Ironically, my marriage ended as it should have begun. After lodging divorce papers the other day, I ambled out of the court offices into Salamanca Place. I deliberately slowed my pace to the steady step of a bridal march in order to soak in the soft morning sun. The sun’s glow wrapped an embrace of blanketing cheer that warmed my sombre mood.
Fifteen years earlier, wedding day rain was a disappointing blight on the plans for outdoor celebrations. By contrast, the bright sun of divorce-day may well have equalled my nuptial optimism of one and a half decades earlier. In spite of things not quite going to plan, the days since still deliver openings to learn a few life smarts along the way.
I have learnt simple day-to-day smarts that I didn’t have to call on when married. For example, week one of being separated I was down to one gold coin. Some mates whisked me off to the pub to share some company and matrimonial horror stories while I listened very soberly, declining each offer of a tipple knowing that my paltry two dollars would only cover one soft drink to share with ten blokes.
I walked home that night, peeved that I couldn’t make the $10 cover charge at the next pub. Annoyed that cab money would have me home earlier, yet elated that I could be courageous enough to have a night out and survive the pressure to drink. Not drinking was easy, but knowing that I was up for an evening of evading shouts was awkward. I learnt to make sure I said yes to being surrounded by friends and that a glass of tap water can hold off repeated offers of a beer.
Fighting Dirty, And Not
I have had some cracking lessons in how to get clogged up in arguments with an ex. Blame works perfectly. Retort to each accusation with “Well… [pause for dramatic effect]… YOU did [narky behaviour goes here].” For full effect, you must deliver this with the seriousness of announcing to your precious child that their pet has died.
To really argue with Olympic Games precision, dig back into your relationship history as far as possible. The gold medal is on offer for sprouting off some insult about her family. For the sake of full disclosure, I haven’t put all these into practice. Sometimes I have been a dumbstruck witness.
A while back, I tagged along at a counselling session attended by ex-wives and ex-husbands who had refined the art of arguing dirty. They openly shared the ‘wisdom’ in their game of one-up-personship. I picked up that the ‘winner’ had ground their ex into submission by arguing the longest with the most personal insults.
The lesson there was that I was a rank amateur at verbal sparring. Plus, I was reminded of the ugliness in fighting.
My heart was no longer in the argument so I reverted by going to the other extreme. When an emotionally loaded email landed in my Inbox, I challenged myself to reply as courteously and briefly as possible. I pride myself on being able to reply to a six-paragraph stream of vitriol with “Thank you for the update” or “I’ll drop the girls at 3:00 – thank you” or simply “No, thank you.”
Explanations are unnecessary time wasters. I have a new life that she doesn’t need to peer into. I have learned to consistently say “thank you”, to find a smile when penning a reply (even when I have to clench my teeth to force it), and to whisper a soft prayer of thanks for the occasion to practice patience. I have learnt that not supplying the other side with an arsenal of points to counter-argue reduces the fight to nothingness.
My single dad circumstances are such that everyday parenting conversations do not play out with the mum of my daughters. As an alternative, I now plough through books and parenting blogs (Google Steve Biddulph, Jodie Benveniste, Dr Justin Coulson, Michael Grose) from the great sages who have shared their parenting wisdom. And I have learnt to be resolute and present for my children.
I have learnt more about the value of dads – single or otherwise. I know that dads have the option to add richness and strength into their children’s lives.
I also know to call in the care of friends. Friends of conviction and courage have held me steady. And, the best of my friends don’t expect me to part with my $2 for the wise counsel that tomorrow will be fine and sunny.
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio.