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How Can I Help Son Reconcile with His Cheater Dad?

unicornHey Chump Lady,

I’m happily divorcing my cheater. It took me awhile to get to this place, but am now finally working my way to meh from the man who cheated on me for the better part of our 30-year marriage. My issue is with our kids.

My oldest, 21, is living out of state at college and has a cordial, almost normal, relationship with his dad. My youngest, 17, no longer speaks to him after learning what STBX did. I admit that I am very torn about this.

I grew up with an asshole for a father. A true alcoholic narcissist who made life around him torturous. When he died in 2020 I felt nothing but relief.

But my STBX is a good dad. (I know, I know. How can he be a good dad when he lied to, cheated on and gaslit their mother for decades?) STBX desperately wants to be part of 17’s life. He misses him terribly and is extremely torn up about the estrangement. And I feel like I need to help facilitate their rift. I guess it’s because I had such a shitty father who couldn’t be bothered to know anything about me even when we existed in the same house.

I see 17’s dad desperate to be with him and I don’t want 17 to miss out. 17 is in therapy over this and seems to be just fine without my STBX who he hasn’t seen or talked to in six months even though he lives just on the other side of town. My relationship with 17 is great. I just feel like I need to nudge 17 toward reconciling with his dad. Am I crazy? Wrong? Right? I honestly don’t know. I’d love your advice and the advice of CN.

Thanks so much,

MollyWobbles

****

Dear MollyWobbles,

You’re not responsible for your STBX’s relationship with his son. He is. You’re just responsible for your relationship with your son. Sounds like you’ve got that covered. Gold star on the sane parenting. You’ve got him in therapy. Now stay out of it.

Look, it speaks well of you after 30 years of chumpdom that you don’t want your kids to hate their father. The more common chump issue is that we want kids to take our part, feel our injustice, hold it against the offending parent. And it hurts that the kids still love their shitty parent. It feels disloyal. That’s a shit sandwich, yet the same advice still applies — it’s the kids’ relationship to work out.

You’ve got a slightly different chump issue, IMO, in that you still feel responsible for managing his relationships. Being the chaos janitor. Throwing yourself on all the grenades with the hope that your kids don’t get hurt.

Welcome to the other shit sandwich — we can’t control the hurtfulness of the other parent. He cheated on you for 30 years, behavior that led to the family breaking up. That hurts them.

Just like you had to untangle what was real, what was a lie, who is this person really? they have to untangle it too. Or ignore the skein and go be 17. (That’s enough drama.) We can’t do this work for them. The best we can do is set a good example.

Being stable, being the sane parent, modeling resilience — that’s ENOUGH. Lay down the burden of your STBX’s fuckupedness. His kids may need distance. It’s a consequence of his behavior. Keep doing you.

But my STBX is a good dad. (I know, I know. How can he be a good dad when he lied to, cheated on and gaslit their mother for decades?)

He’s not your dad. He’s their dad. They get to decide if he’s good or not. You can’t project that on to him for them.

And, try as you might, you don’t control their values. (However, they are kids, their values aren’t set in stone.) They may weigh “bought me a pony” much more than “cheated on my mother for decades.” Conversely, they may look at years of hands-on parenting and investment and cancel it because of his transgressions.

Your pronouncements on his “goodness” are beside the point. I know there’s a LOT of pressure out there to be the magnanimous chump. For The Children. To be the fuckwit’s PR agency. To polish his legacy. But every teenager can sniff out a phony, and why do that to your soul?

STBX desperately wants to be part of 17’s life. He misses him terribly and is extremely torn up about the estrangement.

sadz

Where’s your no contact?! STBX shouldn’t be crying on your shoulder — the woman he fucked over for 30 years! He wants YOU to feel sorry for HIM?

He fired you from that job.

He’s either telling you this (he has a sadz… the self-pity channel) or you’re projecting feelings on your STBX that you wish were there. Or maybe it’s a bit of both.

You had a shitty dad, so I’m sure a big part of you longs to hear that despite STBX’s cheating, he cares for his kids. Don’t underestimate your ex’s ability to manipulate you with this vulnerability. The illusion that he values his family is your hopium.

We don’t endanger the things we care about. Sounds like he spent decades checked out of family life for Schmoopies. What he can salvage going forward is between him and the kids.

And I feel like I need to help facilitate their rift.

That’s a feeling. They pass. I feel like I should eat another Christmas cookie. I shouldn’t.

I see 17’s dad desperate to be with him and I don’t want 17 to miss out.

Whoa. Please examine where you start and where your son ends. You missed out on a relationship with your dad. Your projection assumes your son feels like HE is going to miss out.

He’s 17. Most teenagers would rather be with their friends. Or really most anywhere their exceedingly uncool, mortifying parents are not.

STBX feels “desperate”?

He can sit with those difficult feelings. You’ve got 30 years of his secret life to sit with. He can fuck right off.

My relationship with 17 is great. I just feel like I need to nudge 17 toward reconciling with his dad.

You want to make your relationship un-great? Nudge him toward reconciliation with his dad.

You want to respect his feelings and be a sane parent? Stay out of it.

Ask Chump Lady

Got a question for the Chump Lady? Or a submission for the Universal Bullshit Translator? Write to me at info@chumplady.com. Read more about submission guidelines.
    • I was chatting to another member of Chump Nation on Wednesday, and said that I’d been captivated by this blog because of the excellent advice.

      You have not let me down today. This is spot on.

  • Molly, I am sorry for your relationship with your dad and I can see why you would want to fix this for your son. Unfortunately, you can only control you and your relationship with 17. If cheater has a sadz about that, well, tough. That is called consequences. When you cheat and lie, you ruin more than you think. He blew up the family. If he wants a relationship with 17, then the FW needs to make the attempt. This is not your job. Your job is to maintain your relationship with 17.
    I know because my adult son (26) will not have anything to do with his father. He is a grown man and can make his decisions about who he wants in his life and who he does not. He does not want a relationship with his father. Of course, the FW blames me. If only I had such super powers to control people like the FW thinks I do (but not really because I don’t want to control thoughts or feelings on anyone but myself). FW has tried to contact me and sent messages, etc when I still had channels open during the divorce. Well that changed because he is blocked. No contact with him. I am not responsible for his actions to destroy his family and I won’t clean them up or build bridges. FW made choices and is now suffering consequences. He actually needs to do the work on this (he won’t because that was always my job).
    Molly, please allow 17 to make his own decisions. If he does not want a relationship with his father that is his choice. He can change his mind later if he wants but give him time and space. He is probably trying to heal too and he needs his own time line to do that. You are being the sane parent. Keep up the good work.

  • “ I know there’s a LOT of pressure out there to be the magnanimous chump. For The Children. To be the fuckwit’s PR agency. To polish his legacy. “

    Right CL? I wish this were written in every book we’ve had to read, especially for the attorneys that push this shit on us.

    But look, none of us are Jackie Kennedy who I consider to be one of the saddest Chumps of all. After JFK died, she helped write the article that created the fantasy that their lives were “Camelot” to polish his legacy for all eternity… meanwhile JFK was a horrible nasty cheater their whole marriage — he even sexually abused interns (from what I’ve read)

    I don’t dare force my son (almost 17) to spend time with his dad because I’m his safe place. I am the one he can trust. If he wants to go, I say “have a good time.” And he knows he can come home to me any time. He’s also aware that I went through attorneys to fight for him to be able to come home when he needs to because his dad was forcing him to go when son didn’t want to (in my state, son wouldn’t have a say until 18).

    I try to stay neutral though. It’s my son’s decision. If things don’t work out now, they can work on it as adults… or not. It’s up to his dad to step up. FWs rarely step up.

    In the end, all I can control is my relationship with my son.

    One last thing… a “good parent” doesn’t cheat on their mother and leave the family. There’s a reason your 17 year old doesn’t want a relationship with his dad. Don’t invalidate that by telling him his dad is a “good parent.” From your son’s point of view, FW is not. And FW isn’t from your point of view either.

    • Thank you MichelleShocked. I guess I project on to my son what I would have given anything to get from my dad. I wish he had reached out the way FW does with 17. But you’re right. He’s not a good parent. Good parents don’t cheat on their children’s mother.

      • MollyWobbles, I’m so sorry about your dad. And I think everyone here can see that you don’t want your son to suffer what you’ve had to deal with with your own father. But in the end, you can’t fix their relationship and you only risk the trust and bond you have with your 17 year old by trying to fix things with his dad. You’re an amazing mom and your kids are very lucky to have you… regardless of how things work out with their dad. Just be there for them. That’s all that matters.

      • I saw my responsibility as a mom as 100% and dad had his 100%. Certainly my kids heard about things I was mad about but I didn’t bad-mouth him. I let it be what it was. My kids were really young when we divorced and they don’t really know the whole story. I don’t care at this point. Even now and my kids are almost 40. They have a relationship but they totally know what dad did and didn’t do for them.

      • My mother is like this too.
        She wants to constantly push me into being friends with my father.

        He’s a douchebag. Like, leave me alone. (They’re still together).
        And I know my mother had a “bad father.” That’s her problem. I shouldn’t have to friend-up with my douchebag Dad (who really couldn’t give a shit besides the Sad Sausage Dance he does for my mother).

        His cheating on my mom was the icing on the cake. It was always ALL ABOUT HIM. We all had to kiss my Dad’s ass and put him front and center. Anytime he wasn’t front and center was a tantrum or a pout-fest.

        My mother has spent 40 years trying to clean up his emotional mess and trying to get me to help her.

        Fuck off already, Mom (my Mom). He’s an idiot who has the emotional depth of a toddler that doesn’t want to grow up, act like an adult and deal with his own relationships. Stop trying to make him still-central. Stop trying to make him now my emotional mess to clean up.

        And you are 100% kidding me thinking that your kids are going to want to have to put up with that.
        Why should a seventeen year-old be reaching out to a father who was willing to destroy his family over a Quest for See You Next Tuesday?

        Gross. Seriously gross. Go clean up your own emotional mess, don’t get your kid to go and make this arsehole central again because you’re sad that he’s (ex) sad.

        Ex couldn’t stay put of anyone long enough to care about how y’all would feel about that, why should 17 year-old care about Dad’s sad? And really more concerning is why is abused Mom trying to get 17 year-old to care about Dad’s sad?

        Your kid is probably extremely frustrated and sick of all of you trying to manage them. Directly or by proxy.

        YOUR KIDS GOT CHUMPED TOO. DON’T TRY TO MAKE THEM PICK-ME DANCE.

        I’m 40 now by the way. These cycles don’t die quietly when you start them. Don’t make your kid be 40 and so fed up with your “love your Dad, he’s special” bullshit that he doesn’t even want to talk to you on Christmas anymore like my parents.

        • I understand a lot of this. My dad was a selfish narc too and my mother made sure the world revolved around him. He’s gone now and I’m happier for it. But I also feel like I need to defend myself a bit here. I have not pushed 17 to reconcile with his dad. Not once. I just *feel* like I should. There’s a difference. I have not done anything to push him toward his dad. I am not behaving with my child the way your mother behaved with you. I just wanted some advice about the right thing to do before I made any movements in either direction with 17. And thanks to the wisdom of ChumpLady and ChumpNation I now know to stay out of it and I’m glad I did. The harshness of your response, though understandable based on your childhood trauma, was off base. I’m not doing to my child what your mother did to you.

      • MollyWobbles– Maybe you would have given anything to get certain things from your dad because you didn’t have you as a parent filling in the gap. The fact that your son was able to make this decisive break suggests he’s not emotionally starved and is getting what he needs from somewhere and hasn’t been left trying to get blood from a stone as the only option. I suspect you were that emotional backup.

        • I really hope that’s true! And thank you! This was very enlightening to me. My mom has never really been there for me. She was always always always doing the pick me dance for my dad. Now that he’s gone she’s just absent. I didn’t have another parent to fall back on. 17 does. He has me. And I love and support him with my whole being. Thank you for reminding me of that!

