What You Can Assume About That Divorced Dad You Know
In this past year I’ve written over 50 articles on topics ranging from fatherhood, parenting, dating, ethics, politics, social media, business and leadership. I am the single parent of five adult children and have gone through two marriages of nine years each with painful divorces that ended them. Those are two time periods that I try not to reflect on very often. So until now, I have avoided writing about what it was like to go through a divorce.
Going through a divorce can be one of the most traumatic experiences anyone can have. For men in particular, there is little support available and many men feel emasculated if they seek help. That was certainly the case for me. I had no one that I could ask for guidance, and I didn’t even know where to look. Despite the fact that my kid’s mom left us and despite my having full custody of all five of my kids, mothers and fathers in our town kept a big distance. Neighbors and their kids were told to stay away from my kids. Why? Because many felt no mother would leave her children unless the father did something to her. While I thought I should be a hero for rescuing and raising my kids alone, many chose to see it another way. I certainly didn’t feel like my community was there to guide, comfort or help me.
The idea that mom can choose to leave and dad can choose to stay was foreign to many. It was an incredibly lonely and isolated time of my life. I would go to school functions and the moms would look at me with disdain or, at best, curiosity. Teachers would question me about how I was caring for my kids in a way I have never heard them do to moms. I can remember filling out forms at the kids’ elementary school that had one place for the address of mom and kids and another one for dads. There was no thought of mom having a different address than her kids. This was the same school that on graduation day, gave flowers for the children to give to their moms. My daughter wasn’t given a flower to hand out.
While I was facing the daunting process of caring for five traumatized children, I also had to deal with the emotionally, financially and physically draining effects of a legal system that seemed bent on destroying me. There were a record-breaking number of motions, briefs and appeals and I lost every one. Badly. I fought all the way to the Supreme Court on a related issue and won. But the court system had bankrupted me.
In addition to the isolation, humiliation and financial burdens of divorce, I was also suffering from the effects of a failed relationship. My wife had walked out not only on our kids, but on me too. My heart was broken and so was my confidence. I felt unloved, lonely, confused and overwhelmed having to deal with it all. Was I really that big a failure as a man? Would anyone ever love me again? I had five little kids and was dead broke. What woman would ever want to be with me?
One of the most rewarding things that I have been able to do over the past few years is to help other men get through divorce. I have provided both emotional support and tactical advice. What’s most gratifying for me is seeing these men express relief that there is actually someone out there who they can talk to. And someone who actually understands how unfair the legal system can be and what they are going through. I am able to provide them with something they are just not use to receiving: comfort, understanding and support.
So the next time you come across a man who is going through a divorce, you can assume he’s feeling pretty alone, isolated and desperate — even if he looks OK and he denies it. Try to imagine what you would do and say to a woman who is going through the same thing. Chances are, he needs the same kind of help, love, attention and affirmation you would give her.