I separated from my first wife in 2005. The kids were staying with me because she was staying with her boyfriend. When she threatened to take the kids back to Massachusetts, I contacted my lawyer and the next day had a court order for temporary custody.
In the final divorce decree I was awarded permanent custody of both my children. My son was 11 and my daughter 7. We lived in Lincoln, NE at the time and I had an hour commute, one way. Two of my neighbors made sure that the kids got to the bus stop in the morning. After school, their mom picked them up and kept them until I got home.
Now, I was never a clueless dad. I cooked, I did laundry, I drove kids to and from school, went to school meetings, took them to the playground; I did it all. But, I never had to do it all continually (except when my wife was pregnant, that is), and I never had to do it all alone.
Working an hour away from home was difficult when the kids would get sick because their mom wasn’t always available, or at least she didn’t always make herself available. My employer was pretty understanding and tolerant, but that only went so far. There was also the worry knowing that my sick kid was sitting in the nurse’s office waiting for me to get there.
Then there was the financial strain. Divorces aren’t cheap. I was lucky that a good friend of mine knew a layer who was fairly new in his private practice and was willing to work with me on payments. Still, I had to feed and clothe the kids, pay their medical bills, and other usual expenses just as before, less my ex-wife’s paycheck. To top it off, she wasn’t paying child support. Take her to court? Sure, once the divorce was paid for, if I had the extra money.
The most difficult thing, though, was helping my kids cope with the divorce. I had to decide how to talk to the kids about what they could expect in the coming months and years. I assured them that the divorce had nothing to do with them. I told them that mommy and daddy had just fallen out of love and had started fighting and we didn’t want them to have to see us arguing all the time. I promised them that they could see their mom as often as they wanted (which I have always stuck to).
All the while I was trying to deal with the fact that the life I’d known for almost 20 years had fallen apart. I was a total wreck emotionally, but had to keep it together when the kids were there. I’d recently been diagnosed with panic disorder and I had been being treated for depression for a couple of years. I was literally living on the edge of a panic attack every moment of every day.
Somehow with medication and the support of a few good friends and, ironically, my ex-wife’s family, I managed to do what I had to do. I kept my kids calm and as happy as kids going through a divorce can be. I also managed to continue to make the two hour daily commute and do some of my best work at my job.
Despite that, I still got laid off when the government contract I was working on ran behind schedule and over budget. Fortunately I received an excellent severance package that allowed me basically receive 90 days of pay while looking for work and taking time for myself when the kids were in school. This allowed a lot of drives into the country with my dog, or to go downtown and walk around the city taking photos. It allowed me to get my head in a better place.
I also got to take my kids to a lot of different parks and playgrounds and I noticed something interesting. I was almost always the only dad there. Women were surprised when they found out that, not only was I a single dad, but that I had custody of my kids. Many were supportive, some would herd their kids away from mine like I was some kind of pervert. I could see that sometimes I was looked at or treated differently being a single dad as opposed to being a single mom. It wasn’t anything major, or demeaning, just an interesting observation. I supposed that was to be expected. I honestly never felt that I had it any worse that a single mother, and I’m sure I had it better. I had a decent job, and the kids’ mom was, for the most part, there to take care of them when I couldn’t be.
Every relationship is different, as is every divorce. I was lucky that my ex and I were willing to put the children’s welfare before our own animosity. She and I may not have loved each other anymore (let’s just say that one of my most constant wishes was to hear that her and her boyfriend, now husband, had died in a fiery one-car crash), but we both loved our kids and that love was, fortunately, stronger that our mutual hate.
I don’t know if there is really any particular moral or message that I expect readers to get from this post. I’m hoping that maybe reading about some of the things I went through might help others who are dealing with the same thing, be they female or male.
I plan to write more about how my children and I have made it to where we are today. There are so many twists and turns that I’m amazed that we made it through as well as we did. There will be much I can’t say, because there are some things my kids just don’t need to know about as far as what went on between their mom and me, but I think there will be plenty that might help shine a light on one single parent’s struggle raising kids.
One interesting thing that I noticed when I copied the picture below from my divorce decree is that as I write this it is 7 years to the day since the decree was signed! This was a complete coincidence, but kind of a neat one!
Featured image by the author