We all have tough decision to make in life, some harder than others. This story is about my greatest challenge as a mother, and a decision my son should have never had to make.
It’s just been me and my son since as long as I can remember, it feels like it has always been that way, but it hasn’t. The dad and I were together until he was two years old. My son doesn’t remember that time of course, thankfully, because as there were many happy, good times, there were just as many bad, painful things that occurred then as well. The dad and I had loved each other, but he wasn’t ready to grow up and deal with all of the responsibilities of being a parent, which I had no other choice but to do. We were young, and he was a drummer in a band, our lifestyle had been very much about the party, but changes were necessary once our son was born. I changed, I grew, I embraced parenthood and all of the changes and sacrifices that it entailed, but he wasn’t ready for it, and he had a temper which eventually made it an impossible situation. We tried, but it just didn’t work.
After our split, we tried to do the weekend visitation thing, but that didn’t work for long either. I went back to college up in CT, and drove our son down to him in NJ every weekend. As much as I tried to make the situation work, it wasn’t enough for his dad, and eventually he decided to move to SC to start a new life there. We kept in touch for a while, but he soon just disappeared. I never went after him for child support, or anything, I had figured that if it was that hard for him to be there for his son and do the right thing, if it was that easy to just walk away, it was better to let him go, for both of us. We didn’t hear from him again for years.
About a year after we moved to California, when my son was 7, I felt this uncontrollable urge to try to track down the dad, just to make sure he was okay. I had a feeling that something had happened to him, and I needed to know. I had always made it a priority to stay close to the dad’s entire family for my son’s sake, even though he was no longer in the picture, it was so important to me that my son always know where he came from. None of them had heard from the dad in years either. They tried to discourage me from looking, they were concerned about my son being hurt, but I couldn’t help myself. A friend of mine found him in a bar in Charleston, she walked up to him and called me, then put the phone to his head. We spoke. He was in bad shape, I was kind, and he cried. That conversation led to another and then another. He left SC and moved closer to his family in PA, and got sober. I called him every day for a year to support him and remind him why he was doing it. When I knew he was in a good place, I let him back into my son’s life. It started with phone calls, which became more frequent over time, and eventually he came to visit us out in CA.
I need to mention a very critical part to all of this. In all of the years that the dad was absent from his life, I had always told my son that he was very sick, and that’s why we couldn’t see him. The truth was that he had a major issue with alcohol and drugs, and he had depression issues which perpetuated his addictions. In my book “sick” is a relatively accurate description of this, though I might use a significantly more colorful vocabulary in describing him to anyone else, the whole truth was clearly not information my son needed to know. I knew it was critical to keep him from thinking that his father had just abandoned him. I was a psychology major in school, so I had some understanding of what damage this could cause. I knew that children could understand “sick” and it was something that they could feel compassion for, and even if it made them sad, they would not be internalizing anything damaging because of it. So when his father came back into his life, there was no resentment, only joy that he was now better.
It didn’t take very long for him to disappoint us once again. On his second trip out to visit us, he was supposed to pick our son up at school for the first time. Needless to say, my kid was thrilled. He was very excited to introduce his dad to all of his friends, kids who had only known him without a father. It was a big fucking deal. But he didn’t show up. I got a call at work from the leader at the YMCA after school program my son attended, informing of this, and how sad my son was. I left immediately to pick him up, and attempted to cheer him up, surely something must have happened to his dad that was totally beyond his control to prevent him from being there, though I had not heard a word from him. He showed up at our place a couple hours later, with barely an apology. He was down in Laguna Beach getting a new tattoo, and had just lost track of time. I could not believe that he was still the same self centered jerk he had always been, and that I had let him back in, and my son was hurt. I tried to stay calm, explained to him why none of this was at all cool, and then we moved on. I had hoped that would be the only time he would hurt or disappoint my son, but it wasn’t. Over the next year, shortly into each of our visits with him, my son began asking when he was going to leave, because he liked it much better when it was just us. He felt no love for his dad, there had been no opportunity for that to grow, though being the sensitive child that he is, he felt compassion for him, and would never hurt his feelings by letting him know how he felt himself. But it wasn’t long before everything changed again. The phone calls became less frequent, no visits were planned, and eventually he was just gone once again.
I was so angry with myself for letting this happen, for giving him a chance to be a father to our child again, for putting my son into a position where someone could hurt and disappoint him like that. As much as I felt I had done the right thing, saving him from a world that he would not have survived for very much longer, the sacrifice had been the well-being of my son. But my son was actually fine. He was happy that he was gone. He had had the chance to get to know him, to see him for who he was, and to make his own decisions about him. As it turned out, it was the best possible thing to happen, because in the end my son understood exactly why I had made the decisions that I had, and why we were better off without him there.
Years passed without a word, and the dad soon became a distant memory. When we moved back to NJ, I was a bit nervous about living so close to him again, I knew if he found out there would be a great chance of him re-surfacing. Sadly, I was right. His sister told him where we had moved, and encouraged him to try to reach out to us. He sent a letter directly to my son, who unfortunately was the one to check the mail that day. He was shocked to receive the letter, and upset by the words that it held. The dad had basically said that he was a better person now, and my son “owed” it to him to give him another chance to be a part of his life. A box full of peculiar Christmas gifts showed up a few days later, but it was way too little and far too late. To say I flipped out was a monumental understatement. I sent an email to every member of his family who knew where we had moved, demanding to know who had told him, which is when his sister came forward. The rest of the family was furious at her, because they knew that I would NEVER give him the chance to hurt my son like that again, and that it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility for me to just disappear. But it was only a few moments before I suddenly realized, this was no longer my decision to make.
I spoke to my son about it, to see how he felt and what he wanted to do. This was now his decision to make, it could be no other way. He was very upset that the dad thought he could just cruise back into his life once again, and that he had made it seem as though my son owed that to him. He thought about it for a couple of days, and decided that he didn’t want to have anything to do with him, he didn’t want him in his life in any way, and he didn’t not want him to contact him again. The dad was a person who had only caused him pain, fear, and disappointment, and he wasn’t going to suffer through that again. He owed him NOTHING. I watched my thirteen year old son become a man over those few days, as he made the toughest decision of his life. I marveled at his wisdom, as I watched him become stronger as he took control over standing up for himself.
I suggested that he respond in writing to the dad, but he felt that it wouldn’t matter what he wrote, he would only see it as a response which would be perceived as an open door to further communication. I contacted his aunt, and told her to call the dad, tell him my son’s wishes, and to just fix it, which she did. It’s been three years now since we’ve heard anything from him and our lives have gone on. We do talk about the dad occasionally, mostly so I can make sure that my son’s head is still in the right place with the decision he had to make, that he’s not silently hurting because of it. He laughs at me when I show this concern, and reminds me once again that it was the only decision that he could have made, that we’re both better off because of it, and that it was really the dad who had made the decision for us, many years earlier. My son only forced him to follow down the path he had already chosen a long time ago…
This post was inspired by Mama Kat’s Pretty Much World Famous Writer’s Workshop. Check it out!