All my favorite movies have one thing in common. Whether the likes of Gladiator or Man on Fire each has an appetite for revenge. The kind of biblical eye for an eye that sends you out of the theater feeling satisfied, like Thanksgiving dinner at Grandma’s. I can’t pinpoint where this attraction came from or what it might say about my mental state but in all likelihood neither answer is good.
I sometimes find myself playing the part of Maximus Decimus Meridius as I too exact revenge on evildoers who have crossed my path. Usually it’s someone I believe has stepped over an imaginary moral boundary that drives this thirst for blood. Maybe they’ve made a snide remark about something I’ve written, acted snobbish or arrogant because I’m a divorced father, or behaved indifferently by not letting me cut in traffic. On a flight to the west coast earlier this year a fellow passenger publicly chastised me for accidentally breaking line as we boarded the plane. For the next five hours I lambasted his critical judgement of my character and at one point got out of my seat, calmly walked four rows back, and punch him in the mouth – at least that’s how it happened in my imagination.
It’s a character flaw I’m continually working on.
With this personality trait in mind consider for a moment that burning need for retribution, now douse it with the kerosene of a divorce, and then spark it with the flash paper of an affair? Does one need a degree in chemical engineering to understand what happens next? It’s the perfect Molotov cocktail for white hot vitriol.
One thing I can say with near certainty, it doesn’t matter what side of the divorce equation you fall there will always be an abundance of maltreatment for everybody. Maybe he exchanged your marriage for his career or she traded you in for her personal trainer. And if that isn’t your story there’s always the ubiquitous ‘divorce process’ that will ensure you both leave the courthouse in search of the nearest hit man. My point is that divorce and revenge go hand in hand and I’ve yet to meet one divorcee who hasn’t in some way or another felt those cravings for vengeance.
Over my years of hearing story after story from numerous divorced men and women, I can attest to depths of depravity some go in an effort to ‘get back’ at an ex. I’ve observed as men withhold child support and alimony as the ex and children suffer for no other purpose than to provide company for his own misery. A woman recently complained that she constantly has to beg her ex husband for a check, not because he doesn’t have the money but because he just likes to make her life difficult. I’ve overheard in enough men’s locker rooms to substantiate her contention. And then I’ve also witnessed what is undeniably the most heinous allegation one parent can charge another – the sexual abuse of their own child.
I feel the need to put a stake in the ground here. There is categorically no justification under heaven to warrant a parent accusing another of child abuse without provocation. And unfortunately this is a tactic commonly employed by mothers attempting to deny the rights of a father. Only recently a mentor’s son going through a divorce after a decade of marriage had a complaint filed against him by his soon-to-be ex wife of sexually abusing their six-year-old daughter. Within days of her filing, counselors, social workers, and Child Protective Services were called to his home and work to interrogate him and investigate her claims.
After a week of this spectacle the authorities concurred the allegations had no basis, but before their final results were released the mother withdrew her complaint, then later called her husband to apologize and cite poor advice from friends and her counsel. As a father I can’t think of an act more disgraceful and frankly I feel there is a particularly hot corner of hell waiting for people like her.
You may never experience such deviant behavior in your own divorce, I didn’t, but you will certainly encounter moments where you want to get back or get even whether you realize it as such or not. Instead of calling it the primal name vengeance we simply call it control – when speaking of divorce is just revenge ‘lite’.
If there is one thing I’ve learned in my eight years of divorce it’s that revenge ultimately inflicts more damage on the one who’s looking for it than the one it’s directed towards. It’s like turning the gun on ourselves. It might not feel so right away, but divorce relationships have a rather long life cycle – in my case 15 years when the papers were signed. That’s plenty of time for those arrows of vengeance to ricochet and find their mark back on the shooter.
Co-parenting is a mutual affair. And like the Law of Motion every action in it can have an equal and opposite reaction. So you want to play keep-a-way with him and the kids, be prepared to have money issues when it comes to child support. Decide on a game of hide-n-go seek with the child support, don’t expect her to drop what she’s doing next time you need help with the kids, if she lets you see them at all. Choose parental alienation as a parenting strategy and be prepared for your children to turn on you in due time.
Far to many fail to recognize that being effective co-parents means a reliance on each other – this is a fundamental truth that can’t be overlooked. Miss it and you do your children a grave injustice.
Secondly, divorce brings out the worst in most of us. The fact that two people who once promised to love, honor, and cherish each another can turn so quickly into the worst of enemies speaks volumes. But just because we are divorced parents who would often rather kill each other doesn’t mean our children should be innocent onlookers. And that is the saddest part in our need to exert revenge and satisfy our blood lust; how we’ll knowingly use our children like chess pieces searching for check-mate. And the only way to prevent that from happening is to stop acting like children so they can be.
What I mean is that we need to set aside our own petty superficial gripes with each other and get down to the business of being extraordinary parents. That means refusing to make every incident a major issue just because we get some sick satisfaction from the drama, it means being helpful and accommodating instead of rigid and unsympathetic, it means saying the words ‘thank you’, ‘please’, and ‘your welcome’ when we’d rather chew glass. We need to stop treating each other like sworn enemies and instead start playing like members of the same team. It’s the least our kids deserve from us.
When we finally understand that co-parenting has never been about us parents we are left with no choice but to swallow our pride and put our bruised egos on a shelf no matter how legitimate the wrongs may be. It’s only then do we have a chance to win the battle against revenge and play the part of great moms and dads.
This is the 4th in a series of posts by the same name, to read the others go to Seven Battles.