Note from Dr. Respler: The following is an open letter submitted to us by a reader. Some of the details have been altered to respect the privacy of all involved.
I am writing to you on my husband’s – your ex-husband’s – behalf. While driving home from work the day after Sukkos, my thoughts were occupied with his broken heart. I do not always clearly hear his pain, but that day my heart began to ache for the pain you are putting him through.
Sukkos, more specifically, Simchas Torah, was especially difficult for him. He went to shul to dance with the Torah, but knowing that his two sons and daughter were nowhere near him (or even allowed to spend quality time with him) made simchas Yom Tov hard to achieve.
We have an elderly Jewish immigrant who eats at our house on Yom Tov and Shabbos, so when he told us that he couldn’t wait for the hakafos to end so he could eat the meal, my husband asked a rabbi in the shul if he should leave early. When he was told to grant the orayach his wish, my husband complied – while in truth, he was relieved. He sees other men with their children and grandchildren, and it breaks his heart that he is denied the right to spend time with his children.
Oh, you have your reasons. And you make sure that everyone who fights on his behalf knows all of your “valid” reasons for why he cannot have access to them. There was the time five years ago when he said that Danny didn’t draw nicely, or that at times he buys a present for one of the kids – but not all of them. Or that at times he talks about Moshiach to the kids. Truly evil behavior! Is that enough to warrant almost virtual excommunication from his offspring?
And how wrong and abnormal was it for him to try to spend a half hour during the summer, when his sweet boy was off from yeshiva, learning some Torah with him once a week? His son was chalishing for this, as he was bored out of his mind. You hadn’t planned anything special for him to do during his free time. Yet, my husband’s desire to learn with his son was apparently so “wrong” that it was deserving of a lecture from his mother and uncle about how this would harm him.
And how “awful” is it that he spends hundreds of dollars on a piece of jewelry for his only daughter? When he finds out that she is allergic to the jewelry, he makes a special trip back to the jeweler and pays the extra cost to make it okay – only to find out that his daughter does not wear it. I understand why she doesn’t – if her mother exhibits such hatred towards her father, who would want to even keep a piece of jewelry from him around?
We have discovered that many of the presents we buy end up in the garbage. Is that proper chinuch? And does that reflect to the children that there’s something wrong with their father?
I am not saying that my husband is perfect, nor am I discounting the fact that, as I understand, you had to put up with a lot as a new, young couple. But I have seen my parents, siblings and grandparents go through tough times and yet find ways to stand by each other. My husband also assures me that there were really good times as well in your marriage. It seems that you have chosen to only focus on the really awful times you had together. Perhaps you do that to justify taking the seemingly easy way out and close the door on any whiff of the past. Thus, you keep on mishandling the present and future happiness of the children without a guilty conscience.
Were it up to me, as a newly married couple, I would be happy with things as they are – since we become closer every day. The truth is that having these children in our lives right now seems like interference in what is an otherwise cozy, loving relationship. But I cannot be selfish, as my husband is so badly hurt and desires so deeply for some quality time with his sons and daughter. And I don’t mean five minutes spent at the front door before every passerby. He would like a phone number where he can reach you or his children. He wants to know that they are okay.
Is that too much to ask?
My husband recently went to his son’s cheder to drop off some nosh and a cute picture of the two of them that they had taken a few months back. While walking through the halls, he noticed a bulletin board that displayed family trees of the students – a very positive concept. But representing his son were only pictures of your new husband and his parents, with nothing to show that my husband and his family even existed. My husband was hurt to the core. I ask you: how healthy is it for your children to be raised this way, with no acknowledgment of who their father is or from where his children come?
My husband had so looked forward to showing his son that he loved him and thought of him often, even though his access to him and his other children is so limited. But not only did he have to see evidence that you are attempting to erase his existence, you then had your husband call to say that you were contacting the schools and informing them my husband should not be allowed to see the children – even threatening to call the police if the visits did not stop.
Despite your claim that your son was upset that his father visited, I need to let you know that every encounter between them is usually so loving, and full of hugs and kisses – until recently. A recent phone call exchange between them was strange, as your son laughed hysterically during the entire conversation. I attribute this to conversations in your home that paint my husband in a very unfavorable light. That is the only reason for this child to react so negatively to his father’s phone call.
Friends of ours, some of who have gone through divorces, assure us that once the children come of age, they will turn to him of their own accord. We have spoken to professionals who are horrified that the children are being raised in an environment that fosters only negativity toward their father. Many family members and friends are mystified at your behavior, having believed that once you remarried, and hopefully became happy, you would change your attitude and be happy to have the children get to experience their father’s love.
However, this is not the case. We are coming to terms with this situation, albeit regrettably. With the children still relatively young, there is still time to make some changes. Will you take advantage of this opportunity? They have so much to learn from their father – his tremendous love for his fellow Jew, his constant acts of chesed, and his love of Torah and mitzvos. And don’t discount his gorgeous voice, beautiful zemiros and, of course, his amazing ability to make people laugh. His children are truly missing out on all this. Do not wait until the children have to find all this out on their own.
Do the right thing now.
I have no words to express my empathy for the pain that your husband is enduring.
In the spirit of Chanukah we hope that people reading this letter will try to make shalom with their former spouses, and allow them access to their children. Thank you for your eloquent words. Hatzlachah!
Dr. Yael Respler