“Time, whose tooth gnaws away at everything else, is powerless against truth.” – Thomas Huxley
The above quote has become one of my favorites because I am certain that, in the end, the truth will be revealed. I also know that some lies are served up so consistently and convincingly that it can be difficult to see what is true through the thick fog of deception, and there is no way of knowing how much time may pass before the truth is clearly visible. It was for seven long years that such a fog succeeded in alienating my son from me.
My story is not uncommon. I know many parents who have either lost – or fear losing – their children to a lie, and it is for this reason I have chosen to share this story.
After separating from my abusive husband, it was not long before he went on the offensive. He began to offer up a fictitious history about our marriage, to plant seeds of doubt about my character, my commitment and my faith in the minds of those willing to listen. He also used the time he spent with our four children to attempt to undermine my credibility in their young eyes. Though he urged secrecy from them, they would sometimes hesitantly pose questions to me about damning falsehoods about me their father had shared.
The woman he described to our kids was someone I did not know, and there were occasions when I was put in the awkward position of having to correct our kids’ understanding. It was heartbreaking to know that our kids had been put into a position where they had to choose whom or what to believe. For the most part, I felt confident that the significant contrast between our former home life and the new life we had come to appreciate was evidence enough.
Our second-born eldest son, Kyle, had always been his father’s favorite. Kyle never sought the title of “the chosen one,” nor was his status a secret among the children. It was never discussed; it just was. So, it was no surprise that, after the divorce was final, when Kyle was about 13, their father began to spend most of his free time with him. And even though the essential battles were over, another insidious battle continued to rage. Kyle’s father used their time together to confer upon our young son how many ways I had failed him and what a poor wife I had been, to win Kyle over and to pit him against me.
Almost every time he spent a day or two with his father, Kyle often returned home hostile and battle-ready. At times I would try to assuage his obvious stress, but rather than talk, he preferred to argue. Knowing what was going on behind the scenes, I chose to acknowledge the hardships of the divorce and reminded him that he didn’t have to choose one parent over the other; he could have both. My efforts to reach him didn’t make much of a difference, but at least he knew how I felt about the situation.
I also recognized that his dad was probably more fun. Their time together was spent watching football and their favorite movies over pizza and soda. They might spend an afternoon shopping for CDs or listening to music or attending an occasional concert. When Kyle returned home, it was my job to make sure he did his homework and his chores and brushed his teeth before heading to bed. The contrast didn’t bother me; I knew the kids needed both of us, and I accepted my role as the un-fun one. And, let’s face it; the harsh reality of Monday through Friday is generally going to be a tougher gig than the simple pleasures of eating junk food and sleeping in. We still had our own family movie nights and birthday parties and took day trips and mini-vacations, but Kyle often chose to excuse himself from outings and events with any of us his father sarcastically referred to as “those people.”
Over time, the hostility Kyle exhibited toward me increased. He was not only ready for a fight, but he seemed to relish any opportunity to argue, put me down, or throw his weight around. It was as though Kyle had assumed the role of his abusive father, and while I sought to maintain discipline and provide a healthy contrast, of utmost concern was that Kyle might become just like his dad.
At times, Kyle’s anger would erupt and he would point a finger of condemnation at me for divorcing his dad. “You had no cause to divorce him. If it wasn’t for you we’d still be a family! Why did you do it?” he demanded to know. Everything in me wanted to spill the truth – the emotional beatings I had taken, his father’s heartbreaking lapses of integrity, and all I had endured in an effort to keep our family whole. But the sordid truth was more than any young man needed to know. I held my tongue and told Kyle he just needed to trust that I did what I believed was best for our family. But that was not good enough for Kyle, and his resentment toward me continued to simmer.
After I remarried, Kyle tried to maintain his position as the new man of the house, but it wasn’t long before my husband was compelled by Kyle’s abusive tendencies to put Kyle in his place. Kyle saved his outbursts for those times when Doug wasn’t home, but now we all had backing when we needed it.
