First, I’m so sorry you are having to deal with this. That is a given. We are all sorry you have to deal with this, but deal with it you must in one way or another.
You cannot be responsible for your father‘s behavior, your mothers reaction to your father’s behavior, or whatever moral malfunction this other woman seems to be afflicted with. You must be responsible for your actions and reactions to knowing this is happening though.
I’ve unfortunately been in a position to have to parent my parents and it isn’t easy. In order to get through confronting a parent about their bad behavior, you have to do a couple of things. I promise you it doesn’t feel comfortable or natural, but it is effective.
You have to compartmentalize the conversation and IGNORE the fact that you are dealing with your father. I set it in my brain that I was dealing with a colleague who had just done something destructive that could potentially affect my job, my relationships with valued colleagues, my safety, and my reputation.
You have to stay on message no matter how he tries to derail the conversation.
“I’m your father! Watch how you speak to me!” should be responded to with, “I know you’re my father. Believe me, it brings me no pleasure to have this conversation and I’m working hard here to talk to you honestly and with as much respect as possible given how difficult this discussion is.”
“My marriage is none of your business!” should be met with, “ordinarily I’d agree 100% but since it is apparent that you have made it my business by conducting your affair right out in the open and you are expecting me to turn a blind eye to the harm you are doing my mother, I don’t really have a choice here. Note that helping you to cheat on mom by being silent is all kinds of wrong and I’m not going to disrespect her that way.”
“Fine -you don’t want to be around it, you don’t have to work here!” should be met with, “okay, but that is a choice you’ll be making. It won’t keep me from doing the right thing and telling my mother what is happening in her life. Mom being told the truth is not negotiable. It will happen today no matter whether you decide to fire me for refusing to stand by while you cheat on my mother. The only decision to make there is whether you are going to be responsible and do it yourself or force your child to have a conversation no child should ever have to have with their parent.”
“What proof? You don’t have any proof! Nothing is happening with OW!” should be met with “I have proof I can hand to mom. I know it’s happening because you haven’t been as diligent about hiding things as you think you have. I’ve witnessed plenty and have proof of much more. At this point, we are past the proof stage. I have plenty of it. You need to be thinking of whether you’re going to tell mom the truth yourself or shuffle that responsibility off on your daughter.”
You have to state your problem, offer him possible choices, and reaffirm your position.
You have to be calm. You have to not respond negatively to threats of being fired by him, emotionally cut off by him, or even warnings about what your mother’s reactions might be. You have to be able to calmly remind him that you aren’t responsible for his horrible decisions or hers, but you are responsible for your reactions and you won’t help him to lie and cheat and jeopardize your mother further by being silent.
1. Your script for a conversation with your father should be straightforward.
“I know you’ve been cheating on my mother. I have proof. You don’t owe me and I won’t hear any excuses for your behavior. What I’m telling you is I have my own moral responsibilities here and I won’t ignore it or be complicit in your affair. I won’t pretend I don’t know. I won’t help you to deprive my mother of knowing the truth about her own marriage. She may have some problems, but she deserves to know what is happening here. Neither you nor I get to decide what’s best for her.”
“You have a few decisions to make. 1. You can tell mom the truth and if she doesn’t mind you having an affair, then I’ll say no more about it. 2. You can decide you won’t tell mom and I will. I’ll provide her with the proof I have and support whatever decisions she makes. I’m well aware she has an alcohol problem and she’s not stable, but none of that gives you license to do what you’re doing. I won’t stand by silently and help you to hide this betrayal. That isn’t something parents should expect of their children, grown or otherwise. You are my father and she is my mother. Expecting me to stand by and pretend that you aren’t doing this to her is not going to happen. If the situation were reversed, I’d be having this same conversation with her.”
“I’m not going to get into a discussion where I tell you exactly what I think of your actions or my own personal pain from adultery, but I’m telling you here and now, I do have an opinion about your behavior and OWs too. If you’re ever interested in hearing any of that, please say so. That said, I think you already understand you’re not going to feel better afterwards.”
“Because you and OW have put me in an impossible position, you should go home tonight and tell my mother the truth about her marriage and her life, because right now she is living in ignorance and deserves to know what is happening in her own life. If I don’t hear from HER that you have told her the whole truth, I’m going to have to have a difficult conversation with her where I make sure she knows what is happening. If you have any understanding or concern for the disgusting position you’ve put me in, you will not force me to be the responsible adult here. You’ll do your own unpleasant work.”
Finish it by telling him you love him (if you do) and you’re hoping he will see that he must do the right thing here regardless of your mother’s mental and substance challenges because they may have both done some horrible damage to their relationship, but expecting you to go along with this mess is likely going to forever damage your relationship with him.
Turn around. Go grab your purse. Exit the building. Let the evening pass. Call your mother the next day and let her know you’re stopping by.
It’s awful and I’m so sorry.