[PUBLISHED WITH AUTHOR’S PERMISSION]
AUTHOR’S NOTE: The following article is dedicated to my loving wife Judy, my three children and my sister Molly. There is absolutely no way that I could have coped with this traumatic part of my life without them. I question whether I would still be on this earth if it hadn’t been for my family’s love and support. Unfortunately, because they were always there for me, they too were victims of the emotional trauma involved in this situation.
It’s Thursday night and the third weekend of the month is almost here! The most important weekend of the month. The weekend that I get my kids! I feel like a kid going to Disneyland, I’m so excited! Wait! Will my ex wife call and cancel again like she did last month? My sister offers comfort by telling me to try not to think about it and that everything will be fine. My anxiousness is held “in check” by the very realistic chance that she’ll cancel again. It happens a lot. I am beginning to get that sick feeling again in my stomach. I don’t want anything to get in the way of seeing my kids! My “ex” better not call and cancel. Now I know what it feels like to be executed, waiting for the switch to the electric chair to be pulled. There’s only one phone call that will destroy me tonight and I can’t quit worrying about it. Each minute that passes, I am waiting for the phone to ring, to cancel the visit again. I can not make myself focus on anything else. I can’t wait to see them, but I am overwhelmed with worry that the visit will be cancelled for some reason. It has to happen this week, I can’t wait for another week. I find myself more consumed with worry about the “cancellation call” than my feelings of excitement to see my kids. I can’t help it. As I sit there and watch the clock, then the phone, then the clock again, the night drags on forever. With each hour that passes, the anticipation and worry builds. Why do I put myself through this? I really do understand why some Dad’s say: “Screw it.”
Whew!! I made it through Thursday night. She hasn’t called yet. She’s only got a few more hours to call and cancel before it’s too late and I’ll be on the road. I’m at work, but my mind couldn’t be farther away. I feel like I have to fight every day just to be involved in my kids’ life. I’m so sick of this. The daunting task of enduring 15 more years of this crap is too painful to even think about right now. How can I do this? Fifteen more years of lies, hate, manipulation and loss of control of seeing my kids and loss of control of my life. I keep telling myself to stay focused on one week at a time. I cannot get caught up in the whole 15 year thing,” or I’ll fold for sure. I really should have stayed home today -- I can’t focus on anything.
Finally! Quittin’ time. No cancellation call. I feel 20 pounds lighter now that the weight is off of my shoulders. Now, I can finally shift my attention from worrying about “the cancellation call” to excitement to see my kids. I can’t make that shift until I know for sure the visit won’t be cancelled, it was too painful when it happened to me last month. Okay. I have to plan carefully. If I leave too early and I get to her house before 6, I get nothing but grief and attitude from my “ex” about how inconsiderate I am. When you travel 120 miles, it’s very hard to be precise as to what time you arrive. That doesn’t matter to her. I’m lucky I get to see them at all. I have never been one to back down from a fight or ever let someone intimidate me -- but in this part of my life, my time with my kids helps me endure these situations. I have to force myself to swallow my pride, because if I get “out of line” and tell her how I really feel, I will lose the most important thing in my life -- time with my kids. To be controlled and manipulated by someone who despises me is the toughest challenge that I’ve ever faced.
Okay. Focus! I have a long way to drive. I’ve got 120 miles to go before I see them, I have to stay focused so I don’t have an accident. My emotions are racing. I go from hate and loathing towards my ex-wife to utter excitement to see my kids. Even though I’m so excited, I can’t relax until they’re finally in the car and we’re on our way back home. Maybe if I blast some rock and roll, it’ll help me keep these things out of my mind. Can these people pleeeeze move out of my way?! The normal 2 ½ hour drive seems to take six hours. I am so excited that I can’t get there fast enough.
Finally! I’m almost there. As I see the house, my stomach is starting to hurt again. Why do I let her get to me like this? Why can’t I control this? My emotions go from utter excitement to sickness and worry again. Please God, let her be at work or somewhere else. Please just let me get the kids and be out of here. PLEASE!!!
