My parents divorced after my mother discovered that my father had been engaging in a series of extramarital affairs. He was also an alcoholic who nourished a finely honed sense of victimhood, lambasted my mother whenever we spoke, and never asked about his three grandsons. No questions, no cards, no acknowledgment of their existence on this planet unless I brought them up. I’d hang up the phone wrung out and miserable from dealing with his messes, the messes he’d say I “shouldn’t have to worry about” before describing them in exquisite detail.
But it was his ignoring of his grandsons that led us to cut him out of our lives. When we went up to my hometown, he showed up to see them with a bag of doughnuts (they were all, at the time, gluten- and milk-intolerant, and had been since birth), took them fishing, and … that’s it. He didn’t call to see them until we’d been there for a week. Then radio silence descended, despite our pleas to call and talk to them, to do video calls with the boys, to just chat with them and be a presence in their lives. We made it clear we didn’t want presents, we wanted presence, because our kids do not deserve people dropping in their lives, professing great love, and leaving again. It didn’t happen. So we were done. Dad was a toxic father, end of story.
Then He Wanted Back In
He messaged my husband — not me — asking if he could send the boys Christmas presents. My husband sent back a rather blistering response that said, in essence, yes, but if you do, you have to agree to be present for them. You have to call on holidays. You have to remember their birthdays (not with a present, but with a call). You have to show you care. You can’t drop in when it’s convenient for you and leave when it’s not. You can’t play games with our boys.
He tried to call almost immediately. My husband didn’t pick up, but he did message him later. They agreed on a time to do a video call, which allegedly went well (one of my sons refused to talk to him, out of busyness or something else, we’re not sure). Then they spoke on Thanksgiving. At neither time did I talk to him. He said he wanted to talk to me; my husband made excuses. I figured I could get through conversation number three.
It’s been several weeks, and that third call still hasn’t happened.
We’re Skeptical — And Have to Set Boundaries
We are wary. How do you let a toxic parent back in when you’ve written them off? Is it recommended, or even healthy, once you’ve reconciled yourself to the fact that you can’t have a relationship with them anymore? He insists, among other things, on calling my transgender brother by his dead name and refusing to acknowledge his transition. We’re afraid he will try to bring up his girlfriend, who is persona non grata in this household (did I mention we live in the same town as his divorced wife, whom my sons adore?). We’re very afraid he will drink around my sons. My parents shielded me from an alcoholic grandparent when I was a child. I will not hesitate to do the same for my children. If the contact continues, these rules will have to be discussed, these boundaries set. We are not looking forward to it.
He’s also told my sons he might come to visit. We’re not ready to commit to that, and it’s classic Dad: promise things you can’t deliver, get the kids excited and then … let it trail off and hope they forget about it.
What About Me?
So far, this has focused on my kids. I want them to have a fulfilling relationship with all of their grandparents. But I don’t want it to come at the expense of a sinking feeling every time I see his name on my caller ID. I don’t want to sit through diatribes about my mother. I don’t want snarky comments about how she took his cat away (newsflash: it was her cat, Dad, and you were too drunk to take care of her). I don’t want to listen to him rant about money. When I was a kid, he carefully shielded me from all discussions of family finances, and said it was not my problem to worry about. Guess what? It still isn’t, at least not coming from him.
And I am angry. I am livid that the man who backhanded me for lying as a kid was all the time carrying on serial affairs. I’m mad that when he cried and asked me if he was a bad person, he was probably still texting his mistress. I will not repeat the horrible things he’s said about my mother over the years, blaming her for his own mistakes and misdeeds, trying to make me believe that everything was her fault.
Do I deserve a stake in this, or do I set it aside for the kids? I’m not sure. Part of me wants to never speak to him again. Another part tells me I should extend him the grace of forgiveness, something which may cost me emotionally in the short term but could give my children so much in the end.
I don’t know what to do.
All we can do, I suppose, is wait to see if he calls again.
I put the odds at 50/50.