“…But He’s Their Father!”

“…but he’s their father.”

That is loaded. It is loaded with ignorance and assumptions, with prejudice, and usually also with reasonably good intentions.

Even so, I am tired of hearing it.  I am tired of hearing it from friends, from other parents, and even from school counselors. (Therapists and psychiatrists usually know better.)

I’m also tired of hearing my boys repeat it. “He’s still my father,” they are likely to say after complaining about something the man has or hasn’t done. I have a sense that they have internalized the mantra spoken by so many others while I have kept quiet, trying to do what I am supposed to do; hug neutrality.

Now is the posturing and bullsh*t time of year.  The first of May draws nigh. It is the court-ordered deadline for conferring about the summer visitations dates.

In advance, the children have received mail from their father. Mail, because, you know, we never answer the phone and his calls are never returned. (There is some truth there. We are extremely busy and although the kids may call Ex anytime, generally, they don’t.)

A few days ago, Sissy received a birthday card which Ex had previously claimed—and she doubted—was returned by the post office. The postmark proved he hadn’t been lying. She acknowledged feeling both appreciative of his belated effort—it has been more than two months since her birthday—and also, annoyed that the effort stirs up difficult feelings. She is busy. She doesn’t have time for angst.

Then yesterday, two cards arrived; one for each boy. Little Man’s birthday is today. His father thought to send him a card. Then he remembered that somewhere he had a card for Sissy that had been returned months ago. Also, last August he hadn’t sent Zeep a thing. Zeep’s card was accompanied by a letter of explanation. Dear Ol’ Dad wrote:

Last summer, I wanted to find the perfect gift to send you for your birthday. I thought and thought, and decided I couldn’t figure out a perfect gift [because I don't even know you] and before long your birthday had come and gone and I hadn’t sent you anything… So, I am sending you a belated birthday wish in this card. Happy 13th Birthday, much too much belated. I am sorry for that.

I’ll resist the urge to convene the snark committee and appreciate that owning mistakes is good. Making amends is good. I endlessly hope for Ex to begin his recovery. We all endlessly hope. We have also been endlessly disappointed. Generally, there is a wait-and-see attitude around here about most everything Ex-related. Ex also wrote:

I am excited about seeing you this summer. I hope that I can see all of you, but I know [Sissy] is awfully busy, and she doesn’t really like it here anyway, [because it is crowded, filthy, and smells dreadful] so I don’t expect she will come to [Podunk, Somewhere]. I don’t know [Little Man's] position on it.

At least Ex is now empowering the kids to make their own choices. Thank you to that nice police officer who came at Christmastime more than a year ago. Ex continued:

I am overjoyed to know that you actually want to see me. It means a lot to me. I hope you know that I want very much to see you too.  I can’t believe it’s been almost two years!

At any rate, I am trying to make plans and save some money so we can do stuff. I have learned of a couple of different outdoor places that I haven’t shown you before. Maybe we can do some camping.

I’ll contact your mother in the near future to make the plans.

I love you,
[Dear Ol' Dad]

Zeep has told his father, “I want to see you.” I don’t know if Ex has legitimately interpreted that to mean that the boy wants to come hang out with him in the wilds of Podunk, or if Ex is being manipulative. Either way, what Zeep really means is “get your sorry butt out here like you promised.” Ex doesn’t offer much to these kids. He doesn’t pay child support or expenses. He doesn’t send money except for the crisp twenties in the usually-belated birthday cards. When he calls he doesn’t remember from one time to the next what was said, but he offers plenty of words. He emails and offers more words. He tells them he loves them. He tells them he is proud of them. He tells them that they are important to him. Words.

Zeep rightfully wants some actions that show that at least some of those words are true. There have been plenty of actions that have shown that they aren’t. If he loves us why doesn’t he get his sh*t together? (Be sure, they are frequently reminded, and not by me alone, that it isn’t because they aren’t worthy of such a grand gesture.)

