My Father Had Children 30 Years Younger Than Me—What Should I Do?

Dear Newsweek, I'm the 40-something daughter of a man who has remarried for the fourth time. He now has two children under the age of 12, my half-siblings. His wife is a year younger than me. My father and I barely speak.

While I was visiting my father for his birthday, my young brother called me "Miss." Thinking he was simply being formal, I laughed it off and said: "I'm your sister, silly." He replied: "No you're not." He was sincere and confused, which spun me.

My 8-year-old daughter immediately ran to my youngest siblings to announce, "Guess what? My mom is your sister"—before I could stop her. I immediately told her it wasn't her story to tell.

By the time I had apologized to my father and stepmother for my blunder, my eldest daughter, who is 25, had arrived. She couldn't understand why I was sorry. To me, it wasn't for me to tell or explain.

The next day it hit me—my great-aunt has a place in the children's life, my cousins on my father's side are all well known, but I am "Miss." That is a choice my father has made.

Why am I expendable? And why do I feel like I have done something to deserve this feeling?

Wendy, Virginia

'Your hurt is justified'

It sounds like you're trying to make sense of things, but what I want you to know is, you've done nothing wrong.

It's a beautiful thing that your children have such clarity about the situation—their responses were really healthy. [But] by asking them to keep this secret, you are asking them to carry this burden [as well]. Your hurt is justified, as is your confusion. I have so many questions for you and you seem conflicted about what type of relationship you want with your father's family.

It would also be helpful to know more about your father and stepmother's reactions to the issue. Did they think your apology was warranted? Because you have nothing to apologize about.

I imagine you have good reasons for this distance between yourself and your father. My advice would be to sort through what you need. Are you wanting more of a relationship with your father and your half-siblings? Or do you want to keep this distance? Once you know what you want, you can address the issue.

A therapist can help you to process your feelings, as can a trusted friend or mentor. What I would want for you is to develop a coherent narrative about this story and make sense of the situation. Identify your needs and you'll know what to do next.

Karen Pavlidis is founder and clinical instructor of Child and Teen Solutions in Seattle

'You have done nothing wrong'

In order to try to capture the different elements in your extended family dynamic, it's helpful to separate the family members into groups of stakeholders—to lay out what is owed to whom (if at all) and by whom (if at all). While there are clearly others involved, I'll focus here on three groups:

  • You and your children
  • Your father's youngest children
  • Your father (and perhaps his wife)

I start with this list because there's a kind of order of operations here—a hierarchy of needs and responsibilities in a family where the needs of the children ought to take priority over the needs of the parents, and the parents are more obliged to attend to the needs of their children (including their adult children).

This situation is, of course, complicated by the distance between you, your father, and his new(er) family because it's harder to explain the relationship to your half-siblings. But the responsibility for this isn't equally on everyone. Your father is the parent, and even though you're an adult (and a parent), his status as Dad still comes with some obligations. He needed to reach out ahead of time, raise the issue of what might come up with the younger children and talk through your needs, your children's needs, as well as the needs of your young half-siblings.

To be clear, simply deciding to keep (the very real truth of) you being his daughter vague or inaccurate seems to me unkind and dismissive, and it is more than fair to ask why. While your half-siblings may have questions about their father's character and dating history, the wish to keep that a secret or leave it unaddressed seems to be more in the service of his feelings than theirs.

In short, you have done nothing wrong, and seem to be one of several people in this narrative who weren't cared for by their father and grandfather, as he was obliged to do. One big challenge you have is that addressing this with the hope of repair would be predicated on a relationship that it seems you don't have—you're not close in a way that might help you work through this.

My counsel is that you put this to him plainly: "You've harmed me and my children, as well as others that you are obliged to care for, but we haven't been very close. Do you want to work on this?" It's important that you be prepared for the possibility that he may not want to put in that work (which, of course, might look like saying, "Yes" but not following through). If not, you have a hard choice to make, including, among the options, whether or not this is an enriching relationship for you and your children.

Matt Lundquist is founder and clinical director of Tribeca Therapy in New York City


Newsweek's "What Should I Do?" gathers experts to advise a reader on an issue they're having in their personal life. If you have a WSID dilemma, let us know via life@newsweek.com. We can ask experts for advice and your story could be featured on Newsweek.

Eldery father with young son
Stock image of an elderly father with his young son. Family therapy experts agreed that the woman in this case had done nothing wrong and the burden was on her father to make things right. Getty Images

Update 6/13/22, 1:15 p.m. ET: This article was updated with additional comment.