Friday, May 18, 2007

My girl, and a lot explained...

Damn me. I had no intention of writing tonight; instead, I wanted to catch up on neglected emails. But I can't resist.

This post is, in effect, intended for someone I've never met, and about whom I know very little. What I wish to say, though, is much too long (and I feel too passionate about it) to leave to a comment box.

So here goes.

My ex-wife and I split after seven years of marriage. I left. And no, there was no seven-year itch. Yet what remains of our union is the most unbelievable source of pride and love I could have ever imagined: our soon-to-be 7 y/o daughter. A goofy picture of her is in one of my previous posts.

My ex-wife moved to the D.C. area just before we separated; she'd taken a job for which we'd both been struggling and sacrificing for a long time. It was her time; our due. Having done so, and with the knowledge (before we split) that I'd be transferring to the D.C. area from Georgia (where we'd lived) myself, our daughter was left in my care, and I was a single Daddy for the better part of a year.

The idea of it frightened me; I didn't know if I was good enough. I was. And I recall those months with such pride and fondness... we were good together, my daughter and I.

Even during the early part of our separation, she stayed with me, in Georgia. But I made a huge mistake. When the process soured, when compromise and empathy and so much understanding was out the window, and I feared that my ex- would make the divorce as difficult a process as possible, I told her, "well, I'm beginning to think that I will fight for sole custody."

I didn't really mean it. Really. My ex-wife is a great mother. I can't think of one better. She truly, truly is. I know it now, and I knew it then. But I was pissed and scared to death.

Well, this was a mistake that I'd pay for, dearly. Clearly, the "compromise and empathy and so much understanding" did not improve with that blunder.

Anyway. Things kinda did seem to smooth out after I apologized genuinely and sincerely and frantically... but.

But. My ex-wife hadn't taken advantage of her new employer's offer of relocation assistance, so we arranged for her to come down with the company movers and divide up the Georgia household. She also asked if she could take our daughter, saying that she was "the only center, the only balance" she had left in life. I agreed, instantly.

When she arrived in Georgia, I told her that I would leave the house to her for as long as she needed, and she could have the movers take anything she wanted; I wasn't keeping anything on reservation. I had no claims. I felt guilty.

My ex-wife is an emotional person. Some might giggle at the discovery of an "emotional woman," but at the risk of defaming my daughter's mother, her "emotional" state was the reason I'd left.

An incendiary mix of emotions and happenstance and just God-awful luck doomed me, and directly and staggeringly affected our daughter.

Somehow, my ex-wife convinced herself that I was cheating on her. A broken vase in the bedroom, a few numbers on the caller-ID she didn't recognize and neighbors' reports of an unfamiliar car in my driveway were all the elements necessary to lose her mind.

Hours into the affair --mind you, I've been out of the house -- she frantically calls me and insists I come to the house. I do.

As I walk in, I am confronted with a sobbing soon-to-be-ex-wife, and our daughter, also crying. Our daughter says to me: "Daddy, you shouldn't be so quick to get a new girlfriend."

She's four.

Apparently, when all the vortices of the known universe collapsed and came, spinning down, to crown my ex-wife, she called her sister on the phone and, ignorant of our daughter's attention, fitfully gives a recreation of the day's events, to include the new charge of my infidelity.

Incidentally, folks: I wasn't cheating. Yet the point remains: I was crushed. I could not believe the pain. It was at precisely that moment that I began to hate my ex-wife. For her carelessness. I couldn't believe it.

Fast forward.

My now-officially-ex-wife and I have reached a point of detente. It had been a monumental struggle, mostly on my part, to have reached this. I now live in the D.C. area, too, and we're doing quite well with weekends, vacations, all that sort of thing. The Georgia court, of course, awarded her physical custody, but legal to both (for the little it's worth,) but I didn't contest it. As I said, she is a fantastic mother, and our daughter is lucky to have her.

Nonetheless. S and I move-in with one another. S is very feisty, very young. (Seven years my junior.) What with her Marine training and Persian blood, her initial reaction to confrontation is less flight and more fight.

Of which there is plenty of occasion, because my ex-wife does not appreciate my new "status." She tried her damnedest -- really -- to make life very, very difficult for me. All over again. Much of it, I understood. As irrational and counterproductive as it was, my ex-wife was acting on two motivations: 1) the safety and development of our daughter, and 2) well, just fucking with me in the process.

Take, for example, Georgia law. In any divorce, the parents are prohibited from exercising custody or visitation when a person of the opposite sex to whom the child is not related by blood or marriage is staying overnight. (If this sounds all legal-ly and official, it is because I know it rote.)

