How do you reach an empty person?

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I grew up in a wonderful family with two loving parents. My parents raised four children, three of us over twenty and the youngest brother is fourteen. During my childhood, my father was always my best friend and my hero. We spent countless hours together and are very close. I have since grown up and married, but still thank God for the amazing childhood i was blessed with.

Two weeks ago my dad told my mom he no longer had feelings for her. He said he could no longer love her and he would be a better father if he was not at home. He said he was unhappy and needed a change to be happy. This was a total bombshell. No one saw this coming. Neither did my two older siblings when my dad told them. They immediately went into shock and did not know what to do. I was told a week after my siblings. Since then we have been in a non-stop battle getting my dad to try to love our mom and family again and let us fill him with happiness.

To understand this situation a person must know my father. He came from a large family in the Midwest. He bought into a struggling business in 25 years ago and has since become independently wealthy with nothing more than hard work, a two week college education and a little luck. He has always been a model family man. He spent every night at home and always made sure to attend his children’s sporting events, no matter how busy he was. But he now spends much of his evenings away from home, even though my 14 year old brother is still growing up. He has always been a very frugal man, living life without many frills. But in the past couple years he has changed his spending habits. What our family assumed was him enjoying his success now appears to be his attempts to buy happiness.

He appears so hollow and dead to the world. He tells us he does not want to try to make our family work. We are trying anything to help him realize what he will miss. We are trying to let him know we can help make him happy.

We need advice about how to get through to him. Please give us some guidance on how we can convince him to give our family a try.

Thanks.

A: I’m sure this has been a terrible shock to all of you. Your dad isn’t dead to the world. He is depressed. Like many people, he has worked real hard and reached a point of transition in his life. Unfortunately, the term “midlife crisis” is often made into jokes. It’s not. It’s a very real time of taking stock and asking “Is this all there is?” For some people, radical change seems to be the only way to answer the question. The enormity of that idea often leads people to depression.

There is absolutely nothing you can do or say to argue your father out of his position. What you can do is be compassionate about how confused and sad and hopeless he feels. All of you can let him know how much you love and appreciate him. Instead of trying to talk him out of his plan, let him know that you understand that he must feel really, really desperate to throw over everything he has worked so hard for. Love him. Get by your anger and love him. He is in crisis.

Talk to your family doctor about getting your dad in for an appointment. Sometimes midlife depression is the result of illness. You want to make sure he is medically okay. If so, then see if he would be willing to be treated for his depression. A combination of medication and some talk therapy is usually the best approach. From what you say, he is an honorable man. You could try asking him to give therapy an honest try for a few months before he makes a final decision. Let him know you will all be sad but will respect his decision if he still wants out.

Be there for your mother. She needs you. You and your siblings can fold her into your families’ love and help her with raising your younger brother. You’ll also need to work on coming to terms with having a different relationship with your dad. Regardless of how he is currently behaving, he has been exemplary for many years. That may have gone underground for now but it isn’t gone. If he does stay this course, you will all need to find a way to stay connected to him even though you don’t approve of his choices.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

Photo

 

 

Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 4 Jul 2011

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2011). How do you reach an empty person?. Psych Central. Retrieved on July 25, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2011/07/04/how-do-you-reach-an-empty-person/