My parents got divorced when I was 10 years old, back when getting a divorce was not as common as it is today. I’m the youngest of seven with three older brothers and three older sisters, so gaps were filled pretty quickly for me. But I did grow up with this idea that when I started a family, I was going to ‘do it right’. This may sound pretty common from someone coming from ~what was then called, a broken home.
I eventually settled down and had three boys of my own. Like most couples, we fell into our roles and found our family rhythm, as best as you can with three little ones and a surly dog in the mix. We were a busy family, like most. But through all of the ‘busy-ness’ the level if intimacy waned and the stress cracks left unchecked widened over time.
We were the model couple in front of friends and family but after a little over 11 years of marriage, we divorced.
Like most, I had a lot to process through the divorce. Her parents had divorced when she was quite young as well, so we were both VERY sensitive to the impact and implications of the divorce on our kids. As we both began the emotional and arduous process of pulling apart and restructuring our family, I began to wake up to new dad role I needed to grow into.
With three young healthy boys looking to me for love, guidance and everything else, I had some stuff to figure out. Looking back, it was clear I did a fair amount of emotional compartmentalizing to keep it ‘all’ together.
Playing with the boys comes natural, but when they got banged up horsing around I did not have a lot of sympathy. First of all, with three boys close in age ~it happens all the time. It was very transactional with me, asking the hurt one, “why did he smack you in the first place? Let’s start there…” rather than comforting the pain, I tried to mitigate the ‘issue’, I didn’t realize sometimes they just need a good hug.
A few months into the separation, I had the boys for myself over the weekend and a funny thing happened. I remember the day because I was hanging on as well as I could, it was a rough day and they were driving me koo-koo. From around the corner, my middle one started crying harder than usual. There was some sort of scuffle and I came around the corner (*miffed*) silently wrapped him in a soft bear hug. Not knowing who to be mad at and not being able to get my thoughts together fast enough, he just burrowed into my chest. Then came the tears. Not his, mine.
This was not a usual occurrence. As a pallbearer for my father’s funeral, I did not shed a tear. So I guess this was different.
I gave into the moment, and I let a few of those silent tears drop. And with them, I realized I was holding back. I wasn’t allowing myself to get emotional which is clearly a byproduct of compartmentalizing and managing grief. I had to let myself evolve. Perhaps I needed to dig a bit to find my version of whatever they get from their mom in those moments. I needed to stop thinking and just feel.
Now, I also apologize to them a little more when I make a mistake like forgetting to pack a snack or make his sandwich just so. They like to say, “that’s okay, Dad.” Every once in a while I purposely try to talk about my feelings which is a bit weird because this is not something I ‘do’ (I’m getting better) but realize maybe someday I’ll want them to reciprocate the gesture.
We cook together. We play together. We dance, we camp, we play games, and hug a lot. I don’t miss things because of work. These little things became more important.
I am not implying all of this is in direct response to my divorce, but becoming a single dad has made my parenting much more purposeful, more proactive, more focused and perhaps a bit more empathic.