The resurrection of a deadbeat dad

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I’m beside myself with anger, frustration and fear. My ex was an abusive man – emotionally, verbally, physically, and financially ruined both our one son and myself. The courts deemed him unfit to see his child without supervision. Eventually, he gave it up, never paid a nickel in support and signed as not wanting visitation with our son. This was 6 years ago, my son is now 16, and his father found him on Facebook, contacted him, and 6 weeks later my son is seeing him, working part time with him, happy as ever. He says ‘the past is the past’ and I should be happy for him, that he has his dad is back. My boy was mentally and physically hurt by him and now he’s superdad? I have medical files that I never want my boy to see because it would scar him knowing what his father did to me. But a small part of me feels that even if he knew what his father really is, it still wouldn’t make a difference. I fear for my boy’s welfare and future and I’m more fearful that my anger and feelings of betrayal by my son will drive him away. I’ve been the parent all these years and now I’m the selfish one who won’t understand a boy’s need to be with his biological father. He has a wonderful ’stepdad’ who adores my boy and vice versa but he’s not enough. I see my son going down the wrong road already. It’s like watching your child running towards the edge of a cliff, holding scissors while texting. Why do some need the attention and affirmation that they are wanted even from someone so worthless? I’m overwhelmed with pain and sadness at watching my son turn into his father. I want to throw up all the time. Other than chaining my son to his bed, any advice you could offer would be appreciated.  – Desperate mom

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Desperate Mom,

Every emotion, the fear, betrayal, anger, and frustration is real and understandable. He abandoned you; forced you to pick up the shards and handed you the burden of raising a child alone. Despite all of this you’ve made it, struggled through, and succeeded in giving your son a great life. Now, the serpent has slithered back into the garden and tempted the boy he deserted. But instead of resisting the fruit, your son eagerly accepted his father, forgetting the pain and ignoring the past. Turning his father away would have been tangible evidence of his love and appreciation, a affirmation that a mother and step dad are sufficient, and the justice you rightly deserved  – but instead he has deeply wounded your soul.

This entire situation is made more difficult because of your son’s age. At 16 he has many opinions that likely contradict your own, as evidence by forgiving his father, ‘let the past be the past’. Simply barring him from his dad isn’t a workable solution, and it seems you know this. You’re left walking this tenuous razor’s edge between your son’s well-being and his independence. So how do you protect your son while recognizing his autonomy?  If you and I were sitting across a table from each other, my first suggestion would be to have a serious and frank discussion with his biological father. What are his intentions and why now? What happened to change his thinking after six years? I find it interesting that he bypassed you and went directly to your son; this tells me there’s a humiliation he wishes to avoid. Remain open, but skeptical, that he could have changed after six years. This conversation should take place in a public location and include only you, your husband, and your ex. This may prove very difficult, but I think it’s critical as it helps set expectations, establish boundaries, and build mutual understanding. The conversation should stay centered on your son and not as an opportunity to drudge up the past. Your son is right in that regard – it is the past. And the ex should be reminded that this is a grace period, actions speak louder than words, and you will monitor this relationship closely and should things turn questionable you can – and will – sever it regardless of your son’s feelings.

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This will be far more difficult – managing your emotions. Betrayal is a powerful feeling that has led to unforgettable atrocities.  It is also one of the more problematic to overcome, because it naturally requires another to recognize the betrayal and ask forgiveness. Which in this case appears unlikely, your son is too blinded by the reunion with his father to detect the pain in his mother, or he simply believes having a father is worth a mother’s heartbreak.

Getting over betrayal requires a level of grace that most don’t posses- forgiving someone who hasn’t asked for it. The first step is to seek understanding, why has your son acted this way? So often we dismiss the pull within children, especially boys, to their  fathers, even absent ones. This craving must not be viewed as a reflection on you or his stepdad. As an adopted child the Queen has helped me understand this. Reuniting with his father allows him to better grasp who he is, where he came from, and gives him a sense of belonging that’s been missing – no matter how well you and your husband tried to fill the void. In addition please consider that your son doesn’t have your same perspective, he was ten, and time plus the veil of joy at his father’s return shroud his memories. Please remember this when you’re frustrated that he doesn’t share your same sentiment at his father’s return. You are also quite correct; showing evidence of his father’s dark side would only prove to be a selfish and malicious act on your part.

