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Found Out Widowed Dad Has Secret GF, What Do I Do?

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Please excuse my wordiness below, writing this turned into more of a stream of conscious catharsis than I'd planned. Please read below for context if you’d like details, but in short I’d like advice about whether/how to approach my dad and brother about the girlfriend/lover I found out my dad has by snooping on his phone (I know it's wrong and I am sorry). My mom died of cancer 7 months ago, and this might be the secret that is causing problems between my dad (and my brother and I by association) and my mom’s family. I do not know if this is a recent relationship (weird and sad but I’d be supportive) or an long term affair (in which case I’d probably feel angry and betrayed).

My mom died of cancer in June after fighting it for 4 difficult years. Her relationship with my father was always rocky but they always chose to stay together, I think for the sake of us kids (I have a younger brother that’s now in college). In a stroke of awful timing, they separated right around the time of the diagnosis, and seemed to be very on and off for the years that followed. My dad would sleep in a separate bedroom when they weren't getting along but he never left is, even if it was just out of obligation to us and not love. Either way I’m grateful he’s stuck around, even if he’s isn’t the most emotionally available person I don't think we could have done it without him. My mom was always super emotional and talkative, and he was always more closed off and stoic.

My brother is 22 and in his last year of college. I am 27. I am currently on vacation with my dad and brother, as we didn’t want to spend our first Christmas without Mom at home. We have a week and a half to go in our vacation. Last night at dinner, I wanted to look something up online, and since I don't have data abroad I thoughtlessly logged onto my dad’s, as I have many times before when we travel. He was sitting next to me but not paying attention. When I unlocked his screen, the phone was opened to the WhatsApp app, and I saw that there was a message from a woman who’s name I don’t recognize that said “Lisa (I’ve changed the name) and I miss you.” I thought this was strange, as my dad doesn’t have many friends, and especially not any lady friends, but I didn’t think much of it and proceeded to look up what I intended. My dad realized I was on his phone and snatched it from me quickly, which he’s never done before and instantly made me suspicious. I played it off like I hadn’t seen anything, because I didn’t know how to react. A few minutes later, he went to the restroom, and (please believe that I am not proud of this invasion of privacy) when I saw that he’d left behind his phone I found myself going back to the app and scanning through their messages quickly. They are obviously romantically involved and my dad used the kind of loving and caring language I’ve never heard from him before, with my mom or with us kids (made me sad and jealous, but I’ll just have to get over that eventually). I tried not to read anything specifically, just see quickly if my suspicions were true, but I read that she had written at some point “Lisa says thanks for letting her in the bed with us last time.” My dramatic mind immediately panicked and leapt to “HE HAS A SECRET LIFE AND LOVE CHILD WTF,” although it is much more likely that it’s probably just a pet. I only scrolled through the messages for a few moments before putting it down, as I realized that snooping is an awful thing to do, that I didn’t want to get caught, I didn't want to ruin our night out with my brother and his friends, and I had a freezing chill run through my body and I started shaking and I didn't want to panic. My mind raced through a series of worst case scenarios, that he’d been with this woman for a long time and kept her from us, that he lied all those times he said he was going on business trips, that the reason why he’s never been the most communicate parent is because he’s dividing his attention with another family. A waring, more rational side of my brain felt that this was probably a new relationship, and that perhaps he’s kept it from us because he wanted to make sure it’s serious first, or that he just doesn’t know how to bring it up, or that he’s just a private person and doesn’t think it’s our business. Anyways, I didn’t outwardly react at all, and carried on with our night, only breaking down and crying then I got to my room in our Airbnb.

As an aside to this, another factor in my being upset is that my mothers sister, who lives in another country but would leave her own family to spend months at a time helping us with my mom, recently got into a fight with my father, but neither of them will tell my brother and I what happened to make them stop speaking to each other. They used my brother and I as middlemen to communicate about some administrative estate matters, which made us very uncomfortable, but whenever we asked what was going on my aunt said to ask my father, and my father stonewalled us. We’ve given up on trying to figure it out, but now I’m wondering if my aunt found out about some sort of affair on my dad’s part and is mad at him about it, but doesn’t feel it’s her place to tell us. I will be very frustrated with both of them if so, because this rift has made our relationship with our aunt, and by extension my mom’s entire family that lives abroad, awkward. We had initially planned on spending holidays together in the years to come with my mom’s family in that other country (my dad’s family is much smaller and isn’t very close, physically or emotionally), but now it feels like we might have to choose between spending holidays in the future with either my dad or my aunts, uncles, last remaining grandparent, and cousins if they don't resolve it. Neither of them seems likely to budge or apologize anytime soon. If that’s the case, I’d at least like to know the reason why.

