Fathers Day, Boy Bye Part 2
By Chris Richardson
Editor’s note: This conversation takes place a week before Father’s Day 2016.
“Xavier and I had a discussion on the drive home,” my wife tells me.
“Discussion about what?” I ask, fearing the answer.
She escapes out the front door. It shuts behind her. I’m certain she feels my glare through the layers of paint and wood. After a few moments of waiting for her swift return, the sound of the car pulling away tells me what I need to know. The living room turns into an interview room.
“You guys are getting separated?” Xavier asks.
“Yeah. And how do you feel about that?” I probe.
“I’m OK.” He replies exactly the way I expected.
You learn your kids from years of experience — in the good, bad, and indifferent times.
I also know every piece of DNA I gave him. His reaction was mine a generation before, when my parents decided to split.
He and I both share an affinity for separation and solitude that keeps our emotions in check, and outsiders checked out. One viewpoint on introverts is that we refill our tanks with solitude. We have the ability to be outgoing but it takes from us rather than gives to us, like with extroverts.
Saying as little as possible creates an express lane right back to our safe place.
My father would always tell me, “I know what you’re going to do before you do it because I’ve already done it.” That genetic connection between father and son causes history to repeat itself.
I push myself to ask more questions in a futile attempt to get Xavier to express his feelings. I’m stepping outside of myself, trying to get him to follow me out there. He doesn’t take the bait. He’s me. His reaction was expected.
Miles is my younger son. His reaction was also expected but it’s different.
I always tell him that I had to choose him. He’s not mine biologically; I met him at 3 months old.
I had to decide to be his father.
Even when the child is yours biologically, you have the choice to walk away. When the child isn’t yours, there’s no guilt attached. It’s not a responsibility you have to take on.
I wanted to be with his mother and he was part of the package. I didn’t have the virtue of creating him to tie our bond. We had to build our connection from scratch. Dropping the bomb of the separation would assuredly test the foundation of that building.
After a few minutes of talking through Miles’ attention deficit disorder and his need to express his humor, I get him to sit down. His humor resurfaces because he thinks he’s in trouble now, and laughter is his go-to escape route.
I tell him Mom and I are separating. No more laughs.
He puts his head down. He’s lost, rolling around in his own head, trying to figure out where he went wrong.
“The first thing I want you to know is that none of this is your fault,” I say to him.
I reassure him. I repeat this statement several times during the conversation. I don’t want his mind running down that path. Blaming himself would be self-destructive, corrosive and, more importantly, wrong. He’s the absolute wrong person to blame.
Tears slowly descend his cheeks. Silence. I mirror his silence but, on the inside, I’m desperately searching for the right entry question.
“What are you most worried about?” I ask.
“I’ve already got one dad that’s gone. Now, the one who’s here won’t be in the same house.” He sighed.
Miles’ biological father sees him once or twice a year and calls infrequently. He doesn’t have that person to look to for his history. I’m not father of the year by any stretch of the imagination, but in this moment I felt the limits of my performance so far.
I can never provide the sense of where he comes from, like his biological father can. I can’t provide the nature but I can provide the nurture. But that becomes increasingly difficult when I’m not in the house 24/7.
He realizes it immediately. It takes me a little longer.
After reassuring him that I wasn’t disappearing, escaping or evading — in fact, I live five minutes away from my boys now — I pull him up from the table and give him a hug: A long grip that felt like he would never let me go.
Miles and I butt heads all the time but, in this moment we have a singular purpose — to never let each other go.
Part of sharing this story is a reminder to never forget the feeling in that moment. When I visit my boys now, Miles gives me that same hug every time I leave; our secret handshake is no longer adequate.
Later that night, Miles retreats to my bed to cry a little more. My wife talks with him.
I give them their space. When I come to check on them, Miles clams up a bit.
“Repeat what you just said,” my wife nudges him.
“What is it?” I ask.
“What do we do about Father’s Day?”
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