Children of divorce experience varying ranges of emotional challenges as they learn to cope with their new living situations. They have to cope with new living arrangements, possibly seeing dads only on weekends, and maybe getting less attention, or at least a different kind of attention than they’re used to. What we sometimes forget is that some of their childhood innocence also gets stripped away during the divorce. Worse still, if the separation isn’t amicable, it intensifies the loss.
Something that touches me frequently is a memory of my oldest daughter while her mother and I were in the middle of our divorce. She told me on my scheduled Friday night pickup that her bicycle had been stolen from their new neighborhood. My heart broke for her. Because of the financial strain at the time, it wasn’t likely her mother or I would have the funds to purchase another. I still think about that moment and feeling utterly helpless to fix the situation. It was a moment when my daughter had to grow up in an unfortunate way. The stolen bike hurt me in ways my daughter couldn’t even know — not so much because of the loss of property, but because I saw a piece of my daughter’s childhood stripped away.
As a dad with limited custody, I try to be very conscious that in the face of so much change and loss, my kids still need to have the magic of their childhoods preserved in any way possible. Fortunately as dads, we have a secret weapon. We can call upon our inner Peter (Pans) to help us make this possible.
Peter, the boy who never grew up, gives me the validation that even though I’m an adult, the childhood things I still hold dear are important important to me but also important in terms of who I continue to be and what I bring to the lives of my kids.
Here’s how my own inner Peter Pan usually looks: I am a life long geek when it comes to comic books. I collect them (digitally now as I’ve run out of room for printed comics in my house.) I was giddy like a schoolgirl as I watched The Avengers during opening weekend. My office is decorated with toys and paraphernalia from Captain America to Darth Vader. I love animation and still watch cartoons. Video games are a guilty pleasure. My wife and I love Disney movies, have had Disneyland passes for about 6 years now, and honestly can’t imagine not having them.
These are the parts of me that won’t ever grow up. These things keep me young inside while I conduct business or family life. Thankfully, I am not alone. There are many people I encounter during my travels for work that find the same or similar things interesting. Perhaps it’s being a child of the 80’s or perhaps it is just an unwillingness to let go of the past, but in either case, my inner Peter is having a blast!
As a parent, I think I’ve conveyed this to my children very well. They know my obsessions with comics and I’ve already written about my ability to belt out songs from Beauty and the Beast as Gaston while driving down the 405. My hope is that the passion I have for my interests rubs off on them as they grow up. Life can be difficult and the pressures of everyday life can be overwhelming at times, and those things you love to do and enjoy will always be with you and can be a great escape. I think my playfulness helped keep some light and levity in their lives during the divorce, and ever since.
Some of my hopes were realized and fears assuaged in the past few weeks when my kids came for their annual summer trip. My oldest daughter, who just graduated high school, is struggling with the choices before her as she embarks on the next phase of her life. It was a hard trip with many difficult conversations about her options. One evening, she turned to me and said some magic words—”Dad, I need some good comic books to read.” My heart skipped a beat. Could it be? Did she really just say that? With a mischievous smile (and a shadow that must have been bouncing off the walls) I said, come with me. I walked her over to a stack of comics that I had recently read and pulled from it the Avengers #273-277, the very first Avengers story arc (including the very first Avengers comic I ever read and the one that started my collection). She read the five-part story line as the Avengers struggled against the Masters of Evil and when she finished, she really liked it. What more could Peter P…I mean Dad ask for?
As I watch my three youngest (11, almost 4 and 16 months), I wonder what they will carry with them into adulthood. I hope the example I set for them as a parent not only helps them manage the responsibilities of everyday life as competent adults, but that they also take a lesson from my book and keep a little of Peter’s magic inside their hearts.