8: The Dating Dad: Adjustment
She asked if we could meet in person "about this fall." Considering we do almost all of our negotiation and/or arguing via e-mail, I knew there was more at stake than figuring out Simone's school schedule and sorting logistics around their upcoming move to a rented house several miles away.
So I braced myself, put on my game face, and met her at a Starbucks right after work. It was a hot summer day, and between the walk from the train to my car, which was an oven by 4:30 in the afternoon, and the thought of the upcoming festivities at the coffee shop, I was sweaty and uncomfortable, and probably looking mildly dissolute in my shirt and loosened tie as I sat down across from her. She had a bottle of water waiting for me, which I found both disarming and suspicious.
Her small-talk was obviously an attempt to put off the inevitable, but I let it go, because I have a fantasy that one day we'll be friends again. Every so often, I make an attempt to reconnect on a human level -- I'll tell her I thought of her at a movie I saw, and that she should check it out. Or I'll share a vignette about Simone's latest precocious ramble regarding some "monstrosity" she learned about in her educational videos.
What I tend to receive is an icy reply, if I get anything at all. But I try, because I'm unable to hold a grudge, and I know that Simone's better off if we get along. In spite of the last vestiges of anger and disappointment I still feel about all this, I can't help but tell myself that we were once friends, and that we had something in common. I can't remember why or how I loved her, but I'm sure I did, and I owe it to my own well-being to interact with her with that foundation in mind. It doesn't always work, but it does keep me from being purposely spiteful. And I'm always genuine in my interactions with her, even when that honesty seems mightily unwelcome.
So I let her talk about books and their new house, and waited for the kaboom. She set it up in the cheesiest of ways, but to her, I guess, it was romantic. She spoke of how she and her boyfriend had been to a lot of weddings lately, and that he mentioned that they'd been together for awhile (okay, and, to get this out of the way, she and I don't agree on how long they've been romantically entwined, if you know what I mean), and that she should be "pinned." Then she explained that pinning meant they were "pre-engaged."
All I could think was, "whatever."
Finally, she told me this guy, this "kid" she'd been seeing, would be moving in with her and Simone at the end of September.
I don't know if my face went pale, but I nodded my head, took a sip of my chai, and said,"That's obviously something I'm going to need to process for a little while."
So I'm going to process it. Right here. As an aside, I really appreciate your e mails -- it sounds like the stuff I'm writing each month has an audience, and that I'm articulating some common struggles pretty well. So if you have advice or thoughts on this matter, please share. I'm feeling a little lost, and I'd love to share your wisdom in an upcoming column.
Anyway. She asked me if I'd like to meet the man who's taking a pretty big role in Simone's life, and I said, "I don't want to, but I think I should." So the three of us are going to meet with our mediator before the big move-in.
The thing is, Simone's been talking about this young man since a month or two after we signed the divorce papers, and I know that her mom and this guy had been friends for nearly a year before I even realized our marriage was in trouble. I've always been uncomfortable with her relationship with him. Whatever the nature of the time they spent together, and their e-mails and phone calls, I believe she put energy into that relationship which could have been better used in our marriage.
She doesn't agree that he had any effect on what happened, or at least she'll never admit to it. I truly believe that, if she ever came clean with me, and just said, "Yes, we behaved badly, and yes, it was a factor in the dissolution of our marriage," I could say, "thank you," and be done with it.
My mother knows I feel this way, and as she's reading right now, she's about to say, "Get over it. She'll never admit she was wrong." My mom is right. And every day, I get a little closer to being "over it." But, man! It would be easier to deal with this new development if a different boyfriend (heck, or even a girlfriend!) were moving in with my daughter and her mom. I'm not against Simone's mother falling in love and being happy. I'm just frustrated that the kid I believe had a hand in splitting my family apart is the one she loves. I'd be happy to meet her boyfriend -- really -- if it were anyone else. But it's not.
And the more I've thought about all this, the less that detail has mattered. (Though, to be honest, I've had my share of daydreams about the first time I meet him:
- No handshake, just "Hello, (expletive)."
- A punch to the neck.
- A fervent handshake, then "Thank you. Thank you so much." "Why?" "Oh, you'll find out soon enough."
- "I find out you hurt my daughter, and..."
But, really, in the long run, Simone likes the guy, he's been a stable force in her life, and jeez, because of him (or not, depending on who you ask), I don't have to live with Simone's mom anymore. He does!
I'm really freaking happy 84 percent of the time. Dating is great, getting my daughter to myself tends to be truly rewarding, and in the last two years, I've gathered enough fodder to fuel several books and cable TV series, not to mention this monthly column.
I'm better off. I don't believe Simone is, but at least she's happy and loved and well-adjusted.
But that's where things break down
Because, no matter the genesis of their relationship, Simone's mom and this guy are not married. Not even engaged. And I feel uncomfortable with Simone growing up in an environment where her mom's sleeping in the same bed with a guy who's not her husband. It's not that I'm against cohabitation; it's that, at some point, Simone's going to have to explain her living situation to a friend or a teacher, or, God forbid, a social worker. Those explanations will begin to shape her understanding of love and commitment and relationships. And Simone's mom has yet to describe to me how she plans on addressing the issue with our daughter.
At the very least, I need to know what language she's using, so we can be consistent.
I have some issues sharing the guardian role with a guy who's not even almost 30, but my bigger concern is Simone's moral well-being. I'm not judging her mom's morality per se, just the situation that she's putting her daughter in by sharing a home and bed with her boyfriend.
So that's what I'm going to stick with. I'm going to have to deal with this guy, and accept him into my life. I have no choice in the matter. And I have to trust that Simone's mom is going to do what she thinks is best for our daughter most of the time. But in this situation, I think her judgment is clouded. Love does that. I'm sure the thought of having this guy live with them sounds amazing. In many ways, it will be fulfilling for all three of them. But it's still a questionable arrangement, especially when it comes to the way the outside world will react. And Simone doesn't have the tools to deal with that.
Crap. I don't know if I have the tools to deal with it. Part of me would just like to say, "Do what you think is best," and roll with the change. It would be easier in so many ways. But I owe it to my girl to make sure she's safe and happy. And that means being a grownup and facing the issues. I don't look forward to sitting across the table from Simone's mom and her guy -- they'll be a unit, and I'll be alone.
This is only one of many adjustments we'll all have to make as Simone grows older, and our own lives change. Great.
But it's better than being married to her mom, so I guess I shouldn't complain.