My fiancée has a bit of an issue with her father and I was hoping to get some advice on how to best support her through it if possible.
The back story is as follows. I met her 5 years ago and her parents had divorced 2-3 years before that. Since then she has only had sporadic contact with her father, mostly via Facebook, e-mails etc. She only sees him in person a couple of times a year, if that. This is mainly due to his job which takes him all over the world, often at short notice and to 'developing' countries or offshore installations. She's sometimes felt that her father doesn't have enough contact with her, although she accepts it may be due to lack of signal/internet etc.
Up until recently their relationship wasn't too bad but when my fiancée recently e-mailed him asking if he was home for Christmas, he asked 'not to be included in her Christmas celebrations'.
Obviously she was upset and I wasn't really sure how to handle this. I've gotten across to her that her father is in the wrong for cutting her off for (apparently) no reason. The situation seems to have calmed down but it's bound to come up again as Christmas gets nearer. I was wondering if anyone has any suggestions as to how best to support her with this issue?
I'm sure this truly cut her deeply. It may be better to ask her what you can do to help her feel more supported. Sometimes, just asking how you can help can be supportive in itself. Let her know you are willing to support her.
I suspect you are aware of this, but ultimately, you cannot "make her gain closure," nor can you make her happy with this. This is an internal issue with her, and it may never fully heal: there's something called "Chronic Sorrow" that many people who have faced tragedy deal with. It is when the sufferer has gained relative closure, but at certain anniversaries, (Christmas, in this case), the wound reopens for a while.
Bear in mind that this is a loss, just like any other (but totally unique from any others, at the same time). She, in essence, lost her dad with respect to a very emotionally-bound annual event. She has to grieve the loss of the future she always presumed would be there (Daddy at Christmas time), she has to grieve and adjust to a new reality (that Daddy won't be a part of things), and she has to grieve and gain closure over the fact that she has no power in this. She cannot force her dad to change or re-enter the Christmas tradition with her -so she is left to grieve and gain acceptance on her own ...very much like when a child suddenly loses their parent w/out the change to say a final good bye. This lack of control over the situation, the lack of being able to interact and bargain with him, etc. is a separate issue from the loss of him at Christmas.
Overall, I recommend asking her how she will best feel comforted. Let her know you deeply want to help her as she moves through this mess, no matter how many times she feels thusly. And let her know that there's a whole slew of complicated emotions and issues that are tied to this. There's never something simple about a parent withdrawing from a child's life in whatever capacity it happens.
Of course, it may not hurt for her to see a therapist -as they are the experts at finding closure in such matters.
BTW: I'm sure this has been discussed, but it sounds less like the father rejecting HER as much as it's him rejecting Christmas. But the result is the same, she feels abandoned.
This could be a simple miscommunication. There isn't enough information here to determine whether there is a definite issue or not. Is the father actually going to be stateside during Christmas? Is your fiancee spending the holidays with her mother? What was the divorce and the reason for the divorce? The issues could very well be not with your fiancee, but with her mother. Sure, he should be the better man and suck it up for the holidays to spend time with his daughter. He could be in a bout of severe depression, which he wants to push everyone away in his life. Not that is a good reason or excuse, but it may bring insight from the father's point of view. There could be more to the story than what you have provided, or he is just being a D-bag for the sake of being one also. I would present these ideas to your fiancee to reassure her that her father's behavior may have nothing to do with her, and that his apparent rejection may be a sign of personal troubles. Some people become very depressed during the holidays. When I was in high school, I worked at a grocery store bagging groceries, stocking shelves, etc. Around Christmas time back in the mystical decade of the '80's, I bagged groceries for this one man who was a boss of my mother at the time. I carried his groceries out to his car, and he thanked me and gave me a $10.00 tip (which was huge at the time). I tried to tell him that it was too much, but he refused to take it back. A few days later, he committed suicide. Just keep in mind to look for some red flags. On the other hand, if the father is just turning his back on his family, tie your fiancee to the bed and tell her that you're her new daddy (no, don't - I'm only kidding).
You are certainly correct that there's not enough info for the wife to determine intent and extent. But the emotions she is feeling are still valid emotions (of course).
Good point about the red flags. There's a possibility that he may have a tumor, stroke, or some other severe problem which accompanies personality changes/thought changes. Additionally, he could have some personality disorder (BiPolar?) and has having a crisis state and he is attempting to pare down all the emotional input in an effort to "stay as sane as possible."
Regarding her feelings: listen, care, and don't fix her.
But if I had an in-law acting strangely, I'd be concerned. It could mean "No, don't include me, I'm going to be in Malawi herding goats"; "No, I'm dying or strung out on crack or something and I have this weird belief that family will be happier if I don't tell them"; "No, I'm mentally ill and have a reason that makes even less sense"; "I'm planning to drive off a cliff on Christmas Eve and I don't want to ruin this Christmas, just all the others." It's her family, but I would ask my wife: does this make sense? Is it possible there's something wrong? If so, what could we do to find out?
With a divorce that fresh, he may still be in pain and the holidays will amp that. He may be burying his stress into work. My best suggestion is to point out to your beloved that people are twits and he may just be being silly.
Tell her to make a care package of tastes and treats from holidays past. Cookies, a CD with music, etc. Include a letter of love for him and ship it to him. Yes it hurts but he really may be lost also and not sure how to be holly jolly this time of year and he may be hiding to not hurt her further.
I wish you and your beloved all the best and a happy Christmas.
Thanks for the replies and advice. I don't know the full reasons behind the divorce, I understand there was a big argument while the family were on holiday and when they returned, the divorce proceedings were started. Not sure of the events leading up to this etc. I understand her mum had considered divorce several years previously but my fiancee's grandma (her mum's mum) had talked her out of it. Again I don't know the reasons for this.
I'm also not too sure about any health issues her dad may have. He does a very physical job (working on huge marine engines/offshore rigs) and has to pass regular medicals so I can't see him having any major physical issues. My fiancee does feel that her dad is acting a bit different (even before this) and that he may be developing some sort of mental issue. He's also looking to move house but is having difficulty selling his existing place, I'm wondering if he's simply angry about this and is taking it out on other people.
I think there is some resentment still between her mum and dad. She's closer to her mum due to having lived with her for a while and the mum & daughter bond. He may feel that her mum has turned her against him but this isn't the case and my fiancee has pointed this out to him. Her mum does sometimes rant about the dad when she's had a few drinks but by the next day it's all forgotten.
I think my fiancee has felt a sense of 'loss' since the divorce and has never really gotten over it. When the incident with her dad happened, I tried to be as supportive as possible and let her know I'm here for her and it isn't her fault. Thankfully, as I say, it's settled down just now but it may erupt again closer to Christmas. She has tried counselling and it helped to some extent but I feel the issue won't ever be truly resolved. I don't know at this point whether her dad wants to cut contact permanently or whether he'll 'come around', will probably just have to wait and see.