For more than a decade now I have had the opportunity to hear from the mouth of an angry child these words, "You are not my father!" Sometimes the statement is more nuanced, as in: "You are not my *real* father, you know," or "We are not even related. We have absolutely nothing in common." Of our ten children, perhap only half have used this straw-man attack in a fit of rage. But last night the percentage changed from 5/10 to 6/10.
Our second youngest son -- our twelve-year-old who actually was the first to arrive in our family nearly eleven years ago -- had been brewing a screamfest for some time, and for him some time can mean actually three or four minutes in the way other people count time. We had a friend and her three kids over for dinner, and while I was preparing to feed the thirteen of us, I could sense the emotional level increasing by the second. Within a breath's exhalation Anthony came stomping up the stairs hurling profanities and screaming a blood-curdling yelp. After continual emotional harrassment (from Anthony to our friend's twelve-year-old son), our friend's son bit Tony on the arm. Shrieking with exaggerated pain and fury, Anthony threw himself into the kitchen threatening to "****'ing kill that #$%*!" In an effort to calm his frenetic emotion I calmly reminded him that "We don't kill people when we're mad at at them, and we don't threaten them. It's not OK to do that."
I know what comes next. At least I thought I knew, because I have been well practiced with Tony for years now. This time, however, it was, "Shut the **** up. You are not even my father. My real father is so much better than you are. You don't even know how to help me."
While I was surprised at the words of his outburst, I have to say that by this point in my life that series of phrases does little to enflame me. There was a time when I would feel personally attacked and deeply wounded, but I've heard it so long and in so many different ways from so many different mouths over the years that it really doesn't even faze me anymore. I've learned to see it as a developmental stage, actually. I've observed that by the time a kid is eleven or twelve if s/he doesn't have some moments of wishing his/her parents were not truly theirs, there must be something wrong with the kid. I'm sure I'm not alone in remembering my own early adolescence and wonderingly dreaming that perhaps, just perhaps, my parents were not my *real* parents.
I suppose children who are adopted feel that this is one of the "cards" they can "play" that will really affect a parent. But for me it's been there, done that, so many times that it doesn't even bother me anymore.