“I, too, used to want him to be proud of me
And then I just wanted him to make amends
I wonder what lies he’s telling you about me
to make sure that we’ll never be friends”
– Fiona Apple, Newspaper
Please don’t take it personally when I’m skeptical about how long you’ll be around. There have only been three of us broken enough, in just the right ways, to buy into the illusion enough to stick it out with him for more than six months in his whole adult life. In more than three decades. Just three. And dozens and dozens of women who bailed much sooner.
To make it to this side, with my daughter, I had to get through a lot. Cheating, lying, hiding, telling me I was the liar, character assassination and enough blatantly untrue accusations about me that I could actually sue, but I haven’t. Yet.
I will spend the rest of my life trying to fully understand how I put so much trust in someone who literally doesn’t know at all how to be honest (and will say, in the darkest moments of self-realization, that he doesn’t even know why you have to tell the truth). My parenting has been forged with a strength few will see for what it is….
Few of us have made it through all of that with him. And I am the only one who dug deep enough to see it all – past, present, future. And so I know him in a way he hates and resents. And he will fight to destroy my credibility because of what I know about him. I know this man. And how his actions and words can hurt my daughter. So I am vigilant.
And for your sake, I’m hoping you don’t have that same hole we each had – the one that made us believe the good things he pretended way past when logic and reason had left the room. In fact, me assuming you’ll be gone within a few months is me hoping that you won’t find yourself balled up on the laundry room floor, years and years in, crying and wondering how it is that you let yourself question your own gut so long instead of seeing all of the lies in time to be less damaged by them. I am betting on your good fortune – that you are smarter than I was, that your world doesn’t fall out from under you, that you don’t count on a person who is pitiably unable to care for anyone in any real way.
Please know this, though: if you insert yourself into my daughter’s life then you have inserted me into yours.
Read that again. It’s a fact. I won’t go away unless you do.
You don’t get to decide you’re ready to spend time with my child but also say that you’re ‘not ready’ to meet me. You decided that I get to meet you when you started spending time with my child. That, too, is a fact.
I have spent all of her short years building a life, despite someone else in her home working tirelessly to make it come crashing down. I have built it. And mended it more times than I can count. I may have to keep mending it until the day he dies.
I will work to make her life as stable and healthy and loving as I possibly can. I will make sure I know the people in her life so I can make sure I am there for her for any feelings or emotions those relationships bring up.
I am the one who held her as she cried herself to sleep mere days after you spent Christmas and her birthday with her, only three months after he left this house permanently. Me. I held her as she asked me why daddy had a new woman with him when I’m ‘his wife’ and when she wants us to be back together since we ‘didn’t argue when you both took me to the tree ceremony’.
She needs time to process the loss of her in-tact family before you are in her space and her mind. She needs time.
Give her that.
Which brings me to this: my daughter is not a prop. Her dad doesn’t understand this. It’s likely you met her way way way before it was good for her because he wanted you to think she was cute and funny and charming (she is) – and most importantly, he wants you to see him as a good guy. And that means he will play the good dad in front of you. Good guys are good dads and when you’re his age and always in a hot mess, a cute kid is a shortcut to trusting someone and buys him currency with women.
See that for what it is and don’t make her pay the price for that.
But pay close attention. To the meals he doesn’t even think to feed her. To the routines he shrugs off because they get in the way of his plans. To the times he isn’t with her at a scheduled time because you two made plans. To the way he blames me for all of that even though the court granted nearly every wish when it came to time limits with him – for reasons only myself and the court have seen in full.
To the way he tries to have you around whenever he has her because he’s not sure what to do with her for long stretches. To the way he’ll gladly let you take charge of buying her things. Planning things. Playing with her. Watching her for him.
Be careful when you try to parent her, though, if you’re around that long. He will call you mean. Harsh. Strict.
Don’t fall into that trap. It’s not you. It’s him.
