Wedding rings turned into a ring for our daughter
Sitting in a restaurant recently, I couldn’t help but overhear the distraught woman at a table nearby. I tried to focus on my dinner, especially now that I only occasionally allow myself the indulgence of pasta, but the crabbing at the next table made it impossible for me to enjoy fully the crab that topped the ribbons of papardelle in front of me.
I recognized her. No, I didn’t know her. But I knew her. As she ranted to her friend about the custody battle with her estranged husband, visions of other parents and children I’ve known played across my mind. And I ached for her children as she described with relish how they were using their beleaguered offspring to torment each other.
And I was grateful that, for the most part, my daughter’s father and I were able to keep our anger at bay from the child we both adored. It wasn’t always easy, and I’m certain that both of us said derogatory things about one another to our friends. But I think our daughter would say that, on the whole, we allowed her the freedom to love both her parents.
The power of visceral anger can drive otherwise rational people to gamble in a way they would never do with their life’s savings. I remember thinking at the time of our separation that if I forced my daughter to choose between us, there was a 50% chance that I wouldn’t be the one she chose. And those were odds I was simply not willing to take for the fleeting pleasure of causing pain to someone who was no longer going to be part of my life.
I also remember countless teenagers in my classroom whose lives were thrown into turmoil through no fault of their own—kids who wrote about it, kids who wrote haltingly as they tried to focus, kids who stopped writing because of it. In one case, a stellar student whose grades nose-dived came to me after school and asked if she could have two sets of books. When I asked why, she dissolved into tears and told me that she kept leaving things behind as she moved from her dad’s house at the beginning of the week to her mom’s house at the end of the week. Both loved her too much to give up physical custody, so they batted her back and forth between them, both physically and emotionally.
Carrying the bag of leftover pasta and leaving the shrillness of the woman’s voice behind, I realized that for the first time in a long time, I don’t know a single couple who are in the midst of a divorce or who are openly contemplating divorce—no one at work, no one in my family, no one among my circle of friends. (But, then again, many people had no idea of the drama playing out behind the walls of our home all those years ago either.)
I’m certain, though, that there’s someone out there who will read this blog who is on the verge of separation or who knows someone who is on the verge of separation. So I thought it might be a good time to say, unequivocally, that deciding not to gamble our daughter’s emotional security on those 50-50 odds is the best decision my former spouse and I ever made together. And in our circle of three that was once a family, I think all of us can say that the freedom to love is the only risk that’s really worth taking.