Growing up in the hill country of West Virginia my dad is full of colloquialisms. He is constantly saying things like, “That’s slicker than an eel in a bucket of snot,” or this thing or that is “slower than molasses”. On more than one occasion he has suggested not coming between, “a she-bear and her cubs”. I imagine that is good advice if you are fishing in bear country during trout season. It is also good advice when discussing our daughter and her mother.
From the beginning, Betty argued my relationship with Cassie was a package deal. Either accept both of them or forget having a relationship with my daughter. Regardless of whether that is “right”, it is reality. It is exactly how it turned out. I don’t like it but I long ago accepted it.
As stated earlier, I was angry with Betty for coming between my daughter and me. As such, I responded by withholding child support and threatening to get a lawyer and sue. I would steamroll her if she didn’t stop interfering in my relationship with my daughter. After all, Cassandra is my daughter and I have my “rights”. See the pattern.
Not once did Betty and I talk about what was best for our daughter. In the end, my pride and arrogance did far more damage to my relationship with Cassie then Betty ever could.
As I said earlier, I believe Mason Cooley is right when he said, “The beginning of self-knowledge: recognizing that your motives are the same as other people’s.” The only conclusion I can draw is my daughter’s mother’s motives are the same as mine, she was angry with me because I was coming between her and Cassie. From my perspective, we both did and said a lot in an attempt to protect our “rights”. Truthfully, it would have been better if I had focused less on my “rights” and more on my “responsibility”. It would have made my fifty percent less messy.
In hindsight, I cannot blame Betty for her actions. I certainly cannot hate her. I threatened to get a court order taking custody of Cassie. I imagine she was just as terrified of a sheriff showing up at her door taking Cassandra away from her as I was of the sheriff showing up at my door with an arrest warrant because of past due child support. Immaturity wreaks havoc on the mind creating unreasonable fears.
Living in fear is horrible, whether human or bear, and I guess we both instinctively do what have to do to protect our children. We do what seems “right” regardless of what is “best”.
For example, over the years, I’ve heard stories of firemen needing to drag mothers out of a flame-engulfed house because they refuse to leave until the baby is found. Sounds “right” but if the mother dies is that “best” for the surviving children? Is it “best” for the mother? I have a female friend who argues that the “right” in that situation is irrelevant. It is what is expected and the societal shame is a heavy burden for a grieving mother.
After all, my friend asks, if a child dies isn’t it perceived as the mother’s fault?
As a discarded dad, I have a unique perspective on children. Not the “right” one just a unique one. For example, I have friends who have divorced and fought over the children the same way they fought over the Roth IRA or the house. They make the issue who contributed what and for how long. They treat their children as a possession instead of individuals. They use the children as a weapon for leverage. Having lost the bond to my daughter I know better. Broken and lost possessions can be replaced. Broken and lost relationships can never be replaced. You will always carry the sadness.
I heard a wise grandmother say to me her children are individuals of her not because of her. They are gifts from the Universe and simply passed through her womb. Her responsibility is to care for them until they can care for themselves. She tries to teach them how to love and be loved. How to live fearlessly.
I like that because that is what I want for my daughter. I want her to be able to love and be loved. I want her to be fearless by courageously facing the dangers and challenges of life. Honestly, that is all I want for myself. For my ex-wife. For Betty. For everyone I’ve ever been angry with. For everyone I know. I’ve never met you but it is what I want for you.
I talked to a number of individuals with similar experiences, and sought their advice about my situation with Betty and my daughter. Generally, the solution was variations on the same themes:
“Get a lawyer and sue.”
“Get a lawyer and fight for your rights.”
“She has a right to be with her father.”
“Women are bitches. Pay your support and move on.”
When I’m honest, it seemed to me it would make a bad situation worse. After all, how can I argue in good faith for my “rights” when I did such a lousy job addressing my responsibilities? I wasn’t accountable when Betty was pregnant. Later, I neglected my financial obligations out of childish anger, false pride and unbridled ambition. Truthfully, it seems I lack the credibility to be demanding my “rights”.