What do I tell the boys about their philandering father?
Q: My husband and I are from two different countries and for many years we lived as expatriates in developing countries. We have two sons. After many adulteries, increasingly flagrant, he left me when I was recovering from brain surgery to live with a young, uneducated local girl. This girl is with him for a meal ticket (I have considerable proof); however, he doesn’t want to see or understand. We separated and I returned home with our two sons, not because I wanted to take them from their father but because I now need to prioritise my own career, and in order to give them roots and a good education. They are in their early teens. They have never met their father’s girlfriend, because I refused to permit it. I should really call her his ‘wife’, because they have married in accordance with a traditional ceremony, and although he is not divorced from me, the country where he lives is polygamous. I suppose he is a bit of a Gauguin type! He is now the support for her numerous and impoverished extended family. He has always been scrupulous about paying the boys’ maintenance, and keeps in touch with weekly phone calls.
In addition to ‘marrying’ this young girl, he has continued to have affairs with other local women, and also pursues young women over the Internet. The reason I write is because his new ‘wife’ is expecting a baby in a month’s time, and he has not yet told our sons. When he telephones or skypes he never refers to his ‘wife’ and allows the boys to get the impression that he is living alone and just stays in that country for his work. I have said nothing, partly because I don’t want to influence them against him, and partly because I promised him that I would let him tell them in his own time, in his own way. He is seeing them in the summer and he might tell them then; I don’t know.
It is difficult to have any kind of constructive dialogue with him because he is a habitual and compulsive liar and cheater, who will always say either what he thinks you want to hear or what will get him what he wants. He is quite good as a ‘good time Dad’ but I have always been the one to provide the discipline, support, and stability. While I am now indifferent to my husband for my own sake, I am still shaken with waves of rage when I think of what he has done to our kids.
What should I tell my sons, if anything? Or should I wait for the summer and see if he tells them? Thank you very much for your help.
A: What a complicated and difficult situation! And what a complicated and difficult man you once loved and married. On the one hand, he is a “compulsive liar and cheater” who has hurt you and left his sons without an involved father. On the other hand, he is scrupulous about paying his child support, he supports his young “wife” and her extended family, and he left you with two wonderful sons. No wonder it’s confusing to figure out what to do.
I think you’ve been extraordinarily wise to refrain from telling your sons all about their dad’s failings. I encourage you to continue as you’ve done. Let the boys come to their own conclusions. As adolescents, they may think their dad is the fun parent. But as they grow older and mature, they will come to understand that you took the “high road” and let them have their positive view of their father while they were growing up, even though he hurt you deeply. They know that you love them and have never left them. They will eventually appreciate the discipline and the support you have given them. I think you can trust the good values you have given your boys. You don’t need to say a thing about their dad. As they learn more, his behavior will speak for itself.
I wish you well.
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2008). What do I tell the boys about their philandering father?. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 27, 2016, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2008/05/12/what-do-i-tell-the-boys-about-their-philandering-father/