To Fail as a Son

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Kyle Cupp

Kyle Cupp is a freelance writer who blogs about culture, philosophy, politics, postmodernism, and religion. He is a inactive to the group Catholic blog Vox Nova. Kyle lives with his wife, son, and daughter in North Texas. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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51 Responses

  1. Avatar Rodak
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    says:

    Kyle — I never had that problem with my parents. But now that my two daughters are both out of the house, and the family dissolved by my wife’s departure, I very much fear the kind of estrangement from them that you describe. I text, I try to Skype, I call, I email…but they are young and very busy. It never seems enough, and I am scared. Thanks for this piece. I have taken it to heart.Report

  2. Avatar Luke Bennette
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    says:

    Kyle–your piece is very striking, and touches to the heart. The older my dad, and mother, gets the more I wonder about what will come. It is something very important, to keep near to ones parents. Yet I find that the idea of loosing contact with my sibblings is even more frightening. How does one keep up with six sibblings all going in various dirrections doing their own thing? It seems impossible. It seems that whenever we lose contact with another a part of us dies, like the brain remapping what was never used, and in a way that final revision will stand against us or for us as a testimony of our relationships with others. Thanks Kyle. I hope you are well.Report

  3. Avatar Jason Kuznicki
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    says:

    I’m going to sound terribly socially conservative here, but couldn’t one argue that the whole problem here was simply divorce?

    I don’t want to ask about what might have prompted the divorce, but are these not some of the consequences?Report

    • Avatar Damon in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Not the divorce, the ex wife moving with her new guy to Iowa.

      My ex and I never had kids, but her sister did. I try and stay as close to them as I can for this very reason. I valued them less when my ex and I were together because 1) i took them for granted and 2) they werern’t interesting. Now that they are older, 18 and 14, they are more fun to be around. Of couse now, they have less interest in me….Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Damon
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        says:

        Yeah, I made a post about divorce a while back, predicting that in the future divorce and moving apart will be viewed as deeply immoral.Report

        • Avatar trumwill mobile in reply to Shazbot5
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          says:

          I do take the view that in the event of a divorce, both parties should make an effort to stay within proximity. On the other hand, I would argue that the partner who initiates the divorce has a greater obligation of flexibility in this regard. So the responsibility does not fall equally.Report

          • Avatar Will Truman in reply to trumwill mobile
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            says:

            Err, excluding cases where the person left due to abuse or where they technically initiated the divorce, but only after marriage-ending behavior on the part of the other.Report

            • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman
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              says:

              Will,

              What actions would you allow the government to take to encourage/support/require such a preference?Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Kazzy
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                says:

                In cases of joint custody, it should jeopardize your custodial standing with the child and possibly alter child support arrangements if you’re going with the child. In other words, “I’m moving to California and taking your child with me,” should be discouraged. Unless “you” are okay with that.

                In cases like where Zic mentions below, where the father has been declared unfit, there shouldn’t be an issue moving wherever she wants.Report

              • Avatar Will Truman in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                I should add that, though I answered your question from a legal perspective, my initial comment was more about moral obligations than legal ones. By and large, who left whom can’t really factor into the legal.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Will Truman
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                says:

                Oh, I realized the difference between the moral and the legal. I agree with you on the moral, providing staying in close proximity is in the best interests of the various participants (e.g., not in cases such as Zic sites). But I couldn’t think of a legal mechanism I was comfortable with that would support my moral preference, though I think you are onto something with yours.
                And the primary social mechanism, stigmatization, is one I’m very uncomfortable with, given the difficult emotional places most parents find themselves in post-divorce.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to Damon
        Ignored
        says:

        Not the divorce, the ex wife moving with her new guy to Iowa.

        Wait, what? So the husband leaves his wife, and the wife is obliged to stay in the same town and never remarry?

        That’s…. like a relic from the nineteenth century. Eesh.Report

        • Avatar zic in reply to Jason Kuznicki
          Ignored
          says:

          I have seen women so trapped.

