Edwin Lyngar shares what a divorce and struggling as a single father of two taught him about women and partnerships.
We were the classic ’50s power couple. I worked and she mostly cared for the children. She had professional ambitions but was never able to achieve them for whatever reason. I strived to climb a corporate ladder with a mediocre education and solid bullshitting skills.
We fought. She claimed to be a feminist, and I was a chauvinist, although not outwardly so. I sometimes thought that I was better somehow, and I think she could sense it, so she left me after she met someone new. Rather than taking the house and kids like you hear about so often, she left it all behind to follow her boyfriend to a faraway city. It was her fairy tale ending, although after only a short time, I suspect she regretted her decision.
When she walked out, my daughter was 3 years old and my son was 9. We’d been married for 10 years. She left in 2003 just after my 30th birthday.
Even as an inconsiderate husband, I was an involved father. I loved having kids, and to this day, it’s one of the unambiguous joys of my life. Even though I never regretted kids, I’d often put them second as I chased a bigger paycheck or tackled long business trips.
When the kids became my sole responsibility, everything changed: the job, my opinion of women, my goals, and even my deepest values, all of it. Raising children alone was the single most educational experience of my life.
I didn’t appreciate the education at first, because I was so angry after the divorce. I was angry at my ex-wife to be sure, but I was also furious at womankind. I blamed all women for my wife’s departure. But even as I simmered with rage, I was also desperately lonely. I tried dating off and on, but it was always a disaster. After all, I was struggling with my feelings toward women.
I didn’t get as much sympathy as I thought I should from women I knew. Because I was college-educated and working, the women in my life told me I didn’t have it so bad, even my own mother said as much. But it felt bad to me. Fortunately, the pain of divorce didn’t last.
I watched my kids grow in front of me, and I only really saw them for the first time. I always interacted with them before like the casual, hovering father you often hear about. I played with them and did dad things, but after the divorce, they both seemed so different, more precious and fragile.
I washed their clothes, made dinner, and did the dishes. I brushed my daughter’s hair every day, but it remained tangled and dirty. I bought her clothes, but her pants always fell down. I could never get the sizes right. I got a call from her daycare one day, and they demanded I bring a belt the next day.
I coddled my son, even until he was 12. I didn’t ask much of him, even though he could have helped out a lot more. I just felt that I had to give him a childhood, unimpeded by divorce struggle. I put them ahead of all else: job, dating, and my own wardrobe and comforts.
The kids visited their mother in the summers. I used the time off to get hammered at bars and pick up on women, as desperate and hurting as I was. I felt bad for these flings, but to be a family for 10 months and then to lose it was unbearable. But I knew they needed their mother in those precious summer months. I wanted them to hurt less and to have the chance to see her and build a meaningful relationship. I used my alone time to pound the world in rage. By the third summer, it grew tiresome. I got beat up by a gang of thugs in front of a dirty Reno dive, so I stopped going to those places forever, stopped raging against an indifferent nightlife.
I started to feel happiness creeping in again, and my irrational anger at women faded. I started appreciating the skills mothers bring, and I realized they aren’t inherently full of energy any more than me. Good mothers and fathers had to work at it, just like I did. I had taken the women in my life for granted, and I could only see it after the passage of time, and my own single parent experience.
I’d helped with housework and child rearing even before my wife left, and it was one of the reasons she was comfortable leaving the kids with me. When she first left, I thought I would stay the same guy, thoughtless, insensitive, and perhaps even brutish at times, but I changed.
From my first day as a single father, my work suffered. At the time of the divorce, I’d been at my job only a few months. Ten years later, I’m still here. I’d originally planned to stay only five years. I work in a mid-level government public information job. It’s a good job, not great or flashy or super high paid, but it’s good. I do the best I can, but always in the framework of 40 hours or so. I don’t work extra or climb any ladders. When I became a single father, my work priorities became forever less important.
A few years after the divorce, I met my current wife, Joy. She is strong, capable, and more professional than me. She’s educated and makes more money than I do. The husband I was might have resented it, but the current iteration has no problem at all with strong women.
I slew the ’50s dad I once was, or circumstances killed him, or I came to my senses. I’m never sure. I realize that we should all be equally responsible for our children and our actions and priorities. Men and women have no inherent advantage or disadvantage in work or parenting. A father can stay home and nurture, and a woman can climb a corporate ladder. It’s all preference and skill set.
I didn’t realize there was a word for this attitude until the day my wife, Joy, called me a feminist. But now I know.
Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.