To My Estranged Daughter,
First of all, and most importantly, I love you.
About four years ago I read a letter to Dear Abby. As I read the letter, and Abby’s response, a vile bile rose up in my throat. I was deeply sickened by Abby’s judgmental and sexist response to a highly immature and selfish mother. When I wrote to Abby I couldn’t help but think of my relationship with your mother and you.
Click here to read the original letter entitled “Wife wishes son’s newfound father would simply get lost”. Below is my response.
As a step-father of two teenage boys and a father with an estranged 16 year old daughter I read the letter and your response to Worried on the West Coast with alarm.
Of all the possible explanations for the ex-husband’s sudden reemergence into his son’s life both of you adopt the socially most negative male stereotypical ones – an emotionally selfish and financially deadbeat ex with a malicious desire to be disruptive and co-opt his son because of a desire to have an heir.
The mother suggests the birth father’s actions are ruining her “until now […] perfect life”. She selfishly assumes only the worst. She selfishly claims her son as property to be won and lost – as if the son is a car or an IRA.
Perhaps the birth father is trying to make amends to his son and is reaching out to him. Perhaps the son wants a relationship with his birth father. Perhaps the mom’s “perfect life” isn’t perfect for the son and he needs something more. After all, he is a teenager.
I cannot fathom how a young man wanting to interact with his birth father ruins the mother’s life. It isn’t the son’s responsibility to make the mother’s life “perfect”. More importantly, is there a limit to how many people a person can love? Can a person not be loved by more then one person?
The mother blames the birth-father for changes in her home. However, perhaps the son is simply acting out because he is 16 not because of the writer’s ex-husband. Teenagers occasionally are rude, selfish, and disrespectful. This is one way they separate from their mother’s apron strings.
She describes “all the work of raising the young man” as being done. Which is an overstatement, but if true then doesn’t the boy deserve the freedom to a life of his own choosing with or without his birth father? Isn’t it possible the birth-father has something constructive to contribute to his son’s life? Out of resentment, bitterness and jealousy the mother argues for the status-quo.
The mother doesn’t like what the son is hearing from his father about things that happened 16 or 17 years ago. I would imagine the son would want to know and is asking questions. There are two sides to every story. Sometimes both sides are true. Mom may not like the answers but to insinuate they are lies and these “wrinkles” should be ironed out by a therapist again treats the son incapable of thinking for himself.
Perhaps therapy is appropriate but it should include the birth-father so the boy can express his fears and anger in a safe place. Here he can ask his questions with an impartial referee to help him sort out the truth.
You even go so far as to suggest the mother uses the court as leverage to discourage the birth-father from continuing to interact with his son.
Once again, the mother is suggesting a solution that is based on fear and anger rather than on love and forgiveness. I’m not saying the father should not be financially obligated but the court should not be used as a weapon to maintain the selfish mother’s objectives – especially if there is no history of abuse but only disagreement.
A more mature perspective is to see the ex-husband’s involvement with his son as an opportunity. If the birth-father is sincere about his relationship then why not embrace this opportunity for the son to learn about love, forgiveness, and redemption instead of manipulation, control, and power.
The son is not a possession. He is not a slot machine capable of only one payout. His ability to love is limited only by the fears and shame he is taught. He is a thinking, feeling, spiritual human being who should be encouraged to develop loving relationships with people of his choosing who are capable of loving him.
Of course, this can happen only if the mother abandons the “sky is falling” and selfish reactions. If she doesn’t – it is her behavior that will do more to damage her perfect life than anything her ex-husband could do or say.
In the future please consider a more balanced response.
Concerned in Columbus