Her dad tells her his secrets

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

About 5 years ago when i was just 16, my father confided in me that he was secretly married to another woman and had had already had two children with her (it’s not uncommon for muslim men in the UAE to have more than one wife). Ever since he told me his “secret” i have felt so guilty because i love my mom and i’m keeping this secret from her, when she should know. I have thought about telling her, but i don’t want to be the one to ruin the family. That, and i’m scared of my dad because, well he’s a scary guy (a whole different subject on the abuse and unfair treatment).

My older sister already left claiming that my dad had sexually abused her (which i don’t believe because it’s not like a sexual abuser to target one child only and i’ve never been abused that way, just physical.)

My dad confides in me, all the time. He hasn’t hit me lately, maybe he’s afraid that i’ll snap and tell my mom? I know that the other children exist because he had me listen to one of his phone conversations and i also saw some pictures. He thinks that i’m the good one, the one that won’t leave and the one that won’t tell secrets. But i want to tell. All the time, he tells me, “that one day he’ll tell mama, but he just doesn’t want to hurt her.”

What am i supposed to do? What can I do? It’s breaking me apart, i’m so emotional all the time, i cry for no reason whatsoever. I don’t want my mama to be mad at me for keeping such a big secret and for being the one to tell her.

A: Your father should be ashamed for putting you in such a terrible position. You have very good reasons to be upset. No child, no matter what the age, should have to choose between parents like this. Let me remind you that you are not the one who is “ruining” the family. Your father has made a choice that he knows will bring unhappiness to your mom. That is not your fault. Your mom knows what kind of man she is married to. It’s unlikely she will blame you for holding a secret because you are afraid.

I’m very concerned for your safety. You are mistaken in believing that abusers won’t target only one child. Sometimes they move from one child to another. Now that your sister has left, your father seems to be cultivating a relationship with you. He separates you from your mom by both “confiding” in you and by scaring you. Please listen to your sister and learn what he did to her so that you can protect yourself if you need to.

Whether or not your mother knows of the other family, she already does know that her husband is a violent man and that he probably molested your sister and that he mistreated you. She may be as afraid to confront him as you are. I don’t know enough about your country to know how to advise you. I hope there is an older relative or friend you can turn to who can help. In the meantime, please keep yourself safe.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 25 Jan 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). Her dad tells her his secrets. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 18, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/01/25/her-dad-tells-her-his-secrets/