          In one case, the father had all visitation rights removed because of abuse of the children, to the point of refusing to treat on child’s severe asthma.

          Yet he still managed to have court orders directing the mother and children to remain in state so that he could visit.Report

          • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic
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            says:

            Seriously? That is disturbing.Report

            • Avatar zic in reply to Kazzy
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              says:

              Seriously.

              Abuse is often about control, and in this case, once he could no longer physically control his wife/ex-wife, he opted for whatever other controls he could — financial, where they could live, etc.

              Every time they had a day in court, they spent the two or three nights after someplace other then their home; sometimes at my house, sometimes at other friends, for these were the most dangerous times.

              This woman is one of the most amazing people I know. She spent a lot of time talking with her children about their absent father; helping them to know/understand him as much as possible. She told them often of his good traits, his intelligence, cleverness, strength. But also about his flaws, how she could not fix them. She didn’t want them to fantasize him into something he could never be.

              They are wonderful, well-adjusted, adults. I’m very proud of them. It will be a joy to dance at their weddings, to knit their babies blankets, and see them each become strong, loving fathers.Report

              • Avatar Kazzy in reply to zic
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                says:

                Thank you for your support of your friend. I am a child of divorce but suffered very little for it. I realize my experiences are not the norm so appreciate when folks like yourself help kids like me have outcomes like I did.

                While it is generally sub-ideal for children to live geographically distant from their parents, I am loathe to impose any restrictions on the freedoms of divorced parents. If parents opt to live near one another (as mine did, though this was largely a function of neither one being highly motivated to uproot their respective lives… plus the divorce was amicable… though who knows what they agreed to about proximity behind the scenes… they ultimately ended up settling within a few blocks of one another…), so be it. But if they choose another path, we should respect that, even if we might disagree with it.

                I should also say that this position I take is much easier for me to advocate because I simultaneously advocate for leveling the playing field for custody rights between mothers and fathers. As I understand it, the way that courts so often default to mothers is problematic and makes my position arguably more onerous for fathers to follow their children if they wish to remain close.Report

        • Jason,

          “Not the divorce, the ex wife moving with her new guy to Iowa.”

          Wait, what? So the husband leaves his wife, and the wife is obliged to stay in the same town and never remarry?

          I agree with your comment to Damon, but I think your shock might be tempered a bit by the fact you posed the question you did. I’m not saying the question was out of bounds, although perhaps the context might not have been the best one to pose it? (in which case I’m just as guilty because I’m entering the conversation here, too). But I am suggesting that Damon’s response to your question is within the realm of responses that that question is likely to get.

          As you said, your question evokes some values often called socially conservative, and a (in some people’s view) socially conservative proposal might be that a parent ought to stay near their children even if that parent must separate from the spouse.Report

          • Avatar Damon in reply to Pierre Corneille
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            says:

            Shesh, reverse the situation…

            Anyway, each parent had this child and it deserves, and you are morally obligated, interation with each parent (baring abuse) to the maximum extent possible, and with as little snarky comments about the other parent. That means no moving out of town, out of the state, out of the country, if necessary.

            You “own” this kid with the other parent for 18 years. Deal.Report

            • Avatar Miss Mary in reply to Damon
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              says:

              So since I decided to leave my ex husband I can’t move out of the area for work, school, or to be closer to family? I disagree. My parents lived in Oregon and divorced when I was three. Mom moved to Texas and dad moved to California. I saw them both as often as possible (school months with Mom, all other time with Dad) and they are still friendly. You don’t have to live in the same town to co-parent.Report

    • Avatar Kazzy in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      Jason,

      I think it is a big jump to go from saying the problem in THIS circumstance was divorce to more broadly declaring that divorce is necessarily problematic.

