Sometimes things move so quickly with my ex that I struggle to know what’s happening. In the last six weeks my ex threatened court, tried to be daddy of the year and, most recently, disappeared off the face of the earth.
Let’s start at the beginning.
My ex was out of the country for a few weeks – a welcome reprieve from the constant barrage I had become used to. As his return date neared, my anxiety started to resurface; a low level uneasiness. After a few days, he contacted me to change his access day. We couldn’t agree an alternative, so it got cancelled. Nothing unusual in that, he’s hardly renowned for his consistency. Only this was the first time I’d been ‘difficult’ in arranging contact. By difficult, I mean I didn’t spend hours encouraging him to come when it sounded like he couldn’t be bothered.
Then it started.
“I’m taking you to court. I’ve been told you’re discriminating against someone with a mental illness. It’s illegal. I want my son to stay with me over the weekend. I know people who smoke weed with their kids, they can’t believe you don’t let me. It’s not a big deal. Anyway, I’ve stopped smoking. I want my son with me.”
I stood there in the doorway of some closed pub trying not to look like one of “those” women. You know the ones, they have screaming matches with their ex’s about access and maintenance. ‘Drugs, court, police and immigration’, just some of the buzzwords ripping through the air. The reality is though, I’m very much one of those women.
“So who is considering our son’s rights?” I ask, “who is considering his best interests?” You see, for those of you who aren’t familiar with the history of my ex, he suffers psychoses, brought on by a love of weed paired with an underlying mental health condition.
He laughs at my question, even he appreciates there is something wrong in this scenario. A not-yet-three year old being taken by a man he rarely sees, to a house he’s never visited, to sleep in a bed that isn’t his own. Sharing 50% of your DNA means nothing when you share so very few memories.
“He gets upset when I leave him for a few hours with his uncle, ‘mummy don’t do that again’, he begs. How would he cope?”
Finally something clicks. He starts to back down. Does he realise he can’t control me anymore?
I had just left my first CBT session. “He threatens me when I say I will claim maintenance.” I told the counsellor. “This time I claimed anyway”. “So what happens when you go against him?” the counsellor asked. I paused, thought for a moment then looked him squarely in the face, “I don’t know, I’ve never done it before”. A look of admiration and surprise flashed across his face. Was there even a glimmer of ‘what the hell did you go and do that for’?
The phone call ended. I don’t remember how. But I knew I’d overcome the first hurdle in delinking those chains with my ex.
That evening he called again.
‘”Can you bring him to my gig tomorrow night?”
“No” I say.
The calmness in my voice shrouded the anger in my mind. “Are you crazy?” I want to scream. “He’s not yet three and you want his first sight of you in the last month to be from a crowded floor looking up at you on stage”.
The next days were peppered with phone calls. He’d seen his brother with his own son. “I want that bond”, he states, like all that’s required is a click of the fingers.
He recoiled when I said his actions over the past few years were emotional abuse.
“Don’t use that word. I’ll stop sending you ‘nasty’ messages. I won’t take you to court. I’ll build things up slowly, I know I must take it slow before he can sleep over with me.”
I want to scream. Slow. Slow?
What does slow mean? I’m talking in years. I’m talking about rebuilding trust, about removing the hurt, about helping to piece me and my son back together. Is that what slow means to you?
The idea of my son ever staying at his father’s house fills me with dread. I feel sick to the pit of my stomach as I write about even the mere possibility. I’m scared for my son’s safety; worried about his emotional well-being. I should be glad, I know. The sole reason I allowed contact was to give my son the possibility of a long-term relationship with his father. But enabling that relationship has been a living hell for me. I was finally coming to the realisation that it wasn’t such a good plan after all; I was expecting that he was going to walk away, never to return. Then this.
Taking him out.
“You’re special you know.”
“I’ll always have a soft spot for you.”
My head is reeling. He want’s us to be friends. Oblivious to the fact that I wanted that three years ago. That I begged for it two years ago. That even one year ago I would have accepted it. But now.
I’m angry as hell. He thinks he can give up on his son for two and a half years, bar a few inconsistent, half-assed visits, make my life a living hell then, when HE wants, turn around and say, hang on, I’ve decided I’d like a better bond so here I am – father of the year in waiting.
The unease is unreal.
