I realize that I can be a bit of a downbeat sort. Tell me you just bought a new car, and I'll let you how much the insurance will cost you. Still, who knew that something as simple as a dopey '70s ode to surfers would be the thing that finally pushed me over the edge of my emotional cliff?
It was toward the end of a long day that began with me calling my teenage son at his mom's house. It wasn't my weekend to have him, but I thought I might still be able to get him for a round of golf or a movie. Instead, I was greeted with a very terse "I'm busy!" that went way beyond moody teenager mode. All I could hear in those two words was "You got divorced and ruined my childhood!"
I tried to pass the time cleaning my patio. All was fine until I had a flashback to two summers ago, the last time I had anything approaching a girlfriend. We'd eat and talk into the night. Right up until the day she texted a breakup to me. The flashback made me feel even worse than my son had, so I decided to go out for a while.
That was a good plan for all of 10 minutes. That's how long it took to drive past a restaurant I used to frequent at with the first woman I fell hard for after my divorce. I thought she was the love of my life. I turned out to be the like of hers. And that's when "Beach Baby" came on the radio.
My ex-wife and I took my son to the beach a lot when he was a toddler, and before each trip, I'd dance around with him while listening to that '70s one-hit wonder. Back then, hearing the song was pure innocence. In this moment, it made me feel far from my past and irretrievably divorced. Seven years out and these moments still happen.
Apparently, getting married is kind of like skateboarding. Sometimes, it works out well and you have the time of your life. And sometimes, you fail miserably, leaving scars you'll always carry as a reminder of how messed up things got. There was really just one thing that I'm certain therapists and daytime talk show hosts would recommend -- prolific use of the "F" word. The other one. "Forgiveness."
Why not start with those aforementioned women I was once certain I had a future with? I could forgive them for moving on without ever explaining why (it would at least have been nice to know if it was due to my eagerness to be in love and not my kissing skills or the fact that my house is still decorated as a dorm room). But the thing is, they did nothing wrong. They made a choice. I wasn't it. They could have just as easily have broken up with me before I got married so no point in blaming divorce for this.
Instead, maybe I should forgive my son for his rejection. Then again, he didn't do anything wrong either. He's a teenager, and teens and parents generally get along like Rachel Maddow and Bill O'Reilly on a dinner date. On a daily basis, he must deal with everything from acne to is parents living in separate houses. That would make anyone a little edgy.
The truth is, there's really only one person in need of absolution here: me.
I'm not the only guy who has gotten a divorce in the past decade. I've fallen harder than I should for people ever since the second grade, when Barb K. held my hand on the playground but then laughed when I wrote her a love note. I've done plenty of other things to earn my son's contempt, beginning with my unfortunate instructions on how to throw a baseball.
It's not like I put a dead hooker in my trunk or authorized IRS agents to scrutinize conservative groups over their tax exemption requests. Maybe it was time to try the "A" word instead: Acceptance. Divorce just happens. It's okay for other relationships to fail. Your kids are going to resent change. Then, a couple days later, I went to pick up my son at his baseball ball practice.
His teammates looked excited, carrying these long, thin cartons that contained brand-new bats. And suddenly, everything fell into place. The day he refused to hang out with me, I'd also told him I couldn't afford to buy any new bats. Now, the bats had come in and he was the only kid without any. He hadn't been mad at me because of divorce. It was because I didn't let him be like the other kids.
It's not like this cured my post-divorce depression, but it certainly put it in perspective. Not every bad thing that in my life can be traced back to a marriage ending. Life just sucks at times and there's no point in obsessing about the things that go wrong. Realizing this left me feeling the best I'd been all week. And then, I turned the car radio back on.
This time, I heard the Partridge Family's "I Think I Love You." It reminded me of playing it over and over when I was in the sixth grade, copying down all the lyrics so I could present them to the girl I had a crush on. She shot me down, explaining that the girls all said I was too weird to have as a boyfriend. I was so traumatized, it would be nearly a decade later before I could actually convince a girl to go out with me.
The memory was brought me down again, but in that moment, at least I was able to realize the key to post-divorce happiness. Listen to talk radio instead of oldies stations.