My ex-wife, of course, took advantage of this restriction. So... S (and I loved her so for this sacrifice) left the house every night we had her, and stayed with her mom across town. For over a year. (See? I had countless reasons to love her.) This is not to say that S didn't have complaint. Or do everything in her power to convince me to fight my ex-wife in court. Or to be as intransigent as I possibly could in every other negotiation with her. Ohhhh, did S want me to fight.

Consequently, I am now the fresh meat unceremoniously thrown over the fence between two rabid wolves. One is pushing me one way, another is pulling me opposite. Through the whole ugly affair, I tried my best to make everyone happy. I was a diplomat. It was taxing.

Finally, one glorious, unexpected day, my ex-wife invites me to lunch. I nearly jumped out of my skin, in happiness, at the suggestion. I had been trying so hard to placate, to soothe, to reason. Until that invitation, though, nothing had worked.

We had lunch. Our first face-to-face since the divorce. It was incredible. Out of nowhere -- and I mean nowhere -- she admits she understands my position and appreciates my diplomacy and wants everyone to be happy and now realizes that Madison is well-served. She wants us to both sign a paper waiving the restriction on the whole other-person-staying-over thing, she wants to meet S, she wants S to join everyone at our daughter's fast approaching birthday party (!!), etc.

Oh. My ex-wife had a boyfriend, apparently. What's good for the gander, you say....?

From that point forward, everything is just hunky-dory. Bliss. S is happy. Ex is happy. I am happy. (Most importantly) our daughter is happy.

In fact. The reason for this post. My daughter.

She loves S. LOVES her. S loves my daughter. S is my other-favorite mom. Though she'd never had children of her own (too young), she took to being a mom with grace and skill and good humor. (Again, I suspect a large part of the reason lies with her Persian upbringing.)

Importantly, I must note: through the whole, whole sordid affair, I acted with one singular goal in mind: that S and my daughter forge a relationship on their own, exclusive of me. To whatever extent with which they were both comfortable. Not once did I "take over" the process. Like admonishment, or praise, or whatever. S was entitled to be her own mom, without me interfering, per se. And Madison had to learn to respect S as her other mom, too. No pulling the whole "but my Dad said/does/thinks..." thing with us!

It wasn't easy, of course. But it worked.

When I returned from my last deployment and all hell broke loose and my life just fell apart when S left, I still had to be Daddy.

Every weekend for the three I was home (before deploying again,) I had my daughter. S had moved in with her Mom, so I had the house to myself.

The first thing my daughter asked, when I came to pick her up from her mom's, was, "Where's S.?"

You can imagine how badly that hurt.

And on countless occasions over the days I had her, she'd invoke S's memory. "Remember when me and S would tickle you, Daddy? She'd pin you down and tickle your armpits, and I'd tickle your belly?" "I miss S." "I miss Hercules (S's dog.)" "S makes the best macaroni and cheese." "When are we going to visit Mommy (S's Mom.)"

Ad infinitum.

Because I am painfully aware of the damage the split of her parents was, is, and can be, I just could not tell her that yet one more person with whom she'd fallen in love and trusted and adored had chosen to leave. As I had left her when I left her mom.

So I explained that S had taken a new job. But I made it in Pennsylvania, just in case. Close enough that it would make sense, if God reached down from Heaven and put the three of us back together.

For not, of course. But it's what I had to tell her. I didn't want to tell her that S just didn't love Daddy any more, much the same way that I'm sure her mom had to tell her about daddy leaving. Or that S had found someone else that she loves more.

So, we struggle. Or, I struggle. To balance everything.

Through it all, though, my daughter is persevering. Coping. Flourishing. Living. I can't make it not hurt, of course, but I can make it hurt less.

Like when, in times now long past, this discussion would occur:

My daughter: "I love you, Daddy. I love you, S."
Me: "I love you, too, baby."
S: "I love you, too, sweetheart."
Me: "You're sooo lucky, you have so many people that love you. There's me, mommy, S, grandma, grandpa, grammy, papa, aunts S and J, uncle L, soooooo many people!"
My daughter: "Yeah, but mommy hates S."
Me: "Oh, sweetheart, that's just a misunderstanding. Everyone loves you. That's what's important."
S: "That's right, baby. And I love your mommy, all the same."

No kidding. It happened a lot. But we survived. And damned if that little girl isn't the most amazing, happy little kid.

So, to you, shadowsofourselves, all will be well. Because you're thinking of how much it might affect her, you're already half-way there. I won't say "don't worry." That's ridiculous. Go ahead and worry. But know that in worrying, you're already doing just fine.

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