My parents got divorced when I was 8 years old and my brother was 5. What I vividly remember is the four of us sitting on the couch crying after they told us they were separating.
My father moved into a decrepit apartment a few miles down the street because that was all he could afford at the time. He would spend Monday and Wednesday evenings with us at our house while my mom was out, and we spent every other weekend at his place. For awhile, this was status quo until he began dating again.
Eventually, it became more imperative to him (at least that’s how it felt at the time) to begin his life anew by enjoying more bachelor-type activities. This included playing softball in a league that often went out of town for games and parading several women he was dating into and out of our lives. The best one was when we spent the weekend at his then flavor’s house, and she was so put out by our presence that she made us pick up the non-existent popcorn that “littered” her kitchen floor from the previous night. Having gone through these experiences (and more), I have come to realize how my parents’ divorce shaped me as a parent.
I try to be in the moment as much as I possibly can.
There are times when I want to mentally check out because there are only so many times I can tell him, “Good job!” for putting the blocks back in the bag. Nonetheless, I try to remember that there is a limited amount of time that this will make him happy and continue prompting him to do it again.
I plan for family vacations instead of personal vacations.
Which means window shopping for hotels and annual passes at Disney World and Universal Studios (he WILL love Harry Potter!) and going to Jacksonville for Thanksgiving to visit with extended family. Because road trips with a toddler are fun.
I will never bribe him. To lose weight.
My father would say to me (more than once), “How ’bout I give you $XX if you lose XX pounds before I do?” I realize he was trying to get us both to become healthier, but what I heard was, “I’ll love you more if you are thinner.” I sometimes wonder if I overeat out of spite.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I recognize his intention was never to hurt my brother and me. He loved us very much (and us, him) and tried to do his best under the circumstances. The problem was he was trying to live the single life at the same time.
He eventually got remarried (twice) and settled down with my stepmother to have my second brother. His chance to get fatherhood right. Unfortunately, he passed away several years ago when Forrest was 16, and that opportunity was tragically cut short. Nonetheless, in the time they did have together, my dad was extremely involved in his life. I’m grateful to know he learned from his mistakes.
So did I.
This post was originally written and published for Sammiches & Psych Meds.