Anyways, I spent all last night thinking about this, and my thoughts are as follows. Firstly, I should not have invaded my fathers privacy like I did by going back through his messages. My father is a grown man, and very much deserves his own happiness. His relationship with my mom was never perfect, although I’m sure they loved each other at least to a certain, less romantic extent until the end. From what I saw of the messages, he and this woman seem to make each other happy, and that’s lovely. He’s entitled to keep this to himself. This stirs up a swirl of emotions in me, ranging from sadness to rage to jealousy to true happiness for him, but at the end of the day, we are all adults leading independent lives, and if he feels ready to date, that’s is 100% his decision. However, by snooping when I shouldn’t have, I've opened a can of worms I can’t close. I can’t help thinking that perhaps this isn’t a new relationship that’s helping him heal and giving him a new chance at love now that my mom’s passed, but instead an affair he’s been lying about for years. Given my parents troubled marriage, I might understand an affair on his part, but it’s the thought of all the lies that’d entail and that he potentially continues to perpetuate that makes me emotional. In my rational mind I know that I shouldn’t jump to conclusions, that this is probably a very innocent new love he’s entitled to keep to himself until he’s ready.

I pose this situation to you, dear strangers, in hopes that you’ll advise me in what I should do next.

I could:

1. Never bring up what I know, and hope that when he’s ready Dad will tell us what’s up. I really don’t think that’s likely to happen anytime soon, as my dad is fairly closed off with his feelings, and not great about communicating (my mom was always the heart and mouth of the family). I feel like never saying anything might be the most mature thing to do, but I’ll admit to feeling too selfish right now to do this. I spent our day together today anxious on the inside while outwardly pretending everything is normal. I got used to this while dealing with my mothers cancer, and know that I could keep it up indefinitely if needed, but I think this would gradually deteriorate my relationship with Dad and my brother, who I don’t ever keep secrets from. I think my already overactive imagination and anxious mind would explode from running different awful scenarios in my mind, when I could hopefully put them at rest and go back to having an unburdened relationship with my family. When we leave our vacation in a week and a half, we’ll only all be at the family home together for a few days before my brother goes back to college, my dad leaves on another trip (he’s become a digital nomad since her death and has worked while traveling the world for the last few months, or so I think), and I will stick around for a few days/weeks to be put on the correct dosage for the hypothyroidism I was diagnosed with right before our trip (which can be exacerbated by stress, great ) and then proceed to spend an entire year realizing my dream of traveling abroad (I’ve already quit my job and sold all my things, stressful but very exciting). It is likely that I won't see my family for at least several months if not a full year. I think this conversation would be much harder to bring up as time passes anyways, and especially over Skype. I don’t want a secret like this to tear apart our little family unit that will already be physically distant from each other and all our other family as it is. We never know what time will bring, and if anything ever happens to any of us I’d hate to leave an issue like this unresolved, like I regretfully did with my mom about a couple issues.

2. Initiate a conversation with my father, definitely beginning with a heartfelt apology, and ask him directly but not confrontationally about what I read. Like ripping a bandaid this could get everything right in the open and be good for us, but perhaps my dad would feel cornered if forced to address it and would stonewall me like he’s done about his fight with my aunt, just making us both feel resentful and leaving me still in the dark.

3. Begin a conversation by addressing the fact that we never talked about him dating after my mom’s death, and that of course I’m ok with it. Hopefully he would take this as an opportunity to tell me about his lady without feeling cornered, but if he doesn’t reveal anything how should I react? Feels a little manipulative, but maybe a softball approach is best?

If I do decide to ask/nudge him about it, should I speak to my brother first, or even include him in the conversation at first? I don’t want him to feel like I’ve been keeping a secret from him too, also ruining our relationship if I stay silent for too long, but I know that had I chosen to immediately react after reading the messages I don’t know how I would have acted, but it probably would have involved a lot of tears and accusations I might have regretted later. As it is, I’ve had time to think and process my gut reactions, and perhaps I should give my brother the same chance. So should I talk to him first, and then we approach Dad together? Or speak to my dad alone first, and then my bro when I have all the facts (or not)? Or not warn him first but initiate a conversation with him and my dad both surprised?