      We also have no idea what Kyle/his father’s/his mother’s fate would have been had they not been divorced, thus making it really hard to make any real assessment of the validity of the act.Report

    • Avatar North in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      I don’t think it parses. If divorce was the problem in this case it’s the solution in others. Were divorce not permitted then we’d have a different tragic story and someone would frown, say “it sounds dreadfully libertine to say but couldn’t one argue that the whole problem here was simply that divorce isn’t permitted?”

      Probably the problem is more fundamental. The problem is that creating kids takes a minimum of two people and people pairs can’t be relied on to act as one being. Heck, in some psychiatric cases even a single person can’t be relied on to act as one unified being.

      And Kyle, I am very sorry for your loss though by the sounds of things it happened long ago and this is just the affixing of that state of affairs.Report

      • Avatar Jason Kuznicki in reply to North
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        says:

        Certainly divorce is the solution in some cases, and — for all we know — divorce was the right choice here, too. You’ll note the conspicuous absence of many, many presumably relevant details here.

        That said, this is one consequence of divorce. Not an unusual consequence. Not an unexpected one. A very typical one. And it’s not at all crazy to think that the things that may justify divorce in some cases are a lot rarer than the literal, totally expected, and still heartbreaking destruction of a family that divorce just about always entails.Report

        • Avatar North in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          I don’t think it’s crazy but I am deeply skeptical that divorce causes more problems than it solves.Report

          • Avatar Kim in reply to North
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            says:

            +1. I grew up in an undivorced family. It was hell, and I didn’t even know it.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Kim
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              says:

              Anna Karenina starts out “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”

              Do you have any idea of the consequences of having to sell a house out from under three adolescent children, knowing they’ll leave all their friends, probably end up leaving the country?

              Divorce doesn’t change anything. It substitutes one set of contracts for another: the second more binding than the first. I’ve watched what happened to my friends’ families when they divorced. I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.Report

        • Avatar Rufus F. in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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          says:

          “That said, this is one consequence of divorce. Not an unusual consequence. Not an unexpected one. A very typical one. And it’s not at all crazy to think that the things that may justify divorce in some cases are a lot rarer than the literal, totally expected, and still heartbreaking destruction of a family that divorce just about always entails.”

          Thanks, Jason, for expressing this more concisely than I could have. My parents’ divorce was deeply traumatic for me and my sister in ways that still manifest themselves in all my adult relationships, including my marriage. (I’m in therapy, not to mention married to a therapist, so it’s certainly been addressed.) Furthermore, it didn’t really fix anything for my parents- it just allowed them to obviate responsibility for their own problems, which mostly got a lot worse. As a result, when I hear people talk about divorce as a sort of panacea or non-problematic expression of the will, I wonder what their experience could have been like. I can sound fairly socially conservative too, but I sort of part ways with everyone on this issue because I meet plenty of “social conservatives” who seem fairly unconcerned about the effects of divorce on (white) children, but have a serious problem with a loving and committed marriage like yours, which seems all backwards.Report

    • Avatar Tod Kelly in reply to Jason Kuznicki
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      says:

      That’s a pretty big leap from A to B with surprisingly little data.

      Do not the vast majority of divorced families have kids who keep in touch with both parents? Are there not cases in families where no divorce occurred where estrangement occurs?

      I know people who are estranged from family members and who came from divorced homes; but I know just as many who have family estrangements who came from homes where parents spent their whole lives together. If we blame the former on divorce, should we blame the latter on the covenant of marriage?Report

  4. Avatar BlaiseP
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    says:

    From the age of 12, you felt strong enough in your own identity to tell your father you didn’t want to see him any more. That message wasn’t lost on him.

    My wife drifted away into a life of her own: her kids and husband mattered less than her parents. She’d left her parents early, at age fifteen, sixteen, perhaps, into a disastrous teen marriage. She tried to make up for all that later: the dutiful child. I got to foot the bill for those experiments. When they died and she wanted back into my life, I’d already let go.

