Oldest Son has always been one for a searching question. The calmest, and stillest (and yet also the biggest wind-up merchant) of my children, he thinks deeply and in great detail.
His head is always whirling with questions – especially very late in the evening. When he was little my most frequent words to him before he went to sleep, along with ‘I love you’ and ‘STAY in bed’, were “I don’t know sweetheart – we’ll have to google that in the morning.” He’s always looked at the world and questioned it, he’s always wondered about everything. When he was seven I managed to provoke over six months of debate over ‘who was the most important’. This was prompted by me telling him I was in charge of him and his siblings, and when he (inevitably) asked ‘why?’, I said ‘because I’m the most important’ (it was late, I was tired, there had been many questions that day). From then on, several times a day, I was asked to judge who was more important in various scenarios – for example, ‘a plane is about to crash and it contains ten children and five pregnant ladies, you can only save four people – who do you rescue, who’s more important?’. Every day a different set of priorities and a different group of living beings. One of the more bizarre scenarios involved a pregnant horse and a murderer, I’m still mulling that one over.
I’ve been regularly flummoxed by Oldest Son’s questions for years, but this one was the most difficult one to answer of all.
The answer was easy.
The answer was impossible.
Over a year on, I’m still asking ‘why?’ myself. I still don’t know the answer.
It was easier to answer ‘why?’ with ‘what happened?’ for now. On a practical level, in my (obviously subjective) opinion, E was 100% to blame for this one. Whilst I have many faults – and I’m certain E could try to explain his behaviour over the years by pointing to them – nothing makes having multiple affairs ok and nothing justifies lying and cheating for years.
However, for the kids’ sake (not for his – at this point how he felt really wasn’t a priority) I wanted them to continue to have a good relationship with their Dad. As far as I was concerned what was happening was already bad enough for them and I didn’t want to disillusion them about E, and I certainly didn’t want them to be estranged from him (Oldest Daughter had already said she wanted nothing to do with him). I knew that telling them what he’d done would inevitably damage their perception of him.
But, I have always been honest with them and I have always tried to help them face the world and tackle it warts and all. I’d also never pretended that any of us were perfect – in fact I tried to teach them to acknowledge their flaws and, where they couldn’t improve them, to at last smile about them and maybe even embrace them if they could. They were well aware that we were all far from perfect. I had to trust that they would be able to understand that their imperfect father had betrayed me, but not them.
I looked at Oldest Daughter. She nodded imperceptibly.
Holding tight onto Youngest Son, who was still crunched over and crying, I told them that E had met someone else.