My Painful Money Mistake

I made a mistake.

It’s my biggest money mistake. It is also my most painful one.

I’ve let this mistake have too much control over me, my emotions and relationships.

I try not to think about it, but it’s really hard to let it go completely. Especially as I’ve been in the throes of paying off my debt mountain, I’m constantly reminded of the money wound I’m trying so desperately to put behind me.

What’s my mistake?

My dad owes me a lot of money.

I stopped counting when it passed $30,000.

The money is a combination of a lot of things: money I advanced on his behalf, a loan I was too naive to understand, work I was never paid for, and things I was told were covered or paid for only to realize that I was stuck with the bill.

I try not to think about how different my life would be if I had that money.

Sometimes I’m amazed with myself that I’ve been able to keep myself afloat. Nearly all of this occurred when I was unemployed (read: working for free because I was never paid), couldn’t work due to law school or couldn’t find work in a tight market.

I’m angry with myself that I kept extending credit.

I’m angry at him for taking advantage of me.

Life has been difficult for him over the last 4 years, but I’m angry at him for making no effort to pay me back.

Everyone around me tells me that I need to let it go, but I can’t.

It makes me feel like my whole relationship with my Dad is a lie.

From conversations with him, I think he believes I only deserve to be paid back if I’m financially struggling. He told me I should stop paying back my student loans so aggressively to free up extra money if I need the money.

Right now, my dad and I aren’t speaking.

I don’t really know what else to do.

Do you have any advice? Have you ever let money wreck a relationship?


24 thoughts on “My Painful Money Mistake

  1. Oh gosh, I don’t even know what to say about this, except I am so sorry that money has soured your relationship with your father. I don’t have any advice for you.

    My rental tenants are family (my fiance’s brother and his family), so sometimes it gets a bit awkward. They couldn’t pay rent on time a few times over the past year because they’re paycheque to paycheque. Anyway, I’ve turned into the grumbly mean one, and we’re only talking about $600 – $1200 that I’m hassling over. I’ve gotten quite firm with them and the way I have to be as a landlord absolutely strains the way we are when we’re hanging out as family.

    My brother (4 years older than me) learned at an early age to never lend money to friends that you can’t afford not to get back. And so did I when I was younger, but in the few hundred dollars range. I can’t imagine there being a family tie and more of an implied obligation to help.

  2. Hi Kate

    That’s a tricky blog post to write and very brave of you. I owed money to my brother a while back and it was terrible – the guilt I felt was overwhelming and he was the first person I paid back once we could afford to.

    Family are the trickiest debtors/lenders because of that emotional attachment. I’ve sworn never to borrow money from family again (not that I think they’d ever lend to me!) -in terms of you getting your money back – do you have actual records of the amounts of you could start calculating it? Have you ever told him the amount? He might not realise its so high?

    Maybe small steps like trying to get him to give you a hundred a month or something weekly?

    If not – it’s a tricky one, my only hope is he’s feeling guilty and wants to pay you back somehow at some point


    • I’ve never been the debtor in a family loan, only the lender. I know I’d feel a huge cloud over me if I owed someone.

      As for the amount, he is well aware. Early this summer, he requested and I sent him an itemized list accounting for every penny owed. Sadly, I found out a month later that he never even opened the email when I sent it to him. Then I told him the numbers to his face.

      I would love $100/ month. I’d even settle for $50 or $25/month while he got back on his feet. I guess I’m just hope he feels bad and I get something, but I’m not holding my breath.

      Thanks Natalya.

  3. So sorry to hear this, Kate. That’s terrible that your Dad has taken advantage of you this way. I don’t blame you for not wanting to speak to him. Does your Dad have his financial life straightened up now or still a train wreck?

  4. Oh, this is terrible on so many levels. I hate that your dad is so irresponsible with money that he has used you and then seems so cavalier about it. Terrible! But I also hate that you two aren’t speaking. My own father died while he and I were not on speaking terms (and hadn’t been for over a year). I regret that. I still believe I’d done nothing wrong, but maybe there was a middle ground. So… I don’t know your full story. I don’t know you or your dad, but based solely on what was written today, my gentle and firm advice would be to let go of the owed money. You won’t see it again. Then clear the air with him. Tell him he’s used you and you will no longer discuss matters of money with him. You will never “loan” him money again – ever. No. Matter. What. But that you love him (if that’s true, deep below the hurt) and that you want to repair the relationship. But never, ever due us anything related to money again if you do that. End the conversation – leave, hang up, whatever – the moment it turns to that.

    My heart goes out to you. I realize that the situation is possibly more complex than your post, so only you can decide what the right course of action is. Ever want to rant more privately to another anonymous person – send me an email.

    • I’ve thought about this a lot. When do I give up on the money and try to rebuild whatever is left? The “not speaking” status is a relatively new development in the relationship. The child in me hates that I have to be the bigger person and bring us past this if things don’t turn around. I guess that’s all just part of trying to be an adult.
      Thank you for your kind words Kirsten.