    I’d let go, years before, when she’d left us for over a year, gone back to manage things for her parents. There’s only so long you can go on wishing for something before hope dies. Later, my children would tell me I should have divorced their mother. They’d given up on her.

    My own parents dedicated their lives to the Lord’s Work at the expense of their kids. I tried to patch together a reconciliation but it only worked to the extent that I was also congruent with dedicating my life to the Lord’s Work — that is to say, their ideas on that subject.

    Everyone must be free to pursue his own path, though the longer I live, the less certain I am of how much our own freedom has anything to do with that pursuit. Like lightning, it seems to be a path of least resistance problem. Slow motion analysis of lightning reveals the negative bolt of lightning descending, forking early, seeking the path to ground. But from the ground, a positively charge upward streamer is also forming. When the two connect, we see the path to ground in the strike itself. Thus it is with the many forking paths of our lives.

    Dead ends are everywhere. You might believe you made a decision to choose one parent or the other, picking one to avoid a messy fall. I strongly suspect the decision was not entirely yours to make. You lived within the structure of a new family, complete with a stepfather.

    Did it ever occur to you why nobody notified you of your father’s death? Or why he never bothered to keep up with you? Twelve year old boys do not sit beside their fathers’ beds and break up with them nor do fathers walk away from their children. Other forces were at work. If you would tell us to take the fleeting chances for bonding and reconciliation, I will tell you plainly that tragic farewell on your father’s bed was not of your doing: you were a miserable boy put up to it, forced to choose sides as surely as the fact that not all lightning forks reach the upward leader. Your regret is a symptom of something more fundamental. You did not choose your course any more than any stroke of lightning chooses its course.

    While you yet loved your father, there was a price to pay for that love: love always comes with its price and the first is allegiance. I took those fleeting chances for bonding and reconciliation, over and over, believing all that crap about regret for not taking them. Bonding and reconciliation didn’t work out for me: by the time I was in a position to take them, I was no longer a child. The chance had gone. My parents’ allegiance to their cause had taken precedence over their allegiance to their children while such reconciliation might have been effectual.

    If you would avoid regret in life, keep this in mind: it does not matter that we love, for we can love in vain. What matters is that we are loved, that love is returned. We pay a price for love. If you fear estrangement from your children, consider first the forces in play in your own estrangement from your father.Report

    • Avatar Will H. in reply to BlaiseP
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      says:

      Within this very hour, three years ago today, I saw my best friend shot to death.
      I still haven’t processed that as well as I need to.
      I’ll say that there have been a number of occasions where I look back and think that maybe I could have done more.
      Helplessness in myself seems to be the one thing that I find the most difficult to forgive, of all things in this world.

      I have a friend whose mother died right before the first of the year.
      She’s going through that survivor’s guilt thing right now. I make an effort to talk to her at least every week, just to make sure the depression doesn’t weigh too heavily on her.

      I really like what you have said in this thread, and I appreciate your insight.
      Such wisdom is most often hard won.

      I don’t really want to go into my own relationship with my parents.
      I’ll leave it at this:
      Thank you.Report

      • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to Will H.
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        says:

        Extraordinarily decent of you to say such things:

        Auden: In Memory of Sigmund Freud:

        Only Hate was happy, hoping to augment
        his practice now, and his dingy clientele
        who think they can be cured by killing
        and covering the garden with ashes.

        They are still alive, but in a world he changed
        simply by looking back with no false regrets;
        all he did was to remember
        like the old and be honest like children.

        He wasn’t clever at all: he merely told
        the unhappy Present to recite the Past
        like a poetry lesson till sooner
        or later it faltered at the line where

        long ago the accusations had begun,
        and suddenly knew by whom it had been judged,
        how rich life had been and how silly,
        and was life-forgiven and more humble,

        able to approach the Future as a friend
        without a wardrobe of excuses, without
        a set mask of rectitude or an
        embarrassing over-familiar gesture.

