A last chance for a son to reconcile with his dying father, a boyfriend who was abused as a child, and a father pushing his son to be involved in aggressive sports.
This article originally appeared at GoLocalProv.com.
My husband has been out of contact with his father for many, many years. Their relationship was always tense, then they went into business together and things only got worse. I’ve only seen my father-in-law a couple of times since their falling out. He ended up forcing my husband out of the business (which was failing at that time) and with hard work and a little luck, became very successful. My husband has never forgiven him for this. He never talks about him, says he never thinks about him, and says he is fine with this situation. He has no desire to patch things up. His father made an effort to reconcile a couple of times shortly after the rift, but my husband rejected these attempts and that was the last contact they had. (This all happened before we moved to New England, so the distance between them has made it easy to stay out of sight, out of mind.)
A couple of months ago we learned that his father is very sick and is likely to pass away within the next few months. My husband reacted with a shrug to this news. He says it doesn’t change anything and in his mind it’s like his father died a long time ago. I know it’s between my husband and his father, but I want my husband to contact him and get some kind of closure. I know they won’t become pals at this point, but I do think they should clear the air. The ways things are between them now isn’t right. Most of all, I am very afraid that my husband will be sorry he didn’t reach out and it will be too late. He will have to live with that the rest of his life and there will be no way to change the decision he is making now. But he says he wants no part of it, will not contact his father or respond if he’s contacted by him. I don’t bother him about it, but I am very upset about this. Is there anything I can do to change his mind?
Dear Last Chance,
Only he can change his mind. And all you should do is express the same concerns to him that you’ve shared with me and hope that he rethinks his stance.
Tell him you want to talk to him about this one last time, and you won’t bring it up again if it’s just to repeat what you’ve already said. Then simply let him know how anxious you are that he’ll come to rue this decision. Point out that it’s far more likely he’ll regret not calling than picking up the phone (or sending an email or whatever). Even if his father were to hang up on him, at least he will have tried. But it’s very hard for me to imagine a terminally ill old man batting away his son’s outstretched hand.
There are a lot of other things that may have occurred to you to do — enlist the help of one of your husband’s siblings (if he has any) or friends; contact his father yourself — but I would urge you to resist the temptation to do something like that. At some point, you have to accept that this is exclusively your husband’s choice, and though you may have chosen differently yourself, that doesn’t really matter. If you fail to persuade him to get in touch with his dad, all you can do is hope there doesn’t come a day when he’s sorry he didn’t.
I like to read advice columns but could never imagine why someone would write to one. Wouldn’t you ask your friends or relatives for advice? But now that I have a question I don’t want anyone else to know about, I have a slightly different attitude. What I’m writing to you about is the fact that my boyfriend has confided in me that he was sexually abused as a boy. It was by a male relative. It happened more than once but it wasn’t over the course of years. Maybe three or four times, but he says he really doesn’t remember. He never told anyone and he never heard that anyone had any idea what this man, who was much older and has since died, did. Considering, my boyfriend has seemed to emerge from this nightmare unscathed. He is a gentle, caring man. But he has never received any kind of professional help to deal with this trauma. And I worry what will happen? Will he become an abuser himself like happens a lot of time? I have sisters whose kids stay with me some times. Can he be alone with them if I have to run out or something? You can understand why I can’t talk to anyone about this. Do I have cause for concern?
Worried, But With Reason?
While many adults who sexually abuse children were themselves abused when they were younger, this dynamic plays out more frequently when they were also raised in a seriously dysfunctional environment. Does this apply to your boyfriend? You don’t say how long you’ve known him, but it’s obviously been long enough that he felt comfortable sharing this harrowing experience with you. If your time with him has shown him to be a “sweet, gentle man,” then that’s what he is. Don’t overthink (or overworry) this. Proceed as you would with any relationship and just see how it goes. Trust your own judgment. If you want to learn more about the topic, there’s a lot of information online. (Just be certain you’re visiting trustworthy websites. There’s a lot of misinformation online, too.) Should he be in therapy? Probably… but I think that about virtually everyone I know. We could all benefit from therapy, not only people coping with things of this magnitude.
Our five-year-old son is a shy, quiet, sweet little boy, just like his father was. In fact, it got his father picked on so much that when he was older, he ended up getting a black belt in karate and becoming a good boxer (just as a hobby), and now he’s trying to get our son interested in these same things. He’s signed him up for karate classes. He tries to teach him boxing. The problem is our son has no interest whatsoever and my husband is forcing these things on him. He insists our son will thank him the first time he wins a fight. (He always tells our son it’s wrong to start a fight, but if someone else starts it, it’s wrong not to finish it.) I don’t want our son getting picked on, but I can’t stand all this talk of violence and fighting. I don’t want him turning into a bully. The whole subject is causing more fights — between my husband and me! How can I make him stop and just let our son be the way he is?
Dear Peaceful Resistance,
I think there’s an opportunity here for the two of you to meet in the middle: you can agree to support karate classes for your son, and your husband can agree to send far less aggressive messages.
Having a hobby that encourages exercise and fitness will be great for your son. You may think he’s not interested because it conflicts with his gentle nature, but I think it conflicts with his (and every kid’s) desire to waste time in front of the TV or the computer. (And yes, the computer is every bit the brain-dulling time-waster the TV used to be — in a way, it’s worse, because parents let themselves believe time spent on it is worthwhile. It rarely is. But I digress.) Kids need to be pushed to do things that are hard. The best way to do this is to let your son know you and your husband are united on this and it’s not up for debate. He will be taking a weekly martial arts class. Boxing, karate, judo, something. He can help select the style, but it’s only a questions of which, not whether.
Then your husband has to start teaching your son that these classes are for exercise first and self-defense second. And self-defense is what you do when you have no other options. Your son should try to avoid fighting if at all possible, but if he must fight, he should know how to do it effectively. Declining to fight when one can is not a sign of weakness; it’s a sign of strength and confidence. That’s the lesson your husband should be teaching your son, but it sounds like he may not have completely learned it yet himself.
Photo credit: Flickr / Robert Gaal