He called Wednesday before I could call him. I kicked myself when I had seen his message earlier that afternoon, the chance to get off work early and ride some single track took precedence over anything else. My intention had been to check in with him in the evening just to see if his plans for Thanksgiving had changed. When I asked my son a week or two ago, he told me he had to work his job at the sporting goods store. Of course, his phone call to me could have been an emergency or to get help from me, as it usually is. Nate does not usually offer to spend time with family, although that has changed since the divorce, family something he seems to value a little more now that part of family is no more. Prior to the divorce, he was indifferent to family time at holidays, as if he loathed every second, detached and somewhat hostile, a teenage attitude. He seems to have grown up a bit in the last year, a necessity I suppose, enough that I have felt cautiously encouraged by what he has demonstrated to me in the past few months.
Parenting has always involved guesswork of sorts. I have never been one to read books on parenting, although I did read James Dobson’s book well before I actually became a parent. With me, effort far exceeds skill when it comes to being a father, my hope that the time invested in my children will be the value added. Well aware of my own imperfections and quirks, I want to be the best father I am capable of being. I have my own father as an example, himself flawed like anyone else, his heart and intentions so strong that even his faults are a valuable strength to me. I am a version of my father. I wish I had married a woman as fiercely supportive as my mother was to my father. My own strengths as a father might be what my children see. Divorce clouds their perception, I think.. on occasions I hope so.
Divorce also further clouds the confusion of parenting. I am even more afraid of making a mistake now, the opportunities to make an impact rare. My children are older, one away in another country, the other lives with his mother. What exists with them is what came before, as well as their perception of what they know about me now. That often is not positive, hurtful when I hear it from them. Nate tends to spew accusations when he is angry, accusations that come from what his mother has said to him, pre and post divorce. I need to be careful what I say, always have needed to be careful, especially with my son. When he is angry or wants something, he attacks and will try to use everything he can to “win”. Over the years, I learned to expect that from him, arguments that were next to impossible to escape when we lived in the same house, often fueled by a wife who encouraged him to keep coming at me. It came to a point where divorce became the only conceivable option to escape that pain. I hated the frustration, the struggle with the anger the situations brought on.
Divorce can be a selfish act. It is a selfish act, but divorce can also be the only way to save self. Believe me, I did and still do feel selfish at times, but I know that I need to be. Finding the healthy line between self and selfishness is not so easy.
Early Wednesday evening, I called and left a message, then texted him to see what was up. I was getting a little worried. Nate wasn’t returning my calls. I was concerned that he had an emergency. He called back around 8:30 PM.. looking for a fight. Why hadn’t I called to check on him? He wanted to come to the Thanksgiving dinner at my brother’s, the dinner I had invited him to. He had to work at 5:30 on Thanksgiving day, so he couldn’t stay long, but he wanted to come. I told him that would be great — but would he be OK with my lady friend being there? There was a pause, then he told me he wouldn’t go, then hung up.
I expected that. He called back, furious. How could I expect him to be OK with me dating after only a year? I understand a little. I don’t expect him to like it. Even though I have told him I am dating, I have not discussed that with him. It’s tough and discussing the tough topics is where I am far from perfect. I don’t know what is the best timing, if there is any, and I am afraid of saying the wrong thing.
I have several friends who have post divorce relationships destroyed by letting children dictate their relationship with their fiancé and second wife. It’s tough. One had the wedding called off because he said the wrong thing about his fiancé’s daughter, the other is facing divorce with his second wife for asking his wife to do something about the attitude her daughter was giving him. Both women were offended, both ended the relationship. Children don’t see your girlfriend or new wife as family. They can see them as an intrusion.
My lady friend (thank you, downstairs neighbor, for giving me that term) has been a blessing to me. After years of neglect, of no support, I have someone who understands the importance of supporting me. I need to show her the same — and I did just that.
Nate called Thanksgiving morning with an ultimatum — tell my girlfriend that she had to stay home and he would go to Thanksgiving with me. He was angry with me, said that it was too soon for me to be dating. I wondered why he brought it up, since he knows I have a girlfriend. I stayed calm with him because it’s all that works with him, even though he was cursing at me, accusing me of cheating on his mom, all the angst and pent up frustration coming out. I know my son. I know how he is going to act when he is angry. All I can do is listen, not offer up too much as he will jump on everything. Respect is not something he has been encouraged to have for me, nor has it been expected of him. He would try to brow beat me, try to turn it into an argument.
I excused myself, told him that I had to take a shower and get ready. He called back twice. I finally told him that I was sorry, but he had a choice. I was not doing something bad to him like he was accusing me of doing. I was not going to leave my girlfriend at home. I told him that I was sorry that it was difficult for him. He was still angry, told me that there was no way he was going to eat Thanksgiving dinner with his mother, aunt, and 96 year old grandparents. It was my fault that he would be spending Thanksgiving alone. It was his choice, I told him. It was, difficult as it was.
I felt bad, but the times of his mother taking his side and forcing me into agreeing are gone. Neither of them has that power any more. He called me selfish. Maybe I am. As I said, divorce is selfish. The decision to divorce was tough for that reason, but it was also a time when I knew I needed to do it for myself. During the course of one of his phone calls to me yesterday, my son asked me how I would have reacted if the shoe was on the other foot, if my father had done what I am doing. I know the answer to that. I didn’t answer my son, but I know the answer to his question. I was not only taught to respect my father, I was expected to respect my father.. not because he had earned my respect (although he did, even in his imperfection.. which I am thankful for both). My dad deserved my respect because he was my father. If I were in the same situation as Nate, I would have gone out of respect for my father. My son doesn’t understand that because he has never been expected or taught to respect me by his mother. That was so hurtful, so painful during the course of our marriage. While not perfect, I know I earned respect that was never given.
Despite that drama, it was a good day. My lady friend looked out of this world good, let me know how much it meant for me to show her that my son was not going to control our relationship. My father enjoyed the chance to meet her and talk to her. We had to call them several times to come to dinner, something I was glad to see. My ten year old niece greeted us at the front door, barely let me out of her sight, saved a chair for me next to her at the table, insisted I play games with her after dinner. It was cute. Dad proudly showed me his new truck. Despite what had happened earlier, I had someone with me who showed me honor, made me feel good about myself. Will my lady friend be the next chapter for me? It’s way too early to tell, but she is helping me through this chapter of my life, helping me to feel whole again. Did I make the right choice when I told my son that I was taking her with me for Thanksgiving no matter what he said?
I wish I knew. I really do. Maybe some day I will know.