How do you define pain? Which pain is worse – physical or emotional? Is pain something that we must all learn to live with, in one way or another? Are we all destined to struggle with different types of pain throughout our lives?
I have felt physical pain, mainly brought on by my own choices to participate in sports. Rugby League (a collision sport) put me under the surgeon’s knife several times. The pastime of marathon running in my 30’s took me to places I have never been before physically. But no physical pain I have felt can compare with the emotional anguish I feel at the moment.
Three years and 182 days ago, I left my family – my wife and three children. Our marriage was an unhappy one, in the main due to my behaviour, disrespect and distance. I had told myself that they would all be better off without me in the home. I was a flawed role model, narcissistic and selfish. I convinced myself that I was not “made” to be a Dad and that it was the best thing for everyone I left. If I am honest, it was the best thing for me.
So I packed a large bag and stood unmoved as my wife broke down in tears. Her future was crumbling before her eyes. Today, she no doubt feels it was the best thing that could have happened to her. I kissed my daughter on her forehead as she sat on her bed and played with dolls. “Daddy has to go away for work, darling.” I worked away a lot, so this was life as she knew it. It was just another case of Daddy leaving her for a week. Or so she thought.
My boys were playing in the front yard—a friendly game of soccer between two competitive brothers. As I held back the tears, I squeezed them extra tight hugging the then six and ten-year-old. I told the same as I told my daughter – “Daddy has to go away for a while for work.” What’s another lie on top of the pile!
I threw my bag in the car, buckled my seat belt and pulled out my driveway. My boys chased me up the street, waving, smiling and laughing. Those faces, burned into my mind’s eye, will haunt me until the day I leave this earth. It is a moment of pure innocence. “Dad will be back soon. He always goes away for work.”
My eyes became filled with tears as they left my view. I reached the top of my street, turned right and headed for who knows where. I was in a daze. It felt like I was in a dream – a state of flux. I felt everything but nothing all at the same time.
I ended up at the beach. I can not say how I got there—a set of stairs in my old home town, renowned as a favourite spot for exercisers. I decided to run a flight or two. The most I had done previously was twenty in a row. I ran for one hundred.
6th June 2017 is a day which will haunt me forever.
Leaving an unhappy marriage is one thing. It happens every minute of every day across the globe. Leaving your children, relocating to a different city, and transforming into a “Disneyland Dad” is another.
The irony is that history repeats. My biological father left my mother and I when I was one year old. I grew up with the narrative of how bad a person he was—a selfish man, who only cared for himself. See a pattern?
I vowed, no matter what, I would never leave my kids. But I did. I left their mother and their home. I left their city and forgo any realistic hope of being the father I know I can be today.
I face a daily battle to manage the demons which sit inside me. Demon one is called Guilt. Demon two, he goes by Shame. Guilt and Shame love to whisper in my ear. They are masters at conjuring up imagery from the past. Of all the times, I took my children for granted. When I disrespected those I loved and lived for today with no thought of the consequences. You only learn from your mistakes, so they say.
My children have disowned me now.
As I write, they are on holidays with their mother and family members, no more than an hours drive from my house. They have no interest in seeing me, in case they miss out on some fun—a visceral case of being so close, yet so far. My communication with them is by letter. I write to each of them once a week, mainly for my mental health. I don’t even know if they receive them or read them.
My worst moments are when I am out and see parents and their children playing sport together. At the local park, a game of basketball, a father helping his daughter ride her skateboard. The one’s that sting most is when I see a father running with his child. I used to do that with my son.
To put how I feel into words is near impossible. I used to be a gregarious, confident and driven person. The world still sees glimpses of these traits when I am not carrying those demons’ burden so tightly. It feels like a clamp always braced around my chest. Dependant on the minute of the day, that clamp can be loose or wound tight. When the pressure is applied, I can barely breathe. A smile is impossible, and everything is dark.
I am exploring ways to unload this burden, forgive myself a little and recapture the best of me. I am grateful for many things in my life. I have a loving partner who deals with my moods as best she can. I have managed to continue to do good work and make a reasonable living. My family and close friends support me and love me, no matter what. Oh, and I have a very affectionate Sausage Dog named Billy, who gives me a giggle most days.
However, the pain I feel for my children permeates through everything. I used to be good at “boxing” my life and not allowing issues in one part to bleed into others. Those boxes are now gone.
I know I am not alone.
I understand my experience would be considered mild compared to parents who have lost their child – that I could not fathom. I share my story with no disrespect to them. I share hoping that others who may be in the same or similar situation understand that they are not alone.
On the morning of 6th June 2017, I knew I was leaving. My boarding pass was stamped during a discussion the night before. That morning I kissed and hugged me, kids. Today, I wake, roll to my left and kiss their photo. I say to myself “One day……one day”.