For many years we have discussed this fact, my eldest daughter and I. The time when I was utterly a broken man, and she, at eleven years of age, was part of my support. Oh, I had my parents, my newfound friends at AA, two sponsors, and others, but the truth was, when I cared for my three daughters, my eldest daughter, and perhaps to a degree my middle daughter too, often propped me up emotionally when life was brutally tough and just too hard.
The process of grief lasted at least a year, but was interspersed with much growth. But there were inevitably times when I was still so enamoured with the life I’d had that had come to an end. I very much understand the enormous challenges single dads face, not that I didn’t see I had changes I needed to make.
Yet, there she was, my eleven-year-old. In many ways, when my first marriage dissolved, so did her childhood. I’ll never forget the single tear that rolled down her cheek the day I had to break the news. I had made a promise that as it worked out, I couldn’t keep. I would never have ended the marriage, but, as it worked out, the marriage was ending.
The ensuing months I made dramatic changes. Quit drinking and every other problematic habit. Committed my life to God. Gave much of what I had away. Devoted my life to service. Received the call of God. I was a transformed person. But the marriage was over. It wasn’t too little, but it was too late. And I wasn’t the only one picking up the pieces.
I did become the kind of father I always wanted to become, indeed a father I probably couldn’t have been in that marriage. But I did rely on my older daughters, particularly my eldest, too much. My eldest was required to take on too much for someone her age. And I wasn’t the only adult to fail her at that point in her life.
Probably the worst of it is the fact that after three years of grieving and recovering, when I was finally in a position to embrace love, marrying again meant even more change for my then fourteen-year-old eldest daughter. Again, she was required to change. I faced grief in the changes that were forced upon me, but her grief was a vicarious one. She was a reluctant and quite innocent a victim, as children are.
We tend to think and say, “Well, they’re children, and they’ll be fine; children are resilient, don’t you know?!” It’s a cop out for the abuse adults do to children. And the cycle continues when those children become adults if they don’t recognise it must stop with them.
My daughter’s grandmother (my mother) has been a saving grace all the way through. They have about as close a bond as any grandmother and grandchild could. And this is not said in any other way than to point out that they have been there for each other at the depths. My mother has been there for my eldest daughter when I couldn’t be. I’m eternally thankful for that!
Why do I write this? There are times in many of our lives when our children, or one of them, is required to do more than their age ought to require of them. Whether it’s in broken families or in those apparently together, these dynamics can happen — where parent becomes “a friend” to their child in order that they might be assisted to cope. And whether it happens or not is not so much the point. The point is it’s unfair on the child. They lose part of their childhood (or the whole thing), because they’ve busy doing a role they’re not ready for.
I don’t know how to compensate for this other than to be honest. I trust that in being transparent some healing is still available. And that’s my prayer.