      • I totally get where you’re coming from, having been in the same situation as your son, but to be honest, I also feel like my Dad having a sadz about me not being that interested in catching up with us (after exploding our family with his cheating and then basically only saying two words to us during custodial visits, while his AP was downright rude and snappy to us) was more to do with optics, ie he didn’t like that some people might think, “what kind of father has children that don’t want to see him?” and he always wanted to be thought of as the good guy, despite his unrepentant philandering. My mother unfortunately bought into his narrative, and would tell anyone who would listen that I had a chip on my shoulder about the divorce, and held a grudge instead of leaning into Christian forgiveness, as evidence by my reluctance to have anything much to do with him except when forced to by very public celebrations or observances. What she didn’t know was not only was he a cheater, he was a child predator. So he got to look like he had strange, fucked- up children who didn’t want to forgive, despite his sad sausage, “I made a mistake, to err is human etc” and I got to bear the weight of other’s judgement.

      • Good parents also don’t try and enlist their exes in running over their child’s boundaries.

        A good dad would be hurt, but would say to himself, “He’s 17. I get why he’s mad at me. All I can do is be patient and leave the door open if he changes his mind.”

        A shitty dad boo-hoos to the ex he cheated on and tries to manipulate her into pressuring their child.

    • When I have mentioned their dad to my sons, I say, “He was a good provider.” I never say that their dad wasn’t a good dad, I just say that we had everything we needed materially.

  • Wow! Right on point. I’ve got five boys and pushed a long time for peace and forgiveness. 19 & 17 year olds stared at me like I had three heads. They just want nothing to do with him but will be civil if necessary. 15 year old is very angry at FW and lets him know whenever he doesn’t get his way. 13 year old doesn’t really seem to care, is just confused and wants to know why. The problem is with the 6 year old who idolizes FW and I feel like he’s doing his own sort of pick me dance. He can tell things aren’t like they were and is grabbing for anything to hold on to.
    I used to tell myself that FW cheated on me not the kids, but he devalued all of us. Our family meant less to him than hookers and happy endings.
    Kids do see way more than I gave them credit for, and they are very insightful. They can figure out their relationships and see the truth.

  • I didn’t have children with the fuckwit, (thank God) so perhaps my perspective on this isn’t of much value, but I would say this: by trying to push your son into having a relationship with his father, what values are you modelling for him ?

    That lying, deceiving, and blowing up a family for one’s own selfish desires is forgivable provided one is ‘sorry’ afterwards, and wants to avoid consequences ?

    Your son is old enough to judge your ex husband’s behaviour for himself. If you push him into having a relationship with his father for your *own* reasons, (and I do get why you would want to) it may very well backfire on you – your son may decide that *your* values are suspect, and later blame you for gaslighting him, which is *actually what you would be doing if you try to persuade your son against his own wishes*. I think you should take CL’s comments to heart, and *stay out of it*. It’s not your business any more, it’s between your son and his father.

    • All very good points Chummpnomore6. I should point out that I have never pushed 17 to see his dad or into having a relationship with him. I just feel like I should. Does that make sense? I have so far stopped myself and after all of this great advice will continue not to do it!

      • MollyWobbles, I’d love you to know how mighty you are. You wrote in on something that many of us struggle with and your responses show that you’re seeking wisdom not validation. I love your spirit and kind heart so much. Thank you for sharing your journey with us.

      • Sorry Molly, I obviously misread your post. I’m glad you’ve stopped yourself!

        I often think chumps with children have it many times harder than those of us without. The temptation to navigate the relationship with a fuckwit, in order to try and mitigate the hurt for one’s children must be overwhelming at times.

        In the end though, *truth* is more important in the long run, and will be more appreciated eventually than a plaster over a wound, which heals better in light and air anyway. Hugs to you.xxx

        • Yes, I think that I was projecting my wishes to have had that good father-child relationship on to 17. I want to save him from any and all pain and that’s just not possible. Especially when the pain comes from his own father. You are totally right. The wound needs light, not plaster and all the plaster in the world isn’t going to change who his father actually is. Nor will it change who mine was.

      • A few old Taoist sayings that a friend shared with me: “Never rob anyone of their consequences” and “If you want the universe to fill your rice bowl, clean it out.”

        I’m not particularly spiritual but can recognize general wisdom when I see it. The latter saying always came to mind when it came down to choices of whether to cut ties with toxic people. If I wanted my life to fill up with positive people, I needed to make my waters safe for those types. So far this has turned out to be very true. Maybe your son recognizes his own vulnerability to dad’s manipulative, negative tendencies and has chosen to clear his life of that energy so he gets used to breathing only clean air at a critical time in development and build his life from there.

        I agree with others that “good” parents don’t betray their families, don’t blow family assets on affairs and hookers, lie to their kids about where they’ve been every night and, through abuse and gaslighting, spend years driving their spouses into suicidal despair or paralysis.

  • I got caught at first trying to do a little PR work for fuckwit and our only daughter, born after ten years of miscarriages. Because MY dad was a fuck up and I was projecting. She wanted none of that, or of him and felt a huge “eww” factor. So what did he do? He pulled her insurance, college support. Said he’d “help” if she resumed talks with other him on his terms. She refused and massively struggled to finish college and survive. Then stories started to trickle out about he was being sexually and emotionally inappropriate with her years before. A fuckwit to the very core! I am now relieved that she chose to listen to her OWN feelings and instincts on this. They are more savvy than you think.

  • Son is 17, he’s learning so much about himself right now and he should be left alone to feel and react in the way that feels honest to him. He has a therapist and evidently the professional is okay with his (possibly temporary) estrangement with his father. We all have different emotional needs – and different lines in the sand – please leave him to his own expression of anger and grief. He was lied to and betrayed too.

    • Yes, his therapist encourages his estrangement from his father. Removing toxic people from your life, etc. I guess I was just projecting on him too much. Thinking about how happy I would have been if my father had reached out to me the way his reaches out to him. I am now out of it. Fully. Thank you!

  • MW – Is your divorce still pending? Does it cover college tuition and other expenses for young adult children? If so, it is especially not a good time to try to insert your expectations into a complicated transition. You’ve done what you could in response to a terrible situation and still have a few miles to go for your own acceptance. Grey rock.

    • Divorce is still pending. Next step is settlement talks. I have no idea what STBX will do, but I’m hoping he’ll keep his word with what we’ve already agreed to. If so, 17’s education (should he choose to go to college, that still remains to be seen) will be taken care of. I am NC now and scared to death what that will do. I was “playing nice” at the advice of my lawyer. NC is not playing nice so we’ll see if he changes.

      • Oh Molly. 😢

        When we come into a marriage with unresolved trauma from an abusive parent, it’s amazing how FWs manipulate and abuse our hypersensitivity and our burning desire to make things better in our own families for their own wicked ends.

        I hope your divorce goes better than mine did. My therapist called it in our first session. She said that if it came to divorce, spitting up the assets would bring out the worst in FW. I didn’t want to believe her.

        To my own detriment, I nearly killed myself trying to preserve my marriage and FW’s reputation, especially with our kids. I put FW’s and the kids’ needs first because I didn’t want to be responsible for breaking up the family. What misguided thinking! In their obscene entitlement, FWs blow everything up and then everyone expects mom to hold all the pieces together!

        During the divorce, FW’s mask fell off and sure enough, behind it was a terrifying monster. All the way through, terrified of falling off the high road, I was committed to avoiding even a hint of parental alienation. I spoke as little as possible about the adultery, separation, or divorce with my young adult kids. I didn’t say anything bad about their dad to them and supported them in maintaining a good relationship with him.

        Molly, be careful what you wish for. After I couldn’t shake the feeling that my kids were growing cold and distant with me, I initiated a conversation with them, with devastating results. I’ve been hoist by my own pitard. All this time FW has been reveling in my kindness to him and using it to poison the kids against me. I was aghast to learn some of the things my kids believed about me because of what FW told them about the our relationship and the divorce.

        The insult upon injury is sometimes more than I think I can bear. I cling to the hope that the arc of the moral universe will eventually bend toward justice. In the meantime, I encourage you to follow the advice of CL and CN and, under no circumstances do anything to assist your FW in impression management. It’s a trap, and you’ll be hurt.

        • Actanonverba,

          I saw this horror play out with a friend whose ex is a hooker-mongering lawyer. Probably both because she thought her then-ten year old daughter was too young to know what dad did and the fear that the ex had instilled in her about “parental alienation,” she shared nothing with her daughter. But all the while, the ex-FW sociopath got ahead of the narrative, subtly demonized my friend and groomed their daughter into a little narc against her mother. I’ve been on the phone with this friend when she broke into whispers to communicate things she didn’t want her daughter reporting to her ex. I’ve never had the heart to tell this friend that I get the creeps around her kid who seems to be turning out to be more like her father than her amazing mother. I don’t believe behavior or character are genetic and I think that things could have turned out differently. I hope things still correct themselves as the daughter grows up and eventually starts figuring out her dad is a drunken, pill-popping misogynist liar.

          Anyway, I heeded the cautionary tale and told my kids the straight dope without editorializing. I just wish I’d done it a moment sooner. Right in the moment I was trying to figure out what to tell the kids, my daughter sleuthed on her own by hacking dad’s computer and got some of the dirt which made telling the kids more an admission than informative. I learned later from a therapist that, for some mysterious reason, teen girls are often the ones who dig around for and uncover evidence of a parent’s cheating, sometimes even more the betrayed parent does. Though my daughter’s hacking completely took the both the weapon of “parental alienation” charges as well as his ability to alienate the kids from me out of FW’s hands, the emotional cost to her of learning the unfiltered details was too high. I wish I’d satisfied her “bullshit” radar before she felt the need to confirm things on her own.

          I’m so sorry you went through this. No ethical impulse goes unpunished when there’s a FW on the scene. But I suspect that the truth about you– your decency and ethics– are what will win the day in the long term and be the narrative that emerges and stays.

        • That’s a horror story! I’m so sorry you’ve had to endure that. Especially as you were trying so hard to protect their hearts. He’s a monster!
          The good news from my end is that 17 refuses to engage with FW at all. So there’s no way for him to poison my son against me. He sends 17 texts, emails and letters that go unread. I have no idea what they say and neither does 17 because he doesn’t care. I need to be more like my son.I take the bait way too often.

      • My husbands 2003 divorce was worded in a way that assumed he would try to weasel out of paying for college for his only child. He is not a weasel though and when it was time to write the checks, his xw (who wanted to control her daughter more than she wanted the daughter to have great opportunities) used a phrase in the agreement to be the weasel.

        The decree said that each parent would pay half of the cost of an “agreed upon” university. A normal person would agree upon the best school the daughter got accepted to and chose. Nope, all she had to do was say “I don’t agree” and she walked away without paying a dime. She only agreed to a shitty lowest tier school in the city where the xw lives.
        Daughter had been accepted to great school and my husband paid every dime.

        After contributing nothing, she showed up at graduation strutting like Mrs Astor and gave daughter a watch from Tiffany (then told us that we better put it on our insurance policy).

        Take away point, beware of “agreed upon” or similar phrases

        • Your lawyer failed big time. There should NEVER be language in an adversarial contract that allows one person to round-file the whole thing!

          • My husband is such a trusting person and he was gobsmacked by the divorce. She is conniving and when he told me about the split / divorce, it was clear that she had planned for a long time.

            I never got divorced (my Cheater died).

      • That says a lot MollyWobbles. If he wants his son to acknowlege him, but then in the same breath is an asshole to you and quibbles about paying for his education, well that’s two different kinds of messages coming down the wire. Also there’s the implied threat that if you and S17 don’t play along he’ll make the settlement process that much harder. That’s not regret and sadness, that’s blackmail.

  • Stay out of the triangle Molly. Facilitating a relationship undermines your relationship with your son. He’s grieving the man who abandoned his family. Respect your son by listening when he wants to talk, that’s all.

    • I actually kicked STBX out, he didn’t leave (he’s still fighting tooth and nail to keep me). But I see your point. I wish 17 ever wanted to talk! 17 year old boys aren’t exactly known for sharing their feelings with their moms, but yes, I’m here for him if he should ever want to open up. Thank you.

      • He’s fighting tooth and nail to avoid child support. And division of assets. Protect everything you can if you haven’t already. Spend your energy sleuthing his financial betrayal. You got this.

        • Oh 100%! He won’t relinquish control of the money. We separated our savings when we split last year so I’m ok there. But he’s still paying the bills and can see every dime I spend from our shared accounts. It’s maddening!

      • Honestly, he’s terrible with any sensible boundary, why would he let the wife-appliance go? That’s his wife-appliance! She has use!

