He's still so hurtful to me in every way imaginable and yet here I am, being a sucker until the very end. How do I deal with all of the self-loathing for having essentially been complicit in his bad behavior? I can hear (the imagined?) tsk-tsking from your readers (and from you, Carolyn, because you lost a mom who was clearly amazing and devoted).
I've decided not to speak about any of this as my last gift to him, but it's costing me. I'm just so angry at myself. How do I deal with it? I genuinely wish him no ill will, I'm just torn up by the lack of justice here. Not only will he never be held accountable for being so unrelentingly selfish and cruel, but now I'm burdened with these feelings that I fear would only make me sound petulant and somehow ungrateful. Help.
Answer: Oh my goodness - you'll get no tsk-tsking from me, not even close. You have not been "complicit." A father who calls his 9-year-old a profane name is knocking her off the grow-and-thrive path and onto the survival path. You didn't have any say; from an age before awareness, you have simply done what you felt was necessary to get by, because that was the one choice he gave you.
Now that you are an adult, please see this and forgive yourself. Give yourself the one thing he couldn't or wouldn't give you: acceptance that you matter. You matter no more and no less than any other human being, and that means you're just as entitled to dignity, civility, and the freedom to be flawed without getting those flaws shoved back in your face every time you express them.
You had no say then, but you do now. How you respond to what he's done to you - and what you make of yourself now - are the priorities you've earned. In other words, guide yourself onto the grow-and-thrive path. Since a dying father means you're likely to need it anyway, look up your local hospice provider and find out what counseling services they offer. It's not as if you can pluck compassion off the shelf and take it to the register, but hospice comes close. Take your burdensome truth there, and your mixed feelings and your self-loathing and no doubt your anger at your fate in the parent lottery, and leave it all there. You're not petulant, you're not ungrateful, you're a survivor of systematic abuse.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at email@example.com, or chat with her online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.