I am a weekend warrior. I am the dad who gets his kids on the weekends. I am the anomaly, the minority.
I got married very young. I was just finishing high school, and had recently been baptized, and my parents were in the process of splitting up. There was a lot going on all at once. It was a huge mess. My sister and I moved with my mother, and my brother chose to stay with my dad. My father was battling alcoholism at the time, and has since quit drinking and been sober for many years, but at the time it was a serious issue for everyone in the family. We barely saw either of them for what feels like a long time. (Let me just say up front that I love both of my parents wholeheartedly and I realize that they are only human. They’ve done the best they could and are always there for me when I need them–this is merely a retelling of a time in my life). I was working full-time at a call center in my last year of high school and I became very ill with bronchitis and fell behind on my schoolwork. I had to quit the job because they were not understanding of my circumstances, and afterwards I had to work very hard to pass several of my courses in the last few weeks of school. I was frustrated with myself because while I knew I had a lot of potential, my grades just weren’t cutting it, and I could not decide what I wanted to do with my life. I didn’t want to choose just any random course in college and waste a bunch of time and money, so I decided to take a year off to think about my future.
But I didn’t really think about it at all. I just couldn’t make up my mind. I hung out with friends, smoked pot, drove around and basically did nothing productive besides trying to keep everybody sane at home. I remember coming home with a tattoo up the middle of my back and my mom crying when she saw it. (Sorry, Momma.) I met a guy, and he talked like he knew a lot about everything, and had all these interesting facts and stories, and he kind of looked like a chubby teddy bear beneath his rough exterior (or so I thought at the time), and he took me away from my problems at home. My mom didn’t like him, and maybe I was being rebellious, so I stayed with him and before long I moved out and into his mom’s place. We stayed in his tiny little bedroom in the back of the house, and honestly I have no idea why I did that, other than for convenience since we were together all the time anyway.
After about a year or two, we moved into our first place which was a dingy little house with hideous pink walls and a shared driveway. It was a war-time home and I guess it sufficed at the time, but I hated it. The kitchen was too small, the ceilings were too low, the cupboards were gross inside and the sink leaked into them. Somewhere along the way I began to have doubts about the relationship, but any time I brought it up he always minimized my feelings. At some point he decided to grow pot in the basement, despite my better judgment, and this went on for several months until I got pregnant and insisted that he stop. The paranoia and anxiety were killing me.
The moment we told his mother we were having a baby, being Catholic, her first question was “So when are you getting married?” And so began the roller coaster ride which consisted of buying our first home, planning a wedding in a very short amount of time with very little of our own resources, and for me, a whole lot of going with the flow instead of fighting against the tide. It was easier, and much less painful for everyone involved, for me to do what was expected of me. The logical choice is to stay when you are having a baby with someone, and hey, why not get married while you’re at it? Makes sense, right? The proposal I got was ridiculous, something along the lines of “I always wanted someone who was younger than me, someone who was impressionable, who I could shape into the woman I wanted.” Not word-for-word, but that was the general idea of the speech I got. Oh, and here’s a ring too by the way. Slap that baby on your finger and go tell your momma. (For the record, the diamond was set just a tiny little bit crooked on the ring itself, and for that reason I secretly hated it. This should’ve been an omen, as it was representative of our slightly crooked relationship.)
Two weeks before the wedding, a friend of my sister’s told me that he had seen our very conspicuous car picking up a prostitute downtown. I confronted him and he denied it, and for some reason I believed him. I should’ve run. I should’ve gotten as far away from him as possible. But he was very good at lying and manipulating, and honestly the ease with which he could make things up on a whim was unreal. I should’ve known just by watching him lie to other people all the time, how easily he could lie to me too. Two weeks after the wedding, I woke up alone one morning to the sound of my son’s cries, the bed cold beside me, and my husband gone as usual on a “coffee run”. My heart suddenly filled with regret and despair. I had made the worst mistake of my life. I was devastated. I laid in bed and sobbed uncontrollably. I would consider this to be my first official anxiety attack. Certainly not the last.
