For his son’s recent 8th birthday we bought him an iPod. We bought it for him not so he could download Minecraft, 12 versions of Angry Birds or the football game he loved to play on his dad’s phone, but so he could have Facetime. We bought it the week his dad came to live with us in the Treehouse, an hour north of his kids. We bought it so that every night he could see his daddy and so his daddy could see him and his sister. We grasped methodically at ways to allow a parent/child relationship to flourish, without kisses goodnight. Mr. P had just gotten off a call where his six year old daughter begged him to retire so that he could take them trick or treating. He told them he loved them and put them to bed.
It’s not the same to say “I love you best buddy” without being able to ruffle your son’s golden hair and pull up his covers tight. It is not the same to tell your princess it’s time for bed, without being able to tickle her tiny body, smooth back her messy hair and kiss her forehead. For a parent, who loves their children, to infinity, it’s not enough.
“I want to smell them.” He sobbed.
There have been many times in my life where I have passive aggressively played dumb in order to solicit a response, logically back someone into a corner and intellectually dominate them. Heavens knows, I’m practically a professional Facebooker. Knowing how one comment can affect the next is an interesting game to play in the land of words. This time though, I was clueless. The last thing I wanted to do was tell him anything. The last thing I wanted was contact at all with their heartbreaking dad. I kept him “up-to-date” because I thought I had to, according to the court mandates and what was probably best for the kids. I was enraged at the thought that having children hurt him and he was choosing to withdraw. I let him know the children would like to hear from him. I gave my daughter a phone. I stopped “bothering” him. I decided if he wanted to call her, he could, and vice versa. He let go and stepped into the role, I’ve not so affectionately named, The Wallet Father; obligatory every other weekend visits (usually) and scheduled child support payments. He is lost to communication in between.
I will never know if he is off living the life he prefers or if he was just unable to cope. Unfortunately and more importantly, neither will his children. And no child should have to wonder whether their parent actually cares.
When his divorce originally was finalized a joint arrangement was worked out. He worked nights and picked the kids up from school, dropping them back off with their mom for the night. In the summer he picked them up at 2:30 am on his way home from work. He did his best to have his children as much as he did living in the same home. It became an impossible battle. He knew he could no longer do his dangerous night job and live sleepless days, entertaining two bored kids in his tiny apartment. He also knew moving to days meant giving up his joint status.
We knew it wasn’t going to be easy. We knew he would ache for them. No one could question his devotion. Or could they? As Mr. Perfect slipped into the non-custodial role everything changed. How does he now define himself? How does he keep his connection? What if they don’t miss him? What if they do? Can you wish for your children to be happy but also take a smidge of glee in them being sad? If you choose to go home early and drive one way rather than another, do you become unfit? How do you cope with the absolute destruction of a dream and transform it into an acceptable reality? Does eating breakfast with my 2 children remind him of what he had or does it close the hole and make it all a little easier to handle? Should I hug him or let him be? Am I doing enough? I held him as he sobbed, like a child lost, but he was a father, missing his identity and weeping in my arms. His happiness, health and future versus what…? What was right?
We live in a country where 50% of marriages end in divorce. Nearly 25% of parents do not live with their kids. Add in the children who never had married parents and we have an enormous amount of non-custodial parents out there who are missing their children right now. Where is their support I wondered? How many times have I taken the grand power of being the sole caregiver? How many times have I complained about absent parents? Can I imagine the guilt, pain, uncertainty and longing these parents feel? I cannot. I was blessed to have my children with me through ever step of the chaos that was divorce. In my most imperfect of days I was still able to smell them, still able to feel the incredible burden of doing it on my own; and take credit. No one ever doubted my loyalty and most importantly I didn’t need to doubt myself.
Here it is, if you are a non-custodial parent, mom or dad, no matter your story, I am asking that you share it here with other parents. This can be done completely anonymously if you wish. I want to know you, support you and I hope together we can find ways to ease the pain and strengthen the bonds between absent parent and child. Personal stories, tips on blending families, custody, staying connected, active non-present parenting, distance parenting will be incredibly appreciated. Please send me a facebook message at www.facebook.com/Mychildrenthinkimperfect.