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Teen son's strained relationship with reformed 'Disney' Dad(20 Posts)
This is long -- at the end I ask about resources for teens who bottle up their feelings of abandonment.
I have one late-teen son at home and another in his early twenties away at uni. Both of my boys have been through the usual teen strops, but they are genuinely lovely, entertaining, and kind 90% of the time. This post is about my younger son, but I think it will impact my older son too, if my ex husband has truly reformed his previous 'Disney' dad ways.
History: I divorced a year ago after three years of separation. Before that, my ex had very little to do with the kids, He'd avoid any hint of family time, going to great lengths to create fictitious reasons, and generally gaslight any attempt to point out what he was missing. He basically did nothing with the boys unless someone else might notice. It was a lonely time, but like an idiot I did my best to hold the family together until I couldn't ignore my ex's affairs and persistent emotional ghosting. I'm one of those women who could have badly done with a LTB thread here ten or fifteen years ago, but I had hope, IYKWIM.
My ex quickly found a girlfriend and moved in with her and her 3 girls. He is the best dad in the world to them, and slowly, over the last four years, it's been killing my youngest son inside. His dad sees him maybe for 20 minutes a month at Costa, and showers him with gifts at Christmas. I used to ask him have my son for the odd weekend when we first split, but he always had reasons not to. I stopped because I wasn't ever asking for me; I just wanted him to spend time with our youngest who missed his brother after he went to uni.
Lately, the girlfriend and I have had reason (outside of her relationship with my ex) to talk. We live in the same town but had never met, so this is new, and in a professional context that neither of us can (or want to) avoid. She's very pleasant, but I wonder if now that she's met me she can't ignore the fact that my ex actually had a family, and that lack of a relationship between him and our boys can't be blamed on me. She's made it clear my son is welcome in her home, and I believe her. She might be the reason my ex has instigated more contact lately. He's been calling more, which my son apparently has exercised his right to ignore, so yesterday my ex provoked a conversation in Costa during his monthly dad time that left my son upset and angry.
My ex wants to stop being a 'Disney' dad. I'm not actually sure he ever was one tbh. Beyond Christmas and birthday extravagance, he's simply largely been absent. He wants a genuine relationship, he says now.
My lovely son is stoic, but is actually in bits. It all came out last night. He says he doesn't know what to do with his anger, that despite his dad being sorry it comes with a 'but' excusing his absent behaviour. Apologising doesn't make my son's upset disappear -- he has years of hearing about his dad's other wonderful family life via other people, had years of seeing his big swanky new cars drive past taking other kids on outings, had 4 years of his dad meeting him with an amazing suntan after weeks of radio silence, clearly having been away for family holidays. Hearing 'sorry' doesn't negate the lived experience, and he doesn't know how to accept/ignore/move on.
I don't either.
If any of you have young-adult children who have been through this uncorking of bottled-up anger, how did they get through it?
If anyone has any resources, I would be so, so grateful.
I'm so sorry for your son - lucky he has you.
I haven't been through it as a parent but as a child to an unreliable father. My brother fared worse than me.
I would say get him straight to a counsellor. It's expensive I know and it might take a while to find the right one but he needs help processing this and perhaps professional help will get him there quicker.
How can dads be so callous?
Thanks for replying so quickly. I'm scrolling through local counsellors now, looking for anyone who mentions adolescence/divorce in their bio. They all look like lovely people, but a bit mum or dad-like, which may (or may not) be an issue for him to relate to.
I'll keep hunting.
Definitely counselling. My youngest son reacted very badly to the divorce and subsequent crapness from xh. He was a very troubled teen for a while.
SS were very helpful, I phoned them, and git him on an anger management course. I found an excellent counsellor through our local crisis centre.
I think the most important thing you can do is to help him accept that his anger is justified, and natural, and nothing to be ashamed or afraid of. He sounds like a really perceptive, self aware lad, and that has to come from your parenting, so you should both have some confidence in each other, that he will come through.
Does he do any sports? I think a physical outlet can be important, and give him somewhere to focus. My partner did judo as a kid, and says that helped a lot.
That's just heart breaking.
If I were the new partner, I would be very worried that if the gloss went off my relationship with him, he would see my children as just that - my children - and would disappear for them too. (As he seems to have long ago decided that your children together, were your children alone, if that makes sense.)
