In a perfect world, everyone would pair off and marry to their soulmate. Til death do us part wouldn’t be a Julia Roberts movie. Families would remain as cohesive units, always striving to protect and nourish each other. Children would have the benefit of parents acting as a united front for the best possible outcome.
But our world is far from perfect. More than half of those married get divorced. And many of those divorcees split custody of their offspring. I’ve done it twice. Once has already proved to be disastrous. And the second time looks like it’s heading down the same road. I’m not pointing any fingers. I’m only pointing out facts. If you’re divorced with kids, or thinking about it, use my misfortune as a lesson to avoid your own.
Before you judge me, know me. I’ve worked two or three jobs at a time since I was 16. I’m generous to a fault. I’m the person who elevates the needy, comforts the sick, and compliments the downtrodden. I’ve given blood a hundred times, provided days upon days to help others, and donated countless dollars to charity. I’ve never once asked for a single thing in return. Those of you who know me know I didn’t cause this mess. But I am guilty in-part in allowing it.
My daughter’s mother has a substance abuse problem. She has had this issue for as far back as I can remember. Being a clean-cut straight-A student and the son of immigrant parents, I was insanely naive and didn’t know the signs. She played me for quite a while. We had a child (I think it was mine – although she has mentioned twice in a fit of rage that it wasn’t), and I insisted on a shotgun wedding so our baby wouldn’t grow up shunned by society. Silly, I know. Shortly after we wed and moved in together, strange things began to happen – things I recognize now as the telltale signs of addiction. Chronic lies. Missing monies. Irrational behavior. It took me a couple months to figure it out. Before I had a chance to confront her, she threatened me with a knife when she discovered I changed the PIN to my debit card. I disarmed her and offered to talk. She went to the bedroom and called the police, telling them I was an intruder. With a fat cop’s foot on my head and my hands shackled in handcuffs on the front lawn with all the neighbors watching, I knew it was over.
I tried to be a great father. But offspring has been so poisoned by offspring’s mother that offspring believes it’s all my fault. The truth is I was blocked from attending every important event in her life. Either I wasn’t informed about the event, or the ex made a huge fuss if I showed up that made it uncomfortable for offspring, ruining it for everyone. Yeah, we’re talking complete sociopath. I’m going to write a book. I’ve already started.
Fast forward 20-some years. And guess who else developed a substance abuse problem? Only the offspring had decided to put needles in offspring’s arm. Offspring has almost died twice, or so I hear. Offspring is in some recovery program, and they forced offspring to come out of hiding and reach out to me as part of the recovery. Some crap called amends. I will do my part as best I can. It has not been pleasant for either of us. I am glad offspring is doing better, but that won’t make up for the countless years she cashed my birthday checks, accepted my gifts, and ignored me.
Let’s jump to today. My next offspring recently turned 16. Offspring #2’s mother (whom we’ll call Voldemort) decided she didn’t want to be married anymore when offspring was about 4. Voldemort had a horrible change of life soon after offspring was born and became a different person. Honestly, this was some Sybil crap. Even her parents remarked how strange she had become, to the point of wondering if she was a lesbian. We divorced, and made a deal to work together and never let anything affect our offspring negatively.
So much for that. She shitcanned that deal several years ago. The result? She’s buying affection. I insist on working for things, because that’s how the world works. She gives him things for nothing. Which would you choose if you were 16? Exactly. My problem is this conflict is causing a serious fissure in the relationship between my offspring and I, and I am losing badly. I had this same exact feeling when my first kid hit this age, and you know how that worked out. Offspring #1’s mother did the same exact thing.
I could just suck it up and just give the kid everything for nothing. Shoot, I could do it better than Mom and start a war to buy my kid’s love. But here’s the thing. Buildings, towns, nations, and people – everything begins with a solid foundation. A child needs a solid foundation on which to build responsibility. I have always believed that. I have lived that. Do good in school. Get into a good college. Surround yourself with smart people. Develop options for yourself so you’re not pigeonholed into a job you’ll despise. Common sense, right?
Not according to Voldemort.
She grew up in a different world. On suburban Long Island 30 years ago, neighborhoods were filled with hard-working people. Neighbors still talked with each other. There was no social media. Everyone watched the same six or seven channels available on broadcast television. If you had cable, maybe you watched MTV too. You had to go to a library to look something up. Sure, there were clusters of bad kids, but they were more difficult to find. The ex was a nerdy bookworm with no friends. She kept to herself for the most part. And she did alright in life as a result.
What’s confusing AF is that she believes her offspring is her. She believes that offspring will keep the nose clean, do the right thing, and fall into some cushy job with little effort. Except – she wants offspring to be cooler than she was. Offspring was an online gamer, but she’d rather offspring went outside and tooled about on the $10,000 ridiculously jacked-up golf cart she bought. Although I offered several times to handle the entire shebang this year, she decided to spend $1,500 on school clothes so offspring would look cool. And now, offspring has figured out how to cheat from some of the “cool” kids he now hangs out with. Offspring copies test answers from some online thing and watches Netflix at school, chewing through our data plan. She doesn’t think that’s a problem (probably because I pay the cell phone bill). She got offspring a learners’ permit shortly after offspring turned 15. That’s where the poop hit the fan. I insisted on waiting until 17 or even 18, for many reasons we’ll discuss later. I was rudely overrode without so much as a conversation or even a single text.
