I was 16 when we met, almost 17. I was almost 19 when I left him. One of the only constants in my life for many years was the certainty that there would always be intense chaos. These two years were no exception and perhaps they were above my typical baseline too. When I met him I was struggling with severe depression, suicidal ideations, social ineptitude, self-harm, an eating disorder, and all while desperately yearning for a relationship with someone who would “get me”. Unfortunately I got exactly what I wished for. Little did I know that having someone “get me” was hardly a guarantee for a good relationship. Of course I didn’t know I’d be incapable of any healthy relationship with the state I was in at the time. I didn’t even know what a healthy relationship looked like.
My relationship with Tom was riddled with constant sexual coercion, sexual shaming and ridiculing, violence, and worst of all an emotional abuse that seemed almost systematic in the way it destroyed any positive feelings or thoughts I’d ever had about myself. It was a dark time. We had a baby together when I was 18. When I read similar stories from other women, the next thing that usually comes is “That baby was the light of my life!” or “Finally, something gave my situation meaning.” Sometimes I see “It was all worth it because now I have my child.” Honestly, I never felt those things. I knew that I didn’t want to bear the weight of screwing up another human being and honestly, it was a lot of pressure at that age and with how unhealthy I was. I was always desperately trying to make a good life for my son but always simultaneously failing at it… it wasn’t good for the self-esteem.
I left Tom when our son was about 6 months old. Tom had become so violent and controlling that I felt like I could not breathe anymore. I knew that the way I was living would be worse for my son than having his parents separated and so I finally grew a pair and left. Tom made several attempts to emotionally manipulate me into feeling responsible for his mental state after I left, even making a suicide threat. I responded to that by calling the police and having him involuntarily committed. It was the first time I had ever dealt with his bullshit in a healthy manner, it was a strong moment that I am still proud of myself for. I realized once I was on the outside that all of the things he’d tried to convince me that I was (crazy and weak) were the very behaviors that he was exhibiting himself. I wasn’t making him that way by being with him… I was being used as a scapegoat. The excuse he could use for being unstable.
Not surprisingly, his life spiraled after I left him. He began to drink a lot, lost his apartment, then his job, then began a pattern of crime and recidivism that led him to his current sentence of 7-21 years as a violent felon. He assaulted a young woman he didn’t know, held her hostage, and then attempted suicide by slitting his own throat and wrists in front of her in an effort to avoid going back to jail. That was probably the point when I should have dropped contact. At any point over the next few years would have been a great time to attempt to strip this man of his parental rights. But I was scarred from my own parents dysfunctional relationship and the way that they both attempted to alienate me from one another. I was so determined to give my son something different that I had a blind spot. I failed to see that encouraging communication between my son and this man was not the same as nurturing a normal father-son bond. It was better described as exposing him to a dangerous, manipulative, and untreated mentally ill person.
For years Tom has refused contact with our boy. I’ll refer to him henceforth as “Eric” because I’m not using his real name on the internet. Tom refused to speak to Eric on the phone and refused to write him letters, instead choosing to use his call time with me to insult my life choices and his letters to repeatedly ask me for photos for him to jack off to. In reference to the woman he hurt, he refused to talk about it to me stating that he was “so over it”. Looking back on that now, I cannot believe he would think he does not owe me an explanation for his behaviors if he had ever hoped to see his son again. However I was still so entrenched in my insecurities surrounding Tom that I could not trust my own instincts on the matter. I still believed at that point that I was doing work that was crucial to keeping an open line of communication between Eric and his father.
Time passed, though, and I fell in love with a much better man. My husband has been there for Eric since he was four years old. Together we have done our best to create a good life for our family with the resources at hand. When we ran out of resources, we entered therapy to find more. We both come from a background of mental illness but we live our lives in a vastly different way than Tom does. We take responsibility for our actions. We actively seek treatment. We are positive people. Our relationship is solid. Our communication is good. Our interactions are ones that I am proud to say are a good example for our children. Our life choices get better and better all of the time and everything around us appears to be an upward trend because we’ve worked hard to make it so. We value hard work, education, and being healthy inside and out. We do our best to instill these values in our children.
Two years ago I wrote Tom and asked him to give up his parental rights. My husband Randy kept running into issues in our day to day life because he was not Eric’s legal guardian. Doctors appointments would have to be cancelled sometimes when he took him and when it came to being involved in matters at the school, the attitude was “we need a real parent here”. It became offensive to me that Randy put in so much time and effort raising Eric with me, only to be told that legally he’s not even a real parent. I realized that if something happened to me, Randy had no legal right to care for Eric. I tried my best to explain all of this to Tom, to which he responded with intense venom, name-calling, and told me that he would spit in my face if he could be near me in that moment. Suddenly he was now interested in opting back in to the “father” title. Once again I was too fucking stupid to drop it. Trying to a fucking fault to make everyone happy – even an insane, violent criminal. I tried to keep contact over the last couple years.
