Can I get back in touch with my family despite my toxic dad? Ask Ellie
Q: I’m a 25-year-old woman from a very traditional family. My older sister recently passed away suddenly from a rare disorder.
Earlier this year, I’d moved out of my parents’ home to avoid having to marry a stranger from the same religious community. My dad wouldn’t take no for an answer.
I got a job and a place to live and left without telling my family. I felt guilty and afraid but it’s gotten easier.
After my sister’s death, I learned that my parents had withheld her health information from me. Despite this, my dad thinks I’m selfish for not having visited more while she was ill.
I stayed with family for a couple of weeks and returned to my secret place. My dad’s convinced I’m dating someone. He’s wrong.
I’m trying to surmount childhood issues and decide what kind of future I want. My parents want me back home and since my work’s remote, I could spend more time with my mom and brother.
I’ve learned that living independently requires a lot of secrecy and distrust.
Religion and arranged marriage are huge issues constantly raised. My dad said he won’t pressure me to marry, but he repeatedly mentions men for that purpose.
He pressured my sister into marriage years ago and it turned out badly, yet nothing could stop the process.
I’d accept being with someone from the same religious/cultural background who’s also not so serious about upholding the practices.
But I hate doing something that’d bring me closer to my dad. He repulses me, even in our shared grief.
He’s cried and begged me to move back. But he’s such a toxic presence. Toward the end of my sister’s life, he was still blaming her for not making her marriage work with the abusive guy he chose. He never stood up for her.
I just wish I could be more involved with my mother and brother without it backfiring on me. And I wish my dad wasn’t making it a thousand times harder to deal with my sister’s death.
A: You’re dealing with several very serious issues — grief over your sister’s death, anger and resentment regarding your father, loss of connection with your mother and brother, and loneliness.
It’s too much to handle by only deciding whether to move back or stay on your own.
One thing’s certain … from your account, you can’t trust your father not to somehow push you into a marriage of his choosing.
Meanwhile, you have the opportunity to get objective guidance and support from a grief counsellor (available online) who’s not directly associated with your parents’ community.
That doesn’t mean that your religious/cultural values don’t matter. But you do need some distance from pressure about it, while you mourn your sister.