Dear David: "My son is without a father figure after the death of his grandad"
"I lost my dad after a very short illness at Christmas. My three-year-old son (who saw him as a father figure) is taking it badly. His behaviour became very bad in January, and really it's only now that he is starting to settle down again after a long bout of bad behaviour.
Do you think, at such a young age, he will forget his grandad? I'd love for him to remember him. He's a loveable little thing and when Dad died, he hugged me and said "I'm here mammy", and he couldn't have said anything truer. If it wasn't for him, I'd find it hard to get through this myself.
His own dad is not in his life, as he left me when I was 13 weeks pregnant and took off for the UK. My son is now starting to ask questions, as there are daddies in the lives of the kids in crèche, and he wonders where his dad is. I feel that his dad has let us down so much.
I'm afraid my son will blame me for having no dad even though his dad didn't want either of us. But I don't want my son to think he wasn't wanted. Can you help me?"
It sounds to me like there are two core issues to be addressed. One relates to the death of your own father and the second relates to your son's father.
Even though they are seemingly separate, I think they are probably connected. First, let's consider your father's death. Not only was this sad for your son, it has also been profoundly shocking and distressing for you. Your son will have been attuned to your feelings as well as his own. Your son is very young, and so it is tempting to talk in euphemisms when dealing with death. However this can be very confusing for small children. I think it is easier for them to cope with death when we try to explain the actuality of death and to talk about some of the feelings we can have.
Even though he is only three it will still help him if you talk about how much he might miss his grandad, or how sad or angry he might feel that his grandad is no longer there.
My guess is that his misbehaviour over the last few months was his way of trying to show you just how distressed he is that his grandad isn't around any more.
His greater interest in his dad may be his way of trying to express the loss of a central male figure in his life. I would guess that he is asking more about his dad because he really notices the emotional gap that his grandad's death has created in his life.
I think it is fine to let his dad take responsibility for not being around. It doesn't sound like you chose not to include him in his son's life. His dad chose to go and not keep in touch, and it is actually his fault that his son doesn't know him.
Perhaps it was immaturity that led him to be unable to take on the responsibility of fatherhood. Perhaps he was just feckless and uncaring. Either way, it is in fact his dad who has let him down.
You don't need to be harsh, however, in explaining this to your son. Given his age, you just need to tell him that his dad wasn't able to stay in Ireland. As he gets older you can explain more of the truth about why that was and continue to let him know how much you love him.
You can also keep talking to him about how important his grandad was, and perhaps try to recall some of your own dad's advice and guidance that you have followed in your life. That will ensure that he still gets some of his grandad's wisdom and won't forget him.