        No wonder the ancient cultures of conceit
        in his technique of unsettlement foresaw
        the fall of princes, the collapse of
        their lucrative patterns of frustration:

        if he succeeded, why, the Generalised Life
        would become impossible, the monolith
        of State be broken and prevented
        the co-operation of avengers.

        Of course they called on God, but he went his way
        down among the lost people like Dante, down
        to the stinking fosse where the injured
        lead the ugly life of the rejected,

        and showed us what evil is, not, as we thought,
        deeds that must be punished, but our lack of faith,
        our dishonest mood of denial,
        the concupiscence of the oppressor.
        Report

  5. Avatar Liz
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    says:

    You have a beautiful family Kyle. I’m sorry for your loss… both the loss of relationship here on earth and the loss of your father. But this is not the end. Your father and you are eternally connected in Christ… you can pray for him and he still IS. Reconciliation is still possible. Love to you all!!! And thanks for sharing your heart… a beautiful reminder to reach out in love.Report

  6. Avatar DBrown
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    says:

    I find your story to be so terribly sad; my girl did the same to her father. He called a number of times for a few months before he died and she refused to talk to him – partly out of anger, partly out of indifference. I tried to get her to speak to him a few times when called, but she refused. So sad for her and the poor man who tried to be a distant father. She has been bitter over her actions since then with normal regets.

    I and my ex-wife divorced due to her sudden breakdown (from past abuse by a father and brother, I found out later), her refusal to allow medical help when I pleaded for her to get help, and her delusions that involved killing our three year old daughter. I, of course, was granted complete and sole custody of our daughter. For a few years we lost contact with the ex – she lived half a continent away (and still does.)

    Yet, after my ex-wife’s enforced treatment some years later (sometimes the legal system does work, and very well), she achieved results and complete recovery (if only it had occurred before.) After learning of this and seeing the results myself, I quickly re-established a connection between them by phone. A few years later, I even allowed closely supervised and controlled visits with our daughter.

    I did this because I never wanted my daughter not to have known her mother and then d4evelop regets later in life that might haunt her.

    The arrangement we have worked out has been wonderfully these last six years and my ex has always stayed on her meds (partly, I’d like to think, because she knows she’d lose all contact with our daughter if she doesn’t stay on an even keel.)

    I am saddened by your deep lost and current fears of losing your children’s affection with time; realize that you and they have a wonderful relationship – in time, they will go their own way but will always have a special bond between you and them called family love. I know my daughter does, and as she goes off to MIT this fall to follows her dreams (which, in time will take her to Cambridge, England after that we both hope), I know I’ll always have a special place in her heart that neither time, distance nor other family tie’s will ever change.

    Letting go is also part of love that bonds us. At least you and he did talk and were partly in each other’s lives. Be thankful for that and the times you two did have.Report

  7. Avatar darlene
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    says:

    Your awareness that your children’s devotion to you is not guaranteed by right of blood is a boon, Kyle. My father didn’t understand that. He believed that my sister and I were his, regardless of his actions. He cheated, he left, he took a finance job in the Arctic (yes, it was as ridiculous as it sounds). And he thought that she and I would pursue him, that we would maintain our former affection simply by virtue of bearing his name, his blue eyes, his dimples, his curly hair. We didn’t. We, too, have experienced several false starts in attempting to re-establish our relationship with one another, and it has at times been ugly. I have written him off completely – when he declared he wouldn’t attend my wedding if I did not bestow on him the duty-born honour of walking me down the aisle, when months passed without word from him – only to have him surprise me time and again with a renewed attempt at reconciliation. I’ve come to realize that, as much as I am saddened by what is, my sadness is largely due to my awareness of what was, my knowledge of that loss. Things cannot return to how they were. There is no way to undo the years of estrangement and separation. The relationship is changed, and while that does not mean it is forsaken, it requires acknowledgement that things are forever altered. Before any healing can happen, I’ve needed to internalize that fact.

    I think Blaise was right when he wrote above the power of you feeling strong in your identity at a young age, and how your father was able to appreciate that. Four years ago, I concluded what I believed would be my final conversation with my father, “Oh, fuck you!” I was wrong: it was not our final conversation, but I believe those may have been the most important words I ever said to him. Every encounter with him since has been deeply changed, and for the better. We can take for granted what we believe cannot be lost: indeed, that is what the phrase means. You know, more fully than most, the value of what can be lost, and that knowledge will serve you well as a father.Report

    • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to darlene
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      says:

      My point was quite the opposite. He may have felt he was making a choice to avoid a messy fall. It’s my contention other forces were at work: that no twelve year old makes such a choice willingly or even really makes such a choice.

      I’ve watched my friends divorce, attempting to enlist their kids, their friends, even their in-laws. Divorce gets messy. I didn’t divorce while my kids were in the house. I told my wife, after I’d told her to come back during that year away, standing in the airport, that I’d stick it out so my children could live in the house I’d bought for them. I wasn’t about to sell it and they deserved some stability. But for all practical purposes the marriage was over.

      Who did walk you down the aisle? Those who live in the shadows of their past live in reaction to what cannot be changed. They think they’re changing, brave independent souls, thinking they can transfer allegiances like car titles. Life isn’t so simple. Breaking up doesn’t happen along some nice perforated line. We leave pieces of ourselves behind: it’s more like an amputation. Amputees often feel ghost sensations in their absent limbs, often quite painful ones.

      No, those who revoke natural allegiances will not find natural replacements and every attempt to internalise that fact is rationalisation. Nor can those allegiances, once revoked, be renewed.Report

      • Avatar darlene in reply to BlaiseP
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        says:

        My mother walked me down the aisle, she who was with me without fail, without ceasing, without judgement or anger or selfishness. She who never lied, never cheated, and gave endless chances, even to her philandering, douchebag of a husband. My mother, who is my best friend, walked me down the aisle, where I hugged my father where he stood at his seat at the front and centre of the church, as befits a parent, and then on to my other best friend and now husband. She had more than earned that honour.

        You also said that fathers do not walk away from their children. I beg to differ. They do. I have witnessed it, I have experienced it. It happens, though it should not. But you are correct that we carry a part of what was left, what was lost, what was abandoned within us, like a ghost. And that ghost of what once was may haunt us and urge us to attempt reconnection, and even fool us into believing that estrangement and days, months, years of separation are inherently immaterial when weighed against the importance of blood. And I think not.Report

        • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to darlene
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          says:

          … who also happens to be your philandering douchebag of a father. You’re not telling me things I don’t know. I’ve already put out TMI about my own cases in point.

          But I’m not telling people to reach out and try to reconnect, either, or wringing my hands in guilt and remorse over my own semi-successful attempts to do. Revoked allegiance cannot be renewed. I’ve cried all the tears I’ll ever cry over these things. I accept them for what they are. I’m through blaming people and I’m pretty much finished with forgiving people. Once respect is gone, a relationship is dead.Report

          • Avatar darlene in reply to BlaiseP
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            says:

            And yet, ironically, yelling obscenities at my own father seems to have engendered a greater respect for me on his part than any rational, adult language or argument ever has. It’s a funny business, isn’t it, being family? But perhaps that is the key: remembering that family is something that we do rather than merely something that we are, a living, growing, changing thing, not static or settled or finite.Report

            • Avatar BlaiseP in reply to darlene
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              says:

              There’s no irony there, Darlene. But there’s no respect either. You got to say “Fuck you” and he got to say “I still love you.” and continues to reach out to you, from the sound of things. You got to hurt him as he had hurt you and your mother and now you feel much better about it.

