I’m not a father, and I don’t play one for E.

In the last two years I’ve heard almost as many stories as I did for the six previous while I was married to Ethan’s father. He didn’t give him a bath because he couldn’t get the water hot enough. He couldn’t bring him home because his dad wouldn’t let him borrow the truck. He hasn’t gotten a job in all this time because his dad holds him hostage and duck-tapes his rear to the couch. He hasn’t gotten him anything for his birthday yet (the day before) because he’s still awaiting pay from his under-the-table job. Whatever. I’ve heard it all.

Today was the worst though, because today was the 2nd school day in the last week that I’ve gotten a call from Ethan’s dad at exactly 2:45 letting me know that he hadn’t gone to school. Both times he told me that Ethan was ‘sick’. Both times he called me exactly two minutes before I received a call from Ethan’s after-school director asking about his whereabouts. I felt my heart fall to my toes, and felt my fuse completely burn out. How could he? And then it hit me. How could I?

On Thursday, Ethan had been legitimately sick. He had a fever. Today, however, I knew it was a lie before Ethan’s big-daddy-liar even let the words fully escape his mouth. He couldn’t afford the risk of driving the truck to Ethan’s school. The tires have almost completely given out. While I appreciate him trying to keep Ethan safe, I do not appreciate him being too prideful or ‘scared of’ me to tell me so that I could get out child to class. He’s in Kindergarten. He’s learning to read and add and socialize and he can’t do that at daddy’s house. Daddy is his buddy. Daddy is not a father. Even beyond all of that, Ethan’s make-up work from Thursday still sat untouched in his folder, so that mommy could help him with that tonight. And here I will say it again. He is not a father.

I couldn’t let it go. I’ve been brewing since the call at 2:45. I didn’t want to go off on him in front of Ethan, but I did want Ethan to understand that daddy will no longer be able to keep him on school nights because daddy was dishonest. I explained to Ethan that if daddy kept him out of school too many times, mommy could get into serious trouble. I asked if he thought that was fair. After drying his eyes and saying that I was being mean, he replied ‘No mommy, that’s not fair. You didn’t keep me out of school.’ And there you have it. The early beginnings of learning fair from unfair.

I’m telling this story for many reasons, but the first is so that I can show how even a mom who says she’s got this whole co-parenting thing down (me) can be way off the mark. When Ethan’s dad called last night, he never asked for me to come pick him up, but I sensed a hesitation that I should’ve pushed because my gut was loudly saying ‘something’s not right’. But I didn’t. In my odd rationalization of people and why they do what they do, I reasoned that surely his dad would get him to school today. I excuse him for the sake of Ethan spending time with his dad, because he longs for that, and wants to be with his dad. But the more I see, the more I understand that maybe Ethan loves being with dad because dad is his friend first. His dad feels so guilty about everything he did in our marriage, and feels so badly that he can’t provide anything but himself for Ethan, that he lets our child get away with anything and everything.

In the end, Ethan will learn to be just like his dad. He will learn to lie to get out of trouble. He will learn to manipulate others through guilt and pity in order to get his way. And he will learn, just like his dad, that’s it’s okay to point fingers in order to take the blame off of himself. These are all the things I try each and every day to weed out of our son’s personality. They just don’t belong.

While my first co-parenting experience with Jason’s dad has been comparatively smooth and harmonious, this experience with Ethan’s dad has been anything but. So I called Ethan’s dad, made him tell me the truth about today, and let him start on his finger pointing. Then I promptly stopped him, told him I’ve heard the same stories long enough, and that it’s time to hold himself accountable. There are shelters that will help you find housing, work, and even transportation. ‘You just have to be a man and be willing to go it on your own, without the so-called help from your dad, who apparently only wants to hold you down’. The truth is that no one holds us down without us lying down to let them step all over us.

Ethan will go to school tomorrow, with completed homework and a hand-written note from me to his teacher that simply reads ‘Ethan was unable to attend school yesterday because of his father’s transportation problems’. When what it should say is ‘Ethan was unable to attend school today because his father put pride before his child’s education. So sorry.’. It’s frustrating to say the least. I’m still picking up his pieces, but only because I have volunteered to do so. Hopefully the garden of Ethan will flourish and grow, but only with hard work and some extensive tough love weeding.

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