“You are five times the father I ever was,” my dad said to me

I wanted to be there for my sons like my dad was for me. But I couldn’t, not fully, because of the divorce.

That’s the real horror of my divorce. Of any divorce, really, where children are involved. And I don’t think I’m overusing that word, horror. When any parent who wants fully to be in the parenting game can’t do it, it’s horrible.

The court allowed me to see my sons every Monday and Wednesday, every other weekend, and half the summer. Most of their lives happened without me being there.

I made the most of the time I got. I made sure I saw my sons when scheduled, missing maybe once or twice a year, usually due to illness. I was very intentional that as much as possible our home time together would be relaxed and easy, just us men having dinner, watching TV, reading, playing games.

And I followed the model my dad gave me: I went to their soccer games. I went along on field trips and met with their teachers. I saw Damion perform in his fourth-grade play. I went to every one of Garrett’s choir concerts and Damion’s band concerts.

Just for fun, here’s Damion in a clarinet duet with a classmate eight years ago.

Here’s Garrett singing with his choir from later the same year. He’s on the right, the bespectacled boy under and to the left of the rightmost overhead microphone, always a half step behind everyone else. He hated the dance moves — he just wanted to sing.

Our time together was of the highest quality I could make it. Yet when it comes to parenting, to do the job all the way you need quantity time. With enough time serendipity can happen — that random fun, those unexpected conversations both serious and lighthearted, those hard life events where a well-timed word from Dad can ease the difficulty. These are experiences through which you connect meaningfully, where you share deep love. We got a little of that, here and there, and I think they were our most valuable moments. I wanted more. We needed more.

Damion has let me fully off the hook. “You’ve been fantastic,” he said. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out between you and Mom. It would have been great if I could have seen you every day. But I have several friends whose dads live with them, but ignore or mistreat them. I’m better off than they are.”

Garrett was all shrugs, as the kids say today. “I don’t remember any time before the divorce,” he said. “This is all I know. It’s been fine.”

Even my dad told me not to worry about it: “You are five times the father I ever was, even though I was there every day for you.” It might well be the most encouraging, most affirming thing he ever said to me.

Still, I grieve. I loved the time I spent with my sons while they were growing up, and I miss it. But when court-ordered parenting time ended last spring, the door closed for good on the time I lost. I know that door actually closed the day I moved out so many years ago. But feeling that loss was partially deferred because during the parenting-time years I held out hope, however unrealistic and illogical, that it could be better than it was.

I’m beginning to feel it only now because the intervening time has brought several heavy life challenges to us. I’ve been in go/do mode for about a year. But fortunately those challenges are slowly clearing, giving me brain space to think and feel and process. Thinking lately about my own father’s successes in parenting has brought it up.

I’m choosing to cling to the good, kind words my sons and my father said to me.


12 responses to ““You are five times the father I ever was,” my dad said to me”

  1. J P Cavanaugh Avatar

    I cannot imagine how difficult this must have been for you as a father. I grew up as a child of divorced parents and experienced that lack of time with my dad, so I kind of got the flip side of your experience.

    It sounds like you planted as many seeds for good relationships with grown kids as you could, so hopefully your relationship with each of them will continue to deepen even though you see less of them now.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I did the best I could. Like all parents, really. But I don’t know that I’ll ever fully get over not being able to be with my sons every day while they grew up.

  2. Jason Shafer Avatar
    Jason Shafer

    The thought of being separated from my child in such a fashion is hard to fathom and imagining such a scenario creates a lot of tension and nausea. So your being able to cultivate and maintain such a strong relationship with your boys, despite such a huge hurdle, is a huge accomplishment. Something tells me your relationship with them both now and in the future won’t be so truncated.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Yeah, I experienced extreme tension and nausea as I went through the process that permanently ended my daily in-person interactions with my children. It was awful, to the extreme. I worked my butt off to make the best of it.

  3. shoniessky Avatar

    You are a rare and genuine kind person.. This is truly sad yet beautiful. I wish my dad were the same. God bless

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Why thank you!

  4. shoniessky Avatar

    Most welcome

  5. M.B. Henry Avatar

    I always love the honesty in your shares. As a child of divorced parents, this was very meaningful to me – to get the other side of it. Thank you so much for posting, and I hope things continue to get better for you.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I hope that one day my sons will tell me their side of it.

  6. Sam Avatar

    Hi Jim deep post man…So great you were there for your sons! I think you’re still processing your father’s loss, stay cool, it’s going to take some time to get through this.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      Thanks Sam. I’m sure I’ll be working through it for some time.

      1. Sam Avatar

        It will take some time yes. But from losing my own dad I can say they’re right, you never really forget but time really does help heal the wounds.

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