Dear Carolyn: Seventeen years ago I divorced the mother of my four children. After a heated divorce lasting several months, we agreed on things and split up legally. Throughout the proceedings, my wife used my children as weapons against me, and I spent the next several years listening to insult after insult from my children. Under no circumstances will I paint the picture that I was perfect, but I never expected or deserved what I got from them.
My work had me out of state for the past seven years. During that time, I had little to no contact with my children. I came back home in December of 2010 and quickly tried to rebuild my relationship with my children. I lent them money, I bent over backward to spend time with them, nothing.
This past weekend I visited my 28-year-old's Facebook page to discover she has now declared her stepdad "Navy Dad for life." She bought him the T-shirt, took the picture and posted it.
Needless to say I was devastated. My plans to visit her were canceled. She sent me text messages telling me I had no reason to be upset and that I would never hear an apology from her. The next day, my ex sends me a text telling me that SHE bought the T-shirt for her husband and to lighten up on our daughter.
First of all, what business does my ex have buying that T-shirt? Second, how do they justify hurting me like this?
My daughter deploys next month and I don't want her to leave under these conditions, but I will NOT stand for the disrespect from her.
A: You've been in parental purgatory for 17 years, and you're planting your flag on a lousy T-shirt?
I can't know what happened in those crucial months before, during and after your divorce, but I have no problem believing that one parent would try to poison the kids against the other. It just happens too often to deny.
But blaming your ex-wife for your overreaction to the T-shirt, and the resulting re-estrangement from your kids, is so far over the line you're off the field and halfway to the parking lot. You own this debacle, sir, from beginning to end.
It is an unfortunate fact chain that rejection leads to hurt feelings, which often lead to reflexive acting-out, which usually leads to further rejection. You're living this chain with your unhealed wounds from 17 years ago resulting in oversensitivity to perceived slights -- your latest outbreak of which has your kids sprinting to distance themselves from you.
And who provided a steady, paternal presence in the years since your divorce? Their stepfather, apparently; if true, then he has earned your kids' high regard.
Be the first to accept blame instead of the first to lob it.
Be the father they've accused you of failing to be.