  • Lucky me that I have some real life experience here…my dad was a cheater and I am a chump!!!

    My father was a “unicorn” so I suppose he tried to be a great dad. It didn’t overcome my issue that he cheated on my mother.

    I was 18 when we found out about the cheating. My parents stayed together, happily, until my dad died when I was 29. I stomped down my feelings but I’ve never gotten past my feelings of disgust about the cheating.

    I also had a 17 year old son when we found out that his father/my ex was cheating. My son is doing amazingly well after some rough years. He is now 31. His father is barely in his life; comes to visit the grandkids by himself (she stays away). It is a surface relationship with zero respect for his father. His comment is “I wish I had a real father but I don’t”.

    All this to say the letter writers son has to figure it out as he goes. I have tried to support my kids but it is a rough process for us. It would be far easier for them if I was really able to keep my mouth shut about their dad. Still trying.

    At 17, a young man is figuring out romantic relationships of their own and know about cheating and marriage makes this REALLY hard.
    Keep him in therapy (good for you!) and then just stay out of it. Be the great parent he knows he can come to and nurture your relationship with both sons! You have a very long road ahead with your kids and you don’t know what lies ahead. Don’t let your desire for your son to have a relationship with his dad be any sort of issue between you. You have miles to go with him and want to keep your relationship with him as pure as possible.

    • Thank you so much Rebecca. You are totally right. 17 has a girlfriend whom he loves immensely. They’ve been together for over a year and are so sweet to each other. I think this hits him different than my 21 year old who hasn’t had his first love yet. 17 feels this deeply. Picturing him at 31 not having a relationship with his father hurt my heart for just a moment, but I see now that this is not my problem to fix. He’s allowed to have his own feelings about what his father did and to feel it from a different place than his brother. Thank you so much.

  • Nine years since D-Day here. My son’s are 34 and 31 now. When I look back, they know who and what he is. I did not hold back on his behaviour towards me and about the other women. They know it all. They chose to continue having contact and although I struggled with that for a long time, I can see that they clearly know exactly who and what he still is; they do not allow him to play the victim; they tell him where they stand but the relationship continues. Nothing I can do about that. I’m still not quite at Tuesday but hearing that he had a TIA/mini stroke this week and I feel nothing – I’m almost there.

  • Cheaters always expect other people to clean up their mess for them. They never expect consequences, and they leave the details of their image-management to the little people with boring lives (ie, us). Yes, they do expect to cheat for 30+ years and get no consequences to their relationship with their kids. And they expect the victim of their infidelity (ie, us) to manage that for them if it starts getting difficult. The lovely thing about divorce is that it is no longer our job to manage things for cheaters.

    My ex yelled at our daughter that she “wasn’t a good Christian” because she wouldn’t immediately forgive him for his infidelity and abuse. Then when she still didn’t act thrilled to be in his presence, he kicked her out and signed over sole custody of her to me, and then he went on a Caribbean cruise instead of going to the custody hearing. Daughter was only thirteen years old at the time. Now he is outraged that she doesn’t want to see him, and he blames me for parental alienation. His older daughter is getting married, and he isn’t invited to the wedding. He thinks I should fix all that for him.

    Nope. If the kids don’t want to hang out with a cheater, liar, and abuser, I can understand that. And I am not going to gaslight them that he is a great dad. He isn’t. If they still want to see him, that’s fine. But if they don’t, that’s fine too. Either way, it’s not my business and not my problem.

    • Wow, your first paragraph really hit home for me! Every word is absolutely right. STBXFW still thinks it’s my job to clean up his messes and forgive him for 30 years of lies, betrayal and deceit. And now he expects me to fix his relationship with his son. The relationship he burned to the ground because of his behavior. And he truly doesn’t understand why 17 is so upset and hurt. “I cheated on you, not him!” was something he has said to me repeatedly.

      I’m sorry for your XFW’s behavior. What an ass! Your daughter is better off without him too. Thank you for helping me.

      • “”I cheated on you, not him!” was something he has said to me repeatedly.”

        He did cheat on him. The time, energy, attention and affection he devoted to other women was taken away from what he owed both you and the kids. Your son likely understands that, even if he can’t quite put the feeling into words.

      • My father does that
        “It was none if your business, that’s between me and your mother” crap too.

        But what he fails to mention is the fact that I was blindsided finding him and his mistress in a hotel room on a weekday afternoon because I called him, and she thought I was another-other woman competing for “her man.”

        So no, he didn’t just cheat on my mother, he ceased to be anything that resembled my Dad and I could fully see his BS on full display. And it was gross, and no one wants to grow up to be that or with that.

  • Our 40 year old son sees his father very seldom. Lives close to him and is living with second ow. Original owhore died soon after I divorced him. He knows he’s a older narcissistic asshole but he’s still his father. Myself, no contact only at sons wedding and once at my sons home. I acted pleasant towards him for the sake of my son. But inside I was angry, hurting
    and realizing 35 years were nothing to him. He cheated on me for all that time. I let my son decide what to do with his father. I stay away when he has his father come to his home now. Still hurts but getting better. Stay strong and read the posts here.

  • I read this letter and kept yelling to my phone, “No! No! No!” CL responded with every thought I was having. How do you know FW is suffering? First, no contact! Second, because he says so? And this man has always been an honest broker talking to you about how he feels? If anything, his sadz is that if he has a son not talking to him, it reflects on his shittiness. Image management! If he gave a rat’s ass about his family, he wouldn’t have been cheating on you for THIRTY YEARS.

    Your son is in therapy. You have done well. Your son – not you – gets to manage his boundaries. Butt out and find your own therapist to address the issues and feelings you have about your FOO. Your son’s life is not yours. Let him make his own decisions about his relationships and don’t do any nudging at all.

    • I have been really bad at NC thus far. Have to admit to that. He is trying desperately to get me back and uses manipulation tactics through our “bills and boys only” contact rule. He absolutely will not relinquish control of the money until the divorce is final so I have to deal with him about bills until then. But now “boys” are off the table! They are there own people. Grown and practically grown, and I will no longer converse with him about them. Sorry I made you yell at your phone and thank you for taking the time to smack some sense into my head!

  • This letter screams projection and CL nailed it. Molly is trying to live through her son to make up for not having a decent father herself.

    The fact is he’s not a good dad….
    his dick was far more important then his kids and your 17 year old knows that. This is so none of your business…..your piece of shit ex will have to figure it out for himself and if you stick your nose in you’ll alienate your son.

    CL is spot on….you aren’t your ex’s PR department.

    • Agreed! And I have always worried about my own projection. My own father passed away when I was very young. I have always wanted my son to have a good relationship with his father. However, I won’t push him one eay or another. I won’t get in the way or tell our son his father is a cheater (at least until he is MUCH older) but our child has to manage his relationships with us. I’m not going to boost FW with our son. Not my job. FW is an AH in many way, not just the cheating. Our child sees that. The lies and gaslighting and controlling behavior are on full display. FW can’t help being who he is. Kids are smart. Kiddo will manage in a way he is comfortable with and the last thing I want to do is make things worse for him. I already feel enough guilt having given him a FW for a father.

  • MollyWobbles, leave your son alone regarding his “good” dad. His dad is an asshole. He seems to have better insight than the rest of his family.

  • I doubt that the man who cheated on your for decades was the perfect model of a man and parent. Cheating is typically one symptom among many of a person who is selfish and self-centered.

    Your son might have excused a lot of behaviors on your ex’s part— just as you did— because he thought that he was ultimately a good man. Now that your son knows the truth, he has to grapple with the man that his father truly is.

    Quite honestly, you should do the same. I think that once you go no contact and have years of distance from your marriage, you’re going to realize you put up with a lot bullshit that didn’t seem like a big deal at the time.

    • ⬆️ THIS!!! I’m not sure why Molly thinks the FW is a great father (pays child support on time?) but cheaters are so often selfish liars among other bad qualities. Maybe Molly didn’t see that somehow but 17 does. It’s why I am convinced I will not likely ever tell our son that his father is a cheater and they will still not have a great relationship. Klootzak waltzes in the kitchen as I am cooking dinner to announce he is going out and then runs out the door. Sometimes he just disappears without even saying anything at all. He shows up to events where image management is available (school programs, birthday parties) but doesn’t supervise homework, keep track of schedules, pack lunches, etc. Kiddo sees that. He’s not dumb. And if he wants a parent relationship where dumbass only shows his face for the wedding photos and disappears the rest if the time, so be it. I don’t manage who my son is friends with or who he likes or doesn’t like at school; I’m not having anything to do with his parental relationship. It’s not my business.

    • You are absolutely correct! I’m only now uncovering decades of abuse. Things that I didn’t know were abuse and just painted over it with rosy colors. Financial abuse was a big one, and is still ongoing. STBXFW will absolutely not relinquish control over the bank accounts and bill paying. Flat out refuses and because in California you cannot change or move money around while a divorce is pending there is absolutely nothing I can do about it. The kids remember all of the times he would not allow them to do things because we “couldn’t afford it”. Never mind the fact that he was freely spending on strippers and OW and we had no idea! There was a lot of gaslighting that I didn’t recognize until now. 17 sees that for what it was. It took me longer.

      • I’m so happy to read your many comments here. And I’m sorry it any of my comments are harsh. I was reading your letter and just angry on your behalf and hoping so hard you would not push on 17. Your STBX has a sadz. Let him suffer his consequences. Stepping back from getting involved is a kind gift you will be doing for yourself.

        I think we chumps are desperate to have some semblance of control. We actually feel guilt when we kick the FW out that we are hurting our children. And I think we can misplace that and spend energy trying to fix everything. We started with marriage policing and the RIC and wind up here, trying to preserve the image of the FW to save our kids from what we perceive as a harm. It’s a tough road to hoe. I’m very glad you wrote in for support. The fact you reached out shows what a great mother you are, trying to do the best thing for 17.

        • Thank you so much for your kind words. Yes, some of the responses are a bit harsh, but I expected that. I know we all have strong feelings and this is a place not to sugar coat things but to tell it like it is. I really do just want the best for my kids and was hoping to get some insight into how to proceed and I got that! I am definitely 100% out of the relationship between FW and his sons.

          And you are correct. I feel responsible. I’m the one who kicked him out. I’m the one who initiated the divorce. And I don’t want my children to suffer because of that. It’s hard to come to terms with the fact that our seemingly beautiful family was destroyed by HIS actions. What is happening now are just the consequences of those actions and I should take no blame for that. In fact, I should be proud that I’m (finally) modeling safe, healthy things to do when someone treats you badly!

  • My daughter wants nothing to do with her dad. My “nudging” consisted of getting her a good therapist. That’s it.
    I will let them work it out. The therapist initially encouraged daughter to have a relationship with her dad. Now she leaves it alone as daughter made it clear how she feels and said she would stop coming.

    THOSE ARE THE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS ACTIONS.

    The issue here is TRUST. Good people, good parents ARE TRUSTWORTHY. Trustworthy is YES or NO. Not selective, kinda maybe sorta. If A is untrustworthy, B (other parent) and C, D, E, and F (children, everybody else) will not trust A either. And they shouldn’t. (That doesn’t automatically prevent denial, however.)

    I had a violent alcoholic dad. I’ve been in recovery (AA, Al Anon, ACA, Coda, etc) and therapy since 1985. I sought recovery that was specific for domestic violence (in my family and in every subsequent romantic partnership.) I was taught that TRUST AND SAFETY are the inextricable elements of a healthy relationship. ALL relationships. If there is no trust and safety, you do not have a relationship. You have an entanglement.

    You cannot have TRUST AND SAFETY with a cheater. And they don’t get that it APPLIES TO ALL RELATIONSHIPS. It especially goes over the head of those they are screwing around with.

    To encourage my daughter to trust ANYONE who is not trustworthy is putting her in danger and setting her up to pick untrustworthy and unsafe people in her own life going forward. Not gonna happen.

    TRUST IS EARNED. And should only be bestowed when warranted. ESPECIALLY WHEN IT COMES TO PARENTS

    My NUMBER ONE TASK if I want to be a good parent is TO BE TRUSTWORTHY. If I encourage her to trust people I know are untrustworthy, I will be untrustworthy.

    I don’t know how sane I am. I certainly haven’t felt sane since this happened. To be honest, the admonition “being the sane parent” feels confusing and impossible. I much prefer “be the TRUSTWORTHY parent.” That feels doable and clearer to me.

