BEL MOONEY: Do I tell children how cruel their dad really is?
I met my partner at 20 and in 20 years we had four children. He was a known ‘bad boy’ — which I liked as a challenge.
But he became cruel and bad- tempered, and spent hours addicted to online gambling and worse. He lost his job, increased his gambling and became physically abusive, hitting and even spitting in my face.
The mental abuse was far worse. I became a nervous wreck. He’d go off for days and nearly missed the birth of our (unplanned) fourth child.
When the baby was one, he told the children he was leaving, before telling me. Obviously, they were upset. I was left with four young children and no job, just before Christmas.
A few weeks later I was woken at 6am by two policemen looking for him. They gave me a number and said that if he turns up, I must call. Days later he arrived to see the children and I asked about the police. He said he had driven off from a petrol station by mistake, which I believed. He told me he had been sleeping in the back of a car. The police rang. He left.
One day I was looking at my emails and saw a strange message with a link. I clicked and it took me to a local newspaper article about a violent incident at a swingers party.
To cut it short, he was seeing a girl in another town and left me to live with her. At a swingers party, she went upstairs with six men and two women and he became jealous. He punched her in the face several times and was arrested and later convicted.
My children are now 20, 18, 16 and 14. They think their dad is great. He sees them just once or twice a year and pays very little towards their care as he has a low-paid job.
Sometimes, when I’m frustrated with him, I might say something negative (nothing serious — just a tut or ‘Ask your dad to pay for that’) and immediately they take his side.
I find this really frustrating. I was going to tell the children the whole truth when they were 18 but that time has passed.
I feel that they should know but at the same time I know it would hurt them and I don’t want to do that to them. Bel — would you tell them or just leave it?
This week, Bel Mooney advises a reader who wants to know whether she should tell her children the truth about their abusive father
You gave me the email link to the newspaper report that somebody sent you (the girl punched by your ex?), so I know all the tawdry details of this case.
When this girl went upstairs for group sex he was actually having sex downstairs with somebody else but still got jealous. Yuck, they all deserve each other, eh? But neither you nor your family deserved such a sleazebag in your life.
I can see why, if your children sentimentalise the rotten father they barely see, it must irritate you a lot. But they need to, don’t they?
Thought of the day
Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May,
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh
From The Trees by Philip Larkin (English poet, 1922-1985)
In my days as a young reporter in some of Britain’s most deprived areas, I learned how even ill-treated children will cleave to the worst of parents, so great is their craving for love. I suggest you interpret their habit of defending their father as an indication of their wish for a ‘real dad’ and not as disloyalty to you.
Of course this will be hard, as you have spent so many years coping alone and remember the time when he was present with nervous horror at what he put you through. Yet they still need their illusion of a ‘father’.
That brings us to the real dilemma. How important within a family is the whole truth? We start with a vital question about motive — in other words, why exactly you would be telling your children facts about their father? If your aim is actually to punish him by completely souring their vision of a distant, almost imaginary dad, then the truth becomes no more than a form of vengeance.
For if they were to read the news link to that story about his squalid sex life and bullying violence, then surely no illusions could be left. But revenge is no justification for inflicting pain and shame on your children.
Is there another reason to tell them? You could answer that as adults they need to be warned about his past, just in case some stranger spills the beans one day, and then they turn and blame you for keeping the shameful secret. For lying by omission. This is surely valid. People can blame the keeper of a secret, especially if she is near, while the actual sinner is far away.
Even in your longer letter you say nothing about your ex’s life since that arrest, subsequent fine and community service order.
It could be that he is a reformed character — and that too might have a bearing on your irritation. The only thing that I can suggest is a compromise. If you can satisfy yourself that your motive is not vengeance but to treat your children as adults, then you might proceed with caution and have a long talk with the older two.
Your attitude should be calm and sad as you emphasise that although he hurt and shamed you, he is still their father.
I’m helpless with out-of-control dog
I am 56 and live alone. My husband died five years ago. It was an awful time.
My three wonderful children are all now getting on with their lives at work and university — the closest is 25 miles away.
Lonely after the lockdowns eased, I reconnected with old friends including Ann, from my college days.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
Unmarried, with a very good job, she was also caring for her elderly mother — whom I visited, too. When her mother moved to a care home, the problem was her two dogs. As an animal lover I offered to have the two (sisters).
