There’s no map and a compass wouldn’t help at all

First things first: thanks for all the comments on my last post. I enjoy dodgy science SOOOO much, don’t you?

Second thing: with regard to my search for a calf’s head for an upcoming recipe, I must say: DUH. Of course no one wants to sell me one. Mad cow disease and all that. I am not interested in using the brains, however. AHEM. So I say to you, if you happen to have a calf’s head laying around that you are not using, I would be appreciative of receiving it for this other thing I’m doing.

Thing number three is Franny. Franny has been off-kilter and insecure for some time now…really since her father moved away a year and a half ago. Makes sense, right? When she opens up about it, she says things like, “I don’t think he really loves me.” I know this age can be very insecure, and she certainly has her moments where she cries that she has no friends or she has the WORST LIFE EVER, but the thing with her father is troubling because it’s a recurring theme.

And when she says it I feel this twinge, not just for her, but also because it echoes how I felt when her father and I were married. I really felt like he was phoning it in most of the time. It also makes me think of being her age and really wanting a father myself, instead of some psycho that my mother married.

What to do with this? I feel cheated. If anyone is going to mess them up, it should be me. There goes my ten year plan to give one of them an eating disorder and make the other one completely mental if she gets anything less than an a-minus on anything. Where’s my justice, universe? Probably behind the entertainment center again.

I thought about what I knew about people who were now adults who’d had surrogate parents in their lives–those people who actually gave a shit. I thought about those moments when adults stepped into my life and did not see me as some kind of alien, but as a kid who needed some care and attention. Someone to worry about them and to say, “I care what happens to you,” with the unspoken “even if it seems like no one else does.”

Then I thought seriously of her sister’s father. P. met Franny when she was two years old, when she used to follow me around at school when I was running errands or picking things up on non-class days. When P. and I got involved, he became a strong presence in her life–another adult who was looking out for her well-being and had a good relationship with her. Then Strudel came and he became her sister’s father, so was significant in another way. Pragmatically and coldly speaking, he is my babydaddy and he is not going anywhere. He is not someone who is going to skate on Franny. This is important. I am not ready for her to learn that even really cool people can skate yet.

The thing about P. is that he has always been super respectful of the fact that Franny has a father already. He and I spent a lot of time figuring out how to negotiate our new family–how would we fit, what were the boundaries? He bosses her sometimes, like any adult might, and teaches her things and they have conversations and he genuinely LIKES children, which is something I found appealing about him. I have always felt that he was a worthy and strong man to be in her life.

“So,” I said on the bus to P. the other morning. “It seems like Franny is kind of losing her father to his other family.”


How do you say this to someone?

“Would you…could you be more of a father to her?”

“Yeah, I can,” he said.

I rattled on about how great I thought their relationship was, and how I felt he had never overstepped. I said how I see Franny watching him really care for Strudel, really fathering her, and I could see the longing. A witness to what having a father is like at both houses, and not really feeling it for yourself.

“I don’t know what you can change. Maybe hug her more and tell her you are proud of her and stuff,” I said. I know he is proud of her and he does tell her. “Does this all sound horribly fake?”

“Well,” he said. “You fake it until it becomes real.”

This sounded harsh to me for a second, until I thought about when I met Franny. Jesus Christ, I thought, what was I supposed to do with this baby I had pooped out? I don’t even KNOW you, I wanted to say. Who are you? I kissed her head and hugged her and joggled her and talked to her so she wouldn’t grow up to become Charles Manson, and one day, I won’t say how long it took, it became real. I really did feel like I knew and loved her. P. loves Franny, I know he does. I am hoping that taking it up to the next level is easy, or at least doable.

19 thoughts on “There’s no map and a compass wouldn’t help at all

  1. *sniff*

    Hold on, I’ve got a lil something in my eye.

    “I don’t even KNOW you, I wanted to say. Who are you? I kissed her head and hugged her and joggled her and talked to her so she wouldn’t grow up to become Charles Manson, and one day, I won’t say how long it took, it became real.”

    This is exactly how I felt about my son, my “surprise adoption” baby. Thank you for putting it into words.

  2. Way to go! I am glad you formally asked him to step in. It is so important and everyone who interacts with Franny will influence her and the woman she will become.

    Faking it aint so bad. I Fake it with all kinds of important people in my life: my mom, my bff, my partner, myself.

    The point is that the real love for these people always returns, even after a hiatus, in the mean time it is important that we treat each other with tenderness, with respect, I would say that this is especially true with children but actually adults are pretty sensitive too.

    Good post!

