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I'm asking this on behalf of my partner, as he's asked me to help him respond to his half sister.

Background:

They both share a father. My partner was not brought up by his biological father and only started having contact with him after he turned 18. They talk on the odd occasion, and once a year we might go to visit him (it's about a 3 hour drive). We always have to make the effort, not him.

As far as I'm aware the half sister had more of a relationship growing up, but he wasn't always present.

My partner didn't realise his half sister (who is older) existed until a few years after he started having contact with his biological father. He and his sister connected on FB and exchanged messages for a couple days, then stopped, this was a few years ago. They've never met. At the time the half sister was in contact with the father, and had more of a relationship to him than my partner.

Situation:

Last week the half sister messaged my partner after a few years of no contact asking if he'd been in contact with their father as he hadn't been responding to her texts. My partner told her he hadn't messaged him in over a month. She explained that they had a falling out after she had told him some home truths and he did not like them. My partner has since heard from their father and so told her that he has, saying that they spoke briefly and maybe he was busy when she was trying to message him. To which she replied

"Okay thanks. He's ignoring me then. Hope he's a better dad to you than he ever was to me".

My partner is lost for words. He wants to reply but doesn't want to upset her further or make it feel like he's rubbing it in that their father will still talk to him and not her. He doesn't really have a relationship with their shared father, and he hardly knows him. He considers his step dad his dad and only ever refers to their shared father by his name. How could he respond to her in such a way that he's expressing sympathy for her and not rubbing it in that he still has contact?

  • Does your partner wants to build a relationship with his half sister? We don't know whether she wants to have a relationship with her father or also with your partner. – Santiago Mar 15 at 14:32
  • My partner is not actively trying to have a relationship with her. But he also doesn't want to burn the bridge or deliberately upset her. From her messages it seems as if she does want a relationship with the father, as she seems quite upset that he's ignoring her. – Violet Flare Mar 15 at 14:58
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It sounds to me like the half-sister isn't angry at your partner, just expressing bitterness and regret about her father. It sounds like your partner sympathizes with her negative experience with the father. They might even be uniquely able to support each other throughout their lives in commiserating over their shared disappointment of him.

The half-sister's message presents a good opportunity for your partner to send her a compassionate response and to let her know that he empathizes with her and that he is there for her. He can say something like,

"I'm sorry to hear that he's ignoring you. He's always been [immature, irresponsible, or other traits that sum him up in this situation]. We only connected when I was 18, and even still I don't feel that he is my dad. I'm there for you if you ever want to commiserate how frustrating he is."

All your boyfriend can do is to be honest, compassionate, and willing to listen to her experience, and I'm sure that will make it clear that he is not "rubbing in" his contact with the father. If the half-sister does not respond to this, it is most likely because there is too much bitterness in her history with her father, and not because your partner did anything wrong. A fraught parental relationship is an exceptionally difficult thing for a person to process. It might even feel easier or safer for your partner's half-sister to redirect her bitterness towards anyone even associated with her father. Hopefully, in time, your partner and his half-sister can even form a mutually supportive relationship.

Cheryl Strayed has written extensively on having a difficult, absent father in her column Dear Sugar. This is one example, but he and his half-sister might benefit from reading her whole catalog. https://therumpus.net/2010/11/dear-sugar-the-rumpus-advice-column-55-the-empty-bowl/

Best of luck to them.

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