“Boys, you know how Mom & Dad have been separated for a while now? Yeah? Boys, I want to tell you something….we’re not getting back together, in fact we’re divorced.”
Hardest words I’ve ever had to say out loud.
Never, not in this lifetime at least, did I figure on saying those words to children of mine. A product of a broken home with an emotional bully for a father, I was loathe to think about my own progeny ever going through that hellacious journey, and made several promises to myself to spare them the toll. Promises that I broke, promises to myself, promises to my soon-to-be ex-wife, promises made with the best of intentions, and yet broken with the kind of verve that would make politicians green with envy.
I’ll say this much, out of respect for privacy, hers and theirs: she’s an outstanding mother, a terrific partner and a hell of a woman to have endured ten years in the saddle with a mind as unhinged as mine. A funny, if not cynical, friend of mine said this: “Look at it this way….it’s the most successful long term relationship you’ve ever had.” Accurate, biting and close to home. When my ex asked to be removed as a tag from posts I’ve written, I’ve obliged that, but I won’t delete the essays; she played a vital role in my life and we’ll continue to be partners, raising our boys in separate homes with a unified spirit of trying to provide as much stability and as healthy an environment as we can muster. My own father has been married seven times and can be found active on dating sites at age 78, never giving up hope that he might spring eternal, if not his ability to overcome his own arrested development.
I’m flat terrified of turning out like him.
So, I won’t.
I hope to transition to role of ex-husband with a little more grace, an ally and advocate for my children, not seeing them as pawns in an endless chess game of insecurities. I so desperately sought his approval that when my father bestowed the rare display of love without strings, I’d have gladly stabbed a baby panda bear for just a little more. He wasn’t accommodating like that though, so the panda bear population remained unthreatened by the gawky kid with bad teeth and a funny name.
Thirty years later, and I’m looking my own children in the eye, my insides grinding about, tears welling up as I tell The Heathens that Dad is moving out, that we both still love them with all our hearts and sometimes, it just doesn’t work out between men and women, but that none of this is their fault. They cry, and cry hard, for all of five minutes. We’ve shown them tenderness throughout the separation, tried to spare them the drama that emanates from social media, hair salons and firehouses. I may not be able to model a perfect marriage, or even a successful one, but I can provide that one element we all crave: unconditional love from a parent.
Wish us luck, if you will, as we enter this new chapter of our lives. I’m getting used to my own company, and the sadness is mitigated by that wellspring of the human spirit, hope. Not hope for marriages or more children or less body hair, but rather, hope that better days are ahead and we’re equipped to deal with life’s hurdles. I don’t have cancer. I’m not in the god-forsaken desert, fighting off religious extremists for reasons unknown. My boys are healthy. My basic needs are satisfied, more than that, to be perfectly honest. I get to play fireman every third day, driving a ladder truck with lights and sirens and chaos on demand. I get to play ice hockey and drink ridiculous amounts of coffee till bedtime. People laugh either at me or with me, and that’s a gift of sorts. It’s time to acknowledge the positive in this life, to laugh again from the heart and to pour my soul into the things that matter.
As I tucked him into bed, my oldest said “Dad, it doesn’t matter to me if you’re divorced. We’re still together, and I’ll love you always.”
I’m a lucky bastard, indeed.