“I spent my entire life playing it safe, just to avoid being exactly where I am right now.” – Jonathan Tropper from the 2014 movie This is Where I Leave You.
I used to do exactly just that. I played it safe: I graduated, got a job, met a woman, got married, bought a home, had a kid. Things were supposed to turn out exactly how its pictured in the movies, right? A happy yet predictable ending of everlasting smiles against a backdrop of a glowing sunset.
Truth is, it’s not often things turn out the way we plan. And if they did where’s the fun in that? By fun, I mean new learnings, growth, spontaneity and unexpected outcomes. And to me, that’s the reward.
But to get to all that, there’s a little something called hardships. Yes, the speedbumps, the strife, the detours that have us taking the gravelly road instead. Of course, none of this was planned by all means. It just happened. There’s no good, there’s no bad. There’s just is.
I’ve been a single dad for a good portion of my adult life, for just over seventeen years to be precise. Sure, there’s been relationships within those seventeen years, but not without broken hearts and hardships as well. After the divorce, I invested my life to be the best Dad I could for my son, never regretting, never wincing at the challenge of being emotionally available to him. I solemnly promised myself I would never father him the way I was fathered by my own dad. My dad struggled with his own internal pain, and often times took it out on me in the form of physical abuse. It wasn’t easy for me to come to terms with this, but over the years whilst working with therapists (and homework alike), I’ve managed to find a place of true acceptance. I love my dad, despite all that happened and he most certainly did the best he knew how to. Rest his soul.
When I made the promise of being the best dad I could, I took my vow seriously and still do! Naturally, I stumbled along the way from time to time, being a dad who was impatient, selfish and angry, mirroring many similarities to my own father. However, I always managed to ground myself and reflect after I faltered, hoping I wouldn’t repeat the same mistakes by trying to identify any recurring patterns. By self reflection, I mean working with counsellors, meditating, journaling, and doing the work.
I created this life for myself and wouldn’t have it any other way. I didn’t always feel this way of course, especially during the times of strife. I struggled as an ex husband and as a dad, but instead of sitting in a chair, creating my own Universe of resentment, disdain and blame, I chose a path of dedication and commitment for the wellbeing of my son. Admitedlly, child support payments and tight budgeting for the last seventeen years hasn’t been easy at all, but it was necessary for me to learn truths about myself. He’s my love, my responsibilty and it’s been my honor to support his needs and it was the least I could do for him. I took a lot of pride and honor being his dad. It was real pleasure and joy being the parent attending all his school plays and bake sales, making him lunch, looking after him when he got the flu, helping him with his homework and art projects, arranging and taking him to playdates and birthday parties in order to keep him social, taking him on vacations whenever I saved enough money, picking him up from school, planning his birthday parties emailing all the moms to RSVP and saving enough to book his favorite place at Crash Crawley’s. As I reflect back, I’m grateful I had the opportunity to do all these things for him. Those were moments I will never be able re-live again with him and I’m so glad I did. I wonder if I didn’t end up divorcing, would I have been as dedicated and possibly missed out on those glorious moments with him? When I compare the challenges vs the rewards, the scale tips to the side of rewards by far. I got so much joy from being an emotionally available dad and building a relationship with him. And when he struggled immensely with his depression and anxiety, I felt his pain and my heart ached with each day that he suffered. Those years were by far the most challenging, but without my grown sense of empathy and compassion, our little family would have struggled even more, thus I believe things happen for reasons. If we learn from our mistakes and take the necessary steps to be the better husband, better boyfriend, better dad, we can equip ourselves with tools to manage hardships a lot better.
Being a single parent wasn’t easy as many of you can attest to. Often times self-care takes a back seat to the needs of our kids, forcing our own mental health to sometimes teeter between just being alright and not so well today. So let’s take a mental health minute to honor all the single dads and moms out there. I marvel at what all the other single parents do for their kids, leaving so little room for themselves. I only have one child, and so many of you out there have two, three or even more to raise. I applaud you all for your strength, heart and love you bring each day to your kids. Just remember that we can’t always be perfect and we will make mistakes from time to time. Let’s cut ourselves some slack and practice the art of forgiveness, shall we? Even though we sometimes stumble as parents, we have to remember that there’s something to always learn. Whenever I hear my inner critic, I like to say to myself, Don’t judge me by my past. I don’t live there anymore.
With each day that I work towards a greater sense of equanimity, I can’t help but smile at what I have in front of me. I have a fabulous life and blessed with not only the joys of having a son, but also a lovely home, fresh air, great people in my life whom I’d admire and a World waiting for me to explore. Did I plan for all this? Not at all. I simply just welcomed that this is my life, and I love it.