By Jessica Bram
Excerpted from Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey (Health Communications, Inc. April 2009). Click here to watch DadsDivorce.com editor Matt Allen interview the author about surviving a divorce and thriving after it.
Friends with My Ex-Husband
I’ll come right out and say, as a start, that my divorce was not what anyone would call amicable. My husband and I were not one of those couples who assure the world they will remain good friends before cheerily deciding to go their separate ways. Far from it.
Our divorce had more than the predictable quota of bitterness and pain, fear and anger, vindictiveness and revenge. As in so many divorces where there is wealth, battles over money and property became fight-to-the-death affairs.
Our lawyers were two of the most expensive in New York City, renowned for being “cutthroat” (the highest accolade anyone can give a matrimonial lawyer). An even greater expense was the gnawing anxiety, the fear-tossed nights, the tears I was not always successful in shielding from my worried, silent children. Perhaps it was not much different for my former husband.
But I don’t often like to think back on those dark and unhappy days, nor do I need to. Even though Bill plays a far less prominent role in my life today than he once did, our connection can be called—if not sometimes bordering on the unthinkably friendly—peaceable.
But here’s my deep dark secret, well hidden and almost unspeakable. What I feel for him is something I could almost call . . . affection.
The truth of it is, my former husband is a good – no, he’s a great – father. He cares about our sons and even more important, has put that caring into concrete, reliable action weekend after custodial weekend, band concert after orchestra concert, year after year. How could I not feel something affectionate—something even akin to love—for that one single person in the world who loves the children I would live and die for as much as I do, who would live and die for them too?
Although I admittedly would have preferred not to run into him time and time again in my new life, Bill never missed a teacher conference, holiday recital, or sports event the children were involved in. He’s gotten into his office late in favor of a nine o’clock in the morning “Twelve Days of Christmas” and “I Had a Little Dreidel” first grade sing-along. I sometimes smile at the thought of him, a long-time vegetarian with an aversion to meat, gingerly serving the boys their favorite chicken nuggets when they are at his house for dinner.
In my own mind, there has always been something enormously comforting about knowing that my children had someone else besides me in the world. When our youngest son had an allergic reaction requiring me to administer the dreaded EpiPen and call 9-1-1, the very next directive to one of my other sons was “Call Dad”—even though I knew he was in New York City and could not meet us at the emergency room. In an uncertain world where imagined dangers potentially befall one’s children at every moment, there is indescribable relief in knowing that there is one other person out there in whose care they are safe and protected, who will never let them down, and who will never let them fall.
Sometimes today, long after the words exchanged over issues and property have become blurred and almost forgotten, this is what I think of when I see Bill. The marriage, the good times, the bicycle and camping trips when we were young lovers, the endless conversations and times of laughter, the messy and awestruck births of our children—these are long gone. I feel no affection any longer for what we once were to each other. But what does keep a warm flame inside me that I can’t help but recognize– much as I strive to keep it a secret –is about what we are to each other today.
My ex-husband has always thought the worst of me and probably still does. He is probably as suspicious of my every motive today as he was throughout our nineteen-year marriage. In a way, who can blame him? Why wouldn’t he mistrust me even today, after the role I played in the problems that led to the end of our marriage, and after the vigorous fight for money, property, and parental rights I put up during the divorce?
One Sunday evening some time ago, when he dropped off our sons after a weekend that he had patiently and arduously spent teaching Alex to ride a two-wheeler—something I had almost given up on—I stopped him on the way back to his car, idling in my driveway. “I just want to, need to say to you,” I said, taking a breath, “I want to thank you for being the kind of father to my children—to our children—that you are.”
He eyed me suspiciously. Married to this man for nineteen years, I instantly imagined his internal “What does she mean by that?”
He drew himself up with a frown and answered gruffly. “They’re my children. I hardly need to be thanked.”
Well, okay, some things never change. Even then, with the battles long behind us, he still mistrusted me. But for some reason I felt the need to say what needed to be said.
I answered him quietly. “All I want to say,” I said slowly, touching the top of my breastbone, “is how grateful I am that my children have the kind of father that they do. For me,” I said.
Standing there with one hand on the open door, one hand on my breastbone, I really didn’t care if he believed it or not, or what my ulterior motive was, or any of the rest. The look on Alex’s face when he had just burst through the door and announced “Mom, I can ride a two-wheeler now!” was still fresh in my mind. I simply had to express to Bill my gratitude for how devoted and diligent he had always been to work, if not alongside me, then certainly along with me, to raise the three confident, healthy, and delightful young beings that were our sons.
This time his face softened, although he looked away quickly. “Same here,” he said with a nod and turned quickly back to his car.
The above is an excerpt from the book “Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey” (Health Communications, Inc. April 2009) by Jessica Bram. The above excerpt is a digitally scanned reproduction of text from print. Although this excerpt has been proofread, occasional errors may appear due to the scanning process. Please refer to the finished book for accuracy.
Copyright © 2009 Jessica Bram, author of “Happily Ever After Divorce: Notes of a Joyful Journey“