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Caring and Love vs. Empathy and Understanding
A near tragedy in South America

I have learned something interesting. And valuable. I have learned it is possible to care about someone, yet not feel empathy for them. I learned this in South America a few years ago.

There was a father there, in a small town in Uruguay, who wanted the best for his daughter. So he made her stay home at night, even on weekends, and study. He would punish her by isolating her from her friends if she didn’t get satisfactory grades in school. She wanted to be a normal teenager. She wanted to talk to and hang out with her friends. But he wouldn’t listen to her.

I knew the father. I knew he truly cared about his daughter. He didn’t want her to start drinking or using drugs. He didn’t want her to get pregnant. But one day the daughter wrote this letter to me:

“There is something you should know. My father loves me but he does not understand me. A year ago I was thinking of killing myself. I know he wants the best for me but he doesn’t realize how much I suffer because he won’t listen to me.

There were moments when all I could think of was killing myself to stop the pain.

I could not talk to my father about this. Whenever I tried, all I got was the same lecture. He got defensive. His heart became like stone. I felt he didn’t care anything about my feelings. I felt worse after I talked to him, not better.”

Because I know this father I know he would feel absolutely devastated if he had lost his daughter. She was his only child. When she did well in school, he was so proud of her. And he felt proud of himself, for doing what he thought was "right".

The father had experienced a bad childhood himself. His father drank and had beat him, so he had run away from home and never finished high school because he had to start working in any job he could find to support himself.

He told me that he didn’t think his parents cared what happened to him. So he wanted the best for his own daughter. It was obvious that he was very sincere. But he wasn’t skilled in the art of being a parent. He wasn’t trained.

And he nearly lost what he loved most.

He would have never forgiven himself – Never-- if he had known that he, yes, he who really believed he was doing the best thing, was in reality the cause of her tremendous suffering -- a suffering so intense she had taken her own life to end it.

By the way, the daughter told me that the mother was sympathetic to her situation with her father. It was the mother who literally saved the girl’s life. But the girl never told her mother how close she had come to killing herself. She said I was the first person she ever told and it was only because she felt she could trust me and she knew I had helped other young people. I asked her why she hadn’t told her mother and she said it would have hurt her mother too much. So she kept her feelings and the sad truth about her pain, inside.

She is okay now. She is in studying in a university as the father wanted. But still, this story haunts me. It haunts me to know that this man, a man I had shared food with in his own house, who had treated me well, and shown me respect; who had welcomed me into his home and even gave me a ride back to my hotel on his motorcycle… this man, who had such a painful life himself, came so very close to losing forever this sensitive child he needed so much.

And it haunts me to know that there are other girls and other fathers, who I will never meet or even hear of, whose fate will tragically end in a painful, and very permanent, loss for all concerned.

Perhaps by sharing this story with you, and you sharing it with others, we can save one life. Please do what you can to help.

Thank you.

S. Hein and the volunteers at EQI.org

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