Tuesday, November 29, 2016

A Divorced Dad At Christmas: "It Wasn't Supposed to be This Way.."

Hey fellas,
It's been over a year since I've posted anything new. I apologize for that.
I am going to try to be better about posting here more often. I know a lot of men come here for some guidance and friendship in what is the most miserably damning thing that can happen to a dad...the separation from our kids.
The holidays are especially hard on us and even after seventeen years, I am not yet immune to their wounding. I wrote this on Sunday, thought I'd post it today.

It’s been a long weekend and I’m tired but my mind is whirling.
It was great to get home and see family. It was great to have my daughter for Thanksgiving and see her light up at the Christmas display at Longwood Gardens. She’s had a tough year and I worried that Christmas wouldn’t hold it’s usual magic for her.
But this trip home, while always good be home with family, was hard for me as well.
Maybe it’s because I’m currently writing this new book about being homeless and it’s all right there just beneath my skin. Or maybe it’s just that so many years have gone by now that I am finally feeling some things that I should have felt years ago.
Or maybe it’s that I’m not homeless anymore and that means I’ve finally stopped living on adrenaline, and I’m feeling where I used to be numb. I don’t know.
But whatever the reason or reasons, I am in turmoil tonight. I have been all weekend.
This Thursday will be December 1. This is the 17th anniversary of my divorce.
On Thursday December 1, 1999, at about 2pm, I walked out of Fourth Circuit court in Nashville, TN into a bright, brilliant blue Winter afternoon. And I wasn’t married anymore.
I left the courthouse feeling like I didn’t even know which direction to point my car. I was utterly lost. Three years of my life had been spent being a husband and two of them as a father. It was all I wanted. I was just hitting my stride in my new career, I was learning the ropes and finally making a few dollars. Just as I was feeling like a real husband, it was over.
Seventeen years.
I spent the first three years grieving my wife. I missed her terribly. I wept almost daily. I was hollow. My eyes were empty. But eventually I moved on. I let go of her as the ideal of a wife. (Looking back, it’s amazing I grieved a second. They say the opposite of love isn’t hate, it’s ambivalence and I am more ambivalent toward her than any human on earth) But I grieved my marriage for four more years. I loved being married. I loved wearing a ring and having someone to come home to at night or to call with an explanation if I was going to be late. I loved having a reason to pursue success and to dream big. I loved that my daughter had a home with both parents. I loved talking about the future (on the good days) and planning for better things.
I grieved this for years after I was over my wife. I wore my wedding ring for two years after the divorce, not in some outlandish hopes she would come back, but because I liked the way it felt to wear a wedding ring.
I got past that in 2004 when I bought my second house. It was really me and it gave me something to hold to and to put my heart into and it went a long way toward helping me move on.
Then came 2008. Then came collapse, and homelessness and the rest.
During those years, the thoughts of a wife and a home were as far removed as could be from the reality I was living. I wasn’t looking, I never frequented places where I might have met someone, and even if I did, what was I going to say; “Hi, I’m homeless, but I promise I’m still a catch?” I retreated into the relative safety of the four walls of my own heart. It was lonely there but safe. I didn’t realize how lonely it was until I tried to emerge from it two and a half years ago. When I moved to Virginia and got a job and re-entered the workforce and found myself interacting with other humans on a daily basis…it took some getting used to. I had grown used to isolation. My rough edges had gotten rougher in the void of homelessness, with no one to wear them down. I was a bit out of square. It took a few months for me to regain trust in humanity and a comfort level with new faces.
Still, in all this I didn’t think about this emptiness in my heart. I think it’s because I truly didn’t feel it. If I did, I blocked it so perfectly that until this week I never suspected it at all. But I was empty. I am empty. This weekend it was in full view.
I went home again for Thanksgiving. Home. I keep using that word here but it doesn’t feel right. It is my home in the sense that I was born there and grew up there and most of the best memories of my life were created there. As a physical location it is my home and always will be. It remains dear to me, even though I doubt I could return and live there, for the sad reason that the neighborhoods have declined so badly that I could never feel safe.
