When I was a little girl, I learned a lesson that’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life– that parents can have meaningful relationships with their children despite the obstacles life puts in their way.
I was 9 years old. My parents were divorced and this was my weekend to be home with Mom. We spent the day working on my closet. My mother and father were both disorganized but disorganized in very different ways so I guess I inherited a “double genetic dose” as a result!
My father’s spaces were always cluttered. There wasn’t a corner or crevice in his home that didn’t contain a book, magic trick, or cherished memento. But, no matter how much stuff there was, he knew where everything he needed was… his financial papers, his work documents, and his books. Within his mess there was order
On the other hand, my mother’s home looked impeccable, but she never knew where anything was! Her approach was to put everything in boxes and line them up so everything looked neat. Then she planned to go through the boxes to see what to keep and what to toss later. But with three children to raise, “later” rarely came.
Mom and I sat cross legged on the floor, stuffing my stuff in boxes and placing them in rows, hanging up all my clothes, lining up my shoes and lovingly placing my dolls and their clothes in boxes. It had been a long day but the result was worth it. I was proud!
The phone rang.
“Hi mi amor!” My dad said, enthusiastically.
I was always excited to hear my dad’s voice, but today I couldn’t wait to share my accomplishments.
“How are you? How was your day?” he asked.
“Great Dad! Guess what we did.”
“What?” he matched my excitement.
“My mom and I organized my closet! I have all my toys in pretty boxes. My clothes and shoes are all neat. It looks awesome!”
My voice changed when I remembered the rules. See, I had a stepdad and he didn’t allow my dad to come into my house. My mom (who is an angel) had to deal with his tough personality. One of the accommodations she made was to get me my own private phone line so my dad and I could talk whenever we wanted.
“I wish you could see it, Dad, but I know you can’t come into my house.”
Hearing the sadness in my voice, Dad responded, “My love, I wish I could see it too but I’m sure it looks great. Tell me more about it.”
I was a little girl living in a different home than her father did, a little girl who wanted him to be there with her when he couldn’t be. It wasn’t fair! I didn’t ask my parents to get divorced. And I didn’t understand why my dad couldn’t come in my house. But I wasn’t one to nag so I tried to let it go.
We chatted a little while longer and then my dad said, “Ok mi amor, you’ve got school tomorrow so you need to get ready for bed. Sleep with the angels, my love. I will call you tomorrow.”
“Okay daddy, goodnight.”
“Love you!” (My dad always ended a conversation with an “I love you”.)
“I love you too.”
I showered, brushed my teeth, pulled on my pajamas, kissed my mom goodnight, and headed back to my room to watch TV.
Suddenly there was a tap on my window. It freaked me out, actually. I stood on my bed and leaned over my headboard to peer out. There was a face staring back at me! I didn’t know whether to scream or run. But then I recognized my father’s large hand waving from side to side and zoomed in on his unmistakable smile.
I pulled up the blinds and opened the window.
“Dad, what are you doing here?”
He chuckled, “Just because I can’t come in your house doesn’t mean I can’t see your closet. Come on, show me!”
I jumped out of bed, slid the closet doors open, and showed my dad all my orderly boxes, tidy clothes and neat shoes a la Vanna White. Smiling, he gave his signature” thumbs up!”
I jumped back on my bed, stood on my tippy toes and pressed my lips against the screen. Dad pressed his lips against the screen on the other side and gave me a kiss. “I love you, mi cielo. And, I love your closet. Now get to sleep so you can rest.”
Happy, I closed my window, let down the blinds, climbed into bed and drifted off to sleep. It had only taken thirty seconds for Dad to see my closet through the window, but the memory of his being there for me, in that moment, will be etched in my heart forever.
A MOMENT OF CLARITY
Divorce doesn’t have to destroy your relationships with your kids. You may have to show up in creative ways. You may have to overcome some obstacles. But you can always Be There Even When You’re Not.