Divorce sucks, especially for dads. Can we give them credit for suffering too?
I haven’t cried in a long time but a recent Modern Love essay, During a Night of Casual Sex, Urgent Messages Go Unanswered, almost ended the drought. It’s about the night the writer found out his dad had a heart attack and ended up in the hospital. The subject itself is sad but the part that got to me was when the writer, the actor Andrew Rannels from HBO’s Girls, mentions his parents were in the process of divorcing and his dad had moved into an apartment, a “depressing bachelor pad,” solo.
What made me tear up is when he remembers watching his dad open the kitchen cupboard of his new apartment and “saw that it was stocked with canned stew.” Who knew that sentence could pack such a punch.
It conjured so many images. High on salt and preservatives, low on love and warmth. Lumpy, brown, barely heated up. Paper label ripping as the can opener does its job. Maybe some stew dripping off the lid onto the Formica counter as he pours the contents into a bowl and then neatly cleans up the spill with a brand-new tea towel.
It reminded me of my dad when my parents broke up. An accomplished chef, he would always make fancy meals for us on the weekends. But after my folks separated and he had to think about cooking on a daily basis it became overwhelming so we would eat the most basic of meals.
Andrew writes his dad “was trying to make it a home but didn’t know how” and that also reminded me of my dad. It was my mom who moved out and all she took was an armchair so technically the house should have still felt like a home. But it didn’t. My dad had depended on her for so long to make his house our home that once her presence was removed she took that warm and homey feeling with her.
Divorce sucks for everyone.
But I feel dads have the hardest time with it. I think it’s because they fall into a routine where (for better or worse) they let the mom take care of the daily household tasks so there’s a very steep learning curve.
But more importantly, I think dads have been conditioned to focus on providing the basics – food, shelter, security – and forgo communion with their emotions because they’re so focused on ensuring those basics are delivered and their family feels safe.
A Good Men Project article from last year discusses men’s inability to be in tune with their emotions because “our culture has valued men who restrict their emotions more than men who express their emotions.”
But why do we want them to restrict their emotions? Wouldn’t families be better off if dads were given the chance to get in touch, feel, and share them? Wouldn’t their kids and wives be better off too? Perhaps there would even be fewer divorces. Or maybe there would be more. I really don’t know. But I do know I’m having a hard time reconciling the fact that dads are put through this meaningless torture of suppression.
I have no suggestions to make except us women who are in relationships need to help our significant others realize that restricting their emotions isn’t beneficial to anyone.
Last week, I saw an article from Sky News about loneliness as an epidemic facing UK men. More than one in three men in the UK feel lonely at least once a week. The survey of 1,200 men shows around 10% say they prefer not to say they’re lonely and around 35% saying being lonely made them feel depressed and almost 40% said they felt isolated. I imagine all these men having canned stew for dinner, too.