K. did come today. I thought he might cancel because of the name change papers I served him with (though I suspected he would not — and he must know that, especially after last week and the fact that he’d already canceled the coming Sunday to work, it would make him look terrible). He is supposed to stay after bedtime on Wednesday, but I didn’t go out. I asked him to have a meeting tonight instead, since we’ll be missing Sunday. We met. He had nothing to say (“Do you have any concerns? Observations? Preferences?” “No.”).

He did tell me that Thing One had said that he (K.) was never going to put him to bed again. Apparently those were Thing One’s exact words. And indeed, when I came home from my afternoon out, which was supposed to be working but really was blogging and venting, Thing One and K. had been in a battle over dinner (Thing One wouldn’t eat it), so I had gotten Thing One to eat by bribing him with sweet potato, which I’d thought was a pretty good deal since a)historically, Thing One had eschewed sweet potato, which is pretty nutritious, and b)if Thing One doesn’t eat something at night he tends to wake up early and crabby. While we’d been sitting there, Thing One had said to me, “Why is Daddy still here?”

“Well,” I’d replied, “He wants to spend time with you.”

“And he might want to put me to bed,” Thing One said, “but he can’t because that’s ONLY YOUR JOB.”

I want, when things like this happen, to be able to support K. But it is hard for this reason: he doesn’t seem to want to, or  to be inclined to, or to know how to assert himself as a parent. While all this was happening — indeed, for most of the time I was home that he was here, which was about two hours (remember that Thing Two is still breastfeeding and so I have to be home around bedtime even when he’s here), K. was sitting on the couch reading Esquire. Even when I was getting Thing One to eat and Thing Two was escaping out the sliding doors, K. remained impassive on the couch, not noticing his baby daughter on the side deck next to the cans of paint stripper and plastic sheeting from a project I’ve been working on for several weeks. He never once looked up, and he seems to withdraw even more when Thing One draws a verbal line in the sand demarcating “Mama’s territory,” which is tragic because I suspect that Thing One is pushing at K. to see if K. will push back and be the parent who says, “Well, I’m your daddy and I’m going to put you to bed.”

But K. is not that parent. And although he has many legitimate shortcomings, this one seems to me just stupid: he will let a three-year-old tell him to back off, and his response to that is “fine! I will then,” and that means that the child has no confidence that K. will take care of him or stick around. Because he doesn’t. He cancels to have dinner out or he reads Esquire. It’s reminiscent of back in December when Thing One said he wanted a different daddy and K. said, “I have nothing to say right now. I just want to leave.”

I know it’s hard when kids say hurtful things, things that can be taken as rejection. But it seems to me ridiculous (and self-defeating) to react as if you were another child. And in this case, it very well may cost K. his relationship with his children. And I know there are ways I could expend efforts to counteract that (like, as a friend suggested, calling K. and pretending to Thing One that his daddy called for him, or forcing K. to interact by constantly being called out of the room, or whatever) but there are a few problems with that: I’m not much for lying. I feel too overwhelmed already to do sophisticated machinations in order to shore up K.’s parenting. And I don’t know if I have it in me to keep propping him up after he left in the same way I used to before.

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