Long story short: my mother recently has been diagnosed with an inoperable malignant brain tumor and her biggest wish is for us to mend our relationship before she dies. My father and I have had multiple falling outs and fights...all of which were fueled by alcohol on both sides. I don't drink anymore and haven't in 10 years and I've heard that he is trying to quit.

I've apologized many times for my part in things and he seems to refuse the idea that he shares any of the blame. He retired a few years ago and his attitude has gotten abysmal since losing his "purpose"... Additionally, he lives in a self imposed bubble and is extremely out of touch when it comes to the most basic functions of modern living... To give an example he has never even used an ATM machine and he depends on my mother for everything. When she dies I fear what will happen to him.

He's a good person but also he is very selfish and callous and doesn't seem phased at all with not being in touch with any of his children or grand children. My sister checked out years ago and the buck is being passed to me. I've got no clue of where to begin with him.

  • My sister checked out years ago - what does that mean? did she move away? or did she die? How long has it been since your last contact with your father?
    – kscherrer
    Nov 28, 2017 at 16:18
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    Do you want to build a relationship again? Is it absolutely necessary for you that your father first takes part of the blame before you're even willing to do so? Basically, do you want advice on how to build a relationship anyway or do you want a way to discuss things and get him take a part of the blame (which are different questions IMO)
    – Tinkeringbell
    Nov 28, 2017 at 16:22
  • @Cashbee my sister is in her own world and has given up on him. In her defense she has a veterinary practice to run and children to raise so in a way I don’t totally blame her for being distant and not getting involved. Nov 29, 2017 at 20:39

5 Answers 5


Your mother loves you, and loves your father, so she sees the benefits of the two of you reuniting. Unfortunately, her love is probably optimistic as well.

If you had a toxic relationship with your father, your mother's wish is in reality not a loving one for you, I'm very sorry to say. Because you say nothing about your mom, I'll assume she's a lovely woman with the best intentions.

You can't change your father (or the past) no matter how much talking you do (which includes reasoning, arguing, begging and pleading.) He has to want to change.

In your situation, I would visit my mom as much as I could, and if your dad is there, always treat him with kindness and respect. Don't argue with him; don't allow yourself to be drawn into an argument. (Not responding is always an option.) Treat him the same way when you're alone; see what happens.

If your mom repeats her wish, tell her you're working on it. A response like, "Mom, I'll try the best I can but I can't do it alone" is an honest response.

Your mom may have reasons you don't know about for her wish. Maybe she fears for your father when she's gone. If you feel comfortable asking personal questions of your mother, you can talk about the whys of this wish. Knowing exactly what she expects will help you in your decision making. If she's worried about him being lonely, you can tell her you'll call and check on him (if you can.) It may not require a full-blown "relationship" to fulfill your mother's wishes.

If this ends well, I will be very happy for you, your father, and your mother.

If it does not, don't feel guilty.

I was guilted into resuming a relationship with a toxic relative. (Not by my mom. My mom was a lovely woman.) The toxicity was still there in a much subtler form, but as we were together more, it came out full blown as screaming, demeaning name calling, accusations, etc. I had to end the relationship once again, and the second time was much worse than the first because this time my kids saw it, etc. This relative contacted my family and friends with accusatory emails about me, etc. It was awful. I did do my best, but I will only allow myself to be abused so much.

  • Always good advice. I really think it's important that even if redeveloping a relationship isn't something that is really desired by both parties, you can still honor your mothers wishes by giving her peace of mind that you are both getting along in her presence.
    – Jess K.
    Nov 28, 2017 at 17:14
  • I suppose his mother have lived long enough to know his father better. She knows his genius and probably knows he's a difficult person to deal with. This is not about changing him, but is about to love him despite all of his troubles. That's her wish. To her son to be with his father to the end as a loving son as hard as this might be.
    – dvc.junior
    Nov 28, 2017 at 17:39

There is a song from the 1980s by Mike and the Mechanics titled "The living years". Watch the video and read the lyrics.

Both my parents and one of my brothers is gone. The other doesn't call.

You start with a call and a "hello". You cannot control whether or not he apologizes or even understands whatever part he has in your estrangement so you should not focus on that ever.

You talk to him, you say anything. Apologize again, and don't expect one in return. He's from another generation, one that did not easily talk about feelings or emotions. He may not have the capacity to offer an apology.

In short, forget about his part, focus on your part. Tell him that you love him. Take him in limited doses if you must. Understand that mending fences does not mean that he will ever be your best friend, but he is your father.

Just reach out, call, say you're sorry, you love him, and that you want him in your life again. It will comfort your mother now, and after a fashion, you and your dad as well.

