Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Absent Father

“I am a single parent and we have absolutely no involvement with my child's father. I moved away before my child was born. During the crisis, I found out that the father was severely abused as a child and I have his own written word documenting what he experienced as a child. The father did many calls always with hang up until my child was several months old. We do not have any contact, including any child support, etc.

With Father's Day here, my five-year-old is asking why father doesn't ever call, where does father live, do we have the phone number, can we go visit, etc. If I know the answer, I give it. I don't say anything negative (or positive) about this man. I do have a picture if my child asks but he never has.

Years ago, his older cousin told him that the father was a 'bad man.' We discussed this briefly when it occurred but it has not been brought up since.

I'm more concerned about what to say to my child's questions and requests. I do let him know how special it is that we live together with his grandparents. I honestly do not consider it wise to try to make any contact with the father.”
-- Wondering

I’ve read this over and over again. I think it’s an awfully sad story. But I’ve been pretty stumped by it as a question. I keep re-reading, searching for what I can add that might be helpful, questions I can ask that might be useful.

I don’t really know what to say.

I do know that I think choosing not to share the picture you have unless it is asked for strikes me as a lie of omission. I think the questions your son has asked clearly indicate that he wants to know more. He doesn’t know there is a picture he can ask to see. If he did, I’m willing to bet that he’d be asking to see it.

I’m also not sure I understand the point of not saying anything positive or negative about his father. The truth is, there are positive and negative things to say about any individual alive. It sounds to me like it’s easier for you to treat his dad like a sperm donor. The problem with that is that he wasn’t just a sperm donor. You did know the man. Your family knew (or at least knows about) the man. Your reference to a pivotal crisis implies that there was emotional and physical involvement between you and the father leading up to that crisis. The bottom line is simply that you do have information that your son wants – more information than you are choosing to share with him.

What, exactly, are you trying to protect him from?

Is it right for his cousin to know more about your son’s father than he does?

What is the danger in sharing what you once liked or even loved about his father?

What is the danger in sharing what you know about how his father was hurt as a child, and how that kind of pain can permanently damage a person?

What is the danger in sharing that you and his father both thought your son would be safer and happier without his involvement in your son’s life? (While his father might not have ever stated this explicitly, his choices – to call and hang up, and then to just fade out, suggest that he chose to let go. He agreed with your assessment.)

I think it is important for you to think about these things. It seems to me that helping your child learn more about his father could be a positive thing for both of you. I don’t think keeping secrets from people who are craving that information usually works out very well.

What if your child stops asking you, and starts turning to his cousin for information?

Or maybe I’m really misunderstanding?

Maybe the questions your son is asking are questions that speak to logistics, not personality? Maybe he doesn’t want this level of information at this time?

Maybe hearing that his dad was abused and violent and unsafe would just be scary and depressing and not helpful?

Maybe knowing that his mother trusted someone violent and unsafe would be unnecessarily painful?

I don’t know. Maybe.

Or maybe knowing that people make mistakes is simply part of being human. Maybe there is value in knowing that sometimes it is braver and more loving to let go than it is to stay connected and hurt someone. Maybe, considering that you think it would be a mistake to try to make contact, you need to talk to your son about why that would be a mistake so that he doesn’t attempt to do it on his own. It seems to me that it will be far better for him to hear the details from you than from a misinformed relative.

I really do not know. I don’t even know if I’ve addressed the parts of your story that you wanted me to address. You're the one that will have to work to unravel all of this. Maybe it will help to think about what you were wanting from me... What are you uncertain about? What are your real questions? Because the truth is, you know better than I do. You know your questions, and you will know your answers.

I hope something here is useful. And I hope you will let me know if I’ve just totally and completely missed the mark.

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