Taken For Granted

It’s 2AM on the morning of my last day with the Noah, Harrison and Sawyer, and I can’t sleep. In a few hours we’ll be heading back to where they live bringing to a close our two weeks of summer together. I can’t believe it’s over already, and the sadness of missing them has already set in. I’m not sure when our next time together will be, and there’s a certain anxiety in the notion that Christmas five months from now is the answer. I don’t think I can wait that long.

I would like to think our time together has been equally meaningful. Two weeks is a healthy stretch of time allowing me to be more than just a “fun time” dad, but a real dad as well. Week 1 was a getting-to-know-you period leading to a more disciplinarian, but teaching father in the second week.

On this trip more than ever the boys displayed more behavioral issues resulting from the divorce and their distance from me. Noah is apprehensive in saying what he feels, wondering what he can say in front of dad verses mom. Harrison, at six years old, still prefers baby-talk in most of his conversation with me and whines about anything even slightly challenging until someone does it for him. Sawyer is prone to dramatic temper tantrums when he doesn’t get his way earning him long stints in solitary confinement until he cried out his willfulness.

Granted, this can be considered just normal child-like behavior, but even my parents and sister noticed the difference in them since their last visit three months ago. It’s also been around that same time their mom started dating a man who’d recently lost his wife to a long-term illness, not to mention I remarried last month. Now the boys have two step-sisters who their dad talks about and their mom has less time for them as she explores her new relationship with a man who has a boy Noah’s age and a girl several years older. It’s understandable how insecure they feel given the recent changes in both their parent’s lives and the effects on them.

Unfortunately it’s not something their parents can talk about. To their mother, co-parenting is not an option given the distance and her finite views on child-rearing. My role has been reduced to a mere source of income and an occasional interruption to their regular routine in her narrow opinion. Any attempt by me to take an active part in the boys’ life appears to be something she endures as an affliction on par with those qualifying one for sainthood in Catholic Church. Even my daily phone calls are treated by her as an obtrusive annoyance. I’m quite sure telemarketers attempting to sell antifungal creams dead-smack in the middle of the meal-time prayer are greeted with more warmth and politeness than I.

It’s been my strict policy to refrain from any direct commentary concerning my ex-wife. I don’t think it fair to present a side of someone from a single point of view. It’s OK for politics; it’s not OK when the other person is the mother of your children regardless of how justified you may feel. I can understand there is still unresolved hurt and anger, not to mention the fact she is the primary care-giver. Her side certainly deserves its credence, but I’m troubled when those personal issues, by her actions and attitude towards me, take precedence over the issues affecting our children.

I have tried to put my own feelings and resentment aside in dealing with these situations. However, it’s difficult to endure a diatribe, like the one I received this past week, about how I am putting the needs of my new family over the needs of my own boys because I cannot find employment earning the same six-figure salary that once provided for their financial security. It’s a sore spot with me already, and I feel like I’m letting, not just my boys down, but my wife and step-daughters as well.

Yet, at the same time, had I been working a job with that earning potential, it’s likely I wouldn’t have been able to spend two entire weeks with my boys. It’s also likely that my daily phone calls would be regularly interrupted by urgent business, and my focus on their behavior would be distracted by less meaningful tasks and work-related projects. I know because that’s how it was when I did make the big bucks. What’s the real priority here? I’d rather be a father than an ATM.

Before I went to bed last night my mother gave me a big hug, and told me how bad she felt for me given all I had to deal with. I don’t know if it was all the sugary deserts I’d consumed, the caffeine rush from four cups of coffee or my medication, but a sudden feeling of gratitude for the life I’m living came over me. “You know, mom. I guess I’m thankful for how things are; otherwise, I might have just taken it all for granted,” I said.

It’s true really. Had I lived closer, then maybe I would take the time with my boys for granted. Had their mother expressed a willingness to actually co-parent, then maybe I would have relied too much on her input rather than tuning into the boys’ individual development. Had I still be making heaps of money and giving it to the boys, maybe that would’ve become an easy fall-back for my parenting instead of working to have a real relationship with each of them. Of course, none of these realizations frees me from the need to physically be a part of their daily life, to avoid seeking joint parenting solutions with their mother, or to shrug off my financial obligations, but they do remind me that had my circumstances been “easier” maybe I wouldn’t have cared as much as I should.

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