Piece by Piece

Piece by piece I fell far from the tree. I will never leave her like you left me. And she will never have to wonder her worth because unlike you I’m gonna put her first. – “Piece by Piece,” Kelly Clarkson

Of all the terrible things that came with and from my relationship with The Ex, the best thing that I got was The Kid. I met her when she was 18 months old, and now she’s almost seven. Seven!?! She’s like a little adult. It kind of freaks me out.

The Ex and I were together for two years, and during that time The Kid stayed with us in the mornings and every other weekend. I was nervous at first, as I never had a good example of a second parent in my life. My Bio Dad left when I was two and I didn’t meet him until I was 11. My Step-Dad came along when I was seven, and we didn’t get along until I was in my early 30s. So needless to say, I had no idea what I was doing.

Some things came naturally, like not letting her pull the TV on top of herself and not letting her walk in public without holding a hand. Some things I wasn’t good at, like playing dolls, fixing her hair or having a pretend tea party. I liked playing with her at the park or having snowball fights, but the “girly” things just… aren’t me.

But I fell in love with that kid. We had to fight for her a few times when The Ex and The Kid’s Bio Mom would go at each other and The Kid would be taken away for a few days or weeks. And as my relationship with The Ex fell apart, I had to beg and plead to see The Kid even once a week. Talk about not knowing how much you love someone until they are taken from you. I went from seeing her every day to barely seeing her at all, and I realized how much I wanted her in my life. It was tough. I had to bargain with The Ex, who had moved on to someone else and was beginning to hate me, and with The Kid’s Bio Mom, who (rightfully so) began disliking me and had moved to tolerating me and eventually trying to be friends with me. It was a delicate balance, as I had no real claim to The Kid, and nearly nothing to bargain with.

I got to see The Kid the Christmas after The Ex and I split for about two hours, which required me to first go to The Ex’s new home with her fiancée, then take her to my extremely conservative Christian mother’s house alone, then drop her off with her Bio Mom and Step-Mom. It was a tough day. I was thankful for whatever time I got with her and tried to make the most of it, but I kept thinking how hard holidays like this must be for divorced parents and split families. Even my mom mentioned maybe we should all separate ourselves from The Kid because it didn’t look like The Ex was going to let me stay in her life, and it would be easier than all of us getting our hearts broken when she was taken away. That crushed me.

He’ll never walk away. He’ll never break her heart. He’ll take care of things, he’ll love her. Piece by piece he restored my faith that a man can be kind and a father should be great.

My Bio Dad had never been involved in my life. I think I was about 13 when I received the same present two years in a row for my birthday, one which wasn’t “me” at all, and I realized that he really didn’t care about me. So I made the decision to stop caring and detach. Now, I can fully and honestly say that I just don’t care. His actions, or lack of them, no longer bother or concern me in the slightest. It has been very freeing. And I’m sure his decision to let me go was freeing for him as well.I will never forget the night I made the decision to not be like him when it came to The Kid. I took her to Chuck E. Cheese by myself for dinner and games, which was the first time I had done something like that with her alone. After we ate she played games and climbed through tunnels, and I watched her intently. In those moments I experienced a flood of different emotions; sadness at being alone, thankfulness for getting to spend time with The Kid, anger at having to be, in essence, a single divorced parent, loneliness, embarrassment, confusion. And through those emotions I, for the first time, could understand why my Bio Dad made the decisions he had made. Why he had chosen to live across the country instead of moving to be closer to me when I was a baby. Why he had stopped acknowledging my existence and quit sending gifts or calling me. Why he just stopped trying to be a parent or have any relationship with me at all. Because that flood of emotions was overwhelming, and I knew how difficult it had been and would continue to be to stay in The Kid’s life. And I finally understood why he chose the easy way out, the path of least resistance. I’m sure it probably ate at him a little bit, but in the end it was easier to bail. Much easier to walk away than have to continually make the choice to be there through whatever shit had to be dealt with. Easier to stop caring than to care so much you get hurt over and over again to prove to your child that you love them and will be there no matter what. And I made the decision in that very moment that I would never make her feel the way he made me feel- unwanted.

I’m not excusing his decisions, but I do understand them now. And for the first time I could view my Bio Dad as a human being who made a series of bad decisions that affected my entire life. And for the first time I knew that I would never be like him. I chose her, and continue to do so, no matter what life throws at either one of us.

I explained my decision to my mother, who told me she had never been more proud of me and the efforts I had made to build a relationship with The Kid. The Kid’s Bio Mom and I have a great working relationship now, and she, too, has commented on the impact my decision has had. The Ex is out of The Kid’s life, for reasons I will probably explain later. But she chose to leave, and I chose to stay. And as hard as it was, and is sometimes, I know deep down that its the best decision I’ve ever made.

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