During the many years I’ve worked with families and kids, I’ve met a lot of dads who are walking around with broken hearts. They are men who did the best they knew how to do, within their marriages, as fathers and spouses, and are now divorced.
Everyone gets married with the highest hopes, and deepest sense of commitment they can muster, aiming for a lifetime together with their beloved. Most of us do the best we can with what resources and skills we bring to our relationships.
Many divorced dads suffer from broken hearts. They have not only lost their wives, their homes, much of what they believed was their future happiness, but for many, most importantly, they’ve lost their children. Or they have their children, most of the time, yet their children’s mothers have moved on to another relationship, to another life. Dad and the children have lost an important member of their world.
This pain runs deep in dads. We are a generation of men who want better relationships with our wives, our children, our friends. But we’re flying by the seat of our pants, entering unknown territory, afraid oftentimes of being shot down.
If we had a good relationship with our fathers, it was most likely a bit more distant, or a lot more distant, than the ones we want with our children. A good many of us didn’t grow up watching our parents model close and loving relationships. Societal values were somewhat, or a lot, different then and it was believed there were many things children shouldn’t see; like physical touch and signs of affection. If our parents touched and talked intimately, it was behind closed doors. “Children should be seen and not heard” was the norm for many, so the conversations we yearn for with our spouses and our children are foreign to us, and yet so appealing. We are a generation of men who want better and deeper relationships. We just don’t know how to do it well yet.
Seventy percent of divorces in current day America are filed by women. That’s the statistics. The myth is that we fellows are divorcing our wives in droves, seeking younger women, flashier cars, the good life. It just ain’t so. Most of the men I meet are devastated by divorce, shocked and in disbelief, the walking wounded. Or dead men walking. And as the divorce is finalized and reality sinks in, they find they’ve lost the lion’s share of their dreams and world. For a lot of the dads I meet, the deepest loss is that of time, and the relationship with their kids. “Every other weekend” never seems like enough time to really be a father.
There are a growing number of dads, though, who wind up with their children most or all of the time. The pain is different for these guys, but just as deep. We grew up believing in the proverbial triad; mom, the flag, and apple pie. I won’t comment on apple pie and the flag. When mom, however divorces us, and moves on, leaving us in the role of primary parent, how do we do this? Where do we start? There is no preparation a man has for this unexpected, and usually frightening, situation in life. Not only do we have to deal with our own grief, but we have to help our children understand “why?” And we don’t know the answer. We can’t begin to comprehend “why” ourselves, much less answer the question when our children, or someone else asks.
If you have thoughts on this topic, I’d love to hear from you. How do we, as moms and dads, men and women, heal from our collective and individual wounds, and be there for our children?

Randy Mergler, M.S., LMFT
Fort Collins, CO

Author's Bio: 

Randy Mergler, M. S., LMFT

As more and more folks are doing these days, I changed careers in mid-life. I’d worked for 15 years in veterinary medicine as a nurse anesthetist at CSU’s veterinary teaching hospital. Although I love animals and enjoyed the work, I was drawn to more closely work with people. I returned to school and became a marriage and family therapist.
Believing strongly in life-long learning, and wanting to continue stretching myself to become more compassionate, responsible and giving, I became an active student of A Course in Miracles.
I love anything outdoors and my passions are bicycling, camping, hiking and fishing. I’ve been a teacher in many venues since moving to Colorado in 1973 from my native Illinois. Accomplishments I’m proud of are that I’m a devoted father of a son and a daughter, now teenagers, and have had great relationships with both of my parents. Mom died at home with me in 2009, almost making it to 97, and Dad died 9 months earlier approaching 94. I have good genes! Spending a lot of time with them the last 5 years of their lives afforded me an opportunity to learn much about our elders and the need for changes in our society as we all age.
Loving and close relationships mean the world to me, and I’m passionate about assisting others who want the same.