  5. I don’t know the entire story, obviously. On the one hand, I can see the benefit of letting go. It won’t consume your thoughts anymore (yeah, right…) I can also see why you would want to be repaid. $30K is a LOT of money. You mentioned law school, I am not sure if you are finished with it and working as an attorney. From a non-attorney standpoint, people think attorney’s are rich. Perhaps your father doesn’t think you need it, he is having issues with money right now, so he just assumes you aren’t hurting for it.

    Since you currently aren’t speaking, it wouldn’t hurt to send him a letter, spelling out how upset you are, and requesting a payment plan to start repayment. I wouldn’t hold your breath that it will work out, but if you take the time to write it down, he may start to understand how big of a problem this is.

    I would also stop lending him money in any way. If he needs you to do work for him, tell him you need payment upfront or you won’t be able to do it for him. If he asks for a loan, tell him no, and then stop talking. Don’t make excuses for why you can’t lend him the money. Don’t offer a lesser amount. “No, I can’t afford to lend you money.” is a valid answer. Don’t co-sign for him.

    Also, don’t expect the requests to ever end. We have a friend who asks to borrow money any time we see him. Naturally, we don’t see him too often. But without fail, every time we see him, there is a request.

    I totally feel for you. This is extremely unfair of your father to do, and it will probably forever affect your relationship. Like Kirsten above, if you ever need to rant privately, feel free to email me. Good luck!

    • I know part of why I haven’t been paid back is due to the fact that he thinks I’m “rolling in cash.” However, even though he knows exactly how much I make, that number inflates itself in his mind whenever it comes up. Last time I talked to him, I think he gave me a $25k raise! If only!

      To you, me, my husband and the rest of the world, I promise there is no more lending. He’s also smart enough not to ask anymore.

      Thanks for your kind words Mrs. 1500. I appreciate it.

  6. Ugh. I’m so sorry, what a lousy situation. It sounds really similar to Leslie Beslie – she might have some better advice for how to deal with such a crappy situation.

  7. I’m so sorry Kate 😦 One thing I can’t stand is parents who take advantage of their kids, and clearly your Dad has taken advantage of you if you are now in the $30k+ range : / I don’t really have any great advice. I believe in forgiveness, but it doesn’t mean your Dad has to be an integral part of your life. I think sometimes (intentionally) drifting away from someone can be the best way to deal with a situation where someone isn’t understanding or is even taking advantage of you.

    • Drifting away is where I am right now. Even if the money magically reappeared tomorrow, the way everything has been handled is enough to drift away from the relationship. Too many lies. 😦

  8. I once let a friend borrow some money. She didn’t pay me back for a really long time and for a period of time I was very angry and bitter. She eventually paid me back, but it made me learn an important lesson that I shouldn’t lend money, but instead give it freely (if I can afford to do so). Then if the person I gave the money to wants to pay me back (and does) it’s gravy. If they don’t, I’m not upset because I never thought I’d get the money back anyway.

    So sorry to hear about your situation. I can only imagine how much more difficult your situation is, given the fact it’s your dad who owes you money, ugg.

  9. Oh Kate. I’m so sorry your in this situation with your father. My father passed away 10 years ago and I would do almost anything to see him again, but he never took advantage of my generosity either. I understand how your father using you financially and the difference having the money you loaned him would make to your current situation can fuel those hurt feelings. With that said, I would encourage you to find the space to let it go. Not for him, but for you. Forgiveness doesn’t make what he did right. It means you’re ready to move forward. Whether you and your father can ever completely repair the relationship, I don’t know. But don’t hold on to your anger because, even though it’s justified, it’s you who is being held back, not him. And don’t beat yourself up over your mistake either. You did it out of love. And trust me, many people create significant debt that has nothing to do with love. As others have said, don’t loan him any more money. I would also suggest at some point you sit down with your father and have a heart-to-heart. Tell him how hurt you are. Beyond the fact that he owes you money (which is what he may be focused on), but because he took advantage of his daughter’s love when a father should protect her. And that may be something he doesn’t quite realize yet and be the wake-up call he needs.

    • I’ve learned a lot about forgiveness over the last few years. I still have a lot to learn. I think the best thing I can do right now is protect my heart with distance until I can have that conversation.

      Thank you Shannon. I appreciate it.

  10. Oh my goodness, that is so awful! I agree that it is probably best to forgive and move on, but I don’t know how easy that would be if somebody owed me 30K. The fact that it is a family member makes it so much worse.

  11. That is a lot of money for a father to borrow or owe their daughter. As a father I have trouble wrapping my mind around what yours is thinking. Even if you were wealthy, to take money under the pretense of a loan and then not pay it back can’t be logically rationalized. I have a good friend who owes me a lot of money from a business deal but I just mentally wrote it off. I won’t tell him that, I want him to think I expect it someday and he may just surprise me. I still can talk to him and the subject never comes up but I would never, ever, lend a penny to him ever again for anything. My advise is that even though your father is what I would categorized as flawed, he is still your father. As soon as you can accept that you will probably never get that money back, restart communication and just recognize him for who he is and never fall for a money request again. You have lent him far too much already. Don’t let him off the hook by telling him the debt is forgiven so you can secretly give him the gift of having a chance to one day redeem himself to you. Good luck restoring a relationship with your dad.

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