Day 351: A Little Bit of Closure

I haven’t blogged in forever. The last few months have been super busy. I was offered a part-time gig to teach a psychology class at a local college, and my days quickly became consumed with preparing lectures, creating relevant, meaningful assignments, and grading. Between that class and my regular job as a parent coach, I felt like I was hunched over my computer every day for hours. Blogging just became a hindrance, and I didn’t feel inspired to write anything that was particularly educational, emotive, or didn’t have an invoice attached.

But now, final grades are turned in, there is a small lull in client care as the holidays fast approach, and my Christmas shopping is done. I actually have the time to think about things that don’t fall under the category of “things I have to do tomorrow.”

Also, I needed to write about Jack.

We’re no longer a romantic partnership, and we haven’t been for quite awhile. I write that with the lowest amount of melodrama possible, because we’re still a team in many ways. Just last night I was all, “Sydney is sick and I need to know if you’re available to come watch Dylan if I need to take her to urgent care.” He was all, “Of course. Keep me posted.” Last week, he texted me at midnight to insist that I log into his Dish Network app and watch a television show he knew I’d like. We’re only a text away from each other, and I doubt I’ll be removing him from my list of emergency contacts any time soon.

I’m not going to pretend our parting wasn’t painful, because it was. Damn, it still is in many ways. The romantic portion of the relationship ends and you have to be all healthy and maintain appropriate boundaries and try not to focus on the fact that you’ve lost your best friend, his beloved child, his extended family, and his dog. Weeks after we parted, the kids and I saw his daughter at the movies and we all just sort of collapsed onto each other. Grief is fading as we start to form 3-person routines instead of 5-person routines, but there’s still vague sense of unfairness about the whole situation.

That being said, I know it was the right decision, and that knowledge comforts me as I wander through my days without a partner who loves my kids, curls up with me at night, and knows to hand me something sweet immediately after we finish eating dinner to prevent me from getting grouchy.

I’m less lonely than I thought I’d be. Both because I’ve made a huge effort to get out of the house to try new activities and meet new people, and because I’m pretty happy with the life I’ve built–with Jack’s support–during the last couple of years. My life hasn’t evolved into something awesome because I had an awesome boyfriend–it evolved into something awesome because I’ve found that sweet spot between independence and connecting with other people who love and respect me. Jack was one of those people, and I suspect he still is, although it’s in a completely different way than before.

Our parting was a learning experience, however. I learned that not all men feel it’s necessary to light a fuse to destroy the remnants of our relationship. Not all men alter reality so that they can embody the role of “wronged martyr” while I’m shoved into the “big bad unreasonable bitch” role.  When we first stepped away from each other, I kept waiting for the explosion–maybe the dining room table he’s storing for me would be found in the driveway, he wouldn’t return the necklace I’d left on the bedside table, or he’d systematically poison my reputation among his family and our common friends.

However, it appears that spite isn’t universal. Retaliation isn’t satisfying to everyone. Not all pain needs to be nursed indefinitely. Nope, that’s unique to just one type of man. The type of man whom I feel certain I will never be with again. And most importantly, my kids get to see that mommy can choose to be with a man who can handle himself with grace and dignity, even when he’s feeling frustrated or hurt. They get to see a man who feels a sense of loyalty to our past even as our future together becomes a little hazy.

As I’ve always said about Jack, once you’re part of his tribe, you’re always part of it, even if your role is amended over time.

I hope he knows he’s forever part of my tribe too.

Day 183: Power

Divorce is humbling.

To fail at marriage, especially when there are children involved, tarnishes your self-esteem in manner that is not only pervasive, but achingly public.

You can be married and then become unmarried.

Once divorced, however, you can’t become un-divorced. Once divorced, you’re always a person who went through a divorce, even if you eventually remarry.

The mere fact that you’re divorced highlights that your overall decision-making is questionable at best, as you clearly choose a partner who turned out to be fundamentally incompatible. And the uglier the divorce, the more your mistakes slap you repeatedly in the face–HARD–because life with a high-conflict ex is relentless. You can’t call a truce because you have a deadline or a stomach bug or a client in crisis. In fact, showing weakness only makes you more vulnerable. A therapist once referred to high-conflict ex-spouses as “financial and emotional terrorists.” There is almost never a day when I’m not in a battle–when my kids aren’t being impacted negatively by someone who hates me exponentially more than he loves them. And as that same therapist pointed out, I will always lose the power struggle because I have a much lower threshold for allowing the children to be hurt.