              Family isn’t something we do. Family isn’t a choice. We wander through life, convinced of our own agency. It’s an illusion. We have preferences, we have predispositions. Romance is a nasty trick played on human beings for the perpetuation of the species: if people put half as much work into their marriages as they do into hiring people and taking on business partners, we’d see a lot less divorce. We’d also see a lot fewer marriages.

              I’m sick of people blaming their pasts and I’m sick of bearing the weight of third-party guilt and third-party recrimination. We only hate those we want to change, exactly as we love those we want to preserve. Because for most people it’s all about Me and if there’s an Us in the mix, it’s about getting what they need from a relationship and if they don’t, well, it’s the other person’s fault — and I cannot tell you how sick I am of hearing that shitty line of rhetoric. The opposite of love is not hate. It’s indifference.Report

              • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to BlaiseP
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                says:

                “I’m sick of people blaming their pasts”

                I grok a lot of what you’re saying Blaise.

                But, IMO, the one thing people don’t do enough is blame their pasts. Not nearly enough,

                It is simply a truism that we are all messed up because of our messed up pasts, and the messed up things we do are consequences of our messed up pasts that we pass on to our soon-to-be messed up children. The only solution is to get angry at our messed up pasts so that we can get over it and hope we are a little less messed up after confronting our messed up pasts.

                The whole universe is messed up for this reason.Report

  8. Avatar zic
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    says:

    Kyle, You don’t address why you separated from your father at 12. Or why he and your mother separated before that.

    It’s not a 12-year old’s job to maintain a healthy relationship with a parent; it’s a parent’s job to maintain a healthy relationship with a 12-year old child. So my suspicion is that your father had some flaw there; and your choice, at 12, was partially a form of self-protection.

    I mourn that you and your father could not find some peace and acceptance between you that feels comfortable now; I have the same problem. In my case, it was a father who could only see me as a reflection of himself, not as a fully-formed person in my own right.

    Do you think you might have done some after-the-fact fantasizing of your father — filled in the blanks of your father as you wanted him to be rather then as he was? As someone capable of having that relationship with you? I do know this: your telling him you didn’t want to see him was met with acceptance. He abandoned you; and he let you feel like it was your fault. At 12, it’s easy to think we own that; but as a parent now, you clearly understand how preposterous that is; you fear you children abandoning you, not your abandoning them.Report

  9. Avatar Tod Kelly
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    says:

    This was incredibly powerful stuff, Kyle. I am deeply sorry to hear about your loss – and I mean that in several different ways. Good on you for looking to your relationship with your own children and making a decision to make things different for them.

    Thanks for being willing to share this.Report

  10. Avatar Shazbot5
    Ignored
    says:

    “You could say that I had fallen away from my faith in him.”

    Are you implying, very subtly, with the use of the word “faith”, that your religious devotion is a product of this experience with your father? Maybe, you feel like it makes you bad that you failed him, your earthly father, so you want to make sure you never fail Him, your celestial father. Is that the parable here? Or am I totally out to lunch?

    Because the idea that you, as a 12 year old boy, could fail your father or mother, is so heartbreakingly wrong (as the always excellent Zic already stated), that I hope you don’t really believe it, but are just using it as a metaphor. A boy can’t fail his father. Only the other way around. I hope you know this because I have had tremendous emotional trouble with exactly this sort of thinking that you seem to be engaging in by saying that you failed, not your father.

    Granted, an adult who was raised well and loved as a child could betray their parents, but thats not what you’re mentioning. Once your father and mother set the pattern of your relationship, you aren’t betraying them by being emotionally distant. Indeed, even later in life, it is their job to be your emotional parents, even if they don’t take care of your food, shelter, and finances. You never stop being a parent as an emotional care giver.

    My condolences. I hope my post isn’t offensive. You seem like such a kind and genuine person in all your posts that I just want to shake you into being kind with yourself and angry at your father’s failure.Report

    • Avatar Kyle Cupp in reply to Shazbot5
      Ignored
      says:

      No offense taken, and you are not totally out to lunch, but the origin of my religious faith is a story for another post. Or a book.

