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Woman Struggles to Express Compassion for Incarcerated Father

DEAR ABBY: I'm a woman in my 30s. My father has been in prison since I was a tot. I was raised by my mother who, in my opinion, did a great job. My relationship with my father has been damaged for as long as I can remember. He will never get out, and part of me is angry at him for making such poor life choices.

When I was a teenager he struck me once during a visit. He is also manipulative and sometimes does hurtful things. For example, a few years ago he wrote me letters to which I never responded. When I finally got around to writing him back, he mailed my letters back to me (unopened) and said I deserved to see how it felt to have letters go unanswered.

He has said he's convinced he will die within five years because he's nearing the ages when his parents died. I think there's something wrong with him, and I'm afraid that after he passes on I'll feel like I didn't make enough of an effort. How do I proceed with my relationship with my father? -- CAUTIOUS IN THE SOUTH

DEAR CAUTIOUS: Your father made terrible life choices, and he's spending the rest of his life paying for them. I don't blame you for feeling anger at his inability to parent you. However, before advising you to write him off, I would need to know why he lashed out at you during your prison visit, even though hitting is unacceptable.

When people are incarcerated, their ability to reach out is severely limited, as I am sure you know all too well. I don't think the way your father handled your ignoring his letters was bad or wrong. If his silence stung you, imagine how yours affected him.

Whether or not your father is dying is beside the point. I think on some level you know you have to treat him with more compassion than you have, or you wouldn't have written to me. I don't know anyone who hasn't made mistakes. Your father made a doozy. But you say your mother raised you right, and if that's true it couldn't hurt to treat him with some compassion.

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