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Ask Amy: Grieving dad struggles to move on

Staff Writer
The Ledger
The Ledger
DEAR AMY: Four years ago, I had a serious work-related accident. I was getting ready for my fourth surgery. It was a risky procedure, and there was a good chance I might never walk again. I was terrified.
Right before my surgery my wife left, which, in itself was hard, but she abandoned all four of her children too. Three of them were my stepchildren (they were biologically hers).
The two years since she left have been extremely difficult because three of our four children stayed with me and the fourth moved in with their biological father. My surgery went very well. It took a long time, but I can walk again.
My biggest worry has always been the kids, though. My ex-wife ignores all of them. She has never helped to support them.
They are so angry at her and I don't want them to carry that anger and resentment, because that's how I have been my whole life. I want them to be happy.
I give them all the love I have, but their mother's abandonment has been devastating to all of them. I don't care about the pain she caused me personally, but my children want their mother.
It rips me apart that she only calls them every four or five weeks, and only sees them once or twice a year.
I'm just an old broken man that could really use some advice. — BROKEN HEART
DEAR BROKEN: For you to help your children through this estrangement, it is vital that you find ways to become less broken. Your physical recovery is a triumph. Now you need to continue to expand and demonstrate your emotional resilience.
From your narrative, it seems that your ex's reprehensible behavior has become a defining experience for you. But it's not. What you are doing now — steadfastly parenting through this storm — this is what defines you!
You have to show your kids that life does go on, and that you — and they — have some control over what happens next. I hope you will build a legacy of positive and hopeful experiences that become the defining next chapters. Build your friendships with other adults. Other successful single parents (fathers and mothers) will help to show you the way.
You might also explore the possibility of legally adopting your stepchildren, so that they will always know that you belong together. Changing your legal status from stepdad to “Dad,” might help all of you to move on together as a family.
DEAR AMY: I have been married for five years. We have two beautiful boys. While we've had typical ups and downs, we are happy.
In high school, I had a serious boyfriend for three years. It was a very emotionally abusive and a very unhealthy relationship for me.
However, for the last year and a half, I have had dreams about this high school boyfriend every night!
Some dreams are a bit steamy, but most of them are like clips from an unlived life. We're doing daily tasks in our home, spending time with his family, going out with friends.
The kicker is, I'm so happy in these dreams! My rational mind knows that there were few positive aspects to this relationship from over a decade ago, but what gives? A dream or two is one thing, but 18 months of them!? — CONFUSED DREAMER
DEAR DREAMER: Our subconscious sometimes emerges during dreams to help us resolve issues in our waking lives. I suggest that you start writing down your dreams each day in order to look for emergent patterns that you could interpret. The act of writing will help you to recall specifics in your dreamscape.
My own interpretation is that you might feel guilty for staying in such an unhealthy relationship for so long. Rewriting the old script (exploring the “unlived life”) might be your mind's way of trying to prompt an attitude of acceptance and forgiveness toward your younger self. I hope you follow this prompt.
The fact that you are having these dreams every night without resolution is cause for concern. A psychologist could help you to turn the corner and dream differently.
DEAR AMY: “Sheltering in Wisconsin” expressed a coronavirus-related concern, and in your answer, you advised her to “wipe” shared handles with disinfectant.
Amy, these disinfectant wipes may not be as useful as you think in containing the virus. — CONCERNED
DEAR CONCERNED: If I were concerned about transmission from a doorknob, I would open the door using the wipe itself, in order to avoid direct contact.
You can email Amy Dickinson at askamy@amydickinson.com or send a letter to Ask Amy, P.O. Box 194, Freeville, NY 13068. You can also follow her on Twitter @askingamy or Facebook.