it just takes us longer to see them.

    Thank you for your candor and honesty.

  58. Pingback: 100 People Doing Extraordinary Things (2012 Edition)

    • On
    • March 16, 2013 at 2:29 am
    • G
    • Said...

    Wow. Thank you for a wonderfully thought-provoking article. I’m in a similar but different situation. My father’s been critical and overbearing as long as I can remember. While my mother was alive, he towed the line, and did family things. Now she’s died, he’s almost completely stopped communicating with his 3 sons. Emotionally, I desperately want to have a relationship with my father. But my head tells me 1/ You can’t communicate with someone who doesn’t want to communicate 2/ I’m probably better off without a critical, overbearing parent. Thanks again, G x

    • On
    • April 2, 2013 at 11:44 am
    • rose
    • Said...

    My son, the reason I live for is going though this at this very moment. It painful and unbelievably heart renching to see him cry because of his fathers additude. But were trapped by needing financial support from his dad. So confusing, do I divorce to bring peace and Poverty or stay live comfortable and in misery.

    • It’s not an easy decision, Rose. I will say that in hindsight, as an adult, I wondered why my mother didn’t leave my father. She was as abused as I was, if not more so. But she was afraid. I understand it, but in our case at least, I wish she had banded with me to find the courage to leave. Best wishes!

    • On
    • April 3, 2013 at 12:35 pm
    • HereAndThere
    • Said...

    Im there today. Googled it and came across this page. People who’ve had awesome parents will be shocked by your decision..but only because they have not dealt with toxic family members. I spent my childhood being physically and emotionally abused. I became the sort of wreck that tries so hard to make everyone happy that my main butt-of-joke was me. I bought them everything they needed, dropped everything to be available to them, ran around when they were sick, did all the housework, gave expensive gifts. In return, I was beaten, mocked publically, never even wished on my birthday, left home during family outings.. I stopped talking to my mother after a bad beating which led to internal injuries. Today ive decided to cut my dad off. A few days ago I was so sick I could not stand and he kept screaming at me about how I didnt cook food for him. I give up. I’m never going to see my parents behaving like grown-ups. I’m never going to have the happy supportive family. But I can have peace of mind. I can focus on my career, which will give me stability. I can save money for a rainy day because I know my family wont catch me when I fall.
    You were brave Jen. I hope I stay brave. But I fear the emotionally gullible fool in me will be hard to kill.

    • On
    • April 10, 2013 at 11:09 am
    • Kelly M
    • Said...

    My father has progressively gotten incredibly mean as he’s gotten older, especially to my husband. It’s at the point that I’m not even comfortable around my dad and my husband hasn’t even seen my parents in about 2 years and we live 20 minutes apart. My dad is famous for making comments that are mean and demeaning, especially if there is a crowd. Essentially, he is the very definition of a bully. The catch is, we have a son and my parents care for him dearly, but my dad is just outright mean towards my husband, who works full time and bought our house out of his own inheritance money. Yet today, 3 years later, we find out that my dad was telling people that he bought the house for his daughter because her husband is a deadbeat and loser. I’m at the point I want to cut my parents out for the sake of my husband’s sanity. I don’t think I could do what you have done. But all i can think is, when will he start acting like this towards my son?

    • Kelly,
      One possibility is to use your Dad’s desire to spend time with your son as the incentive to treat your husband better. Bad behavior on your Dad’s part leads to restricted time with his grandson. You can also use it as a teachable moment with your son. You don’t want him to grow up thinking it’s okay to treat family members that way. It may not work, but getting this more out in the open and taking a harder line (but not cutting off contact entirely), may be helpful. In the long run, I doubt your son will want to be around a man who is a bully and speaks so poorly of the father he loves.

      Best wishes. None of this is easy. Do the best you can and forgive yourself the rest.

  59. I feel your decision was completely justified. The only person you have an obligation to is yourself and you have to do whatever’s in your best interest. I think the whole premises of having to have someone in your life just because your share similar dna to them is ridiculous. I totally respect you for having the courage to do what you did! :)

    • On
    • July 2, 2013 at 2:03 pm
    • Bonnie M
    • Said...

