The snowy season began a little early here in Indianapolis, with the first snowfalls in late December. We had a white Christmas for the first time in years. It snowed three times before I was able to shovel my driveway. The more my little car packed down the snow, the more it slipped and slid on the driveway’s slope.

As I cleared the driveway, I reflected on all the snows I shoveled during my childhood. South Bend, where I grew up, gets serious snow; in the winter, it wasn’t unusual for my brother and I to shovel the driveway and sidewalks four or five days a week, sometimes more than once a day. On snowy school days, the minute we came home Mom issued us our shovels. We sometimes complained – why couldn’t we just rest for a little while first? Why couldn’t we wait for Dad so he could help us? Mom always explained that Dad worked hard and so we were going to give him the opportunity to rest when he came home. She asked us to imagine how good he would feel to find a cleared driveway and sidewalk waiting for him when he arrived. She said that this was one way we could show Dad that we loved him.

I began to chop up the packed snow. My sons were at their mother’s, 20 miles away. I had a little pity party, wishing that I had had a happy marriage, the kind where my wife sent my sons out to clear my driveway before I got home. I would have liked to relax after work like my dad used to! But more importantly, I wished we had been a healthy family that could teach my sons valuable lessons about demonstrating love for others. Instead, while I was married we modeled acrimony and strife. Today, their mother and I model fragile détente.

I lamented the raw deal my sons got from their mother and me.

I know that every family has its rough edges and bad times. The family I grew up in was far from perfect – I could tell you stories! But we functioned reasonably well and there was love in our home. That love still binds us together; our shared values and our family way remain a source of comfort and strength. I wished that and more for my marriage and family.

But something good is coming out of this. While I was married I tended to create conditions similar to those of my upbringing whether or not they worked for my sons and wife. But now that I don’t see my sons every day, I can’t create those conditions. I have had to become creative in how I raise them, which leads me to continually evaluate and refine my approaches. I think I am more in tune with my sons’ needs and better able to meet them than I ever was while I was married.

Unfortunately, no amount of creativity will let me model for them how a man should love his wife, at least not while I’m single. Maybe I’ll be fortunate enough to remarry well, to someone my boys come to love, and show them before they’re grown and gone.

Another adjustment I had to make post-divorce was having so much time at home alone. Read that story.


Comments

14 responses to “Reflections in the snow”

  1. tanner24 Avatar

    There is more good news in this, though it might not be readily apparent. When it comes to being a model for your children, perhaps fragile détente is a step up from acrimony and strife? And, while you may not be able to ‘model’ how a man should love a wife. you can instill in your boys what a respectful, loving relationship looks and feels like through your relationship with them, conversations about the women in their lives, and the way you conduct yourself on your end of the détente.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Détente is absolutely a step up! And you’re right, if I handle it reasonably well, that is itself a valuable model for my children.

  2. Lone Primate Avatar
    Lone Primate

    What can I say? I really love reading your posts, Jim. They’re always compelling and deeply human. The raw honest introspection you share always awes me.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Living alone as I do, I have lots of time to gaze at my navel!

  3. Scott Palmer Avatar

    I’m sure that your sons would shovel your driveway if they were there. That’s something, not as good as actually having them there, but it’s something.

    As for the “raw deal,” we all do our best in life but there’s no way to do it perfectly. Your sons will learn better from a little adversity than they would if everything went smoothly. It’s hard to accept that idea because, as a parent, you want to shield your kids from all the bad things in the world. But it’ can’t be done, and it wouldn’t be a good thing even if you could do it.

    I do wonder how much of people’s marriage difficulties stem from the insane Zeitgeist that currently afflicts us, and not from the people themselves.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Scott, it’s true that there’s no perfect life. There are some things from my childhood in an intact two-parent home that have marked me for the worse, for example. And yes, of course I want to shield my kids from the bad. Having their parents split up was traumatic for them. But you have a good point that life is about making the best of what you have to work with.

  4. Rama Sarma Avatar
    Rama Sarma

    I happened to read this post just after I finished reading another post of yet another blog. That post was about a smitten boy’s essays to win over a cute damsel, full of buoyant hope. Yes, hope and then despair. That is life for you. No, hope again, that life again for you.
    As a lyric I like, goes [translated into English],”The eyes that used to smile are now moist. But the withered lifer may yet bear tender shoots.”
    There is hope. For, there is detente. The young ones have a kind and chastened father, and hopefully a similar mom as the post implies.
    I some times wonder, why can’t a kind dad and a kind mom be kind to each other.But then I am human. Not divine,

    1. Jim Avatar

      Rama, yours is a question for the ages.

  5. Tori Nelson Avatar

    As a child of divorced parents, I celebrated their separation. My parents functioned better without the tense encounters that made up their marriage! I think you are doing the very best thing, thinking outside the box to ensure you are the best version of yourself for your boys!

    1. Jim Avatar

      Tori, I wonder if my sons feel the same way you do. I do see in them a greater level of peace and comfort now than while their mom and I were still married!

  6. educlaytion Avatar

    Man, am I glad I stopped by today. I read you recently during a FP article. Now this and boom, right between my eyes. I’m a kindred spirit here and really, really appreciate this post. I will be reading more.

    1. Jim Avatar

      I’m glad this resonated with you today!

  7. Amy Avatar
    Amy

    Hi Jim, I ran across your piece that you did on the roads that lead to the community of “Toadhop”. Though you didn’t think it seemed to friendly of a place I would just like to say that I have lived in and raised my family here for the last 22 years and can assure you that the people in this community are very friendly and would do all that they could for anyone in need. So if you are ever back this way and decide to venture here again, I would love to show you around and introduce you to the families here. Just so I can change your perspective…after all you should never judge a book by it’s cover. And by the way, I do love you work.

    1. Jim Avatar

      Hi Amy! I guess it goes to show that you can’t believe everything you hear. I am sure I’ll venture through Toad Hop again, as I love to drive the National Road (old US 40). I’m dying to see where the old road fades away under I-70, but have never ventured that far out. Maybe I will now!

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