I have a problem with my father. We’ve had a close and loving relationship all my life, and until recently my father was a great dad and grandfather, keeping up the family tradition of continuing our family name. He gave me my first car when I was 12, a 1989 Mazda 626 with 140,000 miles on it. We stayed in touch, but not for long; he went through a divorce and my relationship with him fell apart after that. Every three years we would reconcile when we talked, and every time the phone didn’t ring.
Then, a few years ago, we were in the supermarket and I spotted the same car my dad gave me, sitting in the middle of the parking lot with a sticker that read “nearest factory warranty.” I asked if that was the same car I was driving, and he quickly said it was, but he hadn’t renewed the car’s warranty. Needless to say, I had a big problem. I find it hard to believe that Dad would offer a car with 140,000 miles on it if it wasn’t the one I drive. So I confronted him about the car, and he gave a lame excuse: He’d had a hard week and hadn’t been home to update the warranty and got lost. I asked him why he let me drive the car, and he didn’t answer me; I’m left with the feeling that he’s lying.
It turns out that Dad’s divorce was very recent and the situation has been dragging on for quite some time, and we’ve spent a lot of time over the last year trying to mend fences. He has never shown any anger toward me, and has taken my complaints in stride, but when I began following up on the dealership notice, he only agreed to talk if I told him how I got the car. Knowing my dad, I believe he lied and purposefully left me driving a rusted car with 90,000 miles on it. I don’t know what to do.
Can you tell me whether I should confront him? How do I keep my dad honest, without him asking me for information I’m not supposed to have?
A husband, I admire your patience and your willingness to overlook a lie that’s been going on for over a year.
As you have acknowledged, Dad hasn’t been truthful about the car; he’s lied about whether he was “lost.” He’s also lied about giving you a car with more than 100,000 miles on it. The only way you can convince him to tell the truth is by sticking it to him. If he’s a good liar, he’ll get a smug “what an interesting talk” out of the confrontation, but it’s not worth the risk of becoming even more suspicious of him.
Your most effective response is the simplest. It’s rude to lie and petty to hide. More often than not, the person who hurts us is also the person who hurts us, and it’s better to have an open conversation about his behavior in order to protect your own sense of self.
It’s not always easy to be honest with your own loved ones when they lie, but you’ll be less likely to be hurt if you confront them when they refuse to be honest.
Just before you confront him, ask him to think about all the ways he could not be in direct control of the thing he had previously stated — why he was going to buy the car in the first place, why he needed to sell it, why it had a factory warranty, how he wasn’t traveling back and forth from where it was parked so often, why the vehicle was undecorated. Ask him to think about all the different ways he could be in direct control over his behavior, so that he has a better understanding of what you’re looking for.
It’s up to you to make a decision about what to do, but if you think the car is in serious danger, give the shop a call and let them know you’re having a problem. They’ll be glad to help.
If it turns out that the car is fine, you may be able to keep more of the guilt for yourself — and show a little humility.
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