By Quentin Fottrell, MarketWatch
My stepdad adopted me when my parents got married. I was 10. He’s the only dad I’ve ever really know.
To cut a long story short: By a certain age I was cut off in many ways. He took me off his health insurance, and taught me nothing about life.
He charged me rent to live with him when I was a full-time student and added other charges. Because of that I had a hard time paying bills or making the rent.
It got to the point where I couldn’t make the rent or charges he demanded and was kicked out on the streets.
My grandparents took me in. They helped to teach me about life, put me on health insurance, took care of me, taught me to drive, balance a checkbook, etc.
They continued to take on the role of guardian anytime I needed help or advice into my adult years. Anytime I asked my dad for help, I was told that I was on my own. It took may years for him to even get close to me or even try to understand me.
Years later, my mom left him. By then, her memory was gone, and she didn’t recall a lot of things — including the emotional abuse toward me or his rent charges. I felt bad about the divorce. He was a financial and emotional wreck afterwards.
He later contacted me, telling me that my mom got the house in his divorce and said my mom “could not deal with almost being close to 60 and having to live in an apartment again.”
Originally his brother, my uncle, was to sign for a new house. Later on he asked me if I would do so instead “because that is what family does for one another.”
I agreed. He promised to never miss a payment. Years later, I hardly see him. His reasons have ranged from being busy with his new fiancée. She hates me, and her daughters are “problem children” and have been in trouble with the law.
I found out later that he had a bad drinking problem. He also had anger-management issues, and I later discovered that he was prone to violence. He talks about his fiancée drinking in the morning but he does too.
He lost his job but lied to me, saying that he quit because “it was a toxic environment” when the truth was he was caught drinking on the job. He now has a smaller income, bad health.
He lied to me again, saying that doctors told him he was dying and there’s nothing he can do when really he was told if he stopped drinking he would improved.
Lately, he’s been hinting that he can’t afford the house payments anymore without some kind of help. Apparently his fiancée was helping, but it sounds like a struggle.
I believe that he wants me to take care of him and help him financially with this house. The way I see it: He has done this to himself and needs to take some accountability and get some help, admit he has a problem, and sell the house and downsize.
Am I wrong? I’m confused and perplexed. A family member on that side of the family made it sound like it’s my job to take care of him. Maybe it’s selfish, but what about my life and my future? When is enough enough?
When you say so.
Enough is enough only when you have learnt what you need to learn from this relationship, so you can move on with your life. This man is your stepfather, but he is also your teacher. What is it that he can teach you? Allow me make a few suggestions.
He can teach you that it’s not selfish to put your needs first. He can teach you that his financial problems are not your responsibility. He can teach you that it’s OK to have boundaries. He can teach you that other people’s expectations are not your problem.
He can teach you that you have the ability to build your own life, and be independent, despite the obstacles that he has put in your way. He can teach you about the power of forgiveness, and how understanding his failings and your own allows you to forgive.
He can teach you that — whether or not he is your biological or stepfather — this is a family system that you can choose to participate in, or not. You do not need to be held hostage by other people. He can teach you that you can live your life on your own terms.
Until you are ready to learn the lessons that you need to learn here, the gravitational pull of this family system — and your stepfather‘s codependency — will continue to draw you in, and disrupt the equilibrium and peace of mind you long for in your own life.
You didn’t say how exactly you helped him buy this house. Did you help him with the deposit? Did you put your name on the deed? Is your name on the mortgage? If so, you will be responsible for paying it if he does not. He can teach you not to do anything that makes you uncomfortable in future.
You don’t need my permission, your stepfather’s permission or your relative’s permission to live your own life, without feeling guilty about other people’s choices. This is some thing that you must give to yourself. I see your letter to the Moneyist as your first step.
<STRONG>Quentin Fottrell is MarketWatch’s Moneyist columnist. You can email The Moneyist with any financial and ethical questions at email@example.com</STRONG> . Want to read more? Follow Quentin Fottrell on Twitter and read more of his columns here.
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