On a sunny November day nearly four years ago, as I flipped through a Pottery Barn catalog on our deck, my husband of 14 years revealed that he had been having an affair for the previous 10 months.
His revelation was a punch in my gut, and as my mind simultaneously raced for comprehension and was struck numb, he dropped his next bombshell: his mistress was six months pregnant. In that moment, I was faced with my worst fear.
Like many children of divorce, I grew up with one burning desire: to have a good marriage and a happy home. My parents divorced when I was three, and the custody battle that ensued traumatized my sisters and me. My mother was awarded custody and promptly moved us from Florida to New Hampshire, meaning my relationship with my father was regulated to Sunday night phone calls, summer vacations and every other Christmas.
Life with my mother was chaotic, unstable and often depressing. She and my stepfather were always in crisis mode, and I longed for the calm stability I experienced at the homes of my friends whose parents were married. I vowed that my future children would have a perfect home where they felt safe and secure.
By the time I married at the age of 34, I hadn’t seen or spoken to my father in years. It’s horrible to be a walking cliche, but that’s what I was. I had daddy issues. I had a series of failed relationships behind me, and I was forever looking for the man who could fill the deep and excruciating void left by the father I once adored.
Enter my husband. We fell in love in South Africa, and compared with my wild journalist friends, he was relatively boring. He was an accountant, the most responsible adult I had ever met. I had had more passionate affairs, but married him because I believed he would provide the safe, stable home for which I had always yearned.
And he did, for a time. Our daughter was born a year after the wedding, and almost from the moment of her birth, I began to explain to him how important he would be in shaping her sense of self. More importantly, I stressed that he would provide the foundation for her future romantic relationships. I was determined that my daughter would understand what it meant to be loved by the first man in her life, her father. I implored him to never break up our family.
So on that November day, as I blinked back tears, the first words I uttered were, “What about the children? This is the one thing I asked you never to do”. In the days and weeks that followed, I went through myriad emotions, and always at the forefront was the impact my husband’s actions would have on our children (we had a son three years after our daughter).
But as I faced the precise scenario I erroneously believed I had protected myself from, a surprising thing happened: I didn’t crumble. Even my husband commented on my strength, remarking that he had expected me to fall apart.
Faced with the unthinkable, I strove to control the one aspect that was paramount: my children’s relationship with their father. They were hurt and angry and afraid. At times they wanted nothing to do with him.
But I quietly and steadily beat my drum, encouraging them to express their feelings, but not to turn their backs on a relationship that would impact the rest of their lives. As a little girl, I revered my own father, but as I grew older, our relationship became strained. My children didn’t have to grow up without a father even though our family was shattered.
In the past four years I’ve had to swallow a lot of bile in my quest to keep my children’s father in their lives. He comes every weekend to spend time with them, and though we are now divorced, the four of us often go out to dinner or a movie together. We’re not the same as we once were, and it’s not perfect, but it’s the best I can do given the situation.
My children will forever be affected by their father’s actions. They have had to learn about unspeakable pain and disappointment far too young. My hope is that they have also learned that when faced with the thing we fear most, we can surrender, or we can move forward.
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