Where do I even start? I’m 22, the oldest child, with a brother, 19, and a sister, 9.

My parents have been together on and off for years. My father spent time in prison, had affairs, and treated us badly over the years. In the past 10 years, however, he has changed. He hasn’t had an affair and he tries to treat my mother the best way he knows how, but they still have their arguments.

Recently they lost their home and my mother broke up with my father. She is currently in a homeless shelter with my sister until her new accommodations are ready. My father stays with me.

I haven’t had the best relationship with him over the years, but I would not see him homeless. He has no one and he will stay with me until he is on his feet.

I am close to my mother, to the point she told me she is seeing someone else and has been doing so for months. She asked me to keep it quiet from my father until things settle down. My father keeps asking me questions, and I’m caught right in the middle.

How can I deal with the situation? I’m lying to him every day.

~ Lucy

Lucy, in the movie Vice Versa, a divorced businessman and his 11-year-old son swap bodies. The father’s mind inhabits his son’s body and attends elementary school, while the 11-year-old plays at being an executive.

The movie reminds us of you and your father. You are playing adult to his child. The only difference is your father seems to be content to remain a child. He is not and never has stood on his own when there was anyone else to lean on.

Your mother has a new boyfriend, who may serve as a financial system for herself and your sister. Meanwhile, your father worries his wife is seeing someone else. He should be worrying that his wife and child are in a homeless shelter. His foremost concern should be, “I am homeless and mooching off my daughter. I need to get a job and support myself.”

But that is not his first concern. He is a man who has no sense of priorities, like the 11-year-old in an adult’s body.

Some people grow up; some people take a while to grow up; and some people, like your father, must be forced to grow up. He needs concrete deadlines and he needs to prove what he has done, each day, to change his situation. He needs to show you that he is getting on his feet, not putting his feet up on your couch.

A child’s role is that of a child, not that of a mediator. It appears your mother has had enough, and it is her right to make that decision. Tell your father his relationship with your mother is his relationship. It is not your relationship, and you are not going to play informant.

Your parents created a household where the children must claw their way up to a better life. You may love your parents, but you have been given lousy role models. There is a reason firefighters don’t let the homeowner run back into the burning building. Do you understand that?

At the beginning of life, your family handicapped you. You need things and people in your life that encourage you to have high goals and show you ways to achieve them. That’s where your focus should be.

Being generous is good, but being generous to a fault is not. Sometimes a generous person must be shown that they are not being charitable. They are being taken advantage of.

~ Wayne & Tamara

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