  3. OMG, he totally summed up my relationship with two of my four step children. When I met my husband, he had two pre-teens from his marriage, and twins, age 2, from his disastrous prior relationship (as in, she stopped her birth control without his knowledge so that he would marry her after he told her in no uncertain terms that he did not want more children {and yes, he should have been bagging that ding dong of his} – oooops). I was ok about the older girls, but PANICKED about the babies because I am not a huge fan of children, and never really wanted any of my own.
    But I loved him to pieces, so I decided to jump in….

    “Faking it” does sound harsh, but yeah, that’s what I was doing – at first. The twins were HARD for me to deal with, but now I adore them, truly and genuinely. And when they are with us, I definitely feel like a mom to them.

    Ironically, I am still “faking it” with the older girls, who I thought I would connect with better than I have. Mostly because we don’t have them as often, and they are at that horrible age where they hate everything and everyone over age 14, including me. But fake it I will, and maybe someday I will love them like I love the twins (or not, hard to tell).

    I am glad that P is willing to go the extra mile for Franny (and you). And Franny is so lucky to have a mom who asked him to do so.

  4. This post made me cry, it is so touching and lovely. It was brave of you to ask for what your daughter needs, I bet that was somewhat scary. Or, it would have been for ME. You seem pretty brave.

    And Suenos, I needed to read the words you just wrote in your comment above. Thank you.

  5. Damn, I guess you have had a lot on your mind lately. I hope P is awesome enough to NOT skate, and if/when he ever should, I hope that Franny will have realised that the only person she can depend on for her happies is her. I am already trying to come up with strategeries for miniBugger, just incase. But today we got to re-cover the “no one should touch your no-no places”.

  6. P. doesn’t seem like the skating type. I have a similar situation, and it works. It’s hard when the younguns get aware enough to be so hurt by life’s unfair cruelties, though, and so little you can do to fix it. Franny will be ok, though — between you and P., the bases are covered.

  7. I am glad that Franny has P. I am glad that YOU have P.

    I have one of those complicated situations, myself, and it’s my girlchild who bears the brunt of her dad’s… uhhh… issues… and yet here is this wonderful man in her life who’s always mindful not to overstep, even though I think his position must be near impossible. Sigh.

  8. Sometimes I wish you’d talk more about your relationship and the girls’ relationships with P. Not because it is our bizzness WE MUST KNOW ALL, precisely, but because it’s nice to hear about real life not-so-traditional living arrangements, how they work, how the people involved get them and think about them, etc. So, posts like this, I guess I am saying.

  9. Thanks everyone for the nice comments. It’s great to hear that other people can thrive in situations like this. I had the reverse situation and had a surrogate parent early and then lost that person to my bio parent–a mistake, to be sure.

    Bee: Yeah, I know I am kind of deliberately opaque. I am still figuring everything out myself. Also, since I guess I am feeling candid this week, I will say I have learned through my own errors and through watching others that it can be better to post about things well after they happen. I think I waited four months after we broke up to post about it. I think I am getting there. I don’t know anyone else like me, really, though I know they are out there. Making it up as I go along, like everyone else.

  10. Your job is supposed to be bringing the laughs not making me all teary-eyed. Damn your poignancy.

  11. Wow, what a great post! As an all-grown-up child of a pretty “untraditional” family, I can definitely say two things — I was always jealous of my stepfather’s fatherliness toward his real son, and, I really tortured my mother over my lack of a father as the years went on. So, I want to say, don’t torture yourself too too much; I know it can feel pretty bad to be in your situation, but years from now it won’t seem like such a big screwup I think. But also, great move, and hope it works out between them. I was fiercely defiant around my stepfather in the beginning and so they tread lightly, and didn’t let him “father” me until much later, and I think that was a bigger mistake. I wound up getting the “bossy” fathering (because I deserved it), but not much of the lovey stuff. He needs full father-like autonomy (ok, pseudo-autonomy) or it won’t work. And he needs to use that love wherever possible. Anyway, good luck, great mothering! ;)

  12. All I’d like to say is that you are an exceptional mother. Truly an exception to what’s “normal parenting” and still far exceeding the bounds of what’s considered “good parenting.”

    I think I might be extra impressed because my own mother did and does a great job of taking care of her family’s tangible and physical needs while utterly ignoring the fact that anyone else in the world besides her exists on an emotional (or respect) level.

    So the fact that you are so hyper-aware of what your munchkins are going through, that you recognize these things and step in when you feel necessary, give space when you think that’s the right thing, etc.. it’s incredibly powerful for me to see that. And I must admit, that even at 24, I’m a bit jealous of your girls.


  13. One day Franny is going to realize who her REAL father is because it’s not about genetics, it’s about love, respect and caring. So bite your nails now if you need to, but believe me, it’ll turn out ok for her.

