However, one of the most painful situations arose when Cassie was four. She stopped calling me “Dad” and started calling me “Sean”. When asked where she got this from, Cassie said it is what her mother told her to do. She was being taught to call her stepfather “dad”.
Now other than my pride and ambition, I have no real objection to her calling her stepfather “dad”. However, I did object to being called “Sean” and told her to call me “Dad.” When I confronted Betty she informed me that although four, our daughter knew the difference and was clearly choosing her father. As an eighth grade science teacher, I’ve been around kids enough to know that at four, they generally do as they are taught.
Now I had a tapeworm in my gut and a bloodsucking lamprey on my back.
Maybe Cassie would have learned this behavior whether I was around or not. I don’t know if it really matters. All I know is she deserves better. From a philosophical perspective I think that is all parents ever really want for the children. They want the “best”. They want it to be better for their children than it was for them.
Of course, there is more. There always is. But those are the incidents that tear at my soul. I grew bitter and resentful and looked for a way to strike back. I envied Betty and her husband because they had a nice four-bedroom house in the suburbs and another new car. The company I worked for was merging and I was on the verge of losing my job and house. I was near bankruptcy. I was angry and resentful. It was at this time, I started to hedge on my child support payments. Three words about my behavior come to mind: childish, shortsighted, and wrong.
Self-honesty requires me to take one hundred percent responsibility for my fifty percent. And my fifty percent was messy. It was messy with my now ex-wife, with my family, with Cassandra and with her mother. It was messy, because in all my relationships I fought, manipulated, cheated, stole and lied to get what I wanted. And truthfully, all I wanted was to be loved. Although occasionally, I settled on being “right”.
Of course, it was my fifty percent that made it so easy to hate. I don’t know about anyone else, but for me, it is easier to hate than love. And in truth, I hated Betty as much as she hates me. My self-righteous indignation manifested as an intense dislike that can only be described at loathing contempt. At the time my perception was that on more than one occasion undermined my life and my relationship with Cassie.
Of course, perception is reality.
It took me a while to recognize my part in the tangled web. And as I said earlier, there is plenty of fault to spread around. It wasn’t all me. I know taking all the blame and responsibility would be heroic, but it is also arrogant and self-centered. As I said, when honest about my fifty percent and when not taking responsibility for her fifty percent, I stopped playing the role of a martyr.
Of course, it is easier to hate because hate is passive and relies on the lack of perfection in the world for fuel. It requires seeing only the worst in others, without looking at our own imperfections. It is a form of moral smugness and self-righteousness that blinds the hater from the realities of the human condition. It blinds us from the truth that no one is perfect. I know because for a long time I hated everyone.
Love on the other hand, is proactive.
In order to love, a person must be willing to forgive, show compassion, feel empathy and sympathy, offer support and encouragement, and see ourselves as we really are. Love relies on self-honesty and humility to see the world as it is. Love allows us to cherish the best in others and accept the worst. For me, it relies on what writer Mason Cooley suggests is the key to self-knowledge. “The beginning of self-knowledge,” he wrote, “[is] recognizing that your motives are the same as other people’s”.
As I said in the beginning, it would be easier to hate back but once I saw the extent of the harms I had done to others it was much easier to put into perspective the harms done to me…