I have been divorced now for three years and it’s been over four years since I moved out of the townhouse that was ‘home’ for over a decade. The place that my (now ex) wife and I came home to after our wedding and the place that I brought my children back from the hospital to. It’s been four years and only now can I begin to really talk about the impact that it all had on me at the time.
My marriage had been falling apart for years before I moved out and I even tried to move out in 2009, but seeing the shattered look on my three year old and four year old’s face and the thought that they might believe I was leaving them, stayed my hand on the decision – especially given the fact I would be leaving them alone with their mother for long periods of time, something I could not do, given the treatment I had seen and experienced first hand from her. I knew I had to wait until they were old enough to be able to speak up about things they might see or hear.
The reality is, there is never a good time to leave. I waited until 2014 to make my decision to move out and made my first bad decision a few weeks after I moved out. Having been deprived of a healthy relationship for years, I was eager to show my boys what a healthy relationship was and began dating someone shortly after I moved out. Within a couple weeks I realized the mistake I was making and that I was allowing myself to put my own needs above theirs, so I concentrated hard on their well being. Trying to make my new home – an apartment less than a mile away – the best home I could make it. They loved being there, it was quiet, clean and there was no fighting. It was extremely hard for me though, as I spent the majority of my time alone and without them, after having been with them every day. After having been the one to make all their breakfasts every morning and pack all their lunches. Being the one to always drop them off at school since they were toddlers. I felt as if my heart had been ripped from my chest and many nights I lay alone in my bed, staring at the ceiling, tears in my eyes, yearning to hear a voice call me in the middle of the night “Dadda? I can’t sleep.”
My friends all told me it would get easier as time went on. I’d like to say that’s true, but it’s not. It’s a crock of shit. It never gets easier not being with your children. Parents aren’t meant to be away from their children. What kind of lasting impact can you have on a child that you don’t spend every day with?
But, time went on. I moved from the apartment to the lower level of a two family home and finally purchased the home that they have known as their first ‘real house’, not attached to anyone else’s house. Moving into this house, my girlfriend I had now been dating for a couple years moved in along with her two children from a previous marriage. Another bad choice. My children got along fine with hers but there was a monster lurking and I had no idea I had moved it into my home. The woman that had moved in was a closet alcoholic and within a couple months I realized how bad the situation was. She frequently drove home, picking up ‘nips’ (small bottles of spirits) on her way home, drinking them to ‘take off the edge’ of coming back to a house full of kids. By the time I asked her to leave a year later, she was drinking a fifth of fireball a night and the police were called frequently. I was becoming someone I never thought I could become. I had gone from being a very patient man, caring, loving – to a man who was always angry and on edge, dreading evenings and praying that my children wouldn’t see the pain I was in or experience it themselves.
Children however are not blind and they see much more than we think. My youngest was elated when I asked the woman to leave. My oldest was relieved but he is very reserved and didn’t speak of it much, instead he twisted things in his head – he was trying to grapple with the divorce, the anger his own mother was apparently [inappropriately] confiding in him about and the stress of the alcoholic that had lived in our home. The environment had been toxic to all three of us and it would take another year before things began to feel normal again.
It was only recently, looking back through photos of the boys and I that I can truly see the pain and torment in our eyes that we were going through. It’s clear that there were constant attempts at happiness, traveling to back home to Ohio, going to water parks, going on long trips. However, one can see that there was always a dark cloud hanging over us throughout those years. I as a father, was uncertain what I could do to ease my children’s pain of the divorce and my tumultuous relationship because I was the one trapped within it all. It was like trying to protect someone from a tornado by wrapping yourself around them, just to find that both of you have been lifted up and carried away by the tornado. Now that the dust is settling, I’m slowly reestablishing the relationships I have with my children. They say that they don’t remember anything before I moved out, which I partially chock up to the trauma of it all. All I can do is keep moving forward and be the best father, the best man, that I can be.