I have a cousin, Nikki, who married her high school sweetheart, finished college, had a little girl, and has been teaching elementary school for 15 years. A few years ago, when her daughter, Taylor, was 11 Nikki and her husband, Buddy, got a divorce. They divorced because when given the choice, repeatedly, between going into to rehab for his alcoholism or destroying his family, Buddy always chose vodka. The last straw was when he got plastered and kidnapped someone at gunpoint. He didn’t harm them, (thank God) but he did go to prison. Apparently when you are shit faced and swinging a gun and force a person to get in your car so you can drunkenly cry on them it is felony and you serve time for it.
They live in a small town. Nikki and Taylor were humiliated. Kids were not kind. Taylor suffered a great deal, to say the least. Sally is the absolute center of Nikki’s world and Nikki is fierce about protecting her. They had to sell the big house Taylor had grown up in, and get a small place in town, but Nikki saves up money and to take Taylor to concerts and on vacations and does things with her that enriches her life. Now, Taylor is 15 years old. She is popular and pretty and talented and smart and her mother is encouraging her to explore her interests and wants her to go to the best college she can. I like that in a cousin.
Buddy has served his time and has been released. He has served his time. Nevertheless, he has not made amends. He hasn’t even really tried. Being a product of Appalachian misogyny and patriarchal privilege, he expected to just get his old life back even though he threw it away with both hands.
He seems surprised that Nikki is cold to him. Taylor isn’t welcoming either, and doesn’t want to much to do with the dad who broke her heart and dragged her family through the mud and made it a focal point of local gossip. When she got a soccer award on sports night she asked only her mother to walk her across the stage; she left Buddy to watch from the stands. Nikki is not encouraging her to visit her father, nor is she badgering her with the “he’s your blood” bullshit we get so much of as women in Appalachia.
This “cold-hearted” behavior of Nikki’s has made her a family scandal. They cannot believe she isn’t being more “understanding” of his mistakes, which is code for allowing everything to slide under the rug because he has a penis and that makes him special. They blame her for Taylor’s choices. She should be encouraging Taylor to trust the father who still won’t go to rehab and might reopen Taylor’s wounds at any time. They think she should set her daughter up for that kind of heartbreak and push her to reconcile before she wants to, based on the fact Buddy is her “flesh and blood” and men should always be excused by their families if they are straight, white males.
Buddy has made his bed and as far as I am concerned he can lie in it, but I am one of the very few supporting Nikki.
You know how the rules of patriarchal hegemony are often enforced by women via social policing? Well, that is what is happening to Nikki. He mother and her younger sister are two of the worst. Her mother does it because she is worried that Nikki is not being a ‘good woman’. Of course, she took Nikki’s dad back when he had several affairs in middle-age, so she is emotionally invested in the option of the ‘good woman’ because it justifies her choices. Nikki’s sister, Viper, mostly does it because she has always been jealous and completive with her sister. Viper had an affair, left her husband and busted apart another marriage, and is now married to the guy she was cheating with. He’s 15 years older than her, and this is his third marriage. Moreover, Viper has been unable to have kids. Viper would LOVE to see the her sister, the one who was faithful to her husband who is a great mother, taken down a peg because Viper thinks that will lift her up some. Even without that motivation, Viper loves to stir up shit and get attention.
Mom and I got in a disagreement about it. Mom thought I would feel sorry for Buddy and talk smack about Nikki, because my mom apparently doesn’t know me very well. Mom insisted that Nikki was being mean to poor Buddy because Viper had told many, many tales of the things Nikki is allegedly doing to make Taylor not love her daddy. I pointed out that Viper lied like a rug and had said horrible things about damn near everyone she had ever known. Mom countered with the “proof” of Nikki’s mean streak by pointing out that Nikki had served Buddy with a notice of child support “the minute the poor man got out of jail!” I pointed out that Nikki had been the sole parent and ONLY source of income for the years prior to that, and the primary breadwinner for more than a dozen years before the divorce. Buddy can help pay for Taylor’s upkeep, especially since he is moaning that he wants to be part of her life again.
Basically, Buddy destroyed his family and now everyone is blaming Nikki for the fact he has to dance with them what brung him. The unfairness of it all pisses me blind.
Although numerous websites have sprung up to claim that parents (usually mothers) make up shit and drive fathers away during divorce, the FACTS show this is actually very rare. No one seems to understand that it is possible for a kid to reject a parent that has seriously screwed up. Taylor has trust issues because her dad betrayed her trust. It is that simple. I think he should be given a chance to prove himself to Taylor again, but people blaming Nikki for Taylor’s reluctance is just punishing her for not upholding Buddy’s patriarchal privilege.