Waving, Not Drowning

Dear Viv: Should I contact the woman my dad's been flirting with?

On this week's podcast, Viv discusses whether a daughter should get involved in her father's office flirtation – and whether she should even know about it in the first place

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Dear Viv,

My father recently confessed that something untoward is happening with a lady he works with. For context, I am the eldest and only child from my father’s first marriage; when I was three, he had an affair with my now step-mother with whom he had a son. My mother similarly remarried and went on to have more children, so despite early acrimony, I have grown up having a mostly healthy relationship with both parents and feel no ill feelings towards my stepmother. On the contrary, as she has been in my life for twenty years, I see her as a second mother and am very close to her.

My father has long struggled with mental illness (namely depression), a condition which I myself have inherited. As such, my father has seen me as a confidante and a natural ally, as I admit our brains do work in similar ways. However I am somewhat reluctant in the role. I work very hard at keeping my own mental health in check by providing a steady and calm atmosphere around me, and my Dad’s drastic mood swings do take a toll on me. 

Several years ago, I found out that he had been using dating sites for married people. I was furious and didn’t talk to him for six weeks. I felt so betrayed that my Dad was willing to lose the life he had built for himself and hurt my step mum and brother. Anyway, my Dad promised that nothing had happened beyond messaging and that it was ego related and tied up with his mental illness. After several letters threatening to harm himself if I didn’t forgive him, I relented and we moved on but told him that if anything like this ever happened again, I wouldn’t keep quiet as I didn’t want to lose my step mum if she ever found out I had lied to her.

Despite this though, my father has admitted that a lady he works with has "misread their chemistry". He says that she has been an important friend and describes her as a soul-mate in terms of friendship but she is apparently heavily pursuing him and has frequently told him that she wants more.  My Dad has told me he has frequently said no and that he loves his wife and family, but her response is that she likes a challenge.

I know my father. He is gregarious and flirtatious, I can imagine that he has accidentally or otherwise encouraged her, but her persistence and apparent willingness to step on people to get what she wants is frightening. My step mum is a wonderful yet hard woman, she would leave and not look back if he betrayed her.

As a committed singleton, I’m not terribly qualified to give him advice, but I told him I think he should send her a message explaining why their friendship must end and then block her number and remove her from his private phone and that all future communication should be through their professional work email. He says he will find this really hard as she is such a good friend (a good friend would leave a married and fragile man alone).

I’m terribly worried about what I can do. I’m the only person who knows and I’m worried it will escalate without me doing anything. But there isn’t anyone for me to ask advice or to tell and it feels like a bloody big burden.

I wish I trusted my Dad to deal with it on his own, but as I have said he is mentally fragile and I don’t trust him to accidentally make things worse.

Do I contact this woman and tell her to back off?

Please help a very worried and tired daughter!

You can hear the answers to this question on Viv’s podcast, Waving, Not Drowning, above.

This question has been edited for length. 

Got a question for Viv? Email her at DearViv@thepoolltd.com. The Dear Viv podcast airs fortnightly on The Pool at 5pm on Tuesdays. All letters will be edited for length. Unfortunately Viv cannot reply to your emails personally. 

You can subscribe to The Pool's podcasts on iTunes.

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