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How My Divorce Made Me a Better Dad ⏤ And a Better Man

"The only thing I really wanted to be when I grew up was an amazing father. Being divorced crushed me."

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The following story was submitted by a Fatherly reader. Opinions expressed in the story do not reflect the opinions of Fatherly as a publication. The fact that we’re printing the story does, however, reflect a belief that it is an interesting and worthwhile read.

I don’t love you anymore.” In an instant, those words changed my life forever. A million thoughts raced through my mind: “What?!” “What about the kids?!” “Can we make it work?!” “I’ll do whatever it takes!”

It was Christmas Eve, and we were having a conversation ⏤ okay, a disagreement ⏤ about whether we should move. My wife (now ex-wife) was just finishing her first year in real estate, and we were struggling financially. We couldn’t live off my income alone, and we were using up what little savings we had. We bought a house we couldn’t afford and had just spent too much on Christmas gifts for the kids. But I believed in her. I knew she could be successful and even though times were tough now, we could ⏤ we would ⏤ make it.

She was silent. She was done listening. But there was a weight in the air, and I knew something else other than moving was on her mind. She hesitated, but I egged her tell me what it was. And then she said it: “I don’t love you anymore. No amount of counseling, foot rubs, or money could change her mind.

My biological father left when I was born. My step-father wasn’t much of one and consistently decided alcohol was more important than his children. But this isn’t a “poor me” story. I’m not looking for sympathy. My childhood was really good, and I have an amazing mom. I’m fine. As a result of my childhood though, the only thing I really wanted to be when I grew up was an amazing father. I wanted to become the best fatherly version of myself.

Being divorced crushed me. I mean really crushed me. My wife was my world, my family was my life. Everything had been flipped upside down. I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t move, I had a gun in my hand several times. What I thought was my world was over. But it wasn’t. When I came out on the other side, I had learned a few things. Lessons that I hope can help other dads who find themselves in the same unfortunate situation today. Maybe they can help you. Maybe they can help you from getting divorced. Or help you recognize problems in your marriage before they spiral out of control. Maybe what I’ve learned can help you in your darkest moment and realize life does get better, way better.

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In short, I learned that the kids will be okay. I learned what I really want (and need) in a partner. I learned how to balance a relationship with kids. I learned how to be a better partner. And finally, I learned how to be a better father.

The kids will be okay. I am blessed to see my three every Thursday thru Sunday. They’re ages are 12-, 7-, and 4-years-old, and they all experienced divorce at different stages of their lives. My oldest is technically my “step” daughter, but I’ve raised her since she was born. And my biggest fear as I went through this hell was that I wouldn’t be able to see my little angel again ⏤ I love her more than words can express. Luckily, both my ex and her biological father have been amazing and allow me see her frequently. She’s really grown up as a person during this mess, initially taking on a motherly role and helping me with her younger brothers, helping with dishes, picking up the house. She’s constantly caring and worried about me, and was so happy when I started dating because she knew I wouldn’t be alone. Once I started dating, she fell back into the role of my child. I like her better there. She’s going to grow up fast enough. She’s going to be okay.

My oldest boy has a soft heart. He was crushed. He shut down at first and couldn’t understand how this could happen. His mom and I didn’t fight, at least not in front of the kids. He and I talked a lot. We talked about his feelings, we talked about what was happening and what changes he might experience. We grew closer. Now he talks to me about his feelings, frequently. He’s excelling in school. He’s excelling in sports. He’s going to be okay.

My youngest was 2-years-old when everything started. I really didn’t think this would affect him at all since he was so young. But it did. He was angry. He couldn’t express his emotions with words so he acted out. He was afraid to be left alone and didn’t want to sleep in his room. For the most part, he controls his emotions now and uses his words when he’s upset. Part of that is just him getting older, part is him knowing his mom and I both still love him, even though we aren’t together. He sleeps in his room all night now. He’s going to be okay.

Looking back on my marriage, I realized several things I wish I had done differently. Why couldn’t I have just rubbed her feet or her neck when she asked? We should have talked more. We should have made time to go on dates. We should have put each other first. We should have taken vacations.

Being single again allowed me to be picky ⏤ to search for what I really wanted in a partner. Dating sucks. I was on several dating apps and web pages ⏤ Match, Bumble, Tinder, POF, you name it, I was there ⏤ but I didn’t like anyone I dated. Nothing clicked, something was always missing. It wasn’t until I was set up by a friend that I was like, “Wow! this is amazing.” And more importantly, I realized this is what it is supposed to be like. I found a true connection, someone I could laugh and talk with all night long. We shared stories and hopes and dreams and struggles. When she met my kids, she loved them as if they were her own.

My kids come first. But now I have a new partner to share the journey with. She’s been more than amazing. The kids adore her. She adores the kids. Balancing the kids with my new love has been easy because we communicate so well. We talk each night about what happened that day, about what’s coming up for the rest of the week, about who needs to be dropped off and who needs to be picked up. On the days we don’t have my kids, I still miss them like crazy, but it gives us the time to spend with each other. Automatic date nights are built in. My new love doesn’t mind sharing our lives. She comes to soccer games, attends school functions, and seamlessly fits into the rest of our lives.

Which leads me to my last point. Being divorced taught me how to be a better father. I only have limited time with kids, so I make the most of it. No sitting around the house being bored. No kids in one room and me in the living room. We eat together. We play together. We dance, wrestle, play board games, and hug. I don’t miss things because of work. The little things became more important. My two oldest and I text and I call them on days I don’t see them. I have a different but closer relationship with them now than before. And I don’t take the daily stuff for granted.

Brandon Musick is a father of three, and a fitness director from Kansas City, Missouri. When not spending weekends at soccer games he enjoys poker and lifting heavy things.