Voldemort isn’t being a parent. She’s trying to be offspring’s best friend.
And now, because Voldemort had a job at a supermarket when she was 16, she wants offspring to work at the local supermarket so he can develop some “responsibility.” That’s my second no-no. School is your full-time job right now, kid. It should come first and foremost, before anything else in the universe. That foundation thing, remember? Look, there’s nothing wrong with working a job. But if you don’t really need to work for income at this point, why take an entry-level job sweeping floors when you could be dedicating those hours towards your own future?
She already f-ed me with the driving thing. Supposedly, the job is to pay for car insurance, so offspring can get to work. Well, here’s my point. If you don’t need to get to work, you don’t need car insurance. And whatever nonsense job you’re gonna get today probably isn’t going to cover the $400 a month car insurance is going to run for an inexperienced 16-year-old driver. You’re already in a hole. You’re working for nothing.
I was pretty much screwed already, so I needed an alternative plan to save the foundation. But it needed to address the damage already done by the enabler. I thought and thought, and… eureka! I came up with a plan. Here’s the letter I sent.
I am pleased to offer you the part-time position of Assistant Social Media Manager. Your skills and experience will be an ideal fit for our client services department.
As we discussed, your starting date will be Monday, March 12, 2018. You would be scheduled for 10 hours per week, two hours per day every weekday, with all services performed at the company headquarters. The starting salary is $9 per hour and is paid on a bi-weekly basis. Direct deposit is available.
[Company] offers a flexible paid-time off plan which includes vacation, personal, and sick leave. Time off accrues at the rate of one day per month for your first year, then increases based on your tenure with the company.
Car insurance for a 16-year-old is over $5,000 – that is $400 a MONTH. And that’s with a spotless driving record. That’s ridiculous. You would be working simply to pay car insurance. That’s known as “spinning your wheels.” You use up a lot of energy and never get anywhere. You’ll be taking time away from your REAL job – which is SCHOOL. And for no good reason! I have done this. I don’t want you to do it too. Besides, you have a golf cart at your disposal. There is absolutely zero need for a license or a car right now. Car insurance would be a hideous waste of money.
Again, with this offer, I GUARANTEE transportation to and from dual-enrollment classes for the next two years. You can even drive my car with me in it – as long as you do NOT have your license. My insurance company will not allow you to drive our vehicles once you have your drivers license.
And – as a separate offer, if you get straight As during every semester in school during your junior and senior year (you must take any available honors, AP, or dual-enrollment classes), I will pay for a NEW car when you graduate high school. There are no exceptions however – B and Cs will not be tolerated or excused for any reason. YOU CAN DO THIS!
Remember, I don’t benefit from any of this. This is all about you, your personal development, your future, and your potential opportunities. This is one of the most selfless things anyone will EVER do for you.
In the interest of full disclosure, if you choose not to accept it, I will hire an outside intern and post this letter and its story on my parenting blog. Why? Because refusing this amazing offer would be among the biggest mistakes of your life. It’s a great story, and it may help other parents in a similar situation. There may also be other repercussions, including some dealing with Netflix and your cellphone. As much as I love you with all my heart, I don’t spin my wheels any longer. When you’ve lived a full life and made the mistakes I’ve made, you develop something called wisdom. You begin to know when you should keep fighting — and also when to give up.
There are a thousand kids who would give their left arm for an offer like this. I’d really rather have you. I think you’d be really good at this.
I waited a few days. Offspring thought about it. It really is a great offer. Offspring consulted with Voldemort. Sadly, offspring declined my offer. Said something about needing to develop real responsibility, and you can’t do that if you work for your dad. I called BS. Henry Ford Jr. worked for his father. Nelson Rockefeller worked for his father. The President of these United States worked for his father. Thousands of offspring eventually take over successful family businesses. Most of those peeps were pretty darn responsible. It was then I realized Voldemort’s poisonous spell was already fatal. It’s human nature to side with an enabler.
No ding meant against grocery stores, but any job where teens congregate can form long-lasting friendships. But more likely, they form detrimental collusions. Especially in retail positions. There’s always the troublemaker who will never do anything else with his or her life. He or she looks like fun, and becomes a confidant. And that confidant destroys whatever foundation you’ve tried to build. That’s exactly what happened to my oldest offspring’s mother. She was lean and clean and on the right path until she met Kim, the coke dealer’s girlfriend, at a shoe store in suburban Philadelphia. I fear my own offspring will meet a Kim too. That’s much less likely to happen if offspring wasn’t exposed to that opportunity because offspring was working closely with me.
You can’t control everything, but you can certainly control the potential for derailment.
I reached out to Voldemort one last time. Offered to put everything on the table and have a civil discussion for the best of the child. My request was summarily declined.
So I’m reaching out to you. Asking for ideas, because I’m fresh out.
Oh – and about teen driving. Here’s that tirade.