Monday, August 31, 2009

Taking Responsibility

This is one I wrote a long time ago, when I was still married.  It's simplistic but makes a point, and having since gone through a divorce I realize that the blame game continued.  Maybe re-reading it will allow me to try again.

I went fishing last Saturday.  It started out as such a pleasant day;  little did I know how miserable a day it would be.  I kissed my wife and daughter goodbye at the dock and boarded the boat on a crisp, sunny, windless day with my fishing gear in hand.  We spent the entire day fishing but I didn't catch a single fish.  I know that when I go fishing I should be able to catch fish (that's why they call it fishing) so I was angry.

I decided that someone had to pay for this travesty so I contacted the manufacturer of my boat to complain.  I was immediately transferred to their legal department and was told that the boat was intended to take people out on the water and bring them home without having to swim.  Had that been the case?  Yes I responded but I didn't catch any fish and it's a fishing boat.  I was put on  hold for a moment and when he returned I was told firmly that the boat is designed to be used for fishing if so desired by the owner but that is  not it's purpose and it had done what it was intended to do, ie get me out and back safely.

Next I called the company that makes the fishing hooks I used.  I felt sure I had a winner this time.  I explained how I had spent the day fishing but had caught nothing and since fishing hooks are certainly intended to hook fish, their product had failed, ruined my day, and I wanted some sort of recompense.  They were very sympathetic but detailed how they had just paid a huge lawsuit settlement to someone who had accidentally been stuck by one of the hooks while fishing.   They had just enough money left to print warning labels on the hook packages and couldn't pay me a penny.

By this time I was really angry because no one was willing to take responsibility for my bad day.  I called the federal government to talk to someone in fisheries management.  They were certainly going to have to face the music.  I got a phone menu that warned me to listen carefully since the menus had changed but when I had listened to them I realized they were exactly the same as they were last month when I called to get a fishing information packet.  I punched in my social security number and waited.  Finally someone came on the line and asked me for my social security number.  "I just punched it in", I explained.  "Please hold" she said.  After 40 minutes of waiting I hung up because I got hungry.

"What's for dinner honey?" I called out.  No reply.  I walked to the kitchen and found a note to me on the table.  I opened it to find a letter from my wife's attorney threatening a lawsuit since she had prepared to cook fish for dinner last saturday and I failed to bring any fish home after going fishing, causing her emotional trauma and wasted preparation time.

That night, alone in my bed, I dreamed that I went out fishing and didn't catch anything.  However, I saw a manatee and porpoises.  I saw flying fish and sea turtles.  I felt excited going through a rough inlet and being splashed.  I woke up in a sweat, confused and decided that it was just stress causing this nightmare.

The following day the fish and game commission returned my call.  "Were  you the only one on the boat?" the agent asked me.  "No", I replied.  "Did anyone else catch any fish?", he continued.  "Yes, actually quite a few people caught fish", I told him.  "Did it ever occur to you", he asked, "that maybe it was your own fault that you didn't catch anything?  That maybe sometimes we have bad days or bad luck?"

The more I thought about this, the more sense it made.  Perhaps it wasn't the fault of the fishing line, or the boat, or anything else.  Maybe I had learned an important lesson, that sometimes things won't go my way but that it doesn't have to be anyone's fault.  Maybe this sense of responsiblity could be a good thing.   Maybe if I spread the word to others, led by example, life would be better;  and maybe my wife would come back.

Missing the children

Three days of driving left my neck sore and the cold stark landscape of New Hampshire to the balmy swaying palms of the east coast of Florida.

The usual sense of joy that accompanied this southward journey was joined by a strong feeling of sadness, as this trip was different from others.

I pushed the 9 button on the condo elevator and felt my heart weigh heavily.  The same button that required careful negotiation to decide who would get to push it, Sam or Emily.  My finger was where their fingers had been only months before.  I could feel the coolness up my arm and smell the chlorine dripping bathing suits, seasoned with salt.  But I couldn't hear the stream of consciousness talk, the open conversations with strangers, some of whom listened, some of whom did not. I couldn't touch and hug the cool supple skin. 

Upstairs to a once-lived in grandmother's home.  A grandmother of two children, Sam and Emily.  And long before those two were born, it was the home of festive dinners hosting the kids' future parents, courting and in love.  Married in Florida 6 1/2 years ago.  The dream and the grandmother were left behind to move to a better, unknown place and the condo was seldom seen but for annual visits.  The grandmother was seldom seen until she moved to the cold north, leaving behind her dream also to help the struggling couple and to be with the missed children.

Resentments grew, jealousy raged, secrets once told and received tenderly with compassion were now distorted into unrecognizable monsters called lies.  One judge, limited, overworked, governed the outcome of so many lives with inadequate time to handle this business of his.

