August 8, 2008. 8/8/08. Ten years ago, I had a big part of my soul crushed. It was just before going out to Jeremy’s cottage. I had been trying to work out visitation with my six, soon to be seven-year-old with his mother. She flat out wasn’t being cooperative, and I didn’t understand what she was doing. All I understood was that despite having a court order stating I had visitation, I would not be seeing him. And at this early point in the high conflict, I was seeing things more through his eyes and my head was in a whirl. Nothing his mother said made sense and my head felt like fluff.
I had been putting aside my own feelings for a while and just trying to do what was necessary and connect with him. But I couldn’t build a consistent relationship because visitation wasn’t being consistent.
Jeremy stopped by my house to pick me up for the trip to the cottage, and I smiled and treated him like a good friend. But I didn’t want to talk about what had happened just beforehand. I didn’t want to bring him down. I didn’t want my shit to make an exciting weekend difficult for him or anyone else.
And so I was quiet. I was like Will Byers in Season 2 of Stranger Things, trying to hold in this huge awfulness so that it wouldn’t impact the people around me. I went through the weekend perhaps a little quieter than normal. And that evening, the stargazing lifted me up a little and helped me to connect to that larger universe that I felt I was slipping out of. The tubing also definitely helped to lift my spirits.
Today, ten years later, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve changed a lot. I’m in a fundamentally different place in life. That six, almost seven year old boy I was trying to connect with is now 16 turning 17. I have heard very little from him for the past four years. A few text messages a year. He walked away from me at 13 because I had a fight with his mother over the phone, and really started cutting into her on her manipulative behavior. And like I anticipated, she manipulated him into leaving me and never coming back. The weaponization of my child was clear, deliberate, and reduced me to tears every time.
She has primary custody. She has controlled all access I have to him, including censoring my communication with him (even kicking me out of shared social media games if I said something she didn’t like) and only carrying out court orders when it was convenient to her. I was working temp jobs, had some credit card debt and no assets. My legal aide lawyer stopped returning my calls. His school stopped talking to me and would only send report cards to her to forward to me. (The school thing was where I started really getting angry, because I expected at least them to be adults.)
I had to make a very difficult decision. It would have been easy to fall into depression, to harbor thoughts of hatred and deserved justice. But I didn’t. Because that wasn’t the kind of person I wanted to be. I never ‘wanted a day in court’. I just wanted her to treat our son like a human being, like he might actually want to be with his Dad and have a relationship with his Dad. Instead, she couldn’t and wouldn’t let him have that. And no amount of attempted communication would change that. I know that I did the best I could for him. I can look back and know that even if my son wasn’t fully aware of everything I was doing, the people around me who I was talking to about this knew that I was. This was my business and not something I wanted to burden people with. The few times I did, the people I was talking to got really weirded out by it. I suspect it was because what I was grappling with was so far off the mark of basic human decency, and I didn’t want to burden others with my garbage.
In the end the situation became absolute shit and I needed therapy for it. Recovering from watching your child abused takes time, therapy and tools very few of us receive when we’re raised as decent human beings.
After his dramatic exit, I had to consciously decide to let go and move on. I would go crazy trying to push a boulder up a mountain when the boulder was part of the mountain, and I was not Sisyphus.
Today I understand that my son’s mother has what is called narcissistic personality disorder. This means that she would gaslight, lie about little things for no reason, manipulate and abuse. She and him wouldn’t be present for visitation, and she would never return calls.
And that’s what had been done to me before my friend picked me up and took me to his cottage. I had felt my son’s feelings be completely ignored by his mother, and it crushed me. I had always believed that parents cared for their kids, and had my beliefs, and heart, broken. I felt utterly broken inside, and was just barely holding it together.
The time at Jeremy’s cottage was wonderful. My disposition was a little down, and when I look at the pictures from the weekend, there was definitely something big going on behind my eyes. That was me trying to not bring everyone around me down.
Today I have a different life. I have a wife I love, a four-year-old boy who I love like crazy and we are moving to Ontario soon to start a new life together in an intentional community with shared values. My first son crosses my mind sometimes, but I’m not part of his life. I’ll think about him, and sometimes I romanticize about having a relationship with him. But that romanticism dies quickly when I think about just how much conflict would be reintroduced into my family’s life. Any decisions along those lines in the future would need to be weighed carefully.
As it stands, I have thrown myself into social action that helps to address climate change. I feel that if there is anything I can do for both my sons, it’s take action regarding climate change. Because they very likely won’t have the planet to play on the way I did.