Hi everyone,

I am 29 and just left an abusive marriage and moved back in with my parents. My dad has been diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer, and has been going through treatment for several months. He has never been emotionally available throughout my entire life, but right when he was first diagnosed his outlook on life completely changed and he was openly loving to everyone in the family. His attitude about fighting his cancer was very good, and it made me hopeful about him being able to beat it. Over time, as the chemo makes him feel worse, he has become increasingly negative and toxic to be around. I try my best to let him know I love him, and remind him of the positives, but he has a negative comeback for every single thing I say. I’m dealing with my own grief over my marriage as well as worry about him, and his constant negativity is draining my energy and making me feel emotionally unsafe. I know he is suffering and I get that (I have a chronic pain condition myself), but it is as if he’s determined to be angry and negative, not to feel better. He loudly complains about how nasty the healthy food we cook for him is, he blows everything out of proportion, and tells me I’m wrong every time I open my mouth. I am very concerned that his depression is deepening and I sometimes worry about him considering self harm, because he seems to see nothing positive in life at all anymore. He doesn’t believe in therapy, which I had urged him to use.

Am I going to need to have an intervention? He doesn’t respect my opinions, so I’m not sure how much this would help. At what point do I just accept that he doesn’t want to be positive, and disconnect from him emotionally? How can I protect myself from this as we live in the same house and we are often home together every day? I am an empath and this is very hard to see happening.


I think the first question is whether or not you can find alternate living arrangements after leaving an abusive marriage.   Is there some reason you have to live with your parents?

I think that your father is dealing with enough challenges from cancer that he might not be able to cope with an adult child in his home, unless you're specifically providing care for him, including meals that are cancer compliant, transit to and from medical appointments and chemo, if he's getting it.  

What kind of therapy have you encouraged him to get?   If it's not recommended by his oncologist, I can see why he might question it.

This isn't intended to be critical, but you're young, still have a lot of life ahead of you, but your father apparently doesn't.   And at 29 you still have a lot of working years left as well; I would focus on that, find a job and restore your own self esteem.   That might make it easier for the two of you to interact.

I emphasize that my comments are not intended to be critical, but observations of what I inferred from your post.
Helpful Answer (12)
Reply to GardenArtist

The man is in pain, feels sick all the time, is probably dying, and you wonder when you should accept that he's going to be a downer??

How about yesterday?

Yes, you have your troubles, too, but are you dying? Do you think he feels "emotionally safe" knowing he's dying? I'd love to know what positives you're pointing out that he's rejecting. Sorry, but I'd have a tough time being positive, too.

Sorry to be so harsh, but frankly, you've really missed what's going on because of your own issues. I get it -- life isn't a party for you right now either, but perhaps therapy is where you need to be instead of expecting your dad to be unchanged by the life-threatening situation he's in. You want Dad to be the rock he always was, but this is real life, and he's turning out to be human after all.

Work on your compassion, please. Cancer is horrific, and the treatments are, too. It makes a person turn inward and focus on fighting, and those on the outside often feel rejected and helpless to assist. It doesn't mean they shouldn't stop trying, though.

Seek support for your troubles elsewhere, like therapy, and don't look to your parents for anything other than shelter. Their hands are full with your dad's illness. This is full-on adulting, and it isn't fun, but sometimes you have to step up and handle your own problems without counting on your usual support system when they aren't emotionally available.
Helpful Answer (7)
Reply to MJ1929
GardenArtist Oct 20, 2021
MJ1929, I totally agree.  Having gone through cancer with my mother and sister, I can attest to the fact that focus needs to be on their extreme challenges, not on oneself other than how I (or the OP) can contribute.

As an example, one of my sister's former Big Sisters clients visited her during the last 3 or so months of her cancer, brought her 2 young daughters, and stayed over an hour.  My sister told me later she appreciated the visit but just wanted her to go b/c she desperately needed her own privacy, peace, quiet and rest.   The visit wore her out for the rest of the day.
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Remove yourself from your father's home; it's his right to live in his own home however he sees fit. He's dying of cancer and probably isn't in the mood to be positive at the moment, which you should be able to understand yourself, since you're an adult. If you cannot live in his home and deal with the mood that's going on there, then your only choice is to leave. An 'intervention' is for someone who's an addict when you're trying to save their life. Not for someone who's dying of cancer and you feel it's necessary for them to be 'upbeat' so you don't have to live with negativity!!! I find your post to be shockingly unempathetic to what your father is going through as you seem only focused on what you are 'going through', which is very minor in comparison.