The children know nothing of this.  Only that divorce stinks and they don't know, at the ages of 3 and 6, where to place their allegiance, whose fault it must be.  The parents have it easier than the children as they can simply hate each other despite the stacks of love letters offering a gazillion percent certainty that you are the one.  The bridal dress sits neglected in a closet in the condo in Florida where we were married.

6 1/2 years ago I turned forty and boldly stumbled into the worst mistake of my life.  I've now given up the dream I had worked hard to earn, living in Florida, having a boat, a secure future. and am stuck in a place I despise because the two most important people in my life are here.  I dream of showing them all the knowledge of the southern waters that I learned, taking them for beachwalks, fishing, camping trips where we could snorkel and gather dinner.  That won't happen, made more painful by the fact that it once was mine. 

6 1/2 years entitled her to half of my money and half of my children and I was lucky in each case to keep half.  Cracks in my armor were attacked by hammers and chisels after the kisses were wiped away with alcohol and the once tenderly placed bandaids were removed.

An impulse can be costly and being an impulsive person, even if only one who tries to please, is a dangerous way to live life.  An expensive way to simplify things. 

When we started the divorce process, we were required to attend a class on divorce, discussing the process as well as the impact on the children.  This really provided no help at all.  More helpful would have been a class discussing the marriage and its failures, and why it was necessary to end it.  Whose fault was it?  Who turned out to be unfaithful to the person he or she purported to be before getting married?  I guess that's what marriage counseling is for, except that it does not work.  Perhaps it should be required as an ongoing part of any marriage so that it might be there before it's too late.  Perhaps the classes should be given before one gets married, explaining the realities and harshness of lives together, and allowing one to be realistic and tear up the love notes filled with lies while there is still time to save yourself, rather than years later when filled with bitterness, anger, and children that have to suffer through it.

There should be a divorce penalty.  There should be a required waiting period before getting married, just like before buying a gun.  There should be a required waiting period before having children.  There should be a required waiting period before having a divorce. 

I receive a letter from my attorney saying that the court has set a hearing date in a few months because apparently "the court" has become tired of waiting for my wife and me to submit a parenting plan.  Instead, the judge will dictate one, along with the help of the well meaning, but limited in her knowledge of my family, Guardian Ad Litem.  Of course I can't be impatient when I request a court date and have to wait months.  I have lost faith in justice.  THE COURT where justice is served like soggy food in a cheap Chinese buffet.  I recall early in the divorce, the emphasis on the welfare of the children.  At this point we have two people who hate each other working together to devise a parenting plan that serves the needs of their children and puts their own hurt aside.  A true system of justice would have a judge call each parent to see how it is going.  "Oh, you're making good progress, the kids are doing well?  Great, keep up the good work but please try to get it done soon" would be nice.  What we have is a machine without emotion, trying to move a large pile of papers from the inbox to the outbox.  Humanity is not served.  Nor are children, except perhaps children who are truly in danger, who are sent to places I know nothing about.  I'm not sure how much faith I'd have in that process if I knew more about it.  Our society is too busy making money to care about social well-being.  It's expensive.

I wonder why the process of marriage is formal, as if it were a contract.  I know of no other contract that is so important, and no other contract that is so easy to get out of.  Try breaking your lease.  It's harder than breaking your marriage and far less important.  I have important looking papers telling me that my marriage is official, a marriage "license".  People who are denied this option fight for it.  I can understand the desire to be treated equally, but I can't help but wonder if they're better off.

People speak of the resiliency of children in divorce.  I have not found this to be a soothing salve.  Ultimately it seems like an excuse for a system that pays little attention to the real needs of children and is unwilling to pony up for the services that would really help them.  This is typical of social programs in our culture.  Choose what is cheap and explain it away.  Kids are resilient.  Don't worry, they'll be OK.  Addicted?  12 Steps.  Cheap, and a dismal failure.  Expensive to society, but we are more interested in how much our house is worth, until an addict moves into the neighborhood.

I push the nine button and walk the familiar steps, feeling tears start to build.  Tears of loneliness, tears of sadness, and tears of pain for two children who had parents that shouldn't have passed the test to be allowed to have children.  Two sweet children who are confused and damaged, even though the system, and everyone else, says how well they are and will be. 

I resist the urge to throw away the wedding dress.  It is Emily's now.  I start to pick up toys from our last hurried leaving months ago, hula skirts, beach toys, stickers from the dentist, and start unpacking my own things.

Are my children resilient?  I suspect that depends on how my ex wife and I behave.  Everything I've read indicates that the most important factor in helping children adjust healthfully to divorce is to have parents that get along.  This seems to be an area where some resources would be worth providing, considering the large number of children of divorce who will grow up to become adults, changed, if not damaged, by the failure of their home to remain secure and reliable.

I could go upstairs and read, undisturbed as I had so often wanted to, and I would.  I would see my friends and be able to stay out late.  But there is no justification for two selfish people ignoring the vows of marriage to pursue their own happiness while letting the children manage.