As the divorced father of my only child - an adult daughter planning a fall wedding - I’m stumped about how to handle a question she’s asked me:
“Dad, did you ever cheat on my mother?”
My best friend told me to say, “No, of course not,” no matter whether true or false. He added, “Why upset her about what your marriage was like or how hard you tried, since it’s long been over?”
But it seems to me there’s more to be said than a No, or Yes.
I’ve been very involved in co-parenting my daughter and we’ve stayed close even after she started dating.
From age seven until 16, she spent two week nights, every other weekend, and half the summer with me. Her mother regularly invites me to Christmas and Easter dinners so we can all be together.
What are your thoughts on discussing this question asked by a daughter who’s a soon-to-be bride, 18 years after her parents’ divorce?
Your daughter is opening a conversation that relates to her life and future. You should not be put on trial for your past, and you need to help her recognize that.
Because whether you cheated or didn’t 18 years ago, isn’t her real issue.
If you want to help your daughter sort through her personal concerns about spousal infidelity, you need to gently help her reveal what she’s really worried about.
Example: Has she felt desire for someone other than her future spouse and is trying to open up to you about it? Or, has she had reason to doubt her partner’s fidelity?
My point: This is her time, her life, her future. What happened in your time and life in the past, is almost irrelevant (unless she’s been led to believe that you were a serial cheater and she’s inherited infidelity genes).
Even if her mother has previously said your marriage ended because of an affair you had, do not become defensive or give a long explanation.
Simply ask your daughter, “Why would a mother tell that to her child?” Or maybe your daughter thought this was the case, or heard it as gossip.
It doesn’t matter. Go deeper.
She needs to contemplate her future from the perspective of her life experience to date, plus her expectations for the future, trust level with her fiancé, and knowing her own character.
This could be one of the most important conversations you have with her at this time of hope and reflection prior to getting married… so long as you listen carefully, and give her time and space to let her thoughts and fears get the most airing.
FEEDBACK Regarding the person raised in a South Asian family, who had no free will to choose his own career (June 12):
Reader – “I was raised by my "redneck" Canadian family in a small town. My post high-school choices: Army, Navy, Air force or RCMP.
“My brother and I were forced to sign a family contract, on our 16th birthday.
“My brother has retired from the Armed Forces with PTSD after 25 years. He made our parents proud.
“I decided to live my own life. After high school I left home to attend university without my family's blessings. I was going to be a writer.
“I was ostracized by my family, never returning home until their respective funerals.
“Yes, all work matters. Parents should never choose their child's career if the child's heart isn’t in it.”
Reader’s Commentary Regarding the woman who has a close friendship with her neighbour, making her husband uncomfortable (June 12):
“I think I disagree with having the husband of four years tell his wife that if he were texting a woman on the same daily basis as she texts their male neighbour, that she would feel uncomfortable.
“I doubt that she would be as affected as him. If I were him, I'd simply tell her that if she didn't stop the frequent contact, I'd walk out, and she could then marry the neighbour after our divorce.
“As far as I'm concerned, it's better to end it after four years, than after ten or twenty years later.
“She's obviously flattered by the neighbour's attention, and completely oblivious to how hurtful her behaviour is. She needs a hard lesson. I (almost) always agree with you.”
Ellie - Thanks. I’m often wary of “hard lessons,” preferring logical ones.
Tip of the day:
Adult children sometimes question parents for their own personal reasons. Happy July 4th US Independence Day.