Divorce is a terrible time in anyone’s life but especially for children. It’s very easy to get wrapped up in your own pain as your life disintegrates and lose track of the real victims—your kids.
Fortunately, that hit home for me early in the process rather than later. My wife of eleven years was moving out after I discovered she was having an affair, she was going to pursue her new life because the old one “isn’t working for me anymore.” I was caught completely off guard, you’ve heard it before; I was the last to know.
When I did find out it was worse than I thought. He turned out to be a parking attendant—a beer bellied, Harley riding, parking attendant. I was a clean cut family man, an airline pilot (I hear you, but I was a faithful airline pilot!) and hands on dad—hey, I changed diapers and did the 3am feedings. It was a blow to be traded in that way; what about a doctor, a lawyer or even someone younger or taller—give my ego something to work with!
I was hurting as a man, but one day while we were all in the car she started screaming at me, completely losing it in front of the kids, all about how I was in the way of her moving on with her man and her new life. I asked her to calm down—not in front of the kids! It wasn’t until I looked back at my children that it really hit home.
I’ll never, ever, ever forget the terrified expressions on their faces—never. My son had just turned five. My beautiful daughter was just shy of four. Their eyes were wide as saucers, their lips quivered and they shrank back in their car seats as far as they possibly could. Their entire world was collapsing in front of their eyes and they didn’t understand why—how could they?
I got it. Who cares if he’s a Parking Attendant or a Doctor? I’m a big boy; I can take rejection, (High School saw to that) but my kids, no, they don’t deserve that.
Unable to calm my wife down, I got the kids out of the car, one in each arm, and I held them close until they settled down. Right there I knew what I needed to do—the divorce would take care of itself, I needed to take care of my kids.
What should I do? How do I support them, make them feel safe and give them some confidence at a time when all the experts said they’d be blaming themselves? I thought back to when I was their age and some of the things my parents did with me and my siblings.
I remembered Jack and the Beanstalk.
My dad used to read us Jack and the Beanstalk during the cold winter evenings in Minnesota. As he read, we would act out the adventure of Jack. We’d climb the Beanstalk, sneak around the castle and run from the giant with the goose in our arms—it was great fun. Unfortunately, it was one story. I thought of doing the Grimm Fairy Tales but not all of them are suited for a boy and a girl to feel involved—besides, there’s no way I could use Hansel and Gretel!
Then it struck me. Hey, I write adventure books, why not write a book for my kids where they were the main characters? So, I talked to them about who they’d want to be in my fantasy world. My son wanted to be a wizard and cast fire spells. My daughter loves animals and unicorns especially; she became a druid with a unicorn as her best friend. With that my book The Primordial Flame was borne.
I’d write chapters at night when they were asleep or in the hotel during my trips. After dinner, I’d read the chapters and the kids would act them out, learning the spells in Latin and everything else. It was escapism, and it got their minds off things for a bit, but I also took the opportunity to put some lessons in the material. I stressed self-confidence and I wanted them to know that whatever happened in the world of adults they were loved.
Nothing that you do as a parent can take away the hurt and fear of something like a divorce, but the more time you spend with your kids doing stuff they want to do the better off you’ll both be. Let them have your time and let them have control over that time; it may be the only thing they have control of in their lives during this difficult time.
We created some lifelong memories with The Primordial Flame, but it also caused problems. As the kids grew older they each wanted their own books. Being the dutiful Dad, I hammered out a dinosaur book about a little Tyrannosaurus for my daughter called Lone Pup and a science fiction adventure for my son called the Methuselan Circuit. It’s been fun, but of course now they want sequels. I’ve agreed, so long as they’ll help edit their books—I hope they don’t discover how much editors get paid!
Christopher L. Anderson is a husband and a proud father of two kids. With everything else he’s done in his life, being a rocket scientist–literally, a USAF Officer, B-52 Commander, Research Pilot, working for NASA, flying for the airlines, being active in the Church and during all that becoming an established Author, well, it all comes back to the basics, to the foundation of being a husband and a father.