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.