When a Family Man Thinks Twice
Joshua Coleman, Ph.D.
San Francisco Chronicle
June 18, 2000 (Father's Day)
You get married. And at some point you don't know if the
marriage is going
to work. And since it's your first marriage, you feel discouraged
hopeless and start believing that your marriage looks nothing like
on TV or in US magazine. And you think how nice it would be to have
marriage like that, built on friendship, hiking, and an active sex
And since it's a marriage with children, you don't know what it
to be divorced with children, and figure it might not be that bad.
tradeoff. And people say everything in life is a tradeoff, so there
something worthwhile about tradeoffs.
And you start thinking about it after you leave the movie
your marriage once looked like the movie marriage, at least when
first dating. Or, maybe the movie is realistic, with lots of
confused adults, but, even those movies feature somebody who's
love, like the two teenagers in American Beauty. And so you compare
marriage to the teenagers in American Beauty and wonder how you got
off the track as Kevin Spacey, and do you need to get a GTO and
smoking pot again to find yourself, even if you're smart enough to
somebody your own age instead of your daughter's friend?
And maybe you realize that the same actors you're comparing your
on the screen, are having as much trouble in their marriages off
as you are having in yours, at home. And so you stop comparing
their happy on screen marriages, and compare yourself to them as
divorced actors who have their kids part-time and live in LA or New
on their ranches in Montana.
And at the playground, watching your kids go down the slide with
you end up sitting by a divorced father. And if you've never been
you won't see his loneliness as he stretches his legs and watches
at his children because he looks like you, when you wave and smile
playing on the swings, or that circular spinning thing that makes
nauseous when you have the poor judgment to get on it. And you
that this very same child on the swing set saying look at me look
at me will
have to be returned to her mother's house like a videotape by six
that was the time agreed to in the agreement. And you may not know
sadness he feels returning that child to her mother as she closes
to him like a vault while his kid waves, sad, bewildered or worse,
be back with her mom and now oblivious of him, her father.
And you, who walk in and out of your home every day with your
wife and kids,
can't know what it's like to sit in your car and watch the place
in as family, knowing your child is in there, laughing, talking
waving briefly at you from the window like she does when her uncle
And since you are married, and wake up every day to your child's
laughter and endless questions and requests and frustrations and
can't contemplate the deadwood barrenness of a house deprived of
And you wouldn't know that going home to that silence, a silence
many times while married, is a silence found more often on
a large-scale fire.
And being married, you and your wife may have just put your
child to bed
with Harry Potter or the Little Engine That Could or other
children's stories that teach the value of never giving up and
against the odds. And as the evening goes on, you end up in one of
awful fights with her that leave you feeling alone and why should
to put up with this as hard as you work and try. And it's hard to
nobody else has it as bad or understands what you feel except
woman you've begun to have an affair with who always says the right
and makes you feel good about yourself, which, of course, you
the sex with the woman you're having an affair with is unbelievable
sex is always unbelievable in affairs or else why would anybody
And since you're a married father, who goes on vacations with
his kids and
helps them with their soccer, homework or playground politics, you
underestimate the feelings of seeing your child walk out of the
once lived in as family, holding the hand of your ex-wife's new
Perhaps you're surprised by the stab of betrayal when you hear your
refer to your ex-wife's new husband as "my other daddy." And even
you've had enough psychotherapy to start a clinic on both coasts,
yourself get mad and hurt and state that she Does not, Can not and
have another daddy because that is a position only you can fill and
ever brings up that phrase again, something really bad is going to
somebody, you're just not sure who.
And you begin to wonder if anything is worth this kind of pain.
worth having your baby, your child, your self, handed to you and
out like an assembly line robot on a killing spree, week after week
week after week? And friends and family and professionals say it
better over time and it does get better because you eventually get
finding new and improved ways to blind and numb yourself. And
tell you this change is called growth. And you know that must mean
And you always swore you would be a great dad and you have been
better set your sorry ass down with divorce and give thanks for
weekend or summer visitation or some other version of fatherhood
nothing to do with family and everything to do with an arrangement
dubious only a court can invent it. And maybe when your kids grow
up and go
off to college or move out you'll feel better. But then maybe you
Maybe their new independence will just free them up to see your
even more clearly.
And though you would never do it, you come to understand those
marginalized through their own mistakes or a lousy arrangement,
away and rarely calling, leaving their kids bobbing and drifting
thrown from the back of a moving boat. And how these fathers
dead and dumb years later when there's an angry and betrayed call
child who's now a teenager or an adult. And how these dads stumble
excuse that tries to be an apology but ends up blaming the child
ex-wife, and leaves the kid glad the father wasn't around in the
no wonder mom wanted out.
And maybe you'd never let it get to that point and you do need
to leave your
marriage. Maybe the smoking stacked years of hurt and resentment
the air you and your family breathe and no priest or rabbi or
ever reverse it because you already tried all that. And you end up
in love with someone new because she reminds you of all the
love best; those of your children, your closest friends and you
admit it but - yeah, those of your ex-wife.
And then, whether it's the right thing or the wrong thing,
better or worse,
you look back. And at some point, your kids ask when you and mom
to live together again. And though they eventually stop asking,
stop hoping. And they carry that hope the way you carry your love
them - soft, constant, and close to the surface. And no matter how
was to be married and how grateful you are to be out, and how much
out was the right decision, some part of you may always wonder, was
something else I could have done? Something?
Copyright Joshua Coleman. For reprint permission, contact
Dr Coleman at:
Office and voicemail: (415) 567-2741 (PST)
Dr. Coleman's book "Imperfect Harmony: How to Stay Married
for the Sake of
Your Children and Still Be Happy," (St. Martin's
Press), is available in
bookstores everywhere or order on amazon for only $16.77
"Coleman isn't afraid to tell the truth: not all
marriages can be joyful at all times, but
that isn't a cause for divorce, especially with children involved.
Even if your marriage is never going
to be the one you dreamed of, you can still live happily ever
after. With practical advice
and genuine empathy, Coleman encourages spouses to stick it out:
their marriage may not
change drastically for the better, he says-but then again, it just
And/or, order a CD or audiotape of his 90-min workshop on this
topic at 800-241-7785 for
only $15 #754-505. It's a great tape for couples (or
individuals) teetering on the brink.
#754-505 - Imperfect Harmony
Joshua Coleman, PhD
Not all marriages can be made deeply meaningful or even satisfying.
to help couples achieve harmony - even happiness - in marriages
together "just for the sake of the kids."
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