As a single mom who was raised by a single mom, I’ve learned a lot about what not to do when co-parenting. So, I’ve waited a long time to write this post out of fear. Fear that it would disrupt a mostly amicable relationship with my son’s dad. That being said, I am trusting all readers to see this for what it is: a call for help.
Let me get this out of the way: my son’s dad cheated on me when I was pregnant. I felt I needed to say this because I’ve written about the subject before and it’s not what this post is about, but it is what started to change my perception of him. I no longer thought he could be a good partner to me, but wholeheartedly believed he could be a good dad. It wasn’t until recently that I started to examine those two definitions and, admittedly, judge them as parts of a whole man instead of separately.
My son is in second grade but already has the attitude of a teenager. He grits his teeth when he’s mad and recently acquired the phrase, “Oh come on!” whenever something doesn’t go his way. So, things like getting him to do homework, clean up after himself, or listen are difficult these days. A few weeks ago my son returned from a weekend at his dad’s with only one, poorly written sentence for homework. The written instructions and samples I sent all required at least two sentences answering two questions. I asked him what happened. He said Dad told him that’s all he had to do.
I texted Dad asking why it wasn’t done “right.”
“If you don’t like the way I do it, you can just do it yourself.”
I know how hard homework is with a struggling learner. So, I had some empathy, but I tried to explain to Dad that our son needed to see everyone in his life supporting his learning and having high expectations for his work.
Dad didn’t agree. He couldn’t explain why, but held his ground anyways, reiterating that if I didn’t like how he did something, I could just do it myself. This reminded me of all the other times in my son’s life when things were hard and I was alone.
Financially, I was solely responsible. I remember calling from the pharmacy once, crying because I didn’t have the $150 for a prescription my son needed. I asked Dad to help. He couldn’t. He thought the 1/10th of my rent he gave monthly was enough and assured me it was all he could do. I believed it might have been all he could afford, but it certainly wasn’t enough and didn’t cover things like prescription deductibles. So, I took a second job and asked my family for help. Something Dad could have done, but didn’t.
Emotionally, I was also in it alone. When my son was struggling in school and at home with his anger, I asked Dad for help. He offered to FaceTime (something he does maybe once a month) and “Talk some sense” into him. I agreed – and Dad told my son he needed to stop being a “bad boy” and said he didn’t want to hear from me again about him being “bad” or else… I quickly hung up and then began to research counselors. We went for over a year, and things improved, but Dad remained the same.
From the outside looking in, I boiled Dad’s “problem” down to a lack of persistence in the face of adversity. When things got hard, I saw him give up. I could see this in jobs he’d lost, dreams he’d given up on, relationships he couldn’t stick with, and now in the way he dealt with our son. He loves the fun aspects of being a dad; the tough parts he gives up on.
A few years ago, after I’d been dating as a single mom for a while, I got a piece of advice that changed my world. I was told that I should never date a man that I wouldn’t be proud of having as a son. When I look at Dad, and picture my son turning out just like him, I am disappointed.
I don’t want my son to turn out like me, either. I want him to be better than the both of us. But, it seems like I am the only one trying to get him there. I can teach him to learn from my mistakes, but I can’t teach him to be a man. That’s Dad’s job, and I don’t see him doing it.