(Let's call him) Joe was raised by his mother. He met his father twice in his life, when he was 13 and they exchanged letters for about a year. But then Dad stopped writing. Joe carried on for a while, but then stopped too. Joe is now 24, has graduated college and is building his own life. He has located his father, but is angry with him, and has not made contact.
A short digression; Joe writes: "I might not agree with your portrayal of women post-marriage (chalk it up to the innocence of the unmarried, undivorced, and single-parent raised)"
I'm not sure how to react to this except to say that if I have portrayed women post-marriage in any particular way, that is not my intention. There are good men and good women, and there are bad men and bad women. To say that women in general behave in a certain way after divorce would make me guilty of hypocrisy through my claim that the world reacts to these things with far too much prejudice already.
My beef is with the imbalance present in the law and its application (or lack thereof). The law is supposed to control injustice. If it refuses to acknowledge an injustice, it cannot control it and there are plenty of people in the world, men and women, who will take advantage of that. The definition of injustice is to treat people with prejudice, to pre-judge them based on experience of others whom they are not.
But back to Joe, who thanks me for my blog, and he is welcome.
He goes on: "I figured if the letters had stopped coming, he might have sensed what I had sensed at that first meeting at the age of 13 (but what was too young to interpret). He didn't know me in the least. All those letters prior to meeting him, and he had no idea who [was] this person who bore his blood in his veins but had grown up completely away from him."
It's not hard to imagine. For whatever reason, Dad turns up after 13 years away, completely absent from Joe's life. Who knows what he was expecting? Only Joe knows what Joe thought. They only saw each other twice, barely even scratching the surface of what would be required to get to know one another. And it's not as if a 13 year old is equipped to understand the average old fart, is it? Hell, my parents raised me together and I didn't really begin to understand either of them until I had left home and started to experience the world for myself.
What was going on with Dad? If we read carefully what Joe has written, the only clue we have is actually a projection of his own feelings. "He didn't know me in the least." 13 year old Joe eyeballed this strange guy and correctly surmised that he didn't know him from Adam. Of course, 13 year old Joe didn't know his own self. What 13 year old does? And how many 13 year olds think that anyone at all knows them? Most teenagers I've ever known (I was one myself once, I think) believe there has never been anyone on this planet less understood than they are. (What is important, of course, is that there are people around who understand them, even if they think that there aren't.) Of course Joe decided Dad didn't know him.
On the other hand, I find it a very suspect conclusion to suppose that Dad looked at Joe and saw nothing he recognized. Maybe, indeed, he saw quite a lot, which is why he wrote for a year. If he hadn't seen anything, perhaps there wouldn't even have been more than one encounter.
"Even with this glaring knowledge staring both of us in the face, I still wonder why he stopped writing. And to a smaller degree, why he started writing in the first place if he didn't intend to continue."
I doubt that anyone starts writing, and keeps it up for a year, with the intention not to continue. We don't know why he looked Joe up, we don't know why he wrote, nor why he stopped and neither will Joe unless he goes and asks.
It is easy to be angry at Dad, but we know too little. It is easy to condemn him, to write him off as a ne'er do well, but we know nothing of his struggles, his demons, his pain; except that he surely has them because he is (was?) an alcoholic. Even if he weren't an alcoholic, the emotions that likely surrounded receiving and writing those letters were unlikely to be insignificant.
If he felt nothing, I contend they'd've dried up a lot earlier. More likely, given the alcoholism, each letter represented a considerable risk and effort. Hell, maybe with each one slid through a letterbox, he fell of the wagon and went on a binge. Stopping might have been a matter of survival! (He's hardly likely to have said as much in one of those letters.)
Even if it weren't, even if everything in Dad's life was hunky dory, there's this little issue of a son long abandoned which clearly eats at him somehow, or why make the contact in the first place? Modern life is hardly conducive for a man in his (I'm guessing) forties to keep up a letter correspondence with a teenager with no other engagement. Perhaps we should blame him for not generating greater engagement (was anything done to encourage him?), but I think we'd do better to recognize him for the effort that he did make and reflect on how we might feel or behave in his shoes.
Joe says: "In closing I urge all those disenfranchised fathers who read these words to pick up a pen (or keyboard, or piece of charcoal and write to your children. Perhaps you won't send all of what you write. Hopefully you'll keep your anger from them, as it will probably only serve to confuse them. Pick up a pen and write."
These are wise words. It's tough, sometimes very tough, to do this. the longer it goes on, the harder it gets. You're supposed to move on in life from the disasters that beset you, but at the same time, against the odds, continue personal responsibilities that derive directly from the fiasco that became your marriage? That piece of charcoal can be incredibly heavy, and it takes a strong man to lift it. Joe, maybe Dad looks at that piece of charcoal every day and doesn't feel strong enough.
Joe ends with: "The alternative results in me."
OK, Joe, so now I'm going to challenge you. Who are you? What are you? What is this "result" of which you speak? Should you get off that horse and drink your milk or scurry into that mouse hole, not yet a man? Yeah, so Dad is human, that can be an unpleasant realization, and for many it is hard not to be angry with him, even if he doesn't have some very plain shortcomings. Hey, there are plenty of kids out there whose fathers could be saints and they'd still hate them.
Joe, you're a grown up now, you know how to benchpress biros! How hard can it be for you to pick up a piece of charcoal? It's risky, I know. You may not like what you learn. But you may learn something of yourself. Half your genes are his, there will be a connection. If you don't give him a chance, who will?