Ask Natalie by Natalie Bencivenga

Father who never was around suddenly wants to connect? Embarrassed by your dad’s much younger girlfriend?

DEAR NATALIE: My dad has never really been in my life much. He never wanted to be a father and walked away from me and my mom when I was only six. Recently, he has been trying to get in contact with me. I’m 27 now and my mom died recently. My dad has been diagnosed with cancer and he is remorseful that we haven’t had a relationship. He has called and left several messages, but I haven’t responded. I don’t know how I feel. He wasn’t there when my mom died, he never even sent me a card or anything and now that he is facing his own mortality, he suddenly wants to be in my life. I don’t want to fake a relationship, but I don’t really have much other family besides my mom’s parents, who I lived with for most of my childhood. They think that I should do whatever feels best, but have encouraged me to have an open mind. What do you think? -- CONFLICTED OVER DAD

DEAR CONFLICTED OVER DAD: I agree with your grandparents on this one. I think you should do whatever helps you sleep at night. This is clearly bothering you and for good reasons. Maybe you feel as though if you meet with him you will somehow be betraying your mother. Maybe you feel so hurt by his abandonment that you wouldn’t even know how to start a relationship. Maybe you are afraid that if you do get close to him, he will die from cancer and leave you alone again. These are all valid feelings but they are all rooted in fear. I always think that deep down, if we peel back the layers, we make decisions from only two places. From love or from fear. The question is, which do you want to make a decision based in? If you make a decision based in love, what does that look like? Does that look like meeting him for a cup of coffee? I don’t have to tell you that he has behaved selfishly. You know that. But, if he is coming to you and wants to connect, maybe it is time to hear him out. He owes you and your mother and your family an apology. He owes you all those years back. He can’t do that and he knows it. But maybe, if he proves to be remorseful and willing to earn your trust, perhaps you can move from the past to the present and form a new friendship before it’s too late.

DEAR NATALIE: My dad just recently got divorced from his second wife and now is starting to date women who are younger than me. This is really grossing me out and bothering me. My dad is 67, I’m 33, his new girlfriend is 29. I haven’t warmed to her at all, naturally, and I think she is with my dad for the wrong reasons. He is a very successful businessman and has made a lot of money over the years. I think she sees dollar signs. He says I am being overprotective and he just wants to have fun, but I can’t get on board with this. How can I get him to find someone more suitable? -- EMBARRASSED DAUGHTER

DEAR EMBARRASSED DAUGHTER: Your dad has currency but his new girlfriend has a currency of her own. Don’t be so quick to judge. You are all adults and you don’t know what went on in his last marriage. Maybe he needs to just enjoy himself right now and he found someone fun, vibrant and with a youthful energy about her. I know a lot of people would feel like this is “gold digging” but isn’t he doing the same? He’s searching for the fountain of youth and found it with her. While I agree that in the long-term, this probably won’t last, what is the harm in letting him live his life? You’ve said your piece, he heard you, and now he gets to do what he wants. Instead of pushing against this, just try to get along with his new girlfriend. You may find out she is not as awful as you imagine. And if she is? Then you just have to step back and let it play itself out. What else can you do? If you push him away, then where will you be?

Natalie's Networking Tip of the Week: Collaboration is the new competition. When you are at networking events, find people in businesses that you could work with. They will get the benefit of a new audience and so will you. It’s a win-win!

Please send your questions to Natalie Bencivenga to her email,; or through postal mail to Natalie Bencivenga, 358 North Shore Dr., Pittsburgh, PA 15212.

(This column was originally published by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)