Carolyn Hax: Mom fears regret for keeping son from her abusive father

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Adapted from an online discussion.

Dear Carolyn: I’m struggling with potential regret regarding my father.

Growing up involved physical and verbal abuse from him. I got screamed at for the most minor things: answering the phone “too loudly,” or having an inflection in my tone that he didn’t approve of, etc. I once got smacked across the face for putting up holiday decorations because my father thought I left my toys out, and another time for forgetting to turn off a light. I left home as soon as I was able.

For a while, I tried to maintain an “adult” relationship with him, but his verbal abuse, yelling and gaslighting continued until I finally decided to cut off all contact in my 30s.

I’m now in my mid-40s, and being free from my father has been the best decision I’ve ever made. However, I also have an 8-year-old who has only seen his maternal grandfather once, from afar, and has never spent any time with him. No holidays, no birthdays, nothing.

While I’m sure I made the right decision for myself to have nothing to do with my father … how do I determine if I am making the right decision for my son? Both sets of his grandparents are still alive. Will I regret my decision to keep my father away from my son, even if he’s not a good person? For what it’s worth, my father hasn’t expressed a desire to get to know my son, but he keeps trying to offer money and gifts through my mom.

— Never “Daddy’s Little Girl”

Never “Daddy’s Little Girl”: What benefit do you think your son would get out of knowing his grandfather?

That’s the question you need to answer, and then that answer would have to outweigh the answer to the other question, what harm would there be to your son knowing his grandfather? The harm to you is included, since that harms your child in its own ways.

On the pros-and-cons chart, the “cons” column looks full to me, and it’s hard to imagine a benefit that would outweigh it. Screaming, hitting, and gaslighting are a serious set of emotional crimes.

Yes, sometimes parents behave horrifically under the pressures of raising young children — not to excuse it, just to explain — and then mellow into decent, if not great, grandparents. But you’re describing someone who started out awful and stayed that way.

So I’m not sure where the possible regret would come from in protecting your son, especially given that you’re now finally protecting yourself. Maybe his gifts are confusing you, but you can file them under “gaslighting.”

If it remains a nagging question, then please run the issue by a therapist before you let your son near your dad.

· I kept very limited contact with my parents. Although I was vigilant in making sure my child was never abused, my child did see how my parents treated me. They know, they see. They’ll make informed decisions. My child has expressed gratitude that I’ve broken the cycle.

· My dad’s father was emotionally abusive, and loved to parade us about to show his friends what a good guy he was. He died when I was a preteen and all I felt was relief. It broke my heart to see my kind, decent father try to win his family’s love over and over. Don’t put your child through that. Find other, positive elders he can have a relationship with.

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