    I am very very upset about his actions, and there is nothing wrong with how our daughter feels. He damaged her and lied to her and hurt her too.

    • Some recent news for perspective…

      Daughter’s therapist asked us to go to co-parenting therapy as part of the effort to facilitate repair of Traitor Ex’s relationship with daughter

      I said NO, because counseling had been part of our relationship, on a regular basis, the entire 27 years. What did I get for all that time and money and effort? Lies lies lies lies lies. A complete waste.

      Traitor Ex nagged me to go. I said, “therapy DOES NOT WORK if you lie, if you blame, if you do not do what is suggested, and if you are not clean and sober.” He continued to nag me for a year and a half. So I caved and went. From OCT 2020 until FEB 2022. What did he do? He lied, he did not do a single thing he was asked to do, and I don’t believe he is clean and sober.

      I found out last night that he contacted daughter’s therapist. He, pathological liar cheater thief criminal, with the “IQ of a breadstick” (daughter’s words) is desperate. WTEver loving F?! The co-parenting therapist told him, more than once, that I was “giving him the keys to the kingdom”. He completely refused to be honest, to participate and cooperate, and now he’s crying to daughter’s therapist (who is running with daughter’s words and calling him “dumber than a bag of breadsticks).

      Cheating is crystal effing clear rock solid proof that someone is very sick and NOT a parent, friend, romantic partner, anything. Let the unwise cozy up to them. I will not teach my daughter to ignore her feelings and befriend a viper.

      TRUST AND RESPECT ARE EARNED. Cheaters, by definition, do not deserve to be trusted or respected.

      My very troubled parents interfered with my feelings and it caused me a world of damage I am repairing to this day……

      • TYPO….

        Cheating is crystal effing clear rock solid proof that someone is very sick and NOT a GOOD parent, friend, romantic partner, anything.

        GOOD IS AS GOOD DOES.

        Calling a pig a zebra doesn’t make it so.

        • Love these comments!! Trust is essential in a relationship, and trust and respect ARE EARNED.👏

          Also, “…with the “IQ of a breadstick” (daughter’s words).” Little Hammer has her mom’s way with words. She’s a clever one.

        • I also want to add that I remain civil, cooperative, honest, and high road with Traitor Ex because to be otherwise it would compromise my daughter’s ability to trust me, regardless if she is aware of it or not.

          How someone treats other people is evidence I would never dismiss when deciding to trust someone, a reality which completely lost on people who participate in illicit relationships. The biggest brightest red flag in the Red Flag factory is someone who cheats or someone who signs up to be a secret side piece.

          Sadly in the case of Traitor Ex, the Nice Guy facade he puts so much daily effort into resulted in false positive reviews when we got together and I asked around about him. Only later did I realize his relationships outside his family were very superficial, and the family he comes are just as phony and superficial as he is.

        • Agree. You are a sane, caring and trustworthy parent. Little Hammer is very lucky to have your trust and support.

      • STBXFW really wants to contact 17’s therapist too! All I can say to that is “That’s a really great way to tell 17 he has no safe spaces and guarantee he’ll never talk to you again”. WTAF??? Let the kid have his therapist without your interference! He is such a narcissist he really thinks he can talk the therapist into making 17 talk to him again! But of course, I am NC now so FW will have to find out for himself what happens if he actually goes through with that insanity.

        • My father tries to manipulate therapists too.

          What’s disturbing is that sometimes it works.

          Don’t encourage that in any way. I’m sure your ex will start blaming everyone but himself (you, therapist, son’s gf, son himself) for the state of his relationship with his son.

          Don’t sweat it, that’s just part for the course.

    • PS

      NO ONE who knowingly participates in an illicit relationship are safe or trustworthy or deserve respect.

      No matter what they think.

      Demanding trust and allegiance and respect from those you betrayed and crapped on is the height of insanity and the behavior of the disordered.

    • I’d like to emphasize that the person who got our daughter her own therapist was ME.

      I’m the one doing the grownup footwork of cleaning up their crime scene while they’re busy fucking off like middle schoolers going steady and denying any responsibility for harm and damage done.

      If you’re lurking here on this site as a cheater or a side piece, you became guilty of majorly screwing up the involved children when you accepted the invitation to create an illicit relationship.

      Fuck you very much.

  • Molly, considering your relationship, or more like no relationship with your father maybe you’ve lowered the bar on the great Dad thing. As CL mentioned your ex cheated for years…you may think well, he cheated on me, but in reality he cheated on his family. The great Dad act could be just all show, pretty much par for the course with cheaters, and your younger son sees right through the act.

  • My daughters were 19, 27, and 29 when my ex gathered them together to tell them he was in love with another woman and leaving the marriage. That was almost 3 years ago, and they haven’t talked to him since.

    At first I kept encouraging them to talk to him (this was before I was no contact); eventually, my encouragement was a source of friction between us, so I stopped. I didn’t want to risk my relationship with my daughters.

    The perspective of my ex, whom I’m NC with for well over a year now, is that I’m alienating the kids from him. He walked away and has no idea what we’ve been through together and the conversations we’ve had. I have been afraid of being seen as the reason they don’t talk to him, but now idgaf. My ex mil recently tried to talk to me about getting them to talk to him, and I told her I don’t have anything to do with their relationship with their dad.

    I don’t know why these people think I have such power over the daughters I’ve largely been powerless over since they were 16!

    If they have a good relationship him in the future, I will be happy for them. I’m done trying to facilitate their relationship with their dad. I did a lot of that when we were married, but like Tracey said, I was fired from that job. I wonder if MollyWobbles did a lot of relationship facilitation while they were married, to get the dad and kids to do stuff together. We don’t have to do that anymore.

    • “I wonder if MollyWobbles did a lot of relationship facilitation while they were married, to get the dad and kids to do stuff together. We don’t have to do that anymore.”

      When I think back on it, he was a pretty involved dad, but only with the things he enjoyed. He got lucky that his sons both liked things that he liked so he was able to do stuff with them that they all enjoyed. He’s a classic Disneyland Dad, doing all the fun stuff but none of the work. My guess is he’ll be the same when we’re divorced, only with 21 because 17 won’t see him.

  • I needed to read this today. My 3 kids are struggling with their relationship with their dad, who basically checked out of our family emotionally for the last 10 years of our marriage, so he could pursue having sex with random men in our house and in hotels in our city while the kids were at school and I was at work. He also checked out mentally from his career, which impacted us financially. He recently pulled a fast one and finagled his partner into our son’s wedding as the celebrant. (Up until very recently, all my oldest knew was that his dad was gay, not that his partner was the last straw for me in a long line of men he was having sex with without my knowledge). I was initially hurt that my son chose this person to celebrate their wedding, but upon reflection, it was because he didn’t know the whole story, only what his dad wanted him to know. So I spilled the beans, to all three kids, and told my oldest that if he felt strongly about having “M” be the celebrant, I’d support it but that he should know “M” doesn’t place any value on the covenant of marriage. I also said my time of running interference and explaining why their dad isn’t following through on things is done, they all need to carve out their own relationships with their dad.All 3 kids immediately cut ties with Dipshit, who now is texting me, wanting to know “what is going on”. I haven’t bothered to answer.

    • Unbelievable lack of self-awareness or empathy on the part of FW and partner (and possibly son/groom). Reinforces my conclusion that chumps do not have to keep infidelity a secret since it can spin into this kind of nonsense.

      • “All 3 kids immediately cut ties with Dipshit, who now is texting me, wanting to know “what is going on”. I haven’t bothered to answer.”

        It appears that the son/groom isn’t without awareness, empathy or a sense of honor and fair play.

  • My violent asshole alcoholic cheater ex left France in 2015 (I wonder how latest schmoopie is doing). He came over in March to meet his grandson (he looked terrible) and I believe he’s coming back in March 23 to see him again. My oldest always supported him, oddly enough, and FW stayed with him for 3 weeks. Didn’t take long for both sons to end up fighting with him. I say leave him to it and his true character will come through!

  • My daughters (now mid 30’s) haven’t spoken to their dad in 20 years. (In fact my older daughter, then 18, was the one who discovered her dad’s decades long cheating and had the courage to tell me.) I told my daughters that it was their decision whether they had a post-divorce relationship with their dad and that I would be ok with whatever they decided. They both told me that they never wanted to speak to him again, not just because of his cheating, but because of his poor treatment of them. To this day nothing makes them more angry than when somebody who knows nothing of their childhood experience tells them they ought to reconcile with their dad because “he’s their only father.” They shut that shit right down with the retort that he was not a good father to them.

    • My father wasn’t around even when he was around. Parents divorced when I was 10. First my mother was ‘helping my father’ have a relationship with his kids. He never could have all 4 of us over at one time. Nor even both of his daughters or sons. Nope he would try one on one – for about a year I think. I remember spending most of those weekends with my father by myself hanging out at his condo’s pool. Then I was treated to many years of pressure by my paternal grandmother and my father’s AP / 2nd wife that it was “my responsibility to have a relationship with my father.” I still feel burning rage remembering that. At 18 I was wise enough by then to look at that woman straight in the face with my father sitting right next to me and reply, “If my father wants a relationship with me, that’s up to him. I am not responsible for his choices.”

      Yeah, that was the last time I saw my father. When he got very ill with dementia and heart disease and then passed a few years back, he only had one son still around, and that son took care of him because there was literally no one else to do so. Dad sure did end up reaping what he sowed, and I’m sure he never accepted any responsibility for that even to the very end.

      • Skunkcabbage, where was your father’s AP/2nd wife at the end of his life?
        I don’t understand society’s insistence on filial duty when actual harm caused the family’s rupture. It’s not so much the notion of forgiveness, it’s that there’s an implied contract in relationships. If the contract is broken, there is no more contract and no more obligation imo. He broke the contract with you and your family and created a new one with AP/2nd wife. He was her problem going forward.

        • His 2nd wife died about 10 years after they were married from cancer. He had a live-in girlfriend for years who abandoned him when he became too ill.

          • Oh, and his 2nd wife had two kids that my father pretty much raised (the oldest the same age as me). They abandoned him as well.

    • I don’t understand people who make comments like that. My father died when I was a little girl leaving me with my toxic mother. I was parentalized and when I became old enough to date or even wanted to go out with friends, she wigged out and acted like I was abandoning her. She was and is very controlling. She didn’t see herself as controlling when I was toeing the line but when I resisted, then I was the problem. My sister who nearly dropped out of high school, has never had a job, and still lives in my mother’s basement at age 44 is the golden child. I have invited my mother numerous times to come visit her only grandchild, even offering to pay her train fare for the 2 hour trip. But golden child tells her not to visit, so she won’t. She last saw my son when he was only 3. It’s by her choice, not mjne. Yet people tell me I should be closer to my toxic mother because my father is already gone and she is all I have left.

      I don’t understand the mentality at all. I should be closer to my mother because my father died? What does that have to do with anything? If they lived what I have, maybe they would get it. I haven’t trusted her one bit since I was 16 years old and now I feel the same about klootzak. Why would I want to keep that negativity in my life? I thought maybe she would be different as a grandparent but nope. So I don’t invite her anymore. She only calls me to ask for money. I tell her to tell sis to get a job and she hangs up. I’m not enmeshing myself in that and if she dies today with our relationship as it is, I won’t regret it.

    • I totally understand. I get upset when people tell me I should mourn my father. Fuck that. He wasn’t a good person. He made me life Hell. I don’t miss him and I won’t feel guilty for that.

    • Some years back, I actually overheard my older one on the phone telling someone that being in a single-parent family wasn’t so bad when dad was a “dumpster fire” and mom had her act together. I had to smile.

  • Agreed my daughter is 20 now and wants nothing to do with her dad he’s a narcissist, cheating bag of wind and he can now enjoy his dating app wife. Good luck to him!😎

  • “a cordial, almost normal, relationship”

    MW, this is what i noticed inside this letter. a cordial, almost normal, relationship. it’s true that we wish for something normal in our fucked up relationships and families. because it’s embarrassing to think we have fucked up relationships and families.

    but it’s time to let that “cordial, almost normal, relationship” dream go. i don’t think they exist TBH. instead, we’ve got what we’ve got, and it’s best to deal with it in healthy ways. therapy, transparency, open communication in parenting are what to focus on, not the dream.

