How to deal with a father who’s been in prison

Justinsbae asks: It’s Fathers’ Day once again, and I just feel like crying. I see everyone posting on social media about their dads and I’m just sitting here without one. I haven’t seen my dad since I was 3 or 4. I always assumed it was because he didn’t care, but then I see on the news this year that someone with the same name as him has been in prison for about 10 years, so maybe that was why he hasn’t come to see me. He also has a girlfriend and two other children. Anyway on to the advice bit. I need your help as he is getting out soon, and has contacted my mum and has asked to speak to me. But I’m not sure how I should do that as I hate talking on the phone and a text or letter can come off the wrong way. I feel the best way would be to meet him and tell him how much he has affected me, as that’s what I have always wanted to say to him. But I don’t think meeting him is possible as his girlfriend stopped sending me money through the post in the last two years apparently, so I’m guessing she wants nothing to do with me. Please help what is the best way of contacting him?

Hi justinsbae –


Wow!  This letter makes my heart hurt!  I am so sorry you’re going through all this!


You bring up a number of really difficult issues. Parents who have girlfriends or boyfriends or spouses who try to keep them from interacting with their kids; how to tell your parent about the effect they’ve had on you; how to talk with someone when you don’t like talking on the phone; having a parent in prison; and not knowing why you haven’t heard from your father in years. Any one of these is enough for me to write one of my usual posts on, and all of them together are… WOW!


So I’m going to have to pick and choose. I’ll start with the last one, which I think is the most important for you. The fact that you haven’t known why you haven’t heard from him. Did your mother know he was in prison? Has this been kept from you (maybe out of very loving reasons)? Or did she just find out too? Or are neither of you even sure he’s the man you heard about? Either way, none of this is your fault, of course, and it is absolutely THEIR job to make this meeting work, especially his.


I’ve been a prisoner (in a dog pound) and know how terrifying and demeaning the experience is. If your dad has been in prison, am sure he’s been through hell. But, even so, I’m pretty sure he could have written you letters during this time. And he should have. And if he wasn’t in prison, if that was just someone else with the same name, this is even more true.


I’m not trying to beat up on your father. People go through all sorts of experiences, and some have their reasons to not talk to their kids, but again, this doesn’t change the fact that now, if he wants to talk with you, he should be willing to go through anything to do it.


So if you don’t like talking on the phone, have your mom tell him so. Can he meet you in person (For all I know, he’s on the other side of the world)?  Can he Skype or FaceTime or some other picture-phone? Would it be best for you to carry out your first conversation in writing – either email or through actual letters?


Either way, YOU should be able to decide.


But first, you deserve to know the truth. Where is he, what’s he been doing, and at least a bit, why hasn’t he been in touch?


I really hope this works out. I hope you and he are able to connect, and start to develop a real relationship. It won’t be the same as if you’d had a dad around when you were a kid, but it can still be something very special.

But it’s going to take work. Some work on your part (probably involving some eventual forgiveness) and lots of work on his. And his first job is going to be to find the right way to connect with you, based on what YOU want and YOU need.   Because you’re the one who’s never gotten what he wants or needs, ever, in this situation.


And if it works, if you can overcome everything and develop a real relationship, based in honesty and acceptance… Oh justinsbae, you might find that Fathers’ Day becomes your very favorite holiday of the year.


With my very best wishes,



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