On being manipulated by your father

I’m in university. My father just visited and surprised me at dinner saying he wants to take me to Paris and the Swiss Alps this summer. However, my mother, who hates him, has told me before that he’s an impulsive spender, we’re in severe debt and the IRS is going to come after him soon.

I have a genuine love for traveling, but also 2 younger siblings and a pervasive sense of guilt. (My dad has a drinking problem that will be tough to deal with on the trip too.) What to do?


Sorry, but you can’t go on the trip. Sure, Paris and the Swiss Alps sound wonderful, but you can’t vacation at the expense of the rest of your family. You already know that deep down. You know it was a rotten thing for him to offer, and you know better than to allow your father to make you his accomplice.

It sucks when you have to be the adult because your parents are acting like children, but sometimes that’s how it goes. And not to put too fine a point on it, but in addition to the obvious parent/child role reversal, there’s some wife/daughter role reversal going on here as well. (I don’t mean that in a creepy way. More in a Freudian way as further evidence of the super unhealthy relationship triangle between you, your mom, and your dad.)

Make the adult decision and politely decline. If you want to say no to your father in a way that won’t come back on you, tell him you’d love to go, but only if your siblings can come too and he promises not to drink. (He’ll pretend it’s a lovely idea, but the trip will never happen, and he won’t be able to manipulate you with any guilt.)


21 thoughts on “On being manipulated by your father

  1. Mango says:

    I highly recommend not getting involved with your parents’ shit. Your mother shouldn’t be telling you about the deep shit your dad is in, and he shouldn’t be pulling you along for his wild ride. Every time they start talking trash about each other, flat out tell them you do not want to hear any of it, and walk away. I had to start doing this when I was as young as twelve, and now nearing thirty, I haven’t had to be an unwilling accomplice in their garbage in a decade.

    You don’t need to be part of that, and each time you hear more, it hurts your freedom to love them separately and in a healthy way.

    • Sat says:

      I’ve learned this the hard way. Last time my mom tried to include us in their relationship issues, I checked out for like two weeks and have never asked again about it because I don’t fucking care. My younger sister worries so much about them and I’m trying to help her stay out of it for her own sake.

      • Mango says:

        My sister hasn’t stayed out of it, either. She hates our mother (who is a despicable human being, yes), but a lot of that hatred came from how much my father and stepmother hate her. Your sister needs to just go through the experience like you did, because that’s the only real way for her to figure it out. You don’t want to become another voice in her head that makes her add blame to you later.

        My sister sees the truth of our mother on her own, but it’s only now being formed without help from others. And while she should cut our mother from her life, it’s like a mob mentality in their household. Instead of actively hating my mother, they should accept she isn’t changing and move on. I feel that my sister would have a healthier relationship with my father if it wasn’t built on hatred for another person. It’s also a convenient hatred, because it glosses over all of the terrible things my father has done in the past.

    • Alicia says:

      I wish I had read this comment a decade ago. I know it now, but I needed to hear it then (and during all the time in between). Spot on.

    • K says:

      I’m the one who wrote the original question. I went to therapy this past summer and was told exactly what you said. It’s easier said than done when the cycle has gone on for years, but I’ve been trying – starting with my mom.

      Thank you (to both you and Coquette) because it never hurts to hear it again. And I’m so happy for you that you’ve been out of it for so long.

      I hope your sister finds peace too, just like I hope my sister and brother do.

      • CynicalGrey says:

        Best of luck. I am sorry you are being emotionally manipulated into your parent’s issues; I experienced drunken offerings for cars and other things in my teens and early twenties. It was hard and hardened my heart against my grandmother, and with time, grief, and therapy, I was able to work through that hurt. I can get a sense of where you are coming from, and it sounds like you have your head quite on your shoulders. Thanks for asking a hard question that many of us needed to hear.

      • Mango says:

        I’m so glad you’re working through it, and with a therapist. It’s always easier said than done, but helps when you repeat it to yourself. “I am not part of their problem. I will not be part of their problem.” I sympathize over how long it took; it took me years to get out of it, and I still get irritated when I occasionally hear about it.

        And on that note – you can still be hurt or upset when you hear it, so don’t feel like you aren’t progressing if that happens. The real improvement is walking away, no matter how it feels. Stay strong, OP. You are already miles ahead of the curve and in a better place just by asking the question.

  2. Strangely Rational says:

    If you’re looking for travel opportunities, you might see what programs your university offers.

    I went to Italy for a six-week college semester over the summer. I got no help from my parents, but I did get a partial scholarship, a little money from my grandparents, and filled in the rest with a part-time job. Sure, it was more costly than a regular college semester, but not as much more as I expected, and the experience was invaluable.

    The best part of it by far was the ability to develop independence. It was the scariest but most exhilarating thing I’d done, learning to navigate a foreign city in a language I didn’t know initially (one of my classes was, of course, learning Italian). By the end, I had started feeling like it was home.

    If you can swing it, I highly recommend it.

  3. Kat says:

    I’m in the alnost exact same situation except my dad has a drinking & gambling problem and I’m going to college this fall and have to take out major student loans that I have no idea how to pay. We had a great life and my dad has a great job but he’s on the verge of being fired bc he can only hide it for so long. My mom is leaving him after he made them lose everything and it’s the toughest thing she’s ever done because there’s nothing left. My mom is moving me and my sibs to a rental apt. I admire her so much for being strong and realizing she was co dep. I only know everything because I see what is happening right in front of my face – only a blind person wouldn’t know who made our family lose everything. If my mom didn’t tell me the truth when I asked her I would be even more screwed up because my dad used to hide his addiction pretty well but as you get older you see the truth. She breaks down and cries in her room and tries to hide her sadness but there’s only so much suffering I can see her doing.