The right thing for Ex to do in this particular situation is “man up” and visit the children here, where they live. The kids haven’t seen him in nearly two years and that two-years-ago visit was the one in which Little Man was seriously hurt. Ex should come out for a few days. He should take the kids for lunch; talk, and more importantly—listen. I told Zeep that he shouldn’t get his hopes up; Ex probably wouldn’t come. The boy said, “He promised me thee times.”

We have a rather large collection of broken promises by now. Broken promises, dead dreams, and withered hopes. That seems gloomy, but it isn’t anymore. We have all mostly moved on, beautifully. It would be just lovely if Dear Ol’ Dad would stop throwing up hurdles to our success, our stability, and our happiness, but I don’t see that in the tea leaves—not anytime soon.

About his father, Zeep said, “He isn’t a good lawyer and he isn’t a good father. He isn’t even a good man.” He added that he doesn’t want to be either of the first two; lawyer or father. He has no choice but to be a man. Increasingly, he is on his way.  He added, “I’m going to be a good one—a better one that he is.”

Yes. He is.

10 comments to “…But He’s Their Father!”

  • I get your fatigue. The people who say “but he’s their father” in the face of horrific behavior are spouting platitudes based on amicable divorces, or the mindset of doormats. In some of my blog posts, people have justified my ex toying with child support, hiding income to not pay child support, repeated threats to sue me, obstructing my relationship wiht my son, and spewing any manner of lies about me by saying that I must have “done something” to incur his wrath. As if that wrath isn’t hurting the kids. Most people just have no idea what it’s like dealing with the never-ending consequences of having had children with the wrong person.

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  • pam

    I hate to break it to you, but too often once they’re grown the kids find it attractive to establish a relationship with good old papa — who had nothing for them when they needed it — sometimes at your expense. They can even come up with the language to match — how he finally saw the light, etc. which is seldom true — rather, he got old and they got big. Which is all fine and good — except that you have to be ready to accept the slap in the face that can sometimes be. I do, and I’m glad my kids have a relationship with their father. He did change a diaper once — I remember it like it was yesterday.

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  • Heather

    Thanks Pauline for putting my thoughts into perfect words.

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  • Men can become fathers without even knowing it. It’s a different sort of role from Motherhood. Forty bucks a month, a birthday card, and a visit every couple of years is a pretty poor showing. Sounds like Zeep has got it pretty well figured out. Sometimes we learn what we want by learning what we don’t want.
    Wishing you and your kids a good summer….regardless of the presence or absence of the man who contributed the sperm that helped create the three human beings that are thriving under your nurturing.
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  • nolongernaive

    Well said! Zeep’s awareness already makes him a better man than his father.

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  • “But he’s their father.” I actually don’t get that one much because I don’t talk about him much. What I do get when I talk about the kids is “What about the father?” as if he’s some sort of magic talisman to solve all problems without any consideration that perhaps, just perhaps he has contributed to or directly caused said problems. Whatever. Like I said, I don’t even like to talk about him. Anyway, kids change over time. Families not subject to visitation orders adapt accordingly. For example, not many fathers or mothers of a 16 year old require him/her to spend Saturday night all night sitting on the couch with younger siblings in another town while their friends are hanging out at each others houses, going to community/sports events and dances, etc. And not many require their kids miss a game or practice because it’s “my” time. It’s not that older kids don’t do family time, but how and when that happens changes over time. Even the closest of families do maybe a Sunday dinner to keep in touch, not a Saturday night, not all the time. Almost daily my kids fret about having to miss something because of the visitations. The “I can’t go, I have to visit my dad,” is causing some serious resentment and stress. Honestly, I keep typing things here and deleting them, sometimes the “happy” people really chill my speech. Sigh.

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  • Let me correct myself. I do talk about my Ex-husband, but I choose the audience and manner very carefully for self-preservation. But anyway, I feel your pain and I understand completely that the model of a perfect blended family not only does not apply to everyone, it is downright impossible in some situations and is not always the goal because of the personalities, illnesses, disorders, extended families and history involved. That’s just the way it is.
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