Dear Harlan: I’m a 24-year-old, white Italian woman who has been in a secret relationship with a 31-year-old Hispanic man from Ecuador. We have been dating for almost five years, and this is the man whom I know I’m going to marry and have a family with. Not to sound corny, but I want to spend the rest of my life with him. He is an amazing guy. He graduated with a 3.9 GPA in electrical engineering, and has a well-paying job. When I was about 19, my parents found out I was dating him and flipped out. Glasses were thrown on the floor, and my parents were pacing around the room. There was horrible yelling and screaming, and assumptions were being made about him. It wasn’t so much my mom, but my dad. In the midst of this horror show, I was called names and was told I was being selfish. Now, my parents do pay for a lot of things while I’m still in school. I used to constantly beat myself up with the fact that maybe I was the problem. Whenever conversations came up about race, I always had the opposite opinion of my parents. And because of that, I was called “stupid,” “a moron,” and constantly told that I don’t know what I’m talking about. This year, my boyfriend and I want to take the next step and eventually tell my parents that I’m moving out. Living at home makes me depressed, and it also makes me resent my father more than ever. I know my mom will never disown any of her children. With my dad – and I know this is a sad thing to say – I don’t care if he disowns me or not. My problem is that I am a very emotional person, and I’m terrified of my father in some respects. I always worry about what he will think, and I believe it stems from my childhood with him. How can I approach him with this, yet again? — Secretly Dating
Dear Secretly Dating: Most kids want their father’s approval – I know I do. Choosing what you want over what your dad wants is part of being an adult. Being a strong and independent woman means giving your father permission to not always agree with your choices, and loving him regardless. It means understanding why he doesn’t support your choices and acknowledging it. It means not having to depend on him financially. Once you make peace with this truth, it will be easier to share your feelings with your dad and listen without being defensive. Prepare for the worst, and hope for the best. Practice the conversation. The message is, “Dad, I love you. I respect you. You’ve been the best teacher. I found someone who loves and respects me. He also respects our values and culture. I intend to raise a family with our values and culture. I hope you can see that I’m happy, loved and respected. I know it might take time for you to accept my choice. I love you.” Instead of seeking his approval, invite him to be part of your life. Be prepared for him not to accept your choices. Find a spiritual leader or someone in the family whom you can lean on. You don’t want your mom to be the only person in your corner. Hopefully, time will show your dad what you already know: This man loves you and wants to love your family.