I became a single custodial father when my wife of 2 years and I split up,back in May of 1995. My son was 18 months old.
One morning, when my wife came home from partying all night, I told her that we couldn't go on like this, and she suggested we get a divorce.
As part of a separation agreement, I moved out. I found a rental house about a mile away and signed a one-year lease. This is how I discovered the first three fundamental rules of divorce:
The first night my son and I spent in our new home, I put him down in his spartan little crib in the barren little house in a run-down neighborhood, and he began to cry. So did I. I wept huge salty tears all into his soft baby hair, and told him it was all a mistake, a misunderstanding. Mommy didn't understand what she was losing; she was just confused and all. I'd call her tomorrow and we'd work it all out. We didn't. We couldn't, really. How do you work things out between two parties when one of the parties isn't the same party who made the agreement? In other words, she wasn't "her" anymore. For the most part, she was now, or on the way to becoming, someone entirely different, and this new person was no more the woman I married than a snake is its shed skin, or a butterfly is the caterpillar that it was.
So life began again for me. Parenting was not totally novel to me; I had had plenty of experience in raising my boy. For the most part, life continued the way it had since she got her evening job, about a year before we split up: I'd come home from work and take care of him until bedtime, then I'd go to bed. The difference was, I no longer had a partner to talk to, someone to plan and dream with, not even a few times per week. So my next big challenge was to determine what my new hopes, dreams and aspirations were.
As the first year wore on, my focus went from mere survival (finding a home, moving in, cooking, cleaning, paying the bills) to peering into the future. Where would I live? What would I do? Would I be single for the rest of my life? I had to re-cast my dreams, re-define my future, reorient my goals.
That first year was a bear. It's tough on any single parent, no matter what the situation. Suddenly you have to get by on fewer resources, with greater demands. For several years, I'd collapse into bed each night, weary with commuting, work, housework, and yes, even the time with my boy wore me out. I felt the guilt of withholding some of my time and energy from him, knowing I'd have to hold something back in order to get through the day. But that exhaustion helped me get to sleep at night, when I would've otherwise been tossing and turning, wondering what I did wrong that caused me to lose my family, something I had worked my whole adult life to envision and create.
I faced some big challenges during this time:
Remember that saying about "behind every great man is a woman"? Some of the strongest men I know are that way because of the love of a good woman. But how to be strong without that love, that affirmation, that constant reassuring and soothing presence? Now *there's* a challenge, especially after a marriage falls apart, and everything you invested your effort into has fallen to ruin, and you've been repeatedly told that it's all your fault.
Many of my male friends who went through a divorce struggled with alcoholism in the first few years. I guess it's part of how we deal with depression. My dad said it was like an anesthetic after amputation, like morphine. It didn't take the pain away, but it made you indifferent to the pain. Being a custodial dad helped me greatly in that respect. Who has time to be an alcoholic when you never have time or money to go to a bar or the energy to get blasted at home?
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