Ask Kari: How much should I support my aging estranged father now that his wife passed away?

Dear Kari,

My father’s wife recently passed away and he is all alone. I have not had much contact with him in the past 30 years. We only talk a few times each year, typically around a birthday/holiday. How much do you feel I should do to support him? I am torn from feeling like he needs to find his own way, and feeling guilty that he is an old man with no support. I am confused by his needs vs. what I am comfortable with. Help!

Standoffish Son

Dear Standoffish Son,

I am sorry to hear about the death of your father’s wife. It sounds like you have had a relationship that is based on him being your birth father, but not much more. Family roles and connections can sometimes be confusing, especially when a parent has not been a terrible person, but has also not been a good parent. I recommend that you reflect on what you feel comfortable doing for you father, so if and when his needs arise, you are prepared to establish a good boundary with him. For example, if you feel like you are okay with buying him groceries once a week to help support him, decide on the dollar amount and when you are able to take him to the store to get the groceries. Or, if you are willing to help him financially with $100 a month, but nothing more, prepare that boundary vs. waiting until he asks for money from you. Finally, it is also okay for you to decide that your father is self-determining, that he made his own life choices that have left him with little assets and family/friends; you can wish him well and leave it at that. When we hesitate helping someone out, it is typically because we do not have a bond with them, and that’s where the pause comes in. Remember, you were his child; he caused the gap of connection; you get to react to it.


As published in the October 2016 issue of Connections.


About Kari:

Kari O’Neill, MSW, LICSW, is a licensed independent clinical social worker and a resident of Issaquah Highlands.

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