Love your advice and hoping you can help me out.  I’m a divorced father and my kids mean the world to me. My EX father-in-law gave my 11-year-old son a cell phone as a graduation gift from elementary school. My son is very responsible and like me, a gadget geek, so I don’t have a major problem with him having one. What bothers me is his grandfather never asked my feelings about my son having a cell phone.

I rarely let my kids talk on my cell phone because to me, the jury is still out on whether they cause brain cancer. So I gave mini-me some headphones and told him to always use them. But I’m still troubled by the gift. My ex-wife’s father never respected the boundaries of our marriage either. My wife was his only child and they were always closer than I could ever get with her. Long story.

Anyway, how would you suggest I handle this? Each time he crosses over into my space with my family it turns into a really ugly situation. He backs off for a while and then before you know it we’re back where we are now.

What do you think I should do?

Divorced Dad

Dear DD,

I don’t know how you’ve gone as long as you have without saying something, although seein’ as he’s your ex-father-in-law I supposed it’s entirely possible you have. But if haven’t, it’s time and if you have already, it’s time for a refresher. The part of this that feels sort of icky to me is the lack of respect shown to you by your ex-father in law. I suspect it’s because he’s fighting his daughter’s battle, not surprising if they are as close as you say they are. But that needs to stop RIGHT. FREAKIN’. NOW. Here’s what I would do.

PUT POPS IN HIS PLACE: If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this life it’s that for some people their world ends at the tip of their noses. They don’t understand anything except when you yank back on the bit, so grab the reins and get busy. You’re going to have to have a man-to-man conversation with your ex dad-in-law and tell him what time it is. You may not still be married to his daughter but you will forever be the father to his grandchild. I would try, at least initially, to appeal to the commonality you share; you’re both strong men, trying to do the right by your families. He may get this; he may not. It really doesn’t matter though because he’s going to have to pick up the playbook and march to your tune. That means, any big gifts he’s considering for your son, he needs to run by you.

TALK TO YOUR EX-WIFE: Ugh. I have no idea what your relationship is like with her but your ex is a leg of this stool and needs to know what’s going on with you and her father. You seem like a nice guy and my hope is that you can appeal to her rational side as well. At the end of the day, you all have to work together so that your son has an accurate picture of how grown-ups, who don’t always see eye to eye, resolve their differences.

TALK TO YOUR SON: As much as I hate when kids are dragged into adult conflict, it might be unavoidable in this situation. But your son is 11, not 4. That and the fact that you and his mother are divorced already, means he’s probably advanced enough to have a decent grasp on matters. I would explain to him just what you told me; you are his father. Your single most important job is to make sure he makes it to adulthood in one piece. Because of that, you have to make decisions for his long-term future, even if they go against what the other adults in his life say/do. I’m betting he will see that for what it is; his father’s care and concern and accept that.

Dad, I feel for you because there really isn’t an easy way around this. It sounds like you have been trying to keep the peace for a while. Unfortunately sometimes people take kindness for weakness. It sounds like it’s time to correct that perception with your ex-father-in law.

Good luck!

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