Saturday 16 December 2017

Dear Patricia: My five-year-old son wants to know about his father

Patricia Redlich

SOME years ago I got involved with a married man and became pregnant. The relationship didn't last and the man still lives with his wife and their children in a rural village not too far from where I live.

My little boy is now five years old and has no contact with his dad. He has, at times, asked about his dad and, as he is still young, I have managed to answer him without giving too much information.

My worry, however, is how I am going to deal with the situation when he gets older and inevitably wants more detailed answers to his questions. This man's wife and children don't know about my son, and I have never sought maintenance or any form of assistance from him. I am single.

I really want to do right by my son but naturally would rather avoid causing chaos if it were possible.

YOU may not be actually changing your mind, but you are certainly having second thoughts on how you've handled your situation so far. You went for total secrecy. Now you're not so sure. Certainly your son's questions have forced you to think. But you're not stupid. You knew from the start that a child would one day want to know. It's just that when you got pregnant, and the relationship failed, you had other emotional priorities. Your vulnerability was of a different dimension. I can't, of course, tell you what to do. I can point out the issues.

An affair with a married man has its own rules, even if they are not spelled out. Initially, anyway, there is secrecy. There is also the question of what the man promises. Some make it perfectly clear that their marriages will remain intact. Others make promises to start a new life. You get the picture. I don't know what happened with you. All I'm saying is that, directly or indirectly, you had a deal.

I'm not sure what role honour plays in an affair -- and some would say the very concept is ludicrous -- but you have to examine how exposure of the truth might involve breaking that deal, whatever it was, and how you feel about that.

By staying silent for the last six years, you've created a new deal. I don't know whether the two of you talked about it or not, but by maintaining secrecy, you implicitly made a contract, gave a sort of promise, led your ex-lover to believe that the secret would be kept.

No, I'm not saying you have to stick to that contract. I'm just pointing out that the repercussions will be all the greater because of your behaviour until now. Rage will be all the wilder, a sense of betrayal all the more powerful, because your secrecy to date raised hopes in your lover's head of getting away with it. That may not be fair. But it's the way the world works. You just need to be prepared for that.

I'm not sure how you explained your son's presence to people around you. But again, society may not thank you for rocking the boat at this stage. They may also not believe you. You could be fighting a long legal battle about paternity, involving DNA testing, solicitors, and unpleasant confrontations, on many fronts. Of course you've paid a bitter price for the affair. And your ex-lover appears to have got away without a whisper of anguish. That doesn't mean you will now be seen as the injured party. On the contrary, you may be seen as an offender twice over.

Maybe you will be able to force through some form of maintenance. You may also be able to have the truth of your son's paternity confirmed. That won't, however, mean that your son has any kind of contact with his father. On the contrary, it may only reinforce any feelings he might have of being abandoned by his dad. Not to mention having to deal with the fall-out from another family's distress, and, perhaps, society's disapproval.

Knowing who his father is, in short, may be a far greater burden than simply not knowing. What I'm saying, very clearly, is that telling the truth may not be the way of doing best by your son. Fantasies can sometimes suffice.

Put another way, I basically believe you are entitled to your secret. If you so choose. Think about it.

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