Shortly after my separation, I ended up in a softball game against my soon to be ex-wife, Rachel. She really is a beautiful woman – inside and out. Unfortunately, bitterness, suspicion, and jealousy blinded me from many truths. Bile rose to my throat when I stepped into the batters box and saw her standing on the mound.
My first at bat was a weak, ugly ground ball back to the pitcher. Right back to Rachel. She threw me out at first. I’m not sure, but I think she gloated. I would have.
The second at bat was a stand-up triple. Of course, my pride wanted a homer so I dug in and headed for home.
Can you hear the little bells on my fool’s cap?
Anyway, as I approached home plate she came in from the mound to catch the incoming throw and tag me out.
This is where it could have gotten ugly. I still shudder at the thought. I wanted to steamroll her. I wanted to destroy her. I felt the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse fueling my desire for vengeance. I don’t mean to sound dramatic but for the first time in my life I felt the true power of evil – a word I don’t use loosely. From the look in her eyes she must have know it. I don’t know why or how, but somewhere in the sixty feet between third and home, a power greater than myself did for me what I could not do for myself and struck down the Horsemen. The clouds of anger parted and I no longer saw my ex-wife standing in front of me. Instead, I saw a beautiful woman doing the “best” she knew how to do. I felt for the first time in my life compassion.
I stopped halfway between home and third and let her tag me out. I walked off the field, picked up my gear and went home. It took too much energy to fight a war that no one was going to win. It took too much energy to be “right”. Instead, I did what was “best” for me. I surrendered my anger and pride. It turned out to be “best” for everyone.
While all of this was happening I was in the midst of a progressively uglier tug-of-war over the heart and mind of my daughter. A struggle by adults to protect our rights as parents by whatever means necessary. It was a war everyone chose to fight but that everyone was destined to lose. My daughter turned out to be the main casualty. Let me explain.
One of the worst moments of a weekend father is the pick-up and the drop-off. Cassie cried nearly every time. She cried because she didn’t want to go with me on Friday. She cried because she didn’t want to go home on Sunday. This was precisely the kind of emotional turmoil I wanted to protect my daughter from. It must have been confusing to a five year old. I know it was confusing to me, and I was twenty-five. Maybe there is no easy way for a child to understand. Of course, people told me over and over she would get use to it. Truthfully, I never believed them. Still don’t.
Then there is the Spaghetti Incident. Looking back on it I have no idea how it started. Cass was six and we were dining in one of my favorite Italian restaurants. Sitting in the middle of a packed restaurant on a Friday night, Cass was drawing with a portable crayon set Rachel had bought for her. Cassandra puts down her crayon and looks at me. She cocks her head and begins channeling her mother. An uninterpretable stream of consciousness commences:
“You’re not my real family.”
“I don’t belong here.”
“Your family has no traditions.”
She repeats her mantra twice.
She stops. Picks up her crayon and starts drawing. The spaghetti comes. She eats. Rachel eats. I push the food around my plate. They finish their meals. We leave the restaurant. She climbs into her booster seat. I close the car door. I cry like a baby in my wife’s arms.
Not very manly is it?
Ignoring the issue of whether or not a six year old knows how to spell, let alone the meaning, of the word “tradition,” how does a parent respond? You certainly cannot rinse out her brain of the trash she has both heard and seen. At the time, I couldn’t ignore it. Her words ate away at me like a tapeworm. I didn’t want this for my daughter.
I never wanted her to feel like she had to choose a family…