Welcome to the latest Who’s The Daddy.
This month’s guest post is from one of my favourite bloggers, Richard Hobbs of Man Stays Home.
This poignant and powerful piece explores separation anxiety experienced by divorcee fathers.
Separation Anxiety: Half A World Away
The older boy doesn’t see his little brother behind him but he knows he’s there. He’s always there. There’s no separation anxiety because there’s no separation. There are brief interludes, like school, and then they’re together again.
When I think of separation anxiety, I picture the screaming child, writhing and wailing like they’ve rolled headfirst down a hill into a swathe of nettles; they’re just as red and blotchy too when they demonstrate their inability to spend a moment away from mum or dad. First day at preschool, new music and movement class, an unknown length of time apart is terrifying for the child, it seems.
I knew a dad with separation anxiety too. He didn’t get red, blotchy skin and I never heard him wailing but the force of his anxiety was just as powerful, only he managed to keep it all in, most of the time.
My friend used to suffer this agonising heartache every time he sent his four year old son off to spend the second part of the week with his estranged partner and I used to think that I completely understood his pain. But I also thought I saw a wonderful life where he got the best of both worlds in many respects. He was not able to separate himself from the anxiety and difficulty of leaving his boy and I used to think if he had been able to look in from the outside he would see a pretty good life.
He would get to go out for those special days with his son: ice cream by the beach, a trip to the zoo, it was all quite perfect. And then what ruined his life, every single week without fail, was having to say goodbye on a Tuesday afternoon. He wouldn’t see the boy again until Saturday evening and it seemed to drag the soul from his being.
On a Friday night he was free to go out, drink, stay out, meet someone new. He did those things and still had Saturday to himself. A lie in (it’s possible for an adult to sleep past 6.30am, he said). And a day doing anything he wanted, or nothing at all. Sunday would be a day out with his son and then into the routine of school.
He got to do the day to day, but not every day. He got to live the single life without ties or commitments and he still had a family, of sorts, as well. He had a lovely lad and they enjoyed a strong companionship. Boys sticking together, it seemed.
And yet he looked at my life enviously, not in a malicious way, more hopefully, wistfully. Nothing is as it seems from the outside but I suppose I never spoke of time apart from the children because we never were apart; I never spoke of being lonely because it’s rare to feel the debilitating ache of loneliness, when somewhere in the house someone needs you at every waking moment (and quite a few of the sleeping ones too); I never seemed to miss the children because I could, at any time, go to them. I never said any of this to him. He would have punched me in the face.
My friend would complain about the burden, as parents remorsefully do sometimes, of the children being a tie, not allowing us to be like we were when we were 17. And in the same conversation, he would lament the absence of the boy from his life. I used to think, ‘You’ve got those things, the best of both worlds.’
But perhaps he had neither.
It must be a very difficult thing to come to terms with. I can’t imagine life without my children around constantly… Actually, yes I can: it would be peaceful and calm, clean and tidy.
And there is the problem: the life we see outside of what we have, the greener grass. Currently, there is a fairy made of Plasticine and glitter, crushed and welded into the carpet; fruit remains had lain undiscovered until a line of ants guided me in just now. To have half the week not dealing with these things would be wonderful, wouldn’t it? Everything would be where you left it and as you like it. That’s the bit I thought he had, but that bit doesn’t matter.
The bit that that mattered to him was half a world away. And half the world for him was painfully sad, unbearably so. An empty house. A hushed place. No secret treasures left to find: that card with a drawing and a message inside that you never saw him make; no shells in your pocket when you pay for petrol. Only the heavy absence of their joy fills the space.
My friend got through his separation anxiety. He came to think about what he has, not what he doesn’t have. Those perfectly ordinary, wonderful days; the immovable bond between him and his son; the chance to lead a life that makes the boy proud of his dad.
I don’t know how he does it. I don’t think I could cope. Half the time I think I understand my friend, completely. Sometimes I see him smiling and I realise I haven’t got a clue.