My head is spinning.
Spinning because I don’t know how to deal with this; spinning because I don’t know if this change is here to stay.
The next evening the phone goes again.
“I’m just calling for a chat”, he says gently. Like we are old friends with much to catch up on. “I can’t do this”, I say hanging up. My heart pounds. I feel like I’m going under. My son can sense the space for mayhem. He trashes the lounge.
I say nothing.
I could sense the change – he wasn’t smoking anymore. It was the first time in three years we’d had a near sensible discussion. His next visit was calm and when my son went to bed that night so was he – no demanding to lie on top of me for fear I should disappear in the middle of the night too.
I still feel a sense of unease, how long will this last? If past behaviour is the best indicator of future behaviour, then not long. Part of me wants it to crash, and crash quickly. Not because I genuinely wish him ill, but because the idea that my son and I may get used to him being ‘well’ again to then watch the (inevitable?) demise is more than I can bear. Especially, especially when it’s coming at a time I’ve managed to start rebuilding myself.
In one week he’s gone from threatening court to wanting friendship. My head just about managed to keep up. I was starting to calm down when in came another telephone appearance. This time he wanted to let me know he’d be happy to give me some of his sperm if I’d like it. He’d mentioned it to my mum the other day but thought perhaps it was better to tell me directly. I hang up in shock.
He thinks he’s changed. He has changed. But he hasn’t. He’s still not thinking about me, about our son, about what would be helpful for us both. He genuinely thinks he’s doing me a favour calling to offer his sperm. He is no longer intending to hurt me so he can see no wrongdoing. I should be grateful.
For three weeks he came and visited his son weekly. He stayed an hour or more each time. He was engaged and calm. It was refreshing. I managed to take it in my stride. Not to worry too much about the future, take it as the positive it was. That is where this story should have ended.
Then my phone beeped again.
“If I can’t see my son in a neutral place I’m not seeing him”, came the message.
He suggested a cafe or restaurant. Perhaps a park. I’m not actually totally against it in theory – once they have built up a relationship. For now, I genuinely believe that’s not best for my son. He’s not yet three years old. A cafe or restaurant is not his idea of fun. I know what my ex is trying to do. He’s done it numerous times before – he’s trying to goad me on so that I refuse, then (in his head) he has someone to blame. He practically said as much. He’ll never admit it but I’m sure he is smoking again. The paranoia, verbal aggression, sexual inappropriateness (to put it mildly). He was back to the him I have known over the past three years, not the him he was for the past three weeks.
If he had said this just a few months ago it would have sent me reeling. It’s upset me and shaken me, but I haven’t crumbled. I put down the phone, picked my son up and continued getting him ready for bed like nothing had happened. Like one of the most awful thing a child can experience hadn’t just occurred. I wanted to shield him for a few moments longer; he just wanted me to build his marble run again.
I have no idea how to tell my son this. I have no idea if it’s for keeps. That is probably the worst of it all, I have no idea if this is the end. If I knew it was I could try, as much as possible, to explain, that daddy has gone. But I can’t risk saying that only for daddy to re-appear in one month’s time. After how many weeks, months or years of not bothering do I say enough is enough should he turn up on the doorstep again?
After ten days I decide to tell my son. “Daddy won’t be coming to visit for a while.” I say gentle as we lie together. “Why?” he asks innocently. “He’s poorly”, I say. “Why is he poorly? Did he eat a bad apple?” “No baby, he didn’t eat a bad apple, some people just get poorly sometimes.” “I’m poorly, I can’t go to visit him”, responds my son, trying to put the control back in his own small hands. “How do you feel that daddy can’t come to see you?” I ask. “Sad” he says.
Whilst having my ex out of our lives entirely may make my life simpler now, I know it’s just delaying the difficulties. At some point my son will want to know exactly what happened. At some point he may blame me, question whether I compromised and negotiated enough on his behalf. For now though his father has decided he can’t have a relationship with him. It’s not how he describes it, but that’s the reality. Perhaps one day he will return, say he’s ready to be a father. How I will deal with that I have no idea. Living in the here and now for the past two and a half years, when I had no idea where the ending was almost broke me, I’m not sure I can go back to that. Like all mums I’m trying the best for my son. I hope one day my son will understand that.