On Sunday August 8, my mother-in-law, my wife, our three kids and I went out for Chinese dinner.
While we were waiting for the food to arrive, which was not long, a fight erupted at the table between our middle kid John (12) and his mother. Until recently (i.e. puberty) John had been a parent's dream. Now he never has anything positive to say and complains constantly. The fight began because my wife Gabbie told John she was fed up with his bad attitude.
In mere minutes, the fight turned into the three kids against their mother. "She's too critical, she complains all the time, she's too stressed."
In an effort to encourage the kids (10, 12 & 16) to be respectful to their mother, especially while in a crowded restaurant, I said, "You all need to think about how you're talking to your mother. You're being very disrespectful and that's not acceptable. And think about this: what if one day she's not here? What if she gets run over by a bus tomorrow? OR," and now I was thinking about a threat Gabbie had several times made to me, "what if she decides to move out of the house because she doesn't want to be treated this way by you three?"
Before the kids could reply, Gabbie jumped in. "Yes, that's exactly what I'm going to do! As soon as I get home, I am packing up my suitcase and I am moving out. I will not be treated this way."
Most kids, especially younger kids, would have fallen to pieces had their mother threatened to move out. Not mine. They said nothing. The dinner progressed with a very subdued, awkward tone.
True to her word, the minute we got home Gabbie pulled out a very large suitcase and started filling it.
It was an odd feeling for me, watching her pack. Just days before I had fantasized about almost exactly the scenario that was unfolding. At that time I wondered if I had a serious talk with Gabbie and gave her the option to leave, if she would take it. Apparently, I had my answer.
Once she was packed I drove her to her mother's house, less than a mile away.
The first 48 hours Gabbie was gone were very typical. She is often out of the house so her absence didn't seem odd. The main difference for me was that after the dinner clean-up at home, I went to Gabbie's mother's house to spend two hours with Gabbie - and her mother.
When I arrived Gabbie asked me about the kids, "Do they miss me?"
I didn't want to lie so I said, "They don't think you're serious. John predicted you'd be back in two days." That challenge seemed to double Gabbie's resolve to stay away as long as possible.
By day three reality began to set-in. At least for me.
In my "Gabbie-packs-her-bags-and-leaves" fantasy, I imagined that her departure would enable me to start dating men. But as I faced the reality of working and taking care of the kids and the house alone, I realized that it would be almost impossible to see anyone during the week. I had maybe an hour between finishing the dinner dishes and getting the kids to bed.
So I started to think about the weekends, how would they work?
Gabbie wants to be free of her parenting responsibilities so it isn't likely that she would be taking the kids every other weekend like most divorced couples do. And although I could leave the kids alone for an extended time for part of a weekend, I certainly couldn't be absent an entire weekend.
The reality, I realized, is that the most I could expect to regularly see a guy is twice a week. Maybe a Friday night and part of a Saturday or a Sunday. The rest of the weekend I would need to be with the kids.
Part of two days a week is not exactly an ideal dating schedule for a single gay man.
By the fourth night of Gabbie's absence, more reality crept in.
Although I can run all aspects of the house and the kids' lives for an extended period of time, this was the first time that I felt the full weight of unending sole responsibility. Every detail fell to me and only me. The burden wasn't overwhelming but it was draining. And more than anything, it made me feel isolated and lonely.
As the days passed, it was clear that I was the only one having second thoughts about Gabbie's departure. The kids didn't seem to care. Every day I'd ask them if they thought mom was going to come home or not and they'd individually give unemotional answers. Even my daughter, the ten year old, surprised me when she said, "I'm glad mom's gone. I get to spend more time with daddy!" Huh? All we do is spend time together!
Gabbie wasn't complaining either. I went to visit her every night for an hour or two and she'd say, "I'm sleeping better than I have in a long time!" or "I feel so relaxed!" The only thing about the arrangement that made Gabbie unhappy was that the kids didn't seem to care that she was gone. On the fifth day she said, "At least I know how they really feel. If I did move out, they really wouldn't care."
Other than me, the person most upset about Gabbie's departure was her mother. "I don't why she's here, this is a stupid idea."
It was her mother who brought an end to Gabbie's escape. On Friday she told Gabbie she couldn't stay with her any longer. I brought Gabbie and her very large suitcase home on Friday night.
The kids greeted her happily enough - as if they had least seen her an hour before - even though it had been five full days.
Gabbie's return was somewhat tenuous. Several times she said she wished she could afford a hotel room, or, that she could find an apartment. Her wishes made me wonder if my off-the-cuff remark at a family dinner could become the opening that Gabbie had long been wanting - an opening that would ultimately result in the unraveling of my 20 year marriage.
Now, two weeks later, I can't help but wonder if this incident will fore-shadow the future. Both Gabbie and I now think we know that the kids will be ok if she left. Because she wants to leave and I want the chance to date men, in some respects it looks like a win-win-win for everyone.
The thing is, now that I've had a small taste of my potential future, I'm not so anxious for more. The reality is that I'm 44. I live and work in a suburb - there aren't many (any?) datable men nearby. I'd be a full-time single parent raising three kids, with limited ability to date. Add in the fact that I'm not interested in casual sexual relationships and there can be little doubt that in the gay world, I'm about as desirable as a turnip.
Immediately after I first had the revelation that I might be better off NOT getting what I wanted, I told myself to get a grip. Surely there have been plenty of divorced men with kids who have been able to date and eventually meet someone.
I started to think about all the divorced guys I know, both straight and gay. I thought about quite a few bloggers. But the thing is, I only know one man who is a single parent, raising kids alone. That's Rob at Below the Radar.
If you read his blog, you can see what his dating experiences have been like. He's been single for roughly eight years and he's a nice, intelligent, good looking guy - very eligible and desirable. Yet, after all this time he's still single.
Until two weeks ago I couldn't understand why. But now that I've had a taste of full-time single parenthood I have begun to realize just how difficult it must be to meet someone and keep a relationship going.
I wouldn't trade my kids for anything, but the fact is, when it comes to dating, they represent a whole lot of baggage.
It's unsettling to realize, but at this point I can't see much advantage to being a single, full-time parent.
Now that my best fantasy has lost its luster, the future I see ahead of me is more of the same, treading water, going no where; a wife who doesn't want sex and who would rather be out socializing, avoiding all responsibilities; three kids who only think about themselves; and me, a gay man sitting at home, watching the weeks, months and years tick past.
Damn, I haven't been depressed in years but the future seems so unappealing, I just can't help but to be discouraged. If anyone can offer a few encouraging words, I'd sure be happy to hear them.