The house was another story altogether . . . I will say that I wanted it badly. It was beside my father’s house, where I grew up, and between the two properties we shared the entire front of the block (with a canal view) and over two acres of property. It was an older house, and required a lot of work to fix it up, but he had solutions for everything. He had a friend who did roofing, a friend who did siding, and friends who could help with the foundation. We’d just get them a case of beer and they would help us out for sure, he said. But none of that ever happened, and flooded basements happened, windows leaked into the walls, etc. He could not maintain employment for any length of time–I think the longest he held a job was nine months. I was convinced it was because of his demeanor, regardless of what story he came up with. You can’t start a job and then a month later demand a raise when you don’t even have your high school diploma. One time, he even spent a couple of weeks pretending to go to work every day because he didn’t want to tell me he got fired. And at the same time he refused to cut back on costly addictions such as cigarettes and bags of marijuana. I won’t lie and say I didn’t partake, but part of that was because it was also my money, so why not at least get something out of it if he wasn’t going to stop?
By then I had found a job that offered a promising future. It had benefits, a pension, and many company perks, not to mention that the pay was very good–in fact, the best I had ever had. I found out I was pregnant with my second child about two weeks into my employment. Obviously there were a lot of emotions going on inside me. I was unhappy with my life at home, and people at work started to notice that things were not right. I was still young and naïve–just into my early twenties, and I would come to work and vent sometimes. The office I work in is like a family. For the most part, everyone has each other’s backs. If someone has a devastating situation, everyone comes together to help them out. I had never worked anywhere that people were like this, so it was awesome to have coworkers who supported me and tried to offer advice.
One day, my entire world turned upside down. I was on the computer and discovered saved conversations from MSN Messenger in which my husband was talking with women he had met on Plenty of Fish (a dating website, for those of you who have been living under a rock), making plans to meet them, and lying about his living situation. He had even sent one of them a picture of himself with our son and told her that he was his nephew. Talking sexually to each other, extremely inappropriately. As I read them, I felt all of the blood drain out of my face. I almost passed out, I was in so much shock. And then the panic set in, the feeling of betrayal, the anxiety, the indecision, the absolute devastation as I felt my heart shatter. Regardless of the obvious issues we had; his lack of motivation with employment, his laziness around the house, his ignorant attitude towards people, his tendency to disappear every morning before I had even woken up and leave me with my son until he felt like coming home (usually with a coffee and some afterthought, cheap convenience store-bought rose with the price tag still stuck to it), I still had the utmost confidence in the solidity of our connection. And all at once it was gone.
I confronted him when he came home that day. He was obviously upset, and said that since I had been pregnant things were different, I had less interest in sex, and whatever other excuses he felt could justify such disgusting behavior. But I knew he had problems with sex addiction because he would literally sit at the computer and play with himself 2-3 times a day and not even attempt to approach me. The kind of pornography he liked to watch and the fact that he had hidden it from me should have been a warning sign from the beginning–a lot of domination, derogatory acts towards women, borderline disturbing stuff. Looking back at it, and at his behavior, it says a lot about who he is as a person and how he views women in general. He cried, apologized, promised to change, and I forgave him. I had printed the conversations out on paper and we sat on the step in front of the house and burned them together.
I tried talking to his mother. She told me that it was just a fantasy, that all men were like that, and not to worry too much about it. She was very good at downplaying things and protecting him. I can’t fault her for that–she was only trying to be a good mother to her son. She had a shared bank account with him and she would always bail him out no matter what. It got so bad that she would call me and question me about certain purchases we had made. Which is fine, considering it was essentially her money, however it was not the way I wanted to live my life. She would take me grocery shopping to try and help out, and I was always uncomfortable with the whole thing and would purposely buy the cheapest brand of everything and only get what I needed. It’s hard to accept help sometimes, especially when you worry that someone will hold it over your head later on.
I realize this is basically a novel, and I apologize for that if anyone’s made it this far. I’m trying to think of things chronologically and that’s tough because it’s been so long. I have taken several days to write it, re-read it and edit it over and over. It takes a lot out of you to revisit painful times and that’s part of why I’m doing it. Maybe if I get it all out of my system, it will haunt me a little less.
I remember being pregnant and having to change the cat litter box and clean up the dog shit because no one else would do it. Wild animals would tear our garbage apart all over the yard and I’d be out there cleaning it up. If you were a man, and your pregnant wife was doing all of this, would you not be ashamed of yourself? Would you not step up and pick up the slack? Or would you just lay on the couch in your underwear all day and get angry when company stopped by unexpectedly and you had to put pants on? Our yard was full of broken cars and trucks he never worked on; it looked like a junk yard. Slowly I was becoming overwhelmed by my life. This was not how I wanted to live. I started to think to myself, that this man was the kind of person who I wouldn’t even be friends with if I had the choice–but he was supposed to be my life partner? How did that add up? And did I really want to spend the rest of my life apologizing and making excuses for someone else’s behavior? “Oh, don’t mind him, he’s just an asshole, you’ll get used to it.” By this point, I had given birth to my second son and was basically isolated. My friends and family despised my husband and his behavior, and 99% of them took a giant step away from me. I only ever saw his family. I lived next door to my father and I saw him about once a week. I had one friend who would put up with him because she loved my children and I. Aside from that, I was essentially alone for a lot of it.
I began to realize through the support of friends at work that I was in an abusive relationship. I discovered that abusive men like their women to be isolated. As shown below in the picture I snagged from Wikipedia, the cycle of abuse goes something like this:
In other words, my relationship was similar, and the funny thing is he wasn’t usually aggressive towards me but he was with other people, and this made me fearful of him without him ever laying a hand on me. He gave me anxiety. If I brought something up like my newfound insecurity about his alleged cheating and his constant “coffee runs”, his spending, his lack of work ethic and refusal to get and keep a job, etc., he downplayed everything and made me feel like I was wrong for feeling that way. He would apologize for something and promise things would get better, but they never did.
I met someone at work. He was a cook in the cafeteria. Every day when I would come out to order my food, he would always say, “There she is.” It made me feel special for the first time in years. He looked forward to seeing me, and I found myself scanning the crowd for him all the time too. A fire had been lit inside me and I felt like I was actually worth something to someone again. I would purposely order from the grill so I had an excuse to stand there and talk to him. I told him I was married, so it was only a flirtation between us, but it lasted for about 6 months. I drove him home from work a couple of times during the winter when it was very cold for him to walk. During the drive we talked about our lives. He’d had a one night stand with someone and she got pregnant, and now he had a son and had tried to stay with her and make things work, but she moved away to be with her family unexpectedly and left him with basically no rights. I was obviously not doing well either, so we had things to talk about.
One day I was going through a junk drawer at home and I found an old cell phone that we hadn’t been using for months. I turned it on and discovered that my husband had been putting time on it and using it to talk to other women. Again.
I waited until he was at work one day (because he had a job that week apparently), and my friends helped me move my furniture, clothes, the children and my pets to my mother’s house in Crystal Beach. I couldn’t face him, couldn’t look him in the eye and tell him I didn’t want to be with him anymore. I was afraid of the confrontation, and I was also afraid that he would convince me to stay when I knew I didn’t want to. I just wasn’t strong enough to say no. He came home from work to an empty house. He called me and I ignored the phone. Finally he showed up at my mother’s house the next day and begged me to come home. He promised that he would change (again) and that things would be better (again). And like a true fucking idiot, I forgave him (AGAIN!) and moved everything back home.
Things were fine for a while, maybe even a few months. But it just went back to the same old bullshit. I demanded that his mother remove herself from his bank account and stop enabling him so that he would experience true rock bottom and be forced to change and help support his family. She wouldn’t. He kept losing jobs and making up excuses for it, refusing to take any position that he felt was beneath him, and we were falling farther behind in debt. At one point he was actually working for a company that installed hot water tanks in people’s houses and we had our gas shut off due to nonpayment so I was boiling pots of water on the stove in order to bathe myself and the kids. The irony of it was enough to drive me over the edge. It was becoming a pattern and my eyes were slowly opening. If I wanted to go out somewhere he would always want to know exactly where I was going and when I was coming home (even though he never showed me the same respect), and he would more often than not start an argument with me before I left so that I would feel like shit the whole time I was out–essentially ruining my night. He even admitted to having people follow me or drive by wherever I said I was going to make sure I was actually where I said I would be. Clearly his own guilt was shining through in his behaviour.
I left again, this time by myself, and this time for a week, to try and clear my head. A wise woman I know always said that as long as you are in the situation, you don’t have time to process what’s actually going on. If you’re caught up in the whirlwind of drama all the time, you don’t have a chance to breathe or think clearly. That’s why from the outside looking in, it’s always so easy to see what someone should do when they are experiencing hardships or abusive relationships, but the victim in an abusive relationship may go back an average of 9 times before they actually leave for good.
During that week away, I slept with the cook. I went to his house very late at night and knocked on the door and he invited me in and I spent the night. But I was so afraid of being found there that I couldn’t sleep at all. Every time I heard a car with a loud muffler I was sure it was my husband. The anxiety had my heart pounding through my chest. So after hours of tossing and turning and fretting, I left while he was still asleep. I tried to find a piece of paper to leave him a note, but there wasn’t any, so to him it must have looked pretty bad when he woke up and I wasn’t there.
I came back after about a week of being out of the house and told my husband what I’d done. The guilt and fear I was experiencing were so bad that I had no choice. I knew that he would probably behave irrationally and that once I told him, things would never be the same between us. He found the cook’s number and started calling his house and threatening him and his roommates over and over. It was mortifying. Then HE left the house for a couple of weeks and went to stay with his brother. Within the first two days, his brother’s girlfriend told me that he’d had a woman at the house and she’d caught them there together. She was furious and wanted to kick him out. And then he began sleeping with a girl I went to grade school with who worked up the street from our house. We took turns staying at the house and watching the kids, but he would always tell me he was going to see her and take off. This went on for several weeks.
Part of the reason why people stay in these situations is because they don’t know how to get out. They are worried about finances, housing, transportation, etc. They are worried for their safety and the safety of their children as well. But rest assured that there is ALWAYS a way, no matter how old you are, no matter how bad your situation is. Debt is something that can be figured out later on–in my case, I prepared for that and made my husband go bankrupt with me so he couldn’t use that debt against me later. You only get ONE life. How much of it are you willing to waste? You have to take a step back and assess your life and make a plan. I will admit that in this situation I did not make much of a plan, but I did have support and guidance from others who had been in similar situations to help me along the way.
One day, I just lost my fucking mind. We were having an argument and I screamed in his face, “I DON’T WANT TO BE WITH YOU ANYMORE!” He begged me to go to counseling with him and try to work it out. I told him I already knew in my heart that it was over for me, so there was no point in doing that. The trust was gone, and I was going crazy. Jealousy, betrayal and insecurity do funny things to you. I admit to my portion of the blame in that situation, but I had every reason to believe he threw the first stone, every reason to believe that he had actually met up with those women the first time I found their conversations on the computer, every reason to believe he defiled our marriage first. He told me to take my things and go, and that I was to leave the kids with him because he needed them in order to stay level. I was beyond the point of arguing, and again I did not have a real plan or a place to stay, but he was finally letting me go without a fight so I took the chance and I left.
I stayed at my friend’s parents’ house in their spare bedroom for about two months. It was an extremely peaceful and soothing environment after the shit storm I’d been living in. They were very kind to me. They fed me (I tried not to eat too much because I felt like such a burden) and they never acted like I was inconveniencing them. All I brought with me were my clothes in laundry baskets and a few sentimental items such as photo albums of the kids. I gave up everything I had just to get away from him. I was broken; I had no self-esteem left, I’d been brainwashed for so long that I really didn’t have my own solid identity anymore, and emotionally I was overwhelmed and in need of some time to reflect on what I had been through and gather my bearings. I began counseling and antidepressants, and relied on Gravol at night just to fall asleep. I didn’t even have a car for the first few weeks, so my parents would either let me borrow theirs or come and pick me up so I could get to work. Since we didn’t really have the space (and because of these mobility issues), for the first ten days after I left I did not see the kids. After that, I would bring them for small visits or to a friend’s house, and eventually to my mom’s house in Crystal Beach. The house was under construction at the time and uninhabitable, and I would work on cleaning it up and rearranging things so I could eventually move into it. Initially I stayed in one bedroom of the house which had a bed, a coffee table, a TV, and the back seat of a van for a couch. The rest of the house was full of drywall dust and way too much furniture, trim that needed to be sanded and painted, that sort of thing. I tried to earn my keep by helping out with these tasks.
Essentially, I started my life all over again from nothing. I was not in a good place but at least I was headed in the right direction. You can’t be a good mother to your children if you aren’t happy within yourself. You can’t give them the best of yourself if you don’t have it in you to give.
I didn’t allow myself enough time to heal; instead I got involved in another relationship which was not healthy for me. He was very manipulative and verbally abusive, and once again I allowed my relationship to consume me. My priorities were definitely not in order–I would rather have been with this person although we were both unhappy, than face the thought of being alone. I always felt alone even though I had two little boys who needed me more than anyone else in the world. Early on in this relationship I discovered I was pregnant. It was obviously a surprise to us. Here was another “man” who my family did not like or approve of. The news was not well-received by anyone, and I felt a lot of pressure to end the pregnancy. I was unstable, still quite young, still reeling from all the drama in my marriage, and I didn’t feel strong enough to face this new challenge. He was also quite broken, with physical disabilities that prevented him from working or driving, and suffered massive depression in his own right. I wasn’t exactly confident that we had a shining future ahead of us. We made the decision to have an abortion. It was the most difficult day of my life. I was already a mother twice over–I knew the full weight of what I was giving up. I cried outside the operating room as I saw doctors and a family wheeling a new baby down the hallway in an incubator. It was a scene right out of a movie. Everyone stopped to fawn over this new child in the same breath as I was about to terminate my own. In all my life I have never experienced a more difficult moment as that one. I almost jumped off of the table and left, thinking it had to be a sign from God. But I didn’t. I stayed and went through with the abortion. And I think about it every single day.
It only took me two years as opposed to five and a half to figure out that this relationship was toxic and unhealthy and put a stop to it, so I guess that can be considered to be progress on some level. The one that followed was even worse, and I spent four years struggling to break free from him. That’s eleven consecutive years of my life wasted, by the way, and I’ll never get that back or be able to make it up to my children. I wasted all of my energy trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, when I should’ve been focused on the well-being of my children, and giving the best of myself to them–they are the ones who truly deserved it. I would not recommend this type of failure to anyone.
One day when I was least expecting it, my husband served me with court papers for custody of our children. Let me tell you that the family court system in Ontario is “so backed up” that it took me three years (and two lawyers) to finally get a verdict. We settled with “joint custody”, which essentially means that they live primarily with him but they see me on my weekends (usually from my Friday night until my Monday morning). It also means that we are supposed to have 50% of the rights to decision-making in regards to the children’s health and also their education. This means jack shit, by the way. I never see their health cards. He doesn’t even want me calling TeleHealth without his permission, evidently. Also, I have to pay him child support. He always likes to say that the amount I pay is barely enough to feed and clothe two kids. I tell him that it’s court-ordered based on my annual income, so he can take it up with the government if he has a problem. Joint custody also apparently means that the parent with primary residence can keep the kids from the other parent whenever they want to and the police cannot do anything except take a report and “go talk to him” because nobody told me during the court process that your order has to say “police enforced” on it in order for them to be able to step in and actually be of any real assistance.
He destroyed me financially; he left me with thousands of dollars of debt just from the unpaid mortgage and utility bills. He told me he would never do anything like that to me because I am the mother of his children. This also means nothing, it’s all empty words. Luckily I was very organized and crossed all my T’s and dotted my I’s. This alleviated some of the debt in court but I am still recovering. Years later, I am still paying off my lawyer, and I am engaged to someone else. But you know what? When all is said and done, everything I’ve been through was worth it just to get away from that life. I spent years hating myself for making the wrong decision, for leaving my children with my ex. I beat myself up mentally every single day, felt sorry for myself, felt like a failure in general. I felt like I had failed my children. And one day I realized that I cannot change the past or the decisions that I made in the heat of the moment. All I can do with that information is learn from it, move on and try to make things better in the future. Instead of hating myself, I strive to do the very best I can for those boys. I started over with nothing and now I have an amazing new life, with a partner who is hard-working, intelligent, understanding, kind, and everything that I’ve never had before. Someone who I consider to be my equal. And I have grown stronger for having experienced all of those hardships and survived. People have accused me of abandoning my children–this is simply not true. I see them all the time and they know that I am there for them and that I’d do anything for them. Others have accused me of choosing my job over my children, but I prefer to view it as: I chose my job for my children. My eldest son has now been diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes, and my benefits pay for 99% of his medical supplies. What a blessing it has been to have that support.
A lot of people don’t understand how the court could rule in the father’s favor when the mother is usually the one who takes priority. The excuse I was given was that they had already been living with him for so long (which was the court system’s fault, really) that unless there was an immediate threat to their safety, there was no point in uprooting their lives. That’s a frustrating verdict, and yes usually the mother does take precedent, but I don’t necessarily agree with that either because there are some shitty moms out there too. Fortunately, I can rest assured knowing I am not one of them. At my worst, I would be driving home from work to my ex-husband and seriously debating driving off the road. At my best, I am strong, I am tough, I am smart, I am generous, I am kind, I am determined, I am loving, understanding, fierce, honest, and I will do everything I can to make sure that my children grow up to be the same way, whether I see them two or three days a week or seven. When all is said and done, they know their mother loves them more than anything, and all I can do is make sure that they never forget it.
You can say what you want about it, but I know the truth.
“You may have won the battle, but I will win the war.”
I am a weekend warrior.