DEAR ABBY: As a clinician specializing in geriatric mental health, I was concerned about your response to "Ambivalent in California" (Sept. 10). She asked whether to sever ties with her 85-year-old father after he molested his young granddaughter. Your advice to pursue treatment was on target, but the guilt trip you placed on Ambivalent for wanting to maintain a relationship with her father was cruel.
Given that his behavior did not manifest until an advanced age, it was almost certainly due to age-related changes consistent with emerging dementia. She will need to make sure that proper care is provided for her father and should be instrumental in accessing services and placement options that will guarantee he cannot victimize anyone else. (Elder services and her family physician can suggest appropriate referrals.)
She will also need to nurture and care for her daughter. Hopefully, with the assistance of a skilled professional, Grandpa's probable pathology can be delicately explained. It may help her healing process if she knows the cause of the behavior was illness.
Of course, it's important to protect the teenager from further harm, as she has already suffered enough. Fortunately, this can be accomplished without rejecting a weakened and elderly parent at a vulnerable time in his life. -- GERIATRIC PROFESSIONAL IN N.H.
DEAR GERIATRIC PROFESSIONAL: Thank you for offering a more empathetic insight than I offered. Other readers shared similar personal experiences that support your view. Read on:
DEAR ABBY: My grandfather was a dear man, a gentleman with whom I spent a great deal of time while growing up. We waded trout streams together, weeded gardens together, and he taught me to play cribbage. The warm memories go on and on.
But as an elderly man, nature caused him to take a turn. Mom telephoned us girls (now mothers ourselves) and warned us not to bring our daughters to visit. I was shocked at the idea that Grandpa had become a "dirty old man." But his kindness and gentleness were gone, as were his smile and the twinkle in his eye. He would have been horrified to realize what he had become.
Abby, you are right that "model fathers" do not molest their granddaughters. But elderly men sometimes, for some reason, can become unaware of their boundaries. And sometimes they become someone other than the person they were years ago. Please do not condemn them. -- BEEN THERE IN MICHIGAN
DEAR ABBY: My dad had dementia for a number of years before his death at 98. Dad, who had always been a prude about sex, began making inappropriate comments. It was caused by dementia. I wish I had been more understanding and patient with him.
I understand Ambivalent's love for her father and not wanting to cut him out of her life. She must explain to her daughter that her father is unable to think normally and clearly and visit him alone in his final years. -- STILL MISSING MY DAD
DEAR ABBY: My family experienced a similar situation. Although Dad never molested anyone, he did expose himself to my teenage nieces. He was diagnosed with dementia, and as a precaution, we no longer left him alone with our children. I am glad we got him the kind of help he needed. And I urge other families in this situation to find support groups. You are not alone. We lost Dad two years ago and miss him terribly. -- YOUNGEST DAUGHTER IN INDIANA