Last year I was sitting at home working with the radio on and I heard a great interview with father Mark Tucker who had recently published a book on his experience of divorce titled ‘Single Father, Better Dad’. Mark was entertaining but real and raw as he described how his divorce had knocked him for six. But he also spoke with pride about the ‘silver linings’ that had come as a result of his separation and the biggest one was the change (for the better) in his role as a Dad. So I may have used a bit of online research to track Mark down and thanks to Google he and I are now email buddies! So when I was looking for men to share their positive stories on divorce I could not go any further than Mark and here are his words written just for us.
My wife left me in 2007 to go and live with another man.
I experienced a massive sense of betrayal and loss. Seventeen years of marriage all over – just like that. And I put myself through emotional torture. What had gone wrong? Should I have seen it coming? I thought about all of the times when I could, and should, have been a better husband. Why was this other guy so much better than me? What had I done to deserve this? My children were having similar thoughts and fears for the future. They didn’t want to live with their mother and this stranger – and so they decided to live with me in our family home. That was exactly what I wanted – I didn’t see why, just because my wife wanted to move onto a new life, that I should also lose my children.
But I had one concern, and it was a big one – I didn’t know how I was going to cope with my new life. If you wanted to describe my household management skills at that time two words would come to mind. ‘Inexperienced’ if you were being charitable – or ‘hopeless’ if you were being more realistic.
Before my divorce my wife and I had, what I imagine to be, a fairly traditional parenting model – I was essentially the breadwinner and she was the prime carer of the children. I worked hard during the week and helped out with the chores and the girls at the weekends. I thought I did a pretty good job of this. I put stuff in the washing machine, I got milk out of the freezer with military timing so that it had defrosted just before it was required to be used. I was ‘fun Dad’ – I froze my dangly bits off in the sea so that my girls could swim and I took them to netball, dance and gymnastics. I thought that I was doing a lot, but I was only scratching the surface of parenting.
After my divorce I became the prime parent and I was very much at the centre of my children’s lives; I was still the breadwinner but I was now also responsible for the day to day parenting. I had a new focus on them as people. And it was incredible how quickly we developed bonds that had not been there before. We talked about what was happening to us; what we were feeling; I learned about the day to day issues that children have to deal with; we worked as a team as we took on our household management roles. And slowly we recovered from the trauma of the divorce, we got our lives back on track – and I became a proper father.
I realised that I needed to become much more efficient in my household management if I was going to survive as a single father. I had a lot to learn. On my first visit to the supermarket I started at the first aisle and went up and down the store putting two of everything that I thought I might need into my trolley. A sort of Noah’s ark approach to shopping. Halfway round the supermarket I had to give up – my trolley was too full. When I got home the girls helped me unpack and pointed out the flaws in my shopping technique. I had bought things that I already had. I had bought things that I didn’t need. And I hadn’t bought anything that could be cooked to make dinner that evening.
Which brings me to cooking. I was quite good at getting the required food elements onto the plate at the right time and at the right temperature. But it felt more like a school science experiment than a meal. The other characteristic of my food was that it was dry – and not dry in a Masterchef sense of the word. This was a more traditional definition of the word dry – as in containing very little moisture. The problem was that I couldn’t do gravy or a sauce. But I had an epiphany moment. I happened to see Jamie Oliver on TV showing what looked like a bunch of fairly inept men how to make a tomato sauce. I can do that I thought – and I did. Tomato sauce with everything! Eventually I left the wonders of tomato sauce with everything behind and I moved on to recipe bases and from there onto actual recipes. I began to enjoy cooking.
One of the issues with a partner leaving is the impact on your self-esteem. My wife had chosen someone else over me. Someone who was going to make her happier, and that hurt. It is very difficult to feel good about life if you don’t feel good about yourself. In the early days it was becoming a little too easy to eat and drink just a bit too much. I once watched an entire Deep Purple DVD – Live at the California Jam while I drank a bottle of wine and ploughed through most of a tub of ice cream. And why not? – I was sad and lonely, I said to myself by way of justification. But this wasn’t going to do me any good. I needed to keep it together. I needed to be the Leader of Pack – show the girls that I was confident things were going to work out well for us and to give them that confidence too.
So I had to change things. I had to fight through the emotions and get myself ‘match fit’ to be successful in my new life. And for me this was about getting some proper sleep – to shut down the negative thoughts and questions that were streaming through my head each night; to eat more healthily; to get some regular exercise; and to find someone I could talk to about what I was going through. And for me this wasn’t a fellow man but a female work colleague who was prepared to listen to my story and with whom I could share my feelings.
Eventually, having got my life back on track and having got the basics under control, it was time to move forward. For me that meant finding someone new. I didn’t want to be on my own – I knew that – but I didn’t know what sort of relationship I wanted. I didn’t know whether I wanted something casual or more permanent. But I did know that I didn’t want anyone new to distract me from my relationship with my children. They had adjusted to their new life and I didn’t want to introduce a new twist.
I met the person who became my new wife in the most unlikely setting – a Year 6 parents evening. My children suggested that I go – they thought that it was time I got out and picked up my social life. I met Alison at this party. I didn’t know her – even though her oldest son was in my youngest daughter’s class – because I rarely went to school functions. We were introduced by a friend and spent the rest of the night talking to each other. We talked for a long time – the other guests left; the hosts cleaned up around us and when they changed into their pyjamas and made cups of hot chocolate we decided that it was probably time to leave.
Our relationship went from there. It was exciting – a bit like being a teenager again except that I didn’t have acne. Having said that the dating rules seem to have changed since I was a teenager – I didn’t know whether I was moving too fast – or in fact moving too slow. And the first time that we –um, well you know – was a little tricky. After having been with one partner for a long time I found it quite intimidating to get my kit off – while in my 40s – with somebody new. Fortunately the room was quite dark at the time!
And now 8 years down the track I am re-married and part of a blended family of two girls, two boys and two dogs. Life is good and has turned out so much better for me that I ever imagined in the early months, and even years, of separation. And in hindsight this has been a fantastic opportunity for me. I have built a depth of relationship with my children that I don’t think I would have, had my life not taken this turn. I also grew as a person – I became more resilient and more capable, and most importantly a better father.
There is life after divorce – and it can be a good one.
I told you it was worth it! And I can also strongly recommend Mark’s book for a real life look at surviving divorce and making the best of the new life that comes afterward. You can find more information about Mark and his book here.