    I have had a distant relationship with my dad all my life. He has consistently chosen other people (wives, step-children) over his own family. My mom has had multiple children with 3 different men. As a result, my whole life I have had to explain to people which kids go with which dad. Never pleasant. I now have my own children and have explained to them who is a biological grandpa vs step-grandpa. Doesn’t help that I am now divorced and remarried as much as I dreaded having to put my kids through that. So now my dad is on his third wife and last year she cheated on him, got pregnant by the other man, and because of his religious convictions he decided to stay married to her and raise this new baby. (He’s 62, she’s 47). I have only met his new wife, once at their wedding 9 years ago. Now the opportunity presents itself for my dad to meet my children, which I am not opposed to because they are curious about him and I figure an afternoon together hurts no one. However, I don’t want his wife or her baby there. I really don’t feel like having yet another conversation about the relation (or non-relation) of this child. My kids are at that age where they are very interested in who they are related to. I am expecting…So is he our uncle?? God no. My dad is very devoted to this woman and includes her in everything. I don’t know how to approach the situation. I refuse to lie to my kids, but I am absolutely ok from protecting them from his dysfunctional home life.

    • On
    • July 13, 2013 at 12:44 am
    • Robbie
    • Said...

    I have come from a dysfunctional family also I grew up in a family where my dad would come home in a bad mood and yell at everybody in the house kick the dog yell at my mom giving her dirty looks like he hated everybody in the house . My oldest brother getting married when he was 18 to get out of the house and remembering my other brother and sister leaving one at a time to get married to leave me and my mother behind then many years later myself getting married and leaving my mother behind saying that she loves my father but me never knowing why because my father and mother always fighting in the house .
    Many years later my mother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and I remember going to her house and my father running errands to get out of the house but yet hiding her pain pills from her and me and my oldest brother would go over to her house cooked and cleaned and remember just sitting there in disbelief that one day soon she wouldn’t be there anymore . I remember in the hospital one day sitting there and her looking over to me and saying I can’t help or be there for you anymore !!! I replying its okay mom I understand because she wanted to die from the pain she was in and she said she didn’t want us to suffer any longer and she wanted to go her own way not anybody telling her when and putting her through chemo treatments so 1 week later in the afternoon I was sitting next to her in the hospital swabbing her mouth and the next she was gone but infront of me was my brother and his wife and my father who grabbed his son and pretended to cry with that I had kissed my mother on her forgead gently and told her I lived her and left only to run home to my husband and kids who weren’t there . My other two siblings hadn’t talked to my parents for many years never showed up to say good bye to our mother not understanding how they could do such a thing like that . Before my mom died she had said to take care of your father and I did he slept on my sofa in my house for six months and then one day coming home and saying her had met someone 20 years younger and was going to ask her to marry her and converting to her religion not understanding why he did that knowing we were brought up in a house that was avid by his rules . Not understanding why after 6 months of my mother gone after 54 years of being married he let this woman in my mothers belongings even before us kids did and then my father telling me you comeover and get what your mom wanted you to have but don’t tell you oldest brother and with that I did what he said and my father called him up and said the same thing to him and then my brother asking me did dad call you and I lied only to stick up for my father only to know that my father ruined my relationship with my oldest brother so he could have that relationship with him . So I am basically alone and am having a hard time coping with people , job , and my immediate family and I need help before I lose everything that means the world to me .

    • On
    • August 1, 2013 at 4:49 pm
    • Amber
    • Said...

    This same situatiOn is what I’m dealing with. Only there’s a gf that’s entered the picture and has failed to make anything better. I’ve been demanded to apologize to the both of them or he won’t talk to me. I’ve called him a total of 20 times today and he still won’t answer the phone. Im continuing to pray for the ability to let him go but he is after all my blood. If you can’t count on family for anything then who can you count on??? Thanks for reading this and God Bless

    • On
    • August 9, 2013 at 6:03 pm
    • sherry
    • Said...

    Hi I have a dad that does me wrong even today i’m not made at him I just want nothing to do with him I really feel no desire to repair our relationship I just want to go on with my life with my mom family I honestly can say I just don’t want to deal with him and he is basically a stranger to me. P.S. I’m sixteen going on seventeen and i feel know point having court state him as my father. What do you say about how I feel?

