“I love you so much, Dad”, exclaims Beth (14), as she gives me a giant hug. She then grabs her bag and heads outside.
“I love you”, I proclaim to Rachel (11), to which she replies, “Love you too”, as she jumps into my arms for before leaving.
Then Ben (8), with a short but fast run, jumps into my arms also declaring, “I love you, Daddy…I’ll miss you”. He then plants a kiss on my cheek to which I reciprocate.
I say that I’ll see them this Friday and watch them all walk towards their mother’s car. It’s only three days away, but will feel like an eternity. They drive off, the door closes, and I am left in silence.
I turn around to see a few pairs of children’s shoes and Ben’s sweater hanging on a coat hook. I wander out to the kitchen and view the latest artwork that Rachel created, that I put up on the fridge. Beth has written a big “I LOVE YOU”, on the whiteboard. I pour myself a glass of water and sit at the island, alone, surrounded by the most deafening silence you can imagine. My heart is going a mile a minute and all I can do is wish my house was filled with the happy noises of my three kids. But that will have to wait a few more days.
It can be lonely, painful, and definitely heartbreaking. I know it was the right decision for me, but, it doesn’t make it any easier. I used to cry when the kids left, until one day, Beth had forgotten something and came back inside. She had caught me, red and puffy eyed. She hugged me, long and hard. She’s older and she knew, just by looking at me. This was one of toughest things I had ever gone through, though I knew I had to overcome it. I never wanted my kids to see me that way again. I didn’t want them to feel like they were ever causing me pain. I wanted my kid’s half time, but their mother wouldn’t go for it. And the courts favour the mother, even over a good father. It’s unfair, and it hurts.
In the meantime, how was I going to overcome the sadness of missing my children? My solution was to stop crying. Instead of shedding more tears, I threw myself into their lives, more than I had ever been before. I had to sacrifice some things that were important to me. But, my kids became my complete focus. Lessons, sports, recitals, school, homework… it didn’t matter, I was there. Quality time with them was more important than anything else. It helped the loneliness disperse. Most importantly, we have grown even closer because of it. And it has made me a better father much more now than when I was married.
Years ago, a good friend taught me the definition of sacrifice. “Giving up something good, for something better”, he’d say. “Live your life by that rule, and you’ll be the happiest man on earth.” It’s only taken me twenty years to figure this out. Hopefully, you are much smarter than I am.
What are your experiences? Whether you’re a single mother or father, how do you overcome the loneliness when the kids aren’t around? I would love to hear your thoughts.