    MW, your dad was a narcissist and you married another narcissist, a little different but a narcissist all the same. hey, i’ve been there. my mom was a narcissist and i married another narcissist who presented differently. i know where you’re coming from.

    you don’t need to people please but you do need to parent your self into better shape.

    onward.

    • Yup! My dad was a classic narcissist. My STBXFW was a covert narc so I missed the signs. For 30 years!!! He had an entire secret life that I knew nothing about. I was always so happy that he wasn’t like my dad that I missed all the ways he was exactly like him!

      I’m now trying to parent myself. My mother is useless in this. I love her but she doesn’t do the hard stuff. I’ve been separated for over a year and she hasn’t asked me ONCE how I’m doing in all of this! She doesn’t have the emotional maturity to deal with any of it so she pretends it isn’t happening. I’m parentless.

    • Yes, the “cordial” part struck me too. Even that might change over time.

      I helped with a divorce group through my attorney’s firm, and there were several people there who had been involved for some time because of a multi-year divorce/closeout (most there were in high conflict messes). Several had adult children who changed their minds as the legal part went on and on, marriages with affair partners occurred, and they put more together in their own minds.

      I think my kids (now working professionals) have only hardened their resolve to have nothing to do with their father over time.

  • Loving their father is not being disloyal to you. I had a terrible father, too. The hard thing for me was that I knew about his upbringing, and at least some of the reasons he was so terrible. Knowledge is not forgiveness; it is understanding some of the why. My dad also had some good qualities. He pulled himself up out of poverty. He struggled and completed his education with a Ph.D. He did whatever it took, including working several jobs at the same time to keep a roof over our heads, and feed and clothe us. He and my mother were a mismatch from the beginning. In their culture, however, you made your bed now you lie in it.

    When I was young, I could not understand why nothing I did was ever good enough for my parents. I thought something was wrong with me, so I worked hard to do everything “right.” As a teenager, I started to rebel against my parents’ impossible demands and control. As an adult, I finally figured out they were driven by fear of failure and having virtually no support from their FOO when they made the transition from working class to middle class. My grandfathers were coal miners. My parents were teachers. My grandparents never graduated from high school. My parents both achieved Ph.D.’s. That is going from horse and buggy days to walking on the moon.

    Understanding some of the family drama does not mean you think it was ok. It means you accept it for what it was. You choose to go forward and live your life according to the values you have developed because of your circumstances, opportunities, and experience. You cannot change the past. You can accept it and understand at least some of it. Change is turbulent.

    Your 17-year-old will have to come to terms with his father’s behavior on his own timeline. My sons always loved me and their dad. That does not mean we didn’t have conflict. They know what their dad chose to do to me and our family life. Both of them feel their dad was selfish and wrong, and shortsighted. But they still love their dad. He had some good qualities, too. I believe he loved his sons as much as he was capable of loving anyone other than himself.

    History always has a context. When you start to examine your world view and value system, you begin to see why you made decisions you made, both good and bad. Love for your family members doesn’t necessarily make logical sense. They are part of your genetic makeup, your tribe. You may travel so far away from your FOO that you feel like a stranger in a strange land — but they are still your Family, part of your story of origin. Tolerance and compromise are needed for the world to get along in a civil manner. You can only make choices for yourself. Your children reach an age of self-care, and they make their own choices. My advice is to let them be who they are.

    • I don’t feel like loving their dad is being disloyal to me. Quite the opposite actually. I want 17 to have a good relationship with his dad because I had a crappy one with mine and don’t want that for him. But I know understand that their relationship is not my responsibility. I’ll leave it alone. To mend, or not, in their own time.

  • Really excellent advice, CL! You split every hair and covered it so well.

    “And, try as you might, you don’t control their values.” Great wise words. While Chumps may model and influence values by word and actions, ultimately it’s up to the child to take or reject those lessons forward in life.

    Some kids have a very strong inherent barometer of right vs wrong. These unique kids can weather some of the worst turbulence in childhood and still stay true to their convictions. They’re stable in themselves, wise beyond their age, thoughtful and secure in a value system that will serve them well – regardless of which way the wind blows around them. Often called ‘old souls’, these kids shine in their own right.

    Sounds like Molly Wobbles son has is well equipped to manage his relationship with his dad forward. All the best!

  • This is not a direct parallel, but related.

    In my teen years, my mom was really challenging. She was quick to assume the worst of us kids and most often off base in her conclusions. She was often aggressive, irrational, accusatory, logorrheically angry, and very, very depressed. I didn’t know she was usually drunk because she and my dad hid it well. I also didn’t know all the reasons behind those behaviors.

    I felt like my Dad was protecting me, like we were together trying to handle my mom. He seemed to love her but think she was mentally unwell and telegraphed that he was the calm, sane parent.

    I married the cowardly liar at 23. You can see where this is going.

    My mom died when I was 35. By then she and I had become very close and I was a primary caregiver through her terrifying illness. Near the end, she said some vague things about my dad, like “you don’t understand what he’s like”. A few weeks before she died she asked me to help her divorce him. She told me she was terribly unhappy and he was cruel to her. She wouldn’t say how. I asked her if she literally meant she wanted to get a lawyer and file or just wished she could do it. She said it was a wish and she realized it was too late. I stuck very close to her in her last few weeks, did most of her meds, interacted with hospice, etc. As she struggled to breathe, he wanted her awake so he could talk to her, and I medicated her against terrifying air hunger anyway, so she wouldn’t suffer in fear. He and I had words about that later. He still made me his trustee and executor. But our relationship changed over the years as I watched him age and saw more and more of the negative behaviors he used to save only for Mom.

    I’m in my 50s now. In August, he died. A few days beforehand, in terrible ICU delirium, he thought I was my mom and said horrible things to me and threatened divorce over and over. At one point I said “you can divorce me if you want, but right now you need to leave that IV in unless you’re ready to die, because the doctor says you need that medicine to live”. He looked at me with such horror, like he couldn’t believe I would say such a thing. He said “you’re not supposed to want a divorce”. I said “neither are you, so let’s stop talking about the subject”. He got quiet.

    So. To the point. He died, and I’m trustee and executor, going through everything he ever hoarded for 80 years. He went in the service before they were married. There’s not a letter to him from my mom to be found from that time, but there’s a whole box of letters from him to my mom and they are horrendous. Possessive, controlling, jealous, manipulative, overt intense gaslighting, outright accusing her of insanity, and yes, clear indicators of intolerant attitudes toward her having friends besides him (including her own sister) and clear indicators (and this is not just in the letters) that he was a cheater and sexually aggressive with her besides. And she still married him. The sad sausage counterpoint to his cruelty is textbook abusive stuff. It’s brutal to read.

    So, the thing that makes it relevant to those of you like Mollywobble who have kids with cheaters, is that even through all that cruelty to her, my mom tried to protect all five kids’ relationship with our dad — and from here I don’t feel like it did any of us any favors. It drove a lifelong wedge between us and her. It made her life a legitimate hell, and it gave us a false sense of security with our dad.

    And, as she lived her life feeling isolated from everyone and totally unsupported and tried to soothe that broken heart the best she could, she inadvertently showed me how women are supposed to let men treat us, and what did I do? March right out and marry the first guy who seemed to love me because I was afraid he was the only one who ever would. He mistreated me, as you all know, but I tried to reconcile after D-day because I thought that’s what a loving wife should do. I thought that was what marriage was. Til death do we part.

    Had my mom been able to find her strength way back then, I would have had a tough time reckoning with a divorce, but I also think it would have drawn out the truths I’m instead reckoning with now. And maybe her example would have shown me a better path, too. And allowed me more time with the real her.

    Since my dad’s death, I find I’m grieving my mom much more overtly. I wish I could talk to her, and more importantly listen to her, witness her story and comfort her pain. I feel inadequate, and massive FOMO, because I wasn’t able to realize all this while she was alive. I miss her terribly. My youth feels like a script based on falsehoods and unnecessary estrangement. And all I feel for Dad is anger. I may never find my way to the other side of that. Time will tell.

    So, I agree with CL. I don’t think we should shove ugly truths up kids’ bums for the sake of it, but I do think it’s not just reasonable, but important, to let kids have their own relationship experiences with their crap cheater parents. I think it’s important to let cheaters go and not try to stand up for them, or make excuses for them, or try to see the best in them. Cheating is horrendous abuse. If a kid is mad at parent 1 for cheating on parent 2, that’s healthy and smart. It SHOULD piss him off. The fact that it does is a good sign that he knows what abuse is and respects his mom enough to think she doesn’t deserve it (and to realize that abusers will abuse us all, so he’s next — though he’s most likely mad about more than just his mom’s abuse. There may be things he has lived that his mom doesn’t even know about yet. He may have lived through secret abuse of his own.)

    I don’t mean to suggest that I understand anyone else’s whole story. YMMV. I’m just saying that each of us deserves to know the truths our own life is based on, and the opportunity to draw our own conclusions and see with clear eyes. This is even true when we are young. We can’t save people from pain, we can only delay it. Eventually, one way or another, these things have a way of coming home to roost. Better to love one another through it now than lose one another later because people feel betrayed when secrets come out.

    • Amiisfree: your story brought tears because I could feel the injustice of it all: for you, for your mom. My own story is about being made out to be the “bad mom” when I was solely the only one keeping the family together; while FW came out smelling like a rose. The bar is set so low for dads! Thankfully the bad mom narrative ended when I kept showing up as the sane parent. I’m so happy for you & your mom that you came together in the end xx

    • WOW. Poor you. And your poor mom. ((Hugs)) to you. That is awful. How terrible to make sense of it after so many years and to not see how ugly he was until the end. Sad that your mother never got away. Sadder that her attempt to manage her situation led to horrible outcomes for her children. A great example of why we should not help FWs manage their images with others – especially their children.

    • I’m so sorry for you endured! That sounds absolutely nightmarish and my heart breaks for you, and for your mom. And yes, I believe you are totally correct. Protecting our children from the harsh truth of their reality isn’t always the right thing to do. I hope that you are someday able to heal from all of that. Thank you for sharing your story.

      • Thanks, MW! Thank you for sharing your story, too. I appreciate your thoughtful approach and the kindness of your heart. In a world where ethics ruled the day, the kindness of chumps would never be twisted to a disadvantage. It’s the best of us that strives for open-mindedness and compassion, and the failure is in the world where the best of us gets framed in a negative light and used against us by mean people. I support you in your journey all the way! Your kids are very lucky to have such a loving and supportive mom.

    • I’m crying as well. I’m so sorry you went through all that.

      I know that in previous generations, they stayed because of obligation and guilt, but what a tragedy. I knew that my family had all sorts of buried skeletons that led to a poor marriage, but I found out during separation from the oldest brother that my husband’s family had them too. And as we say in the recovery community, you are as sick as your secrets. Both sides had too many secrets.

      There’s a lot that I never told my kids, but they completely got what my ex’s actions said. They had every right to be hurt and angry. Sometimes I took the brunt of that, but I told them that it was OK to be angry about the situation. I would always be there and love them no matter what. They had to define what a relationship with their father met themselves. That paid off. They are healthy emotionally and are high-achieving professionals, valued by their friends and co-workers. Neither is dating, but I hope we broke the cycle.

