Gandhi And The Ghosts Of 3 AM

It’s three in the morning and I can’t sleep. My head is buzzing, the aftereffects of too many Starbucks espresso shots and an extra dose of Adderall. The queasiness in my stomach caused by plastic-like strands of strawberry Twizzlers and handfuls of gravelly trail mix that I’ve eaten throughout the day isn’t helping the way I feel. In the past forty-eight hours, I’ve spent more than thirty of them driving round-trip from Houston to Illinois in order to drop my three boys back off with their mother.

It’s quiet now just as it will be several hours later save for the curious footsteps of my two stepdaughters coming down the stairs for looking for breakfast and cartoons. This is a drastic contrast to the boys whose rambunctious behavior remained constant from the time they tumbled out of bed at dawn until the moment they flung themselves back onto their mattresses that evening. All that energy translated into a lot of noise, and without them here the vacuum of silence seems all that more pronounced.

Handing the boys back over to their mother proved to be as hard as I had expected. It’s always hard, but more so this time given how much closer we had become over the past several weeks. Recalling the number of occasions when the boys each expressed their desire to live with me only added to the emotional turmoil churning inside. Given what they had shared with me about their home life, it’s easy to understand why.

They are forever bickering with their stepbrother and older stepsister who lost their mother to cancer then saw her replaced in less than a year by my ex-wife. The animosity over this is palpable, particularly with the their stepsister since she not only watched her mom die, but she did so as a young teenager, a stage when daughters need their mothers the most. Instead she inherited the neighbor lady and three squirrely stepbrothers.

This is what I remind the boys of when they complain about how mean their stepsister is to them, but they are too upset to care. And besides, their stepsister makes a perfect villain for them to direct their own change-induced anger towards.

Troublesome as this is, it concerns me less than does Mr. X, the name I’ve given the boys’ stepfather who I have yet to meet. In my Ex’s words, such an introduction would be “inappropriate,” an assessment that ignores both expert advice as well as the “ridiculous” notion that a father might want to know what sort of man his sons are being exposed to.

To date I have kept my fears and suspicions in check, not wanting to spark the powder keg relationship between my ex and me, that already sits tenuously close to the flames of volatile emotion. In fact, as I’ve familiarized myself with the issues of blended families, co-parenting and parental alienation, I’ve adopted a non-hostile Gandhi-esque approach to dealing with the boys’ mother.

And as a by-product of this, I have avoided speaking disparagingly of her in public forums. Some have advised me that my attitude here is too passive, and yet, I’ve gained more ground with her via this method than through the heated confrontations we’ve had the past.

Gandhi summed this up better when he said:

“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”

I have put my faith in the belief that refraining from confrontational outbursts even when I was right would pay off in the long run. When my ex gives me detailed advice on how to handle certain situations with the boys, rather than pull out my driver’s license to show her my date of birth along with a quick reference to my full-time parenting gig, I instead just nod my head, allowing her to enjoy the illusion of control. It's not that important to feel right for a brief second when there is more at stake. After my boys expressed their unsolicited feeling with me, though, I have lost confidence in this tenet as well as in the assurance that they are safe.

At dinner one night, the boys announced that Mr. X does not love or care for them. Yes, he puts on a good act when their mother is around, but the show’s over once she’s gone. They've told me this before, and I used to take it with a grain of salt. Being a stepfather is hard. I don’t say this to pat myself on the back by any means. The number of mistakes I’ve made with my stepdaughters is directly proportional to the ten years of therapy ahead of them.

My point rather is that, as a stepdad, you instantaneously "step" into a role where you have to love children you don’t really know, and you have to let them into your life unconditionally, or I should say a stepfather has to do this if he intends to have a positive impact on their lives. But even for the most compassionate of men, this can be a difficult process and it takes time to build that relationship.

This is why I’ve always given Mr. X the benefit of the doubt. However, when one of the boys tacked on that Mr. X doesn’t even like his own kids, my tolerance and understand shifted to simply doubt. Doubt further justified when my six year-old told me later that mommy and Mr. X think I - their father - am stupid. When a man doesn’t want stepchildren, they will know. When he doesn’t want his own children, then it’s all the more pronounced. When that man belittles his stepchildren’s father; he is a coward.

That my children prefer to live with me over their mother may appear to be vindicating, a small victory in my favor; however, it is not. There are no winners in these situations. The intricacies on many emotional and psychological levels are far more complex, and splitting the boys up between their mother and me as they turn thirteen is not a healthy option. The only practical route for the moment is to live as near to my sons as possible, a goal I’ve been working on unsuccessfully for the past few years.

In mentioning my attempts to relocate, I’ve sometimes felt like a high school Calculus teacher when people respond with offhand remarks like, “I don’t see why you just don’t move,” or “you should get an attorney.” Yes, Suzie and Johnny, you are correct. Now, show me your work, and by “show me your work” I am alluding to the convenient way in which these people have ignored minor considerations such as a job and money before arriving at the obvious conclusion.

Then again maybe I am not trying hard enough. Maybe my passive resistance has, over time, morphed into a complacency masked by the inability to find an easy or conventional solution that would get me closer to my boys. This is the question I asked myself over and over during a fourteen-hour drive through seven states.

Now, at 3 AM, an hour when ghost have felt as real to me as the bed I laid half awake in, I am haunted by this thought as well as something else my oldest son realized the night before we left. “Now that I’ve seen a real family,” he said, “I know that Mom and Mr. X have been lying to us.”

I have no money and no conventional job. I have nothing at my disposal except for these words. Regardless, I must act because as Gandhi also stated: “Action expresses priorities.”

The priorities here are clear.

PS. If anyone knows of opportunities in the Chicago area my resume can be found here. Many thanks in advance.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Ads Section

Ads Section

  © Blogger templates Newspaper by 2008

Back to TOP