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BEL MOONEY: Should I take back my son’s deadbeat father?

Contemplation can be understood as an activity that aims not to change the world or to understand it, but simply to let it be.

From The Silence Of Animals by John Gray (British political philosopher. B 1948)

Dear Bel

After many single years, I met a handsome man (I’m average) and, within a month, was pregnant with my first child — at 44.

Sam was thrilled and we were soon living together and getting ready for our lovely little boy.

But as I got to know Sam, I realised all the responsibility was on my shoulders. I learned this had been the case with his previous wife, who divorced him before we met.

We grew apart but remained good friends.

We’re both freelance. I was working doubly hard and pouring all my earnings into the house we had bought, with a hefty mortgage, and childcare. He dragged his feet.

Behind with our payments, we had to take out loans. I sold our house and absorbed the debts, as well as buying a new house. I’m the owner, but we have a joint mortgage he’s never paid into.

He hated where we lived, hated work, often hated me. After some years, I asked him to find a job elsewhere. He did, contributing to his child’s keep (but not the mortgage) and we saw him twice a year. He’s now announced that he has given in his notice and is sending all his stuff here.

I emailed saying we couldn’t live together but he could still make his summer visit. Yet I fear he’ll sit it out here, making me foot all the bills and getting nothing in return, while he looks for a job. The last period went on for six months and he did nothing in the house to help.

At Christmas, he told me he hadn’t loved me for ages and was in love with another woman. I wished him well. Unfortunately, it fell through and now he has no one but me, and is courting me again. His family have distanced themselves, not wanting him on their doorstep.

Whenever I mention the recklessness of leaving his job, he calls me mean. He has no savings and says he’s guided by angels who leave him signs like feathers to show they are watching over him.

I don’t want him to come here without a concrete offer of a job, and feel distrustful and insecure.

If I close the door I could be condemning him to homelessness, but if I open it, he may well live off me for the rest of his days.

My concern is my son and his future. I’ve ensured enough money for him to go to university, but I am very tired, having worked so hard for years to get work — and also find it for Sam.

He’s asked me again to start checking out opportunities for him. I’m sleepless. What should I do?

MARION

Sometimes I wonder whether all of us might pick one word to encapsulate the story of our lives . . . what it would be. Of course, it might change at different stages, but it’s an interesting exercise.

I’m choosing ‘defiance’ for myself. And for you I suggest ‘gratitude’. Why? Because of the revelation in your first sentence.

It tells a story of a single woman who didn’t like that state and couldn’t believe her luck when a good-looking man paid her attention and awoke her sexually, when she believed herself to be the dull peahen to his glorious peacock. That’s about right, isn’t it?

This is important, for it probably set the dynamic for the relationship.

You didn’t know him when your son was conceived, but when you realised what he was like (lazy, selfish and weak are three useful adjectives) it was too late for you to rewrite the fiction of who you were: the lady pleased by his attention and, therefore, all-too-willing to put up with a lot as a result.

At Christmas, he told me he hadn’t loved me for ages and was in love with another woman (stock image)

At Christmas, he told me he hadn’t loved me for ages and was in love with another woman (stock image)

Although you were the hard-working one, I suspect you never lost your feeling that you weren’t quite worthy. It’s interesting that you describe yourselves as ‘friends’, and I have no right to question that assertion.

Yet it sounds to me as if the one who has acted like a true friend is you, supporting him, dealing with the property, raising your son, listening to his moans, wishing him well when he told you he loved someone else and hadn’t loved you for years. Wow!

Meanwhile, your ‘friend’ did nothing. In fact, so great was his commitment to the family, that he agreed it was a good idea to work elsewhere and only return twice a year. I admire you for making that suggestion to the deadbeat in your life, and imagine you welcomed him back for the sake of your son.

But this was a son he was willing to leave, because it presumably meant he didn’t have to bother with helping with homework and footie kit and all that tedious stuff that distracts from the contemplation of white feathers drifting (or not) from the sky.

So here you are, tired, feeling trapped and sleepless, yet apparently accepting that his stuff will arrive and he’ll get his feet under the table and sponge off you once more. And you will be helpless to change things.

Tell me, what would happen if you were to change the storyline? So when you write: ‘If I close the door I could be condemning him to homelessness’, the heroine of my new narrative shrugs: ‘So what?’

This isn’t a teenage kid, or a very old man. This is an able-bodied adult who could get it together to reconstruct his own life, if he didn’t assume that the anxious fairy godmother will always try to make things right for him.

But you don’t want him, you don’t love him, nor do you respect him. Time to turn the page.

