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I never had a good relationship with my father. He was awful to my mom and she finally kicked him out for good when I was five or six. We struggled a lot financially after that. He came to visit us from time to time, but our relationship was always strained, to say the least.
Now I’m in my late twenties, and he recently reached out and offered to help me with my student loans. He has never offered financial assistance in the past, although I know he could have afforded it (he is in car sales). I don’t know why he’s doing this, and part of me just thinks he’s trying to convince me or make himself look like an asshole. I don’t want to give him the satisfaction of feeling like he’s helping me, but at the same time, I could really use him. I owe about $40,000 and can’t wait for payments to resume at the end of the year.
Should I swallow my pride and say yes? If so, how can I create boundaries around this? Or should I just say no?
My gut reaction is that you might just accept his offer and run away. From a moral point of view, you’re clear – it seems your father didn’t support you much financially when you were growing up, so it’s not so much a gift as a refund, as transactional as that sounds. Either way, you don’t owe him anything. And as you point out, this money could help you a lot.
That said, I understand your fears of letting him back into your life, especially if he’s sucking up more energy than you’re willing to give. (I know what it’s like to deal with emotional vampires, and it’s best to keep them at bay, no matter how tempting their overtures may be.)
To determine your next steps, I spoke to Matt Lundquist, Clinical Director of Tribeca Therapy, and Sonya Lutter, Financial Therapist and Founder of EnLite, a research and training program for finance and healthcare professionals. mental. Both pointed out that before moving forward, you have a few questions that you need to answer for yourself.
You mentioned that you don’t know what your dad hopes to get out of it, although you have some ideas. Your first step is to think about asking her. “How do you feel about having a conversation with him about his intentions?” says Lundquist, who has helped many clients with family money issues. “Would you be comfortable calling her and saying something like, ‘Thank you for reaching out with this offer. What’s your plan? Do you see this as a way for us to get closer?’
If, after some thought, you decide to listen to him, pause again and see what you think of his response. Remember that you have free will throughout this process. Money can be a proxy for control, but in this case you hold all the power – if it lets you down or makes you feel uncomfortable, then you are free to disengage at any time. Just make sure you have another plan in place, i.e. a budget that incorporates your student loan payments once they start again. You don’t want to gamble on this financial arrangement and then have it fail, or put yourself in a position where you’re willing to compromise your limits just to keep the money coming.
An optimistic possibility, however far-fetched, is that your father has grown and worked on himself and offers this offer as part of an attempt to make amends with you. But even under the best of circumstances, you don’t have to reciprocate. “You decide what you want to do, and a perfectly acceptable choice at any time is to say, ‘I’m not interested in a relationship with you under any conditions,'” says Lundquist.
Either way, you want to be clear with yourself — and your dad — about the status of your relationship. “Think of it as a non-transactional experience, like it’s coming from a stranger,” says Lutter. “There is no favor expected in return.” Can you communicate this to your father and say something like, “I will accept your gift if there are no conditions”? Would they even be willing to send money directly to your student loan provider so you can minimize contact with them? More importantly, how does he react when you ask him these things?
Lutter also recommends thinking ahead. “In five or ten years, chances are your relationship with your father will be unchanged,” she says. (Unfortunately, past behavior is the best predictor of future behavior.) “But in the same amount of time, paying off some or all of your student loans could make a big difference in your life.”
I also encourage you to consider the role your mother plays in your decisions. I understand why you’re loyal to him, but that alliance isn’t compromised by accepting your father’s financial help, which he probably should have offered all along.
Worst case scenario: Your father is trying to force his way into your life in a way that doesn’t serve you. If that happens, you can cut it again, which takes you back to where you are now. But the best-case scenario is pretty good: your debts will be reduced and your father will have brought something useful to your life. I hope the result is the last. Either way, it seems worth exploring.