Loving Their Mom

When I was a kid, my dad's office was a magical universe. He was a collector of antique books and the shelves of his library were stuffed with old and rare texts. The desk in his den was usually the best place to find pens or pencils, and he also possessed an old-school gumball machine that I liked to raid when friends came to visit. Disclosure: I liked to raid the gumball machine when I was home alone too.

There was another decorative fixture in Dad's office, a handcrafted sign. Every time we moved, this piece of wood followed. Regardless of which room housed Dad's old desk and books, there was a burl from a maple tree that followed. It had been sanded and polished and mounted on a flat stand to hold it upright. A photo of a little child handing a flower to an adult was glued to the front beside an engraving that read "The best gift I can give to my children is my love for their mother."

This sweet display followed us from the little rambler around the corner from Jennings Park, where we resided in my earliest recollections, to the apartment across the street from Silver Lake, our last residence before I moved out and turned my folks into empty nesters. My dad still has it; the picture is peeling away but the carving remains. He did his best to live up to this motivational message. He adored my mom. My brother and I were raised knowing that Dad was hopelessly in love with Mom. Even today, any time she travels out of town, my dad is restless and unsure what to do with himself in the absence of his bride.

Naturally, that message followed me on an intellectual level as I transitioned from a teenager living with his parents to an independent young adult, and from a young bachelor to a twenty-some-odd year old new husband. When our firstborn came into our life, I had those words from my dad's office echoing in my head. I was standing in a land of giants with enormous shoes to fill and I tried to live up to this phrase that had guided my father through his marriage.

If I'm honest, I had no idea what I was doing. I did my best to love my son's mom, but I wasn't really skilled at it. I never figured out how to love in that self-sacrificial "love your wives just as Christ loved the church" kind of way. I tried, but sometimes life doesn't reward you with points for effort.

Fast forward another decade. A couple more kids were added to the family but I was no longer a married man. As the stress of divorce and restarting life as a single dad changed all the rules on me, the constant decoration from my dad's office was forgotten. I was facing a new normal and focused on being the best father that I could possibly be.

My energy was spent juggling work schedules with custody agreements. I strove to make the best of the days I had with my kids because I knew I would no longer be able to tuck them into bed every evening. Suddenly, the best gift I had to give my kids was my time. Help with homework. Heart to heart talks about school bullies. Family board games and movie nights. Bonding over Nintendo and X-Box. Playing at the park. Saturday adventures out hiking or relaxing at the beach. We found our own routine and paved a way through previously undeveloped territory.

I'm still their dad, a job title that will never change. However, I can't escape another obvious reality: my ex-wife is still my kids' mother. I have always been aware that my kids have a good mom and she will always be a constant factor in their lives. But I tried to think that we existed in different worlds, like alternate dimensions. I treated her like she was Las Vegas: what happens at mom's house stays at mom's house.

Recently, something changed, a revelation that I should have recognized a long time ago. As long as she is a part of my kids' lives, she will be a part of my life. Despite the divorce, part of our wedding vows remains true: "for as long as we both shall live."

On a late and insomnia filled night, memories of my youth began to stir. I had finished my school work, turned on some music, opened a book, and debated whether or not I wanted to drink a Mike's Hard Black Cherry Lemonade. Somewhere after grabbing a beverage from the fridge and returning to my desk, the phrase seeped into my consciousness like a ghost phasing through the walls. The best gift my dad gave me was his love for my mom. The best gift I can give my kids is to love their mom.

But their mom and I are no longer married. My love for her left the building a long time ago. Isn't that what fuels most divorces? A couple drifts apart and they fall out of love?

The more I thought about it, the more that statement from my childhood rang true. If I am to believe that my kids deserve the best, I need to learn to love their mom all over again. I became increasingly assured that THAT was the best gift I could ever give them.

Then the questions came flooding in. How? How do I love someone who left me? How do I love the person who chose to end our marriage? How do I love the individual who wounded me (emotionally speaking) more than any other human on this planet? How do I love someone I don't always like? How do I love a woman who has already fallen in love with another man? If I wasn't adept at loving her when we were married, how am I supposed to do it now that we're not?

I don't have many good answers. In fact, I'm not sure if I have any answers. But I do know it will take more grace than I can demonstrate on my own. I can guarantee I won't always get it right. Even if the effort is never rewarded, I am convinced my kids deserve a dad who loves their mom.


  1. Great piece, Nic. I have had the same thoughts, only from the wife's point of view. The one thing I promised myself was to show respect for the boys' dad and to remember always that he will always be their dad. The boys are now 43 and 44, the younger with three children and he is the stay-at-home dad (and a terrific one!). Maybe he has that gift of parenting because I showed respect for his dad. I am with you, though, that it is a paradox to hold someone up to an ideal when some days you don't even like that person. I think you do an awesome, awesome job!

    1. Thank you so much Jeanie for your kind words.