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BEL MOONEY: How can I grow closer to my son after so much pain? 

Dear Bel,

I need advice regarding my son, Jamie, now 29. His mother and I split up in 1996, tried to get back together, it didn’t work out. 

Then she said she didn’t want me seeing him anymore. We ended up in family court.

She met a horrible individual, just 17, who moved in and after that things became worse. It was was at the beginning of the Court proceedings. 

My son stayed with me at weekends, but she accused me of inappropriate behaviour on a visit. Innocent, I could only see my son at a contact centre. It was truly awful. 

This week, Bel advises a father who wants to salvage his relationship with his son

I was interviewed by the police (no action taken) and often thought about suicide.

To cut the painful story short, I was awarded parental responsibility with an equal say in his upbringing and access to school reports; also more time and rotating Christmases. 

Directly after this hearing the woman who’d made such vile accusations asked me to have our son for 10 days whilst she and her boyfriend went to Malta. Of course I said yes.

Soon she started to be difficult again and it got to the point where I thought, ‘I can’t go through this anymore.’ 

Because I told her I couldn’t have him to stay a certain weekend (I had to work) she said I couldn’t see him any more.

Her accusations and everything else just got on top of me. I was too exhausted to fight. Then discovered she’d already moved to another town. No address. Jamie was six.

I’d started seeing someone else – and eventually moved in with my partner and her two boys. 

We married; her boys call me Dad because they didn’t see their father. We’ve been together 25 years, with two daughters of our own.

The next time I saw my son was after 12 years, when he was 18. We met in a pub; it was emotional and I apologised for not being there for him. 

He asked what had happened, I told him what I could. He said he’d like to have a relationship but changed his mind a month later.

Last December I discovered (through Facebook) Jamie had moved to Australia and messaged him. He said he’d like to get to know us all. 

He sent photos and seemed to like having other family members to get to know. He doesn’t call me Dad, but my first name. My wife says, ‘He’ll call you Dad when he is ready.’

It must have been hard for him not seeing me and then knowing I have stepsons. When I message I try to just be normal but recently he doesn’t reply for about two weeks. 

To go from not seeing each other to exchanging messages and pictures is a miracle in itself. What can I do? Are there any books to help me get to know my son again?

HUGH

This week I have two letters which cast a cold light on the ‘same’ story and I am sure you would advise Maureen’s son-in-law (in my next letter) to try much, much harder to keep his marriage together, or else he might end up like you.

Which is to say – chock-full of guilt and regret and a desperate wish (no doubt) that time could be re-lived, to offer a second chance at getting things right.

Like so many others, your marriage collapsed and you found yourself at the mercy of an angry vengeful wife. There will be women reading who’ll protest that I don’t know the full story, just your side. Well, of course!

Thought of the week: 

To keep your marriage brimming

With love in the loving cup,

Whenever you’re wrong admit it,

Whenever you’re right shut up.

Ogden Nash (American poet, 1902 – 1971)

But if the court decided in your favour and restored full contact then you must have been judged worthy of that access – and I refuse to buy into the narrative which views all men with doubt.

I have heard enough from the pressure group Families Need Fathers to know that women can behave with cruelty too.

In many situations like yours the blame can be divided pretty equally between the couple.

The fault lies first with an angry wife who wants to punish by obstructing all access – and second, with a husband who just didn’t want (ital) strongly enough (ital) to keep up the fight for his right to be a father.

Honestly, given your long story (which I had to cut) I can understand why you lost the heart to continue. But the fact remains that you did give up. You probably realise your son’s hurt is unlikely ever to heal.

He is one of many. The structure of family life in the UK has changed radically in the last forty or fifty years and now one in ten fathers do not live with their children. Only 49% say their contact is regular and 13% never see their children at all. What effect does it all have on the children? I think we know.

At least in your case you have re-connected with a son now willing to keep in touch. No matter if he doesn’t whizz a reply back right away; that he replies at all is something to celebrate. And it surely doesn’t matter one bit if he never calls you Dad. Some families choose to use first names because they think it cool and modern.

What matters is keeping the channels open, showing an interest in every aspect of his life. I wouldn’t keep apologising for all the wrongs done to him but look forward.

You could read Reconnecting with Your Estranged Adult Child: Practical Tips and Tools to Heal Your Relationship by Tina Gilbertson. It might help you realise that you are not alone in this sad situation or in the sincere wish to make things better.

Dear Bel,

I’d like advice about how to support my daughter and help resolve the issues between her and my son in law. 

