Single dad John McElhenny’s rebirth or collapse has often coincided with the first few weeks of back-to-school.
Am I suffering from micro-empty next syndrome? Or am I just sad that summer has come to an end?
One thing that will never change: Parents miss their kids when they are gone. Even when they were tiny, I hated to leave them. Going to work for the first five years was torture. And maybe I could have done a better job at that, but the post 9-11 world was strange and uncertain, in business as in life.
The other day, my son and I were driving past the pre-school where he and his sister learned to swim, and read, and become separate tiny humans. Dropping them off some of those mornings was a sad affair, more for me than for them. After my son entered elementary school, I would still stop by with my daughter, and push her on the swings before heading to work.
“One more push, Daddy,” she would yell as I tried to tear myself away. The staff was supportive and would frequently come and push her on the swing while I made my quiet and miserable escape.
Dads have a different relationship to parenting. We typically don’t get to be the stay-at-home parent. We typically feel more financial pressure as the bills and responsibilities become more urgent. And each morning, we’re off to work. And yes, mom deserves all the rest and recovery she can get, but it’s different for dads. Leaving your sleeping child and wife in bed to dress, make coffee, and head out the door, is difficult. Perhaps this was the massive transformation that occurs for the dad. Time for work. Sleepy, cuddly, baby-fest is over.
Even as the kids grew older leaving them at school felt like a loss. And this was as a happily married man. Work was a nice distraction when it was engaging. When it was mechanical and dull, being at work and getting a text from my wife about baby’s first word, that was hard. I missed a lot as a dad. That’s how it’s always been. That’s how it will continue to go. Don’t talk to me about the joys of being a SAHD. I don’t want to hear it.
The other day, the kids started their next cycle of school. My son entered 9th grade and accelerated up the four-year launch ramp to escape velocity. He will be gone-gone.
In divorce, they were both gone-gone a lot of the time. Since the divorce in August 2010, I have missed five of six first day back-to-school mornings. We cobbled a reason for me to bring my ex coffee on that first one. She was feeling magnanimous. And, she was probably out of coffee. Since then I have not had the joy of packing, preening, and pushing them off to their first day at the start of a new school year. It’s OK. It’s what divorced dads get.
So now, today, I realize that divorce is like a trial run at the empty nest experience. And dads typically get the lion’s share of the off time, and thus the majority of the empty nest sadness. When you are making the plans for divorce, and trying to be civil about the schedule, the gap between kid-time can be overwhelming. You go from full-time parent to 31% parent. Three-of-ten school mornings will be awarded to you. Everything else, for everyone else, is status quo. Except dad isn’t around.
I could blast my way into the first day of school mornings, but what’s the point? They have their routine. They have their process, path, and protocol for making it to school on-time. And they’ve done it 70% of the time over the last five years.
As I prepare for my back-to-school, end-of-summer dip, I know that I am better prepared for the eventual final departure of our kids. I just wish it hadn’t come so soon in my marriage.
Related posts by this author:
- The Transcendent Single Father
- Dear Non-Custodial Dad: Here’s What You’re Getting
- The Positive Divorce is Up To You: The Two Levels of Healing
- What Am I Doing Here: Ah, Another Divorce Blog
- How Faith and Courage Work Together in Love
- Inviting the Dinosaur Into Your Divorce
Photo credit: Promotional photo from the movie Boyhood