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By "Today" contributor
updated 4/13/2005 9:33:55 PM ET 2005-04-14T01:33:55

Q: I’m 25 and am dating a wonderful guy. We get along beautifully and I think he could be The One. There is a problem, though — my father is worried that he is after me because of my money.

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He thinks I should find someone better. My boyfriend didn’t go to college and has a 3-year-old child, although he was never married.

I would like to take my loving, caring boyfriend home to meet my family, but my father is absolutely against this. How do I get him to let his guard down and accept my sweetie?

A: Clearly, your father’s approach to this appears to be inconsistent. He hasn’t met your boyfriend, yet he is sure he is not good enough for you.

Before you rush headfirst into this, though, you need to consider some of the things that might be going on in your father’s mind. This should help you understand his thinking and aid in providing a resolution that could work for all involved. Here are several possibilities, which could be true either alone or in some combination:

  1. The age-old one: Your father thinks nobody could ever be good enough for his little girl. This is very common. It is also fairly easy to detect. Think about your past boyfriends. Has your father deemed all of them not good enough?
  2. Then there is the issue of status. Perhaps your father has hopes of maintaining or enhancing his own place in society, wishing that his daughter ends up with a rich, powerful lawyer or businessman. This is a common parental fantasy. Sometimes it’s because they want to keep the status quo (your dad may be wealthy already). And then some parents believe that their own lives would have been better if they themselves had chosen a higher-status partner. Also, there are those who are disappointed by what they have achieved in life and then try to live their lives through their children.
  3. There also is the possibility of something deeper. It could be that your father is reacting to the threat of being replaced as the man in your life. It’s often hard on fathers when another man enters the picture, which in many ways alters the father-daughter bond. To him, it feels that an interloper is stealing you away.
  4. Then again, your father could be more right than you think. Sometimes love is blind.

Let’s deal with the last point first.

Although without all the details it is difficult to completely gauge your circumstances, this situation does indeed raise some potential concerns.

Your letter suggests that you have more money or a higher earning potential than your boyfriend. What’s more, he already has a child to support. It’s not that a difference in financial resources is always a problem for a couple, but it is worth considering.

You father could, for good reasons or bad, lead you to be realistic and hard-nosed about this. You should examine the situation closely: Could your boyfriend have an ulterior motive, in terms of gaining something from you — wealth, citizenship, social status, a mother for his child?

Of course, your boyfriend may be entirely without avarice (or, at the very least, is looking for some sort of security for him and his child — a not entirely un-noble thing).

Overall, you need to look for a balance. You, obviously, will be gaining things from the relationship, and so will he. Most romantic partnerships involve some sort of examination of prospects of the individuals involved. At its core, though, must be true feelings based on love. And if you really do get along beautifully, and you care deeply about each other, you have a wonderful foundation on which to build.

So, back to Dad. Whatever his reasoning (or lack thereof) it really is wrong and unhelpful of your father to say he hates your boyfriend without ever meeting him. The signal he seems to be sending is an ultimatum: Him or me.

You have to be straight with him. Tell your father he is putting you in an uncomfortable position by forcing you to choose between the two of them. Though you will always be your father’s daughter, you will never be his wife. You are an adult, and you need to make your own decisions about your future.

Let your father know his opinions are important to you, but that you want him to reserve judgment until he has met your boyfriend. Then do what you can to arrange a low-pressure meeting.

Make the encounter short. Don’t bring your boyfriend home for a long weekend or a meaningful family holiday. Maybe he could stop by for coffee or a drink before dinner. I suggest you meet on your father’s turf, where he will feel more in control and therefore less threatened.

If they do meet, you must be prepared for the fact that your father is already inclined to dislike your boyfriend. And he might. But at least you will be able to see how they interact and have a better idea about whether your father is trying to be fair.

Ultimately, you must look to yourself. Weigh up all the factors described above — plus any others that may come to mind — and decide what matters most to you.

These decisions might not always be what your parents want. That’s OK — at 25, you are an adult, too, and should be forging your own path in life.

Dr. Gail’s Bottom Line: Be sensitive to your father’s feelings that he may be replaced in your life by another man, and listen to his views. Then take all factors into account and make decisions based on what’s best for you.

Dr. Gail Saltz is a psychiatrist with New York Presbyterian Hospital and a regular contributor to “Today.” Her first book, “Becoming Real: Overcoming the Stories We Tell Ourselves That Hold Us Back,” was published in 2004 by Riverhead Books. It will be available in a paperback version in June 2005. Her latest book, "Amazing You," helps parents deal with preschoolers' questions about sex and reproduction. It will be published in May 2005.  For more information, you can visit her Web site,www.drgailsaltz.com.

PLEASE NOTE: The information in this column should not be construed as providing specific medical or psychological advice, but rather to offer readers information to better understand their lives and health. It is not intended to provide an alternative to professional treatment or to replace the services of a physician, psychiatrist or psychotherapist. Copyright ©2005 Dr. Gail Saltz. All rights reserved.

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