I thought I had been doing just fine as a single mother for 10 years. My two loving, generous, smart boys lived in a middle-class neighborhood, attended Boy Scouts meetings and enjoyed playing sports. They were sensitive, just like me. Affectionate, just like me. And creative, just like their Mommie.
It wasn’t that I was trying hard to keep their father separated from them. It was just easier for me to disregard the necessity of his presence in their lives. I expected him to simply adjust, either accept his insignificance or prove his worthiness for fatherhood.
I had an epiphany during an Easter family potluck. We were having a friendly discussion about single parenthood, when my 20-something nephew, who didn’t grow up around his father, broke into tears and couldn’t stop crying for 30 minutes. “His pain about his dad is just that deep,” explained my sister, also a single parent of twins.
I looked at my boys, then 11, cuddling underneath my arms and realized how much I had cheated them of developing a relationship with their own father. It was my decision to divorce the man who named his sons and held them when they were only a few seconds old. It was my choice to move to another part of the country so my children could grow up around their relatives, a luxury that wasn’t available when I was their age.
I watched my grown nephew weeping that day and couldn’t help but be moved to tears myself. I noticed anew how much Alex, the older of my twins by three minutes, has his father’s eyes; how Zavier’s shoulders hunch just like his dad’s when he walks. In many ways, their personalities and looks are more like him than I wanted to admit.
I remembered how inadequate I felt when a male friend noticed my boys squatting during a camping trip and scolded me for not teaching my sons to pee standing up. I felt ashamed for using a church nursery, public library or family gathering as a fill-in babysitter because I was too proud to admit that Super Mom was overwhelmed.
It’s been a year now since my ex-husband and I worked out a co-parenting arrangement that allows our sons to attend school in Detroit and be with me in Portland, Ore., during the summer and some holidays. It’s still awkward to deliver my homemade love by postal carrier. And our lives are more complicated than I ever imagined.
But my boys, now 12, are finally getting a chance to quench their father hunger. They are discovering his charms as well as his failings, and are being shaped by his modern-day initiation rites, where a Dad teaches his young sons the secrets that only men know. But first I had to get out of the way. I had to let go of the anger over what went wrong in the marriage and recognize that a father’s love is just as precious as mom’s.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.