  • It is not your job to improve his relationship with his children. You have been thrown out of that position. Consequences for actions are very real.
    I kept that thought in my head of my ex being a good father too, but when I think long and hard on that, he wasn’t a good dad to them. He was the superficial dad, looks good for his image dad, do the minimum amount to get the maximum recognition dad.
    My ex cheated for probably our whole 38 year marriage. He didn’t just cheat me out of his time and energy towards our relationship, he cheated his kids out of it too. And he missed out on having the bond I have with them, which is a priceless gift in my life.
    They just put in enough time with the kids and us to “ appear as if” they are loving and that family means a great deal to them, because they know society values that and it is all about image management for them. But in actuality, family was just the front to manage that image in the world, they cared about chasing ass, wooing women, making plans to be anywhere but with their families for decades of time.
    Family was never front and center, it was just one of their activities and not the one they put the most effort into either.
    That to me does not make him a good dad. He thinks the two can be separated out. Would say to me when leaving with mistress and divorcing me, “ I have a good relationship with my kids”, as if the two have no connection and can be separated into its own box. Not so. They abuse and hurt us, they’ve abused and hurt the kids too.
    He’s not a good person even if he wants to be seen as one.
    Do I feel bad that that’s the case? Yes, I think it’s really sad and tragic. But he made the choices over and over again through the years to harm his entire family and it only bothers him now that the light of day is shining on it and he wants to fix it so he can wear the “ good dad” hat again.
    It’s too late for that. His relationship with his children will always be strained and distrustful. They don’t share the heart of their lives with him, it’s mostly just polite and very superficial. He’s lost any deep connect to them he once had.
    I can’t fix that for him and I have no desire to try. He lost more than he could afford to lose running off with his mistress.
    They only care about it for fleeting minutes before they are back preoccupied with juggling mistresses and keeping them in love with them. They didn’t value family.
    If his family really meant anything to him, he would never have risked losing it, and he wouldn’t have just thrown them away on a whim and now expect to repair it.
    Cheating was a daily choice and consequences of bad decisions last forever. The kids see him once a year for a New Years w/e at his home with the adultery mistress turned wife Schmoops. ( two of the kids, oldest will not meet her) They go to appease him and to get the w/e behind them for the year with an additional few random texts or calls throughout the year. That’s his relationship with his kids, who once loved and admired him so very much.
    Don’t pity him and try to help him fix it, it will cause issues for your own relationship with the kids.
    He valued the wrong things in life by personal choice and got what he deserves from those actions.
    Forget about him and live your life in peace and harmony with your kids.
    You have no responsibility for improving the life he actively and consciously destroyed with his children.

    • If 17 didn’t still live with me I would print up your response and put it on my fridge to read every day! Thank you. As it stands, I will bookmark this page and read all of these responses (and of course CL’s great wisdom) every day until I’m sure it’s completely sunken in!

  • MW,

    This is a “him problem” not a “you problem.” You are not his therapist, you are not responsible for his feelings and you are not responsible for fixing the things that he broke.

    In your shoes, I would aim to be as “no contact” as you can be, given that you are still co-parenting a 17 child, and “grey-rock” the ever loving sh*t out of any engagement that you have with him when/if he raises the subject of his relationship with your children.

    LFTT

      • MW,

        I remember the issues that I had getting Ex-Mrs LFTT out of our joint finances, and and to take responsibility for the debts that she’d run up behind my back and for the bills that “she had forgotten to pay.” It was challenging to say the least; it meant swallowing some stuff in the short term to achieve my long term aim, which was a clean break, but I got it done in the end and you’ll get there too.

        You’ve got this.

        LFTT

  • I also told my kids “he’s a good dad, shitty husband but good dad”. So my kids participated in their dad’s “good dad” road show with the OW. Three years later, 2 of the kids don’t talk to him & the other 1 barely. Why? Because he couldn’t keep the good dad show rolling without my support & the OW has dropped the premise of wanting to. So don’t underestimate your role in making your ex appear to be “Mr Wonderful Dad” and that’s probably why he’s crying the blues to you to keep using you for that. Stop propping the cheating dude up & let him assume his own dad participation role. He’ll either flop or fly, but that’s on him now. The 17 year old has figured this out already, but you (Mom) need to get your head wrapped around it & realize it’s your time to bow out.

    • Yes, I’m starting to realize that 17 has his head on straight where his dad is concerned and I don’t. I feel like this is still some weird form of the pick me dance!

      • “this is still some weird form of the pick me dance”

        THIS ^^^^^^^ MollyWobbles, you nailed it. He is the male version of Dolores Umbridge. Just flick your wand and say “Expeliarmus!”

    • “So don’t underestimate your role in making your ex appear to be “Mr Wonderful Dad””

      So true. I guided FW how to have a healthier relationship with his kids while we were together. He wouldn’t take the initiative himself, so I had to facilitate it. I even had to facilitate relationships with his own family. I’m so glad it’s not my problem anymore. It’s sink or swim once they no longer have a chump holding their shit together.

  • I spent too much of my kids’ childhoods making excuses for their dad’s bad behavior. More times than I’d like to admit, I found myself saying, “He means well,” which feels “gaslighty” in retrospect. I, too, meant well, but still…

    Since D-Day three years ago, I’ve stopped unintentionally gaslighting my kids. Here’s what I said to them: “Your relationship with your dad is between you and him. I’ll stay out of it. I really don’t need to know anything about it.”

    They have no relationship with him, as far as I can tell. In September, he wrote to me to ask me to wish our daughter a happy birthday for him. I ignored that. Not my job to explain anything to him, nor is it my job to be his messenger. Also, he can send her an email all by himself.

    My kids have made it clear to me that they went NC with him not simply because of the affair, which they view as my issue, but rather because of years of emotional abuse of all of us. When one of my kids was in college, well before D-day, she actually stopped talking to him for a year. Her feelings pre-date the affair.

    FW thinks I control them. As my 30-something daughter puts it, “I have eyes, ears, and a brain.” Early on, another adult child said this to me, “If you ever go back to him, I’ll stop talking to you, too.” Yikes!

    FW will probably live out the rest of his life blaming me. Oh well. I no longer care at all what he thinks. Tuesday looks good.

    • Good point, Spinach. You reminded me that my daughters also had begun avoiding their dad even before I decided to separate. His relationship with the kids is totally on him!

    • Correction: I wrote that the kids view the affair as “my issue.” I don’t think that’s entirely the case. I mean, I know they are upset for me and recognize that his ability to lie and cheat for years is a betrayal of the entire family.

  • You don’t know what happened between 17 and his dad. What if you push him and find out later his dad abused him?

    Let him figure it out.

    My son tried to have a good relationship with his con artist dad and got fucked over badly. In my case I gently warned him (when he told me his plans with his dad), to be very careful; and not to ever sign a legal financial or other wise document with his dad. I told him his dad loved him as much as he could anyone; but he would always put himself first.

    Long story, but son was lucky he was able to get out of that mess whole. Only because he listened to me and avoided any legal entanglements.

  • This time of year brings up feelings about the broken family and how I wish it weren’t so. I wonder if my sons are seeing their Dad and what they are doing. For each other. FW is MIA for most of the year except now and on dads day. He had a big blow up with my oldest son and his wife earlier this year cuz he wanted my son to include his girlfriend in their lives. MY DIL said she had to meet GF first-it was a disaster and now the shaky relationship DIL/son had with FW is nonexistent. It makes me sad for all of them but nothing I can do about it. My sons have been very supportive of me throughout this mess their Dad made. I appreciate and honor that by keeping my nose out of their business. I did try at one point to facilitate-my sons and FW did not want that. When my sons say to me “you do you” I know I’m stepping in it. So my advice is “you do you-and leave the kids to work it out”. Otherwise you might become the target rather than the helper which FW would love to happen. Happy holidays-enjoy your family without the drama. Hugs!!

    • I am actually thrilled that I get the kids on Christmas day with NO FW!!!! 21 is home from college and so I’ll have a nice day, just the three of us and the dogs. I have to work Christmas Eve so FW can have his time then (of course 17 won’t see him) I’m really looking forward to Christmas day, it should be fun!

  • Fantastic response!

    I also had a long marriage to a serial cheater and was blindsided on Dday 8 years ago on Christmas when the kids caught XH sneaking off to meet AP. Gutted is how I felt. Our 4 kids suffered terribly when XH discarded them— told them in a rage that he hated family life. 🤬🤬🤬. Youngest was only 10 and developed panic attacks. Middle almost succeeded in committing suicide, eldest son got into drugs and dropped out of college. Eldest daughter never spoke to him again. Kids are young adults and have ongoing issues with X based on how he acts today (he took youngest on a trip to Disneyland last year and he OD’d on the plane then fought the medics when they did an emergency landing, for instance). “Wow” was my response. This year they have decided not to spend any time with him until after Christmas. These are his consequences of his actions. Kids are fine- they have a lot of plans that are healthy and peaceful such as dinner with their SO’s families and a big gathering at my house on Christmas. I feel bad that X is how he is, but that’s reality. I am no contact and stay out of it.

  • Even before I started reading ChumpLady, I had the essence of “cool, wow, bummer” strategy down pat. I knew that my X was bad mouthing me to our son. Probably had been even when we were together. But I kept my feelings to myself when I spoke to my son about his father. I had an estranged father as well. But I made dam sure I wasn’t putting my FOO issues onto my son. His relationship with his father and his father’s relatives is his to work out. The kid saw that his father moved his girlfriend into our marital home before we were even divorced, and saw her move out again less than a year later. I’m sure he’s seen a lot more than that, but the kid is very protective of me and doesn’t want to cause me grief. I hope that as the years go by and he begins his own serious relationships, that he’ll feel able to confide in me, or at least confirm many of my suspicions. But I stay firmly, clearly, away from almost adult son’s relationship with the X. And to be truthful, I probably don’t really want to know the gist of it away, it would be so cringe worthy!

  • If you wouldn’t mind my 2 cents worth, don’t push him. Even if you are Queen of Subtle Direction, 17 is going to feel pushed. It sounds like he wants you to be happy so he might take your advice and pretend to get along. Then he’ll be miserable. 17 has a therapist – please let your son work it out with the professional. And you don’t need to do the ex any favors – he may only be miserable because hey, son disliking him is consequences.

  • I would expressly tell the kid, unless he has said something indicating he gets it, that he can have whatever relationship he chooses with his dad, that it’s his relationship, and that he doesn’t have to make those decisions based on what he thinks you want or wish.

    And then let it go.

    Hard.

  • When I had the last D day years ago, I went back to the MC we had been working with. The XH had hidden his cheating behavior from her, but she had picked up on his irresponsible behavior. Her last words to me were “he is responsible for his own relationships with the kids.”
    I needed to hear this again today. Thanks, CL.

  • My situation is very similar except we are in the divorce process. FW has of course, accused me of Parental Alienation and the kids and I were court ordered to do Reunification Counselling. It all failed of course because the kids (15 and 14) are old enough to have witnessed, experienced and come to their own conclusions. They are in therapy and I support my kids – whatever they choose to do (currently they refuse to see or speak to him…going on 3 years) but I cannot force anyone, adult or teen, to like or respect someone. It is ultimately FW and kids responsibility to sort out their relationship; my job is to continue to be the sane and present parent. My only fear is that he will continue to punish them financially (thinking it is me) in the divorce process with issues such as post-secondary etc. But their mental health and emotionally safe relationships outweigh that in the end.

    • Yes, you’re in a tough space there.

      Mine were in college during the split, but I actually took out having my ex help with college and their health insurance because I couldn’t stand the thought of dealing with him for several more years. My ex had put in a convoluted way of handling that which got my attorney very concerned because he had done some appeals work on that sort of thing, even having a post-divorce college tuition case that went to the state supreme court. I was working three jobs at the time, and each kid had scholarships and two jobs. They were both commuter students at a highly-ranked state four-year that they got to by bus. I explained the situation, and my kids agreed to take that out. One had only one more year of college and likely would get a high-paying job. We figured that he could help and that the younger one could borrow if need be.

      So in our situation, we decided to let go of having their father “help.” I let him know how to contribute what he felt was appropriate by going directly to the college. Both figured out the insurance piece, and the older one helped with the younger one’s tuition after he graduated until my finances improved. Their father never did help with the tuition and other expenses for them. Because they managed their own college accounts and paid some of their own expenses, they knew that he didn’t help.

      So yes, be prepared for potential drama over the expenses later. Not because they want to help but because they want to continue the drama. I’m glad that we did it the way we did. Having a wonderful four-year college not too far away helped.

      • Thanks for your advice. I figure that I will probably be in that same situation and will deal with it in a similar manner.

  • MW: I have not read the other comments yet but: CL has nailed it. IMO 17’s father seems to have not been concentrating on the kids all these years. The younger years is the time kids remember best about having fun with parents, then they want to do their own thing for a while. Your X has missed the boat while he was out connecting with strange. He chose strange over his family during your son’s formative years. Kids know when things are not right at home. Your X had to have known he was missing out on time with you and the kids. Noone ever gets a chance to go back and relive those years. He chose something else. 17 will maybe someday have a good relationship with his Dad or not. Leave this to therapy. 17 may need some time between the bad times and getting as friendly as his Dad wants. Wishing you and your kids the best.