Notice things. Early. Don’t be blinded by how special he makes you feel in the beginning. How perfect. That’s by design and some of us fall into that cloud and grasp desperately to the possibility of being back there again after it, eventually, goes away in harsh and cruel ways.
Notice when his stories don’t line up. Notice (& trust yourself) when you see that things just aren’t quite right. Don’t let yourself be on the defensive because you simply express a need or boundary to him.
And know this, too: my feelings have nothing to do with you or even him. They are about her. And the way he will inevitably choose you (or his band or bands he wants to see or his own friends or things he wants to buy himself) over time with her.
I wish I had noticed that sooner myself. But I worked so hard to include his son that I didn’t notice the way he would give up time like it was an infinite thing. The way he would send him off for days on end in order to lay in bed with me. The way he was eager to let other family care for him.
He will keep you and me from talking to each other as long as he can so we won’t see he’s pitting us against each other. So he stays the good guy. So I don’t mess up any of his lies or illusions. So you can think his short comings are mine.
Watch that. I’m here and you can always talk to me directly about my daughter. Always.
And – woman to woman – I want to say that when he tries to tell you that your feelings don’t matter, that you’re making too much of something, that you must be cheating if you get the sense that he is, that you’re broken-hearted crying is a manipulative tool – please know this: they do matter, you’re not and you’re not (you know that second one but might still trip right into the trap of defending yourself instead of focusing on the truth you know in your gut) and…. your crying is a natural reaction to being hurt by someone, over and over, who literally doesn’t know (anymore at least, if he ever did) how to care for someone else, how to subjugate his own wants and desires and impulses in order to take care of anyone else’s heart. How to not do what feels good so he doesn’t horribly wound another.
You are not crazy. You are not hysterical. You are not making shit up.
If your spidey senses tingle, don’t let him tell you it’s just a cold breeze.
I had to save myself. And my daughter. So I had to close that door and I have to reclose it every time he tries to swing the bait of his well-lit gaslight. Having the very ground you walk on turned to sand is a hard way to live. Incredibly hard.
And so very lonely.
So this, too, is true:
If you ever need me to confirm a reality for you, no matter what I fear his wrath will be (unlike the silence and false hope of confirmation his ex-wife gave me to avoid being the target of his attacks), I will always share the truth. I will always speak the truth – stand witness to it. I will model honesty for my daughter who may very well carry his lies in her DNA.
I will always stand by what really happened even if he comes after me, like he has so many times already, because after being gas-lit, the worst thing another woman (another woman who went through the same thing especially) can do is ignore you, leave your questions hanging like smoke in the air. Leave you in that same am-I-crazy space he swung you in for years. You know you are not, and yet…. And yet, his attacks force you to remind yourself.
If you stay, I will always advocate for my daughter, whether you like it or he likes it or anyone else likes it. Know this. Don’t doubt it.
It won’t be about you. Or him. Just about her. I can’t worry what he’s doing to another woman (or women).
I do. Worry, that is, for what the next women will endure. But I really can’t afford that luxury for more than a moment. I have a child who needs me to mend the hole this fallen-apart-family has opened up in front of her.
She needs a parent. And if you pay attention like I asked you to above, you’ll see the only one doing that job is me.
But I will also stand up for you if you need to counter the lies he will inevitably tell about you.
Surviving the insanity-making lie machine of his own self-preservation is a feat. Thriving after that is a sign of true strength.
I am strong.
If you are in my daughter’s life, you will know this. If you pay attention then you will know that what he says about me can’t be true. But if you believe him fully, I don’t care.
I will be over here, in my life, making the best world I can for my daughter. And all of the yous she meets will affect her somehow, but I will make that as positive as it possibly can be.
Keep your eyes open. Don’t shut me out. I’ll just walk in anyway if it has to do with her. She’s the only true thing in this mess and I will guard her goodness (and wholeness) with everything I have.
Every. Thing. I. Have.