Monday, April 04, 2011

The Spaces Between

Written this past Saturday night.

I lead a schizophrenic life.

When she isn't here, I fill my hours with work, play, routine -- anything to occupy myself so that I never have time to think about how much I miss her. I've become so good at it that sometimes when I know she's coming I actually dread the interruption of the life I've made without her -- the self-centric world that I had to create, against my will, when her mother finally forced my hand two years ago after months and years spent tolerating deceit and disrespect in the name of desperately trying to make our marriage work. I tell myself that I can live without her; it's the only defense I have against the punishing ache and the often overwhelming sadness.

But then she arrives, and I spend a day with her like I did today -- laughing, playing at the park, sharing and cherishing every little moment -- and those lies that I tell myself dissolve, the walls I build around the most fragile parts of me crumble. I'm forced to admit that she is the air I breathe, my reason for being, my everything. I tremble in the face of a feeling so powerful that it can make my heart swell to the point of bursting even as the knowledge of my own sudden vulnerability fills me with terror. I can't imagine being without her.

There's someone in her mother's life these days. He's been there for well over a year. It took almost no time at all for the woman who once swore an unwavering dedication to our marriage and our family to unravel and extract the roots she'd created with me and begin creating new roots with another. He's now part of my daughter's life. My daughter, who isn't even three years old. It's entirely possible that eventually, at some point, my child will call him "Dad," not because I won't be there as a father to her but simply because if her mother does in fact marry into the kind of future he offers, he could very well be the only man with whom she'll ever remember living. He will be family. She'll have two dads.

There hasn't yet been a language invented that contains the words that could properly describe the kind of pain this thought causes me. Her mother, meanwhile, doesn't even begin to concern herself with such trivialities -- and why should she, I suppose?

I never wanted to be a part-time father.

I didn't ask for this schizophrenic life.


Lynn said...

I can only imagine what it is like to be separated from one's child in this way, although I have lost a daughter in infancy. I will hope that even if she cannot be with you in daily ways, you will always be a haven for her, and as she grows, she will connect you to all that is temporarily and in another sense forever lost. Thank you for sharing this; I have learned something of fatherhood that I will not forget.

paleotectonics said...

Just gotta say, Jesus you can write.

Anonymous said...

(Deep sigh)

QueBarbara said...

I'm really sorry. I have a good friend going through the same thing, and it's killing him.

Tom Mullen said...

She's gorgeous Chez. Congrats - she will ALWAYS bee in your life

ntx said...

Yet all you have to do -- all you can do -- is brutally simple. All you have to do is love Inara. Be her dad, without demand or expectation of anyone else. I'm sure it's the hardest thing.

Zöph said...

i know this sounds trite but you shouldn't worry too much. i've lived with my step-dad since i was two, had never met my real dad, and still i never called the former "dad".

also, couldn't you address this issue and ask your ex-wife to only refer to her current partner by his first name when talking to your daughter? i think it's an issue of fairness and that much she owes you, from my point of view.

Anonymous said...

I hear you and I know you don't need me to tell you - but I'm going to say it anyway, because I care - that we seldom get the life we want and somehow have to make the best of the one we've got. Not that I'm doing a great job of practicing what I preach, mind you! :)

I'm not suggesting it will be easy, but somehow, in the same way as you are building a life for yourself for when Inara isn't there, I think you have to look towards persuading yourself that she will be fortunate if she gets to have the chance of 2 daddies and that you will be fortunate too if you get the chance to share the fathering burden.

The alternative is to get bitter and angry and who is that going to hurt the most as it eats away at you?


Steven Skelton said...

My wife left me when my daughter was six months old.

Memories blur, but it might have been the first visitation weekend when, parked in (formerly) my driveway was the piece of shit Beretta driven daily by my wife's ex-boyfriend.

Within weeks of our split, there was another man living in my house. He was undoubtedly sleeping in my bed and certainly he was fucking my wife. But worst of all, he was raising my daughter.

There was no way I compete with him. I could morph into a hybrid of Ward Cleaver and Uncle Charlie and it wouldn't matter, at least until she was older. Family court and life circumstance being what they were, she was mine for 8 hours on Thursday afternoon and again on Sunday. The rest belonged to him.

It was five years before I got off the canvas.

You are right about how difficult it is to describe that sort of reality. I've never been able to do it.

