I attended a recent hearing where a father and son had been estranged for many years. The son had experienced serious issues growing up and had moved around from family member to family member, then ended up in the home of a stranger through foster care. He’d turned 18 and opted out of the system, even though he only had four months of high school to finish. He was leaving the state, potentially forever.
The father, my client, hadn’t come to many of the hearings over the years, at my suggestion, as the court refused to place the child with him because of a rocky history, and the boy wanted nothing to do with his father. Why take off a day of work to waste it in court?
But this hearing was different. The young man had stated his intention to leave, to forego his diploma, to strike out into the unknown without help. I suggested that Dad come to the hearing. It might be the last time he ever saw his son.
So he did. I give him credit for that. After years of the boy slamming the door in his face, he came to court to face him. After the hearing, in the hall, he gave the boy some news on family members he’d known, and we all stood there. Neither seemed to know what else to say, these two (now) adults related by blood but disengaged. I suggested that the dad shake hands with the young man, a symbolic healing of sorts, but his hands were firmly jammed in his pockets. He was clearly broadcasting his hurt feelings. “If he wants to,” he mumbled.
I looked to the newly-freed young man, and his attorney asked if he wanted to shake hands with his father. His hands remained jammed in his own pockets. He stared at the floor. He didn’t speak.
So after a long pause of uncomfortable silence, we all turned to shuffle away. Moment lost.
Maybe I’ve just been very fortunate with my own children, that we enjoy a relationship of mutual caring and respect. Even though they are far away, following their dreams, we communicate and share our lives. I can’t imagine being in a place where we couldn’t look each other in the eye, or take 10 seconds to allow our hands to come into contact, when it meant goodbye forever.
Who should have made the first move? I’d have said my client. He is the parent. He’s the adult. After all his years on the earth, he should have learned what the boy could miss without the possibility of that relationship. Yet he chose to allow his own petulance to block what might have been their last chance. It was one of the saddest moments of my career.