I’m divorced, with two wonderful kids (ages 14 and 12). This Father’s Day, I’m giving respect and love to the mother of my children. She’s a hard working, strong loving and efficient woman. As our kids’ counselor said, “It takes two strong parents to raise such smart and happy children.”
She’s always been clear about providing the best experience and opportunities for our kids. Maybe that’s how the divorce came to light for her. Somehow, along the way, she decided that “apart” would be healthier for her and for the kids.
We did our best, but we didn’t anticipate some of the changes that would take place in our marriage. We don’t always deal with them very well. At least now, the arrangements will be spoken and negotiated in the open.
We had money issues in the marriage. We have money issues as co-parents. Perhaps it was this issue that caused the divorce in the first place.
But money was only the flash point that highlighted the disconnection between us.
While I couldn’t see it then, and I fought with anger and sadness, I now understand how dysfunctional our marriage had become. A lot of it was attributable to money woes, but a whole lot more traced back out our family of origin issues and our own personal issues.
I’m no longer afraid to admit I have suffered from depression. It’s still a bit of a stigma, and certainly not something you’d want a future employer to know, but I don’t consider it a disability. It’s been disabling at times, but no more so than my flights of fantasy that go part-and-parcel with my artistic temperament. Many of the musicians and writers I resonate with have wrestled with their own demons (Kerouac, Plath, David Foster Wallace, Kevin Gilbert, Michael Hutchense).
During the marriage my overwhelming sadness came to wreak havoc on our lives twice. The first time, it was related to my desire to continue my dream as a performing musician, even after the kids arrived and the bills piled up.
After one crazy festival, my wife said, “Your music is like a bad mistress. She lifts you up, takes you away from your family, and then slams you back down, broken and sad.”
The second time was much worse.
Seven months before our daughter was born, we discovered that she had a rare condition: her blood was incompatible with her mom’s blood. Over the next half year we visited a neonatal surgeon every Monday morning to see if our daughter was going to make it. In the end she made it without birthing complications and entered the world with a more robust constitution than most kids.
But at the time, the weekly visits paired with the collapse of my consulting business, overwhelmed me. I’m sure it was overwhelming for my wife too, but suddenly, rather than having a partner, I was more like a child, a second child she had to care for. She stayed strong, we stayed together, and we all survived to become a mom-dad-son,-and-daughter family unit.
We didn’t sail through the next years together. We struggled. With each other. With money. With jobs. And me with my mood disorder creeping up and whacking me back into the hole.
Now, six years after my divorce, I’m willing to admit my own part in the collapse. And more importantly I’m able to see how amazing and wonderful my ex-wife was and still is. Good thing, too, because we’ve got the rest of our lives together to support our lovely kids.
Happy Father’s Day to me and my kids, and happy co-parent day to the mother of my children. We’re in this for the long haul.
John McElhenney is a single dad who lives in Austin, TX. He’s published several books of poetry and a whimsical look at social media. He makes his living writing social media strategies for small businesses, and he makes his heart smile playing tennis and music. You can read more at The Whole Parent Book.
Photo: John McElhenney
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