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My creepy dad emails too much

My creepy dad emails too much

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Cary’s classic column fromWednesday, Nov 21, 2012

He was a terrible father and I want him out of my life

Hi, Cary,

Growing up, my dad was verbally and emotionally abusive.  He became physically abusive toward my brother but stuck to mind games with my mother and me.  In eighth grade, my mom finally got up the courage to leave (thank that great spaghetti monster in the sky) and take my brother and me out of that hostile situation.

In the time between my mother kicking him out of the house and us leaving for a new town, my dad would spend our visits sobbing  and playing sappy love songs (forever ruined for me: Harry Nilsson’s “All by Myself”). He’d say, “Were you kids really afraid of me? I would never want you to be afraid of your own father.” Even at 13 I understood his behavior to be completely lacking in sincerity. I knew my fear of him was a tool he used to keep us subservient and was kind of insulted that he’d think I was too dumb to realize it.

After he refused to pay child support for my brother and me, lobbed ridiculous allegations of adultery at my mother (she is a saint), and dragged us all through a five-year, financially draining divorce, I told him I’d had enough.

At 18 I wrote him a letter (via snail mail) asking him to stop contacting me. I explained that his role in my life was not positive, healthy or beneficial to me and, until he could acknowledge his previous poor behavior and become a positive force, I had no room for his negativity in my life.

He wrote back immediately saying how sad it was my mother had brainwashed me into hating him (it is to laugh) and included a photograph of him with his girlfriend’s kids. He explained that it was OK that I didn’t want him around anymore — he had a new family that loved him. That letter, though painful, was proof to me that my father is not capable of healthy, adult, even human emotion and that I’d done the right thing.

Over the last 10 years he has mostly obliged my request to not contact me, though he still sends the occasional Christmas/ birthday/ national disaster email or card. After Sandy hit he emailed to ask if I’d made it through the storm OK. My first thought was, How do you know I live in New York? The tone of these messages is always manipulative and incredibly self-centered, i.e., “I don’t know what I’d do if you were in those twin towers. How would I go on?”

Frankly, his ability to co-opt a national tragedy and turn it into a pity party for himself is quite amazing. 

A friend asked recently: If my dad died, would I be able to feel a sense of closure? Would I regret not speaking to him? My answer is no. I don’t believe he is capable of apologizing in a way I’d find acceptable and I don’t believe, going forward, we can have any kind of relationship. The letter with the new family photo is just one example of the many inappropriate things that have transpired since the split.  I could tell you about his abusive relationship with my brother who became a homeless heroin addict, or the history of mental illness in his family that no one will acknowledge or treat, but really I just need to know what to do with the emails.

Though I’m OK with the idea of never speaking to or seeing him again, every message in my inbox from him still sends me back to that angry, teenage, fatherless space. It makes me question my relationship with my great boyfriend, angry at my mom again for not being able to protect my brother and me when we were young, and frustrated that, after all these years, he still can ruin my day. I guess I don’t know what to do. Set up a way to send the emails directly to the trash/spam folder? Again ask that he stop contacting me? If I reach out again and ask for no contact should I explain that I’ve forgiven him, in as much as I can, and that our relationship is forever over?

I would like to live in a black-and-white world, but I understand there are gray areas. I feel like this is holding me back in my personal relationships and would love any insight you can offer.

Fatherless Child


Dear Fatherless Child,

Basically you have to shrink your dad down to the size of a green pea. There are ways to do that.

One way is to always call a friend. Never read his letters alone or he will grow. Call a friend. Point to the screen and say to your friend, “There is an email from my dad and I don’t want to open it!” Maybe opening it with a friend and reading it aloud will work. Or maybe you will want your friend to read it and delete it for you. Just don’t be alone with it. If you are alone with an email from your dad, he will grow to the size of a zebra. You don’t want that. You want your dad to be the size of a pea, and somewhat shriveled.