But it’s not my home in the emotional sense of the word. I saw and felt that this weekend. Once again, I was part of someone else‘s holiday. Someone else's Thanksgiving table. Someone let me tag along on their traditions. I am grateful. I am thankful that I have people who love me and, even though I am not “blood,” they consider me family. And I am thankful for actual family who always holds their door open for me when I am in town.
But it wasn’t always going to be this way.
It was going to be different by now. I was going to be celebrating in my home, with my children, and my wife. We would feel the stress as we cleaned and prepared the house for guests. As Christmas music played while we cooked for an army of visitors. As we joked about each other’s parents, and while we acted like it was a huge pain, we secretly would not have it any other way, and we both knew that. Our kids would be getting excited. The tree would go up. The lights would be lit. The Christmas spirit would sweep down on us like a Nor’easter, and we’d savor every breeze.
There’d be secret shopping trips where I found just the right gifts for the woman I planned on spending every moment with until we were all out of moments. Perfect gifts that, regardless of price, told her that I had thought a lot about these items, that I really knew her, and that I’d picked just exactly these things because I knew without question that she would love them. And when she opened them, and when she saw the thought and care that went into their selection…I would be proven right. She would love them. And she would smile at me, and I would know what that smile meant… “You really do know me. You see me. You’ve been paying attention. You love me.” I would open gifts as well and they’d mean that someone really cared at Christmas. My kids, my wife, they all wanted to find something that I would really love, because they wanted to show me that what I love matters to them. That’s really why we give presents anyway.
Family would come to see us. Instead of being a vagabond at every holiday like I have been for most of my life (long before marriage and divorce) our home would be the fixed point on the compass. The place where friends and family just had to be, if only for a little while, during the Holidays. Ours was the “Christmas House” and our friends and neighbors knew it. It would be a tradition, and eventually, for those we loved, they would come to feel that “It just wouldn’t be Christmas if we didn’t stop to see the Daliessio’s.”
As our kids grew there would be new faces joining us. Boyfriends and girlfriends who became fianc├ęs, then sons and daughter’s in law. The circle would grow larger and remain unbroken.
But that’s not how it turned out. This hasn’t happened for me and I doubt now that it will. I let 17 years slip by before I knew it. I don’t know why. I don’t know if she’s out there, yet to be met, or if I met her and didn’t realize it. Or is she got away, or if I’m simply not going to meet her. But I wish I had.
I am old fashioned. I am a romantic. I longed to sit in my living room with my wife, looking at the tree and all the presents in the late night quiet of Christmas Eve after the guests had left and the kids were trying hard to sleep and we had just a few minutes together alone. I wanted to surprise her with a gift that she’d wanted but thought I’d forgotten. I wanted to make memories. I wanted to be someone’s hero. I wanted to see her as we watched the kids opening presents on Christmas morning and watch her take it all in and catch her eye as she glances at me with a smile that says; “I’m so glad to be here with you. I’m glad were in this together.”
That’s what I married for. That’s what I lost seventeen years ago, this Thursday. That’s what I kept seeing this weekend as we went home.
Now here I am wondering if these scenes will ever play out anywhere but in my heart. Wondering if I will simply walk to the end of my road without anyone watching to see how I did it, to remind me if I did it well, and to be there for the reckoning.
I wanted a home full of happiness and joy and festivity. I might well have missed it. That makes me sad, because there aren’t a lot of hearts like mine left in the world. I don’t say that to boast, I just know how the world is. My romantic, old fashioned, knight-in-shining-armor belief system is antiquated. I’m a relic. But I don’t want to be. I want to matter to someone. To some one. I want to fight for her dreams, cheer for her goals, encourage her in her hardships, and lend her my strength when she feels her’s running out. I want her to look back at life and say “I could have done this without you…but I’m so thankful I didn’t have to.”
I want to go home for Christmas.