They only married in April 2018 although they’d lived together over a year. He’s a workaholic, travels a lot, works long days. 

This has turned out to be a major problem, resulting in them splitting up. My daughter felt she was being a single mum to their two children, one and three.

Now they have nothing but hate and anger for each other and, despite counselling and mediation, can’t come to any agreement over child care. The next step is court. 

My daughter doesn’t want advice from me and he is just as stubborn about making concessions. 

I just feel so helpless and don’t see how they can’t reach an agreement that suits them both.

They both refuse to talk in person. Because both exaggerate so you can’t trust either. 

My daughter would be upset if she knew I was asking you for help, I live a long way away but visit every few weeks, and would really appreciate your input.

MAUREEN

This short letter makes me feel helpless (not unusual, these days when I contemplate some of the madness in society) because I must be honest: there is nothing I can say.

Instead of dishing out useless advice I would sit and weep with you over the damage two people who once loved each other are inflicting on themselves and on their innocent children.

   

More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…

All over the country (and elsewhere) children are being deprived of the sort of stable family life that would help them thrive, not because of issues beyond human control, but because the perfectly sane and normal adults who conceived them – and who should put them first – are too pig-headed, selfish and uncompromising to try.

It is possible to tolerate a workaholic if he (or she) is ready to compromise and think of your needs. Believe me, I know exactly what it feels like when that doesn’t happen, but it’s still within the bounds of possibility for to a rational adult to stand strong and realise that the stage of having tiny children doesn’t last very long.

And that you (ital) owe (ital) those children sacrifices, because they did not ask to be born.

Yes, it can be tough, but so is much of life. I’m not being unsympathetic to your daughter, because feeling you are a single mother because your other half doesn’t pull his weight is lonely, as well as infuriating. I know because I’ve been there.

Nevertheless I share your evident frustration with this warring couple and your sadness at what’s happening.

You say your daughter doesn’t want advice from you, and she certainly wouldn’t want it from me. Even though it sounds as if she needs it.

She might well be ‘upset’ that you asked for help but she should view this as proof of your love. It ought to make her stop and think. She should search out that desperately sad 1979 movie ‘Kramer vs. Kramer (starring Dustin Hoffman and Meryl Streep) and watch it, think very hard, then gift the DVD to her husband.

Anyway, whatever happens, she will need your steady support in the months and years to come. You will only be able to give it if you stay as neutral as possible and don’t attempt fruitlessly to interfere.

I’m afraid it is beyond your power to work a miracle and ‘help resolve’ issues that have led to this bitter impasse. And if counselling and mediation haven’t worked and they hate each other, what can I say?

Only that it’s a bitter truth for anxious, loving mothers like me and you to accept – that we can do nothing to help when our adult children are hell-bent at screwing up their own lives.

I am so, so sorry for them, and for you – and just hope you have friends to support you, that you take care of yourself and that there will be a future when you will be able to spend good times with those grandchildren.

And Finally…

You will notice two family letters this week, though I prefer to cover different topics. Yet every story is unique and in any case, family issues form a large part of my post. 

This week both made me feel rather sad and helpless, because of a strong sense of damage already inflicted which will reverberate down the years. What can be done when people are intransigent?

Contact Bel 

Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email bel.mooney@dailymail.co.uk.

Names are changed to protect identities. 

Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

Fifty-five years ago, on February 23rd 1968, I married my still-new boyfriend at Kensington Registry Office, along the road from our one-bed rented flat. It was a dank day; afterwards our two families strolled back to eat the simple buffet my mother-in-law had provided and drink wine gifted by my elder brother-in-law. 

My 23 year old husband and I were second year students, money wasn’t plentiful, so our honeymoon was five days at his family’s plain little cottage by the side of a river in chilly Devon.

I thought about it with a smile two days ago and remember the date every year. But I’d bet a large amount of money it never crosses his mind! Men and women are very different…And in any case, it’s twenty years ago this July since we last lived together. 

We’ve both married for the second time, lead full lives, and luckily retain a deep well of respect and affection for each other. But wait – is it really a matter of ‘luck’? 

Actually, I don’t think so. Some people think it impossible to work at a marriage (or long relationship) once things have gone very wrong, but I don’t agree.

Why do couples find it so hard to compromise? To say, ‘I really think you’re wrong – in fact I hate this situation – but for pity’s sake let’s work together to salvage something’. 

When people opine that it’s not possible to work towards forgiveness I tell them they are wrong. I know because I did it. 

Now we reap the benefit in a friendship (yes, that vital word) that’s lasted over half a century. Not easy, but it can be done.

***
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