Your dad is far away. You have a big world full of friends who are close by; you have a family you have created for yourself. That family is big. Your dad might come into that world, but your dad is small.

Your dad will try to make himself big like a zebra because he’s so narcissistic and self-involved, but if he ever gets that big, then you have to make yourself even bigger, like a whale or an elephant. You are big when you are with the people who love and support you. You are big when you are with your chosen family. And mainly you have to keep your dad shrunk down to the size of a pea.

Also, work in a group or one-on-one with a therapist, not just a little bit but a lot. You have to do it a lot, like lifting weights or studying anthropology. So make shrinking your dad a major focus and involve others in the project. Don’t pretend you can handle it on your own. You can’t. If you could, you wouldn’t be writing to me.

Talking helps. Being with others helps. Just say out loud that you are concentrating on shrinking your dad down to the size of a green pea. The smaller he gets, the less afraid you will be of him.

So those are the two things I suggest: 1) Never read an email from your father while you’re alone. 2) Get a program together where you are continually making yourself big and making your dad small. You have to do it all the time, because you make your dad small one day and he gets big the next day. That means sharing with people every day what’s going on with your dad, what size he is, where he is in your world, if he is present or absent, if you are fearing him or dreading him. Let people help you. They will.

One day your dad will be so small, you can barely see him. Then you will be surprised because even at that tiny size he can still scare you. That’s the weird thing. That’s why you have to shrink your dad every day, and never alone. Never “All by Myself.” (And now, thanks to you, I’m going to have that song in my head, and so are a lot of other people. Oh, well. We can do the same thing with that song that we are doing with your dad: Just concentrate on shrinking it down until it is very, very small.)






  1. Dissipated- sorry

  2. I like the “shrinking pea” idea – should’ve done that w/my mom, but she became so pitiful in old age my anger disapated and I just felt sorry for her.

  3. I had a similar situation. Just seeing the heading in the inbox would derail me. Even the question of whether or when or how to read it was destabilizing enough to be destructive.

    Here’s what I tried, and it happened to work in my case. I got a new email account, one of the free ones. I sent an email notifying the person (X) of the new address. (In my case, I wrote that I ignore a lot of junk mail at the original address (which is true), and it was possible that I would skip over any mail that X sent there.

    The person did switch to the new address. Now I only check the other address when I feel up for it, and prepared. (A few times a year.) This put the control back on my side.

    I guess that before, when the email would arrive unexpectedly, it was always a potentially abusive situation I had no control over. So I had a low level worry all the time about my email.

    If X had ignored my request, I probably would have notified everyone else to use a new address, and then only checked the old one a few times a year. And in that case, X would have been warned that I probably did not read X’s email. (I think that may have been why X switched to my new address immediately–being so narcissistic that even the possibility of an ignored email was unbearable.)

    This has brought huge relief to me.


  4. It’s obvious that the Bad Father (BF) wants a relationship with “Fatherless Child” (FC), but only on terms that gives BF some absolution for his sins. What I’d suggest to FC would be to use a dedicated email address for communications with BF, and to make sure that all other email addresses are never available to outsiders. Of course, this would mean when using social networking sites like Facebook to use an alias (Samuel Clemens = Mark Twain), so that BF couldn’t find FC.

    In regard to the single email address, FC could have his/her friends make a game of it – and answer the emails for FC. Turn the tables on BF, and deny BF the “fun” of continuing the abuse of FC by allowing them to use their detachment to respond accordingly…. Treat BF as a spammer, and tweak him accordingly, until he gets tired and goes elsewhere….

  5. Block his emails. If he changes his email address to get around the block then change yours. Yes it’s a pain to do it (and you may need to keep your old email account active for a bit to make sure everyone you want has the new address), but it will be worth it.
    You’ve made a decision based on your experience and have earned the right to not be bothered by him ever again.
    Living well and happily is always the best revenge.
    May he never darken your inbox or day again. And when he dies, skip the funeral. You don’t need to hear one person weep about how wonderful he was to.them.

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