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The Kids Are All Right, So I Should Be Too

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DAD WITH KIDS
Robert Houser via Getty Images

From the moment I told friends I was getting a divorce, there was just one thing they all wanted to know. (Well, two, if you count the repeated request from all the men for an estimated total of women I'd already fooled around with.) Everyone continually pressed to see if I'd seriously considered our kids' welfare before making the decision to split.

I'm sure they meant well. They understood how traumatic it can be for children when the two people they've lived with their entire lives go their separate ways. However, as I'd frequently tried to explain, sometimes it's better for children to grow up with their parents living apart if said parents aren't the best of relationship role models. So while I could appreciate everyone's concern about my kids, it didn't stop my divorce from happening.

I desperately wanted to do the right thing for them during those first few years of single parenthood. Any time they were with me, I lined up plenty of activities to keep us busy and together. Miniature golf. Movies. Beach trips. It was all part of my plan to make sure they didn't feel neglected or forgotten just because their parents had separated. This has been diagnosed by many a frustrated single mom as Disneyland Dad Syndrome, but I prefer to go with Overcompensating For A Good Cause.

As for my personal life, I figured my choice was simple -- be a good dad or date. If I got serious about sharing my life with a new woman, it could seriously alienate my kids. They would most certainly see me dating as a sign I ditched their mom simply to be with someone else. I needed to let them know they came first every time. Sure I went out from time to time, but for the most part, I went the good dad route instead.

I've spent much of the past seven post-divorce years clinging to this philosophy long past its expiration date. I forced my son to let me read him bedtime stories till he hit his teens, even though I knew he was secretly texting friends while under the covers. Meanwhile, my daughter gamely tries to humor me, grabbing for my hand whenever we go out. Still, she and her brother are clearly at an age where they're ready for me to get a life and let them start living theirs.

Recently, for instance, I told them I was skipping a friend's wedding so I could stay home with them. They insisted I go out and let them watch themselves. When I suggested a few weeks later that we all go out to a neighborhood park that showed family movies every Saturday night, my son wailed as if I'd just said I'd stopped paying for his texting. Which, by the way, is the only activity he and his sister do any evening now when I get them out with me.

When they were younger and divorce was still new, we stuck together so we didn't have to navigate our new world alone. Now, they have friends and interests that have nothing to do with me. It's what happens with teens, whether or not their parents are still together. And this evolution includes my son developing an interest in relationships with the opposite sex. His Facebook page "Likes" every Sports Illustrated swimsuit model he can get his eyes on.

Dating can't be far behind, especially given that most of his friends have already been through two or three girlfriends while he has yet to have even one. At the same time, the more my daughter complains that her friends all think the One Direction boys are cute, the more I can tell she's starting to feel the same way.

Which is a clue that I have their permission to get serious about me getting my first girlfriend since divorce. It's time to stop using them as an excuse. I 've probably canceled as many dates in the past eight years as I've been on, with my kids as the justification. Now that they are at an age where they've adjusted to post-divorce reality, though, they no longer double as a crutch.

This means that it's time to move on to Phase Two of post-divorce life. It used to be fine to simply show them how a parent is supposed to love his children. Now, I'm required to show them how important it is to love someone else. When a marriage falters, it's fair to say you're separating because you don't want to be a bad relationship model for your kids. What's more difficult is realizing I've moved on from that and I'm now sending the wrong message if I don't get myself into a good relationship.

When my son wanted to learn how to throw a baseball, I had to take him to the field and throw one myself. When my daughter wanted to try writing fiction, I had to show her stories I have written over the years. It follows that if I want them to get married and give me grandchildren to spoil in a few years, I better show them I can get somebody in my life.

I have to be honest -- this is going to be hard to get used to. I have to understand that it's not selfish for daddy to get a little bit of action after all this time, I guess I've earned some "me" time. What is the going rate for seven years of going to movies that only feature animated talking animals and sitting plays? Fingers crossed it's kissing with tongue and at least three touches below the neck but above the waist.....