  • Molly, maybe your ex was a good parent because you needed to see him as a good parent. You facilitated a decent relationship with the children and their father because it meant so much to you that he NOT be your father. Also, something fuckwits never realize. When they leave, cheat, lie, etc., they are leveraging those same actions against the children. They don’t see it that way, of course, but the kids are caught in the friendly fire in these shitstorms. It also happened to THEM. By disrespecting his marriage, a unit of the family, your ex trashed the family. Your son isn’t reacting on your behalf (which is why your comment about how you’re just hunky-dory with your ex doesn’t mean a hill of beans). He’s reacting to his father blowing up the family, lying to HIM. You need to reframe this. Your ex didn’t just betray you. He betrayed all of you. I’d say your son’s reaction is perfectly legitimate and with your encouraging him to ignore that betrayal is de-legitimizing your son’s feelings.

    • The last thing I want to do is de-legitimize 17’s feelings. Thank you for framing it like that. Those words were the exact punch to the chest I needed to see this properly. His feelings are 100% valid. His dad cheated on ALL of us. He did this to his whole family. Not just me.

    • “Your ex didn’t just betray you. He betrayed all of you.”

      Yes. And that’s what many of these FWs don’t understand. x told our adult son, “This is between your mom and me.” Our son responded, “That’s so effed up.”

      Fw was stunned. He will never understand. He somehow thought that he was a “great dad” and that, post D-Day, the kids would not only embrace him but also the AP. So clueless.

  • I know I might seem dramatic sometimes but I was married for 20 years to a guy who could charm nearly every one of you in here. He’d probably have you hating me in half a day or less. That’s not an insult to any of you good people, he’s just that good at it. He fooled me too, and then I found out he wanted to murder me. And that wasn’t even the worst thing I found out about him.

    So… I’m just going to say, normal people can’t sustain secret lives for decades. They can’t. They’ll end it. They’ll slip up, they’ll want to get caught because of guilt and just being tired of the charade. The ones who can do this are psychopaths. Remember, the BTK killer was a good dad too. Because he needed to be for his mask to be effective.

    • This. The less exposure a young person has to this type of self-serving, manipulative, narcissistic, sociopathic behavior, the better. My kid has always had issues with her dad, but we had a court ordered situation. Now that she’s becoming an older teen and can choose, she’s choosing way less time with him because she recognizes him for who he is–a selfish, manipulative, wierdo narcissist. I’m absolutely proud and amazed that she has the ability to see him for what he is (I sure didn’t!) and thrilled that she has the language to use to support her feelings and decisions. I maintain “cool bummer wow” as her mom, but I validate her observations and feelings because they are true! And, who in their right mind wants to be around someone like that very often?!? Smart kid.

  • Don’t help your son. At 17, you need to treat him as the young man that he is and let him figure that out. Stay out of it. Of course, you should facilitate visitation if that’s part of your legal obligation, but when that ends, you especially need to stay out of it. Focus on your relationship with him, period.

    I certainly made a lot of mistakes in the chaos, but I quickly decided not to get in the middle of the college kids’ relationship with their father. They were commuter students and lived with me while dad was off doing whatever. I told them that if they wanted to call him or go visit, I would never get in the way. He was living in another state by then. I kept the messy stuff between their father and me private.

    Meanwhile, their father’s actions spoke all they needed to know. He took off and had almost nothing to do with them in the first year of separation (the divorce came later because I was still believing we could patch it up). The holidays, birthdays, and graduations went by with no notice on his part. In their hearts, they cut him off. They didn’t tell me at the time because they were having their own problems, and I was really struggling with them as it was. The mere mention of him, and they’d walk out of the room. I paid for both of them to go to therapy and never asked them what they talked about. I also encouraged them to vent to friends even if it was about me, which they did. Thankfully, they had solid, long-term friends who were serious about college and lifestyle choices. And of course, my STBX blamed me for the situation.

    Then their father decided that he wanted a relationship with them. No apologies, just back to “old times.” They didn’t ask me for advice, and I stayed out of it. He sent cards and checks, and I said, “Your choice, as always.” During the divorce, my attorney recommended no contact. I didn’t share most of the legal mess with them, but I told them that in case their father contacted them. They came to me and said that they were going to do that too. At times, their childhoods had been very difficult because of him, and they were just over it.

    So they’ve been no contact for nearly four years, and he’s still asking them to visit and sending cards and checks. They never respond. He’s never apologized and always has a plea to remember “old times” or something like that. They’ve both said that they prefer this chapter of life, which I’m supportive of. They almost never talk about him, and I leave it there. When they talk about their childhoods, he’s rarely in the story.

    Sure, it’s sad, but as a friend of mine says, “I’m not on that committee.”

  • It was so exhilarating when the lightbulb went off for me that I no longer had to rescue Asshat from himself. I’m letting him show his true self now, and my kids will see it on their own. That way, they get to establish their own relationsip with boundaries without me interfering in their adult lives.

    My now 26 year old daughter (divorce in 2018 after 25 years) has a much better relationship with her father and now step-mother. My 23 year old has a much bigger boundary and rarely sees his father. It’s their choice. I never mention their father, except if referencing a happy memory. Not playing the “bitter ex-wife” that he has attempted to paint me as. I’ve been NC since 2019, so he has no idea how much I’ve changed. Responding and not reacting. Breathe.

    What’s funny is Asshat is still trying to triangulate. I happened to drive by the facility where Asshat works out (it’s located right next to where I work) as he and HoWorker/Wife were walking out on Monday morning. He looked like shit and was limping, walking very far ahead of his wife. I know he saw me but I’m pretty much at meh, didn’t have any desire to run him down, so went to work and didn’t think about it. Received a card addressed to my son on Wednesday (been living with me since graduated college in June 2021 while figuring out life) at my house, mailed on Tuesday. I can’t remember a time he sent any mail to my son and they are actually together today (live in the same town). Good thing is I just threw the card in the stack of mail for my son and didn’t say a word. He’ll figure it out.

  • CL has got this in one. Your son needs to make up his own mind on this one. Trust me, do not interfere with his relationship with his Dad. Wow.Neat.Cool. Remember these words. Apply them whenever either of your sons tell you anything about their father, then change the topic. Go no contact. Use an app to communicate about money or kids. Put down the hopium. It is a dangerous snake. He is using his sadz over 17 to hoover you. Bugger that for a lark! Do not let him continue to use you for kibbles. Cut off his supply. Good luck!

  • I made a decision age 19 or so that my parents did not have my best interests at heart. I was financially dependent on them, they used that as a form of control. What a surprise I married a man with control issues, OCPD and NPD. But I was not emotionally dependent. I think that was part of the reason I glommed onto FW. Exchanging parents for him. I shouldve known it was too good to be true. My mom got alot better before her death. But all the years of being her therapist and emotional caretaker took their toll. My mom said something before she died about how independent I was. I had to be. And we at least had some closeness. She cared so much about my kids a great grandma. It was healing and amazing the last 7 years of her life. My dad is a piece of work. I see him and am in contact with him, but we were never very close emotionally. He still tries to control things but I dont care, dont get emotional, and I call him out of stuff. He has no real relevance on my life. And we see each other as impression management to keep up the façade. When he dies I will mourn the dad I never had, and it will be a huge relief. So I agree, let your son do as he wishes. Sometimes what we want for them is us trying to control them and their narrative. His dad has no relevance to his life and probably never will. Some people just dont bond. I wouldnt worry over this, and your son may get pissed at you and cut you out too.

    • All very good points. I will stay out of it and let my son decide when/if he ever wants FW back in his life again.

  • Agree with everything CL said, but this is a tough issue. At first, I wanted my son to hate his father (son was 13 at D day), but I knew deep down that it was going to have to be up to my son to decide, but I also knew that my son was too young (immature brain) to decide to write off his father entirely, but I also knew that he could be really hurt by his father who was a terrible father, and I didn’t want to be hurt any more by him like I was so I felt the need to warn him and explain about his father, narcissism, etc. So I went round and round on this and went about spilling too much of my pain on my son and saying many, many negative things about his father, while at the same time telling him not to make any final decisions about his father until he was older. Sigh…so complicated. At this point (son now in college) their relationship is still awkward and my son calls his father by his first name (not dad). And I STILL find myself trying to nudge them together, although I’ve backed off considerably. However, just last night I told my son it would be nice to text his father to see how he’s feeling (FW has covid and had to change his travel plans to visit my son). At the end of the day, I think my son is still too young to fully understand the consequences of writing his father off, so I feel like it’s my duty as a parent to nudge him until he’s fully matured (around 25 if you believe the research). I feel like it’s my responsibility as his parent (until his brain has fully matured) to steer him along a middle road so as to protect him yet try to ensure he has no regrets in the future.

    • Make sure you read all of the comments to my letter. I had similar feelings to you. I believe that 17 is still a child and that he needed to be nudged by me so that he didn’t miss out on a potentially good relationship with his dad. I can see now that I was wrong. He has every right to have his own feelings about this and I need to butt out. My 21 year old is fine having a somewhat relationship with him, but 17 is not and that’s ok. Take some time to read all the responses here. I think nudging them toward a relationship they don’t want may do more harm than good.

      • Agreed. And it’s a kind of gas lighting to push this relationship on someone who clearly knows their mind on the issue. And, it’s a lot to put on a young person–to have to now fight BOTH their parents to maintain the reasonable boundaries that they erected for themselves. Super unfair.

      • Yeah, I have backed off considerably, but I still believe I have some parental responsibility until he’s fully matured to guide him to keep an open mind and not make any hard and fast, final decisions until he’s older. I think a lot of it depends on what one believes about brain maturity, one’s own specific circumstances, the nature of each child, etc. That said, I fully understand those who feel otherwise. I just feel that for my son, it’s best that I advise him to keep an open mind until he’s older. My nudges toward that end are very few and far between (maybe one or two a year), and I also make it clear to him that I am only making suggestions and the final choice is his. Honestly, I think the damage is done and they will never be closer than they are right now – and for good reason!

  • “That’s a feeling. They pass. I feel like I should eat another Christmas cookie. I shouldn’t.”

    Chumplady, this is the only advice you’ve given that I’ve ever disagreed with.

    Of course you should eat another Christmas cookie.

  • Chump Lady never misses. Great advice. Great post. Chump Lady is the only person on the planet with more points than Gretzky.

  • “17 is in therapy over this and seems to be just fine without my STBX who he hasn’t seen or talked to in six months even though he lives just on the other side of town.”

    You answered your own questions. He’s fine. Let him be fine. He won’t be fine if he’s under pressure to make your ex feel better. That is neither 17’s responsibility nor yours. 17 will only resent you for it. He is living his values. Good for him.

    Don’t let your feelings about your FOO guide your decisions. That’s how people make bad mistakes. That’s likely how FW fucked his life up. It’s the road to ruin. Leave him to the ruin he created, and don’t create any of your own by trying to save him. Stay objective and let your son continue to heal in the way he has chosen.

  • The fact that OP cares so much about her children preserving a relationship with their FW father highlights how awesome OP is and how much FW sucks.

      • If she is anything like me, my FOO trained me well with a covert narc father and a co-dependent mother. I always had radar on to determine what the emotional landscape was to try to minimize blowback, to be the one that didn’t cause any trouble, to fix things, or if all that failed, how to hide in plain sight. I grew up constantly trying to make other people happy to the complete detriment of my own well-being. I literally didn’t know how to put myself first and didn’t know how to judge my own emotions. I seconded guessed myself all the time. No wonder I married a covert narc who loved to tell me what emotion I was feeling and/or negated any emotion I expressed. It has taken me over a decade to recognize this and work on putting myself first and validating my emotions.

      • You are totally right. I’m working on it. But yeah, it’s FOO damage. I’m used to being the person who needs to make everyone else happy.

  • DDay was Christmas Eve 2014 (what is it with the holiday reveals?) Oldest Son, now 28, and Daughter, now 26, have maintained iron-clad zero contact for eight years. My youngest son, at 16, was subject to Texas’ custody laws. Ours was a modified possession order, due to domestic violence, but XH interpreted the “possession” part quite literally. He was entitled to Son 1st, 3rd and 5th Sundays from 12-4pm. Son went willingly the first few times but nobody had accounted for how much I managed their relationship. XH didn’t know the slightest about Son’s school, friends, part-time job. XH took Son to lunch with his mother (hello KlanMa), then back to his new man cave to watch football. Son liked neither KlanMa nor football.

