A Month of Thankfulness: My Ex Husband

dad

Lori Lothian declares just how amazing an ex can be.

 

“Mom, I want to live with you, not dad.”

These words emerged from my daughter’s mouth after almost a decade of living with her father, my ex, half time. At 14, she wanted to move in with me full time.

This was a scenario for a custody fight, so I tried to ignore it. Yet over several months, the refrain continued: my daughter increasingly expressed her desire to spend more time at my house and less at her dad’s. Yet, I knew her father was a good father, a dad who dearly loved his daughter and for that I was grateful.

I won’t pretend in the nine years since we divorced, I have always felt grateful for my ex husband. In fact, there were times I so exasperated by his behaviors in our co-parenting alliance, he ranked just under Darth Vader in my list of all-time villains.

Yet, in more recent years, my appreciation for him far outweighed my discomfort with personality traits and a worldview that had become increasingly discordant with mine during our 17-year marriage. And in the post-divorce era as we faced so many parenting challenges—from the near death of our son at age 18 to raising a teen girl—I’ve come to the startling recognition he has been an amazing half-time-custody-but-fully-committed-dad to our kids.

Signs were there, early on, In separation talks, he wanted to share custody equally, no arguments. When we separated he insisted we craft a divorce that put the children first. This looked like us creating a “children’s residence” in the legal documents, the house where our children would reside without having to live out of suitcases in a weekly house swap. Instead, my ex husband and I rented apartments and took turns moving in and out of that house each Friday. We sold the house after five years, but to this day our children say they are grateful, if not nostalgic, for the time they stayed in one home while their parents lived out of suitcases.

Simply, he put his heart into being a great, if imperfect, father to his daughter.

This news of our daughter’s preference to live with me was a blow to him. He’d ardently parented her as a mostly retired father since she was five. He’d put the time and love into being the kind of dad he did not have the freedom to be with his son (now 24) because his work as a senior health economist at the world bank made for a 60 hour work week, and at least 10 weeks of travel for missions in Africa and Asia each year. Simply, he put his heart into being a great, if imperfect, father to his daughter.

Now, she wanted desperately to move in with me—she even ran away once from his place to mine, as if to make a point. While there are a lot of reasons for her desire, none of them are the kinds of issues that would make me step in as a mom and “rescue” her from his custody.

But I understood too, that as a young girl going through puberty (even with the push pull of love-hate for me) she wanted more mother time, and relief from the bi-monthly move-out, lugging two suitcases stuffed with clothes, soccer equipment, her laptop and more. She was looking for anchoring in a way that a dual household life was not providing.

My ex was naturally fiercely resistant to any change in his two weeks a month with his girl. He sent me emails outlining argument for why it was a bad idea. We had heated phone calls and coffee meeting or two that ended in cold-war détentes. In the middle of all this, our daughter began acting out, increasingly agitated that her desire for three weeks at mom’s house (she’d now agreed to a week a month with her dad) was looking like a fatherly veto (even though legally, should we have gone to family court the judge would likely let a child her age “vote with her feet.”)

Then, the breakthrough came; the point where I witnessed how deep and selfless his love was for his daughter. We sat together, just him and me, in his living room one day to talk more about what to do (it had been six months of pressure from her, three weeks at a crisis level). He served coffee and then handed me a two-page document. I cringed at first, wondering what kind of ultimatums or legal arguments he’d amassed. As I started to read, tears came to my eyes. When I finished, I was barely able to speak without sobbing.

This two-page document was a love letter. It was the pouring out of his heart on paper, all of his concerns for his daughter, his hopes, his fears.  And ultimately, it was a letter of surrender. Game over, he would grant his girl her wish because he loved her that much.

I looked across the coffee table at him and said, “No one could ever read this, and not see just how much love you have for your daughter.”

And then, something happened—something I have not seen since our son was trolleyed into emergency life-saving surgery. Tears came to his eyes and all he could muster was a silent nod, followed by a self-conscious laugh at his emotional vulnerability.

We ended that meeting with incredible and creative co-parenting ideas for our new three weeks with me, one week with him custody arrangement. But more importantly, we ended with a hug—the chest-to-chest, heart to heart kind of hug that happens rarely between ex spouses.

I am grateful for my ex-husband. And more so, I am so damn grateful that I can say that.

 

More Thankfulness

 

(Photo: Lori Ann, her ex husband and son circa 1996, nine years pre-divorce).

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About Lori Ann Lothian

Lori Ann Lothian is a sexy daring writer who challenges assumptions about love, sex and relationships in her columns at Huffington Post and elephant Journal and in feature articles at the Good Men Project, Origin Magazine, Yoganonymous, Better After 50 and more. Former editor of the relationship section of elephant Journal, she is now a senior editor at the Good Men Project. Follow her on Twitter andGoogle. Stay informed, sign up for Lori’s mailing list here.

Comments

  1. Damn, Lori…so beautiful. I can only hope my ex has the wherewithal to see me in that light if it comes to my sons choosing their mom’s place over ours. I hope it never does come to that…but it may, and I hope I can be as gracious.

  2. Could she have been as gracious if her daughter had instead wanted to live with him full time? It’s easy to say how great her ex is when she’s the one her daughter wants to live with. Could she do as well herself?

    • Lori Lothian says:

      HI Karen. This is a great point. I considered this already: how would I feel if it were reversed. I’d decided it could very well be reversed next year even, where she misses her dad, or is fed up with me, etc. I came to the same conclusion as my ex husband: my relationship with my child is not based on my needs, but hers. In honoring her needs, over mine, it’s a win-win.

      Again, if this situation had any dire elements of alcoholism abuse, or severe family dysfunction, this would not be the case. But both households are loving ones. Both parents care and are devoted to doing a good job.

      So, to your question. I would be sad at first, that she would be with me less often. And I would also be willing to allow her to follow her own choices at 14 and a half. That is parenting that allows a child to learn to be an independent thinker; she knows she can change her mind at anytime on this decision. She is held as a being able to navigate the world with her parents supporting her–and there to catch her if she falls.

      Thanks for your great question.

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