Readers respond to Cary Tennis: Should I leave my husband and child in New England for my lover in L.A.?

Published September 24, 2004 7:00PM (EDT)

[Read the column.]

I was shocked that the mother who was trying to decide whether to leave her husband for her ex-lover assumed she would be able to take her son with her. What century is she living in? As a divorce attorney I represent fathers 80 percent of the time. I am usually successful in getting custody for the father, especially when I can prove that the mother could not put the child's needs (for a loving, consistent home) above her own (for an exciting life).

She says the boyfriend would raise the child as his own. Guess what? The biological father has the paramount right to raise the child as his own, because, ta-da, it is his own.

I have never heard such selfish, self-centered drivel in my life. The first three years are critical to a child's development. If she can't put her own needs on hold for that short period, she ought to go to L.A., leave the son, and hope that her current husband has the judgment and ability to find a woman who is willing to raise the son as her own.

-- Peggy Carey, Montrose, Colo.

Sorry, but I disagree with you, Cary. As a child of parents who tore each other to pieces for 20 years in their efforts to stay for the sake of the children, I think it is imperative that couples who are in the throes of passionless existence at best, or in the whirlwind of resentment and anger at worst, are better off divorced -- for the sake of the kids, darn it!

Unacknowledged in all this family-values propaganda against divorce is the other side, of couples who remain together, despite their issues with each other, for the kids. The kids themselves are damaged by the strife in the home -- and believe me, children know when their parents are not in love with each other. At best, they become gun-shy about being in committed relationships out of fear of entrapment like this poor woman; at worse, they themselves become entangled in poisonous, unhappy relationships -- like parent, like child. Furthermore, the parents themselves will most likely become bitter and angry at each other, and it does get passed down to the child. I know -- I was that child once. My parents did not split over an extramarital affair, but the results were the same. They waited for me and my brother to become adults before divorcing, but the damage was already done, which probably would not have occurred had they taken that step early in the relationship, before the emotional damage. That woman needs an attorney, not a counselor!

-- Cherie Ann Turpin, Washington

Cary, I know you have to fill the column, and normally I enjoy your take on the typical Dear Abby queries that come in. But for God's sake, man, did this woman deserve anything more than "No, do not destroy your family, you self-centered, irresponsible, immature ninny"? Everything in the woman's letter spoke to her essential selfishness. Actually, the more I think about it, the more I think your response should have been "Yes. As much damage as it will do to both your husband and son, they are far better off without you in their lives, you self-centered, irresponsible, immature ninny." I realize that people sometimes have horrible inner thoughts they wouldn't necessarily act upon, but still need to work through to reach some resolution ("Should I cheat on my wife with that woman in accounting?" "Wouldn't my life be better without my kids?" "If I were to skim just 1 percent off each account, they'd never notice and I'd make $100G.") But this woman has clearly already made up her mind to act and is now just seeking affirmation for her self-centeredness. Fie on her. Next time, hold the space for someone with a real problem, but at least some basis in basic moral behavior (said the liberal Democrat).

-- Steven W. Flanders, San Francisco

Though not exactly, "Confused in New England" could almost be me. I stood at that same crossroads and made the decision to get therapy in order to ... well, untangle the doings of my life. I had walked away from the greatest love of my life (the why of that is another story) and married a kind, decent man. A year later, I was nearly drowning in regret. The bleakness I felt cannot be described, but I believed that joy was possible in some hazy, distant future. OK, so I really didn't believe it, but opted to stay married anyway. At the end of the day, it just seemed like the right thing to do. Now, a dozen years later, I still have moments of longing for the life that I don't have. But they are just moments. Tell "Confused in New England" that contentment and happiness are possible. I know. I'm here and I'm happy.

-- M.L. Cluff

By Salon Staff

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