Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Children aren't illegitimate, but some parents should be

Today's edition of the "Motherlode" blog (sic; I don't believe columns on the web sites of major media companies count as true blogs) on The New York Times site features an essay by a woman about her husband's "illegitimate" child. I found the attitude she and her husband take towards this poor boy to be selfish and insensitive. They both need to offer this child compassion, or perhaps they are looking forward to him burning their house down someday (an act that would be understandable, in my opinion, as an attack on the "happy home" from which he was excluded by their selfishness).

Here is the column.

Here is my comment on it:

I am the son of a man whose family name I bear but whom I did not know. He and my mother were married, but they split-up when I was two years old. His weekly time with my sisters and I ended (by his choice) when I was three. He paid child support without fail, but I never knew the man. The child support was hardly enough to actually feed and clothe my sisters and me, but my mother was fortunate enough to have parents who helped support us until she remarried.

My stepfather was not fit to parent anyone, and his abuse is one major reason why I have spent most of my adult life in psychotherapy. Would my life have been better had my legal father been more than a child support payment? That is impossible to say with any certainty. What is certain is that he didn't try very hard to be a father to me. I looked him up when I was in my late twenties and discovered a pleasant enough man, but he was not the father I missed having. Like the author's husband, he had started a new family. We spoke occasionally, and when I was engaged a few years later, I invited him to my wedding. He refused to attend the wedding, however, because he did not want to see my mother, despite my assurances that he would meet with no hostility. The message I received was that I was not worth the trouble it would be to him to feel awkward for a few hours. Just as my sisters and I were not worth the awkwardness of those weekly visits all those years before. There is a word for persons who make the choices my legal father did. That word is "coward."

So, the author’s unacknowledged stepson will, I suspect, have low self-esteem. Maybe he will struggle with anger that he cannot consciously trace to its source. And just maybe, if he has a father whom he knew cared about him and regarded him as something more than a "gambling debt," he will have an easier time making his way through life than he is likely to have if the current situation remains unchanged. The author's stepson probably won't have an easy time in life, but it is within the power of this boy's father to make his son's life at least somewhat easier. The way to do that is not just by sending a child support payment. The way to do is to let the boy know he is loved, despite the obstacles of distance and estrangement from the boy's mother.

Or, you could just keep doing what you have been doing and express wonderment if your stepson’s life goes off the rails.

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