If the root of evil is money, the root of divorce is anger. – Me
Marriages end for a plethora of reasons; often the grounds are understandable while others appear petty and narcissistic. But no matter the hidden or obvious motivation, underneath the numerous rationalizations there lies a solid bedrock of anger. And while the firebrand of that anger may be a cornucopia of circumstances ranging from adultery to mere incompatibility; the outcome always finds its way to scorching hostility.
I’ve yet to meet one single person who, when their justifications were set aside, wouldn’t concede that it was an unremitting anger that led them to finally end the marriage and file for divorce. Maybe their rage stemmed from an affair, or perhaps their indignation grew from being replaced by the corporate ladder or needs of the children, or possibly it was just the exasperation of a relationship that couldn’t seem to crawl its way out of the ditch. No matter the root cause, in the end that motivation becomes little more than kindling now fueling their white-hot disdain.
Surprisingly, it would be after the divorce when my anger and loathing began to emerge. Even as the genuine reason for the marriage’s failure suddenly became evident, the lies and deceit were easier to digest than one might imagine. In hindsight I think much of that had to do with my anticipation of and focus on a burning desire to reinvent myself. Through modest counseling I was quickly able to move out from under the shadow of her infidelity, which consequently I began to wear like a Boy Scout patch for heroic altruism. And the validation and sympathy I received at the selfish reasons for why I was now a single father only served to swell my sacrificial cow ego. Yet underneath this cool panache were the smoldering embers of a rage that would eventually consume me.
The anger ignited as my children started getting older and my time with them became more pleasure and less burden. As changing diapers and feeding bottles were replaced with throwing footballs and dinner conversations I could recognize how the actions of this one trusted person changed their innocent lives forever. I could sense the confusion and frustration in their little minds as they bounced from one house to another like balls in a co-parenting Ping-Pong match. And this awareness was intensified every time I pulled out of that driveway and watched as another man suddenly assumed a role that should have been solely mine – a father.
At its most basic, this anger was nourished by the categorical unfairness in it all. Without missing a beat I was slowly being replaced with someone new filling the shoes of their dad. In what can only be discerned as deliberate, the void in my children’s life due to the divorce was conveniently and methodically backfilled with another man. Quickly pictures began to appear on tables and walls portraying the happy family while I had been demoted to the station of sufferable uncle. And this was now the undeniable reality; that my children had two fathers, and not only did that break my heart it yielded a seething rage within me.
It was in this context that my anger initially found fertile soil and began to grow and entwine me; and against its strangulation I’ve battled ever since. To say that I’ve remotely conquered this opponent would be a lie. Like any war, enemies can be held at bay for a while as the fighting ebbs and flows with some periods more peaceful than others, but in the most obscure and often inconsequential of moments the remaining cinders can quickly touch off again into a cataclysmic eruption.
It’s been my experience that the battle against anger is one of the more difficult of the seven to overcome. The world is replete with men and women who have been unable, or unwilling, to take the necessary and painful steps that might lead towards healing. Instead they’ve affixed their pride so firmly to that anger it’s now supplanted itself as their entire identity. Remove the rage and they don’t know who they are any longer. And by consequence they unknowingly allow that wrath to affect every area of their life most important of which is the relationship with their children. I witnessed as parents use their kids like mortar shells to wage war against the perceived enemy in hopes of quenching their scorching fury.
As I have reflected on my story, my first discovery is that to ever move beyond anger and disappointment we must accept the reality which ultimately is the anger’s lifeblood. And part of that includes coming to grips with the fact that the decision to do so rests entirely with ourselves regardless of whether the other person takes responsibility or even acknowledges the pain caused. I quickly learned that living in fantasyland and playing the ‘only if’ game did nothing but add kerosene to an open flame.
And in doing so this has produced the most amazing phenomenon, when I finally did accept the reality that I will never be my children’s only dad, I began to experience a calm and peace that before never existed. By trying to fight we only make things more difficult.
But what became most unexpected, once I was able to fully embrace this new hand life had dealt me, the fog of animosity and resentment began to lift and I possessed a new clarity that allowed me to recognize the opportunities my reality now opened up before me. As a single father I could see that I’ve been given the chance to impact my children in a way I could never as a married father. With the elimination of a toxic and unhealthy relationship I have the freedom and emotional bandwidth to model for my children what I believe fatherhood to truly be. I now have the chance to demonstrate for my son the type of man he should aim for and to emulate those manly behaviors my daughter should come to expect from future men in her life.
One final point, and I can’t emphasize or write about this enough, divorce never happens in a vacuum. Newton’s Third Law of Motion applies as equally to relationships as it does to physics. Every reaction can and does have an equal and opposite reaction. When I arrived at the point where I could acknowledge the part I had to play in the marriage’s downfall I was forced to recognize that if I stayed angry at others then I must be no less angry at myself. And it just so happened that I was no longer allowed to use self-deception and portray myself as the innocent victim those feelings of anger started to disappear.
None of this should be taken that I’ve got it all figured out. Even after eight years I have yet to walk off this battlefield, but I continue to fight and take my licks in the confidence that the final prize will be worth every wound.
This is the 2nd in a series of posts by the same name, to read the others go to Seven Battles.