When one parent dies, the surviving parent often faces enormous difficulties. According to Irene Franck and David Brownstone, authors of "Parenting A to Z" (Harper-Collins; $32.50), some children may feel anger at the person who died. Others may feel abandoned and, as a result, lash out at others. Some may show no emotion, and some may cry constantly, becoming introspective. But difficult as death is for the child to handle, the problems are compounded when the surviving parent makes the decision to get on with life and seeks new people and new associations. Sometimes children try to take over the life of the survivor; girls become little wives and arbiters of everything from neckties to girlfriends. And as daughters become more comfortable in the role of Daddy's Little Wife, they become more confident in expressing their opinions.
It's difficult enough to be the father to motherless daughters, but what of the woman who now loves their father? Read the next letter.
Dear Lois: I am a widow, 57, and after my husband died four years ago I was sure I would never remarry because my leg was amputated. I was positive that no man would want to date, much less marry, a one-legged woman my age - but I was wrong. Two years ago I met a wonderful guy I'll call "Tom" who doesn't mind that I lost a leg or that I'm 12 years older. Tom is a widower with two daughters, 15 and 17, who have never approved of their father dating a one-legged, older woman. As our relationship became serious, with talk of marriage, his two daughters became more hostile. I've overheard them ridiculing their father for wanting to sleep with an "old one-legged cripple" when plenty of younger women - with two legs - were available.
As much as I've tried to win them over, they constantly make fun of me. Once they came into the kitchen while I was massaging my stump, and they told me how "gross and ugly" it looked. Then they had the nerve to ask if it felt weird to have sex with one of my legs cut off. I told them it was none of their business.
Tom is aware of their dislike for me, but he wants us to go get married. He feels that the girls will learn to like me over time and will accept my amputation just as he has. Were it not for his daughters, I would marry Tom tomorrow, for we truly love one another. But I don't know if I can win the girls over. It seems like a losing battle.
Dear Frustrated: Those girls seem pretty feisty for 15 and 17. They have little experience and lots of opinions. I think it would be difficult to live in a house with them unless their father told them the kind of behavior he expected - and also told them that he refused to tolerate their continuing cruelty to you (yes, it's cruelty). My best advice would be to continue your relationship with Tom, work on getting the girls to accept you (using humor about yourself, while difficult, might defuse their ridicule) and wait until the youngest is graduated from high school to marry Tom. The girls are really Tom's problem. It's possible that any woman their father wanted at this time would be subject to this kind of treatment by them. Having already lost one parent to death, they may not be ready to "lose" the other to another woman.
Dear Lois: I read about the older man who liked only young women (in their 20s), but what about women like me? I am a young widow and have been for almost five years. I am ready to start a new social life and am having a hard time finding someone my own age. I have gone to church, joined singles groups, joined dancing groups, but I have found that most men are like the man who wrote to you. If they are 50, they want a 20- or 30-year-old. That leaves only the 60- or 70-year-old men to ask me out, and I already have a father. I am a public school teacher and have little opportunity to meet eligible men at work. What is a young woman to do?
- Me Too
Dear Me: I think the best way to meet people is to do the inviting yourself - have a brunch or buffet, invite couples, another single female friend and ask each couple to bring along an unmarried man.