The worst day of my life was the day my wife and I decided our marriage was beyond repair.
We had a precious three year old son. He didn’t deserve the life about to be thrust upon him. Little did I know then, but the worst day of my life was also the best day of my life.
My wife and I quickly realized the most important thing to do was put our son’s interests above our own. We weren’t going to hang on to our old wounds. We weren’t going to try to tear one another down. We weren’t going to try to hurt each other. We were going to co-parent our son in the nurturing and functional way he deserved. He would have two loving and complete households.
We proceeded with the amicable divorce, ever cautious of opening new wounds. I felt fortunate to share fifty percent legal and physical custody. Yet, I mourned the loss of time with my son more than I had mourned anything in my life to that point. I also knew, however, that it could have been much worse. I decided that our time and life together would be just as good and full as any other household’s, if not better.
I decided that I would be cautious about dating, and likely remain single in order to maintain stability for my son. I didn’t want mother-figures coming in and out of his life. So, when he was with me, I’d take on the roles of both mother and father. I worried about creating and maintaining a complete household for my son.
In today’s age, the traditional roles of mothers and fathers have been blurred, given the evolution and maturation of our society. But when one parent is absent, the remaining parent takes on both roles, regardless of tradition. I was not the traditional father to begin with, but at least there were two individuals in the home to share all of the duties that go with raising children. I was concerned nonetheless about my effectiveness of taking on such a responsibility.
The adjustments were difficult at first – for both of us. It was difficult for my son to understand why he was going back and forth between households. It was emotionally difficult for me when he wasn’t with me. It was difficult for me physically and logistically when he was with me.
I wasn’t used to taking care of a child by myself. I wasn’t used to doing everything for him. I was tired. I had a demanding job. I had to take care of a household. I had to take care care of my son. I had to take care of myself. And each one was interconnected with the other. If I faltered in one area, the others were affected. Life seemed precariously balanced. I worried, and I worried a lot.
At first, I was resentful of the situation, and angered by the difficult path for the both of us. I wanted the traditional family, for me and for him. How can I do everything that needs to be done? Can I meet all of his needs? But, as I became accustomed to the new norm, I found myself relishing in the fact that I was succeeding in being a single parent, and that my son was succeeding in this circumstance.
Not only were we succeeding, but we began to thrive. I discovered I was bonding with my son in ways that wouldn’t have been possible otherwise. He looked to me for everything when he was with me. I began to feel empowered.
What I thought were going to be struggles at first, actually became privileges. I had the privilege of being both mother and father to him in our home. I found myself enjoying things like picking him up from school, packing his lunch, and taking him to the doctor’s office. I felt closer to him through all of those activities.
Worrying about things like putting a nutritious dinner on the table allowed me to feel connected to his health. Holding him when he got hurt allowed me to empathize with his pain. Brushing his hair allowed me see his beauty and tenderness. Washing his muddy jeans allowed me to visualize him on the playground. Helping him with his homework allowed me to feel connected with his cognitive development. Snuggling with him at night allowed me to feel all of his love and goodness. I’d like to think I would have done all of these things regardless of the makeup of our household, but this situation absolutely demanded it, and that was a blessing.
When I lost fifty percent of my time with him, I though I’d be losing out on experiences, joys, and time – and I did, to a degree. I discovered, however, that I gained so much more. We’ve had the opportunity to form an undeniably close relationship. The time we had was just our own. The rules we had were uniquely ours. The customs and norms we established were sacred.
I was involved in so much more of his life than I ever thought possible. And when he wasn’t with me, I found ways to still be a part of his life. I had lunch with him at school. I was an assistant coach on his various sports teams. I attended parent/teacher conferences, birthday parties, and family functions. Our close relationship transcended the time gaps. We were connected before the divorce, but our relationship blossomed after it.
At times, as I was going about various tasks, I wondered if my son would ever fully appreciate the efforts gone in to raising him, and why I joyfully took them on. He certainly didn’t owe me anything. I brought him in to this world, and it was my responsibility to take care of him, to give him the best childhood. But I wondered if he would ever fully comprehend the level of dedication, caring, concern, worry and love I had for him. Maybe he would, but probably only after having children of his own.
As he grew older, we continued with our happy norms and customs, taking life’s ups and downs as they came. The one constant we always had was each other. No matter how tough a day I had, when I saw my son, everything else was put in perspective.
It was bittersweet watching him go off to college. But as with everything, we adjusted. We kept in constant contact. I took joy from afar in seeing him make new friends, find new interests, go on new adventures, and have new successes. I missed him horribly, but that was okay. He had his own life to lead, and I would be doing him a disservice in not allowing him to lead it.
He called frequently, but the one call I never expected to was the one I received on Mother’s Day. I’d considered texting him that morning, to remind him to call his mother. He was 19 years old and sometimes, like most 19 year olds, he was distracted by his day-to-day activities. I resisted the urge to remind him. I felt confident he would remember, and I wanted to give him that autonomy.
Later that night, when my phone rang and I saw it was him calling, it crossed my mind: Is he calling me on Mother’s Day? Has he made the connection? No, I thought, he just wants to touch base.
When I picked up the phone he jubilantly said, “Happy Mother’s Day!”
I was taken aback. “Are you calling me why I think you’re calling me?” I asked, rather cryptically. He understood my question, and answered in his own light hearted manner, “Yeah, you’re like a second mother to me.”
I laughed, and welcomed the sentiment, loving my son that much more. As men, we tend not to dwell on the sentiment, and we didn’t talk in-depth about the past. What we had to say was already understood. We laughed, we connected, and we embraced the moment.
After we hung up the phone, I thought about the days when I used to wonder whether my son would ever fully understand the passion and dedication that went in to his upbringing.
I reflected on that fateful day we decided to divorce, the worst day of my life. And I thought about all of the special times my son and I have shared since then, and the enduring relationship we’ve formed.
I’m grateful I’ve had the opportunity to parent him to the fullest extent possible. Second to my son himself, it’s the greatest gift I’ve ever received. And with one phone call on Mother’s Day, I knew my son was deeply grateful for the of the gifts he’d received as well.