One fall evening, Kyle decided he was being treated unfairly after he had a bad day, and I had the audacity to remind him to empty the dishwasher. A couple of hours later he was gone – to live with his dad. There was no yelling or slamming of doors. No note, no warning, no explanation. Crushed by his decision, I pondered at that moment whether I had lost him forever. I could only pray it wasn’t so. I had to let Kyle go and pray that he would discover the truth on his own – that he would not choose to follow in his father’s footsteps.
I didn’t hear from Kyle for weeks. He invited me to coffee one evening, and we talked only of ordinary things, daily routines and school and work and his siblings. A part of me wanted to implore him to come home, but I held my head high and did not cry or plead or ask why. When we parted I hugged him and confirmed my love – just thankful that he hadn’t shut me out completely.
As the months passed we got together from time to time. During our conversations, Kyle never complained about his father, never shared anything significant about their life together, and I didn’t ask. Then, at one of our meetings, Kyle told me he was ready to come home. But, the reality was that the rest of us had come to enjoy our home without him living there. We now had a home where there was no drama, no hostility, no ongoing angry outbursts. The rest of us had come to relish the peace we now enjoyed. So, I told Kyle that we weren’t ready for him to come home. He was clearly shocked at my response. I’m sure he assumed that I would eagerly welcome him home like nothing had happened and we’d pick up where we left off. But no.
When we parted that day, he was more somber than I had seen him in the past and probably a little hurt. But I needed to make sure he understood what coming home meant not just to him, but to the whole family; that as much as he clung to his perception of being right, he had still been wrong. I needed to know that he fully understood that his behaviors needed to change. What I did not know was that the fog had been lifting in Kyle’s life, even if he wasn’t yet prepared to admit it.
Late one night a few days later the phone rang. When I answered, Kyle was on the other end of the line crying and hysterical. He said that he had to leave his dad’s house, that his dad had been raging and cursing at him, calling him names and had kept him from leaving – and that it wasn’t the first time. He begged me to come and get him and said that if I didn’t he would run away. I knew I couldn’t leave him in an abusive situation, so I asked him where his dad was, and Kyle told me that he was asleep. I conferred with Doug and we agreed that we would meet with the other kids in the morning, discuss the situation, and then I would call him and let him know what would be done. He begged and told me ‘no,’ that I had to go pick him up right then or he was going to run away. In spite of the stress of the situation, I calmly said, “Kyle, this is your moment. You need to decide right now whether you are going to trust me or not. All I need you to say right now is, ‘Okay, Mom.'” Many long seconds passed while I prayed with all my heart that he would make the right decision, until he finally said the words I needed to hear: “Okay, Mom.”
The following morning, we all quickly agreed that Kyle needed to come home, with the understanding that his behavior toward the entire family had to be grounded in respect. I made the call to Kyle, he agreed to our terms, and all five of us immediately piled into our van to go get Kyle and bring him and his things home.
After moving back home Kyle continued to try to have a relationship with his father, who still worked to fill Kyle’s head with half-truths and untruths. But little by little Kyle began to see the inconsistencies for himself. He witnessed the self-centered lifestyle his father had chosen, overheard him boasting of his salacious activities while he and I were married, and ultimately became the target of his father’s abuse.
It wasn’t until Kyle was 20 when, on a hot summer afternoon, I returned from work to find him seated on the ground outside the front door of our home, his back against the wall, conversing with Doug. Kyle was obviously distraught, and my heart fought against fear of what might have happened to him. As I approached, my husband told me that Kyle needed to talk to me and went inside. I took Doug’s place and timidly asked him what was going on. Kyle finally looked up at me and spoke.
“I’m so sorry, Mom,” he said through his tears.
“Why,” I asked. “What happened?”
“I was wrong, Mom. I know that it wasn’t your fault. For seven years I was mean to you and the rest of the family. And all this time I was wrong.”
We both rose to our feet, and I held the son I thought I had lost so many years before. I told him that I loved him and that everything was going to be okay. Kyle wrapped his arms around me and cried the tears of a painful truth finally realized, tears of a guilt borne of ignorance, tears of humility and sorrow for all that had been lost – honest tears that melted away the cruel wall of deception that had separated us…
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