It's not news, and certainly no surprise to me, that statistics show that half of all marriages end in divorce these days. I think that probably another 25% should end that way but don't. Maybe the idea of marriage is obsolete anyway. My own divorce ratio is 66.66% and my current one should be in that second group to make it 100%. Why don't I divorce my wife? Well, to answer that I need to explain how I got to this point in the first place.
Shelley and I met through a mutual friend five years ago. I was just recovering from my second divorce and she was looking for a husband. She had been divorced for two years and was tired of dating "unsuitable men", as she put it. I'm still not sure what made her think I was suitable (nor why I thought her to be suitable for me — except that she was horny, attractive and available), but apparently both our estimations were seriously off. Anyway, I began to care for her and we were soon married and had a nice honeymoon. Her daughters stayed with their father for the two weeks we were in Mexico fucking our brains out.
Shelley's girls were nine and thirteen when we married. Allie, the younger one was unhappy with our union. She had still held the hope that her parents would get back together. Thirteen year old Billie had no such illusions. Being the older one, she was more painfully aware of the grievances her parents had toward each other. She and I hit it off, if not from the first, then from very soon after her mom and I got together. In those first months, when things were still good between Shelley and me, we had a lot of fun. The good times the four of us had, picnicking, camping and such, helped to bring even Allie around to acceptance of the situation — and of me.
Then problems began to crop up. While I've always been a believer in the "united front" approach to parenting, it didn't take long for the girls to notice the influence my presence had on their mother. I urged her (out of the hearing of the children, of course) to temper her discipline with more love. I urged more positive feedback. Billie has told me that before I came along Shelley was a worse harridan. ("Do it because I say so, dammit!" etc.) Don't misunderstand me, there are definitely times when that is the tack one has to take, but not every time.
We had two good years. Then Shelley's old habits (and probably mine as well — my divorces weren't all the faults of my ex-wives) began to assert themselves. She became irresponsible about a lot of things. She spent too much money on things we didn't need. She got "great" ideas, invested money in them, and then dropped them when another brainstorm came along. It isn't that a lot of her ideas weren't intrinsically good. Most of them were. The problem was that she hadn't thought them through before jumping in with both feet. She would miss business meetings about her ideas. She would fail to be where she was supposed to be at certain times. She'd be late without calling. All this overlapped onto the girls, both in disciplinary form and in Shelley's disappointing failures to show up for school events and other things.
We began to argue. I tried to keep things private, addressing Shelley's failures when the girls weren't around. She, however, didn't understand the damage it does when parents argue — especially the way Shelley does — in front of children. Shelley develops a foul mouth when she is angry too. She doesn't care what she calls me (or their father, or sometimes even her daughters) or who hears it. Increasingly, both girls began to turn to me for solace and support. That is the root of why I don't divorce the bitch. We didn't adopt the girls when we married, so I have no legal rights where they're concerned but I love them. Still, I won't abandon them to her tender mercies, even though they are now fourteen and nearly eighteen. Billie will soon be out of the house but Allie has four more years. After that, Shelley can kiss my ass.
So it's really the closeness that developed between myself and the girls that makes me reluctant to leave. I feel good about the fact that I have had no little part in helping Billie develop into a wonderful, confident young woman. At fourteen she was a gawky, shy bookworm. She could count the friends in her class on one hand with fingers left over. By the time she was seventeen she ran for class vice president and won hands down. Her mother hadn't paid any attention to the whole thing, so I took the girls out to dinner to celebrate when their mom didn't come home from work.
Shelley's unexplained absences might lead a man to wonder about infidelity. I wondered, but couldn't, by then, find it in myself to be angry or resentful. I just had stopped caring. To me it was a plus that we didn't have to put up with so many of Shelley's free-ranging temper tantrums. The girls and I had barbecues and picnics, played games and went to the park near the house.
Last summer Allie went to camp for a week in July. I had suggested to Shelley that she and Billie and I take the week off and go somewhere. There is a nice lake about a two hour drive up into the mountains. It is on an acreage owned entirely by one family. They built a few rental cabins around the shoreline. It isn't primitive, since they have electricity and running water. Still it was a nice rustic (i.e. no phone and no TV) getaway from the city. Shelley and I took both girls there a few times when we first became a family. By last summer however, Shelley wanted no part of it. "I never really liked all the dirt and grime of a camping trip," she said. "I only did it to 'bond' with you. You and Billie can go knock yourselves out. I don't care."
And that was just it. She didn't care any more than I did, if she ever had. Maybe she had given birth to the girls to 'bond' with their father. It hadn't worked, for too much longer then either I guess. At any rate, Billie was eager to get away for a while. I arranged to take part of my vacation from work and the same Friday afternoon we put Allie on the bus to camp, Billie and I set off for the lake.
We reached the cabin just before dusk. We sat on the swing on the covered porch of our little two room cabin watching the sky change colors. All we had to do that first night was relax. We had stopped for burgers on the road, so dinner wasn't an issue. Billie leaned into me and my arm went automatically around her shoulders. Many nights she and Allie and I sat and watched TV that way, one girl on either side of me.
I was drinking a beer. Billie asked for a sip. I sometimes gave her a taste of my beer, but not often. We got to discussing her coming freshman year of college. "You know, Dad, I am probably going to be going to parties at school. I should learn how to drink."
"You aren't going to school to party, B.," I admonished. I knew that there would be parties, that there would be drinking — as well as drugs, and sex. I had gone to college myself. "I suppose that you will go to some, though. That doesn't mean you have to drink. It isn't a sin to be a teetotaler, you know."
"Yeah, but what kind of friends will that leave me? Bible bangers, nerds and overachievers? No thanks!" I knew she had a point.
"A lot of people never drink, but they don't fit into those categories. Still, if you want a beer, this seems like the perfect place to allow you one — just one, remember!" She left me bouncing on the swing and slammed into the house to get her very first (I hoped!) whole beer. A few minutes later she returned. She had brought a fresh one for me, as well. We sat and talked about what classes she should take and sipped our beers. At least I sipped. Billie was finished with her beer before I had drunk half of mine. She pleaded for another one.
I knew that I should probably let her drink herself sick while we were at the lake. Nothing like some aversion therapy. So that's what I decided to do. I told her to go ahead. I had brought enough for myself for the week. If she drank me out, I would either do without or drive to the little store a mile back down the road. When she came back with her second can I explained to her.
"I'll tell you what. I know the temptations you'll encounter at school. You are strong enough to resist them if you choose to do so. But I know how seductive it is to want to fit in with your friends. I also know why college guys like girls who get drunk." She was watching me with a little frown, wondering where I was going with this lecture. "So while we're here this week, I've decided to let you have as much to drink as you want. I'm sure you'll get drunk, maybe even puke. You'll wake up with a hangover and swear to never drink again. That's a promise you probably won't keep. But maybe the experience will give you some idea of your limits and teach you not to go overboard at school. So knock yourself out, Kiddo." She raised up and planted a wet, beery kiss on my cheek.
"Thanks, Daddy. I'll bet you I don't get sick, though." Two hours and several beers later, those words echoed in my mind while I held her hair back as she deposited her five beers into the damp grass at the edge of the clearing where the cabin stood. She held her stomach and answered the frogs in the lake with her own croaks. Finally she was empty, but still drunk. Having been there, I knew what would make her feel the best she could under the circumstances.
.... There is more of this story ...