Eventually I made the mistake of telling Tom about some of our personal struggles as a family. I made the mistake of telling him that Eric was starting to have some behavioral difficulties but that we were handling it to the best of our abilities. Randy and I have worked very hard to find the best treatment options in our town and fully entrenched our entire lives in seeking treatment and having a healthy, happy household. These efforts are time consuming and sometimes emotionally draining. Everyone you ask and everyone who you don’t ask seems to want to volunteer a radically different opinion on what’s “wrong” with your child and what the best treatment is. We were even coerced into hospitalizing Eric (which ended up actively causing more problems) and then had child services called on us when we refused to hospitalize him again a few weeks later (you know, almost as if the hospitalization didn’t fucking help at all). Luckily the social worker agreed that we made a GOOD call, but it was still an incredibly traumatizing experience for everyone involved. Tom took this opportunity to question and berate all of my decisions about a child he did not even know, and then accuse my husband of molesting Eric because “what else could it possibly be?” You know, because a genetic predisposition to mental illness couldn’t possibly have anything to do with it. When I took the time to write a long letter addressing his concern of abuse, he scolded me for talking about Randy so much in my letter… because nothing I do is right in his eyes, no matter how hard I try.
Since then he has taken an interest in communicating with Eric… except that much of it is centered around what seems to be an obsessive questioning/analysis of my parenting. He has repeatedly asked Eric (and then me) about his weight, what he eats, has tried to critique the amount of carbohydrates I keep in the house, and all other kinds of questions that feel super invasive from someone who not only abused and controlled me but someone who is basically a total stranger to my son. I have tried to understand his concerns and respond as appropriately as possible. I’ve even taken the time to explain that some of these things are difficult subjects to explain to someone who isn’t familiar with Eric or our family. What I get in return is, of course, not understanding but rather more pressure to hastily explain our personal problems in even more detail. Why he asks, I don’t fucking know, because everything I say is met with disbelief and sometimes he just flatly calls us liars. It’s as if he’d only be satisfied if I said “Well Wednesday is the day we all take turns punching Eric in the face and on Fridays we diddle him!” Nothing we say is good enough for him. I’ve tried my best to keep Eric out of this weird routine of questioning that Tom has, but he continues to question him during each phone call no matter how much information I volunteer.
Over the summer Eric is visiting his grandfather in another state. He told me that he didn’t want to talk to Tom during this visit because he wants to focus on Grandpa. Since I’ve relayed this information to Tom, the harassment has now intensified. He spent over an hour on the phone with Randy, complaining, questioning, demanding, etc. Even going so far as to demand that Eric must answer to him and “pay” (his word) for his choice to not talk to him. He’s fucking ten. This is crazy to me. And through this entire conversation not once did he even ask how Eric was doing. Though Tom has always expressed nothing but love and positive feelings toward Eric, it’s as if some freaky stuff is coming out now that he’s expressed disinterest in him. Of course he is also accusing me of keeping his son from him and lying about it which is just fucking delusional since I’ve always been honest with him and it was always me who was making the attempts to get the two of them connected.
Ironically, Tom is creating exactly what it is that he’s afraid of. There are two basic things that my husband and I must have in order to consider allowing our son to have contact with a violent felon who happens to be his biological father. Number one, he needs to have respect for us and the fact that we have raised his son for him while he opted out completely. I understand questions and concerns, but he may not blatantly disregard our opinions and choices as if they are some how not applicable to him Eric. Number two, he needs to have respect Eric. That means understanding that while he may be bio dad, he is virtually a stranger and it is hugely unfair for him to make demands and attempts to parent from a state prison when he is just now getting to know him. This also means respecting the importance of stability, routine, and consistency. Throwing a tantrum when we request that he works with us and compromises about things relating to our son does not indicate to me that he gives a single solitary fuck about how his actions might affect Eric. He wants what he wants, he wants it now, and he’s not going to take very kindly to a “no” no matter how nicely we explain or reason.
Not only is communicating with a person like that a detriment to my and Randy’s mental health, it is now becoming very clear to me that this is not the type of person that I would EVER suggest that my son spends time with. This man is emotionally stunted. He has zero life skills, does not seem to comprehend basic moral relationship rules like trust, transparency, examining your own flaws, and compromising. From what I can see he has not changed anything of real importance from the time that I was in a relationship with him or the time that he choked and bound a stranger and then tried to kill himself. He still has not learned how to cope with difficult circumstances without jumping immediately to losing his shit. That scares me.
That is not a person that I will present to my son as someone acceptable to associate with. He can choose differently for himself in the future, but I have decided that I am not going to put that in front of him as a choice that I condone. I have decided that no matter how afraid I am of Eric someday resenting me for not having his biological father in his life, that the thought of willingly handing an impressionable child over to a narcissistic piece of shit is much worse. It’s not something that I want to have on my conscience.
So today, I am going no contact with Tom. I fear for what this means for my family as I know he will not retreat without a fight and I know he fights dirty. I know that he will be up for parole in two years and I have no idea what to expect from him when he is released. But I’m going to fight for no contact as long as I possibly can because this is what I believe is right.