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Dad Next Door: God laughs

Photo: Joshua Huston

There’s an old Yiddish saying: “We make our plans — and God laughs.” If that’s true, God must have a really sick sense of humor. At least that’s how it seems right now to a friend of mine. She’s got an 8-month-old baby, and a marriage that’s veering off course and about to barrel over a cliff. Her hopes and her dreams, along with half of the days that she planned to spend with her child, are dissolving right before her eyes.  

“It’s like one of those awful dreams where everything goes wrong, and you try to fix it, but it just gets worse,” she says. “Only I never wake up.” I know exactly what she means. Though every divorce is specific in its excruciating details, some things stay the same.

My divorce happened more than a dozen years ago, and it still feels like the biggest failure of my life. My daughters were 6 and 11 at the time, and my inability to hold our family together seemed like a horrible betrayal. I had made the implicit promise that I would protect them from any storm. Then a hurricane hit us. It left us scattered and dazed, picking through the debris, searching for something we could salvage. It turns out I couldn’t even protect myself.

Looking back on that time, I’m amazed at how much I didn’t know. I couldn’t have known that the fragments of our shattered family would mend together and shape themselves into something new. I couldn’t have known that my kids were resilient, and adaptable, and ready to live the life they had, even if it wasn’t the one I had planned. I couldn’t have known that someday I would be happy again, and madly in love, and stronger than ever where parts of me had ripped apart and healed. I couldn’t have known that love, even from a broken heart, is sometimes good enough.

I don’t want to sugarcoat things — it was hard. As much as I tried to insulate my kids from our conflict, the tension between my ex and me was palpable. Our girls were hunkered down between us, always on guard, cringing at every little border skirmish that might turn into a war.  There were fewer explosions than with many divorces, but more than enough to injure everyone in sight. When you have kids with someone, you don’t ever really leave them. Every hand-off, every schedule change, every child expense becomes another chance to open up old wounds and spill more blood. It’s exhausting.

I think the worst part was doing it alone. Parenting is hard. Parenting by yourself is much harder.  There are so many things that can go wrong in any given day. I’d find myself juggling for my life, and just when I thought I’d found a rhythm, someone would toss me another ball and everything would come crashing down. By the end of the day, all I wanted was someone to turn to before I went to sleep, and have them tell me it wasn’t as bad as all that. Or maybe it really was, but tomorrow would be better. Those were the nights I’d lie in the dark for hours, just trying to quiet my mind.

If you’re flying solo and you can maintain a reasonable co-parent relationship with your ex, do it — even if you have to bite your tongue, swallow your pride and hold your fire. But if that isn’t possible, find other parents who can help. They may be in your family, on your block, at your school, or the playground, or in your PEPS group. They might even be online. But they’re out there somewhere, and you need them. The truth is, we all need each other.

And while you’re reaching out as a parent, don’t forget to reach out as a human being. You didn’t lose your life in that hurricane, you lost a limb. Whether you believe it or not, you can grow a new one, but it takes a while, so start as soon as you can. It might even end up stronger than the one you lost. Better. More beautiful than you can imagine — at least just yet.

If God laughs, that doesn’t mean he’s made us the butt of some cruel joke. Maybe he hasn’t reached the punch line yet. Maybe he laughs because he knows some things that we just can’t know.

Jeff Lee laughs along, when he can, in Seattle.

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