Don’t misunderstand – I’m not defending my choices – most of them are beyond defending. However, there is a difference between being defensive and being honest. The former is a result of pride the latter humility. Knowing what I know today I would do most of it differently. But I didn’t know and cannot change the past. Spending time dwelling on my lapses in judgment is morbid reflection. Wishing it were different is simply misplaced regret. Both lead down a path that ends in self-pity and indecision. It leads back to the hopelessness I felt sitting on the edge of the bed in Chicago contemplating the reasons to pull the trigger.
So what can I do?
I can choose to start focusing on doing the “best” instead of finding the “easiest”. I can start focusing more on my “responsibilities” and less on my “rights”. I can choose to conform to the rules instead of hiring a lawyer to help make the rules conform to my desires. I can start meeting life on life’s terms instead of mine. I begin by taking responsibility for my choices and let Betty live with hers.
I stopped fighting with Betty over visitation times, dates and plans. Even when I was technically “right”. Arguing made it worse for Cassie. I worked to meet my current and past support obligations without complaining about the unfairness of it all. It eased the amount of overt and covert criticism Cassie hears.
Eventually, I paid it all off and met my other obligations.
When situations forced me to interact with Betty and her husband, I tried to listen. I would say, “You could be right,” or nothing at all, when they were being critical. Sometimes the criticisms had merit. Sometimes the criticisms were simply fear-mongering. I adjusted to the truth and ignored the hyperbole, exaggerations and overstatements. I learned not every question needs an answer and not every comment needs a response.
I made a conscious effort to focus on Betty’s good qualities. She is a good mother. She loves our daughter. She is doing what she believes is “best”. I might make the same choices if I were in her shoes. Betty is the one who has had to make the most sacrifices for Cassandra. Women always do. In reality, she has made a good home for our daughter.
Most importantly, I realized all of my unkind, unnecessary, unhelpful behaviors were a result of living in fear. Fear I wouldn’t get my share. Fear I wouldn’t get what was “right”. Fear I’d be alone. Fear I was unlovable. Fear motivated me to act on unloving, unkind, selfish and self-centered feelings.
I saw that if I were terrified someone might come and take away something I knew was mine I might stack the deck as I had on many occasions. I saw that creative resumes, padded expense accounts, expensive gifts, and high paid lawyers are attempts to stack the deck. All are attempts to get my due. To get what is “right” for me. The actions all led to me getting what I want – a better job, extra money, sex, custody, etc. – instead of what I deserve or need.
I’m guessing now about fear – because I have no special knowledge or insight into the emotional, mental or spiritual workings of others. However, since I accept Cooley’s assertion that my “motives are the same as other people’s,” I will assume Betty and I both want to ensure our future with our daughter. Our motives were the same but we made different choices. As a result, we both made statements that would have been “best” unstated. We both took actions that would have been “best” untaken. The thought of a sheriff showing up at the door caused me some sleepless nights.
Perhaps, although I don’t know, they may have caused Betty some too.
And this is where perception becomes reality. My perception is Betty stacked the deck by exaggerating to Cassandra the reasons to hate me. Of course, by making the “easiest” choices I made stacking the deck simple. I foolishly handed over the Aces through my selfishness. Because of the venomous relationship between my daughter’s mom and myself the unfortunate legacy for my daughter is she has learned to hate, or at the very least that love is conditional. Which is probably worse.
Although, I know it is a lesson Betty chose to teach, it is hard for me to blame her. Truthfully, my choices made it easy…