I have come to the conclusion that it's time to make a tough decision regarding Whiz Kid's closest friendship. I'm feeling very unhappy about it. He and another boy from his 1st grade class have been best friends for the last two years (they're now in 3rd grade). This other boy lives mostly with his father, who runs a digital video/photo business from home. Last year we were invited to his birthday party. It was a small event (only two neighbor boys, the parents and grandparents, and Whiz Kid were invited). The father's father saw that I was very paranoid about leaving Whiz Kid since it was a pool party, and he couldn't swim. So he insisted we should all stay. In spite of this generosity, I found his grandson's interaction with him very disturbing. He seemed to subconsciously avoid getting within arm's reach of his grandfather, and did not get in the pool when his grandfather was near him. Eventually he jumped in the opposite end, and his grandfather came towards him. He tried to climb out again immediately and looked genuinely frightened, but his grandfather caught him and held him in what seemed to me a very domineering and threatening manner. The boy yelled to be let loose and the grandfather let him go after a few seconds. He did not get back in the pool until his grandfather was out.
I also noticed that the mother and her parents would scarcely speak to the father's parents, and as the afternoon progressed it became evident that the vast array of toys and electronic devices this boy has are not because his parents have money - in fact, they both seem to struggle financially. They are gifts from his paternal grandfather, who gave him an iPhone that day. Personally, I consider that a very inappropriate gift for an 8-year-old; but the expense of the gift and the boy's reluctance to allow his grandfather to help him set it up was the most disturbing.
There have been small red flags since. This year his dad has invited Whiz Kid to their house repeatedly, and although I had a lot of trepidation about it since the father's parents are the boy's main babysitters, I settled for getting his word that he would be the one there supervising, and having talks with Andy about not being alone with the grandfather and being sure to tell me if he was there during the visit. We have had the boy over to our house a couple of times, but in general his dad isn't very open to that idea. It doesn't help that Whiz Kid prefers to go to their house because they have so many video games and other toys, or that his friend got hurt rather badly on his last visit here when they were jumping on my brother's trailer and he fell.
Lately, though, I'm more and more concerned that the grandfather may not be the only problem. After all, these issues can run in families; it would be strange if the grandfather has molested only his youngest grandson, but not his own son or the boy's adult brother; and I've also realized that in spite of his constant requests to have Whiz Kid over to "entertain" his son while he works, the dad does not allow his son to ride the bus to school. That extra hour or so of free time would seem important if he is so desperate for time to work uninterrupted. I also had to call and complain once after Whiz Kid informed me they had played an M-rated game. His dad apologized and blew it off as no big deal, he would keep a closer eye from now on. It's a very big deal to me, though; I've always had concerns about the amount of video game playing they do in general, and that is unacceptable. The last two times he has offered to pick Whiz Kid up directly from school with his son, and upon receiving my note to this effect the secretary has called sounding a bit anxious to confirm that I actually do want this. It makes me wonder if she feels something is wrong as well. Last week he was invited twice, and when I said that would not work because of homework, the dad assured me he would make certain they finished their homework first. Normally his son stays after school for Homework Club, and that's the overt reason he doesn't ride the bus home. How is it helping this guy get more work done to pick his son up early and have to do both boys' homework?
We went trick-or-treating with them on Halloween. It was a blast. We have never gone before since we've never lived in a neighborhood. Apparently the boy has loads of costumes for play as well, and his dad loaned them all costumes. That was great. We had a wonderful time and the boys collected far too much candy; literally, more than they could carry. As we were preparing to leave, the friend was spazzing as usual and I saw his dad slyly kick him in the testicles as we were talking. I found that quite disturbing, but didn't feel comfortable commenting on it. I was even more disturbed when a few minutes later he unobtrusively twisted the boy's nipple when he wouldn't stop interrupting. Such behavior between a parent and child seems very creepy to me. I couldn't imagine what to say at the time other than "Shame on you," which seemed a bit inappropriate in front of the kids. So I blew it off. But it has bothered me a lot since. Suddenly the nature of the father's home-based business has taken on a new possible meaning that I really don't like. How do I know he isn't videotaping the kids secretly while they play? Why does he need my son over there so much? Of course, it's entirely possible that having another kid over simply means the grandmother doesn't have to come over as often. None of this is proof positive that something terrible is going on in secret.
It's just too many red flags, at this point. Any one of these things would not be enough for me to break off my son's friendship, but all of it combined is too much. The closer I allow our families to become, the harder it will be to raise concerns later. And even if I keep an open dialogue with my son, there are issues. (1) He may still be bribed or threatened into not telling me something; (2) It may not be obvious enough to trigger his "I should tell Mom about this" reflex; (3) It may be entirely unknown to him, if he's simply being watched and no one is actually present doing anything; or (4) He may even feel the need to protect his friend at some point and not be open with me because of that.
It's not going to be pretty. There isn't really a way to tell someone you don't want your child at their house any more without letting them know you disapprove of them. It goes without saying. I'm not sure what to expect. I have a week before I have to say anything but the boy is with his mother this week, and I'm thinking it might be good for me to have a frank talk with his dad while he's away rather than waiting until the kids are around and I don't want to be obvious about my reasons. Still, I'm sure no parent is going to take kindly to being told that their family interactions are creepy and therefore I won't let my kids visit them. It's harsh no matter how you cut it. If my suspicions are unfounded, he's going to be genuinely hurt. If they are accurate, he's going to pretend to be even more hurt. Either way, it won't be pleasant.
Wish me strength.