DEAR AMY: I am a dad with two children, ages 11 and 8. Three months ago, we were at my mother and stepfather’s house for a family cookout. My 8-year-old son was throwing “pops” on the ground (you know — those firecracker things that pop on cement). Well, apparently, my stepfather became angry and lunged at my son, picking him up by the throat, screaming in his face, and throwing him onto the ground. This happened in the front yard, and all of the other adults were in the backyard. My daughter and my niece came running to the adults, crying, “Grandpa’s choking ‘Nick’!” The only witnesses were children aging from 8 to 14, but they all had the same story. When I came running into the front yard, my stepdad was hovering over my 50-pound son, two inches from his face, while my son was on his back, lying in the grass, crying and trembling. (I have witnessed his angry outbursts in the past toward the kids over petty things, but I’ve always been in the same room to defuse it.) My stepfather went to jail that night and was released two days later. We haven’t spoken since. He sent me a card in the mail two months after, with a short apology, but I’m not convinced that he thinks he’s done anything wrong. I’m having trouble moving forward. I feel angry more than hurt. My kids say they don’t want to see him. Nor do my sister and her family, who were also there. I know it’s not fair to my mom, who is stuck in the middle. How does a family move on from this?
DEAR UPSET: I agree that the children in the family should not have personal contact with your stepfather, unless another adult is with them. You and your sister could explain to them that you are concerned about his ability to control his temper, and are hoping that he will get help for his rage.
Your mother is not stuck in the middle. She can spend time with you and your children on her own. Her husband is an explosively violent person, and you should try to discern if she is safe. Don’t abandon her.
You should insist that your stepfather receive professional counseling to manage his rage. He should apologize to your son, in writing, admitting that what he did was wrong, and asking for forgiveness.
Don’t get stuck on the concept of forgiveness and moving on, but on healing — for you and your children. Yes, I believe it is possible for your family to recover, but only if everyone (especially the abuser) rises responsibly to the ongoing challenge.
DEAR AMY: I’m 32 weeks pregnant. I’m feeling a lot of distance with my boyfriend. There has been a lot of deceit on his part — he has snuck around, calls me names, and pushes me away most of the time. I’m lucky if I get a good two days out of the week. He has turned me away sexually for a very long time. I’m very much in love with him and this baby I’m carrying. He was not this monster when we first became an item. He was a charmer, a gentleman, and a sweetheart. I never had this nice treatment before. When he told me he loved me for the first time, it was like a God moment! I felt the same way. And I still do. Please help!
DEAR EXPECTANT: It is easy to talk of love, but love is expressed every day and through many ways: kindness, acceptance, and nurturing.
This man does not want to be a father. He is showing you through his mistreatment of you. Love this baby, nurture yourself, and — for your sake and your unborn child’s — you should expect, and demand, respect. I hope you have outside support from friends and family to help you make the transition away from this abusive relationship. It is not healthy for you or your child to stay with him.
DEAR AMY: Thank you for your response to “Horrified.” This was written by a woman whose friends were planning to adopt a baby, even though their marriage was ending. Many years ago, I gave up a child for adoption. My dream for my own child was to give her a better life than I could provide. This messed-up couple should not adopt a child.
DEAR ALSO: Many readers joined me in being appalled by this story.