Something is happening with my son at college.
His mom traveled up with a rescue in mind. She was out of her depth, and frankly, not a great person for dealing with emotional issues. Period.
As parents, we feel so helpless when our children struggle. We can be optimistic and hopeful that our love, careful attention, and easygoing support are enough. In the movie Beautiful Boy, we see Steve Carell struggle to give up his dreams for his son. He keeps trying. He keeps giving. He keeps charging in for the rescue. And the addict, promising and pleading, continues to let go of the rescue line. Again and again.
I am feeling the blame for not being a better dad. Not trying harder to convince my wife it was a marriage and a family worth working on. She had already exited the relationship. And now, perhaps, my son too is gone.
Okay, not to be too dramatic, he’s okay. He’s not dead. He’s not even in treatment or recovery or much beyond naked and afraid.
He’s two classes, six credit hours, from completing his college degree. And he may not make it this semester. We are two weeks in and he’s strategizing about getting the university to allow him to do his last two classes fully remote. Why would they do that? Well, he’s had some sort of traumatic event. Okay, what was the event? Well, we can’t really tell you about it, but it was awful and he needs to be able to finish college remotely.
If his destination was a treatment center of some sort that might be a consideration. But that’s not the plan. There is no plan. There is only a complete breakdown of some kind.
I was not called in for support. It was his mom. He’s regressed. He told me she was removing the nail polish his girlfriend put on him over the holiday break. I kept my mouth shut about that one. He wanted his mama to fix the entire mess. She’d done it once before when he screwed up and forgot to get an apartment for the upcoming school year. So, now he lives in a less safe part of town. 100% his doing. There was no right way to address his plan. “You know, school starts in six weeks, you’d better find an apartment.” No right way to take a single step toward getting an apartment.
So, here we are again. No right way to take a single step toward completing the two classes left for his degree. It’s up to him.
We want to change others and we get drawn into the fantasy of how we can be that agent of change. My father was a raging alcoholic. I learned as a young teen at Adult Children of Alcoholics and then Al-Anon how to take care of myself despite the person who is in crisis. My son is in crisis. I cannot help him. I can call and offer support. He did not want me to come up and help. He wanted his mom. The same mom who tortured him last summer about “getting a job.”
Okay, so that’s a failure. My son has never had a job. He’s had one internship, three summers ago. And he’s done some freelance work. But not one showup-and-do-the-work-even-when-you-hate-it job. I am worried for his future as an employee. This current implosion is more data for the worry file.
Here’s the deal. I love my son. I have reached out and asked to support him all the years of his life. I have reached out two times a day since his traumatic event. The divorce was hard on him. He took the side of his mom, as most sons do, and vilified me in some way. Even if it was unconscious, his mom was a vicious and non-cooperative co-parent. I don’t imagine that she would give me any benefit of the doubt. Hell, she still sews discord between us. Why? Guilt?
We’re stuck between a rock and a hard place here. A son who’s been coddled and fed all the comforts of our upper-middle-class life. And he’s unhappy. He’s freaking the fuck out, actually. And why? Is it the harsh neighborhood? Is he dealing drugs? Is he doing drugs? Why does he have a second phone? How does cultivating a drug dealer appearance help his mood or optimism?
I’ve seen self-sabotage in myself. It’s really painful to see it in your kid. And be so helpless and ineffective in supporting some sort of recovery plan. At the moment, there is no plan. At the moment he and his mom are thinking they will ask the university to give him a remote allowance due to some hardship.
The hardship is in his behavior and irresponsibility.
I’m feeling the same failure as mine. What else could I have done? Should I have rushed up to his school to give him… What?
What do our kids need?
- Support (care, check-ins, closeness).
- Financial support (food and shelter).
I learned in my first Al-Anon meeting that the most important part was that I had to take care of myself. My son has his own higher power, his own plan. He has to want to change before anything will change. Perhaps this is rock bottom, as they refer to it. I’m afraid there are darker levels below. And I’m sad and angry that there is nothing I can do about it. Intervention, perhaps.
Everything is on the table. Nothing is being done. We’re all waiting for permission, or an overdose, or death.
Yet, with the adversarial approach my ex-wife has always had, we are working in silos. What he tells her, how he asks her for mothering support is private and different than what he tells me. At the moment, he is telling me nothing other than, “It’s so hard. I can’t even talk about it. Sorry.”
At a loss, I return to my own life and what I can control, and what I cannot, and I let go of my own fright and panic. I know under the anger about this situation is my sadness. I’m not ready for that just yet. I’ll stay mad a bit longer if you don’t mind.
Additional posts from The Whole Parent
- Weaponization of Divorce: Moms v. Dads = Kids Lose
- The Single Dad and His Teenaged Kids
- As a Single Parent: Love Fiercely, Because This All Ends
- Nothing Can Prepare You For the Loss of Divorce
You can find all of my books on AMAZON.