As I ring the doorbell, I hear little feet scurrying about, getting their stuff together. The door opens. There’s my “ex” in all her glory. Why can’t she be gone somewhere? I am greeted with looks of disgust. How dare I bother her? I mumble a ‘Hello’ and do my best to hide my disgust. Then, from around the corner, comes the two little people that I live my life for. All of my discomfort has suddenly gone away. I feel like sort of a stranger to them, even though I call them every other night, I only see them once a month. I hope they don’t feel uncomfortable because they don’t see me that much.
The sickness in my stomach is going away as we load into the car. They’re finally mine and there is NOTHING she can do to prevent the visit now. We talk about their school, their friends, family and how they are doing. I wish I could meet their friends and visit their school. I want their friends to know who I am. I want everyone to know that I’m trying to be a good Dad. How can I prove that I’m a good Dad? Do my kids think I’m a good Dad? I have to prove myself, don’t I?
On the way out of town, we go to their favorite place to eat. I can’t really afford to take them out to eat, but it’s so important that I create good memories for them while they’re with me. I can’t say no. My guilt overrides rational decisions. If they don’t have a good time with me, I worry that they may not want to come back next month. Oh well, it’s time to get back on the road again, we’ve got a long drive ahead of us.
It’s getting late and we’ve been on the road for awhile. I glance over to see that they’re both trying hard not to fall asleep. They try and fight it, but eventually they are overcome with peaceful sleep. As they sleep in my car on the way home, I’m already watching the clock. The minutes fly by, but it takes forever to get home. Well, tonight is shot. They are both asleep and won’t wake up until the morning. The countdown has begun. Only 1½ days left with them.
We’re finally home. It’s late and I’m exhausted from the drive. As I nod off to sleep, I’m already planning. What can we do tomorrow that won’t cost money but will be fun for the kids? Will it be fun enough to make them want to come back and see me again? I need to get a part time job so I have more money to take them to some fun places. We’ll go to the park for sure tomorrow. Hopefully they’ll like it.
It’s Saturday morning. The only full day I get to spend with them. I have their favorites laid out for breakfast. The clock becomes my enemy. It’s already mid morning. Please God, make the time go by slow.
Our time at the park was awesome. I find myself counting down the hours now before they have to go back. She has no idea how lucky she is. My stomach’s feeling sick again. I don’t want them to go. I try and make them their favorites for lunch and dinner. I can’t cook that great, but hopefully they’ll like it.
Well, it’s bath time, then a little TV and then it’s bed time again. Why can’t I keep them awake a little later? I find myself struggling with my own selfishness, but know that I can’t keep them up past their usual bed time. As I recount the day, it is all a blur to me. Time never goes that quick any other day. I can feel my depression creeping back into my body. Tomorrow they have to go back. Sunday is the suckiest day of the month. Then it really hits me, it’s going to be another month before I can see them again. I can’t think about that or I’ll start crying, again. I can’t let them see me get emotional. I don’t want them to think any of this is their fault. I’m getting sick again.
It’s Sunday morning. I have to act like I’m happy, but it’s hard not to bust out crying. Reality is staring me in the face again. We have to leave soon. I can’t have them back late. If I do, I’ll pay somehow, someway, someday. I’m helping them pack up their stuff. It’s just another day for them, but it feels like the end of the world for me. I’m getting that sick feeling in my stomach again, because I know there’s only a few hours left.