  14. From an infrequent commenter: I think it’s really cool that you’re asking these hard questions out loud where other people can hear/see/respond, because it’s stuff we all deal with in one way or another.

    Never having been a step-whatever of any sort and not being a parent, this is pure speculation on my part, but I feel a bit of resonance about the whole ‘abandonment’ thing that a lot of people experience. Something I’ve read fairly often is that kids tend to feel at fault for whatever happens in their universe, especially if it happens while they’re still in that ‘I-am-the-center-of-the-universe’ phase (do we ever really outgrow it?) The only thing I can think of is that she feels guilty somehow for P going away, or thinks/feels that it’s somehow her fault. So maybe there’s a way to notice how she phrases things around that issue and see if there are any openings to reassure her that it’s *not* her fault.

    Also, about the whole abandonment thing – whether anybody likes to say it so bluntly or not, P. really did ‘abandon’ you and the family, in that he chose to be with someone else and create a new family. Not to stick my spear too painfully into the hurting spot or anything (sorry), but sometimes the only way to truly lance a wound and keep it from festering is to look the painful truth right in the eye: He left you. And her. And she knows it, and there ain’t no two ways about it. The only thing I can see letting her off the ‘self-blame’ hook is for P. to admit that, openly and straight-forwardly, and then deal with whatever fallout might come from it – anger, rage, crying/hitting/screaming til she’s over it. And his recognition that, from her point of view, what he did might seem quite selfish. Sometimes questions can be the best way to find out, like, “What makes you think he doesn’t really love you?” or some such. Sometimes we’re so quick to wallpaper over uncomfortable feelings that we miss a chance to just sit with somebody else’s pain/frustration and just let them noodle it out at their own speed. Our culture seems so fixated on ‘moving on’ and ‘it’s all good’ that nobody ever gets to just sit there in their moment of pain, really feel it, share it with someone who cares, and *then* move on, when *they’re* ready. Hope that made any sense! (and sorry for the novel-length comment.)

    But I may be all wrong and totally projecting like mad and not enlightened enough to have the properly objective view and all. Just some thinking out loud thoughts.

  15. Oh, and another thought: Is Franny allowed to be angry with P. for leaving? If, once she understands that his leaving was a *choice* and not her fault at all, is she allowed to not like him any more, or even hate him, or not want to see him? Does she *have* to make nice with him? Because if not, it seems that she doesn’t really have any choices at all around this, except to not rock the boat. Which seems unfair, and disrespectful – basically it says that the parent’s desire for tranquility trumps the kid’s need for honesty, truth and fairness. P. should have to live with the consequences of his actions just like everyone else has to, up to and including the possibility that his daughter may decide to shut *him* out in revenge. Fair’s fair.

    Shutting up now.

  16. Grasshopper, you are not “lancing a wound”, you are jabbing at an elbow. P is not the one who left Franny – he’s the one doing the hard work of co-parenting from a distance and being the good guy.

  17. Yes hi hello. I appreciate the sentiment and thought here, but Buggaire is correct. You may have missed the part where I am a modern slattern with 12 babydaddies. I don’t know what will happen with Franny and her father. All I can do is hope and support her. I can’t speak for Franny, but I do not pretend that her father is doing right by her when she is vocalizing her distress over the situation. I’m not going to gaslight her about her situation or tell her to be a nice girl. At the same time, I am not going to come between what is left of their relationship. I don’t think children get to run the show, but I am waiting for her to decide the path of their relationship.

  18. :-) Modern slattern? I think it’s cool that you do whatever works for you. Not gaslighting her is a nice way to put it.

    I guess the obvious thing is, she has an image of the kind of relationship she wants with her dad, but reality isn’t matching up. And of course she blames herself, like all kids her age – it must be her fault, right? Is there any explanation you can offer her that takes the responsibility for all that off her small shoulders and puts it squarely where it belongs, on you and your ex?

    Also – the last sentence of your latest comment seems to me to contain a conundrum, almost like saying, “She doesn’t get to drive the car, but she has to plan the trip” – not sure I can put my finger on it or find the right words, but it seems like tying her hands in a certain way at the same time as expecting her to figure out something that she really doesn’t have the tools to cope with on her own. Kind of like tying someone’s shoelaces together and then expecting them to hop to wherever they’re going. Or something, can’t seem to find any useful words here. It seems like it’s something about power, and the fear of giving a child ‘too much’. But really, you’ll always have more power than she does, because you’re her parent. Maybe, for her, it’s the classic dilemma of people stuck in situations they’re powerless to change: Responsibility without authority. Or something.

    Anyway, I’m rooting for you and your two, it seems like you’re forging boldly into culturally forbidden territory, where there be dragons…

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