I DON'T understand why people like to toy with one another's emotions.
I DON'T understand how people fall out of love.
I DON'T understand how anyone can hurt a child or an animal.
And the list goes on.
But I think I am finally starting to understand a little bit about my father.
Recently my stepson reached out to me. It has been nearly 3 years since we had any form of direct contact. I am not sure what exactly prompted it, but he used every channel that he could to find me and get in touch.
He found one of my websites and emailed me.
He found me on Facebook and sent a message.
He created a Twitter account, and then found and followed me there.
He came here, and read some of this.
I proceeded cautiously, responding to his inquiries and letting him know we were happy to hear from him, while trying not to overwhelm him with over enthusiasm. A pleasant conversation emerged, and I was very encouraged and hopeful, though utterly mystified and frankly worried.
See, I have been him. I was that child who had NO CONTACT with my father for years. For reasons that I wasn't conscious of, or responsible for my father dropped completely out of my life. And I wondered why? Why didn't he love me enough to be there? How could he just turn his back on me and walk away?
My mother loved me so fiercely that I couldn't imagine how any parent could walk away. The only times that I ever really even considered finding him were those when something truly miserable was going on. In good times, the thought of going out on limb and tracking down someone that so clearly wanted nothing to do with me was much too masochistic.
---I always knew that the day would come when he would come and find us. I knew this, because my day came. So I always figured that, when that day came, I would be prepared. I was not.
Hearing from him was wonderful, but the first thought that popped into my head was "Oh no! What's happened? Is he OK?"
So our careful guarded and wary little dialogue continued. Until the other mother cut it off abruptly. And then she called me.
To say that a very passionate conversation ensued would be putting it mildly. Accusations were tossed back and forth. Vitriol was spewed. I would like to think that some demons were perhaps at least moderately exorcised, but that may be an overstatement.
What did emerge was an understanding on my part of my own father that I don't believe I ever fully consciously realized that I had developed, until this turn of events. Or at least an understanding of his choice to walk away.
I always thought that it was out of a lack of concern and love that he walked away when he did. I always believed that it was a thoroughly selfish decision, and that it was because of how very little he loved me that he turned his back. Not being a part of my life was proof positive to me that he was something of a monster. The fierce, almost primal love of my mother by comparison made that all the more clear.
What I know now is that sometimes, SOMETIMES, loving someone means having to walk away.
Like my own mother, the other mother loves the boy with a savage ferocity. She and my husband don't mix well, and have clashed tremendously over the years. Battles have raged and this poor child, whether he was fully aware of it at the time or not, was stuck in the midst of it. For a time, I was able to force a calm over the group. Constant effort and engineering on my part kept most of the animosity at bay, but not enough. When we would see the boy, we could see the inner conflict, the confusion, the sense of betrayal.
When the storm became something that I could no longer control, we let it roll over us and wash us away. And then, to get the boy out of the line of fire, to prevent him from having to continue to be tossed around, we backed off. It hurt, and it sucked, but we wanted a good and stable life for the boy more than we wanted anything else, and we recognized that our presence in his life was not bringing love and stability. It was bringing suffering and confusion. We knew that with other mother, other father he could have a "normal" life. With four parents, he could not. And that was what we want most for him. To have a home life that brings him peace and comfort, rather than turmoil and frustration. Too young for full disclosure, he needs the protection that youthful ignorance can bring, and this situation only stood to rob him of that.
So we let go.
And waited for the day when he would seek us out.
And somewhere, SOMEWHERE, in the back of my mind, a connection started to form. I could remember my father offering me an explanation for his absence. I had thought it an excuse. He gave up fighting for me, because he realized that the fight would never end. That I would always be trapped between two different parties that wanted the best for me. That I had two parents that wanted me to be with THEM. That I would be, as he put it, a ping pong child. Forever destined to bounce back and forth between the two of them. And he didn't want that for me.
At the time, I felt relieved to have an explanation that didn't include my mother being painted as a monster or myself being depicted as unlovable. But I also felt it was never his choice to make. I remember thinking "How dare you decide to walk out of my life for my own sake??? That wasn't YOUR decision to make! It was MY life!"
I was 17.
At 25, I still couldn't understand it.
When I became a stepmother, a mother, and a mother again I still didn't understand it. If you have a child, not being a part of their life is not an option. End of story. Only the very weak would ever give up, right?
It wasn't until I matured more as a parent, and started to see clearly the toll that this was taking on my stepson, my first baby, that I finally started to get it. But I didn't even realize what it was I was getting.
It was not until that phone call, that fateful phone call, when I was forced to put my own thoughts into words, that I truly realized that for the first time, on some small level, I get him. Though his later actions I may never be able to move past nor understand, that one choice, that one PIVOTAL choice, I get.
I am still not sure what exactly prompted our brief reunion. What I do know is that he wanted to speak to his siblings. Which he has. Once. And then nothing more has been heard from that front. And I am torn between wanting to let him have his space, and wanting more. I want to know how his day went, and about the girl that he likes. But I also want him to have what he needs.
There is also a part of me that wants to cry out that it is not fair to my children to dangle their brother in front of them and then take him away again. But I know that I can dress those wounds for them well enough.
For now, I will wait, with my leaves and my limbs and my trunk intact, ready to be taken if they are needed.
And Rabbi, I finally get it.