It’s the last of our seven and for good reason. It’s near impossible to predict when regret could strike or when it might leave after it does. There are several reasons for this. First, regret requires heartfelt sorrow, even despair, for something lost. There also must be a realization at how this loss didn’t have to be, an understanding that things could have been different. And lastly, to feel true regret we must accept some level of personal responsibility for why things turned out how they did. Without each of these any regret we think we experience is merely shallow sentiment that’s neither healthy nor useful.
It’s because we can’t experience regret and at the same time feel revenge, entitlement, or anger that causes it to be the last and final of the seven battles to wage. Regret often takes its time, there is a level of refinement with regret that is missing from the baser emotions of fear or loneliness, we must know something of ourselves and have clear vision to see outside our own personal universe. The others battle are the necessary precursors that get us there.
Five years it would take before I ever felt regret for my divorce. In the beginning I was preoccupied with entitlement and revenge. But as things went on, a numb melancholy started to overcome me, my children were getting older and our relationship was starting to take noticeable shape – I was becoming more dad and less babysitter and was beginning to see fatherhood not as a chore and more as a calling.
This sadness would be most intense as I backed out of my ex’s driveway from dropping my kids off after a weekend together. As they ran towards their other family I would pull away holding back tears feeling like the loneliest man alive. Only a divorced parent can truly grasp this kind of despair.
But this was also at a time when I was learning about myself, reading, studying, trying to figure out things and in the process coming to grips with the part I played in the divorce. After I fitfully admitted that the infidelity wasn’t just her fault – I may not have acted the part but I helped write the script – it forced me to question what I might have done differently, how I could have been a more attentive husband, what I should have done to keep her faithful. And dragging around this amount of emotional baggage slowed me down just enough for regret to hitch a ride.
I first tried to fight it because I mistakenly assumed this emotion meant I still had feelings for my ex. The thought of that humiliated me, how could I still feel something for such a betrayer? Could I really be that foolish? I felt I was stronger and smarter now. In the years following our divorce I had changed, grown, I wasn’t the same naïve twenty-something boy I used to be. No, I knew there had to be something else, something that didn’t involve her and I; so instead of fighting it longer I chose to accept it and try and figure out where this regret came from.
What I found wasn’t despair for the loss of my wife and what she and I once had – I knew I didn’t want either back. What I regretted was the loss of the idealized life I once imagined for my children. A life similar to my own, a life that included fond memories of one home and one family instead of a Ping-Pong existence between shattered pieces void of any sense for what home and family ought to be.
I think this helps explain why the feeling was so powerful in my ex’s driveway, it was – hell, it still is – a reminder of what I helped take away that can never be replaced – their sense of family and home. To this very day, eight years later, they still call my home ‘daddy’s house’. You can’t imagine how that shreds me inside.
I still regret what happened; I likely always will at least until they make their own lives with their own homes and families. But that’s still a ways off so for now I’ll continue to use my regret as motivation inspiring me to be a stronger father – more loving, involved, intentional . When I think about it I don’t know what else I can do, the only alternatives I see are either to ignore it or wallow in it and where would either get me?
We’ve covered seven battles every single parent must wage and eventually win. They’re unpleasant but necessary. They’re needed if we ever hope to move into the next chapter of our lives stronger and smarter than we were before. Without the lessons they teach we are destined to repeat the same mistakes over and over again. When I think back to the man and father I was before I can’t help but appreciate every tear shed and trauma inflicted. No, I wouldn’t want to go back to the life or the person I was before, I’m proof that divorce isn’t the end, life moves on and through it we can grow to become the person we are supposed to be – scars and all.
This is the last in a series of posts by the same name, to read the others go to Seven Battles.