A part of it that rarely gets discussed is....How am I supposed to reconcile my jealousy and hatred of this guy with the reality that I have to root for him? I have to root for him to have a good relationship with my

After all, he's her step-dad whether I like it not. Outside of committing some sort of heinous crime, I am completely powerless over that reality. Do I really wish for my daughter to have a cold relationship with him to satisfy some bitter malevolence I have with him?

After a family tragedy, the doctor said to us "It isn't okay. It just is."

Sometimes Chez, it just is.

CNNfan said...

You have "A Beautiful Mind".

T. said...

I don't know whether this will make you feel better or worse but almost nothing has changed.

brite said...

Hang in there Chez...Life is weird and wonderful and even sometimes woeful, but Inara will always be your daughter, you will always and forever be her Daddy, no matter who comes into her life (and over time that may mean any number of boys/men); keep the love between you strong (you will need that when she's older) and don't block that love out when she's not with you... it's one of the best, most terrifying and rewarding things in the world to be someone's parent, and that you are, no matter the geographies and social wrangling involved.

Anonymous said...

My husband is a work from home guy and a good father. But when I'm home and we're altogether operating as a family unit, we do tend to spend less "quality" time one on one with the kids than we would when one of us is out of the's a matter of time and attention and concentration. The time you're spending with your daughter is a gift that you aren't taking for granted, so I hope there might be some solace in that. And she'll remember that, too.
(also..I grew up without knowing anything about my biological father...and now, I kind of think, that even if he had been the biggest asshole in the world, well, I would've liked to have known he might've been thinking of me from time to time)

Anonymous said...

Chez, today you have described my greatest fear and brought tears to my eyes at work.

I cannot express the extent to which this future possibility terrifies me in my own life, but I do know you live my nightmare, and I do not wish it on any father who gives a damn.

Andrea Lee said...

Inara is a gem and I, for one, am gratful to see her picture every few months and read your thoughts about her... All of us who are parents completely understand your overwhelming fears and overwhelming love for your daughter. We hear you. I do, anyway.


Al said...

I can't even conceive of my reality shifting like that, it would devastate me. The one good thing is that Inara will someday read your words and come to understand the place of honor and adoration she holds in your life. Nothing can change the fact that you're her Dad and unlike many kids her Dad desperately wants to be involved and loves her dearly. That alone will be a gift that she'll grow to cherish and understand. It won't take being there every day to be a good Dad. It will take moments like these when you share a giggle and a hug and she'll know just how much you miss her when she's not there.

Anonymous said...

I've been very close to this situation for awhile now and while I don't mean to take anonymous shots at anyone I have to tell you that what happened to you and your daughter is just tragic and wrong.

Neither of you deserved this.

Gober said...

First, let me tell you how much I love reading D.E.M.

Second, you will always be Daddy. Trust me.

My boy is almost 20, premed at Mizzou. Great kid. His mom and I divorced when he was four. She has been remarried for 12 years now, so my son grew up with his mom and stepdad. All I could do was just be there for every moment, every game, play, concert, and I was. We talked on the phone at least every other day.

I know it's not the same, but just be there. When Michael graduated from high school, he told me that his mom and stepdad raised him, but that I taught him. Reading, questioning, finding the answers, questioning the answers, figuring things out. He told me that because of what I did, he wants to go into medical research.

Just be there, like I know that you are, Chez. You will be rewarded too.


Tara van Brederode said...

I spend every day of my professional life dealing with situations like yours. As a divorce/custody attorney, I can only tell you that you are absolutely doing the right thing in putting your daughter first and treasuring every moment of your time with her. You're the daddy she will love every day of her life.

And if I can offer a bit of advice (both from practice and from my "real life"), don't run her mom down (even in print, I might add...the Internet is forever); don't trash her stepdad (even before he's legally her stepdad); take the high road, no matter how much it sucks (and it does). Your beautiful daughter will love flawed you, and will some day defend you against all comers. She will also love her flawed mother, and will (if you're not careful) even defend her mother against you. She will undoubtedly note the flaws in her stepdad (wait for the teen years!), and if she's lucky, he will love her and she will love him too.

I have seen your situation too many times to count. I promise you that if you deal with this horrid, devastating situation with grace and generosity, it will pay enormous dividends later on. Your lovely child will see the truth in her own time, in her own way. But remember, your truth will never be her truth. Let her share the joy you feel in being together. She will know the pain of separating from you too, but I hope you can both revel in the joyful moments.

