Sorry guys, as much as you may think it’s the “where I came from” or “what’s that man doing with that rubber glove”, the truth is the talk I had with William, my 7-year-old, was more about the reality of life. (Sure, some would argue having too many unprotected sex is the key to jump starting a life, but I’ll probably let his school give him that moment of enlightenment).
“We talk about death before, and while we all try to live as long as we want, sometimes accidents do happen. One day, I won’t be around anymore, and I need you to know this: don’t expect your mother to care and support you as I did.”
The air was heavy, but deep down, it wasn’t the oddity of that statement that kept my son quiet. You know how that thing you have always suspected to be true suddenly got real, or that aching, nagging feeling tormenting you whenever your mind drifted or something on TV reminded you of it? Yes, that feeling of bitter truth. It’s that something you try to ignore, something you try to convince yourself otherwise, sometimes even in denial, but you can’t seem to change the fact that it’s the cold, hard, bitter truth.
That’s was the feeling William had. Though he was seven at that time, I suspected he has known bits and pieces for a while. He’s not the brightest kid on the block, but he’s smart enough to put pieces together.
“Why most of my friends have two parents, and I’m stuck with daddy most of the time?”
“Why is it when my schoolmates are being dropped off and picked up by their moms, or both parents, but I only have daddy to look forward to?”
“Why is it that mom can’t take care of me whenever daddy’s need to have an important meeting, and I have to go to his friends’ house again?”
After the divorce, he knew that I paid for all his child support, toys, school fees, etc. Sure, mommy would give him a gift or two once in a while, which is why he treasured them more. He once told me that if there’s a fire, he would save his Nintendo because mommy bought it for him. I’m not being bitter. I do understand the need to value more of the gifts given by those you wanted most from. I still keep that dead watch my mom gave me – my last birthday gift from her.
He also knew that when he was five, his mom wanted to send him back to be taken care of and brought up by his grandparents, probably until he’s 18. That’s one thing that bothers him till today, and I admit I occasionally use it as a threat to get him to behave and be more responsible. I had to say it worked really well, because while he’s ok to live with his grandparents during the holidays, but the thought of going to a public school and staying there everyday for then next 13 years scares him to the core.
He also knew that despite living just 10 minutes away from his school, his mom will only pick him from school at most once a week and spend only a day with him. Sometimes he would go on a couple of weeks before having that privilege again.
He felt first-hand a couple of times, when other parents would ask me why his mother wasn’t spending more time with him. I blame it on society, actually. It’s such a general statement to assume that mothers are supposed to be close to their children. I learned that just because I was very close to my mom, that doesn’t mean it’s the standard for all mother-children relationships. During those questions I caught the tenseness in his face, wishing whatever he is watching or playing on his iPad can project his ignorance. Him avoiding my eyes was a clear sign.
But sadly, during the many hard talks we had in private, the truth was he knew. A few times when he said “…because she don’t want me?”, I felt as if the weight of the world suddenly pressed down on my chest. When he was much younger, I would put up a smiling face mixed with some lies – oh, she’s busy with work, you’ll get to see her next week maybe – and it worked for a while, but I guess as good as I am as a marketer, I couldn’t market that lie well enough.
So that led us to that hard talk. He was taking a few things for granted, and was demonstrated an attitude of irresponsibility again. I debated for a while about telling him the truth, wondering if he was too young to handle it. I guess the sense of mortality took over me that day, because it occurred to me that a few of my friends just a few year older than me suddenly had their life taken away from them, and I need to know Will was prepared to face the harsh truth of life.
“…don’t expect your mother to care and support you as I did. You know that she wanted to send you back to Ipoh on long term so you can grow up there, right? You know how that night when daddy’s hospitalised and she didn’t want to take care of you, right? You know how you see daddy’s friend more often than you see her, right?
“It’s the truth, William. I need you to know while I’m around, I will give you the best I can. It’s hard to understand, it’s hard to believe, but I also need you to know when I’m not, don’t expect to get the same level of commitment from your mom. Sure, I too hope that one day she will choose to spend more time with you, to guide you, care for you, teach you just like your friends’ moms, but that’s out of your control. Just like many things in life where you can’t control – the weather, the traffic, the economy – the best you can do is be strong, resourceful and independent, and make the best of the situation.”
At this point, he was already tearing up quite badly, his body shaking. I was riled with guilt – was it too early to have this conversation with him?
Many of my parent friends thought so. But the truth is, them not being single parents kinda put them in a different situation. I learned early in life to only take advice from those who had been in your exact shoes, or at least a close fit.
I kept on trying to justify that if I was in his shoes, I wanted my mom to have that conversation with me, so that I will be prepare when reality hits. But that doesn’t change the counter argument that “That’s you, Mav, with the benefit of 35 years of wisdom. You can’t assume the your son to think the same.”
Guilt kicked me in the balls. My son is suffering from his parent’s failed marriage, which I had to take responsibility of too. Sure, it was a decision initiated by his mom, but I couldn’t point with fingers that were tainted with mistakes too.
As I was having this eternal debate, William nodded, saying he understood. He apologised for whatever he did wrong that day, and promised he won’t do it again (fun fact for parents: kids will make the same mistakes a couple of more times before they really get it. Hey, we did too, and still do).
I told him to love his mom always, despite the lack of love from her. And I told him that I just needed to make sure he won’t take things for granted, even when society states that a mother should always love and spend more time with her children, which is why gratefulness is an important practice. He nodded too, his tear drops hitting the floor beneath him. I gave him a hug and spent the next few hours with him, just to make sure he’s ok.
One thing about kids – they do move on quickly. Call it A.D.D., but the ability to move on to other things and not let dread hung over for too long, that’s a good thing. One thing his dad will need to learn for sure.
Before putting him to bed that night, I caught him looking at me for a while longer than normal, even after we said our good nights and I love yous. I can only hope what every father hopes – to not have another hard talk with their kids.
Life has other plan though. 🙂