    After a month or two, Son rebelled. XH doubled down on the “possession,” threatening to take me back to court. A vengeful, controlling FW vs a very angry teenage boy. Guess who won that battle. Yes, the teenager! XH did not enjoy being embarrassed in Chili’s. I got a slew of unhinged OFW emails and then XH faded away, popping up occasionally to spread his seeds of spite and malice.

    To this day, Son has an absolute manic need for control. HE decides who is in his life, how he spends his time, where he lives, who he listens to. The best thing I could do then as his mother was to assure him that he was a person, not a possession, and he had the right every person does to determine the status of a relationship.

    MW, let your almost adult son decide who gets to be in his life and on what terms. Tell your son you trust him and support him. Rejecting a parent is neither emotionally easy nor socially acceptable; he will need you more than ever.

  • About 5 years ago, I was coaching daughter (then about 20) through a tedious act of adulting. She knows I try to ready her for life since I’m her soul surviving parent.

    At some point, I said “I’m sorry you only have one parent” and her answer was:
    “No one has 2 good parents… even if they are alive, one of them is messed up. I don’t have a single friend with 2 good parents”

    We get so used to the idea that our kids were cheated that it’s easy to miss that most of them get cheated in one way or the other. If not a FW, one parent may be an addict, suffer from mental illness or just randomly suck. I have 2 living parents but zero “good” ones.

    Some of you may remember that in the last few years, my kids have been protective of their fathers legacy and never spoke of his bad traits/behaviors. Just yesterday, one kid opened wide the flood gates talking about their dads dysfunctional coping tools. I was shocked.

  • CL nails it, as always. I would add, at 17, this is not so much a kid as a young adult. I think there’s a stronger argument for facilitating a father/child relationship when they’re little, even if it sucks to do so (and, you may even be court ordered to do so). With little children still formulating their sense of self at a cellular level, helping to maintain a positive relationship with their other parent has benefits (assuming that other parent isn’t abusive to the child). If I’m in your shoes, I refrain from trash talking your ex in front of the kids but continue to validate their reality, be neutral or supportive if/when they choose to have a relationship with their father, but otherwise leave it up to them. Meddling in this may have very unfortunate consequences (for you and him) considering your son has done something very reasonable.

    This young man found out his dad blew up his family unit and is hurting and, as a result, has put up a reasonable boundary of no contact for the last several months. Honestly, that makes a lot of sense and sounds pretty mature. I wish all chumps did that. Kudos to him for doing what many of us chumps could not. Be proud of that kid. He’s ahead of the game.

    • I’m so proud of him I could burst! Not just because he’s stronger than I am when it comes to his dad, but in a myriad of ways. He’s ethical, kind, caring, loyal and an all around good guy. I’m very lucky!

  • My mom was a manipulative c*nt my whole life. When I was twenty I finally started to realize that she was awful and stepped back from our relationship- for the next 14 years I had to battle my siblings and other family members that would constantly try to “unify” the family (make me step back in line and be a good daughter). My father died a few months after my marriage to FW and I practically moved in with my mother to “help out” – I was the only child without kids at the time so somehow it fell to me. That’s when I remembered how awful she was and then eventually realized that my husband is just like her (didn’t know then but they are both covert narcs). Then I had my first child with FW and realized that real parents LIKE their kids and treat them with respect. So again I set out to cut my mom out of my life. I went very low contact and made it clear (I thought) that I didn’t want anything to do with her. My siblings would constantly invite her to things where I was without telling me to try to “heal” the relationship. Eventually, at the age of 49, I cut my siblings out altogether. That’s WAY too long to get to no contact with a horrible human being. I wish I had stuck to my guns and cut her out completely when I was 20 – I could have avoided allowing others to treat me just like she did. My two kids are 18 and 15 and I have not told them any details about my relationship with their father yet (divorce papers are not signed yet). Once things are ironed out I’ll make sure they know how to look for red flags (clearly demonstrated by their father) in their relationships so they don’t end up repeating the pattern. If they’re smart they’ll cut him out for good.

    • “That’s when I remembered how awful she was and then eventually realized that my husband is just like her (didn’t know then but they are both covert narcs). Then I had my first child with FW and realized that real parents LIKE their kids and treat them with respect. ”

      My parents (one alcoholic with Borderline, the other narc) were a huge reason I never left Cheater…with cheater I had one tormentor, with them, I had 2 (and I didnt know how to leave without help).

      HUGE TRUTH that having my kids made me see that real parents love their kids. My parents seemed to HATE parenting and behaved as if it was the most miserable thing ever, but I LOVED my kids and sacrifices for them were natural and treating them with respect was natural. I grieved my parents awfulness in moments but after becoming a good mom, I grieved their foolishness all over again

  • Guilty here of talking too much about my ex in front of my sons when the shitstorm arrived. They did ask, and were mortified of their little sister being around the man that worked his way into our family fabric as a “friend” of my ex’s and shared our dinner table over several months. But…as I processed the agony of betrayal by my cheater and this piece of shit, I also spoke too much and I heard this from both of them later. One of my sons still won’t speak to his mother after 4 years and the other is working out a relationship with her. Both kids have been hurt deeply and the oldest who is now an adult confessed he was on the brink of suicide last year. That was hard to hear, but the best way forward is canceling anything to do with your ex and the kids outside of the parenting plan. You won’t regret it.

  • Wunnerful, wunnerful. (CL’s response). My now thoroughly adult kiddo had had zero contact with her dad for nearly 10 years. We divorced after 25 years married, and then a couple of years of wading through hell following revelations of transgressions, “I just didn’t feel married any more”, all the typical crap. Kiddo is super angry at dad, over and above just the divorce. I always say I will do any role she needs me to do (i.e., act as intermediary), but she wants nothing to do with him. At. all. She has her reasons, and it’s her life. He fucked up big time–losing the respect and connection with your only child is a big deal–but his ego/dick/mid-life whatever/whatever whatever was apparently more important to him. ((Shrug.))

  • Why pressure a 17 year old to navigate a changed relationship with his father before he is ready to?
    Why talk to a cheater and let him cry on your shoulder ?

    Both bad moves imo

  • I remember being 17, and CL is right. Pushing your kid towards reconciliation will only alienate and confuse him. He knows that someone who was dear to him did something unforgivable to his mom. And we aren’t talking a one night stand oopsie, this is something that’s gone on for nearly two times your sons entire life.

    One thing he may be thinking back on is all the times dad wasn’t there for him. He was betrayed as well. Time spent fucking schmoopie is time he spent not being a dad to him.

    Let him work with his therapist, they will walk alongside him if he wants to engage. You just keep being a great mom.

    • Yes, I remember I would go to my church youth group function every tuesday. My dad volunteered as a parent. He would always show up late. He never really seemed too interested in seeing what I was up to. But it was fun and I was happy my dad was involved. Come to find out he would use that day to fuck his secretary afterwork and be late to the church group. Big wow there. I felt betrayed. My dad sucks. I know that he is a narcissist too. Double life for 7 years. Cheated on my mom when she was dying lining up the next wife. Hes a fucked up person. Luckily evil does in fact die and he is in his 80’s. Cant hold on too much longer. I do not need anything from him or want anything.

  • I have been on flight aware most of the day for a relative flying back into the US and into this horrible weather. That means I have not had a chance to read any of the replies so I hope I’m not repeating.

    Once the first hormone hits, whether it is testosterone, or estrogen, or a combination of both, you might as well consider those “the get out of the house” hormones because they propel children toward their peers instead of their parents. Your son has you as an anchor so he can come and go as he pleases but what his peers think of him right now are the most important things. Leave him alone. He will work this out or he will not but it’s not your choice or your responsibility anymore. Let him and his buddies do what they do and keep a very close eye on him because children who have a bad parent often turn to substances or other self inflicting things and you need to be very aware of that.

  • The worst thing to happen after dad left for his af was making us kids carry on as if nothing happened and it was all fine and nothing was wrong. What I needed was to never see my toxic dad again.

  • Molly,
    I spackled my ex’s parenting. My oldest was also 17, and after the separation when I began to listen more openly to my son’s criticism of his father I both recognized my own spackling and learned about rotten and dangerous things he had done without my knowledge. The realization that I chose so poorly for my kids and then failed to see it has been very painful. They do not blame me for it, mercifully. I think kids will overlook a lot of mistakes by their parents provided they feel respected and loved. And that’s why many of them cut off cheating parents, imo – because they are not capable of seeing their kids as independent people, even the still limited independence that tweens and teens need.

  • Super advice from CL, Molly. In my experience, it is very important for a category of cheaters to be able to say that they get along with their adult or young adult children. Because it makes them look good (remember, they are very vain creatures and love all kinds of kibbles and cake and pick-me dance choreographies). And the facade eases the shallow conscience that they have. In other words, their children are just one form of cannon fodder. Raising fair, wise, and diligent children is a lot of work and I can’t see a cheater spending a lot of energy on this mission… Stay out of it for the good of your children.

  • Great discussion. Molly, has it occurred to you that FW is triggering your core wound not to benefit himself or his child, but just because he can and he knows he can traumatize you endlessly? Kind of sick, if you think about it that way.

  • I found it telling that you asked how your ex could possibly be a good person … and then didn’t answer your own question. There’s no good answer, because he’s a terrible person who blew up his family.

    It sounds like you’re projecting your grief over your relationship with your own father onto your son. Please don’t assume your feelings are his. He has the right to be disgusted by his shitty father and set boundaries on who he doesn’t want in his life.

  • One set of morals & standards for you…get liars, thieves, cheaters, assholes, narcissists, low morals persons out of your life…but your son must have another (a lower one). Sounds hypocritical to me. (As well as controlling and self-serving. Don’t use your kid as a way to keep in contact with/impress your husband.) Sounds like 17 has better self-esteem and moral standards than have been modeled from his parents..

    • I mean unless it’s just a financial thing, and 17 has to play the long game (for cash) like you are. But at least make the game clear, and don’t gaslight your son.

      • I am never and have never gaslighted my son. I wasn’t asking him to have lower standards that I have for the people he chooses to have in his life. And I absolutely am not using him to keep in contact or impress my STBX! I was asking CL and CN if nudging him toward a relationship with his father was the right thing to do because I didn’t want him to miss out on having two parents. I am not being self serving, hypocritical or gaslighting him in any way. I have let him decide this and I have stayed out of it. I was just asking if that was the right thing to do. It is.

  • But what if the cheating father lies to his teenage children?

    “I pay the most generous amount in support”

    Yeah the support is driving the OW up the walls, but he actually pays the bare minimum – cause I got lawyers and social services involved. Not a penny in extras though he’s required to pay his share. Of course it’s untenable and I’ve never told the kids about it or any co-parenting stuff.

    But really, I don’t want to cover that lie. It’s lying to them myself. It’s shutting me up in that regard. It’s piling his crap onto me.

  • My kids were 9, 14, 18, 20, and 22 when FW grandly announced he had two affair partners and that he could not manage both of them AND a wife and family so the family had to go. Granted, he swore up and down nothing would change with the kids–he’d make sure he saw them every other weekend, he’d still pay half their college tuition, he’d still show up for every birthday and holiday, he’d still continue to be an awesome dad. Blah, blah, blah.
    The reality?
    He ran off and married the one schmoopie in a courthouse without even telling the kids and then followed her to California. He hasn’t been back to Texas–where we live–in 3 years. He has not paid one dime toward college. He almost never calls or texts the kids, even the youngest. He hasn’t seen the kids in a year. He didn’t come for my son’s high school graduation. He announced this year he would no longer be giving any of them Xmas gifts, except for the youngest. (He gave him sheets.) My then 20-year-old once told him on the phone how much she missed having a dad and his reply? “You’re 20. You don’t need a dad anymore.”
    If I try to defend him in an attempt to help them (he loves you!) they just roll their eyes and say, “Yeah, whatever.” They see his BS, no problem at all. They’re profoundly and terribly hurt by him, but as it turns out, I have no say in it and, sadly, they have no say in it. He’s become the MIA dad of the year. Someone needs to give him a mug.

    • That’s another of these common lines they all have in their textbook.

      The kids are old enough they don’t need a father.

      Yeah right, obviously schmoopie needs a cheater.

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