  60. I found my way here because I just signed up to take Jon’s class and your recommendation was impressive. Thought I’d check out what you’re up to.

    Great post– and perfect timing since I’m about to give a talk for a career development group called Relationships Matter at Home and At Work.

    Also impressed at the “passion” of your follower’s comments!

    Looking forward to seeing what else you’re posting about.

    • On
    • March 28, 2014 at 5:10 am
    • TheMaskedMarvyl
    • Said...

    I feel torn by this article. The title, especially, “Why I Fired my Father (and maybe you should too)”, sounds cold. However, sometimes becoming cold becomes the only way you can survive. Telling your child that their birth “ruined your marriage”? Imagine being told by your dad as a child that your being born ruined his relationship with your mom.

    My father was a veteran of Vietnam who was gone for most of my early childhood and came back an alcoholic; he was a stranger; a scary, large, violent bully, who enjoyed hurting his children and wife, my mother, emotionally. His only solution to any problem was to break it, or to not listen to it. He proceeded to suck the life, color and happiness out of our entire family, and it still wasn’t enough for him. He was only happy if he knew he was hurting you. My mother, instead of leaving him, covered up for him and explained that he “really didn’t mean” what he said or what he did to us, which covered up the abuse and allowed it to continue.
    I have no happy childhood memories beyond the age of seven, and only became barely functional as a person in my 30s, as I had learned the only way to survive was to be a completely passive punching bag as a kid, as any fighting back was met with an emotional beatdown, and sometimes physical abuse. My mother kept us in this prison, as she felt powerless herself to escape it.
    I’m in my 40s now, but have the emotional functionality of a teenager. I feel my youth and early adulthood were stolen from me by my father’s insanity and continual abuse, which never satisfied him. If I had run away as a child and lived on the streets my whole life, I would have been much better off and more functional than I am now.

    Sometimes cutting off ties isn’t a matter of firing someone; it’s about survival. I have a feeling the author left out a lot of her story, and that using the word “firing” was a mild, humorous term for letting go of (and escaping from) someone who was sucking the life out her.

    • On
    • April 5, 2014 at 9:16 pm
    • Suzanne
    • Said...

    I completely get this. My father has always been verbally abusive towards myself and my mom, although I have always taken the brunt of the abuse. I was an honors student (throughout grade school) and have a Bachelor’s degree. I have a great job, and I have been in numerous leadership roles over the years. No matter what I did, my brother was always the golden-child to my father. My brother can do no wrong in my father’s eyes. For the past couple of years my father has taken to making criticizing remarks about my parenting skills. My daughter is 8, and she is intelligent, well-rounded, curious, and just a sweet girl. My friends would be horrified to know that anyone thought I was a bad parent. You’d just have to meet my daughter once to know that that is far from the truth.

    My dad has something similar to ALS (but not a death sentence that ALS is). My mom was just diagnosed with breast cancer. Because my mom is my father’s main caregiver, he is scared about what is going to happen with mom. As a result he has been double the jerk he normally is…and unfortunately it is mostly directed at me.

    I’ve usually ignored him in order to keep the peace and not stress out my mom. I’m realizing though that I simply can’t continue to do this. I don’t want my daughter continuing to see this and think this is normal and acceptable behavior.

    So as I said, I completely get where you are caring from. I don’t think anyone “wants” to have nothing to do with a parent, but sometimes I do think it is necessary. Those who are horrified by this obviously haven’t been in such a situation. No one should be.

    Thanks for sharing.

    • On
    • April 12, 2014 at 1:35 am
    • The Last Straw With My Dad
    • Said...

    Stumbled upon this while Googling “my dad is an asshole”. There was always a part of me that felt bad for my father. My mom is disabled and rude/bitchy and consequently he was stressed too. But even before she became ill, my father was the king of complaining. ANYTHING could be made negative if “Big John” (as I like to call him) got word of it.
    “Hey dad I just got into a great university” “Yeah son, but there are a lot of smart people there and you probably wont do as well as them”, as he said in many forms throughout my life. I ended up top of my class in my major (aeronautical engineering), by the way.