JOSEPH said...

YOU will always be her dad no matter how many uncle Lees are schtupping the old lady. Never bad mouth mom no matter what kind of tramp she may be. Trust me on this one. Take the high road. You won't regret it. A good friend of mine who is an attorney told me 'if doing the right thing was easy, everyone would do it'.

Kat said...

Absolutely heartbreaking, Chez. As the mother of a child whose father is probably still face down in the snow drift where we left him, I wish all men felt the kind of devotion and love you do for Inara. She's a lucky little girl and she'll know, no matter what happens.

The Mama said...

Delurking to say that I'm in a semi-similar situation. My daughter's father forced my hand about a year ago, in a very similar manner to what I imagine has happened in your life, and I've struggled with how to even put it into words.

I'm very lucky in that my daughter lives with me, but when she goes with her dad, my heart breaks. It breaks for her, because she is constantly saying goodbye to one or the other of us, and I worry that she feels disloyal because she loves us both. It breaks for her father, because his selfish choices forced him into a life that is largely spent without her (although I don't think it affects him all that much.) It breaks for me, because this is not the life I dreamed of or planned on.

My heart breaks for you, because I know what this feels like. All you can do is love her as much as you can, and be the best dad you can. And from what I've seen, that's exactly what you are doing.

She's very lucky to have you as her daddy.

T. said...

That's very good advice Tara. You should know though that given all Chez could disclose he's been SUPERHUMANLY kind to his ex.

Izar Talon said...

seeing as how we strangers can feel so much love for Inara from you, just through these tiny windows into your soul that you share with us, SHE must feel it a thousandfold, because she gets not just a tiny window to peer at your love, but a wide open door, and is invited in to stay.

Don't worry, man; she will know. She will know.

Anonymous said...

Dude- you are breakin' my heart.
Just move back to NYC and jump into a life that includes your beautiful daughter. Why torture yourself by being not being with her every week? Sooner or later, or sooner you do it......likely a gigantic ordeal that will not be easy! What choice do you have this time? Meanwhile, let's face it, nothing has happened in Miami since GV was shot.
NYC is also beat. You know you can make living here!
Go Braves!!

Jester said...

Been in this situation as the "someone new in mom's life," except the child was a boy, not a girl. And I developed a wonderful relationship with him. Which lasted until the end of the relationship between his mom and I. She lasted about as long with me as she did with the boy's father... which is to say, not very long at all.

She got bored with me, and moved on to man #3.

What makes you think Jayne will be any different? Take heart. This dude might not be in Inara's life as long as you think.

Alanna said...

You'll never be replaced. My father never was. I will never call my mom's live-in partner "dad" or anything of the like. He's Sam, that's it. My parents divorced during my teen years. We had a few moments of disconnect during all of this (my mother basically threw him out) but we found our way back to one another approximately 5 years later - while I was in college.

He always has been and always will be my best friend.

Much like the commentor's son from above post - I may have lived with my mom - but it was my father who taught me.

None of this is far but I do know you won't be replaced.

namron said...

You can fucking-A write! On a very selfish note, thanks for using your pain and your wordsmanship to make my daily diversion to DXM worthwhile.

Jessica said...

Inara will never think "I have two dads." She will think, "I have a dad, and I have a step-dad." I say this from experience: if the step-dad is a good one (and I hope for her sake, should she ever end up with one, that he is) she will love him and value his presence in her life. But he will never replace you. Inara will look forward to her visits with you, dread leaving you, and will one day ask YOU to take her to visit colleges and walk her down the aisle when she marries. From your point of view, you will feel like a part-time father because you'll never get to spend the time you want with her. From Inara's point of view, you will NEVER be her "part-time father."

BarbInBoston said...

Let me say a big "YES" to Jessica's post. I was IN Inara's postition as a kid, if a smidge older (I was three when my parents divorced and five when my mother married my stepfather). Even though I only saw my dad on Sundays, he was the biggest grounding influence in my life, and not a second went by - not in my childhood, not in my angsty teen years - when I didn't know he loved me. Inara will know it, too. I'm sure having a stepfather in my life quietly killed my real dad my inches, but he was always, and is forever, my Daddy.

I wouldn't let it eat you up.