You so often hear about this happening. I think there is a support thread on MN for adult children of "first families".
I can only agree with PP about counselling. Your GP might be able to help. They might not be able to refer via the NHS, (where budgets for this sort of thing are ridiculously stretched) but possibly could suggest a private referral.
Also, your DS shouldn't feel obliged to do the monthly Costa contact (FFS!) if it upsets him too much. Perhaps your ex needs to listen to that old Cat Stephens song; "The cats in the cradle and the silver spoon....."
Your son is understandably wary of his father's sudden reformation and his reaction is totally normal. In fact, his reaction is very sensible because his guarded response is a protection against any possible insenserity on his father's motives. If his dad expects immediate open arms then to be perfectly honest, I would say he isn't prepared for the responsibility of a less superficial relationship with his son.
Actions speak louder than words and I would wait and see how far your Ex is prepared to put the bloody work in to repair the damage he did before encouraging your son to lower his defences. In the meantime I would definitely encourage counselling for him.
Thanks for reaching out, everyone. The suggestion of sport is good -- something I wouldn't have thought of -- as are all the suggestions to find ways my son can talk-it-out safely. I'm working on it. My county is rural, but I've already found some online options, and I'll contact the mental wellbeing team too at our health centre on Monday.
HardCoreLady you raise a point about the new partner that resonates almost separately to my son's issue. Before I met her, she fit into a neat mental box labelled 'what goes around comes around.' Now I know that she's a human being it's much, much harder to wish the same on her as happened to my family. I wish I could warn her, but her experience of my ex may be entirely different to my 20+ years.
I find myself hoping so, which I never expected. I'm also close to tears because I'm not optimistic. It's not that I care, exactly. I would like the cycle to stop, but it's not my journey.
Thank you again, all. I've chosen to be alone while the kids still live with me. Most of the time, being single suits me perfectly. Last night I felt very lonely. This morning, I don't feel quite so isolated.
Jesus Christ, your poor ds and poor you.
Xh sounds like an utter cunt bucket.
I wonder if it would be an idea to have a chat to ds1- he is the closest one to have experienced these similar things. Perhaps he would find it helpful to speak to his big brother? As awful and horrific life with xh was for you, the Dc will have had similar experiences, purely by virtue of being the two dc.
Wish I could wave a magic wand for him and make it all better.
As you continue to work with the girlfriend you might find some form of "useful " relationship could develop. Could she meet ds (with or without you) and tell him he is always welcome?
There is no way your ex is reformed - he's only hinting at reforming. And I suspect only because his DP is giving him earache about why he is such a complete cunt to his children. I think your ds knows fine well his dad doesn't love him; what is too complex for him to understand is that he is incapable of actual love, only of mimicking it when there's something in it for him. Somehow he needs to get to that step in order to put this in its proper context, but god knows this isn't a lesson we would ever want our children to have to learn.
If he were a few years older I think MNers would largely be advising him to go no contact with his dad - he adds no value to his life whatsoever. I'm not sure it should be very different just because he's 16 and not 26.
If your ex wants a 'genuine' relationship with his ds (he has no idea what this is), it's his problem to sort out. Is he telling you about this, or are you hearing about it through your ds? Let him discover for himself that you can't undo years of neglect. Too little too late.
Yes, agree, if he was a few years older, people might suggest that xdh was toxic, and that ds2 should go NC!!
Research the counsellor. Go and meet her/him, then decide if they are the right counsellor for ds2.
Does ds2 want to talk to someone? My ds1 wasn't open to talking to anyone, so the counselling was pointless.
Yes to everything tribpot says. Everything.
The way I've dealt with this in my own life is to ignore calls from my father's number, block him on FB and try to forget he exists.
It's still there though, deep down and I don't know how to make it go away. I dread him dying (I'm 50, he's in his 70s).
I'm sorry- I know that doesn't help your son, but I know exactly how he's feeling .
There are counsellors out there who specifically have expertise with young adults. Ring round and ask. Maybe look at some holistic centres with lots of practitioners to find what you need.
I think you need to validate his feelings of bitterness and abandonment - they are real and justified. I'd also make it clear that it's entirely up to your ds how he or if he continues his relationship with his father - and that NC is an option if he wants.
Can your ds articulate in an email to his father how he feels? He doesn't have to send it - and you might not advise that if your ex's is likely to flip, but even not sending might be a useful outlet.
