My son will make some woman very happy. At ten he has a sensitivity and openness few other boys his age have attained, and most never will. He shares, if he trusts you, whatever is on his mind, without embarrassment, and never holding back. My relationship is closer with him than that of his twelve-year-old sister. I know far more about what’s going on, inside and out, than I may ever know with her. That feminine mystique will make some man no less happy.
He is emotionally well beyond his years, save for treating our living room like his personal parkmore park. He is the youngest of the Queen’s and my four children and has used this front row seat to their growing up to grow into a more perceptive child than they were at that age.
Last week, while driving to practice of his sport-of-the-month, he tells me the story of his friend Jeremy. I still don’t know why he chose that moment to do so, or why for that matter, but I haven’t gotten it out of my mind since.
While on the playground, he explains, ‘Jeremy looked really depressed about something, so I ask him, man, what’s wrong?’ I’m stopping momentarily to bask in parental satisfaction. Not only does this kid understand what depression is; he can recognize and express concern when he sees it.
The youngest of three brothers, whose mother and father divorced two years ago, Jeremy responded, “My dad fell in love and is getting married and is moving to Indiana. Now I’m probably only going to see him once a month.”
He then goes on “Jeremy, I’m so sorry that is happening.”
What my son says next ought to be laminated on cards and slipped into the wallet of every divorced and single father. He looked at me and with a distressed tone says, “How could his dad DO that?” I was very proud for two reasons. First, that my son expressed hurt for his friend, and second, how inconceivable it seemed to him that I would do same.
Fatherhood demands sacrifice. It’s a reality heartbroken single mothers know all too well. Sometimes the ask of us is little, other times it’s much more. Along the journey of fatherhood we all arrive at moments where the path ahead diverges. One way takes us towards what we think we desire most. The other leads to our children’s growth and flourishing. These paths rarely, if ever, merge. As east is from west, to choose one means forsaking the other. Sometimes this decision can be easy, other times it’s excruciatingly painful. But choose we must, standing still is never an option.
After a decade of single fatherhood, I can’t number how often I’ve found myself standing at similar crossroads: career choices, relationship decisions, and lifestyle habits. Sometimes I chose correctly, other times I didn’t. With the later, it was only by Divine Providence that I recognized my error before greater damage was done. On those rare instances where it seems I chose wisely, the decision rested simply on its impact to my children. How would taking that job in Miami change my relationship with them? How would it be down the road if I remained in a relationship with a woman whose parenting style was so different? How would their views on commitment and marriage change should the Queen and I abandon our values, cave to the frustration, and move in before marriage?
In these moments it may feel as if our life teeters on a scale. On one side is our individual wants, on the other rests our children’s needs.
It’s the bitter taste of these past sacrifices that causes me to react so when I hear stories like this one. I know well the excuses his father is giving. I’ve used similar logic that is now leading him to believe moving is a good idea. I’ve drunk deep the Kool-Aid of personal happiness and fulfillment at all costs. I’ve wrestled with sleepless nights trying to convince myself that the cure for my misery could never become my child’s poison pill. I too have denied the reality that one bad decision can inflict a deep and lasting wound on our children’s hearts.
Maybe that’s why I can’t forget about this. Maybe that’s why I get so angry thinking how his father is throwing away the greatest of God’s gifts. My heart breaks for them all. It breaks for Jeremy and his brothers realizing their dad’s influence will be limited to phone calls, emails, and the occasional road trip; that his mother will now be left to do the dirty work and raise their boys alone, and that Jeremy’s father will suffer for this decision for the rest of his life.
Or maybe I can’t forget because I’m reminded of my own difficult choices that, in the moment, felt as though they would turn my soul to cinder. But after the fire and smoke died away, revealed themselves to be the wisest ever made as new growth of clarity, character, conviction sprouted forth from the ashes. I’m also reminded of a valuable but hard lesson – the more difficult the decision feels the better it usually is.
Or perhaps this anger and heartache is because I see where the path really ends. How the vacuum left by his departure will start pressing back upon this father as he begins missing birthdays, football games, and those simple little moments that make fatherhood such a blessing. I see a bond ripped apart just as three sons begin needing their father most. I feel resentment, confusion, and hatred well up at every thought of their daddy’s abandonment. I hear them asking what they did wrong to make him leave and choose her instead. I see three boys grow into men with a father size hole in their chest put there by one who chose romance over responsibility, who believed lust was more important than love.
I see this father’s soul wither as regret and shame begin eating away at it like a cancer. I watch as these same feelings infect his marriage when that regret turns to resentment for the woman and the marriage he sees as responsible for all of it. I watch as this father’s heart breaks when the mother finds someone new to fill the role he so quickly cast aside. And in the end I see a father devoured by ravenous sorrow from a decision long past and wishing, more than anything else, he could stand at that crossroads once again.