My curious and meticulous nature lends itself well to my career. In a nutshell, I find information for people. Personally, I hate to be at sea on any particular topic. If I lack understanding of something, I will scour all the available literature on the subject to bring myself up to speed. I’m a professional.
Often, the particular subject is me. I’ve found a fair bit of comfort the past couple years reading the trials and solutions of others who have experienced a similar upheaval as I. Alas, my situation doesn’t lend itself well to wide-spread examination.
When it became clear my marriage was ending, I became a regular self help bookworm. Books on why, books on what to do now, books on rehab-ing my inner self. Some resonated. Others were useless. And the exact nature of my situation—wife cheats, leaves, moves in with guy she cheated with—was never explored in any depth. Sure, there were tomes about overcoming infidelity, but those assumed that we were working it out. Yes, I found chapters dealing with an ex’s new boyfriend, but those usually angled toward some space between divorce and resumption of dating. I found dozens of books about how to behave with, and around the children, but not a single one offered advice on how to deal with what I keenly felt to be an interloper in my son’s life, someone who was the catalyst for the destruction of my family, who now spent as much time with AJ as I, and more than he spent with his own kids.
All these books preached detente, everybody coming together for the good of the boy, kumbaya, happy crappy b.s., ideas that I couldn’t entertain because of my, it must be said, intense hatred for this other man and how he robbed me of my life, my wife and, I naturally figured, was gunning to take my son, too.
That was emotion. The pain of the breakup; the absolute unfairness of it all. I was aware enough to shield my hurt, my anger, from AJ. I never brought him into that, never once bad-mouthed his mother or the boyfriend.
There were times when I literally bit my tongue bloody. But I knew it was right.
What was not right, according to everything I read, according to our divorce mediator, was the two of them cohabitating in such quick order, as well as some other behavior that can only be described as disgraceful (a point on which my ex would now agree). Purposefully or not, their actions marginalized my role as AJ’s father, and I felt that acutely. In my mind, it was not a short walk from infidelity to excising me from AJ’s life entirely. If she could commit the first, there was nothing stopping her from the latter. So I became hawkish, meticulously (there’s that word again) searching for missteps in her behavior and I found plenty, real and perceived. This blocked my ability to deal with everything, extended the time I needed to come to grips with this other adult male figure in my son’s life.
I’m not sure I have yet. While I’ve continually taken the High Road (which is often riddled with horse droppings, I’ll tell ya), I’ve also not been shy about exerting my influence when I feel slighted. The good news is, AJ’s mother and I have worked out a solid relationship as co-parents, full of communication, and working together to improve it even more. What is lacking, however, is a line of communication to the guy. We’ve met, shook hands and been cordial. But I have no respect for him. I’ve no idea what he thinks of me. Which is a poor arrangement.
Now more than ever.
On Saturday, AJ’s mom told me she’s getting married. I didn’t have an out-sized reaction to the news. A bit of incredulity, a mild shaking of the head, but no visceral feelings. Still, there was something there that I couldn’t put my finger on.
So I went to the bookstore.
In August, the boyfriend and his family were invited to AJ’s birthday party. It was a difficult day for me, much like the way I felt when I heard this recent news. Something just out of reach. Not anger, which I’ve long come to realize is superfluous to the raising of my son, but a nagging itch. Though I got through the party okay, there was one moment that crystallized all that I feared.
AJ had gotten hurt, which is bound to happen when a couple dozen kids are given access to sugar and massive inflatable jumpers. I was standing right there when it happened and he crawled over to me crying. I held him, smoothed his hair, and assured him he would not only live, but would not be disfigured by his accident. As I held him, the boyfriend walked up behind me. Seeing a sobbing AJ, he said, “Are you alright AJ? What’s wrong AJ? What happened? Why are you crying?”
Seriously. Just a string of questions. I’m paraphrasing because I was barely listening such was the level of my disbelief. I’m AJ’s father. And I’m right here. Taking care of it. His obliviousness to the situation irritated me. The symbolism of his interruption of what was quite clearly a father-son moment, him trying to get a piece of that role, it all became clear that was the source of my unease. Perfectly wrapped and bow-tied. My influence, my stature, as AJ’s father, a role in which I perform quite well, will always be threatened by this man, who is either totally unaware or doesn’t care that he crossed a boundary.
Which is what I also felt on Saturday. Because now he’s going to be step-dad.
I will admit, that sticks in my craw like a chunk of boiled meat. I also know that’s not an attitude I can sustain.
I bought a book. Be a Great Divorced Dad. I tore through it in a couple days and it does speak to my situation. If I think about it, the advice is not dissimilar from previous books I’ve read. I simply think, faced with the stark reality that I am going to have to deal with this person for the long-term; I’m more ready to hear that advice.
I’ve always valued family. Having my own was always a goal in my life, so when I lost that which I’d dreamed of for so long, my reaction was that I would never be whole again. Worse, that AJ would suffer for the sins of his parents and that I’d failed him. I no longer believe that to be true.
Children can grow up healthy and happy in broken, mended, and blended families. It’s the hard road, to be sure, but since those first few arduous months, I’ve seen his growth continue relatively unabated and I’m not shy to put it down as the fruit of the efforts his mother and I have made to make sure he will always be loved and attended, priority pne, no matter what.
Still, there remains this one elephant in the room. The mature and correct gesture would be for him step across the aisle and clear the air. Acknowledge the difficulties. I don’t need an apology. I could use an affirmation. Something that says, “Kent, I respect your role as AJ’s father. It’s not my intention to come between you and he. I’m more than happy to work with you in order to ensure all parties are happy and healthy.”
Is this fair of me to ask?
I’d like to know that he cares for my son and is willing to support the decisions of AJ’s mother and I and not undermine the way we parent. Adults have different ideas about how to raise kids and it would only be natural that his may differ from mine. I’d like to know that he’ll defer to the boy’s father, that any animosity between us is not to be visited upon the child.
AJ took the news with a shrug. His mother said, “Your Daddy is always going to be your Daddy. That will never change.”
“I know,” he said.