Ken’s Hopes for Parents in Pain During the Holidays

For the holidays, I decided to unwrap a personal wound to support divorced parents everywhere whose relationship with their children brings them a sadness that only parents can know.

I have my share of emotional scar tissue from 60 years of life. I carry my pain well, I hope, after years of devotion to finding an emotionally healthy, insightful approach to life’s challenges. My path started, and continues, with honesty about myself, and a generous dose of humor to ease the discomfort of confronting my weaknesses. I use these qualities almost interchangeably. As my friends and family will attest, unfailingly, there is humor in my honesty and a measure of honesty in most of my humor.

The truth is that I struggle each day under the weight of emotional scars from my childhood and my adult life. I am a broken man, and I don’t pretend otherwise. And this very acknowledgement helps me grow, day by day, into a better human being. Over time, I developed a simple life philosophy: I am not entitled to hold my head high unless I first hold myself accountable and work to make changes when I fall short of expectations for myself. Essentially, I challenge myself daily to earn the right to feel good about who I am.

I have stumbled badly at times. My most painful failure in life was the loss of my first marriage. I married a good woman, and an even better mother, but when I realized that we were not the best fit for each other, I grew unhappier. I became depressed about my future. More importantly, my unhappiness pitted my primal instinct to protect my daughters, no matter the sacrifice to me, against my deeply held desire to be happy as an individual. The clash of these two fundamental values, and my sense of duty, posed the most significant moral challenge of my life.

Ultimately, I failed the Sophie’s Choice type test. I was selfish — and in my selfishness, I lost my young daughters to the East Coast when my ex-wife remarried and relocated. In retrospect, the decision may forever test my life approach to holding myself accountable. For many years, not a day went by where I didn’t ask myself if I made the right choice. The price of my selfishness has been high — and painful, especially during the holidays when the focus on family is perhaps strongest. Twelve years have passed and I have not spent any of the holidays with my daughters since. The pain cuts deep, but the guilt cuts even deeper. In my heart, I know that I made the right decision for my happiness. Part of me, however, will always feel that I should have sacrificed myself for my daughters. They deserved a better childhood than I had, and certainly better than I provided.

I know that I am not alone with my feelings and thoughts. I am no different than many divorced parents who struggle with the same issues, and now live with the consequences. Fortunately, I remarried well, beyond well actually, as did my ex-wife. I could not ask for a better life partner than my wife, Lisa, who brings sunshine to my day each and every day. I look forward to the rest of my life as never before. But nonetheless, the pain from the loss of being involved in my daughters’ daily lives never completely leaves me. I used to regularly ask myself, “What could I have done differently?” and “Would it have made a difference?” Now, I don’t, or at least not as often. I have made peace with the answers to the extent that I can.

For all divorced parents whose relationship with their children is strained, my Christmas wish for you is peace, patience, and resolve to continue to give love even if the love is unreturned for now. I wake up to that challenge every day. With few exceptions, love heals all wounds in time. The primal need for parents to be loved by their children, and likewise for children to be loved by their parents, is an invisible force forever drawing families back together. Don’t lose hope. Throw love at whatever the issue is. Eventually, love sticks.

For ex-spouses, family and friends, I urge you all to use the holidays as an opportunity to help heal. Plant seeds of hope and love with a parent or child in need of a reminder to reconnect. And if you aren’t inclined to embrace the invisible force and help heal for whatever reason, don’t add to the wound. Be the better person. There should be no scores to settle at the expense of the parent-child bond, especially if the motivation is personal rather than the best interests of the child.

The holidays are a perfect time to remind ourselves that not every emotional scar is in search of blame and that the parent-child bond is perhaps the most fundamental foundation for all happiness and emotional health in life. Life is full of difficult choices and hardship, where finding fault has no place and serves no purpose but to cause additional unnecessary pain. We all struggle in life. Sometimes we stumble. It is how we catch our balance that defines who we are. Merry Christmas, Katie and Jess. I love you.

"Throw love at whatever the issue is. Eventually, love sticks."