Well, I’ve stalled as long as I can. It’s time. We HAVE to go. This time, the 120 miles goes by in a snap. Time seems to be clicking by. Hours go by like seconds. The trip seems to take half the time that the one did on Friday. My emotions are fighting again. I want to take my time getting them back, but if I’m late, there’ll be hell to pay. Oh no, they’re falling asleep again. It’s unfair, but I can’t keep them awake if they’re tired. Don’t they value their time with me as I with them? The car is quiet. I can hear them both breathing heavily, enjoying their sleep. They won’t wake up until they’re back at their mom’s house, so my time with them is pretty much gone. I can’t keep from crying any more, but yet I have to be very quiet so they don’t wake up and feel bad. The weekend went by like a blur. The time I spend with them is so valuable to me. I am so pissed. No one cares if I get to spend time with my kids or not. How am I supposed to make an impact on them if I don’t get enough time with them? The experts say that phone calls, birthday cards and pictures help. Well, what happens when I’ve done all that and it still doesn’t seem to make a difference. I give them birthday parties, presents, calls, pictures, letters, everything I can think of!!! Nobody cares!! Nobody cares whether they see me, remember me or love me.
As we approach their house, I find myself feeling nauseous and hateful again. I have to make myself get out of the car. I have to force myself not to say anything that will “cost” me later. I ring the doorbell and am greeted with the same looks of disgust as before. Should I wake them so I can say goodbye? I feel my emotions taking over. I have to hold it together. I need to leave NOW. I can’t let her see me cry. I can’t let her know she got to me again. My will has never been tested to this extent before. All of this emotion is about to erupt from me, I must leave now.
I’m back in the safety of my car. I can finally let it out. I can’t control my crying. It’s getting hard to see the road so I better pull over here. What is wrong with me? Men aren’t supposed to cry. I am so embarrassed. I hope nobody sees me. I have no control over my emotions. I have no control over my life or my kids’ life. Society and my ex-wife have made sure of that. They are just as much my kids as hers, but you could never tell by looking at my situation. How am I going to make it for 30 more days without seeing them? The last time I asked to see them sooner than 30 days, I was reminded that the kids have their own lives now, with their own friends and family and that it’s enough of a bother for her just to keep the once per month visits. How could I be so foolish? As I drive home that night, reality is sitting in the front seat with me. Nothing can comfort me. There’s nothing I can do to make it better. The next 120 miles will give me plenty of time to ponder these things. The other weekends will come and go. My emotional level will be at rock bottom for the rest of the month. The next weekend visit is too far off to get excited about yet.
But once “the next weekend” approaches, my emotions will begin to crescendo and I’ll get to endure the roller coaster of emotions all over again.
These “weekends” happened 17 years ago. They were the most difficult years of my life. I constantly fought off thoughts of suicide. The only thing that kept me going forward at that time was my kids and my family. I knew how valuable a father’s role was in his kids’ life. I knew, because my Dad died when I was a young kid. I know what I missed out on. And there was no way I was going to let my kids go through what I did as a kid. No way!!! What’s really amazing to me as I reflect is the fact that I would go through it all over again in a heart beat. My kids are that important to me. I compare this situation to riding a bicycle, uphill, for 15 years. It seemed that I could never do enough, never love enough, never call enough. I was always very satisfied with my calling as a father; I was just never satisfied in how I was forced to play that role.
Finally, my youngest turned 18 years old in February of 2003. Since then, we have finally been able to visit at our discretion and my ex-wife could no longer control the visitations. I encourage all fathers to take an active role in their children’s lives, no matter how limited it is. Thank God I persevered. The frustration of always surrendering my beliefs and desires because my “ex” was always “calling the shots”, was almost too much to bear. Society and the courts have believed that mothers are better parents. This belief costs caring fathers valuable time with their kids and/or eliminates essential areas of personal growth for the children in these situations.
All of my heartaches, my efforts, my tears and the thousands of miles I drove over those 15 years have finally paid off. My daughter, who is 20 years old now, moved out of her mother’s home upon graduation from high school and moved in with my family for a year. She now lives within an hour of my home and we see each other at least once a week. My son, who is now 22 years old, is completing his senior year in college and is planning to move to my home town to start a career in law enforcement. Tell me now that it wasn’t worth it all. My family is finally coming back together!!