Advice for the Real World
Dear Amy: I am a 50-year-old father of two teen boys. Their mother and I divorced almost 10 years ago. My ex-wife and I are very different — our most marked difference is in our parenting styles.
I grew up in a large family where I started doing chores by age 8, respected my parents, and was taught to respect not only my elders — but everyone, (especially elders).
My 17-year-old had issues with me getting on to him about his language at the dinner table. He used a very derogatory term aimed at women.
My fiancée (at the time – she is now my wife) was present, and I told him that the term he used was unacceptable. I also explained that using terms of that nature should not be a part of his vocabulary and had no place in society.
This all happened over a year ago, and my son has not come for a visit since. I have reached out to him on several occasions, but have only gotten a “no, thank you.”
Since the divorce, I have always supported the boys being respectful of their mother, minding her, and being helpful to her, even though I never got the same consideration from her.
I am confident that their mother is perpetuating this distance between my son and me, but I don’t feel it would do any good to bring it to the surface.
My question is, should I continue to reach out to my son, or should I let go and let him come to me when he matures and comes to realize that a foul mouth can cost him relationships, jobs, friends – and all sorts of other things.
– Disconnected Father
Dear Disconnected: Yes, you should continue to reach out to your son. And yes, you should now move on from the original incident that brought on this estrangement (you should also assume that this alienation is more complicated than one incident). Understand that parents have corrected teens, and teens have pushed back at their parents from time immemorial (even if you didn’t when you were young).
You modeled completely appropriate fatherly mentoring.
Most parents and teens have to make up and eventually work things out because the teen needs something from the parent: i.e., a ride to soccer practice. The difference in your household is that your son doesn’t live with you, and his other parent is furthering (possibly actively encouraging) this estrangement.
Express an interest in your son’s life and activities, and keep your door open without condition. Once he is out of his mother’s household, his perspective should shift.
In the tradition of the great personal advice columnists, Chicago Tribune’s Amy Dickinson is a plainspoken straight shooter who relates to readers of all ages. She answers personal questions by addressing issues from both her head and her heart. A solid reporter, Dickinson researches her topics to provide readers with informed opinions and answers.