Your replies are so helpful, but heartbreaking too. I'm really very grateful for any of you who have drawn from personal experience to reply here.
I have a list of phone numbers, and I've made some contact by email with a holistic centre, after my son agreed that talking to someone who wasn't part of the history behind his issues with his dad would be helpful. Then we went for a very windy walk on the beach. On the way there, I asked him to rank how he was feeling with 1 being powerless and 10 being powerful. He pleasantly surprised me by giving me quite a high number, and then by saying that he's determined not to be moved on from feeling angry until he's ready. It all needs to come out, and he wants that, and I can't help feeling a little in awe about how articulate he is about his needs.
Later, on the way home, I asked for two words to describe how he felt. He gave me 'calm' and 'connected.' which again made me a little teary.
So, I'll keep checking in on him, and offering support options, and I'll keep you all updated. I used to be a regular here years ago under another name, until my post history started to worry me (regarding my marriage) and MNHQ kindly made it disappear. I thought twice about posting today, but I'm so glad I did.
In some ways this reminds me of my own (non existent) relationship with my father.
In a nutshell, was a pro rugby player back in the early eighties. He needed constant attention, ego stroking, female fawning and alcohol to make him feel more confident.
This resulted in a divorce, leaving me at 2 and my mother to move back home and restart our lives. No contact for 5 years.
You guessed it - he then decided that he'd made a mistake and wanted us back so made every effort to slip back in to our lives. He didn't realise just how hard and what level of resistance he would face for the next 28 years (up to present)
He'd ruined our foundations as a family and ours as son/father. He'd chosen another family and doted on them in the public domain. He'd ruined my mother's relationships within his family and he failed to pay maintenance or even send cards in my formative years.
Family number two also failed under his lies, deceit and drinking.
My mother buckled. He was quite a force with her. Knew how to over promise and yet never deliver - my mum almost being used to the disappointment and lies, perhaps even feeding from it.
Due to my reluctance to entertain his promises and bull shit from early on he never really tried with me. There were cavernous rifts in our father son relationship which I didn't want to bridge and he didn't know how to.
The similarity in this case comes from the fact that it is him who now wants a relationship with your son as you say, undoubtedly due to his new partner pressing him. With me I was happy to forget he existed. This made his desire greater.
He won't change. He will let him down. Do not let your son's emotions be trampled on by this prick of a man.
There's a void there with your son. He needed a father figure in those earlier years and he still does now but your ex isn't the right guy to offer that. Make him feel strong as a young man. Utilise suitable family and friends to ensure adequate male bonding and if you can see a suitable mentor amongst them steer them towards each other.
Don't do what my Mother did and believe the bull shit. That he'll change. That it wasn't his fault. That he always had him in his mind. He left and made a choice and there shouldn't be another chance for a cunt like that.
I'm a 35 year old son. Also a husband. And a father to two young boys who are now at the age where my dad left me. Today I took them to a show. Tomorrow is a birthday party and swimming. There are times when I question my own parenting skills as well as my marriage. But on the whole it's great considering.
Boys and young men like your son don't need manipulative insecure liars in their lives. What they do need is guidance, a strong mentor other than their mother (who I'm sure he benefits from hugely given your posts) and the belief that he is better off without this man in his life.
I hope he stands up and does what's right for him. Not what's right for his biological "dad".
My Dad was largely absent from my childhood and I only ever saw him at christenings, weddings and funerals. I soon realised if I wanted to have a relationship with him, I would have to do all the work and quite frankly the return wasn't worth my investment. Everybody's different but for me, having a relationship with the man my father was/is would have harmed me more.
I understand your concern but the reality is that the relationship between your son and his father isn't your responsibility and only time and behaviour will tell if your Ex is really reformed.
Don't let your desire for a happy ending blind you to the reality.
Bless your boy. It's been agony for him. Bless him. Rejection can be so decimating.
You sound like a great mum; and you both have a good bond (wow as he's a teenager!). Bravo both of you.
Does he have any good male role models in his life? He could do with them - grandfather? uncle? You say you have chosen to stay single but perhaps a decent, adult male would be good for your boy.
Some of us draw the short straw and end up with a duff dad; a weak, underdeveloped, selfish and self-absorbed man. Please make that clear to your boy and don't fudge it.
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