From the U.S.: I have finally come to terms that no matter how much I want to pretend it was a dream, or that I made it up in my head, or that he some other non-sexual reason for doing it, my father sexually abused me as a child. I have the emotional tools to deal with this. He is older and is beginning to show signs of dementia. As difficult as this is, I, once again, have the emotional tools necessary to deal with this.

As any father will do, he is trying to emotionally reach out to me in his older years. I do not hate him for what happened and I do not think he is a bad man. In fact, I very much respect him in many ways. Yet, I cannot bring myself to reach back. I hate to touch or hug him. I hate telling him any details of my personal life. I feel as though this is understandable.

However. My father worked very hard to provide for me. He is a respected retired doctor and I have always been privileged because of the upper-middle class wealth he has accumulated. To this day, at 28 years old, I live in a house that my parents essentially paid for, I drive a car they bought, they pay for my insurance, and so on.

I judge myself for accepting this privileged way of life without returning an emotional bond my father desires so much. As stated above, he is getting older and senile and he is aware of this.

My question is this: Am I damaging myself, my father, my family by accepting this lifestyle?

A: That’s a question better asked of a therapist who can hear your whole story. These situations are often very, very complicated — because people are very, very complicated. Your father both abused you and supported you. You continue to benefit from the life he gives you. It is often difficult for people in your situation to sort out their feelings and obligations in the present when there has been a difficult past.

You report that you have the emotional resources to deal with both the past abuse and your father’s dementia. That says to me that you also have the emotional resources to deal with the complexity of holding both gratitude and hurt. I think you would find it very helpful to talk to a therapist about how to do that in a way that has integrity.

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie