Divorce strikes a different kind of blow to each member of a family. On the day my family split, it seemed my son Thomas, the middle child between two sisters, and only eight at the time, suffered the worst one.
I remember the sense of sadness I felt looking out the family room window and seeing Thomas playing catch in the back yard — by himself. He'd throw the ball, then race to the other side of the yard and make his catch. At that moment I knew I needed to mobilize. There was no time to cower in a corner, pull the sheets over my head or stay in bed waiting for the Prince Charming of male rescuers to step in and offer fatherly advice to my son.
Suddenly, it wasn't enough to be the best mother I could; I also needed to do the things I imagined a father might do. I played catch. I rented golf clubs and headed with him to the greens. (Within weeks his athletic prowess far exceeded mine). I became soccer mom and traveled across the state with him to stand on the sidelines. I've been basketball, football and volleyball cheerleader, equipment carrier and laundress. I've learned to tie a mean tie. And, when he was 11 or so, I initiated "the talk." (Related: Teen Dads: How to Prevent Your Son From Becoming One.) Mostly what I wanted was for him was to grow up with the strength and wisdom to be a good man, and a good father.
It has not been easy. The challenges have been many: financial concerns, struggling to impart honest insights on what it means to be a "guy," protecting him from bullies, and inspiring manly wisdom with no experience of my own to draw from. I'm sure he's got his own litany about the challenges of living with a mom who yanked his chain every time he even hinted at dissing girls or treating them with disrespect. By age 12, it's hard to believe his eyes hadn't rolled back in his head and gotten permanently stuck there during my constant lectures on "how to be respectful to women."
Last week Thomas turned 24. He's tossed out the pitch to his future and it seems he's genuinely grabbed it and is running toward the goal line with passion. Recently graduated from firefighter's school, he wants to be first responder who races toward and rescues others. These days he works 12-hour shifts as an EMT in a hospital emergency room and is enrolled in paramedic school. But off duty, he's dad to 9-month-old Rylee. He's a man who has taken responsibility for his family and is caring for both his daughter and his girlfriend. Facebook, texts and frequent visits bring tangible proof each day of the committed and loving father my son has become since that moment, last December at 2 a.m., he called me and told me to head over to the hospital for the birth of his first child.
If I look closely, I can still see the scars on Thomas's heart. But I'd like to think he's become the devoted father he is because of his own wounds, and because he's looking to bring goodness to his daughter and others. The proof comes in the little moments: the Facebook photo he takes of Rylee from the pediatrician's office where he is announcing proudly that she's 23 pounds and ready to start solids, or the text announcing that she took her first steps (on tip toes with her walker). The other day, I watched as Thomas and Rylee sat on the rug in my family room and he rolled a bouncy ball to her. She giggled and her face lit up with glee.
Our lives were markedly changed by the awfulness of divorce. But they were not diminished by it. I like to think I did my best to try to raise my son to become a good dad. The final answer will be revealed years from now. But in the meantime, the smiles on the faces of Rylee and Thomas as they roll the ball back and forth give me hope.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.