Chemo is a horrible horrible treatment for his body AND mind to undertake, plus he's now expected to eat a 'healthy' diet which doesn't taste good, on top of everything else. One of the last pleasures he has in life, stripped away too, on top of everything else. He's tired, in pain, frightened of dying, feeling the rotten side effects of chemo, eating food that tastes like sawdust, and expressing himself to his loved ones who are supposed to understand and sympathize with him. Yes, it's hard for all concerned, nobody is going to argue that: but it's hardest for HIM and probably for your mother who's doing the direct caregiving AND sleeping with him at night.

"Therapy" is designed to help someone find a fix for their situation; what's going to 'fix' your dad's situation, exactly? Nothing. Either the chemo will extend his life some or it won't, and the quality of his life during that time will be questionable. What do you expect him to gain from therapy besides another bill? Your father is trying to come to terms with his mortality right now, and there ain't nothin gonna fix that, my friend. Try giving him a big hug when he's raging and then leave the room to let him process his feelings. Perhaps a bit of therapy for YOU to figure out how to emotionally disconnect from this situation if you can't or won't move out would be in order. Or maybe you can glean some tips on how to help your dad to get through this ordeal emotionally without absorbing his pain yourself; that would be a blessing.

Wishing you the best of luck with a difficult situation.
Helpful Answer (7)
Reply to lealonnie1
Louise315 Oct 23, 2021
If you had read this persons post carefully, You would’ve noticed that they mentioned that the father was never there for them emotionally and that they just left an abusive relationship. I find it amazing how un-empathetic so many responders here can be to people who are posting here for help or ideas. Maybe it’s the cancer. For some reason, people are always willing to be there for cancer victims. If someone’s dealing with emotional problems, abuse, or psychological issues, we think that not a big deal. It’s fine to suggest that they move out, but you don’t need to make them feel like a loser. Being a caretaker for an angry and upset parent is very difficult - irregardless of the reason - even if it’s cancer. Until you’ve been in that situation it’s hard to understand.
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1) "He has never been emotionally available my entire life, (But" and you know where those are) - It's interesting that you would go for water, so to speak, from a dry well, and get upset about it to boot.
2) Abusive relationship - A child growing up without love sometimes looks for the familiar.
3) Twenty-nine and at mommy and daddy's house. Not healthy. Besides broken tools can't help each other.
Sorry for being so blunt. Most of us, me too, learn the hard way and some take longer than others. You're lucky you're young yet, but barely.
Kindly, you're in no position to help your dad.
While you get yourself in a position to leave just listen, smile or lay low.
You need help to get a better picture of the world you create.
In case you haven't recognized it, I'm a long time listener to Dr. Laura.
Helpful Answer (5)
Reply to MicheleDL

Welcome, Ruby. I'm sorry for the turmoil you are going through.

Is dad's depression being treated? Who is going along with him to doc appointments? Mom, you? Has anyone talked to his oncologist about his extreme negativity?
Helpful Answer (4)
Reply to BarbBrooklyn

It might help to understand the stages of loss by Dr. Kubler-Ross.

Stage 1 - Denial - the feelings and actions that this "loss" isn't real

Stage 2 - Anger - the feelings and actions of anger that this "loss" or situation is unfair. Sounds a bit like the place your father is at.

Stage 3 - Bargaining - the ineffective actions and panicky. desperate feelings that if I do "___________." Things will go back to normal.

Stage 4 - Depression - the feelings and actions of sadness, regret, and depression when realizes this "loss" is not going away.

Stage 5 - Acceptance - the feelings and actions that denote coming to peace with the "loss" and accepting the "new normal".

Please check with your father's oncologist, local hospitals, churches, and online for a local support group. You need to find groups for yourself to find positive ways to move forward and deal with 2 losses. The first is deal with the separation or divorce from your spouse. The second is as a family member as somebody going through cancer. Your father would also benefit from a support group for people suffering/fighting cancer. He might also need a referral from his doctor for a psychiatrist for evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of the mental health symptoms you mention. Just remember that your father has choice of whether or not he receives treatment for his mental health problems.

I would also recommend that you need some work on establishing boundaries on dealing with problem behaviors of others. Please read any of the "boundary" books by Townsend and Cloud. I find them to be practical and extremely helpful. You might wish to enlist the help of a counsellor or therapist as you create and implement plans for dealing with your father's negativity.
Helpful Answer (4)
Reply to Taarna

This is just a simple answer to your question: "At what point do I accept he doesn't want to be positive?" To me the most reasonable answer seems to be: now. He has terminal cancer. He has been through chemotherapy, which made him toxic. Yes, that is what chemo does! It is an awful treatment. He has every right to be mean, nasty and negative. He is fighting a battle for his life and most likely will lose it.

