[Two Pronged] A widower, a new relationship, and 'unsupportive' kids
Rappler's Life and Style section runs an advice column by couple Jeremy Baer and clinical psychologist Dr Margarita Holmes.
Jeremy has a master's degree in law from Oxford University. A banker of 37 years who worked in 3 continents, he has been training with Dr Holmes for the last 10 years as co-lecturer and, occasionally, as co-therapist, especially with clients whose financial concerns intrude into their daily lives.
Together, they have written two books: Love Triangles: Understanding the Macho-Mistress Mentality and Imported Love: Filipino-Foreign Liaisons.
Dear Dr Holmes and Mr Baer,
I am a widower and a retired ophthalmologist. My wife died 6 years ago and I have 3 daughters, between the ages of 27-42. Since my wife died, they are careful to make sure I am not alone.
They tell me to go to their homes for Sunday dinners, lunches during weekdays and even family outings. They reassure me that they have room for me if ever I get tired of living alone. They youngest asked me if I wanted to go to Hong Kong with her family last Christmas.
But this support seemed to lessen when I met a lady whom I admire and invited her for lunch. I now see her every now and then. I enjoy her company, nothing more. I hinted that I wanted her to accompany me to the dinners and lunches they invite me to, but it is as if I am talking to the winds.
My new lady friend is a good woman, herself a medical doctor. I do not understand why my children are behaving this way.
How can I convince them that they are not being supportive of their father, who has mourned their mother for 6 long years but is now moving on?
Thank you very much,
A retired and confused doctor
Dear RCD (retired and confused doctor),
Thank you for your email.
Societies have dealt with widowhood in various ways over the millennia, some of which have been more extreme than others. For example, Suttee is the Indian custom of a wife immolating herself either on the funeral pyre of her dead husband or in some other fashion soon after his death. Never widely practiced, it is no longer legal.
Levirate marriage is when the brother of a deceased man is obliged to marry his brother's widow. Levirate marriage has been practiced by societies with a strong clan structure in which exogamous marriage (i.e. marriage outside the clan) was forbidden. It has been known in many societies around the world.
Interestingly, it seems that these obligations are driven by issues such as inheritance and blood lines and are usually imposed on widows rather than widowers, no doubt reflecting the fact that only widows can give birth but also that discrimination and double standards have been with us since time immemorial — but that is a topic for another letter.
Whatever the exotic and/or barbaric customs elsewhere, here in the Philippines it seems, at least to this foreigner, that the main factor when it comes to attitudes to widowhood is the potential conflict between maintaining close familial ties and a desire for individual independence, coupled with the belief, frequently held by the young, that one’s middle aged parents have lost all interest in sex — or if they haven’t, they should have!
So turning to your case, RCD, it seems that the time has come for a frank exchange of views with your children. Your perfectly reasonable position is that you have mourned the passing of your wife for 6 years, you wish to live a life that includes the world outside your immediate family and that you want to experience the joys of adult companionship (sexual or otherwise) with your friend free of family censure.
You must be prepared for your children to counter with an argument based on the wonderful marriage you had with their mother, her Madonna like qualities (real or imagined), their wish to avoid besmirching her memory etc., etc. They may also suggest that your wish to have a relationship of any sort with an adult outside the family is implicitly a criticism of them, a suggestion that they have failed to support you in your widowhood.
You will be best placed to judge for yourself the validity of whatever arguments they present and decide whether these are based on their genuine desire for your wellbeing or something a little less savory, more hypocritical, like a wish to protect their inheritance and/or avoid you spending money on a non-family member. Sometimes the prospect of Dad sailing off into the sunset on a lengthy cruise with his new friend doesn’t bring quite the joy to their precious little hearts that it ought to!
Either way, you will then have a clearer idea of how to achieve the measure of independence you are entitled to enjoy at this time in your life.
Best of luck,
Thank you very much for your letter. I agree with Mr Baer and his hypothesis that the reason your children prefer to ignore your blossoming relationship with a colleague is that they believe it will interfere with their relationship with you.
It is as if the two relationships are mutually exclusive which, of course, they are not.
It is a double edged sword, isn’t it? I’m sure you are happy that your daughters worry about, and fuss over, you. They constantly reassure you that “mi case es su casa” and thus, there is no reason to be lonely or feel bereft.
On the other, it must be frustrating to realize that you are welcome only if you remain static: their beloved father grieving for their beloved mother.
But you are much, much more than that, RCD. Before being their father and their mother’s husband, you were your own person. Indeed, you still are. Sometimes our children seem to forget that. Other times, they may just want to preserve their feeling that it is now you against the world, with no one to save you but them.
This would be sweet in little girls between the ages of 2 to 5, who are within the throes of, or even resolving, their Elecktra complexes; however in women between the ages of 27-42, it would be reasonable to expect responses that were slightly more mature and less self serving.
Mr Baer suggests a “frank exchange of views with your children,” which ideally would be more than once, even if you had not met anyone you wished to spend more time with. After all, you are not a doddery old man who must be mollycoddled or patronized. You are firing on all cylinders. You are just as capable of interpreting people’s motives, observing the little details, and making decisions as they.
You ask: “How can I convince them that they are not being supportive of their father…(who) is now moving on?”
Alas, you can’t. In my personal opinion, to try would not only be useless, but counter productive.
Convincing is primarily a cognitive endeavor. What your children are grappling with are emotional issues, possibly — though not necessarily — linked to primal fears like abandonment, etc.
They will need to feel and experience (and not just hear) that you love them and loved their mother, and that nothing will change that. Ideally, they would have inner resources to enable them to be truly happy for any challenges you may face and friendships/relationships you may enjoy in the future.
While it may be premature to talk of your (and my) impending death — at least I sure hope so! — sometimes our children have the opposite desire Dylan Thomas had for his father. For that wonderful poet exhorted him:
“Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light…”
So how about it, RCD? You, Mr Baer and I continue fighting the good fight and celebrate every new day dawning, and, when the time comes and we choose to, we can also rage against the dying of the light.
All the best,
Need advice from our Two Pronged duo? Email firstname.lastname@example.org with subject heading TWO PRONGED. Unfortunately, the volume of correspondence precludes a personal response.