Look, the man believes in angels. Well, maybe you should transform into bad angel/fairy for the first time in your life — this time for real — and tell him a firm: ‘No!’ You never know, he might thank you one day.

My child looks like my wife’s lover

Dear Bel

The more I look at one of our children, I see the face of a man my wife had a long-running affair with quite a few years ago. This was one of several affairs that she had, all with men who were supposed to be friends of mine.

I presume once word got out she was up for it, they were forming a queue; plus she was very gullible (she thought they all loved her).

I don’t think any less of this child, who is now an adult. I love them (naturally I’m not disclosing their gender) just as much as the others, and I will continue to love them as mine.

As well as that, I do still love my wife, so I have kept my mouth shut, but for some reason it seems to be bothering me more lately.

If I bring the subject up with my wife and confide my worry, she will deny it all, and we could risk losing the happiness we now enjoy.

Plus, I do not want the child to know, as I think they would be very upset. What shall I do?

PETER

For Fathers’ Day two years ago, my daughter sent my husband (her stepfather/friend/tireless helper) a card which said simply: ‘It’s in the Love, not in the Blood.’

AND FINALLY… 

Oh, you do cheer me up! I felt gloomy because of three things (the weather, Islamists, politics, if you must know), but then I read all your delightful emails telling me, as I requested, about three things that make your heart sing.

You won’t be surprised that the three most common ones come under the broad categories of: 1. The natural world and pets; 2. Partners (including memories of late beloved spouses); 3. Adult children and (especially) grandchildren. Then there were the more unusual ones — such as Debbie’s delight in whacking a tennis ball hard, Glenys seeing her washing drying outside on a sunny day, Peter’s books, and Sue’s pleasure at seeing someone else’s St. Bernard in a sidecar! Pamela celebrates recovering from a mastectomy and Margaret adores the praise of her friends when they see her hand-made jewellery. Kathryn is uplifted by worshipping God, while Margaret loves music. So many more . . . but I think my favourite list came from Anne L., who writes:

1. After recently being diagnosed with severe osteoporosis aged 66 and becoming housebound, I love my lounge with my bed tucked away at the back. I leave a lamp on overnight, and if I wake in the night, the room still looks lovely.

2. My husband put a bird table and pots with plants outside the patio window where I sit. Birds flock here, together with a mouse and I had a visit from a baby hedgehog this week.

3. Just before I go to sleep, I tell my family (including the ones deceased) that I love them. Then I tell each dog we have had in the family over the years that I love them. My special love goes to my best friend ever, my Jack, a Jack Russell I had for 15 years but who passed away two years ago. Then I go to sleep!

Lovely readers thanked me for the exercise — and I send thanks right back for making my heart sing.

We appreciated it so much that it’s still sitting on the dresser, making a powerful statement about real love, which has nothing to do with genes. I say this because your statement that you love this adult child in spite of these tormenting doubts feels admirable.

But your email to me isn’t about that relationship. It reveals a terrible bitterness about the way your wife behaved at a particular time in your marriage.

Your understandable anger finds expression in contempt (‘they were forming a queue’) and must be made worse by your assertion that the men with whom she is alleged to have had affairs were ‘supposed to be friends of mine’.

In those two throwaway remarks, there is a depth of pain and unresolved trauma that is the stuff of drama, such as Harold Pinter’s Betrayal, a powerful play about infidelity.

You say you love your wife. That being so, how can you continue clutching this miserable suspicion to your chest in silence?

Surely you’re looking ahead to later middle-age, and the gradual decline to which we’re all subject. At that time, you need companionship, friendship, mutual tolerance, quiet support. To share the umbrella, knowing you want no one else beside you when the rain is heavy. Such aspects of mature marriage matter far more than any youthful passion, but that peaceful plateau is unachievable without trust, understanding and forgiveness.

I see two ways ahead. The first is to convince yourself that this person bears no resemblance to that long-ago lover. That sounds mad, I know — but I firmly believe that we are in control of our thoughts and can change them.

And here’s a trick that will help — one I successfully tried with a young man I know who was tormented by jealousy.

Every single time the negative thought comes into your head, you dig the nails of your right hand into the back of your left hand, very hard indeed, to the point of pain — telling yourself that the negative thought is not true. Then immediately you substitute its opposite. Do this every time. You will be surprised.

Second, naturally I believe you need to have a conversation with your wife. Not necessarily raising this particular issue (because you are going to control it), but about your memories of that time in your married life.

You could tell her how glad you are that you both came through it, and gently ask how she feels, too. After all, you were both hurt at the time, in different ways.

You need to explore — and be kind to each other. My hope is that the deepest cuts can still be healed.

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. A pseudonym will be used if you wish. Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.

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