Advice from the Other Side
I’m in love with a woman. Her children? Not so much. To be fair, they aren’t so bad. One is a double for her beautiful mother; the boys are decent and bright. They just rub me the wrong way. It’s more than that. I have trouble being in the same room.
My girlfriend, Gwen, a dentist and no dummy, knows this although I deny it. It’s a big step for me to write the truth to you.
I’m trying for Gwen's sake to be their dad—he died ten years ago—but my heart isn’t in it. At the same time, she’s wonderful to my own 11-year old son who lives with his mom and stays over once a week.
Gwen says I’m irritated when her kids don’t do what I think they should but protect my own child from any responsibility. Last week she showed him how to use the dishwasher, fill it with soap, turn it on. I was walking through a moment later and did it for him. He’s a little kid! What does one thing have to do with the other?
My own son, usually friendly and outgoing, isn’t so crazy about the whole set-up. I know he’d like to see me move out. His feelings should count.
We’re in our second year now—all of us—and it’s come to a head. Gwen and I were away for the weekend and, when we returned, her oldest son had dinner for us on the table. He’d cooked a turkey feast. Instead of a thank you, I guess I lit into him, asked if he’d finished his chores, if his room was picked up. He’d done what he was supposed to and was crestfallen.
Gwen doesn‘t think she can never forget his expression. And how I acted, so stern, so mean—it’s left a bad taste in her mouth.
I know I’m blowing the best thing that’s ever happened to me. I daydream how it would be if I’d met her, pre-kids.
How can I turn this around?
Dear Boat Boy,
Here’s what I want to tell you: work with a therapist; consider what you’re about to lose; you’ll ever forgive yourself; love wins out. I’d love to believe there’s hope.
Here’s what needs to be said. It’s time to scuttle.
If you don’t like the kids now when they’re reaching out to you, being thoughtful, wait until they get sick of your behavior.
You know yourself that, when someone doesn’t embrace your kids, it burns a hole in the middle of your gut. A hollowness. Gwen's right; it doesn’t go away. She might adore you now, but that affection will dissipate. It sounds as if that slow suffocation of her feelings is already in the works.
Are you jealous of Gwen's love for her kids? It sounds like it. Are you concerned your boy will think you’re being disloyal? He seems to be following your lead with a group of his peers that even you say are hospitable. This isn’t a lesson you should be wanting him to learn from his father.
It’s fair for Gwen to point out that your demands on her offspring are lopsided when it’s too much to ask your own child to start a dishwasher. Every preteen living with adults who work should load, run, and empty the things. Why do I think Gwen’s sons and daughter do this chore without prompting?
The solution here is to face up to facts. Gwen’s brood is a component of the gift you’ve been offered. You know you can’t choose one or the other. Let Gwen have the life she deserves with someone who respects and admires both her and her family.
Be kind. Catch a following wind and head for blue water.
Readers: Do you agree? Or can counseling turn this around?
Send your letters to firstname.lastname@example.org
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About Gritty Guru I’m a shades-of-gray kind of guy, maybe a little unfocused. I left college with no game plan, drifted into Job Corps teaching, diverged to Harvard for a vague Masters in Education for General Purposes. My next unscheduled move was to impregnate—was I for sure the dad?—a woman I barely knew. I skirted that life-changer by marrying my querulous girlfriend. Or maybe I was the grump. It was 1968 and buttoned-down me—the wannabe hippie—packed up a VW camper, heading west. Except I landed in Florida, living in my in-laws’ driveway while I laid sod. I offloaded freight cars in Texas; in Berkeley, I taught, and greeted the first of three sons. The shine of the West Coast faded or maybe life in general; I moved into public school jobs in Cambridge and Cape Cod. When I was fired—I guess education wasn’t my thing—I painted houses until a land developer hired me to oversee permitting, keep communities in good spirits. The happiness thing ended on my doorstep; my wife was divorcing me. I ignored this unpleasantry until I met the love of my life—for the first time I was sure. I found my grown daughter as well—I and Lois, my new wife, watched and cringed at the meshing of now-8 children. Lo was an author; we wrote books together in Maine; we joined a state search-&-rescue team, became itinerant paramedic partners and worked the Indy 500, Atlanta Olympics, Phish concerts, Xtreme Sports, flew lifeflights in the Caribbean. Now I'm down from the clouds and on the water, in Key West on a tugboat, with summers on a Maine island—cutting hay, keeping tabs on the grandkids, scratching my head, trying to be a good advice columnist.
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