I have 2 daughters. Growing up in an agricultural family during the farm crisis was tough. My dad was extremely abusive both physically and mentally. At 12 years old, he would pinch my ears with pliers. He told me once that he loved me, but he treated me like I was a farm worker, and always punished me if I didn’t do things just as he had asked.
He paid $10,000 a piece for my sisters’ weddings, and about the same for their divorces. I got nothing. He said: “Pay for girls. Not boys.” I am 52. Until 3 years ago when my mother divorced him due to his drinking, he would still ask me to come out to help on the farm. I did. Through counselling I realized I was looking for my father’s approval. I still am.
So I did everything he asked. I just got berated all over again, and he told false stories to my family and community about me. He blamed me for his divorce from my mother. He wouldn’t talk to my sisters for a couple years either because of the divorce. My sisters told me that they had not spoken to him, but they had. They were always favored.
One sister now probably faces a big inheritance: the farm and equipment. I was told by several people that dad has me written out of his will. Everything will go to at least one sister, if not both. I am in Iowa. This is really hard to hear since I did most of the farm work growing up, and I was the only one to help as an adult. The girls are seeing him all the time now.
Should I contest the will when my father dies, assuming I am written out of it?
I advise against contesting the will. It will prolong the drama and trauma of your childhood. Thank your father for showing you how not to treat people. It is time to move on.
Whatever you are searching for, you will not find it in your father’s last wishes. Any pain you have from your childhood will not be eradicated by a grand gesture, or by contesting this will, even if you won, which would be an expensive, unlikely and emotionally draining process. The time has come for you to stop looking for that validation from your father.
The solution to your question has nothing to with your father’s farm, or your sister’s marriages and divorces. Every time your father favors your sisters, you appear to re-experience the rejection you experienced as a child. He is your father, but he is also just another human being who mistreated you, may or may not have been mistreated himself, and was not the father you deserved.
In her book, “Toxic Parents: Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life,” Susan Forward writes: “Unhealthy families discourage individual expression. Everyone must conform to the thoughts and actions of the toxic parents. They promote fusion, a blurring of personal boundaries, a welding together of family members.”
“Many toxic parents compare one sibling unfavorably with another to make the target child feel that he’s not doing enough to gain parental affection,” she adds. “This motivates the child to do whatever the parents want in order to regain their favor. This divide-and-conquer technique is often unleashed against children who become a little too independent, threatening the balance of the family system.”
Your father raised you and, unfortunately, had a financial, physical and emotional hold over you as a child. He is a damaged person who seems to have serious problems with anger management, alcohol and a host of other unresolved traumas or resentments. But you can’t fix him, and you can’t fix your relationship with him. That’s not your job. You can only fix yourself.
A parent should instill self belief in their child, tell them that they are no better or nor worse than anyone else, and set them on a path to making healthy, positive choices. Expectations to pursue a career you love and choose a partner who nourishes you are among the most precious qualities a parent can instill in a child. It can change the course of their life.
Your father did not do that. But now you can choose to take that power back with therapy, and by creating financial and life goals that have absolutely nothing to do with your family. You are more than your sisters’ brother and your father’s son. You are your own man now with children of your own, and it’s time to break free from this dysfunctional family system.
Be the father your father never was. You can be generous with your time and your love and support. He has given you a gift: a template of how not to raise children.
Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at [email protected]. By emailing your questions, you agree to having them published anonymously on MarketWatch.