  • 1
    Most of this answer is good, but with some, I have to disagree. If the relationship is only "meh", this is great advice. If it's toxic, the best interests of the OP are not being served. You also do not know if the OP's father will be comforted. In an ideal world, parents love their children and their children's children. Do you get the sense from the post that this father cares at all? Nov 28, 2017 at 16:37
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    @anongoodnurse it's not about his father, it's about him. But yes, of course his father cares. If he didn't care, he wouldn't get angry. but as the song goes, "It's too late when we die to admit we don't see eye to eye". I went through the same thing with my own father, Had I not made amends, it would have haunted me for the rest of my life. I still have regrets about my mother's passing and that was 20 years ago.
    – user4548
    Nov 28, 2017 at 17:20
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    Sometimes people think they love you, but if they treat you like dirt and you don't feel loved by anything they do, it might be that they don't really know how to love. Not every parent loves their child, and not every child loves their parent. That's just the way things go sometimes. Sad, but true. To deny this is wishful thinking. Oh, by the way, anger comes from hurt, not necessarily from love. A stranger on the street who I do not love at all could call me a stupid b---- and I would be angry, because on some level, that disrespect and invalidation hurts. No love needed. Nov 28, 2017 at 18:54
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    @anongoodnurse again, it's not about the father, it's about the OP, it's also simple logic. If the father loves him, and he does nothing, he's lost something irreplaceable. If he does something and repairs the relationship, then he's gained the world. If his father does not love him, and he tries to repair the relationship, he loses nothing, but eliminates the doubt, so he still benefits. We cannot know his father's heart, but we can know what's at risk. When his parents are gone, he will never again have that opportunity.
    – user4548
    Nov 28, 2017 at 19:01

I have been thinking of trying to catch up with my own father. I haven't seen him in years so I can relate. Keep it simple, just call your Dad and have a conversation, see how he is. Perhaps have a couple of notes for safe items of conversation jotted down before the call if you're nervous. Then if it goes okay, ask him out to lunch during the day on the weekend or something like that.

Don't worry about your sister. My sister gets quite emotional regarding her relationship with my Dad and tends to overcompensate which stresses people out. Your Dad will appreciate the effort I'm sure. If he asks about other family members only say positive things about them or nothing at all.

None of us can change the past. It takes courage to make ourselves vulnerable enough to reach out in case there's some rejection. But even if you try and it doesn't work out at least you can tell your Mum that you tried. Keep it positive, and my opinion would be don't talk about "the relationship" as it will just dredge up old problems. People change, but if we are reminded of something from the past that we're not happy about we might become defensive to protect ourselves. We're all the sum of our experiences, good and bad.


You have a really complicated situation with several layers before you - having been in somewhat similar circumstances, I wish you all the strength you can muster for the future! I´ll try to untangle this a bit by concentrating on the main layers individually. Obviously this is not a simple interaction but a long journey before you, and you have to find the exact path for yourself. This may only serve as some pointers:

1. Your Mother

She seems to be your primary motivation for this getting back your father - and it´s a gift that you have been given the opportunity to get things straight with her. I suggest you use it to get to a stage of honesty where you don´t leave things unsaid that haunt you in the future. I can second @anongoodnurse good advice to talk to her and see what her fears and motivations are for requesting you two get along. It may also be helpful to explain to her the hurt, rejection but also emancipation you have gone through with your father. Don´t concentrate on the who-did-what, but rather on what you felt or still feel.

2. Your Self!

After being somewhat square with your mother, you should take some time to listen to the most important person in this whole - yourself! Yes, you´ll probably have to live the longest of all involved with the emotional burden that gets imposed upon you. Think about what you´d want to say if you could communicate to you father for the last time? Maybe write him a letter, if talking is to complicated or tends to get you agitated. Maybe you don´t need to have him apologize or take any blame? Maybe you can just convey to him what effect he had on you, and forgive him? The goal it not to revive a romantic father-son relationship but to demystify the man and separate yourself from him emotionally. See him for what he actually is: A aging man, who has as much trouble with himself as he has with "modern" times!

Maybe, if you want and if he behaves, you can build a new relationship to the old man, helping him to get along here and there.

3. Your Father

The wildcard in this whole setting. Apart from being potentially destructive to his surroundings due to alcohol-abuse (addiction?). I´d suggest to begin by unilaterally making your peace with him, and expect nothing in return from him. Be friendly and don´t let yourself be drawn into any argument. Treat him like you would any stranger, polite but distanced. Take it slow and see if there is a relationship to be had. Not that of father to son but that of adult to adult. Maybe, with time your forgiveness will bring you reconciliation.

Last: If alcohol abuse prevails, I suggest you get additional help on how to deal with addicted people in the long run - one of which may be withdrawing any support.

I am writing from personal experience having lost family while they where estranged and also having had alcohol abuse in my vicinity. This whole topic borders on several painful intrapersonal issues also. I tried to focus one the interpersonal side as much as possible. I strongly suggest to get support by a involved third party, maybe a even professional psychotherapist whenever you fell this is too much for you!


I get your mother. Your spouse you choose. Even if it's hard on the kid.

Still, even on the deathbed, not all things can be mended. Personally I think it's important to keep the communication alive. I've got a similar problem, and at least we are back where I send her a postcard for christmas and for her birthday. I suggest you try to do the same. This is something you can keep up for the rest of his life, hopefully without undue hardship. Everything else depends on him:

If you get a friendly response, you might contemplate the next step, like a third postcard, from a vacation or so. If you get nothing, you just go on with the christmas and birthday cards.

(If this sounds a bit like the probe/sense/adapt approach in agile software development, that's because it is. I do that for a living. :-) )

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