At the moment, I’m tempted to stay silent until the last day or two of our trip. This will give my dad the chance to tell us himself before we split ways in case he’s just trying to muster up the words. I have hope that my brother will react maturely, although there’s never a certainty with an emotional situation like this, especially only a few days after our first Christmas, a holiday she loved, without our mom. I would just bring it up ASAP right after Xmas, but I don’t want my brother to have a shitty vacation just in case his feelings are really hurt and/or my dad did in fact have an unsavory affair, especially since my brothers friends are here with us for a few days and they’re all having so much fun.

I realize I'm probably being overly dramatic as a result of the stress of grief, the holidays, my health, my upcoming travels, and now this unexpected surprise. Sometimes it just helps to hear it from a stranger.

As an aside, I’ve finally decided to finally see a therapist while I’m at home, but I’m not sure how many sessions I’ll be able to have before I leave in my trip. If anyone has any thoughts about what I could do to ease my mind about my mom’s death and maybe my dad’s infidelity if that is the case while I travel, I’d appreciate it.

tl;dr: How/should I let my brother and Dad know that I found out my widower dad has a secret girlfriend?

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I’m sorry for your loss and what you are going through.  This is a really tough situation and I’m not really sure what the right answer is.  

If your dad was having an affair, although it’s not right, there might be reasons. Unfortunately, you will never know the whole story.  

Most affairs start as emotional affairs.  Meaning, neither couple are actively looking to cheat, instead they find someone who they build a friendship with and start to confide in.  And it’s very easy for long term relationships to take one another for granted and stop working on the relationship, leaving some to feel very alone and isolated and prime candidate for an emotional affair.  Most people don’t realize the dangers of an emotional affair (we are just friends) and how quickly it can develop into a physical affair.  Right or wrong, it can be understood and forgiven if both parties in the marriage understand how it got to that state and actively work on the relationship so they don’t pull away from one another in the future

However, once you’ve had an affair, and you decided to commit to the marriage and you successfully came out of the affair fog, you’ve used up all the cards for forgiveness.  If you have another affair, You know exactly what you are doing and you are doing it deliberately

I don’t know if you should confront your dad or ignore it.  I guess try to put yourself in your Dad’s shoes and how would you want your child to confront the situation.  Again, this is your Dad’s life and he has the right to make his own decisions.  And realize that he’s also just human.  He won’t be perfect and will make mistakes.  This might be a new relationship or a previous one.  How will knowing that impact your relationship with your father and is it something you really want to know?



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You sound like you are a very mature 27 year old!  It sounds as though you could talk to your father possibly by yourself? He may feel ganged up on if you included your  sibling? Your sibling may not be as level headed? Maybe see what happens with your father and then include your sibling with your Dad or seperatly. You are very good with words trust your  instinct. i can tell you from my experience my parents got a divorce after 40+ years of marriage. That was ten years ago. My mother just passed in July and my father was a caregiver although I was the main caregiver (and daughter).  We are offering my father the house to live in and he actually said he might do it because if he marries again it would be better than his 600 sq ft apartment.

Anyway, all of this to say you may never understand what your father did with the app but just be truthful, communication is good, you care for him, and you are there. I’m sure you will find the right time to talk to him.

lastly, not that this will happen but I had to accept a godfathers new wife when I dearly love and loved my godmother. I got passed it by how much I loved my godfather, since he loved this new wife I would love her because he loves her. I am hoping to use this same thought process with my father.

We are thinking and praying of you.



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I'm so sorry about the loss of your mother. However difficult it is to accept your father's relationship with another woman, it is his personal business and if I were you, I'd wait for him to bring it up. If it is a serious relationship then he will eventually let you know about it. If it isn't, then he may never bring her up. And, it's possible if he was having an affair that your mother knew about it since they were together in a not-so-happy relationship. Either way, I'd wait for him to bring it up.

 He probably spent the evening wondering what you saw on his phone and may say something to you about it soon. Good luck and try not to let the stress and your imagination tear you to pieces. 

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