    And lets not forget his excuses. My father is the biggest god damn excuse factory this side of the country. “God damn it I am so out of shape” he yells after throwing up from eating too much. I kid you not, my dad is such a damn slob…he throws up from eating too fast on a weekly basis. So I say to him “well come to the gym with me” or “I brought you a two month membership to the gym for Christmas Dad.”God fucking damn it why the hell did you do that???” or “My knees hurt, its too expensive, its too far, I have no time…” he replies with his same old BS excuses.

    Now allow me to describe the few moments where he has thrown things at me or attempted to get in fist fights with me. In his state of rage he forgets I am much stronger than him and I have quick reflexes, so I block his blows. I don’t hit him back though. Id like to hit him, but that would make me dumb and childish, like he is. You know when I was a child he threw my underwear full of poop in my face because I had an accident? I was 6 or 7.

    And his sense of humor. Yes, yes he can be very funny – at someone’s (my) expense of course. Just recently he made a condescending remark to waitress that I am 24 and he is “supporting my ass” neglecting to include that I just landed a very lucrative job and am currently waiting for a start date. The waitress just replied that the comment was “unnecessary”.

    And despite my dads total douchebag behavior, I have moved on from most of it, except for this last thing: his disgusting favoritism towards my sister at my expense. To this day I wonder why he treated me like such shit and my sister like gold. Anything she did wrong he had an excuse for. Anything. If a teacher gave her a bad grade he would set up meeting with them and complain until the grade was changed. This worked at least twice to my knowledge. My sister was an untouchable example of perfection in his eyes.

    When I was 6 or 7 years old I remember trying to make chocolate milk from regular milk with the cheap powdered mix. Being naïve, I poured the powder into the gallon jug (lol) instead of in a glass. When my father saw that, I don’t remember him yelling (he may have as that is his only talent) but I will never forget the look he gave me. It scream “die” to me and I will never forget it.

    But today, I have had it. I completely give up helping him. He had a catheterization yesterday afternoon. The doctor found undiscovered blockage and his procedure took two hours instead of the expected 30 minutes. After the procedure I sat with him and felt we were really bonding, until today. I go on his facebook and see a huge paragraph dictating his “bad luck” and how painful it was. I do not dispute that it was painful, but to have the god damn balls to say he was “unlucky” after the doctor found and successfully removed the blockages and let him go the next morning, letting him know his heart was healthy in all other respect. All I could thing to myself was “that self-loathing bastard”. I told him in front of his friends to quit complaining and grow up. I told him to be thankful the operation was a success and he did not have any complications.

    Well let me tell you, that hit a trigger right in his head. He called me up screaming and yelling (I left to visit a friend), threatening to kick me out of the house if I didn’t get a start date soon, threatened to take the car, smash my laptop and “throw my new printer out the window”. Yes, the window, like a cartoon character…I always knew in the back of my mind that he liked it better when I failed. That comment about my job really resonated that point.

    I didn’t argue with him. I simply put him on speaker so my friend could hear and told him that he has no excuse because he is 75lbs overweight, does not eat right, nor exercises and he has no argument.

    So angry at my father and so confused. I wish I had a father that was normal. I wish I could help him, but he needs to take charge of his life and responsibility for himself. As soon as I move out I wont associate with him anymore, but right now I have no place to go until I get that start date.

      • On
      • April 14, 2014 at 11:07 pm
      • Amber
      • Said...

      I am so sorry you are going through this. I stumbled across this blog as well. Typing in my dad is an asshole. That’s exactly what I thought of him. My story is long but yours is worse than mine. Congrats to you on your degree!!!! You also have a job lined up. Most are begging for work right now. You are a bigger man in a sense compared to your Father because like you said, you want to hit him but you don’t. He has to be acting out in anger only because he is so unhappy with himself. You are accomplishing what he can’t or hasn’t??? My thoughts are with you and in the end you are the bigger person which also means you are a better man!!! God bless you and your future! You keep your head up!!!!!

      • On
      • October 14, 2014 at 9:14 am
      • LS
      • Said...

      To the last straw….I understand where you’re coming from. My parents never encouraged me and made me feel like dirt while treating my beautiful sister well.

      I allowed it to shape my feelings and actions throughout the first part of my life. To this day, I still struggle with the feeling that I’m never good enough.

