Dear Jewish Fairy Godmother:
Long complicated story made very short: Abusive first marriage.
Divorce. Fabulous year with husband #2. Perfect son born. Everything
crashes to disaster one year after his birth with second husband’s
brain cancer diagnosis. Horrible five years until he dies. Single
parenting. Remarriage to a good guy but my son who is angry about
losing his dad decides the new stepfather is “abusive.” I know abuse
and this was not not not, rather strict parenting for a kid headed down
the road to slacker-dom and pot addiction. A decade later, the family
is intact but my son has discovered his birth father’s journals in the
attic, somewhat unreadable because of his declining mental capacity.
He tried to transcribe them but could not read his handwriting and now
has asked me. I started, and originally found them fascinating, in part
because Dave’s parenting hopes and goals ironically seemed very close
to the step-father’s, but also disconcerting because he wrote about
things he never shared with me. When I got to the diagnosis and
decline section I had to stop. How should I proceed? I could tell my
son they were illegible (almost true), show him the parts that I did
translate which might help him reconcile with his step-dad, or pay a
stranger/professional (which requires borrowing money for which I
have a list of alternative uses). What say you?
Many folks need more than one try to get marriage and parenting
right. I’m sorry for your tragedy with husband number two, who
sounds like he was a fabulous husband and would have been a great
parent. I agree with you that it’s important to educate your son about
the values he would have been raised with had his birth father not
succumbed to cancer. Even if life circumstances had been different
those parenting plans might have changed, but their congruence with
your third husband’s values are an important message for the young
man, especially if he hasn’t yet found his footing in adulthood.
I’d suggest sharing the journals in small bite-sized pieces, with each of
you doing your best to transcribe a section and then trading the
original and your attempts, followed by sessions to talk about the
content. After you do this once or twice you should have a longer talk
about his perceptions of parenting, and his father and stepfather. As
his long-term parent you owe it to him to provide the guidance that
you now have the safety and security to offer. Maybe his deceased
father’s voice will help.