It’s hard not to wobble under the constant strain of trying to co-parent with someone who doesn’t have an overlapping value system or define parenthood in the same way. Jack considers the Dad to be a blight on fatherhood and manhood in a general sense. My ex-husband humiliates him—not because he’s associated with me, Tara, but because they both share the title of “Dad” yet only one represents it with any kind of reverence or integrity.

Jack is a protector. A provider. If you’re part of his pack–that’s it. You’re in. You’re not going to be left out in the cold. You’re not going to go without. You’re not going to be left for dead just because you acted like a jerk yesterday, or because you’re not biologically related, or because he can’t claim you as a dependent on his taxes. I simultaneously love and hate this part of him. I love it because it’s honorable and comforting. I hate it because it because it’s foreign and residual divorce after-shocks mean that I still struggle to discriminate between nurture and control. I’ve never had a partner who conducted himself in this way and there’s part of me that wants to shout, “I’ll do it myself, thank you very much. I don’t want to owe you anything.”

He does not understand or respect my ex-husband, who is the antithesis of protector. From his perspective, my co-parent does not provide for his children. Not emotionally. Not physically. Not financially. Not reliably. Not because he can’t, but because he won’t. He seethes when Dad shames Dylan for this clothing preferences. When he is off of work yet doesn’t show up for graduation. When he won’t pay for a haircut, allow them to wear the clothes he purchased outside his home, or pay for half of the recommended tutoring services. He’s tired of seeing Sydney’s eyes well up with tears when she hears him call her mother a liar on the phone or when he doesn’t call Dylan back after he’s telephoned twice without a response. While he’s pleased/flattered when Sydney grabs his hand and says, “When are you going to ask Mommy to marry you?”, he’s saddened that she’s so clearly looking to him for stability and protection. She shouldn’t need him; she has a father. She should simply want him because he’s fun and kind and always lets her eat ice cream on the couch.

There are times when I’m amazed Jack hasn’t left me and the kids behind due to the day-to-day drama that basically—from his perspective—stems exclusively from Dad’s unwillingness to provide for his kids for fear that it’ll somehow benefit his ex-wife or result in him paying one cent more than his “half” of child-related expenses—as though children and their needs can be neatly divided into halves like slices of pizza or a pile of poker chips. As though there’s not a difference between the 5% of his income he spends on child-related costs and the 75% I spend on those same expenses.

But the thing is, Jack is a protector. So by definition, that means he isn’t going to leave. Not due to drama, anyway. It took me forever to understand that.

Jack doesn’t understand a man–particularly a father—like the Dad. He doesn’t understand how he was given the gift of these children and he just wastes his influence on them by role-modeling self-absorption and entitlement. He doesn’t understand how he fails to comprehend that his children are watching. They look from Dad to Jack and they see that there are differences between these two men. They see that one is filled with laughter and ease and generosity and the other is filled with anger and preoccupation and miserliness. They also see the women who stand beside these two men. They absorb how we respond to the character our men exhibit and whether we’re wilting in their care or flourishing.

I worry constantly that Jack and I won’t be able to leave a significant enough mark on them to counteract the opposite example they see so often–especially when his example is accompanied by trips to Disney, a half-million dollar home, and multiple cars. My mark on this world is so slight, especially to young children who’ve always been able to take my stability for granted.

Recently, while standing in line at a coffee shop, I paid for a woman’s coffee because she–to her embarrassment–left her wallet at home. After I paid for her coffee, I exited the line. Sydney said, “Aren’t we getting a drink?” I was like, “No, we shared our drink money with that lady. We’ll get some another time.” Aside from it being the right thing—the decent thing—to do, I wanted her to see what even though we oftentimes have less than others, we always have enough to share. With anyone who needs it, not simply those we know or love or somehow consider more worthy.

I want them to know that the more you have, the more you share. Having more than everyone else isn’t a sign that you’re superior or more deserving, it simply means that you’ve been granted the privilege to help others in a tangible way.

And who else better than to share your good fortune with than your children? I mean, why not start there? After all, it’s a powerful feeling to be able to give to another.

Conversely, it’s also a powerful feeling to restrict or deny.

So today, I sit here in sadness. However, I’m uncertain whether my sadness comes from my sense of failure for not being able to financially provide more for the children, or because I burdened them with a father who can but won’t.