Ask a counsellor: ‘My dad’s always been a closed book – how can I get him to talk about his health?’

Ask a counsellor: ‘My dad’s always been a closed book – how can I get him to talk about his health?’

The problem…

“My dad has always been a complicated man and, much as I’d like to be, we’ve never been close. He’s always been a farmer and works long hours. He never says very much to anyone about life and his problems. I’ve now moved away from home to go to university. I miss my family and although I speak to my mum and brother, I hardly ever speak to my dad.

“I know he has an eye condition which is getting worse, but he’s never talked about it to any of us and my mum says she doesn’t know what it is either, as he doesn’t like talking about it.

“My cousin has just found out that she’s got a degenerative eye condition too and now I’m wondering if his condition is genetic. If it is, I really think I need to get my father to talk to me about it. One day, I might want to get married and my fiancé might feel differently about having children with me if they’re going to inherit something nasty.”

“I would love to be close to my father, like other people are, but he just doesn’t seem to want to be. Can you think of a way in which I could get him to open up?”

Fiona says…

“Your letter suggests that your father has always been an introverted man. However, your health is important, so you need to get him to talk to you about his eye condition. Hopefully he will see that it is important to share this information but, if he refuses to do so, I suggest you enlist your mother’s help.

“Your father may not have confided in her about his eye condition, but she has known him the longest and probably stands the best chance of getting through to him. How does she deal with his isolated nature? Her relationship with him is obviously going to be different to yours, but she may have some pointers on how to get him to talk.

Farming can be a high-pressure line of work (iStock/PA)
Farming can be a high-pressure line of work (iStock/PA)

“If he’s the same with all family members, however, then you’ll need to find a new way to reach him; one that all the family can adopt. This is unlikely to be easy; he’s established a habit of internalising his thoughts and emotions. To break through this, you could try talking about things that interest him. If this is solely work-related at this stage, so be it. Finding any sort of common ground will start to break down barriers.

“Unfortunately, his profession doesn’t help. Farming is a high-pressure occupation requiring farmers to work long hours often with little or no contact with other people. Also, there’s often little free time; unlike other professions farmers are effectively on-call 24/7 to deal with a myriad of livestock, land or weather issues. Many farmers also face acute financial issues. I say this not to excuse his remoteness but to suggest that he probably has a lot on his plate most of the time; and if he seems wrapped up in his work it is understandable.

“That said, the last thing he should be doing is isolating himself. Persistent pressure like this can often lead to physical and mental health issues, particularly in isolating professions like farming. Given this, it would be in your father’s best interest to find some way to at least share his worries.Finally, please remember that while your father may not show it, I’m sure he loves his family. Why else would he work so hard?”

:: If you have a problem you need help with, email Fiona by writing to help@askfiona.net for advice. All letters are treated in complete confidence and, to protect this privacy, Fiona is unable to pass on your messages to other readers. Fiona regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

- Press Association

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