My first marriage was a dreadful mistake. We “had” to get married. But we were desperately young and didn’t even know who we were yet. And it became immediately clear that whoever we were (or whoever we were on our way to being), we were two people who had absolutely no business being together. For one thing we both wanted something completely different out of life. This made us resent each other bitterly. But no matter how hard you try, you can’t make someone else want the same things you do. Just like you can’t live your own life according to someone else’s expectations. In my opinion, it’s folly even to consider it. But as I said, we were young.
The wedding was a dismal civil ceremony. That night, we went to my band practice and the guitar player gave us a bag of weed for a wedding present.
We ended up living with her mom and step-dad, which, I probably don’t have to tell you, was a tad tense. I remember coming home drunk one night and falling on my mother-in-law, who was sleeping on the couch at the time. I felt trapped, constantly scrutinized, and I resisted all attempts to domesticate me.
By the time my first son was born we had our own apartment. I tried to be a good dad, painted a picture of Raggedy Andy on the nursery wall, quit playing music, and went to work in a factory every day (mostly). But my heart wasn’t in it.
So I escaped. I joined the Navy on the pretense that I needed steady work, since the factory kept laying me off. But joining the military as a remedy for my ills was like removing a wart with a shotgun. I eventually brought my wife and young son out to California, where we lived together briefly in a decrepit little trailer. She hated being there, and the feeling was mutual. Finally she fled back to Indiana. Soon after I received word that she was pregnant with our second son. I got through my tour of duty and came home with an honorable discharge. But by that time I was divorced.
I hardly saw my sons after that. I have no excuse, really, only a reason. There was so much animosity left over after the disaster of my marriage that I found it abhorrent to be in the same room with my ex-wife (not to mention her family, who were there much of the time). I know that’s nothing new in the history of wrecked marriages, but it was a first for me. When I showed up to collect the boys, her family’s thinly-veiled scorn for me was like standing in front of a blast furnace. It turned me into a coward. Or rather it brought the coward out of me.
After a while it became a moot point, because she remarried and moved away, taking the boys with her. I hated myself for years after that, for allowing my weakness to best the love I had for my sons. I cried for them more times than I can count, which I know doesn’t account for much.
My sons are grown now, with kids of their own, and they’re each a better dad than I—or my father—ever was. I don’t think they realize how extremely proud I am of them, or how much I love them. Because my actions over the years have shown otherwise, and actions speak louder than words, which can be cheap.
I have a friend who’s raising two sons in Hawaii. She’s the most wonderful mom! I look at her frequent Facebook posts and marvel at the love and affection she showers on those beautiful boys. And I think of my own sons and say to myself, if only.
If I had it to do over again, I’d do things a lot differently. I’d be a better man than I was the first time around. I wouldn’t make those same mistakes. My first marriage (like a number of other things in my life) was something I handled badly.
But my sons are the best thing I’ve ever done, or ever will do.