SwimGirl graduated from high school last weekend. Because her dad lives several states away, we planned her graduation party for the day before the ceremony, so he could join in on the weekend's festivities. The morning of the party, SwimGirl's dad, IT Guy, picked her up for breakfast. My neighbor happened to be outside when IT Guy came by, and asked me if it was an awkward situation for us - having IT Guy here and involved with the festivities. I didn't have to think long for my response, "No," I answered, "We've been divorced for many years. At first it was hard: adjusting to sharing the kids, scheduling and getting past what drove us apart in the first place. But, fortunately, we figured out how to make it work." He was surprised by my answer, since his own personal experiences with family divorce has not been very positive. I totally understand this as my own parents divorced when I was a young adult; we've all adjusted for the most part, but holidays can get a little stressful because of the family rifts.
It is because of our own experiences with divorced parents that has led IT Guy, The Man of the House and I to do our best to be flexible and accommodating with SwimGirl and TBone. When parents divorce, the stress and pain is not felt only by the couple splitting up, but by the children as well. When parents forget that the kids are also in pain and/or use their kids as pawns, it only creates more pain and havoc in an already potentially devastating period in the children's lives. If one is unable to separate the reasons for the divorce from the kids, the kids are the ones who ultimately pay the price of the failure in the marriage.
Ironically, it was The Man of the House who taught me this fact. He came into our lives when SwimGirl and TBone were still quite young, and tried very hard to let IT Guy know that he was there as a bonus parent, not as a person trying to take over IT Guy's job as "Dad." There were times, early on, when IT Guy and I were unable to communicate without animosity; it was during those times when the three of us would have to attend TBone's hockey games together and TMotH would stand between us, talking to both of us, but also providing a buffer - a sort of "No Man's Land" in human form. Because he was willing to be that neutral person, IT Guy and I were able to present a civilized front to the children, something they desperately needed to see their parents do. The kids also were able to see that even though IT Guy and I couldn't make it as a married couple, our love for them, our involvement in their activities, and our presence together in their lives would not change. It takes a strong man to do what TMotH did for us and the kids. He taught us how to get along by his example of being willing to not take sides and get along with both of us for the kids' sake.
There are those people who are quick to criticize those of us who have experienced failure in marriage; as though somehow that failure represents some kind of moral incapability or character deficit or an inability to understand the gravity of the marriage vows. The sad thing is, that criticism is nothing compared to what a divorcee` feels or tells his/herself about their divorce. No one can beat up a divorced person more than that person has already done to themselves. For a person like myself, who detests failure so much that they will not even attempt something if failure is an option, divorce represents the ultimate failure and can take many years to understand what went wrong and how things could have been different. No one can beat me up more than I have beaten myself up over the years because of this "failure." Self-righteous attitudes toward divorce is not what a person going through that experience needs; love and understanding goes much further and can help lead that person to healing and potentially the ability to start new - either with the first marriage or with someone else someday.
Back to fathers: What I experienced this weekend was a good outcome from my own personal first marriage failure. Where some kids only have one parent or both parents present to celebrate the achievement of their high school graduation, SwimGirl had three doting parents happy to cheer her accomplishment. SwimGirl and TBone have benefited from having two parents AND two bonus parents in their lives. Without TMotH, TBone would have probably never played hockey - TMotH is the one who originally bought him skates and took him out to the rink for the first time, marveling at TBone's balance and almost instantaneous acclimation to the feeling of blades on his feet. Without TMotH, SwimGirl would not have had the opportunity to try different activities before finding that swimming was her talent and passion. Without the support of IT Guy, the kids wouldn't have been able to continue those activities due to financial constraints. Unlike many separated families, I cannot complain that IT Guy has not done well by his kids financially. He's never been late, never missed a child support payment, has always made sure they had health insurance, and even when he moved hundreds of miles away, he always did his best to be part of his kids' lives. Because of him, the kids have experienced things and visited places I would have never been able to show them. Because of him, TBone has learned how to fix computers and be my own personal Techie here at home. Because of him, SwimGirl had an early start with computers and will be taking that knowledge with her to college to pursue a degree either in graphic design or architecture. Her passion for architecture was also nurtured by IT Guy and the trips he took the kids on - showing them cities and buildings that do not exist in the Midwest.
Recently, Kathleen Parker wrote a column titled "Say it. Go ahead, say it! 'Father'" in which she discusses the fact that even with more women becoming the sole breadwinner in the home, which is causing some people to question whether women need men at all, that we do indeed need fathers in the family unit. Not only that, but that fathers should be celebrated. I couldn't agree with Ms. Parker more. In our home, TMotH is often away, building powerlines or restoring power after storms; leaving me as the sole caretaker of our four children. I've learned to be very self-sufficient, accomplishing tasks that earlier in my life I'd have never known I could do on my own. It is a humbling experience to be the single caregiver; I've had to learn to ask for help when my pride is screaming, "NO! I CAN do this on my own!" There have been times when the trials of raising teenagers become too much for one person to handle, so calling IT Guy and asking for his assistance has been necessary. There has not been a time when I've called him and asked for his help in something where he hasn't shown sympathy for the situation - has stepped in and said, "Don't make me have to get on a plane and fly up there!" something for which I am eternally grateful.
No matter how self-sufficient we as women get, no matter all the technology and social safety nets we have to be able to raise children on our own, there will not be a time when children do not need a father-figure - their biological dad, a step-dad, a grandpa, uncle or even a great male friend - in their lives. Girls learn what it means to be a woman by the way the male-figure in their lives treat them and the women around them, just as boys learn what it means to be a man from how their mothers and other women around them treat them. Boys need men to teach them how to be men and how to treat the women in their lives just as girls need women to do the same for them. Feminism should not be something that becomes women accomplishing goals to the exclusion of needing men in their lives; it should be a means of equal pay for equal work and an appreciation for the roles that both sexes play in society and in the family unit.
This weekend showed me that even though IT Guy and I failed at our marriage (something that occurred when we were both very young and had a lot of growing left to do, including finishing college and all the stress that comes with that while holding a household together and raising a young family), that the outcome did not have to be one of failure as well. Even though we were unable to complete our journey together under the same roof, our children need not suffer adversely because of our inability to make things work between us. The proof of that fact was evident on Saturday night when IT Guy, TMotH and I sat together, with friends and relatives, chatting like the old friends we now are, basking in the pride of our daughter's tremendous accomplishment: finishing high school and preparing to set off on her own life's adventure starting with a scholarship to a Division I school and ending wherever her talents and dreams can take her.
Updated 6/6/13 11:12am