`He refused to see our children for 20 years. Now he wants to make up for lost time. Deep down, I'm seething'
Susan Wilson talks of her confusion and rage at the sudden reappearance to her children of their charming, prodigal father
My ex-husband made what he called a "clean break" from his children at the time of our divorce in 1975, despite repeated pleadings from me. In fact, I believe myself to be the only woman in recent history to have asked the court at the time of our divorce to please persuade him to keep in contact with his children, at least superficially.
These children, now aged 30, 28, and 27, have survived their turbulent teenage years without birthday cards, Christmas cards, presents or any other acknowledgement from him. The eldest, longing to follow in an absent, and thus glamorised, parent's footsteps, worked his way through his various licences and is now a pilot. My second son is a successful entrepreneur, managing a thriving company, the youngest, a girl, has her degree and is happily settled and working. They are, to coin a phrase, a credit to their parent, happy, independent, loving and loved.
Their father, apparently now mellowed with age, has written saying that he bitterly regrets that he missed them growing up and wishes to get to know them, have them to stay and hopes, charmingly, that they will become friends.
I feel confused, rather jealous and not a little angry. However, I am fair-minded and, having always recognised the children's need for a father, think that it is in their interests that they should be positively encouraged by me to establish contact with him, get to know him and allay old ghosts. There are many ghosts to lay. Our divorce was acrimonious. Through imprudence I managed to escape luxuries such as maintenance, and the house was sold over my head - having been remortgaged to the hilt to prevent my having an interest. In those days there was no efficient enforcement of court orders, but anyway my husband and his second wife (who was deeply resentful of his past) ran the whole gamut of available excuses to avoid any responsibility that would have involved cost, either emotional or financial.
The children, of course, are quite apart from this, and simply grew up missing their father. First he was there, and then he was not, and the eldest in particular felt his own shortcomings to be partly responsible, however much I strove to reassure him. Every birthday and Christmas that passed unacknowledged served to endorse the children's sense of neglect. And however much one tries, the parent who is there can never truly compensate for the one who is absent. My eldest child developed an acute stutter which began when he was five. Indeed, part of the reason for our separation was his father's inability to cope with another male in the house. He was a bully, and my son was in danger of becoming a gibbering wreck.
What about me, and my feelings? I am not anticipating that he will usurp me in my children's affections, or that they will particularly relish their reunion. As I said earlier, it is more to do with curiosity and laying ghosts. For instance, one son pointed out to me that he probably only wants to know what they are doing so that he can talk about them and be like other couples in their fifties with grown-up children. Indeed, while fascinated by the idea of meeting her father again, my daughter cynically observed that he probably wouldn't be half so keen if they were all drug addicts.
I, on the other hand, feel angry and confused. I cannot resist comparing my life to that of my ex-husband and, much as I love the children, I feel the loser. I have not married again. I found it as much as I could do to manage them, earn enough to put bread on the table and pay a mortgage. He has had the freedom to develop his career and is facing an early retirement with a substantial pension. Although equally qualified, my career has been circumscribed by the need to be around as much as possible for school holidays, available in times of sickness, and ready and willing to act as chauffeur at all times. In other words, I have been the carer. Such jobs as I have been able to undertake do not have substantial pension schemes or even particularly comfortable working conditions attached, and now that I am free to manage a more challenging job I feel rather past my prime. A quick scan down the job sections and indeed the lonely hearts columns confirms my view that the mid-fifties is not the most precipitous time to be starting out on a new career or looking for love. In contrast, my husband, at the age of 54, has a new wife, who is, by all accounts, jolly nice and whom he adores.
While morally I acknowledge the children's need to know their father, and common sense reassures me that nothing can challenge the loyalties and histories that we have built together, deep down I am seething, angry and resentful, and have an uneasy feeling that he has quite undeservedly won a jackpot in the lottery of life.
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