      Recently, my mother died and I took very good care of her in the final days, although she scarcely could care a bit about me or what I was. When she was frustrated, she would tell me how bad I was. This is the same thing with my father. They stopped their relationship and observations with me when I was about 19. Nothing else I have done since matters.

      I could go on and on about who I have become and what I’ve done but it’s irrelevant. What exists now is only what I want and need but there is still the issue of my father. He pushes my offers of help away. He makes it clear that he despises me. He hisses insults into my face. You can see how frustrated he becomes when he is talking to me. But my sister is another story. He adores my sister and her husband, despite every evil thing they do and say. I know what you’re thinking. You’re probably thinking they deserve each other and to step away.

      I have taken inventory now since my mother died. Some awful things happened around her death involving my sister and father and they proved to me what they thought of me and my mother. I still maintained that calm and kind exterior, although angry inside.

      Lately, I can’t hide it anymore. I don’t want people in my life that hurt me. I don’t want people in my life that hate me. I don’t want to be someone’s doormat and to cry as I drive home from yet, another disastrous visit. I have a couple of people I have to let go that I do love but are hurting me. This is the most difficult thing I have ever done. I don’t want to turn my back on my father. I don’t know if I’m afraid that he will need me or what people will say. I’ve built my last decades on being the dependable and successful one and this is very hard for me.

      • LS, I don’t know if you’ll read this. But maybe one way to feel better about this is to realize that other family members can choose to end a relationship without ever using those words. When people abuse us, when people hiss insults into our face or hurt us in other ways, they are essentially choosing to end the familial bond. You don’t have to feel like this is your fault, that you haven’t tried enough. A healthy relationship requires two people trying to make it work. If you are giving, giving, giving and not getting the love and support in return, perhaps you can acknowledge that they are the ones ending the relationship. You don’t have to hold on if you don’t want to. Once you let go of the obligation for a relationship that no longer exists, you can begin your own healing process, which allows you to see that there are many forms of love in the world, and you don’t have to rely solely on the one you were handed at birth. I hope this helps a little bit. I understand the angst and doubt you are feeling right now. I hope you are able to find the peace, love, and acceptance that you surely deserve. Hugs.

          • On
          • December 2, 2014 at 7:26 am
          • LS
          • Said...


          I am honored that you answered me. I am a fan of your work. I actually took one of your intro courses about finding what makes you happy at work and I am doing the right job after all. Thank you for taking time out of your crazy schedule to show you care.


    • On
    • April 19, 2014 at 12:20 pm
    • alex
    • Said...

    First of all no one can judge you.Only God can.I admire you being brave enough for putting yourself and your psychological health first with your decision.I am in the same situation all my life.I am 35 now ,married ,with a 4 year old child.I still have not managed to put an end of that situation with my father that is causing me problems with my husband and my kid.I do not live with my family since I was 20 ,I never asked anything from them since than ,but my father still treats me like I am under his roof with his rules.The feeling of insecurity and not being approved when I am around him makes me so sick,stressed,I can not even take care of my kid.Not to mention he is using rude words towards my husband and even in front of his parents.That is so sick.He thinks he is always right and if you want to tell your opinion it will end up in yelling etc.I am so unhappy around him.I can not function normal anymore.I do not know what to do anymore.I do feel sorry for him sometimes,but I think the relationship with him is ruining my entire life:can not get close with my husband,if my kid does something wrong I react more intense than normal,I can not study for my exams,I do not feel like going out and have fun…..simply it makes me so unhappy that I struggle not to fall in depression….

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    • On
    • July 10, 2014 at 5:46 am
    • Ken
    • Said...

    Well done. I did the same today. Take care of yourself, you have to live with you 24/7!!!! :)

    • On
    • July 10, 2014 at 5:48 am
    • Ken
    • Said...

    Also, you might want to google ‘codependency’ and / or ‘narcissism’…

  62. I dont know about Americans, Europeans but here in Asia and specially the people who are religious as well, are confronting this situation a lot, as their religion insists on taking care of their parents, even if they are very rude and pave hurdles on their way…
    I am agree with you…it the main reason of one failure is the situation which described.

    • This is a really good comment, Sayed. Culture is a huge factor and not easily overcome. All the factors have to be weighed when making a decision like this.

      • On
      • October 14, 2015 at 2:18 pm
      • John Narayan
      • Said...

