I often struggled to connect with my dad as a child. Emotionally distant, he worked long hours and avoided many moments of vulnerability with me. It took my parent’s heartbreaking divorce for my dad to realize he would lose me if he didn’t change. With the help of a therapist and a sincere desire to improve, my dad’s efforts to be there for me have led him to now become one of my best friends.
As he learned, sometimes it takes a tremendous hardship to realize you need to make a change. Actor and father of six Brad Pitt can relate, as he recently opened up about his own personal struggles to be there for his kids during his painful divorce from wife Angelina Jolie.
In a recent GQ interview, Pitt gets real about the personal demons he’s faced in the months since their split. After divorcing from Jolie in September 2016 and fighting for joint custody of his kids, Pitt chose to seek out therapy and substance abuse counseling to better himself. He credits these outlets with helping him learn to be vulnerable with his children during an incredibly tough time.
“I come from a place where, you know, it’s strength if we get a bruise or cut or ailment — we don’t discuss it, we just deal with it. We just go on. The downside of that is it’s the same with our emotion,” he tells GQ. “And it’s hit me smack in the face with our divorce: I gotta be more. I gotta be more for them. I have to show them. And I haven’t been great at it.”
Being there for his children is something Pitt wants to make top priority in his life now. He’s seen firsthand the negative impact too much work has had on his ability to parent wholeheartedly, and he seems ready to make a positive change for his kids.
“People on their deathbeds don’t talk about what they obtained or were awarded. They talk about their loved ones or their regrets — that seems to be the menu. I say that as someone who’s let the work take me away,” he explains. “Kids are so delicate. They absorb everything. They need to have their hand held and things explained. They need to be listened to. When I get in that busy work mode, I’m not hearing. I want to be better at that.”
This isn’t the first time Pitt has publicly spoken about the responsibilities of being a dedicated father. Back in 2014, he talked about the joys of parenthood with Psychologies Magazine. “I care about them more than I care about myself, which I think is the real definition of love,” he shares. “You see past yourself and become more generous and giving, and wanting only the best for your family.”
While they have rarely seen eye-to-eye during this tremendously difficult time, one thing is for sure — both Pitt and Jolie now want to keep their family as united as possible. Jolie made that intention clear when she spoke with BBC News in February, stating, “We are and forever will be a family and so that is how I am coping. I am coping with finding a way through to make sure that this somehow makes us stronger and closer.”
Pitt shares the sentiment, telling GQ that they are both doing their best to maintain a sense of peace amidst the chaos of their separation. He notes the harmful effect custody court battles have on two estranged parents.
“It’s just very, very jarring for the kids, to suddenly have their family ripped apart,” he says. “If anyone can make sense of it, we have to with great care and delicacy, building everything around that … Our focus is that everyone comes out stronger and better people — there is no other outcome.”
Pitt’s bittersweet journey is one many divorced parents can relate to. For those out there struggling, he provides a humble example of a father wanting to show up for his kids in any way he can. And for the children coping with the turbulent changes of divorce, Pitt reminds parents how vital it is to be our best selves as we care for our kids in these trying moments.
Witnessing my own father’s journey of self-improvement has allowed me to love him more deeply than I ever knew I could. And while extremely painful, I came out of my parents’ divorce stronger and more connected to my dad because he chose to see his own failings and do the work to change himself.
When celebrities like Brad Pitt choose to reveal the honest challenges that divorce brings, it helps us all be stronger and more loving parents in the process. And as he continues to share those obstacles, our hearts are with him, cheering him on as he learns how to become a better dad.