Talk with your son, open up about your emotions, and why you feel as you do, and then explain it’s something you are working through. Declare support for him reconnecting with his father but underscore you have a history with this man he could never understand. Gently advise him it’s because of those experiences you will closely watch their relationship, not for your own selfish motivations or insecurities but the love of a mother for her son. Work to create clear boundaries of behavior with your son and this new relationship, attempt to get his buy-in; it will make their enforcement much easier. Set limits on how often they can be together, where they can go, and what they can do. It sends a clear signal that his father must earn your trust and it may help to assure you of some control in the situation.

And lastly keep the lines of communication open between you, your son, and your ex husband. It’s miscommunication and misunderstanding that lie at the heart of co-parenting conflict. Just know this will only be accomplished by setting aside your justified emotions for the sake of your son.

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Possibly the greatest frustration for the average single parent is a false sense of control. There is very little we actually have charge of. It then becomes almost second nature to take that irritation out against the real victims of divorce –  the children. The battles of divorce are never theirs to fight. Yet too often we can allow pride, fear, or anger to cloud our judgment as we lash out at whomever is closest. While that may provide a momentary sense of vindication, in the end our venom usually inflicts more damage than intended. That means, as single parents, we must be vigilant to look beyond our emotionally charged reactions to see the larger issues at stake – no matter our immediate perception of the sin- whether it’s an ex wife who lets your kids stay up late or the absent father who has suddenly resurrected from the dead.

♦ I frequently receive questions from readers, if you have one about relationships, dating, men, divorce, co-parenting, use the contact form at the top of the page, I always respond and may use yours in a future post  ♦

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4 responses to The resurrection of a deadbeat dad

  1. Your advice was spot on. However, I think that the meeting (with the ex) should not include the current husband. The ex may feel a bit on the defence because it may look like she has ‘back up’ and he has none.

    Of course, this won’t be good for the outcome of the conversation

    Ultimately, (even though the step father is a good one and loves the boy) the discussion doesn’t concern him. It’s about the boy and him alone. Therefore, only the parents should be present.

    I think, left to his own devices, the boy will see his dad for who he is – that is, if he’s still the same person he used to be.

    We have to remember that he may have changed and want to do the best by his son now he’s seen the error of his ways. This is a strong possibility, but I agree that the child’s well-being shouldn’t be gambled with. He still needs to prove himself to the mother.

  2. Ali

    This is extremely well thought-out and written.

    What I may add (unless I missed it, and you did write it) is that no matter what has happened, a father is always a father. Undeniable fact. Wise or not, safe or not, present or not, I think it is an instinct to want them in our lives, and to keep hoping the relationship will provide what we always hoped a father would provide, whether or not it is reality. I think this teenager follows his instinct to want to know his biological dad. So I find your advice very wise on how the hurting mother may handle the situation from her different perspective.

  3. Jeremy

    There is a reason women try to keep young kids from seeing their dad when the relationship goes bad. They know down the road that a kid longs for his or her father. This is more so for even girls. They do this even when the father is a good man and provider.

    Women feel the kids are theirs and theirs alone. They refuse reasonable visitation and fill kids heads with lies about their dad while hoping to establish a bond that will keep them from their dad. Luckily kids grow up and men without financial means literally have to wait and suffer hoping their kids will return to them someday.

    If women would allow equal time with their exes rather then force him to spend his entire bankroll trying to get custody or to suffer in silence while they are isolated from their kids and made into a bad guy in the childs eyes these events would not happen.

    A parent should care most about what makes their kids happy more so than themselves. If this kid wants to reconnect with his dad, she should be happy. Sometimes a kid has to learn heartbreak on his own. Maybe the dad has matured and if the kid has matured, he will realize what his mom did for him and the kid will take care of her. If not, there was nothing she could do.

    Sometimes you just have to let things play out. Its the least you can do to help a kid feel happy, even if the divorce was not his fault.
    Women just need to stop their kids from seeing their dad.

  4. A measured, wise response, CP. Hard to know what all the issues were just from a letter, but I think that the presence of a neutral and perhaps professional third party at any meeting between the mom and dad might be a good idea.

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