Ever wonder how your kids see you . . . or more appropriately your actions? This is something that has weighed on me for far longer than just the last year or so. It was hard when I had just one – then two – little girl(s). Then came four kids with twin boys.
When my marriage hit that stressful, swirling 7-10 year mark it was like the prophecy had to be self-fulfilled. I didn’t have a “seven year itch” but I had a wife who was intent on seeming to push me toward it. I work in an industry where, by nature of the fact people are on-camera all the time, is filled with . . . sorry to put it this way . . . very beautiful people. I make no bones about that. What that statement does not say is that they are very beautiful people I am attracted to. Just because I happen to go out on a story with an attractive woman doesn’t automatically infer that I want to sleep with them. In this era I was married . . . happily much of the time.
I can look back now, though, and see the lack of self-satisfaction and low self esteem my wife must have had in those years. She’d just had one and then two children. She wanted to lose baby weight. She was getting flack from her father about being overweight even when she wasn’t. The one person who never made her feel that way or told her that – to my knowledge – was me. But that old adage of “you always hurt the ones you love” was Andrea’s mantra. When she was upset about herself she took it out on all of us. She was jealous of reporters I worked with. She was angry I spent so much time at work. I see now and then that you spend more time with your colleagues than you do with your spouse. For me it was enjoyable to come home, though, with the person who understood and supported me.
But the image for my two girls at this point was probably their parents at each others’ throats. Andrea had an innate ability to find the exact buttons to push that would make my blood boil and make me lose all control. She’d shout at me and then tell me not to shout back because the kids would hear. She’d hear our daughter coming into the living room to check on us and throw a verbal jab at me just as she was entering so I’d shout just in time to see my teary-eyed daughter walking around the corner.
Yes. I’m saying my wife, the amazing, beautiful woman I loved, fought dirty and was unfair when she fought with me.
My worry even then was my kids would see my as an angry bully who just shouted when things went wrong. It was even harder when the very raw nerves I tried to cover would be exposed by the person who knew exactly how to dissect my emotional walls and shut down my self-control. I worried about this until my doctor once told me something I had never considered. She asked if I’d ever left saying it was for good or left the house and the kids woke up with Dad not home. I never did. What she said pulled a weight off my shoulders like I was Atlas handing the sphere to Hercules. She said if my kids saw that we ended up together and woke up to see us drinking coffee in the morning or heard us kiss and make up – they heard us communicating. they had an example that we may disagree but we worked it out. I still hate how I reacted to many of those arguments, but I almost felt a sense of accomplishment.
Now, though, I see different visions reflected from my kids’ eyes.
I want very much for the kids to see me as stable. I want them to feel like they have a home, food, money to survive, all of that. No, we’re not rich and I make sure they know we have our hardships – that’s a reality they are old enough to face. Still, I want them to know they have a roof, I have a job, we can eat, we can see an occasional movie, and I treat them to some things here and there. When I feel a wave of grief or something that pulls me under I leave the room. I am fine with them crying or saddened when they think of the loss we faced, but I want them to see me as able to handle that loss and able to prop them up when they need it, not fall apart when they do.
But here’s the thing . . . I still work in an industry where I work with attractive people and meet lots of diverse subjects. I make friends. I still talk with reporters from other markets. I probably have as many female friends as male. I don’t have the Nora Ephron When Harry Met Sally syndrome. Sex isn’t in the way. I’m not looking for a date; I haven’t gone on a date; I’m not sleeping with anyone.
But I’ve seen an odd sort of confusion in my kids the last few months. I had a friend stay in my house. I met a friend for a drink one night. I went to lunch with another. I’ve traded emails, all of that. I have photographer friends from other stations who I’ve met for a beer. I have reporter friend in Dallas who I’ve decided is my little sister even though she’s not related in any way. I write and am friends with Good Enough Mother Rene Syler. More than half are male friends. Many are not.
I try to reassure my kids that I’m painfully resistable. I am overweight – by 28 pounds – at least. I have grey hair. I have wrinkles on my face. I am, at least for awhile still, a bit broken. I lived half my life with the same woman. I’m not jumping into the dating pool. Not now. Not sure when I might if ever. I wonder sometimes if the kids are less worried about my doing something and more worried about my getting hurt.
At the end of the day, I think they know I’m keeping no secrets from them. I have forced no people upon my children. Stability is compromised by secrecy so I keep no secrets from them. If out of the blue one day I decided to go on a date they’d know.
Still, what I have to get across to them – and apparently haven’t gotten across very well – is that as much as I love and adore them; as much as I enjoy and soak in every fraction of every second I get to spend with them, sometimes I need to talk to another adult. Sometimes that adult looks like me. Sometimes they’re younger. They’re always interesting and worthy of my attention because I no longer have the teenage hormonal desire to just hang out in a bar and look for the most attractive person I can find with no thought to their thoughts and opinions. When I get asked “what do you mean it was just the two of you” or “at their house?” or “why are you emailing such-and-such” I see not panic but worry in their eyes.
The thing is, though, sometimes, you need pauses in conversation. Kids aren’t good at that. Sometimes you need to talk to someone who thought they were an outsider in their world, like you did, and didn’t really care what others thought. I thought that sometimes, I don’t believe my kids did . . . which I see as a success in their upbringings. But sometimes, you need an empathetic ear or a strong word or advice. Sometimes it’s a guy. Sometimes it’s a girl.
But sometimes . . . you just need another adult to talk to.