Would it be easier if he were cheerful, upbeat and raring to take on the cancer monster? Yes, of course. But he's not. He is likely afraid, angry and wishes he didn't have the disease and didn't have to deal with the awful treatment. He may not have the emotional and psychological capacity to cope in any other way. If possible, you must be kind, caring and compassionate and accept that he is at where he is at. I know that is easier said than done.

My dad lived with Stage 3 prostate cancer for 11 years. In the last year of his life he was pretty miserable, would often hang his head. I was usually annoyed with him and found it hard to deal with. During the last month of his life, he was impossible. Angry, insulting and miserable. In restrospect, I understand his reactions now. He was dying and he likely had many things in life that were unsaid or undone and he was despairing. I wish I could have been more caring and compassionate towards my father at the end of his life and I suggest you may attempt the same. It's hard but it's the decent thing to do.
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Reply to iamexhausted
Marenpd Oct 24, 2021
Yes, and thank you for how you explained that last part. My father at 90 is often despairing these days, and trying to not be. And I get more alarmed and try/want to help. But I know he's not going to do new things and find joy, unless he wants to go for it. Not because I want him to. Sigh...that's the hardest part. So we text everyday, I go over every week and make him dinner with his food, which makes him very happy. Now I'm helping him make the decision to move into a retirement community so other eyes are on him, not just me, and he might find some new friends and conversation. He likes those things, and people to watch the game with him and compare cookie recipes!
sometimes happiness seems elusive, and then lemon bars turn out and are delicious!
Hi Ruby,

29 is a hard age. You’re old enough to be educated and in a career and a real adult (as opposed to the 18 yo newborn adult). You know a lot, but wisdom is one of the few advantages of seniority (and rare old souls) — it kind of makes up for furniture disease where your chest falls in your drawers.

You know the joy and hardship of being an empath, but maybe this is an opportunity to learn to guard yourself so you aren’t vulnerable to energy vampires. If yes, your dad is giving you a gift.

It may also be an opportunity to learn parenting 101 if dad’s acting like a brat who lets his emotion run ripshod over everyone, and you need to adopt a strategy to manage it. I’d start with calling him out in a way that doesn’t dismiss his feelings but doesn’t let them rule yours:
Dad, this healthy meal is for me. You can eat it or have a PB&J sandwich, Dad, I’m sorry you hurt but I can’t fix this. Dad, I empathize but I’m going to put on my earbuds now. Dad, here’s my suggestion; if you like it, fine; if not, I hope you have a better idea. Dad, I liked you better when you weren’t constantly criticizing me. Dad, I won’t stand here so I can be your whipping post. Dad, getting angry at me won’t fix this. Dad, calling me names (or whatever) isn’t productive so I’m walking away. Dad, I’m confused; if you don’t want me here I can leave. Dad, I have to focus on my job. Dad, dying means you’ve finished your visit at the amusement park Earth and are going home. Dad, you’re being a “little shit” (quoting my elder MIL) but I love you.

In other words, quietly, calmly, empathetically set your boundaries and personal goals & stick to them — but expect dad to dig in and go full tantrum before realizing he lost control (think toddler dropped off at daycare and howling to guilt mom/dad into staying).

Btw, you say you moved in with your parents. Where’s mom in this?

You got this. Figuring out the how to will add to your reservoir of wisdom. Good luck 🍀
Helpful Answer (4)
Reply to Erikka
Marenpd Oct 24, 2021
What a wonderful post! Boundaries and care-giving are so hard. You said it all so well, the complication, the confusion, the bullcrap, the needs... Thank you for that. It helps me too.
You do not seem to be empathetic. Your father has a serious illness and can be negative or angry if he wants. Interventions are not warranted. Get out of his house and let him be. Your attitude does not seem to helpful or supportive.
Helpful Answer (4)
Reply to Bridger46164
Louise315 Oct 23, 2021
Neither is yours!!🙄
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Your father is grieving.
Be compassionate.
Listen y to him.
He really needs you now.
He is scared , his life as it was is changing
Look over his snapping at you
He has every right to feel angry
Love him
You may not have him for long
Dont let his parenting in the past
have you mistreating him now

I am sixty eight.
Im in remission two years out from colon cancer.
My family acted like what i had was contagious

i was the driver child caregiver everything now i can’t do anything
the chemo did horrible things to my body
im no longer useful and they all resent me

i feel like i died and no one remembered to bury me

Believe me your father is going through something terrible.

Hes scared

plrase be kind to your fathet
Helpful Answer (4)
Reply to Ggneedshelp1
Louise315 Oct 24, 2021
Ggneedshelp1 I’m so sorry that you feel your family has abandoned you. That is so painful! Hugs. We are all dealing with so many painful situations! Congrats on your remission, though!
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