    I love my dad always but have lost all respect for him and won’t be sucked into his crazy schemes anymore.

    • PolicyChick says:

      I’m sorry this is happening to you – but it sounds like you, your siblings and especially your Mom are being strong and taking care. Good luck.

    • Anna says:

      I read this comment a couple of hours ago and I keep thinking about it. I’m sorry for what your family is going through. Hopefully this transition will lead to happier and more stable times. You need to focus on yourself right now, you’re approaching what will probably be some of the weirdest years of your life. Not that you’re life doesn’t seem complicated as is, but adulthood is about to make it even crazier. Being loyal to your family doesn’t have to include feeling overly responsible for your family.
      I understand how painful it is to see your mom cry (well not yours specifically, but you know what I mean). Unfortunately you’re in a situation where you can’t do much to help, so I’d suggest just be there.
      What you can do is help yourself. If you’re going to college with financial help from your parents, get some kind of financial counseling to elaborate a back up plan. Organize your debt responsibly but don’t fret too much, most college degrees remain a worthwhile investment, and while student debt is a huge financial burden it is a manageable one.
      Also take care of yourself.

    • K says:

      I didn’t go into too much detail when I asked the question, but your situation pretty much exactly mirrors mine, except the apartment will come later (but inevitably). My dad has his own business, which is crumbling; my mother is leaving him, after years of pain and deliberation in which I constantly watched her cry; I didn’t fully realize what was going on until I was older. My younger siblings aren’t as sheltered as I was, and it’s hitting them pretty fucking hard.

      What I have to stress to you, though, even as I struggle with it right now, is to enter your first year at college without guilt. You are allowed to feel happy to be away from this terribly sad situation. Your family will miss you, and you’ll miss them, but you’ll see them on breaks. Let school be the place where you can act as young as you actually are for once – I’m a lot healthier and happier here than I was at home.

      • Mango says:

        Amazing advice, seriously. No guilt when you go off to university, and moving out is a MUST if you want to remove yourself from being dragged under. Also just letting yourself feel what you need to feel is so important.

        I should add to my first comment, I don’t ever advocate parents hiding everything from their kids and plastering on a happy face. It sounds like Kat, your mother is an incredibly strong woman doing what she needs to do, and allowing your father’s shortcomings to reveal themselves naturally. She is right not to hide where he’s gone wrong. She’s allowing you guys to understand the situation as you see it, seeing that she’s human, without sweeping things under the carpet or trashing him. Because alternatively to trash talking, you don’t want to grow up pretending everything is fine. That’s how shit gets suppressed and suffering is almost worst, because at least explosions are honest. At least there is room to talk.

        It’s wonderful what your mom is doing, and letting you see the truth without putting it or any biases there is the best way to keep your life a healthy one. Best of luck to you both, and so much love.

    • CynicalGrey says:

      I want to echo everyone’s comments here and add not to forget technical schools! Don’t feel pressured to get a 4 year degree just because you believe you should. Honestly consider what you want to do with your life and how you will create your future with your skills and tools you will create going forward. So many of my friends my age (33) make more than I do with their 2 year degree and live more flexible lives. I wouldn’t trade my music degree (lulz) for anything, but I wish I had been supported in considering technical schools or other skills that worked with my precise hands and intense focus rather than piano sonatas and partying as Prince Orlofsky.

      All in all, do what works for you.

      • Strangely Rational says:

        I also would not rule out a gap year. Right after high school, my parents were divorcing, I had no college fund, and they could not help me aside from my dad letting me live with him rent-free. I got a job and worked for two years before starting college.

        Those two years earned me a decent amount of money (even though it was just retail), got me some “real world” experience, and gave me some time to think seriously about my career path. I decided on the local branch of our state university so I could continue to live at home, and between my savings and some help from my grandparents, I was able to do my first three semesters full-time without working.

        I got my retail job back and throughout the rest of college, I either did part-time work and full-time school, or vice versa. It took me six years to finish my 4-year degree, so I was 26, but I did it entirely without student loans. The part-time office job I’d gotten in my senior year became full-time after graduation with a halfway decent salary.

        I don’t know that it would be possible to do that in today’s economy without any student loans, but even just a year or two of income can give you a good head start if you have a parent who is willing to support you during that time.

  4. The Derpy Bear says:

    When my father was alive he would make all kinds of promises such as paying for school or buying my siblings and I houses. I moved to a family members home at 15 years old because I could not handle his abusive behaviour and his addiction anymore.

    Too many people have to grow up in these enviroments. Just know that you can still do the things that you want to. Loans suck but education is worth it!

  5. J Lynn says:

    A couple books that helped me understand and cope with my dysfunctional parents:

    Toxic Parents by Susan Forward
    The Narcissistic Family by Pressman & Pressman

  6. Lotcal says:

    Subplot: If your mum ‘fucking hates your dad’ why are they even still together? And if they are separated, why do they still share finances?

    • Mango says:

      Marriage is complicated business. A lot of couples hate each other, but don’t split because the finances would be an even bigger clusterfuck than they already are. This isn’t uncommon at all, sadly.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *