issues with my son

The Father Son Emotional Loop: Struggling As a Single Dad

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I lost A LOT of time with my son. And in the negotiations about the divorce, I agreed to not tell the kids that the divorce was my then-wife’s idea. We lied to protect the children from the truth. And until recently I keep the secret, but I was not happy about the lie, nor the last-minute change of heart when my then-wife decided to demote me to the non-custodial parent. So, in the last 11-years, I’m missed the majority of my son’s life. I did my best to stay engaged and enthusiastically supportive, but the disconnect then, and continued disconnection now, is a problem.

Sons Separate From Their Dads

Of course, it’s part of the deal. Sons must establish their identities as unique as they separate from their fathers. So, that’s going on. That part is fine. It’s the loss of the sensitive and loving young man, that my son was before the divorce. Somewhere, in his experience of the fracture, he was hurt deeply. He has a dark cloud that appears to color his worldview. He’s got his mom’s cynicism and entitlement. Well, earned, I suspect. My ex-wife’s influence was outsized for the first 7 years of the divorce, and almost 100% over the last few years.

There’s something else going on here. He’s hurt and hurting, and he’s finding indifference as a way to strike back at me. But it goes beyond “separation.” He declines phone calls with texts about “being with his girlfriend.” Um, you can pick up and say HI. I might have important information to give you. I might have an opportunity that’s time-limited, that you’ll never learn about. It could be SOMETHING YOU’D REALLY LOVE.

How Do We Reset with Our Sons?

What are my options with my son?

  • returned indifference
  • quit asking for “dates”
  • no longer offer support and love
  • feel angry at my son
  • feel resentment at my ex-wife
  • keep going as if things are fine and just wait for my son to come back towards me
  • ignore his disrespect and just keep reaching out

What I thought about the other night, is how much my troubles with my son are bringing up my own issues with my dad. There are some major differences. But the push back at “dad” is common.

Seeking My Dad and My Son

My dad was a raging alcoholic with a temper. As he tried to destroy my mom in the divorce process, he fought hard to get me to live with him (no way!), and he quickly married another alcoholic. Just about every touch point with my father was painful. And I know, that while I was in my last two years in high school, even with this asshole of a dad, I struggled and strived to connect with my dad. My dad was a complete wreck and a bit scary. And I still reached out all the time to continue the relationship with a man who was incapable of any emotional connection with me.

My fear is that my son’s resentment, as misdirected as it is, will continue to infect every part of our relationship. I can’t invite my son on vacation, he doesn’t like “wherever” you’re going. I can’t invite him to stay in my house for the weekend to take care of my girlfriend’s dogs. I can’t give him summer internship connections. I can’t reach him. He only connects with me when HE wants something: guitars or money. That’s it. That’s not a very fulfilling connection.

And in the emotional loss with my son, I feel the gap between what I wanted from my dad. I only wanted him to see me. I only wanted his acceptance of my decision to be a writer and not a doctor, like himself. I wanted him to stop killing himself with alcohol and his dark lifestyle. I wanted my dad to be part of my life.

Feel It and Let It Go

At the moment, my son does not need me in his life. He’s consumed with his girlfriend and his summer break. He will return my phone call whenever he gets to it. Two or three days later, the “sorry, I’m so hard to get in touch with” is a poorly disguised passive-aggressive barb.

  • You are not sorry.
  • You are not making any effort to actually return the phone call.

And as you ignore and separate from me, my hope is you will find your own place in the world that is not in some contrary response to me and my life. What I have done for all of his life, is reach out, ask for time, offer support, offer guitars and musical gear, and never broach the “divorce” conversations that seem to be still causing you so much anger and pain.

Perhaps my son is just dealing with his own shit, as he says. Perhaps, it’s not about “dad.” And in that spirit, today, I’ll push back on my son’s lack of respect and common courtesy. And then, I’ll scale back my outreach. Perhaps my invitations and phone calls feel like pressure.

But, dear son, don’t say “Sorry,” when you are not sorry. Don’t make excuses for not picking up the phone call and saying “I can’t talk to you right now. Love you.”

And “I’ll call you later today.”


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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