      Very true many people abuse religion as an excuse to abuse others.

    • On
    • November 25, 2014 at 6:34 pm
    • sharon
    • Said...

    I try to live by 3 spiritual principals – love of God,
    love of self, love of others. when I get these priorities out of order, I suffer the consequences. The family I’m born into is a wonderful teacher. They help me to grow along spiritual lines. They help me experience the pain that gets my attention and enables me to grow. Sometimes,
    growing has meant going…walking away…not with resentment but, with acceptance and peace.

    • On
    • January 19, 2015 at 3:02 pm
    • Michele
    • Said...

    Hi Jen, Thank you for writing that story and sharing it. I get this. I’m somewhere between having fired my dad and having been disowned by him. My sister was disowned and I took her side. I’m fairly certain that my half-sisters don’t know that I and my sister exist. They are 26+ years younger and live far away. I don’t know the right thing to say to them or when to contact them. Any ideas? I’d like to not meet them for the first time at his funeral, but I am not sure contacting them is a good idea. It’s the same sad story. He was abusive, mentally and physically, to our mom (cheated on her their entire marriage too), to his own sisters and to us. Worse though, his job was to serve and protect. I explained this all to my son, (8) when he wanted to know why I call my step-dad by his name and not “Dad.” I know my son does not totally understand, but I feel good for having explained it when he asked, rather than hiding from the past. Again, great post. I’m going to read more. Thanks again!

    • On
    • February 20, 2015 at 3:08 am
    • Said...

    That was a hard story actually… Indeed, to do that it takes lots of guts and courage, but I would also add, that no matter how successful we become, no matter how much we prosper in our lives, we will always owe it to our parents.


    Because if it wasn’t for them, we wouldn’t exist on this planet.. therefore, nor would our goals, career and every other aspect of our live.

    And yet, it is our duty to take full responsibility for ourselves and choose what mission to pursue.

    I’ll always be grateful to my parents to matter what.

    Thanks for sharing your personal experience. I actually took some valuable advice from it!

    • On
    • March 28, 2015 at 10:51 am
    • Christina
    • Said...

    Thank you for sharing. I have been dealing with the same thing with my father, and I am still working up the courage for the day I can tell him I’m moving on. I did this once before, at the age of 13 I told my dad I didnt want to see him and my mom got custody after an abusive incident. I rarely saw him throughout my highschool career and then due to a majir setback I ended up moving in with him at the age of 21. The psycological abuse has become progressively worse, and at age 23 I am just now on my feet enough to finally leave and get my own place (which is embarassing to admit, but things happen). I hope when I leave that I can leave for good. Maybe he will decide to seek help one day, but I am learning that it is not my job to try and change him. It is my job to love and care for myself.
    thanks again for sharing

    • On
    • October 12, 2015 at 4:00 pm
    • moopy derpface
    • Said...

    lol all ze flame wars

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    • On
    • December 7, 2015 at 12:13 pm
    • WakingUp
    • Said...

    Reading these posts makes me realize that my situation isn’t isolated. I just turned 55, and even in the autumn of life nothing has changed concerning father-son dynamics.

    I so wish that I could share advice to make things better, to say the thing that makes it all make sense, but the reality is if there is only one person trying to make that change it simply wont work.

    The more ‘You let this fester the more of a douche you become’ has been the observation of the one person that I haven’t driven away through my progressively worse assholishness. Sadly I’m even driving myself away if that makes any sense.

    Know that if you continue down this road of an abusive relationship that you yourself will eventually become abusive, sometimes to others, sometimes to yourself. If you drink or do drugs to make it better, it wont. You are wearing out your body much faster doing that.

    If its all you can think about, if this consumes you, know that you need to take a break once in a while from trying to make sense of it. Much time is spent wondering why things are as they are, why don’t they see it for what it is, so much soulsearching. Take a break. Zone out on menial focus. I’ve been wondering for over 40 years and I’m still no closer but I have discovered that I am a decent musician.

    Its is a sad thing, I feel for all of you. There is nothing that fosters success, that grounds you to this planet, that gives you a sense of team player like a solid family foundation. Unfortunately that has been denied to many of us, whether on purpose or by chance. So take the strength in knowing that a stranger roots for you, that you are not alone.