The problem with being a divorced parent is the things we miss, like saying goodnight, or seeing your child come home from school. I suppose the earlier years were hardest for me. But now, I must have blinked and my little girl who used to speak in her little voice and hold things in her tiny hands is now ten years-old. She is not so little anymore.
I need to work in order to keep the things I have. I need to pay bills, and buy things, like food and clothes. I need to turn on lights in my home; I need to heat it in the winter and cool it in the summer.
In order to keep my neck above the waterline, I need to take extra hours at work because without overtime, the waterline rises, and there is no fear worse than the fear of being under water.
The problem with being a divorced dad is the things I missed like the recitals, or picking up my daughter at say, gymnastics. And the problem with working long hours is the missed opportunities on an already limited schedule. And now she is older. Now she goes to sleep away camp……
Summer began yesterday and it was beautiful. The sky was blue and the floating clouds fluffed in pure forms of white. The weather was kind to the folks on my side of the hemisphere; the winds were gentle and the children are in their last week of school.
I suppose I am not too old that I cannot remember the feeling of an upcoming summer and the last few days of the school year. As a kid, there was nothing more perfect than the sound of the last ringing bell on the last day of school. There was nothing better than running through the school’s double doors and knowing it would be months until I had to come back.
In front of me were the long lazy days of summer. There was no more homework or teachers. There were no more trips to the principal’s office for say, running in the hallways or cutting in the lunch line. There were less rules and fewer reasons to wake up early. I suppose I am not too old that I cannot remember my feelings during this time.
After working my Thursday shift from 10:30 to 6:30 in the evening; I pulled a second shift until 2:00 in the morning. Then I washed the dirt from my hands and the debris from my hair. I washed my face, settled down, and then I took a nap until 5:30 so I could be back on the clock by 6:00 Friday morning.
And after my Thursday melted into Friday, I went home, showered, changed my clothes, and then I went to pick up my daughter because this is our last weekend with together before she leaves for sleep away camp.
The problem with this is I had to be up and out of the house by 4:45 Saturday morning to work an 8-hour weekend shift. I say sleep is a nice thing, but sleep is hard to come by.
Nevertheless, I pulled my hours and then I came home. We sat together as a family. We ate together, and that is very important to me.
See, two of the reasons why I work long hours were sitting on either side of me at my dinner table last night.
To my right was my wife. I watched her smile as she enjoyed her meal. To my left was my child, and though her home is split between her mother’s and mine, I know she is loved on either end, and I am proud to say she has never been thrown in the middle or used as warfare in the battles of divorce.
Something I have come to enjoy is something my daughter and I call story time. This is when I tuck her beneath the covers on her bed. This is when she organizes her little stuffed animals around her.
The end result is her tiny face, complete with her wiry smile from her silvery braces, stuffed and surrounded by stuffed animals, and fury little creatures. She looks innocent, and with adoring eyes, she asks, “Tell me another story about when you were my age.”
Sometimes she asks about work. She asks me to explain what I do and she wants to hear about the machines I work on. I tell her stories about my job. I tell her about the projects I work on, but I am seldom sure if she understands me.
Either way, whether she understands or not, she still smiles and there is nothing more beautiful to a father than a smile from his daughter.
This weekend will be the last weekend for story time. I told her I will miss this.
“But I’ll be back,” she said.
“I’ll be back at the end of the summer and you can tell me about all of the things I missed.”
Though I will miss her, I will not stand in the way of her experience. I want her to experience life, and if I stood in the way of this, I feel I would be doing my child an injustice.
However, I see communication as vital, so I made sure I told her my feelings.
Feelings, though seemingly obvious, are only valuable when they are expressed. In which case, the importance of my feelings lose value so long as they go unspoken.
So I said something….
I told her, “I want you to go. I want you to have a good time. I want you to have as much fun as you can because that’s your job. Your job as a ten year-old kid is to have as much fun as you can. And if you’re not having fun….then you’re not doing your job.”
I told her, “Just like I have a job, you have yours, and it’s very important to do your job well.”
I explained, “But I want you to know that I will miss you. I want you to understand that I will never stand in the way of you having a good time, but that does not mean I don’t want you here and that doesn’t mean I don’t wish you were home.”
It hurts sometimes. The space between us, the things I miss; these things are painful. But parenting is a job and it’s very important I do that job well.
I think my little girl understood what I was trying to say.
After our story time last night, she kissed me goodnight. She said, “I love you daddy,” which means I am doing my job.
And the fact that she said, “You can sleep in my room tonight if you want to,” after I explained my feelings to her
…..it means I am doing my job very well.