Gentle Doggy A is no trouble. Doggy B is the opposite. She has separation anxiety. Outside, she barks furiously at other dogs and people and takes no notice of me. I took her to training classes but after a month we were asked to leave as she ran amok. The instructor offered to have B in her home for three weeks for intensive training (at a cost of £1,200). It helped a little but gradually she slipped back.
One year on, I can’t leave the house for longer than two hours a day without the dogs, no one visits me because of B. Ann comes but only seems to want photos of the dogs for her mum. I walk them at 6.30am and 8pm to avoid others. Rehoming centres are all full to bursting. Ann can’t take B in her swanky apartment.
I’m starting to feel unfairly resentful at her lifestyle even though I know this is all my own doing. She does tend to guilt trip me if I ever mention the problems with B, telling me how distraught her mum would be if anything happened to her. I’ve even considered having B put to sleep.
In truth she just wants to be close to me. She’s only six. What should I do?
Athough you present this as a ‘trivial’ problem, it’s not. Like many people you’ve put yourself in a situation you can’t control.
It matters because it’s badly affecting your welfare and that of an innocent dog who had no choices. You have autonomy, the dog does not. For both your sakes you need to up your game as soon as possible.
From your uncut letter I’m guessing you took on the animals to please the former friend whose status rather impressed you. You didn’t think through the implications and this is the mess many people got themselves into when thoughtlessly they took on ‘lockdown dogs’.
I do feel sympathy for you, because you admit you are at fault. You accepted two dogs you didn’t know, enabling your friend to opt out.
You paid for training which was a failure, paid more for private training — then were ‘too weak’ to sustain the commands.
Now you’re also too weak to tell Ann about your problems, and have even guiltily thought of inventing a reason (biting) to have the poor dog euthanized. Bad, bad, bad.
What to do? You could tell Ann you cannot cope with B and so can she rehome that pet as soon as possible while you keep the other. A might be happier without her disruptive, unhappy sister. Dogs get used to new situations, or else rehoming would never succeed as it does.
The other option is for you to take control for a change.
I suggest you sit down and watch all the programmes in the fascinating and instructive Channel 5 series, ‘Dogs Behaving (Very) Badly’ (channel5.com/show/dogs-behaving-very-badly), where master dog trainer Graeme Hall finds solutions for dogs with issues.
After each programme, practise what you have learned — and no excuses. Treat each day as a vital new lesson.
‘Weak’ people shouldn’t have dogs, but you have been strong enough to create a life after the death of your husband and these two animals could be the key to companionable happiness — if you teach them how.
You and the poor dog feed each other’s stress and it can’t continue. By either deciding to confront Ann and tell her you made a mistake or giving yourself a serious crash course in dog ownership from those videos, you will take control.
Much to see or do … and hassle free!
‘Oh, to be in England . . .’ any time, because there’s so much to see and do. We packed a lot into six days: first London for the Raphael exhibition at the National Gallery and a visit to my favourite small gallery, Sam Fogg, which specialises in medieval art.
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]
A pseudonym will be used if you wish.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
Then two nights in Canterbury; one night in Margate; visit Broadstairs for the Dickens House followed by the inspiring Hurricane and Spitfire memorial Museum near Ramsgate; on to Dungeness and Old Rye, en route to two nights in Hastings; then (on the way home westwards) the lovely little church at Tudeley for the Marc Chagall windows, followed by fascinating Tudor Penshurst Place, where you’re reminded what a monster was Henry VIII.
We admired vintage motor cycles at Cosmo Classics in Hastings and dined with friends. All through we relished history and art, breathed sea air, imagined World War II dogfights over Kent (hooray for the RAF!), and agreed how lucky we are to have such beauty and interest without the tedium of airport security and queues.
Neither of us is good at doing nothing. We share each other’s interests — so the husband gladly accompanies me to uplifting choral evensong in Canterbury Cathedral and I delight in old bikes and planes with him. We have a list of places we haven’t seen together: York, Durham, Newcastle, Lindisfarne, Hadrian’s Wall, Orkney . . . the list is long and life is short.
Do I want to travel abroad? Yes, of course. I’ve journeyed all over the U.S., marvelled at the glories of culture in France, Belgium, Italy, Spain, Germany and Portugal, travelled in just-post-Communist Romania, celebrated freedom with Czechs in Prague, had my heart warmed in Ugandan, Kenyan and Ethiopian villages, seen the Niagara Falls frozen and the Taj Mahal in baking sun — and much more. And all those experiences enriched me.
But, as Sir Walter Scott wrote, ‘This is my own, my native land’ — and truly, I love it.