This Sunday is Father’s Day. It also marks the third week (twenty-first day) since I awakened my two daughters in their beds, watched them get dressed, and drive away with their mother to a new home and a new life, more than 1,100 miles away. Since I first became a Daddy (not just a father – any sperm donor can call himself that) over fourteen years ago, this will be my first Father’s Day spent completely without my children. For that matter, it will be the first time since they’ve been born that I’ve lived more than a mile away from them. Up until lately, that mile often used to feel like the far side of the moon on the nights they weren’t here with me. It’s all about your perspective, isn’t it?
I’m five years out of my divorce, so by now you would think that I’d be better adjusted to coping with holidays, birthdays, and other special occasions that don’t live up to their former promise of family togetherness. This one is different, though, and I’ve been trying to wrap my mind around why this is hitting me so hard.
The truth is, I really don’t want to think about it much. Instead of being seen wallowing in self-pity, I’d rather just find a rock to hide under, or have my brain cryogenically frozen in a jar for the weekend. I don’t want to hear another sentimental daddy song play on the radio, or see another commercial on television selling power tools for Dad, Hallmark cards in the grocery store, or the Lowes weekly flyer, advertising their sale on barbequing paraphernalia. Most of all, I want to avoid the seemingly innocent and well-intentioned query I seem to get everywhere I go in this small, gossip-ridden New England town: “How are your girls doing in their new home?”
I still don’t know quite how to answer that question cheerfully without sounding like I couldn’t give a rat’s behind that they’re gone, but I’m rarely given a chance to speak when I hesitate for a split second to form my words. That’s when they move in close to inject their follow-up question or comment in a hushed whisper. “You could have stopped that with a good lawyer, you know.” Or, “How did she get away with that?” (Referring to my ex-wife, of course.) People around here can be amazingly insensitive, and it feels like the early days of my divorce, all over again. We were the talk of the town, since my ex father in-law was a highly regarded and well known public official, and we were thought to have the perfect marriage.
To be honest, my kids are doing good. Splendid, in fact – they’re in the best emotional shape they have been in since the divorce. When I speak to my oldest daughter on the phone, there is excitement, joy, and sweetness in her voice that I haven’t heard since she entered puberty a couple of years ago. The moroseness and petulance is gone, and it is like she is back to being her old, young self. My youngest sounds as sweet and happy as ever, but she is too busy making new friends and attending a performing arts summer camp to spend more than a minute or two distractedly chit-chatting with me. She is always on the go.
Looking at their situation now, I would have been a horse’s ass to stop them from going. I surely intended to at first, and I practically went to law school online to bone up on the state laws and statutes regarding parental relocation. I put together my best argument for the importance of a father in his daughter’s lives, borrowed straight from a Dr. Phil episode, that I was going to recite in front of a judge. Further, I prayed on my knees that His Honor would be a divorced father himself who had a strong bias toward dads’ rights. Finally, for good measure, I hurled a relentless barrage of epithets and accusations at my ex-wife, with the intent to inflict so much guilt and shame that she would repent and turn down the job offer that she had, and stay put right here in the only town the girls can remember calling home. God knows, I was ready to rumble.
And then it occurred to me to stop and consider what I would be gaining if I managed to “win” in court by convincing the judge that the girls’ mother is unfit to finish raising them all on her own. After all, the girls themselves had expressed their desire to move with their mother and leave this place, very candidly and honestly, without a trace of ambivalence or second thoughts. They weren’t just okay with going – they strongly wanted to get out of here, and they were prepared to say so in front of the judge. Of course, when they told me this, it made me hate their mother all the more. And for the record, we had managed to have an unusually peaceful and amicable divorce.
“The best interests of the child” is the deciding factor in relocation cases like this one. When I finally found it within myself to have a civil, adult conversation with my girls’ mother, I completely got it for the first time why she truly wanted to leave, and that it wasn’t all about me. For reasons that I won’t share here, I finally had to face the fact that it truly is in the best interests of both of my daughters to get out of this place and make a fresh start. It’s what we all need, in fact. We were all in a rut here, their mother and I included.
New England is already a distant memory for both of them. The only problem is, I’m afraid that I will be soon as well if I don’t find a way to bridge this distance, if not shorten it altogether. Skype-ing just ain’t gonna cut it – not for this dad, anyway.