Dear Trish: My parents are almost literally funding our quite ostentatious lifestyle
PROBLEM: I am in my late 30s and an only child born to parents who were in their mid-40s. My mother and father have given me a great life and every possible opportunity. I came out to them about eight years ago, just before I married my now husband.
Initially, my parents were shocked and upset that I was gay. They both professed that they did not have a clue about my sexuality. Over the course of time, they have gradually started to accept the situation, although they did not attend my wedding, which at the time was devastating for me.
My husband likes my mother and has a good relationship with her, but barely tolerates my father, and the feeling, I would say, is mutual. My parents are reasonably wealthy, and I have already inherited their business, and in time will receive a sizeable sum and several properties. As a result, we enjoy a particularly good standard of living and a great quality of life. My parents are now beginning to struggle living at home, and I am needing to spend more time with them. I can see a situation in the not-too-distant future where they will both need to move in with us.
We have the space and the funds to care for them in our home. My husband is adamant that he will not live with or care for my “homophobic” father and that, if he needs to be looked after, he can move into a nursing home. I find this situation very difficult. We both work very hard, but my parents are almost literally funding our quite ostentatious lifestyle.
I do love my parents very much and want to do the best for them. But I also acknowledge that my father can be bigoted and that it could be unfair to foist him on the person who means the most to me in the world.
ADVICE: End-of-life issues are acute for many families, and in your particular situation, things are made more difficult as they are compounded by all the rejections and prejudices of your husband’s life. There is some truth that “we reap what we sow”, and your father now faces the effect of his homophobia, but of course the story is more complex than that.
Your husband rightly feels very angry at the lack of respect and acceptance from your father, but he is married to you and therefore must take into account your wishes
Whatever path you choose will affect your mother, and you also have benefited enormously from both of your parents’ work, so your desire to support both parents is very understandable. Some background work needs to be done before any final decision is made: your parents need to be included in any discussion on their care plan, and your husband may need to look at his past and how it may affect his current stance. Your own stance is admirable – you seem to have forgiven your parents for not attending your wedding – but have you had real conversations with them about this and have you told them how this has caused hurt and rejection in your life? Your mother seems to have a more open and accepting stance, and she may be a source of compromise in the next phase of your family’s life.
Your husband rightly feels very angry at the lack of respect and acceptance from your father, but he is married to you and therefore must take into account your wishes in this situation, and of course you must also listen and respond fully to his concerns. This is not a situation where one person is right or “wins” but is one where lots of talking and listening needs to happen. There is a danger when there is a conflict that we try to drown out the other’s position or else we give in before we are fully heard, and the conflict comes back again at a later stage in a different guise. This is core to your marriage – that both of you feel that the other has your back and will honour your principles even when there is not an easy answer. If you cannot manage these conversations on your own, then seek a counsellor to help you have discussions – this will also help you in all the disagreements you have in the future.
Be open to seeking professional help if you hit roadblocks, and take all the time you need
You cannot base your decision on the aspiration that your father will change, so it is important to accept him as he is and work with that. Your partner continues to be angry (possibly on your behalf as well as his own) and he might need help with seeing that you cannot cut your father out of your life (because you love him, and he is vulnerable).
When there is an injustice (in this instance, your father’s homophobia as directed against your husband), it can be resolved when action is taken, and the person punished or publicly dealt with. This type of resolution is not available to your husband, so he will need help to deal with this situation as he struggles to accept your desire to be supportive of a man he dislikes. Committing to conversations is the start of this road. Be open to seeking professional help if you hit roadblocks, and take all the time you need, as these conversations will form a solid mechanism for dealing with difficulties in your future relationship.
According to Gottman (Lessons from the Love Lab: The Science of Couples Therapy), 69 per cent of all couple arguments are never resolved in the course of their lives together, so what matters is not that things get sorted but rather that we become good at engaging and talking.