Just last night Buzzfeed published an attack piece on me in the most personal of ways, by digging over 30 years into my past and gathering or paying for statements from my ex-wife and my estranged daughter (referred to by Buzzfeed as “Bonnie”). Very few of you will know I have an estranged daughter. I have the hope in reading this you will understand why I never dragged this part of my life into the public arena.
To make that more explicit I have elected in the past to never speak about this part of my life. I made that decision because the nature of my work subjects me and those close to me to attacks routinely. I did not want to subject anyone to that unnecessarily.
However, since my daughter and former wife have elected for whatever reason to insert themselves into my public life, I see no other alternative than to respond with my side of this story.
If you will allow me a moment’s digression, I need to point out that it has not been established that I actually have a daughter. I think it is possible, even likely, but I don’t know for sure. For the sake of simplicity, though, I will use that word where it fits.
There were several distortions printed, some of them direct quotes from the mother and daughter, some of them just “reporting” as usual for people like Adam Serwer. In this piece he was trying to create a financial boogeyman, but only as a side note. The piece is really dedicated to where he thinks it will hurt.
As a much younger man I met a woman I was quite attracted to, and who was very enthusiastic about sex. Our first date turned into a live-in and ultimately to a poorly thought-out marriage.
My wife was indeed very enthusiastic about sex. The naivety of my youth also made me pretty blind to the fact that her sexual enthusiasm wasn’t limited to me. There was an unending string of affairs. By the time we separated Bonnie had been born and my ex was pregnant again. As the relationship ended, I learned of even more affairs from friends who were silent while we were together.
It was at this time, when I was confronting her about what she had done, that she revealed to me that she had been “raped,” though it was not by a friend of mine. It was a friend of hers. Given her ongoing dishonesty about the affairs and many inconsistencies she related about the alleged rape, I did not believe her. I still don’t. She cheated and lied constantly.
She also alleges I had a drug and alcohol problem. There is some truth to that, though no more at all a problem than she herself had, including drinking and smoking PCP while she was pregnant with her daughter.
We were both wild, stupid kids. Sad but hopefully forgivable. I, for one, turn my youthful poor judgement with drugs and turn that into a 30 year career helping addicts recover.
Anyway, I became very suspicious about paternity issues as the grief of the breakup cleared the denial I had about her character, and I requested paternity testing, which she refused to give. Needless to say, that compounded my fears that I was going to be saddled with the price tag for my exes cheating.
After being served, I wrote her attorney and demanded paternity testing again, which was again refused. I informed him at that time that I had no intention of paying, jail or no.
Eventually he returned that message with an offer. Pay $1,200.00 and relinquish parental rights forever. Again I interpreted this as yet more of an indication that my then wife was unsure of paternity. The deal was sealed, and I picked up my life and moved on.
I do not regret doing that. I feel bad for Bonnie, but that is a separate and distinct issue from my choices at the time. I had a promiscuous wife who was a habitual liar. I had every sensible reason to suspect that I was not the biological father. And while I would not allow myself to get in that situation again, if for some reason I did I would make the same choices without hesitation.
In 2005, Bonnie contacted me by mail, as is said in the article. We exchanged emails, and in the first one I told her that there was a very good chance I was not her biological father, but that I would very much like to meet her.
We talked on the phone a few times and made arrangements to meet. When we did I saw a family resemblance, though looking back I am not sure if I was seeing what I wanted to see. I sure did not act on it. While we never got paternity testing, I was satisfied on meeting her that she was my biological daughter. And yes, I did cry. Not for shame or personal remorse, but for a sadness. I did not, as alleged, tell Bonnie that I was sorry that I had failed her. I told her that I was sorry such misfortune had been her lot. I did not tell her that I would understand if she hated me. I told her that I would understand if she were angry. And I still do understand that. I would be angry if I grew up like she did.
I was trying as best I could to be open to whatever her experience of that was, but I never felt and still don’t that this was something I had done to her. It all could have been avoided with a simple paternity test that her mother would not allow.
A lot of things could have been avoided. Bonnie and her brother both revealed to me on meeting them that the woman I was married to was the same woman they had experienced growing up. Chronic drinking, drugs, a series of short term, often volatile relationships in which both Bonnie and her brother were abused. The abuse was at the hands of her mother and some number of her mother’s boyfriends. They disclosed that in nearly all those relationships their mother had cheated.
As to more recent events, I can only suspect that money or anger or possibly both have driven Bonnie to deceit. You have read a story that tells you I was more interested in fancy living than in family. You were told that I spanked my grandson, with the implication that this is why she left without returning my calls (which Serwer takes the liberty to twist into my leaving her again).
That is not what happened. As in all interpersonal matters, things are much more complicated than short, easy to digest versions fit for Buzzfeed reading level. There is the surface actions, and then there is what happens beneath the current. I will tell you both.
I invited Bonnie and her husband down to Houston for a visit a week after my partner and I bought a new home. In hindsight that was a mistake. It was blistering hot and my partner and I had completely exhausted ourselves with the move. I was certainly grumpy and not at my best. It was a bad time to receive them and I know that it showed in my attitude and demeanor.
I was indeed frustrated with both my grandsons. Both were at difficult ages to begin with. They also acted out a great deal at the time in general, I think related to the hostilities they lived with in Bonnie’s marriage, and to the fact that her mother, still drinking heavily and very emotionally unstable, lived with them.
I had become uncomfortable at that point visiting them because of the constant tension and fighting in their home.
I know that I snapped a couple of times at Bonnie’s children, but I never laid a finger on either of them. When I called and left a voicemail apology to her later on, it was not an apology for spanking anyone, it was an apology for being irritable and less than hospitable while she was there at my invitation.
That is the surface of things. But as I said there is much more underneath. One of the things that I discovered during this remarkable chapter in my life was that sadly I could not get back time lost with Bonnie. There was too much water under the bridge. No matter how hard I tried, and I did for six years, I did not adjust well to the shocker of becoming an overnight father and grandfather. There were too many missing pieces. No matter what I did I would never have the kind of relationship that comes from raising someone. There was a depth of connection that would just not happen.
I was not going to fill the hole in Bonnie’s heart from a missing father and a string of abusive replacements. I think we were both starting to figure this out in our own way.
And I think that is where the friction comes in. Bonnie has said that I was more concerned with my new home than with her. What she did not say is that she had repeatedly asked me about moving to her city to be closer. I am sure that the new home represented the end of that thinking for her, and that it hurt.
She was not in a good place herself when she arrived. It was apparent to both my partner and myself that something was bothering her from the moment she walked in the door. That is only a guess on my part, but I am pretty sure that I am right.
That sums up everything I think is worth saying here. Bonnie and her mother both have been less than honest, even attributing racial slurs to me that I did not say, and a number of other items too trivial to go in to. I can speculate that it was maybe for some silver, and that is possible. But I am guessing that it is more about what is obvious to me. Bonnie got short changed. She is angry, and I don’t blame her. I don’t think this path is going to lead to any peace for her, but often these things take much longer than we would like to land people in a better place.
She must on some level be doing what she thinks she needs to do. I actually hope it does work for her and I wish her the very best in life.
So now, as AVFM continues to grow, I know that I will increasingly be targeted and by people willing to invest much more time and money in doing so. After a long, emotional and sleepless night last night, I am no less committed to seeing this through than I was the day before. Nothing has changed, except perhaps that some of you know me a little better now.
See you all in Houston for ICMI15.