Ashley experienced her parents’ divorce when she was fourteen and there was no question that she would live full-time with her mother. That was over thirty-years ago. Today it would be unusual for a couple to agree to such an arrangement without there being some extenuating circumstances and current wisdom is that children fare better when both parents remain actively involved. So I asked Ashley how it was to grow up with a father who was very distant. Here’s Ashley:
I barely saw my father. I think I saw him for major holidays and perhaps on our birthdays.
When my parents told me that I didn’t have to live with him that was a great relief. Even though, it was obvious that I would never have had to live with him that was the only question that I could think of when they first told us that one day. Again, at that point I had no relationship with my father.
Years later my father explained to me why he didn’t have a relationship with me, why he never wanted to have a relationship with me and he made amends. But at that point, he really had no interest in me. He considered me not to be his daughter. He just got it in his mind that I wasn’t really his and it was him just trying to put distance between my mom and him.
Considering that he stayed away until I was nineteen, I can’t really say he did anything well. When he finally acknowledged why he always had difficulties with me, and when he first told me, I was like, “See, he just acknowledged everything I’ve always felt.”
My sister, who was there at the time said, “No, he’s trying to heal it.”
That was the only thing that he ever did well. From the time I was nineteen he really tried to make amends, and tried to understand me and who I am which was really difficult for him because I was not at all like my siblings, you know.
He did not think he was my father. And yet, when I told my mother that story she said his timing wrong and that they had been separated for a period years before I came along. He was without a doubt not being faithful. I don’t know that he was ever faithful. I think that he was probably having a relationship with other women from the day they actually started dating until the day they were divorced. He had long-term girlfriends for periods of time. So I think that in his mind because he was unfaithful, she must have been unfaithful.
I think I was conceived on New Year’s Eve based on my birthday and there was never a question that I was a mistake. It was always talked about. None of the other three were considered a mistake. It was always kind of a joke about me being a mistake. But when I would get upset about it, my mother would say, “No, no, no. You were an unexpected surprise and you were the best thing that ever happened to me.”
She truly wanted me. But he just perceived, for whatever reason in his mind, that I was not his.
Once you see us, I couldn’t look more like him. There’s no question so it wasn’t that I look different or anything like that. It’s just, I think he saw in me all the flaws that he saw in himself as a child. Because he came from a broken home and there were tons of issues around it all.
However, like I said, he has made more than amends for it over the years. It took a long time– it was years of me testing him before I realized that he really was accepting me. He has totally accepted me and my political views and everything about my lifestyle.
The Divorce Coach Says
I read this and shake my head – if you get to the point where you can’t treat your spouse with respect, it’s time to leave. I see no point in delaying divorce in some misguided belief that your children will cope better with divorce if they are older.
Children do generally fare better when both parents stay actively involved. However, in Ashley’s case her father was absent before the divorce so his behavior immediately post-divorce didn’t change. Whether or not Ashley’s parents’ divorced, she would still have had to deal with the emotional damage of having a parent, who according to all our societal expectations and norms was to supposed to be one of two people who loved her the most and yet, didn’t.
I often think that idea of ‘one big happy family’ is just a fantasy and it’s a disservice to us all. In reality families are hard and as my last guest, Sarah showed, everyone has their issues. Yes, divorce causes issues but often times, it exposes and compounds issues that already exist.
Are there issues in your marriage that your divorce has made worse?
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