Sunday, September 21, 2008

There, but for the grace of God......

I have been reading "Things I Learned About My Dad (in therapy)", a compilation of essays on fatherhood compiled & edited by Heather Armstrong. I was struck particularly strongly by Doug French's essay. I remember several months ago when he went public in his blog about his impending divorce (because of it being mentioned in his essay in the book). It has always been readily apparent to me in reading his blog (and the essay) that he loves his boys very much and really enjoys being a father. Reading the essay re-awoke in me the memories of a time in my marriage when we came close to divorce. Laura had moved out. The kids stayed with me in our home as it was least disruptive of their daily routines - school, etc. Since they stayed with me during the week, they spent the weekends with Laura. During the week I was kept busy with taking care of two elementary school-aged kids, fixing meals, cleaning the house, laundry, working, etc. Then Friday afternoon the kids would be gone, and my weekends were a vast wasteland of nothingness. I had been on business trips before, a week at a time, sometimes two, but that time away affected me nothing like this did. I couldn't believe how much I missed the kids. I'm sure that it was partially due to the knowledge that this was probably going to be permanent. But whatever the reason, there was an ache that I couldn't assuage. I tried to tell myself that this was better for the kids, not having to grow up living in a house where their parents didn't love each other. They would grow up happier, Laura and I would be better parents without the emotional chaos that our marriage had turned into, etc. But there was still the emptiness inside of me, knowing they would be like so many other children having separate sets of parents, vacations divided between homes, everything having to be negotiated.

I had told Laura early in our marriage, during a discussion about how so many couples during (and after) divorce use their kids to torture their exes, that I would never let anyone take my children away from me. It wasn't an ultimatum so much as it was a statement that I would ALWAYS be there for my children, a major force in their lives. At the time I never thought we would get to where we had, living apart and discussing divorce. During that 6 month separation we never fought in front of them, and none of the fights were about them. We always put them first, We both went to school events they were involved with. We both attended their soccer games. We discussed rules for them and disciplinary actions - if they were being punished for something, the punishment applied at both homes. Despite this, it still pained me, knowing the inevitable hurt the kids were going to experience because Laura and I couldn't stay together.

Of course, we did stay together. Laura and I resolved those differences as you all know (I am assuming that no one is reading this post during their first visit to this blog!) as we are still married. But I still carry that hurt around, deep in my memories of that time. It makes me especially sensitive to similar situations when small kids are involved. Doug writes so eloquently of fatherhood and what he is experiencing during this difficult time in his life. I hurt for him, having some small measure of knowledge of what he is experiencing.

I had almost forgot.

24 deeply creased, dogeared comment(s):

meno said...

I remember that time and that feeling. That of all those who would pay for the situation, it would be my child who paid the most.

Mir said...

And the fact that you were both able to so completely focus on what was best for the kids is a huge part of the reason you were able to come back together, no doubt. And I'm glad you did. :)

Sober Briquette said...

I'm glad for all of you that it turned out this way.

(PS. If you had lost any cred with anyone in the last post, I think you earned it back by being a "single" dad.)

LOD said...

Thanks for the comment, and congratulations from stepping back from the brink. I know how you feel; I see my boys 12 days out of every 14, and those two empty days just don't compute. Yet.

Bob said...

meno - yes, but the kids could've gained the most too - raised with new parents that loved each other.

mir - that could be, I guess it did prove there were things we still had in common. I'm glad we're still together too!

de - thanks. (having been a single dad for a short while has helped me appreciate single parents of either sex.)

lod - you are kind to say so. I can't claim to know what you are going through, but I have an idea. I wish you and your family the best.

ms chica said...

Placing the children first in the presence of family conflict, is a tall order. You and Laura have my respect and admiration. I have seen situations, in which the children became nothing more than pawns, and it always saddens me.

Susanne said...

The major reason why my husband and I stopped fighting so much was seeing how much it pained our son. We knew that we loved each other and that our arguments were only about misunderstandings and frustrations but our son didn't know. And then we found that we can do better than that. Talk with each other instead of yelling in frustration.

My husband and I almost separated years ago before we were parents. It felt as if a part of me was almost ripped away.

It seems to be rare that people act decent when they get divorced. That's a pity.

Bob said...

ms. chica - I don't know if we can claim any credit, both of us love our children and there was never any doubt that they came first.

but I too have seen too many divorces where the children did become pawns in the game. it is more than sad, it's criminal.

suzanne - it is a pity that people who once professed such love for each other so easily degenerate into invective and hate. I'm glad you were able to work things out with your husband.

Glamourpuss said...

A lovely post, Bob. And of particular interest to me in light of recent events - the man is divorced and a father and riddled with guilt about that. Among other things. I'd like to read that book.

Puss

Gwen said...

I'm not in a position where I'm contemplating divorce, but sometimes we'll discuss other couples, with children, who haven't made it, and my husband's first comment is always how he couldn't live without his children.

Perhaps part of the loss one feels has to do with identity, as much as a physical absence. Once you have kids, you identify as a parent. When they are not your responsibility anymore, even if for a few days, it leaves you to question who you are. Maybe.

Maggie said...

That sadness and hurt are what make the tough times of the marriage so so scary to me. When we falter and we find it hard to meet in the middle, or resolve our issues, it is frightening.

I am glad you and Laura found your way back to each other. I admire your fortitude and willingness to work so hard for the marriage and the kids. A wonderful example.

Jocelyn said...

You are really striking me this week, Bob, with your intuition and heart. I just appreciated your comment over at Glamourpuss' blog, and now I come here and read this thoughtful, balanced post about a time that was tremendously stressful.

You are such a man.

Bob said...

puss - we are the sum of our experiences. Not all of us process them positively, though. I'm sorry about the man.

gwen - maybe. I don't know that I identify as a parent, although along with being a husband being a parent has been the most important role I've performed. I don't really label myself. I am just me. And me loves my kids too much to not be a part of their lives.

maggie - I had never been as scared and hurt as when Laura moved out. But since then we've rebuilt our relationship and I know that despite anything that comes up between us Laura loves me. So, I know that we can solve anything.

jocelyn - thank you for the complement. I'll remember this next time I stumble.

Mother of Invention said...

I guess I had forgotten that you went through this, and although it seems fairly common to falter, it must have really unsteadied you. I am so glad that you made it in the long haul. You seem like an extremely understanding and sensitive person

Rachel said...

its good to know that not all difficulties need mean an end.

thanks for sharing this.

Bob said...

MoI - This all happened years before I started blogging, and I don't know that I've ever mentioned it.

rachel - yay! you're back! Maybe we were lucky, we found our way back together. I realize most don't.

Astrogirl426 said...

Umm. I hate to tell you this - but this was my first visit to your blog. :)

But it won't be my last. And after all, what more can anyone ask for?

Bob said...

astrogirl426 - figures someone would prove me wrong. never fails.

I can think of plenty of things to ask for, but since this is your first time, I'll restrain myself.

Thanks for dropping by, come again anytime.

TK Kerouac said...

separation and divorce is like loosing a piece of oneself,
both physically and emotonally
good for you that you were able to fix things
because its a jungle out there

p.s.
I'll invite you

Kat said...

My husband I vowed that no matter what, we're married for life. Most of the time I think that will stick, but sometimes it's very hard being married even when you love each other. But I don't think either of us could bear being part-time parent to our son. Ok, we could bear it, but we would be wrecked.

Glad you and your wife made it through and back together, Bob.

Astrogirl426 said...

Beautifully written. I'm always fascinated by the relationship between dads and their kids, from the perspective of the dads. It' so different from my relationship with my boy, yet similar.

And in honor of your wonderful writing, you have been tagged! You're it! More info here:

http://astrogirl426.blogspot.com/2008/10/my-very-first-tag.html

Like I told Alice at Finslippy, you can even make stuff up! Go to town (well, not before you do the tag). Have fun!

heartinsanfrancisco said...

This was a remarkably sensitive post, Bob. I raised my children alone and felt guilty, but the problems in my marriage, unlike yours and Laura's, could not be solved.

Since I didn't have a close relationship with my own father, I really wanted that for my children. I still melt when I see a father interacting with his kids, loving them, enjoying them and being tender with them. It seems like such a miracle.

I'm so glad your kids have had that because it will mean so much to them all their lives.

Mother of Invention said...

Wow, that's weird...when I read this I felt certain I had heard you mention this in an early blog...somewhere along the line I knew it...bizarre!

reen said...

Hi, it's my first time visiting too. :) Wonderful post that touches a chord for me as a single mom. So glad for your and your wife's perseverance to come out together on the other side.