Adapted from a recent online discussion.
DEAR CAROLYN: Four months ago, my mother died unexpectedly and suddenly at 53. She had been ill (with my dad as caretaker) but was expected to make a full recovery.
Two months later my dad was going out on “dates” with a few women — bike rides and coffee. He acknowledged it was too early but was asked and wanted to get out of the house. I was supportive.
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Now he has started to call a couple by their first names, and the dates are less casual. He seems to be seeing these women several times per week.
I understand my dad is lonely and is an adult without minor children. But I can’t help but feel perturbed by this; it feels like too much too quickly.
Additionally, he has completely eschewed any grief counseling (I haven’t pushed it — he complains that his doctors keep bringing it up). I haven’t said anything negative, though I do try to change the subject after I say something like, “Well, that sounds fun.”
Is this something I need to come to terms with on my own, or is there a non-hurtful way to ask him to stop mentioning any women unless it gets serious? I don’t want to cut myself off emotionally, but his talking about “Kathy” baking him cake is surprisingly upsetting.
— Quiet Daughter?
DEAR QUIET DAUGHTER?: I’m sorry about your mom — what an awful shock.
Your dad is dating “too much, too quickly” for you — and that makes it something you can’t ask your father to fix, no matter how understandable your discomfort is. You’re both still grieving and you’re both doing so in your own ways, which is fine. The problem is only that your ways conflict.
You don’t say whether you’ve gotten any grief counseling yourself, but if you haven’t, then please do. A support group is ideal for talking about your discomfort openly, and might remove the pressure you feel to say something to your dad.
As you’ll probably hear from others at such a session (readers mention it just about every time this subject comes up), widow(er)s who jump into dating often are the ones who most enjoyed their marriages; they’re motivated to find that kind of happiness again.
No one can replace what your father shared with your mother, of course, but I suspect most aren’t in it for that. It’s more the feeling of loving and being loved that they seek. Plus, even survivors of the happiest of marriages aren’t immune to the head-rush of new love; our humanity trumps all. Embracing that might sweeten your disposition toward cake-bearing Kathies.
RE: KATHIES: Possible just to be open and honest with your dad? “You+Mom has been all I’ve known all my life, and dealing with losing Mom and then having You+Other People at the same time is a lot for me. I love you and I just want you to understand what’s going on for me, instead of hiding it from you. Please don’t take this as my asking you to stop doing anything, just understand if sometimes I can’t be enthusiastic about it right then or seem kind of reserved.”
DEAR ANONYMOUS: This is an excellent Plan B, thanks — best saved for when a sincere effort at Plan A, acceptance, falls short.