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Dear Family Whisperer: Which Father Do I Celebrate?

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GRANDFATHER AND CHILD
Camille Tokerud via Getty Images

Dear Family Whisperer,

I'm a child of divorce. My husband and I have 3-year-old twins. This will be our fifth Father's Day together, and I'm dreading it... once again. Between us we have three "fathers" -- two biological fathers and my step-dad. My father left when I was 12, and lived far away from our family until last year. He is getting older, apparently has some regrets and says he wants to be closer to the boys. I'm trying to trust him, because I'd like him in my life, but I'm skeptical and still angry at him. My step-dad has been more like a real father to me, and since my mother's death last year, he's alone. My husband isn't particularly close to his parents, who live an hour away, but he feels he "owes" it to his dad to spend Father's Day with him. How do we make everyone happy?

-Frazzled

Dear Frazzled,

Your situation is not just because of divorce. It's familiar to most married couples who have at least two dads to consider on Father's Day. However, you're also dealing with past hurts that obviously cause you pain. Still, this Father's Day doesn't have to be a disaster.

Stop thinking of yourself as a "child of divorce." You're an adult. Focus first on what's best for the family you created. What does Fathers Day mean to you and your husband? Is it a time to honor your fathers or your husband's new role? Is it also an opportunity for your twins to know their grandfathers?

Look into your heart and imagine each of the fathers in your life. What are you grateful for? Angry about? We often have mixed feelings about the people we love the most -- with good reason. No one is all good or all bad! It might help to write letters to each man. You don't have to send them; the act of writing will help crystallize your thoughts and emotions -- and put the past in its place.

Ideally, convince your husband to do the same thing, and have a conversation about it afterward. Listen as if you were each other's therapists-carefully and without judgment. It is no doubt easier for your husband to gauge how much your father is "trying." He might also remind you of how good your stepfather was to your mother. Likewise, it might help him to see his father through your more impartial eyes.

Look at the practical side, too. What kinds of arrangements might be less stressful for all of you? If the fathers get along, is there an option to celebrate together at your house or a neutral place such as a restaurant? If not, might you consider a Father's Day weekend -- go to your in-laws one day and host your father and/or step father on another?

Of course, it's also important to think of the fathers themselves -- what they need and what your "best self" wants for each of them. Generosity and kindness benefits the giver as much as the recipient.

Regardless of the past, the important issue is how you might better these relationships in the present. One father might be happy with a sincere, carefully conceived letter summing up what he means to you. Another might need to be part of a celebration or want to cook dinner for you.

If you don't know, ask. Be honest about your quandary. To your own father, admit (if you haven't already) that you are wary after so many years apart but that you'd like to believe he can now be in your life. To your step-father, you might say that although you got off to a rocky beginning (which is true of most teens dealing with a new stepparent), you've come to understand and appreciate him. Tell your father-in-law what he's added to your life.

Indeed, having a heartfelt and kind conversation with each man might be the best Father's Day celebration of all!

Have a family question for Melinda Blau? Tweet #DearFamilyWhisperer or email DearFamilyWhisperer@familywhispering.com. Check back next week to see if your question is featured! Real names will not be used, no topics off limits. Adults and children welcome. These columns are brief. You'll find more on this topic in FAMILY WHISPERING, co authored by Melinda and (the late) Tracy Hogg. Also check out the website: FamilyWhispering.com and follow @MelindaBlau.