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Zane J. Vanderberg

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The Musings of a 16-Year-Old with a Cheating Dad

Posted: 08/01/2012 8:12 am

I knew before my Mom did. I remember the last few years he lived here. He was depressed, drinking and always texting in the bathroom. I overheard his whispered phone conversations with his mistresses after Mom went to bed. His muffled, vibrating phone notifications of messages at midnight as he lay sleeping or passed out on the couch. I saw and heard it all.

Now I don't see or hear him. Telling someone that you have felt neglected by your father for the last two years has a tendency of creating a barrier between you and that person. People first feel shocked and then just sad for you. They mutter that they are sorry. They shake their heads. It's a conundrum, and I understand their emotions because I feel the same way. It is perhaps not surprising how sensitive I am, as I grew up with a father whose only stilted emotions were disappointment and anger. He often gifted me with the information that I was inadequate and that he deserved a better son.

I am now 16 and I have been told that I am smart and intuitive. However, I have also been told that I am quiet and withdrawn. I have read the articles that state that children are resilient and not terribly affected by divorce. I can say with absolute certainty that this has not been the case in my family after my mother discovered another secret affair and subsequently left my father. I have not spoken to him in almost two years.

I have two younger brothers. The youngest, an anxiety-ridden 10-year-old, longs for a "real family," as if the four of us don't have proper qualification to be considered a family. He and my 12-year-old brother have been living with my mother and me for half of the time, literally split down the middle. My father tells them he is happy now. My brothers do not understand this, as they are not happy. Their time with him is spent with my father's former mistress, who has now evolved to his girlfriend. I have come to believe that my brothers are oblivious to what is truly going on and put false hope in my parents reuniting.

My "new normal" family, if you can call it that, has been tripping through life ever since my father left. We were all present when my mother discovered the infidelity; the feeling of chaos was overwhelming. I punched a hole in the wall that is still there. Gaping. An open wall wound. My father did not honor his 18-year marriage with honesty, but chose to have my mother stumble upon his journal instead. We all felt cheated. My emotional toll was almost textbook. I still can't sleep. I have constant headaches combined with a coping mechanism of throwing humor and sarcasm at everything.

I try to lead my fatherless family forward, hating the role I have created for myself. At home, I often feel trapped, an interim father figure to my brothers and sometimes a crutch to my mother. I am told that communicating with my father can reconfigure how I view my roles, but I have absolutely no desire to speak with him. I feel as if I never knew who he truly was and I certainly don't know him now.

I later heard that he was a topic of a health class at the local high school. Some kids in the class knew him because he once coached basketball in our small community. The topic was men going through a midlife crisis. I know at least one of my old friends went home and asked his parents, "You guys aren't breaking up, are you?" I can understand the fear over their parents' divorcing. I observe the "lucky" ones. The ones I envy. Those friends who have their parents standing next to them after a basketball game, helping them learn to drive, or proudly looking on and pulling out their phones to take photos of the first date, first dance, school projects and athletic achievements. When your parents divorce, all that changes. Especially if infidelity and lies were the foundation of your father leaving. Because how do you make believe everything is fine when the shrapnel is still in your skin? My father does not come to my games, he does not know who I am dating and he certainly has no photos of me from the last two years.

Despite all the hardships I was thrown into, I do not wish for a do-over, nor do I wish that my father was someone else (but I will not deny that would've been nice). It is obvious that this life-altering situation has made contributions to who I am today and who I will be tomorrow. I have made countless promises to myself that I will be a better man than my father, and I have every intention of keeping them.

 
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