Saturday, February 17, 2007

Exactly how is this supposed to be a consolation?

The other day I found myself traveling for a few hours, one empty seat away from an initially friendly woman of a few years my senior. Our chat led me to give her a brief rundown of my situation to which she reacted with the appropriate scandalized expressions and sympathy. Then she said something rather extraordinary: "Don't worry, they all get their's in the end. Perhaps my story can offer you some consolation."

"How do you mean?" I asked.

"Well, after a horrible five year battle, I won the right to relocate to another state, he had nothing to do with our daughter for the next 12 years. Then he decided he didn't like the way she turned out and got the court to tell me to repay him some money. 'Over my dead body' I said and never paid him a penny, even though there was supposedly a lien against me. Then he was diagnosed with syphilis and died slowly and painfully over two years."

All this said with a considerable air of self-satisfaction and triumph.

I raised my slack jaw and replied that I wasn't sure it was much of a consolation, I was looking at long term isolation from my own child and anyway how on earth does one die of syphilis in this day and age? Apparently it's sufficiently unusual that doctors don't recognize it until it's too late, then it might as well be AIDS.

While she was explaining this, I think she finally realized what she had said. She buried herself in a book of crosswords, those mindless ones with little black-space and one word clues.

I wanted to ask questions. Like, how does her daughter feel, having now lost her father permanently? How did her ex get the court to order repayment, presumably of child support - this is the first I've ever heard of such a thing, it seems highly unlikely. Perhaps it was actually some alienation of affection thing.

Let's recap what this seemingly nice old bat has said. Nasty divorce/custody battle. Yes, well, that's probably no fun for either side and she's got the upper hand anyway. Then she wins a move-away, also known as legalized child abduction, which was presumably against the father's wishes and for whom it is now very much harder to remain appropriately engaged in his daughter's life.

He reacts to this by dropping out of sight for 12 years. This may be easy to condemn, but there is much that we don't know. Perhaps he couldn't afford to travel, perhaps it became just too painful to face up to, perhaps he felt it better both for him and his daughter to stay out of sight. It's not a position I can agree with, but I can see how it happens. Hell, maybe even the courts in the destination state wouldn't grant him any visitation and she puts it that way to land the blame on him.

After those 12 years, he successfully sues Mom for financial restitution because he didn't like the way the daughter turned out. I suspect this description hides a great deal of interesting information. The courts don't order such things just for the hell of it.

Then he dies slowly and painfully of syphilis. Who knows how he contracted it, perhaps it was the result of an affair during their marriage, perhaps it was something that happened years later. Either way, this woman is happy to crow over a tragedy which took the life of her daughter's father. I only hope that he and his daughter had an opportunity for some time together before he died.

I muse on my own reactions to this little tale of woe. At first, I was nodding along in sympathy, expecting, as told, that we would find common ground in our stories. I took at face value the idea that her ex was scum. It wasn't until she seemed to think that his slow, painful death was some sort of deserved retribution that I felt something fishy was going on and balked at the idea of walking along this spiteful road. If it wasn't for my own experience, I could easily have clucked in tacit, unthinking agreement with the whole thing, as, doubtless, have many others.

She took a nap and I looked at her, searching for signs of regret, compassion, worry for her daughter. The whole of her story was of her escape (legalized abscondment?), money and cosmic retribution for her ex. There was no mention of how her daughter was affected beyond her ex's apparent disapproval of how she turned out and the court's siding with him, exacting a financial retribution that was never faced.

When we finally arrived she disembarked without another word nor even a look in my direction.

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Hawa Bond said...

That's. Just. Ugly. And I agree that "the way the daughter turned out" must have been a BIG story if the father was able to win in court.

I'm glad you were able to search below the surface of the story before nodding in agreement to her grim tale of a lose-lose win (does that make sense?).

The only person who won was the bitter mother... not a win at all since the child should be the focus. ::tisk tisk::

My sweetheart hasn't seen his kids in years. According to him, his ex told lies in court, tried to have him jailed, and ran off with the kids. He's not sure if he made the right decision to stay away, but the animosity was so great that he didn't want them hurt any more (or him in jail).

Thanks for sharing!

John Doe said...

The decision to stay away will depend strongly on individual circumstances. In the current climate for non-custodial parents, I am not inclined to condemn anyone for the decision without knowing exactly what has gone on. Sometimes it's the only way the parent can survive. Who I do condemn are the people, including the custodial parent, who make it the least unattractive option.