The Peter Pan dad
The Peter Pan dad. Trapped into marrying in his early twenties because his one and only girlfriend got accidentally pregnant. He dutifully marries her but knows within the first year that it was a mistake. They go on to have a second child.
His wife nags him constantly. He complains that it's always "what she wants" and he never gets to decide on anything. But he learns to just let her have her way because it's easier. He tunes out from communicating with her and having an opinion. He has opinions but he keeps them to himself. He becomes unfaithful through his lack of sharing himself in the marriage. Whenever she asks him to make a house repair, he takes weeks to start it. Any DIY job takes months and the wife becomes frustrated. He doesn't consciously know this but his passive aggressive "checking out" is now controlling the pace of things.
He loves his children but doesn't give them any boundaries or rulings. He leaves all the emotional heavy lifting to his wife. He says she "bites first" with the children in telling them off and doesn't always back her up. They're not a team.
They are friends with a married couple who have children the same age as theirs. They go on holidays together, have dinners together. The wife focuses on her work, children and friendships, frustrated by her husband's lack of communication and support. He's there in body but not in spirit.
And so it goes on for twenty years. The children start to make fun of dad because they know he's a pushover. They start calling him his first name not dad. He's lost control of his parenting role. He quietly seethes about his situation but never has the courage to make changes. But his behaviour betrays him. He starts to absorb himself in video games just as the children start university. His wife joins a slimming club and throws herself into losing so much weight, she becomes a woman he doesn't know. But has he ever bothered to really know her?
On a couple's holiday, the friend's husband makes a pass at the wife. She tells her husband what's happened and he does nothing. There's no row, no big conversation. He lets it slide. But the wife ponders on the attentions of the other man and secretly starts an affair. They meet when her husband is on night shifts. They arrange a secret holiday together. The wife announces she has an important work conference to organise and will be away for a week. But she leaves her phone at home one night and the husband checks her texts and discovers the affair.
There's no big row. He asks her if she wants to stay in the marriage or be with this other man. There's no emotion in what he's saying. She has had the affair because she got a taste of being acutely 'wanted' for the first time in her life. She's discovered what passion can be. She's addicted. She asks to leave the marriage. She's so angry with her husband for being lukewarm with her for twenty years, she leaves him with a roof full of her possessions, a wardrobe full of her clothes. She takes the best items and leaves him with all the mess of their twenty years together to sort out. Which he doesn't.
The husband switches from playing video games to cycling. He becomes obsessed. He buys three bikes. The older child has launched but she suffers acute anxiety from her parents breaking up. The younger child stays with daddy, to help look after him. Because he's become a nothing. She assumes the role of protector, buying food, spending time with him, going between the two houses and giving the ex wife updates on how sad dad is. The ex wife feels guilty and keeps going back to the family home to check on her ex husband. He's changed nothing. Family photos of him and his ex wife remain on the walls. Her underwear remains in the wardrobe. He uses the excuse that his daughter would be upset if these things were removed but it's actually that he has no sense of self and no inner direction. He let that happen to him.
A few years go by and the man develops pains in his armpits. Blood test after blood test shows nothing. He feels sick and tired and the ex wife feels guilty and keeps coming round. But it is his body screaming at him to take some power back. It has no medical causes because it is spiritual.
He peruses online dating sites. He discovers things he hardly knew about. He finds a nice woman and starts dating her. Everyone in his family is shocked. He's spent years doing nothing but video gaming and cycling and suddenly there's a new woman and god forbid, she looks happy to be dating him.
The ex wife suddenly feels a pang of jealousy. How can this new woman be happy when he gave me so little of himself for twenty years? What did I do wrong?
The daughter is utterly wounded. How can daddy betray what we have? Why is he spending all of his time with this new woman and I get the scraps?
The ex wife and daughter begin the process of grief. A process that hasn't been seriously challenged until this new woman appeared. They relive many emotions. They project the worst parts of their grief on to this new woman, criticising her home improvements, complaining about her requests to move the ex wife items out of the house she now spends time in. This new woman is appalling. She must be. She's made HIM happy!
But the man hasn't changed. He's done nothing to develop himself and have a voice. This new girlfriend realises quite quickly that she's doing the emotional heavy lifting. He's not protecting her from the ex wife or daughter. He's happy to do nothing and project his passive aggressive fury on to this new woman in an act or revenge he's barely conscious of. This bright, efficient, fun, loving woman is soon reduced to an unstable, nervous, angry wreck. She leaves.
The man tells his ex wife, daughter and family that this new woman was obviously unstable and, "I've got a right one here". The ex wife agrees because it validates her grief. The daughter agrees because she gets daddy back to herself. The ex girlfriend is left to grieve what could have been if he'd bothered to communicate and stand up for himself and her.
And the man goes back to online dating and picks up another bright, nurturing, loving woman and he shows her off to the ex girlfriend to validate himself and clear himself of blame.
And the ex wife and daughter watch the situation from their distances and bide their time....