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Can Divorce Make You A Better Dad?

Written By John Richards on Thursday, June 28, 2012 | 5:01 AM






It's been over a year and a half since I became a single man again. I've done what most people do during that time—a lot of thinking. One thing I've discovered is that many times the right answers in life can come from embracing opposites.

Here's an example: if a situation would normally lead to you getting uncontrollably angry, what would happen if you became incredibly calm? Imagine someone at an electronics store tells you that the extremely expensive TV you bought recently and suddenly stopped working isn't covered under warranty. You might get angry and have a fit until they fix the situation. But by being extremely calm, you force them to deal with the situation—your broken TV—and not just finding a way to push your anger onto someone else.

Divorce is another good time to examine opposite reactions to your normal instincts. Feelings are hurt, blame is thrown around and kids are often de-prioritized behind personal issues. During my divorce, I wanted to establish a positive relationship with my ex-wife, one that would benefit the kids long term, but things felt forced and I couldn't shake the feelings that nothing good could come of this divorce for my kids. It wasn't until I examined the opposite view that I realized I had an amazing opportunity.

In the middle of trying to convince my kids that everything was going to be OK, I had a guilty epiphany. I struggled endlessly with it, even denied it, until I took the time to understand it. Divorce gave me the opportunity to become a better dad.

Before the divorce, I lived the life of an involved father who adored his daughters. I worked hard so my kids could be comfortable and safe. I spent quality time with them. In short, I thought I was a tremendous father. But at that time I had a wife to pick up the slack when I had other responsibilities. If I was busy—coaching, teaching, tutoring, exercising, whatever—she would handle the kids. If I had to be somewhere, I never had to worry. I knew they'd be all right.

As time passed, we fell into a pattern that became comfortable.

During my epiphany, I realized I was a single dad now with equal custody and I actually could be even better. Though I only have my girls half the week, I have arranged my life so that I spend incredible quality time with them. I pick them up at school, drive them to play dates, help with all the homework, cook dinner, read stories, play games, you name it. When they're with me, I do it. All the tasks previously divided and taken less seriously have become my life's responsibilities, and, strangely enough, I cherish it.

Once you accept the fact that your children can and will recover from the divorce, you can allow yourself to see the proverbial silver lining in every tough situation life throws your way. Even in the darkest of times, happiness is a choice, and I have chosen to see all that can be good, which leads me to this quirky belief that I am somehow a better, more productive dad since I became single.

No day is taken for granted, for I know I only have half a week to connect. My girls understand that when they come to my house and get settled in for five days with dad, they will get all of me. Not part of me reading a bedtime story while thinking about the class I have to teach the next day. Not a sliver of me playing dolls with them while figuring out how to pay the bills. Nope. When I am with them I am all theirs. Not spoiling them, not parenting out of guilt for the divorce, but being a true dad.

The rest of my responsibilities get taken care of systematically on the days the girls are with their mother. I have started my life anew on that time, found happiness again, and become settled. I see clearly my role in life, not out of responsibility, but rather out of a sheer desire to mean something to my girls and to love doing it.

So, yeah, my philosophy may sound a little rough on the surface, but I think it makes sense. Divorce, if seen from the right perspective, can make you a better—check that—a great dad. If you're struggling with the transition to being a single dad, try this approach. Instead of seeing your life as a trial, you'll realize that you've been given a gift.

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