Separated Dad. By Joel Schwartzberg. On


Father’s Day

One night in the life of a custody arrangement. by Joel Schwartzberg

June 16, 2010


I remind the kids that, while other things in life may change, even crumble, a parent’s love never does. The words sound pathetically trite in my head, but it’s the most important thing to convey: not what changes, but what doesn’t. Two homes. Eternal love. Endless Cheerios.

As the words come out, they sound shockingly true. I realize that, for the first time, I’m confident in my fatherhood. I’ve weaned myself from my parents’, my ex-wife’s and even Dr. Phil’s parental expectations. I’ve finally located my inner parent, the one who tells me when it’s okay to let my son stay up late, and when it’s not; when it’s appropriate to be interrupted on the phone by a whining daughter, and when it’s not; when a tense situation calls for stern and consistent rules, or just an all-out, no-shoes family wrestling match.

It took divorce to make me a better father, which is not how anyone told me it would turn out. In the first few weeks of the separation, feeling I had lost all sense of direction in my own life, I turned not to therapy, but to Google:

“Fathers and divorce”

“Children of divorceAccording to almost every web resource on the subject, divorce drives kids bonkers and parents to the poorhouse.

“Separated Dads”

What came back was a chorus of single-minded, righteous advice: DON’T DO IT. Think it’ll be better for the kids? WRONG. Think you’ll now find the true girl of your dreams? KEEP DREAMING. Think it’ll make you a better parent? NOT ON YOUR LIFE. According to almost every web resource on the subject, divorce drives kids bonkers and parents to the poorhouse.

Yet, over a year later, I don’t feel emotionally, financially or parentally bereft. My children are thrilled to see me when I pick them up, and just as excited to return home and share their adventures. There’s no dark cloud between me and my ex, even when the kids are out of earshot. And my young daughter’s innocent questions have quickly evolved from sad whine to curious query. Talking with them may be awkward, but so far there’s been no need for a swooping psychiatric cavalry.

“Dad, let’s play pod-racer,” says my son a few miles from my garden apartment.