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10. The Dating Dad: Grownup

You should probably read this article first, if you haven’t already.

Thank you, thank you, thank you for your outpouring of comments, commiseration and advice after my “Adjustment” column. Wow, you gave me some serious food for thought. And I was comforted by the fact that my reaction to the new situation wasn’t all that unique. I mean, I want to be special, but not, you know “special.”

I’m grateful to the people who reassured me that I’ll always be first with Simone, and that our relationship is powerful and important. And thanks for the advice to lighten up, and really think about where my concerns were coming from. And, of course, thank you for your heartbreaking stories, and for your bitter and funny recommendations about ways to really piss off the ex and her guy.

So here’s what happened at the end of September. We agreed that I should meet the boyfriend at mediation, so it would be a neutral environment, and we could all say what we needed to say. Yes, it is kind of weird that I’d never met the guy before this, considering how close a friend he’d been with my ex when we were still married, but she was living in two worlds, and was pretty adept at keeping them separate.

But anyway, a few days before this meeting was the Jewish holiday called Yom Kippur, or the Day of Atonement. It’s a time when we fast, and ask God for forgiveness, and think about the past year, and how we can do better. In the month leading up to this most holy of days, we’re also supposed to ask others for forgiveness, because only the person you’ve hurt can grant you that absolution.

The first year after we got divorced, I did ask Simone’s mom for forgiveness (via email… I’m not THAT evolved) — mostly for the times when I’d blown a fuse and yelled or said things in my anger and hurt that weren’t appropriate. But I don’t think I asked her last year, and I didn’t this year, either, because I felt like I needed to focus my requests for forgiveness on other people in my life.

Huh? Oh, I think you can answer that question for yourself. Of course she never asked me for forgiveness.

I had Simone with me on Yom Kippur this year, which was very special. We drove to Boulder, about 45 minutes away, on a warm and sunny autumn day, to spend the morning in services with a cousin and her daughter. I was driving along, and Simone was singing in the back, and I was thinking about the upcoming mediation session. I’m not sure how it happened, exactly, but at some point, I realized I didn’t have to wait for the ex to ask me for forgiveness to excise my blame and resentment. It was a big moment for me, because, though my mom has always told me I’m just going to have to get over it, I’ve always held out for some small admission of poor behavior on my former wife’s part.

But that gorgeous day, with my sweet daughter crooning, I understood that I couldn’t change the situation — that the guy was moving in with Simone and her mother at the end of the month, and my choices were to cause more pain, or to somehow rise beyond my sense of betrayal and my worries.

The mediator was a short walk from my office. I spent the morning not really working, but feeling pretty at ease about the upcoming meeting. Friends and family called and wrote with their moral support, but I had a plan. I decided I needed to just, well, be a man. Act like a grownup, even though I still feel like a boy most of the time.

So I walked in the door, shook the guy’s hand, and said, “As I was walking over here, I realized this probably isn’t any easier for you than it is for me.” He agreed profusely, and we all sat down, the ex and her guy on one side of the table, me on the other, the mediator at the head.

Sometimes, I think our mediator is super-human. She always seems to know what to say, and how to defuse situations. The first thing she told us was that she looks forward to our sessions, because we’re so reasonable, and it’s obvious that Simone is our first concern. It was the kind of encouragement you’d want to hear from someone who sees a LOT of dysfunction. Then she asked us to share our feelings about the new situation, before we got started. I volunteered to go first, and I could see Simone’s mom take a deep breath.

This is what I said: “You two have made some momentous decisions, and it seems like the best thing I can do is support you in making sure Simone is safe and happy.”

The room was so still, I could hear a vagrant snoring in the alley behind the building.

And for the first time in recent memory, the ex didn’t have anything to say. I could see her brain working — and this is just conjecture, but I’m pretty sure I could see her trying to figure out how to pick a fight from what I’d said.

But our mediator picked up the slack, and moved things along, and by the time we all left, I was feeling pretty good about the whole thing. Sure, I still have pangs at times, and it’s not always easy to hear Simone talk about the three of them doing fun things together. I also often ask myself if I was being a grownup by acquiescing, or just taking the path of least resistance.

But the new man in Simone’s life seems like a pretty decent guy. He’s not at all what I had expected from Simone’s descriptions. He seems like one of those doofy, kind-hearted tech-services guys, complete with the goatee and the paunch. He was frightfully earnest, and not even a little cool, and that combination, along with his obvious desire to make peace, was really disarming. If it weren’t for my internal conflict about the origins of his relationship with the ex, I would probably like him without reservation.

I even entertained the idea of getting him out for beers some night after work, because his office is just a block away from mine.

But I’m still not THAT evolved.

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