Absentee parenting

My brother is a lousy dad to his 14-year-old daughter. He divorced her mother about 10 years ago and married a woman with three young children. He behaves as if his own daughter is a stepchild. He rarely makes time to see or call her. He complains that she doesn’t talk to him when they are together and uses this as an excuse not to see her. She tells me that she doesn’t know what to say because he never remembers anything she shares from one time to another and doesn’t ask about her life. He only talks about his stepchildren. Also, he is late on his child-support payments, if he even makes them. What can I do? My niece needs a dad.

Your niece needs a mature adult male who understands the rigors and responsibilities of parenting and who has the capacity to love without expecting love in return. But, by your description, your brother is infected with a textbook case of adolescence: He’s focused on his need for attention to the exclusion of the needs of others. Confront him. Don’t be dismayed by the word “confront.” It’s not a license to attack. It simply means to talk face to face—in other words, to talk without the masks we wear to avoid being open, vulnerable and genuine.

To prepare for this conversation, clean up the attitudes and actions in yourself that resemble your brother’s behavior. For example, when you begin a new chapter of your life, do you work to ensure that you bring friends from the last chapter forward with you? Also, when do you treat relatives like strangers? What payments do you consistently make late? The payment in the last question could be financial, emotional or physical. If you are consistently late in expressing gratitude, if you pledge to support a nonprofit organization but then fail to send in your check, if you promise yourself that you will have fun but never schedule it, or if you believe you should not have to pay for past choices, you are engaged in a variation of the behavior you abhor in your brother. Stand on this common ground and from this perspective of compassion, talk to him. Not about what a bad father he is, but about the better father he needs to be.

One of my best friends got married last year. His wife forbade him to see me because he was my boyfriend years ago. I was not invited to the wedding. He says that his wife is jealous, but there is no reason to be. I just miss my friend. Do you think I should invite them to dinner? I think that if she knew me, she would feel comfortable with me.

She might be comfortable with you, unless, of course, she’s jealous. Then, breaking bread could add heat to her hysteria. So, while I can commiserate about losing a good friend, I urge you to respect that your friend has died to the single life. He is obligated, as a partner, to make decisions that address his partner’s needs and concerns as well as his own. In a solid marriage, the couple each has close friends, but none of these companions should breach the intimacy formed within the marriage bond.

The other issue, of course, is that you were not invited to the wedding. So, you must accept that you are part of your friend’s past life and not his new one. Please understand that I am not saying that his wife should feel good about her jealousy, but rather that her needs should supersede yours, since you are a former girlfriend and not, for example, his child.

Meditation of the Week

Have you seen the TV show <i>Desperate Housewives</i>? It’s like the gal pals from <i>Sex and the City</i> gone mad in suburbia as a result of continually making poor choices. Henry David Thoreau’s insight about people living “lives of quiet desperation” has permeated mainstream culture. Are you ready to opt out of the drama and live another way?