Here I sit, having freshly completed, The 40-Year-Old Version: Humoirs of a Divorced Dad. I’ve committed to writing a review, which is fine by me. The book is refreshingly good, and I enjoyed it immensely. But where do I start? How do I do it justice without sounding like dozens of other positive reviews of Joel’s work?
I think I’ll start from the same place Joel did. Honesty. I don’t mean honesty like, “hey, I stole your pen.” I mean honesty that comes from the soul. Honesty about feelings that men are not supposed to have, let alone share. But Joel is brave enough to do just that.
Although many of the mini-chapters (which are really self-contained articles, perfect lengths for busy dads) are just plain funny, there’s a healthy dose of real issues that concern dads — both married and divorced. From the sad, defeated moment of moving back in with his parents (after the divorce), to using donuts & driving as a form of escapism, to rebuilding one’s life — Joel shows us (dads) that we are not as alone as we may have thought.
I also like the way Joel reminded me of the sacredness of even the most mundane-appearing moments with my kids. I could go on, but why? I’d rather let the author speak, or should I say type, for himself. I hope you enjoy the interview…
Daddy Brain: Are you still seeing your kids just once a week? If so, how do you feel about this?
Joel Schwartzberg: I see the kids (my son, 9; and twin daughters, 6) every Friday night, and all day Saturday. I also take one of them out every Wednesday night for dinner or dessert so we can do some one-on-one bonding. Given my full-time work schedule, it’s as much exposure as I can logistically get, and I’m thankful for every moment. But I don’t measure my fatherhood by how much time I spend with them; I consider myself a full-time father. Fathers are fathers, period.
DB: How were you treated during the divorce process? Did you get any respect as a dad or a man?
JS: My ex and I chose to use a mediator, because there was mutual trust at first. I also didn’t want the kids to have to move out of their house, even if it meant giving more than what was required.
Since then, my ex has moved into another house with her boyfriend, but doesn’t seem to realize that changes the game a bit. So, unfortunately, we’re talking to lawyers now about, to put it diplomatically, equalizing the situation.
It helps that I now feel equally qualified as a parent. Early in the divorce, I felt like the lesser parent. I think many dads – divorced or not – probably fall into that trap, but in truth our dadhood is ours to define. It’s up to us to take responsibility and discover what I call our “inner dads”.
DB: I have divorced dad friends that struggle with balancing their new (intimate) relationship with their relationship with the kids. They’re haunted by fear of commitment; fear of another failed relationship; difficulty integrating their kids into the mix; the need for friendship & intimacy vs. the fact that their girlfriend might not be the right match for a man with kids. How was this transition for you?
JS: Well, fortunately, I wasn’t burdened by any of those anxieties and fears. My kids love people who love them back, so I had no real concerns about their new stepmom, who has the double benefit of being a 5th grade teacher and a terrific cook.
As far as me, my last marriage showed me the dynamic that doesn’t work for me, making it easier for me to recognize the one that does. Yes, there’s a balancing act between my life as a husband and my life as a father to these kids, but my wife is patient and understanding (and I reward her as often as I can). Finding someone who would accept me and my three little carry-ons was not hard, but I consider myself very lucky in that regard.
DB: In your book you have an article called, “Parenting by Numbers.” Something you wrote hit me hard. “This is the year it will sink in… This is the year they’ll start to think of me as a terrible, angry father.” Raising my voice. Losing my patience. Being snippy, short and gruff. There are all things I battle with on a daily basis. And quite frankly, even if it only makes up 2% of my time with my boys, I feel like an awful father. What do you do to avoid these negative moments? How has your progress been?
JS: Those moments seemed to subside with the emerging definition of my own role in my kids’ life. When I was defining my fatherhood based on my ex-wife’s expectations, it frustrated me to no end, and I’m sure I transferred that resentment to the kids. But now I remind myself that I’m their dad – their only father — and I have control over this situation. It also helps to put myself in their shoes; I can appreciate a lot of their hurt and vulnerability that way.
I think we need to cut ourselves some slack too. All parents are handicapped in one way or another. We all screw up. But kids at this age are incredibly resilient, so the point is how we move past it.
I talk to my kids about my anger, and sometimes apologize for it if I feel I’ve crossed a line. This seems to make everyone feel better. Some have called that weak parenting, but I want my kids to be comfortable expressing their deep emotions, and as their parent I need to model that behavior.
DB: What advice do you have for divorced dads, or dads that are in the process of getting divorced?
JS: To remember they are not divorcing their kids; just their ex. To see the divorce as an opportunity to reconnect to their children on their own terms and, in doing so, become a more genuine – and happy — dad. And to understand that they are their children’s permanent, irreplaceable, full-time Dad, no matter what. Nothing can change that.
DB: Finally, will there be a sequel to your book? Or are you going to be like Billy Joel and just ride on the success of your previous work, never to grace us with anything new again? What’s his deal anyway?
JS: That’s probably what his last wife is saying.
As for me, I’m going to see how far this book goes. It was optioned by an L.A. producer. Let me say that again: IT WAS OPTIONED BY AN L.A. PRODUCER. So when that dream gets inevitably crushed, I’ll decide what to do next. I do have a day job, you know.
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And remember, you are not alone…