Not long ago I went through a season of life, nine months give or take, where I was convinced tragedy was waiting to gobble up my eight-year-old son. My belief had been that in a matter of time I would get a panic stricken call from his mother about some accident, the next door kids would rush over screaming hysterically to ‘come quick!’, or the school principle would call in the early morning with horrific news. This conviction was at times so intense I would even wake in the dead of night, heart racing, in a state of shear terror that the unspeakable was near.
Where this came from I’m not exactly sure. I had lost my father without warning in my mid-twenties and experienced the pain that comes from the sudden death of a loved one. I had also lost childhood friends and have known parents who lost their own children to a number of catastrophes from gruesome car crashes to silent brain hemorrhages. To this day I have never been able to erase from my mind the depth of despair witnessed on the faces of those mothers and fathers. The darkness in their eyes as they trudged through a circle of hell Dante refused to envision. Maybe it was those images that had taken root and grown in my own conscience.
All of this was made even worse by my pragmatism and an inclination to analyze everything. No sooner was I thrown into one of these fits of terror than my rational mind would obstinately default back to a phrase once made by a long forgotten motivational speaker at a sales conference. At the time his maxim was intended to remind our sales teams about the fear of rejection, but all it did now was send my pulse racing even faster.
we bring about what we fear the most
I should also mention that I emphatically believe this truism so you can well imagine the problem. Not only did I have this gripping fear, but also I was petrified that the more I dwelled on it the more it increased the likelihood of becoming reality.
This fear didn’t manifest itself in irrational behavior – I’m somewhat practical. Besides the occasional sleepless night and erratic panic attack life moved along normally, but no amount of self-condemnation or encouragement from the Queen seemed to make it go away. It would take every one of those months until I came to accept how utterly baseless my fears were, what Chuck Colson termed the ‘Dragons of the Mind’ – those serpents of absurdity that strike from within to suck the life from us.
This dragon was finally vanquished using nothing more than mere reason at the complete silliness of it all. The ridiculousness and my embarrassment that a grown man – presumed to have it all together – would welcome such nonsense finally overcame my foolishness.
Divorce can and usually does give birth to its own dragons; a fear that is sometimes grounded but more often baseless that sends blasts of terror shooting down our spines. This dread comes in any number of forms, fear of financial failure, of never finding love again, or an anxiety of the impact on our children are just a few. Often these fears can be debilitating keeping us from growing as a person, taking a calculated risk, moving forward with our lives, or keeping us in unhealthy, even disastrous, relationships for fear of the unknown.
But fear is an enemy that every single or divorced parent will battle against. For me, it took the form of an anxiety that my children’s lives were utterly ruined, that because of a divorce they would forever be scarred and spend the better part of their adulthood in therapy because their mother and I couldn’t preserve our commitments. I was afraid that they would never have a healthy understanding of what relationships and marriage should look like and would choose to remain perpetually single for fear of succumbing to the same fate as their mom and dad.
Certainly some of our fears may well be justified and should even be commended for the awareness the imply, but that doesn’t mean they should hold us captive. It would have been quite easy for me and understandable by many to allow that fear to evolve into a guilt through which I approached my role as father. That dread could easily has become the basis for parenting to my children’s happiness and becoming overly sensitive to any unusual behavior. I could easily have become that parent who does whatever necessary to keep my children happy and content because of the guilt felt over their lot in life. Or my son comes home from school with a note about his poor behavior and I rush to assume it must be because his parents are divorced. Either is an all too sad reality.
But as vapid as this will sound I actually found this fear motivating – to made me want to be a better dad. I chose to use it to mount a change in the kind of parent I hoped to become. Because I was mindful of the inherent risks faced by children of divorce, over time, this awareness influenced the direction I would parent my children. It lead me to become more alert to their behavior and sensitive to their feelings yet not be held hostage by either. It forced me to be far more transparent and expressive with both of them, talk to them about any number of issues that I would otherwise be uncomfortable with or that might embarrass me. It freed me to admit mistakes and apologize when I had wronged them; to this day that fear continues to hold me accountable to them for my behavior because of the reverberations it can have on them.
Divorce is riddled with uncertainty and fear. Often our apprehension may be little more than what lies over the horizon we aren’t yet able to see. But that should never prevent us from pressing forward towards what awaits. Those dragons of the mind can be ominous and can strike us with unmatched terror, but they can also be defeated if we choose to control them instead of allowing them to control us.
This is the 6th in a series of posts by the same name, to read the others go to Seven Battles.