I was five when my parents divorced, and apart from a few months in 7th grade, I never lived in the same city as my Dad again.
There are so many ways that story could have gone. We could have been the kids who told of a Dad-less childhood, or ones whose Dad—discouraged by distance—took less and less of an interest in their lives as the years went by. For so many, divorce has meant Dad-less children. I am thankful this was not our story.
If anything, the divorce made my Dad a better father. He would no longer be able to rely on snatches of conversation over a meal or being able to keep with us on the occasional car ride to school. He could no longer be an “accidental” parent, hoping to catch significant moments during the routines of the week. Instead, the divorce meant my Dad would have to choose what kind of parent he would be: if he was going to remain involved with us, it would have to be intentional. He would have to make those two weekends a month count. He would have to conquer his general dislike of telephone conversation and his particular dislike of the inanity of toddler-speak, and pick up the phone to stay in touch. With no more quantity time on his hands, he would have to choose quality time.
It cost my Dad to remain close over distance: he paid long-distance phone bills, he paid for gas to drive the four hour round trip to pick us up, and—when we were old enough—for Greyhound bus tickets for us to make the trip. With money too tight to be able to treat us to fancy vacations, he bought a budget tent and decided now would be a good time for him to develop a love of camping. This was no small feat: there was one weekend when it rained on us for 48 hours and he huddled with three kids under 8 under a shelter trying to fix a meal over a camp stove without asphyxiating us on the fumes. My Dad did not love camping, but he loved being together with us; and so together we all learned to love camping.
Despite the distance, my Dad put the effort in to stay close to us when we lived two hours away, and then four hours away, and then–when I went to college—sixteen hours away. His long habit of staying in touch paid off, and in my early twenties we were in enough of a habit of chatting that I’d call him just to say hi whenever I was somewhere new and fun: “Guess where I am now? I’m at the top of Table Mountain. Guess where I am today? At a music festival!”
A few years later my dad moved to another country, and ten years after that, I moved internationally too. We live on the opposite sides of the globe now, but a lifetime of intentionally staying in touch has paid off: we were early and regular Skype users, and remain so to this day.
I now have three kids of my own, and am lucky enough to share the parenting with a very committed husband and Dad; but in our immediate community we have seen a number of marriages crumble, and the parents are often in crisis: if we split up, does this mean our kids will lose their father? And from the dads: does divorce mean losing my kids?
I invite these friends over and tell them my story: no, divorce doesn’t have to mean your children will be dad-less or you, child-less. What it does mean is that you will need to up your game of intentional parenting. You will need to choose to stay close whatever the distance: it will take time, it will involve cost, but as someone who lived on the receiving end of a divorced Dad who made those choices, I want to assure you: it will be worth it.