self·-respect (-ri spekt′)
proper respect for oneself and one's worth as a person
I thought I was done with the series on "The Things You Lose". But, as is usually the case, life reveals a new layer of the onion. ("Ogre's have layers, Donkey!")Yesterday I needed to communicate with my ex wife about something. when she calls me to discuss child issues or whatever, I treat her with respect and a sense that I am happy to hear from her insomuch as she is Morgan's mom and maybe we can at least be civil. When I call her, depending on whose company she is in at the time, it is as if I am the I.R.S. calling to inform her of her upcoming audit. Again, depending on who is in the room with her at the time, the conversation can either have the tone of someone who is pleasant and who at very least shares the common bond of a child, or she can be reduced to minimal grunts like a caveman. In about half of these cases, whatever I have to say is nearly ignored.
There are times I want to stop in the middle and scream "I'm Morgan's DAD Damnit! I have a say here too!" But I inevitably bite my tongue. One of us has to and it is always me because I don't "hold the cards" of primary custody like she does.
That scenario always ends up with me feeling like I have been emasculated and my "remnants" are in a snow globe on Holly's' mantle, and she just gave them a big shake. Why? Why do I keep allowing this reduction of my humanity?
Well I thought for the longest time it was just me and nobody else was feeling this way. Then I wrote a book about my experiences and the handful of men who have read the manuscript all had similar stories to tell. Then I discovered a term on a website that describes...and redefines...dads in divorce. The term is "Disenfranchised Fathers Syndrome". I thought, at first, that it was maybe just a bunch of angry men who went through divorce and were bitter about it. Then I found out that an entire book has been written about it...by a woman. A woman psychologist. I only read excerpts but what I read was startling. I was right after all. It isn't delusional or bitter or just a group photo of angry men. Divorce is statistically harder on men in the majority of cases. The system actually is working against us, and we really are given second class status in the courts and in the entire system.
The biggest eye opener for me was the empirical evidence that backs up what my heart had been saying for quite a while now...that men are lumped together in post-divorce stereotypes and even the courts see us that way.
Many men abused their wives, or cheated on them, or had porn addictions, or gambled away the mortgage, or wouldn't get a job, or drank, or abused drugs, or any one of a litany of offenses. But not all of us did that. However...all of us bear the scarlet letter because of it.
I have seen the looks in the eyes of people when they first found out I was divorced. The look that said "you must have beaten, cheated, abused, gambled...you must have done something!"
Now this article is not about self vindication, whatsoever. I made a boatload of mistakes as a husband. I let the strains and stresses of a young marriage and my poor decisions and the arguments that ensued get the best of me. I take full responsibility for my half...maybe even more than half. but in the 8 1/2 years that have passed since my divorce, I have realized that nobody really cares what I didn't do. They are too busy assuming what I must have done. And after a few years of those accusing glances and whispers, I began to see myself the same way. I can't tell you how many times I apologized to Holly for my part in the destruction of our marriage. Many times taking blame for things that I honestly had nothing to do with. Conversely I can't tell you how many times she has offered me an apology for her part...because she never has. I don't blame her really. She doesn't have to. Nobody expects her to be sorry. Not these days...not in this society. You can blame feminism or the courts, or social ills or whatever. But the truth is husbands and dads are replaceable as far as they are concerned. Unnecessary to begin with and replaceable throughout. Our feelings don't matter because we don't matter. Provide the child support, see your child...YOUR CHILD for a couple hours each week and two weekends a month and the rest of the time go away and keep your head down like a good little boy.
Enough years go past like this and you start buying into it. I have walked around feeling like every person who approached me could see right through me. Wondering if she "got to them" before I made their acquaintance and now they have a preconceived notion about me. I am nobody. Mention a story about a "deadbeat dad" and instantly every divorced man the teller ever met gets lumped into the tale. We're all deadbeats, we're all bad, we're all sub-people. You face those stares enough times and you start to see yourself as they do...and then you start to act like it. It effects your job, your social life, your happiness. In many ways I felt worse about myself five years after my divorce than the day it happened.
I have tremendous respect for my ex wife. She is beautiful, funny, extremely intelligent and perhaps the best nurse I have known, and I have actually known and worked with quite a few. I speak highly of her as a person, and as Morgan's mom. I have basically avoided becoming one of "those" guys who speaks of his ex in derogatory terms, as if he'd shove her in front of a bus if no one was looking.
But she has never returned the favor. She doesn't have to. The "system" established her as "the good parent" and me as the bad. She holds the aces and she doesn't have to be civil or kind. She had self respect granted to her by the court and I had a mountain of self degradation heaped on me. I already felt horrible about my divorce and then the system held a magnifying glass to it and then multiplied it exponentially. How can I have self respect when everywhere I turn I am force-fed disrespect and made to swallow it. And I pay for that privilege.
Of course the great X factor here is Christianity. I am a Christian and I write from a Christian perspective. But this is not a Christian based system we are under. I know I am supposed to get my self respect from my identity in Christ, but it is hard to retain that idea. It is a long way from what I am supposed to do and what I am able to do sometimes. I am a child of God. But on earth, I am defined by my membership in a group whose entire being is tied to the stereotypes born of the actions of the minority.
I want to stand up for my rights, I want to see myself as I once was...as a man. I want to feel unhindered success again and I want to dream without the fear of being reminded of my failure. I want to feel whole and I want to not only like the image in the mirror, but I want to respect it. But that ability has been stripped from me. You lose your self respect in a divorce. And getting it back is a tough task.