A year and a half ago, I was in my dad's condo (he lives an hour away). I hadn't seen my parents together in over two years, and had no clue what the state of their marriage was.
I wandered into my dad's closet and found a Valentine's Day card from a woman we'll call Tracy professing her love for my dad, along with a "Best Boyfriend Trophy." There was more, but I stopped after that. A few days later, I confronted my dad: he said she liked him but he didn't like her, the trophy was a joke, and yelled at me for snooping.
Fast forward almost a year to 2012, and my parents got a divorce, as I had been expecting for awhile. Shortly after this, I noticed him getting calls from a distinctly female-sounding person. He'd say it was a male friend. Then, my sister saw him buy perfume for his "secretary" as a Christmas present, and he bought a laptop for "himself" a few days prior to Christmas, but when I asked him how it worked out he said he returned it without opening it. He also left my siblings and I alone early one morning, saying he was going out to buy Christmas presents.
Later, I saw a text from the same Tracy saying "I love you" (it was an accident). I also saw a text from him to her about getting a hotel room (again by accident). So I Facebook creeped. Right or wrong, I was confused and wanted answers. I went to Tracy's Facebook: she had brunch with my dad at the time he went to "go get Christmas presents." I saw pictures of the inside of my dad's apartment, late at night on Christmas Eve, at a time when he was supposedly out with his male friends. And a picture from early the next morning when she received her Christmas presents from him: perfume and a laptop. He had also been at a hotel with her, on a day when he told us he went to visit his friends in another state.
I don't have a problem with him being in a relationship. What I do have a problem with is the fact that he lied to us. I realize that he isn't obligated us to tell us every detail of his life, but he lied to my brother, sister, and I about his whereabouts multiple times, and now I wonder if he was telling the truth when I found the card and trophy a year and a half ago. The fact that he's told us so many lies over the past few months leaves me wondering just how trustworthy of a person my dad is. Auntie what should I do? Should I confront him or just keep what I know to myself?
I'm so sorry, Sparkler. You're confused and hurting, and I do feel for you. Seeing your parents split up is hard, seeing them in an ambiguous state of separation with no explanation is harder, and discovering that one of them has fallen in love with somebody else is probably hardest of all. You shouldn't have had to find out that way; your parents should have talked to you about what was happening, not left you in the kind of informationless limbo that led you to go wandering into your father's closet (or onto his phone) in search of answers.
But they did.
And since communication is clearly not your family's forte, it's no surprise that you're doing exactly the same thing.
Because as far as trust goes, I hope you can see how your actions are hurting, not helping, the situation with your dad. He sneaks around; you stalk him on Facebook. He creates a cover story; you play detective. He tells you to respect his privacy; you see incriminating text messages "by accident." (A word of advice, darling: nobody sees two texts by accident. One, maybe, but even that's pushing it.)
And while you were entitled to know what's up with your parents' marriage insofar as it affected where, how, and with whom you live, you weren't entitled to answers about your dad's private life. It's not just that he doesn't have to tell you where he is, who he's with, or what he's up to; it's that he shouldn't. Adults who are dating after a divorce (or, as in your parents' case, during a separation followed by a divorce) are strongly advised to maintain silence on the subject of their love lives—not just because it's inappropriate to share that information with your child, but because it can be confusing and upsetting to boot, and because nobody wants to confuse and upset their kid unless it's absolutely necessary.
So when your kid goes into your closet, snoops through your stuff, and finds evidence of a relationship you've rightly kept under wraps and aren't ready to talk about, the only real choice is to lie.
Which, of course, your dad did. (I think we both know that nobody gives a "Best Boyfriend" trophy to a guy they aren't actively dating.) And don't get me wrong: he isn't blameless, here. He could have communicated to you in an appropriate way that he'd started seeing someone, instead of covering it up. Sneaking out to a secret brunch date during one of your visits was, perhaps, the slightest bit sleazy. And if he were a better or smarter or more intuitive parent, maybe he would have realized that you weren't buying it, and that it was time for a tough conversation.
But then again, you never asked. And calling him untrustworthy isn't fair—not when the information he's been shielding you from is absolutely none of your business, and not when you only know you've been lied to because you couldn't respect his privacy in the first place.
The good news? It's not too late for you to break this cycle, talk it out, and build a healthier relationship with your father. And the way to do that, the next time you have a calm moment alone with him, is to: a) tell him you've suspected for awhile that he's seeing someone, and b) that it's okay with you, but c) it hurts that he's kept you so totally in the dark—and then, ask him if he can tell you anything about what's going on. And note: that's ask, not confront. Accusations and anger might make you feel righteous, but they're also anathema to an honest conversation; nobody will ever tell you the truth if you act like you can't handle it.
And in return for not confronting him with your pile of illicitly-obtained evidence, you can skip the part where you admit to snooping... provided that you stop it immediately and forever, seriously, or next time you get the punishment salmon.
Have you ever caught your parent in a pack of lies? What'd you do? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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