Diane,
On the fallout of divorce, the following comes from a Smart Marriages regular who is
participating in my online Art of Loving Well workshop.  His poignant response comes
after reading "A Distant Bell" by Elizabeth Enright, a story about all that goes on during
 the summer days 11-year-old Susie and her dad spend together.  (I have his permission
to share these comments.)
Nancy

A few lines from the story will set the scene:

"The year after my father and mother were divorced, my father, who got me in the
summers, took me to a town on the Cape called Harbor Landing....

"My father, I sensed, was trying hard.  I smiled obligingly, though I thought he could
not know much about me if he didn't know I loathed most boys and planned never to
marry; and it was no joking matter.  I was eleven years old, with straight hair, and
skinny knees that jutted out above my socks.  I felt uncomfortable with my father,
and I think he did with me.  We did not know each other very well, having lost
track of each other, rather, in the years just past."

 
I am a divorced father of now a 19-year-old daughter.  She was 10 at the time of the divorce. 
I can completely sympathize with Suzie's dad.  I think that he is really quite a good dad and
trying very hard to be an effective parent for his daughter.  I can sympathize with the fathers
that pack up and leave, 1,000's of miles away and never see their kids.  It is selfish and wrong
but I have often felt that it would be a relief to completely forget I have a family and start fresh. 
It is so painful to not be with your flesh and blood, to know that your reputation is constantly
being soiled in the home that you purchased and maintained, even if your ex-wife is conscious
not to say anything bad about you.  The very connotation that her mother could not live with
him another minute is completely different than living with spite while her father is in the home. 
At least her father is not so bad that her mother could not have him in the home. 
 
The thought that he only 'gets' to see her at court ordered times and is not involved in
seeing her progress toward adulthood day after day gnaws on him multiple times each day. 
The financial siphoning of his income without any recognition or thanks.  The erosion of the
dream.  He is organizing as good a time for Suzie as he could imagine without really knowing
what she likes or would enjoy.  He can only afford what he has arranged for her.  He really
doesn't know her except the frozen memory of what she was like before he left home.  That is
why he may treat her like a little girl, because that is all he's known her to be.  Beyond that
day is primarily a guess, a tapestry of moments he talked with her in snippets.  Maybe the notes
she wrote.  He pieces together who he knows is Suzie and hopes that he is somewhere close
to who she might be. 
 
So his time with her is joyous yet searing as he is reminded of times he has missed with her,
not knowing what her favorite food is, how her teachers react to her essays, not knowing if
her shoe size is a 3 or 4, or what she looked like before she got her last haircut.  He knows
that she doesn’t know him either.  Much of what she does know is tainted by her mother’s
comments and her wishes of what she would like a dad to be.  He does not meet her expectations
and wants of a father because he is not meeting the most basic need of being one, being there. 
 
I cannot fault him at all.  He is being much better of a father than many others who are in his
position.  I can fault him like I can fault a wheelchair bound person for blocking the hallway.     
 
Susie has lost her place in a family.  She is not the apple of her father’s eye because she
cannot see her father’s eye, except for a few days on summer vacation.  She has lost the
communication skills of the two genders as she does not see the interaction of a committed
couple but rather sees a romanticized interaction of potential second-go-'round suitors.  She
has lost her confidence in dealing with boys/men.  She has lost being a part of a cast that is
family but now becomes a special guest of her father at a summer resort.     
 
Nancy McLaren
The Loving Well Project
School of Education
Boston University
http://www.bu.edu/sed/lovingwell
617.353.4088

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