Dear Dr. Smith,
I have been reading your column for a long time and never thought I would have a need to write to you. My family is pretty normal and my children are grown up, so I have a fairly evenly balanced life.
However, something has happened that is making me very nervous and I thought I would ask your opinion.
My Dad is in his 80's and lives alone ever since Mom died 4 years ago. He likes to go to the local bar and enjoy a drink with his buddies every Friday night. He also goes to a Senior Citizens gathering now and then. He comes to my home for Sunday dinner every week and seems happy with his life. He is healthy and enjoys golf. He also belongs to a local health club. He is well-to-do financially and can afford to go traveling, buy a new car, and enjoy dining out.
Dad had a difficult time adjusting to Mom's death. I know that he is lonely, but I never expected what has happened.
Dad has found a girlfriend. They met at the gym about a month ago. She is 25 years younger than he is and has been married twice before. She has no children.
They see each other almost every day. She keeps some of her clothing at his house and she even uses his car at times. However, he has never brought her to family dinners. I did meet her once when he stopped by the house with her in the car.
Dad told me this week that he has asked her to marry him and she said 'yes.' I am devastated by this news and want to know what you think I should do. Please don't think I am worried about losing an inheritance. I just want my Dad to be safe and happy. I have a bad feeling about her and think she just wants him for his money.
Thanks for listening.
Dear Worried Daughter,
First things first – I am assuming that you told me the truth when you said that you "just want Dad to be safe and happy." If that is true, then you're on the right track. I am sure that the news of his impending engagement was a shock to you, considering that he hasn't thought it necessary to bring the woman to visit his family. That's a little strange, but maybe he was worried about introducing her to you.
You do not have either the power or the right to stop your Dad from his marriage plans. He is not a lovesick teen who needs to be protected from his hormones. However, perhaps he needs to be protected in another way.
It sounds as though your Dad needs some legal advice about a pre-nuptial agreement. Those legal documents weren't popular when your Mom and Dad got married, and he might not realize the value of having one. But, with his financial status, he should seriously consider having one prepared. Enlisting the aid of one of his Friday-night buddies to reinforce the need for a pre-nup might help a lot.
If his girlfriend truly loves him and is not after his money or belongings, then she will be contented with signing an agreement. If she balks at the prospect, then he might realize her true intentions.
Another suggestion – invite the girlfriend to dinner at your home and have the family meet her. Make sure that everyone is accepting and pleasant. It would even be nice for you to present her with a small gift to welcome her. You can "scope out" her attitude and behavior.
I'd like you to think about the positive aspects of this situation. Your Dad will have companionship. He will have someone to care for him "in sickness and in health." You will have a stepmother who just might end up being a friend. Stranger things have happened.
You certainly won't want this crisis to affect your relationship with your Dad. Keeping the lines of communication open will be a very important task – to make sure that he is happy and safe.
Good luck as you travel through this potential minefield. Just try and keep a positive attitude and remember – maybe your Dad just misses being married.
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