      To clarify: yes, as a 12-year-old child, I could not fail my father in any meaningful sense. My failure came as an adult when I postponed all efforts to reconnect with him.Report

      • Avatar Shazbot5 in reply to Kyle Cupp
        Ignored
        says:

        That was his job to reconnect with you. Your parent is the one who should reconnect with you. If he doesn’t, you should be angry, not ashamed. When you get older, its not like you become his parent, or even his emotional peer or friend. You need him to care for you, at least emotionally if not financially, and you can’t just make yourself his peer whosejob it is to befriend him.

        IMO, kids have trouble being angry at parents who die or leave or abuse them, so they think they deserve to be left or abused, and that they are at fault, even though they are children. Once you are a child who blames yourself for whow you were treated as a child, it is very difficult to stop blaming yourself for how you were treated as a child.

        I don’t mean to be direct or too personal, but did you ever get angry, I mean really hatefully angry, with your dad after heleft or when he was leaving?

        If you didn’t, you might want to reflect on why not, given that anger is the most natural, right, human response in that situation. (Not trying to tell you what you should feel, just pointing out that anger is a good thing here.)

        I had a parent who committed suicide and I could never be angry, consciously, at her for going away. I went through all sorts of mental contortions about how I had failed and was failing her and her memory. So I feel some of what you are describing, I think.Report

  11. Avatar Mad Rocket Scientist
    Ignored
    says:

    I was very close to my parents growing up, but we had a major falling out shortly before I got married (they weren’t keen on my wife), such that at one point I didn’t speak to them for 4 years (they basically made me choose between them & my wife – and forgot the wisdom they taught me that you always side with your wife).

    Still, I invited them to my college graduation ceremony, & they came to see their son graduate. We reconciled to a degree, but that closeness we once had was gone forever. My mom passed away a few years back (breast cancer), and my father & I have drifted very far apart after he remarried a year after mom was gone. We are Facebook friends, but hardly ever speak. I am more likely to hear news of him from mutual friends & family than I am from him.Report

  12. Avatar Ronald King
    Ignored
    says:

    Kyle, As always I admire your openness and honesty. Divorce is an extremely difficult experience on children and their sense of belonging or attachment with each parent and how each parent knowingly or unknowingly establishes the expectations for that relationship. In an intact family it is difficult enough for a child to negotiate the sometimes opposing expectations of each parent through the developmental stages of her/his life.
    My father had never told me he loved me when I was a child and I never felt that I was good enough for his love. Through education and experience I was blessed to learn about family dynamics and apply this to the history of relationships in my family. When our daughter was born in November of 1979 and we lived almost 3,000 miles away from our families of origin we communicated this event by telephone and after talking to my father I told my wife that we needed to get back east asap because I could tell from the sound of his voice that he was going to die soon. We flew back January of ’80 and our families met us at the airport. I walked up to Dad and looked him in the eyes and told him that I love him and he responded with the same while we hugged each other in tears. He died 5 months later. I was prepared for this through my work and personal experience with the pain of parent/child relationships on an unconscious level which was rewiring my emotional responses to that early history with my parents. I did not consciously plan what happened at the airport.
    With our two children I have made many mistakes which have caused them pain but one thing that I know is that they know they are loved and can come to me with anything. They can tell me that they hate me because I know that whatever pain I caused them will continue to hurt them if they do not express it.
    We as parents set the expectations of our relationships with our children no matter what age and until we are conscious of how we are influenced by those expectations we will continue to live accordingly until something shocks us into a state of awareness which frees us to create a new vulnerable way of loving one another. Without a doubt in my mind you are creating a new way for your children through what you have learned through your pain with your father. Wisdom and love seem to deepen through the pain in our lives if we are honest with ourselves. You seem to be a person of honesty who has acquired much wisdom.Report

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