This is a chapter extracted from Father’s Day. If you don’t want for your children to be delivered to the tender mercies of Family Court, you should be working through this book chapter by chapter.
10. The Long GoodbyeLet’s take a close look at the Maybe family.
I don’t love everything about social media, but I love looking at other people’s family photos. So here are the Maybes, as best we can imagine them, all dressed up in their holiday best. Little Junior is a stoic, isn’t he? That tight-pursed line of his mouth, razor sharp and perfectly level to the ground, is his way of telling the world how much he hates his situation and his powerlessness to change it. His little sister Sally looks scared and needy, and she’s already puffing out from the cookies and candy she wolfs down when no one is watching. Mom is even puffier and even needier, but she is less scared than angry. And there’s Dad, showing each one of those emotions – fear, anger, need – with Junior’s tight-pursed mouth surmounted by a thousand-yard glare, resentment masked as indifference.
Am I getting the details wrong, dude? Dang. Tell me what your mouth looks like in photos. Mister Married has a warm, gentle smile that he wears almost all the time. Mister Divorced has a big fake grin that he flashes in any photo he lets anyone see. What does Mister Maybe’s face look like? What does your face look like? How about your wife’s? What do your children’s faces look like in photographs?
And am I being too hard on you, Dad? Too soft on Mom? She doesn’t think so. But unless she’s cheating on you or is in some other way doing you dirt, unless she’s beating on you or the kids, whatever beefs you may have with her are beside the point. You are in default in just the same way that the owner of a failing business is in default. Whatever you might be doing instead, you are not doing what you promised to do from the very first day of your relationship with your wife: You are not leading her and your children where all of you should be going.Call it the runaway minivan or call it the long, slow goodbye, you are checked out on the way to being moved out.
At this point, we might expect to hear men lamenting their awful fate under the unfair divorce laws. I do agree these laws are unfair, but I also think that’s beside the point. If Mister Maybe plays chicken long enough to become yet another Mister Divorced, he will be voluntarily delivering his family into the flesh-thresher that is family court. Mister Married has never had any reason to fear divorce. And, while there is no accounting for crazy, it is absurd to argue that a woman marries in order to divorce, so that she might be publicly accounted a failure and so she and everyone will know that she voluntarily robbed her children of their father. I’m not absolving her for doing this in the end, mind you, but it truly is the end, not the weapon of first resort men seek to portray it as.
And the next move would be to dismiss this argument as being in some way religious. I am an atheist, for what that’s worth, but my position is parallel in many ways to more-traditional creeds. The feminist position – the source of those man-hostile, kid-destroying divorce laws – is anti-family: From promiscuity to abortion to tax-subsidized matriarchy to the psycho-industrial complex, the health of feminism is the destruction of the family. Fatherless families need government the most, so, unsurprisingly, the government works night and day to create more fatherless families and to rob children of the fathers they might already, accidentally have.
I am not religious, but it’s good odds the Marrieds are, and good odds the Divorceds are not. What I am is morally-serious, and so is anyone who successfully manages anything. As much as you might want to skate on your responsibilities, Dad, as much as you might want to gripe that the state has overburdened you or the church just doesn’t get it, it remains that your marriage and family are yours, first, always and uniquely. Yours to cultivate or to neglect. Yours to delight in or to despair over. Yours to keep – or to lose forever.
You can’t have Mister Married’s life without living life his way – without embracing your wife as the irreplaceable treasure she is, without making sure your children know how to live a life twice as admirable as your own. But you can’t even have Mister Maybe’s life for long. You will either take back the wheel of that runaway minivan or it is going to crash. The long goodbye may last one year or ten, but since she cannot lead you, your marriage must wreck eventually.
If you won’t drive your family, no one else can do it in your place. You are the leader of your family and you are the only leader of your family. When you pull away from that responsibility to lead, when you withdraw in fear or pain, when you evade anything you can’t successfully avoid, when you dither instead of doing or stew silently about who should be doing what, when you leave her by not-leaving-her, when you break up by means of ever-lengthening silences – you are promising to break your promises to her and to your children. The fear and doubt and anger and mistrust you see in your family photos – you put it there, and only you can get it out.
While he is still around, the man is always leading his family – even when he’s leading them all to their ruin.