Never one to mince her words. Youngest Daughter jumped straight into the comments thread with: “ooh look, it’s my dad, haven’t seen him since 2016” and frankly it then went downhill for him from there.
I was in the room with her whilst she was commenting, and she was both exhilarated with and overwhelmed by her own bravery. A lot of what she said wouldn’t have made sense unless you know her. She wasn’t incoherent, but she was typing quickly and saying as much as she could in the moment. She didn’t say everything she wanted to say, but she did make it clear that he’d been unfaithful, talked about how much she struggled with her mental health, and mentioned that he hadn’t paid any child maintenance. She told everyone that P was 19 years younger than E and she even got in a plug for this blog. She was supported throughout by those friends of mine who weren’t just staring at their screens in horror, and one of the poor students whose class had been taken over, was gratifyingly shocked by the age gap between E and P
I watched the whole thing, vacillating between wanting to intervene to stop, wanting to give her a round of applause for finally doing what she’d wanted to do for ages and wanting to hug her and tell her that everything would be ok.
It was a difficult thing to watch – both in terms of observing Youngest Daughter and in terms of seeing E’s reaction to what was happening. I couldn’t help but think that, even though unintended, what was happening was the direct consequences of two years of his ignoring her and I and in fact everything else he didn’t want to face up to. There was a kind of inexorable awfulness to it. It was the reason I didn’t want to put anything on social media laid bare. It was also the only way left to my daughter to communicate with her dad.
E could clearly see the questions as they came in, and he quickly realised that Youngest Daughter had hijacked the comments and that there would be no exam questions from his students that evening. I don’t know what I thought would happen, but as I watched his face redden and the horror rise in his eyes, I felt a terrible twinge of sympathy for him and a sharp rush of guilt. I hadn’t meant for anything like this to happen and whilst I knew, logically, that he probably ‘deserved’ everything that was happening to him, I still hated being part of it. I also understood for the first time, why people say to me ‘but you’re the mother of his kids’ when expressing their horror at E’s behaviour. Hurting a parent hurts the kids. I might dislike E intensely, but he’s the father of my kids, and they don’t deserve to see him upset.
He stood, frozen, for a minute or so, clicking to refresh his feed, watching Youngest Daughter’s comments inexorably rise to the surface over and over again, accompanied by a sea of angry faces and then, without a word, he walked off set, leaving the poor technical guy to turn off the camera.
It was like watching a car crash.
In the immediate aftermath, Youngest Daughter was euphoric. Her mood, which had been worryingly down for a few days was lifted and energised. I initially shared her euphoria – it was kind of infectious – but then I just felt guilty. Throughout everything that’s happened with E, I’ve taken comfort from the fact that I’ve always acted decently. I felt that I’d well and truly lost my claim to the moral high ground on this one. I may not have intended this to happen, but I felt deeply uncomfortable being the inadvertent cause of it. If I’d intended anything it was a little poke to remind him that lots of people thought, he was a dickhead. What happened was deeply embarrassing to him personally and professionally and whilst I didn’t plan it, I still felt that I’d contributed to it somehow. I also realised, that, if anything, this would now make him potentially more difficult to deal with. I felt there would be probably be consequences for me.
If Youngest Daughter had been on a high on the Friday night, by the next morning, the realisation that even shouting at him, online, in front of his students and his company, would not get her his attention made her even more down than she was before.
Compared to the adrenaline rush of Friday night, Saturday morning was a new low. I’d not slept very well and was worrying over what had happened and Youngest Daughter was silent and sad. The next day, also happened to be the first day of December, and I began to worry, with a sinking heart, that perhaps E had no intention of paying any money into my accounts for a second month in a row. Panic began to set in as I watched my accounts all weekend and no money appeared.
It was an odd weekend. I tried to keep everyone’s spirits up by buying a Christmas tree (ignoring the cost and hoping that everything would work out somehow), but I didn’t have the energy to enjoy it. I went through the motions of putting up lights and decorating the house, but it all felt forced, and for the first time in my life, I understood why people dread Christmas. It wasn’t the lack of money that bothered me (at least not in terms of doing Christmas), I knew that nobody would be upset by not having many presents, but the knowledge that E might continue to withhold money and the devastating impact that this would have on me and the children was a massive cold shadow that was draining the joy out of everything. This was the third Christmas in a row that he had made a challenge (two years ago I’d got through it despite knowing he was seeing P, last year I was trying to make it ok for the kids even though it was their first one without their Dad) and frankly, I was beginning to feel worn down. I was looking to take on additional work in the evenings and at weekends to try and make up for his withholding the money and frankly, I was emotionally and physically exhausted.
The worst thing was that I was beginning to realise that if the hurt outburst of his distressed 16-year-old daughter wasn’t enough to appeal to his sense of decency, it was highly unlikely that my plight was likely to cause him the slightest pang of guilt. There is a bizarrely nightmarish quality to everything at the moment. I no longer expect fairness from E, but I never expected downright nastiness and yet that was what was happening. I had done nothing wrong (on the contrary, I’d spent 25 years sticking with him through thick and thin and then, even when the relationship had ended, I’d done the decent thing and not made life difficult for him, or his various mistresses) and yet, he seems to be deliberately, and quite coldly, making my life more and more difficult. I don’t doubt that he’s in financial trouble, but to privilege he and P’s needs over those of his own kids is a cruel thing to do. I’m sure in his version of this story I’m the vengeful (probably also bitter or maybe even psycho) ex, but even if I am it’s still hard to understand how he can justify what he’s doing.