My wife’s ex is a druggie and a drunk and we just want him to stay a bad memory. We try to pretend that he never existed, but it’s difficult now. All we want to do is pick up where we left off in ’86 and move forward. How can we tell the boy, who is now 16, that he is not allowed to see his dad for safety reasons? We want to destroy the pictures of him so that the child will not have this example to look at in the future. — Pretending the Past Never Happened
You may want to pretend the past never happened — that you and your wife didn’t break up 27 years ago and have marriages and lives and children with other people — but it did. And those children, who were products of relationships you and your wife may regret, are people. They’re people with hopes and dreams and curiosities and a need to be loved. And what you want to do — erase all signs of where they came from because it makes YOU uncomfortable–is not only incredibly selfish, it’s mind-blowingly cruel.
I don’t know what the custody arrangement is that your wife has with her ex-husband. I don’t even know whether her ex has any desire at all to see his son. But, regardless, there’s a big difference between your stepson visiting his father and looking at some harmless photo of him. Photos do not pose a “safety threat,” if that’s what you’re concerned about.
But we both know that isn’t your biggest worry. You just don’t want the past interfering with the life you’re building with your wife. And that’s just too bad. The past is present. It is present in the three boys you’re raising — the boys you and your wife had with different spouses. And no amount of destroying the evidence is going to change the fact that each of you had experiences and lives and families without the other. It also doesn’t change the fact that you’re together now and you are who you are and you’re able to be the kind of partner for each other that you couldn’t be 27 years ago precisely BECAUSE of the experiences you had when you were apart. So quit trying to pretend the past didn’t happen and embrace where it brought you.
As for your stepson, it’s time for you and your wife to sit down with him and talk to him about where he came from. Answer questions about his father. Tell him about your love story with his mother and how happy you are that, if you two had to be apart for a while to become the people you are now, you are thrilled your separation resulted in three such wonderful sons. When you wish away the past, you’re wishing away your three boys. When you regret that the past happened, you are essentially regretting that your boys were ever born. Is that what you really want? I hope not. And for your boys’ sake, I hope they never feel like it is.
You got what you wanted. You have your wife. You two are back together. Now, quit being so selfish and start thinking about the sons in your life. Your stepson, especially, could use a strong father figure — one who is loving and thoughtful and, most of all, compassionate. Start showing him some compassion. Put your own needs and desires aside and be there for him. He’s obviously looking for answers to something. He’s looking to the past (probably because you and his mom are trying so hard to pretend it never happened, which can only make him curious about what you’re trying to hide). If you’d rather he stay in the present and you’d rather he avoid the same fate as his father, step up and ask him what questions he needs answered. Be open and honest with him. Start guiding him forward through adolescence instead of pretending his past never happened. You say you want to move forward. Well, what’s holding you back?
If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at [email protected].