How do you react when your kid gets taunted for having divorced parents?

There’s another issue to this Akian Chaifetz story to which I wanted to dedicate a separate post: His parents are divorced, and his father Stuart tells us he has primary custody. This is a big deal for me, as a divorced father, because a viral video is showing the world a dad tasked with the primary care of a child — and an autistic child, at that. There’s a part of me that wants to get all Citizen Ruth on this man and parade him around as a lionized patron saint of awesome dadhood. Which he clearly isn’t. None of us is.

The thing that stuck with me about the audio tape was the last bit about how Akian, who was scheduled to go home with his mother, asked if he could see his dad. The boy was clearly trying to cope with the abuse he’d endured by seeking out his most familiar source of comfort, and this monstrous crudstain of a human being, who until recently masqueraded as a teacher, shot back with a dismissive “No.” She seemed to delight in making the kid more miserable.

People who know me know I’ll go pretty far to give someone the benefit of the doubt and to understand that everyone makes mistakes when they’re not at their best. I certainly don’t wish this teacher extended pain and suffering. I only want what Stuart wants: for her to make a formal apology and find another line of work. But as a divorced dad, the idea of using divorce as a bullying tactic gets my blood over 212 Fahrenheit.

I’m saying this because my 10-year-old son recently experienced something similar.

Fourth grade, as we all know, is the vestibule of the house of horrors known as tweenerhood. My son is 10, an age when boys express their friendship by ragging on each other, and I don’t get worked up about it because it’s mostly harmless bluster. The other day, though, my son told me one of his classmates called him a name and said “that’s why your parents got divorced.” I was taken back initially, because I hadn’t heard that sort of thing used against either of my kids.

I gathered myself and thought it through, and I wanted to believe that the kid didn’t mean anything truly malicious by it. I know the family, and I like the parents. We’ve had the chance to talk it through, and for now they still warrant the benefit of the doubt. (See? Told you!) It still pains me, though, to think that my sons will be teased about having divorced parents, especially when the divorce had absolutely nothing to do with them.

The good news: After my son told me about the “divorce” crack, I asked him how he felt about it. And he said, “It’s not that big a deal, really. I told him I’m glad my parents are divorced, because they don’t fight anymore. And I have two bedrooms, which makes it easier to hide stuff from my brother.”

Which is about the best response a parent like me could ever hope for.

Read more from Doug on his personal blog, Laid-Off Dad.

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