It's Complicated


After I was kicked out of high school, I struggled for a long time to answer the question “Where did you graduate from?” A literal answer was easy to provide, but it didn’t answer the question that was really being asked, which was “Where did you go to high school?” The answer to the former question was “DeSales”, the name of the school from which I literally graduated, while the answer to the latter was “Watterson”, the school to which I had gone for three and a half years before my expulsion. The longer I’ve been out of high school, the easier it is to answer either question. I simply say Watterson, and explain the story of my expulsion if it comes up.

In May of 2003 I got married. My wife had two children, who I welcomed into my life with open arms. I tried hard to adopt them, but their biological father blocked my every attempt. It was relatively easy to answer the question “Do you have kids?” with an affirmative, even though the reality was a little more complex than that. Since I was neither their biological nor adopted father, I couldn’t make medical decisions for them, or legally sign school permission slips for them, and was, as was described to me by an attorney, a “legal stranger” in the eyes of the law.

In July 2008, my wife and I separated. She and the kids have moved away. As of this writing, the divorce proceedings are not yet finalized. So in the eyes of the law, I’m still married. I haven’t told many people, other than my close friends, because there’s no easy way to communicate the situation to casual acquaintances, coworkers, and the various folks that knew us. It’s not something I want to broadcast, nor just blurt out. Unfortunately, my lack of communication causes folks to feel embarrassed when they ask me how my family is, only to find out what had happened. Coworkers, my barber, and friends of friends are all in the dark until they ask about my wife or the kids, at which time I explain the situation. Then there’s much apologizing and awkward feelings.

More complicated still is the question “Do you have any kids?” which I was recently asked. Do I? I never had a legal claim to the kids while they were living with me, and now that they’re no longer living with me I have even less of a legal claim to them. Of course, when someone asks “Do you have kids?” they’re not usually asking for a strict legal interpretation of that question. I still consider the kids an important part of my life, even though they’re not with me any more. But I don’t have much interaction – much less influence – with them any more, so I don’t really consider myself a dad. Since they weren’t my biological children, how should I answer the question?

Should I just say “No” and leave it at that? Chances are good that people asking the question aren’t really interested in a convoluted answer to explain my divorce situation. “No” is an honest literal answer, since I do not have kids living with me, and I’m no longer involved with the day-to-day activities of kids. I could answer “Not any more” and leave it at that, but I suspect that’ll lead to apologies and awkward feelings, which I’d rather avoid entirely. I could answer “Yes” and leave it at that, but that’s more likely to open up conversations that involve me explaining the details, and again we get back to apologies and awkward feelings.

Maybe I’ll start saying “It’s complicated”.

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