Last night was the most significant conversation I’ve ever had with my son.
It was a normal school night and I tucked my son in bed around 8:30. Went to my room to finish a book for my new book club starting tomorrow. About half an hour later I heard a funny noise coming from my son’s room. I walked down the hall to his room and heard the tears before I got to the door. He was curled up, sobbing.
“I miss Dad.”
I pause here because there’s no way to accurately describe the type of feeling that comes upon a single parent when they hear this. For each parent I know it’s different depending on the circumstances (is the other parent deceased, on a long term work project far away, on the other side of the country because he doesn't give two shits about being near his son?), but the range of emotions is wide whenever I hear my son say this. Because there is nothing I can do to fix it. And there are no words I can say to fix it. It’s a mixture of helplessness and anger and frustration and sorrow and just about every feeling one can feel watching the creature you love more than anything in the world be tormented by the actions of their own flesh and blood. I cannot undo that divorce. I cannot make his father care. I cannot open up his Dad’s brain and scream into the abyss “DO YOU SEE WHAT YOU’RE DOING TO HIS HEART?!?!?”
So, I crawl into my son's bed and say, “Tell me about that.”
It's the phrase we learned in those adoption classes I took a few years ago after we brought my daughter back from Siberia. “Tell me about that.” It’s a magical phrase. It works every time – it’s direct enough to elicit a response and gentle enough to sound safe.
And my son continues to sob and repeat how he misses his Dad. And then the next line. “Everything was great until we moved to New York.”
And then the feeling of frustration and defensiveness overtakes the feeling of concern and openness.
Up to this point, my son has never phrased the timeline of our lives in that way. And I knew I was at a crossroads where I could continue to kick the can down the road of WHY his father and I divorced or I could be honest this time. He was 10. 10 ½ actually, and being the old soul he is, more with the emotional maturity of a 12 year old.
It’s time. Time to tell him the truth.
So I did. Gently. I didn’t talk about how awful his deadbeat Dad is, but I did correct my son’s understanding of the timeline: No things didn’t go bad once we moved here. Things were bad before. Way before. Before you were born kind of before. And the reason we moved here was BECAUSE it was bad.
I then went on to explain that his father just didn’t want to be married. And that the reason he wasn’t around was because the first year of our separation, his father was on drugs and making terrible decisions like filing for divorce because he had a new girlfriend, and moving to California to be near her. How else should I explain why his Dad chose to do that? I can’t shroud it in love. I can’t say it was due to work or that he had a great opportunity out West he couldn’t miss. What’s more important than being with your son? No, the only way I could make sense of it to Drew was to explain it away with drugs and that drugs make you do foolish things and that his Dad isn’t probably on drugs anymore and it’s why he’s making an effort to see Drew more now.
To quell any thoughts that maybe things could have turned around when we got to New York, I make it plain to Andrew that even before he was born Daddy betrayed me and that I forgave him, but that he just couldn’t will himself to stay married. That he wanted to have more girlfriends and you can't do that when you're married. So he didn’t want to be married and that’s why we’re not married.
And the thing that sucks about this is that I WANT to build his father up. I WANT to be able to say, “Hey, he was a lousy husband but he loves you so much and that’s never gonna change and he’s such a good Dad.” But I can’t. Because he’s a shit father who doesn’t pay child support but rather flies ladies on around-the-world trips with him. The kind of father who takes our daughter to Vegas for her 8th birthday so he can bring a ladyfriend and leave our daughter in the hotel so he can go out and gamble with a woman, but be able to tell everyone he went there for his little girl’s birthday. I WANT to say the opposite. But I can’t. And I won’t lie because how could I possibly say that THOSE kinds of actions are love? I can’t. I won’t devalue the term of what love is by bringing it down to some sentimental level with absolutely zero substance. No, Drew’s father is shit. So I just state facts. I don’t go into detail about how awful and hard it was or how angry it makes me – I’m honestly not trying to trash the guy because I know it will not help the situation. But I do want to bring clarity to the confusion my son has held for four years that I’ve never explained away.
And so sitting on my 10 year old’s bed last night, I did. I explained it. I let the cat out of the bag. And I did it in the most gentle and direct way I could. But there’s not a whole lot you can do to ease the sting of such truths. Adulterating drug users who choose an escort girlfriend from Vegas over their 6 year old son is kinda hard to sugarcoat. But I tried.
It didn’t work. Shocker.
My son started crying more. I asked him what was bringing on more tears and he cried, “I thought my father was good!”
Ohhhhhh. Oh, son. A truth a little body like yours should not have to ingest at such a young age.
“Just when you think you can trust the people you know, you can’t. No one’s good! No one!” and my son is quoting scripture though he does not know it.
“You’re right honey. No one is good. Not one.” And with this I think he is confused because he is expecting me to say otherwise – to ease his fears: no, people are really good and your Dad really is good and here’s how your thinking went wrong. But I’m not gonna do that either. I can’t. I can’t lie like that.
I explain that ultimately no one is good and everyone makes mistakes and sometimes people make mistakes for years and years and years but the important part is that we eventually try to make amends. We eventually try to do good things.
“What’s the point of being good?!” my son cries.
MORE deep philosophical questions from such a young kid!
So then we’re off talking about temporary pain vs eternal rewards and how bad guys sometimes win though they have internal misery, and my son bats, “Well, what’s the point in doing good over someone who does bad? You tell me bad guys can't sleep at night. Well, I can’t sleep at night because I'm miserable, so what’s the difference?”
And then I tell him age plays a part and that if he wants to try being selfish for a while and seeing where it gets him and how it makes him feel, he can try it.
I finish with some stories about God and answered prayer in my life and that God still loves Drew’s Dad and hasn’t given up on him even if I have at times. Drew starts to smile with these stories.
And then Drew shares a way in which he heard God speak to him that day, and it is the most incredible thing I’ve heard in a while. I am surprised by the simple truth that God has a private separate relationship with my son and hears his prayers and speaks to him. I know I’ve always known that’s true, but had never really considered how very real that bond is, as real as mine, and just starting, but the newness doesn’t make it any less intense or real. Drew, in silence that day, posed a question to God. And then asked for a sign. And God answered.
God spoke to my son yesterday. And he heard Him.
At this point Drew has come full circle. The tissue box is spent and has sputtered a flurry of white all over the floor. But my son’s face seems at peace. We’ve been talking for nearly two hours. It’s late. I tell my boy I love him and he falls asleep.
I know my words weren’t perfect. I know maybe I said too much at times or too little. But I rest assured that every other time Drew has asked about what happened between his father and me I’ve always told him I’ll tell him when he’s older. I haven’t wanted to rush this. And in that moment it felt it was the time.
This morning before school Drew seemed happy – at peace. I meant to bring up last night and if he wanted to say anything, but instead we were busy learning how to unlock a lock he was bringing to school for his new locker. He was very excited about learning how to turn the dial and get the shiny thing to open.
Going from closed to open.