When Dad Won’t Stay Dad, Part I

About 10 weeks ago now, my two oldest stepkids’ (12-year old boy and 11-year old girl) dad dropped a bomb on them (and us). During their bi-weekly weekend stay-over at his house, he sat them down and told them that him and their stepmother were going to go to a lawyer and file to terminate his relationship with them. The reason: they did not pay him and his wife enough respect.

That’s right — he told them he didn’t want to be their dad anymore and it was their fault.

There was more justification — they were poorly behaved, they squabbled, their mom lets them “run free” too much — but the takeaway is “bad kids, no daddy”. He also decided to let them know him and their mother had divorced because she cheated on him. (She didn’t, but he followed her around for two years, threatening her co-workers, sneaking home through the backdoor so he could catch her, and generally stalking her in an attempt to prove she was — with no success. Eventually he beat her up and held her at gunpoint tying to get a confession; she divorced him while he was in jail. I should add, the kids were 5 and 6 then; she hasn’t felt any need to remind them of why she divorced their dad, because you don’t involve your kids in the reasons for divorce — you love them and let them love both mommy and daddy whatever their parents’ beef with is/was with each other.) Eventually the kids agreed to “be better” and the matter was dropped.

Then he took them to dinner and brought them home. The kids came home furious and upset; the girl went straight to the bathroom and threw up. We didn’t know what had happened at dad’s, so we thought she had food poisoning; a call to dad was unanswered, but he answered when we called from her phone, and we asked him what they’d eaten, etc. That was the last reasonable conversation we’ve had with him.

An hour or so later, the whole story came out, and over the next few days we were in hell. Tried calling dad dozens of times, texted him, and so on. Now, the boy’s had some issues with his dad before, but the girl worships her dad, and so the implication of “you have to earn daddy’s love” hit her pretty hard. She cried a lot over the next couple days, including in class, and started sending him a lot of text messages — proving herself, basically. We called the school and talked to the counselor, who started seeing them when she could; she also got them into a group for children of divorced parents. And we got them into a child therapist’s office, though they’ve only been twice so far.

Two weeks later, things had started to return to normal when dad came to pick up the kids for his weekend. The boy decided he didn’t want to go, which we respected, but the girl did. We asked them to stay inside so we could talk to dad, since he hadn’t returned any calls for two weeks.

It went badly.

He refused to see that he’d done anything wrong, and was upset that my partner was “filling them with psycho-babble BS” and had gotten them into counseling. When I spoke up, he told me to keep my mouth shut; that kind of male “staring-down pissing contest thing” was in the making when my partner stepped into his line of sight and continued. A few minutes later, I said something else; “I told you to keep out of this,” he said, to which I replied “I’m sorry, that’s not going to happen. I’m with them every day and have to deal with this stuff!” (I should add that I’m cleaning the language up again; use your imagination.) “Fine,” he said, and drove off.

Without his daughter. By the time we got upstairs, he had already called her and told her we wouldn’t let him take her, which was a lie and fortunately she knew it. She was crying, and she wanted to go over to her daddy’s, so we drove her over. She called and told him, and he told her she could only come if she came to the door alone. The whole way over she begged her mom not to walk her to the door; she was literally terrified that if she didn’t follow daddy’s directions daddy wouldn’t accept her. When we got there she wanted us to leave her off a half-block away; instead, mom found a place to stand where she could see the door and let her walk up alone.

Bad mojo, right? Let me tell you, I haven’t even got to the bad stuff yet — but this post is already long. I should have been posting about this as it happened, but it’s too hard — and we’re spending most of our free time dealing with the fallout. I’ve tried to keep to my rules; after a couple of weeks of defending him (”no, he still loves you, he’s just confused”) with no response from him, we told the kids that we weren’t going to try to explain his actions any more and they’d have to ask him why he said the things he said, but though I’m not making up good things to say about him anymore, I’ve been careful not to say anything bad about him if I could help it. In the next post on this (Part II, within the next week if I can manage), though, you’ll see that I couldn’t always help it.

The issue, at least at the time, seemed to be his feeling of not having control over the kids. He knows if he hits them (their step-mother beats the hell out of their 11-year old stepsister) mom will come down on him with the full force of the law, so he hasn’t ever hit them (I think he slapped his daughter once right after the divorce, and learned well that this would not happen again). His parenting agreement gives their mom full deciding authority about their school, activities, lifestyle, etc., and I suppose he feel left out (emasculated, even — masculinity means a lot to him, that kind of small-minded, muscle-bound, chest-thumping masculinity that gets upset when mom has any sort of power).  And of course, there’s some sort of control/jealousy/rivalry thing going on with me, which is understandable — in the year I’ve been here I’ve spent more days with the kids than he has in the last five. And of course he blames my partner for his lack of access to good-paying jobs; his use of a gun in a crime precludes him from working with any government agency, and he was pretty badly embarrassed when his wife set up a cakewalk job for him through a contact in the school district that fell apart when they did the background check.

So he’s angry at his ex-wife, after some seven years. But there is absolutely no excuse for taking it out on the kids — adults talk to adults about their problems, not 11-year olds. We’ve struggled in vain to figure out what kind of problems he could have with the kids. Because here’s the truth: the kids are amazing, and I’m not just saying that because I’m close to them. Everywhere we go, complete strangers compliment us on their behavior. Parents in the neighborhood compare their kids to ours and wish their kids were as well-behaved. They are A students, in a competitive science-based magnet school, with a full slate of after-school programs and sports. Their teachers nominate them for awards and trips, like a junior leadership forum in DC next spring. There are 12-year olds in Las Vegas who are out killing people and whose parents are scared to death of them; our12-year old says “pleased to meet you” when he meets a new person, and calls them “sir” or “ma’am”!

There’s more, lots more, but this is long already and I’ve got to get ready for work. Part II coming soon…

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