Sometimes I write an article that garners much feedback, and sometimes I write one that garners no feedback. It happens; I don’t get too emotional about those. But, recently published in another newspaper was a letter and my response. What I didn’t include in that periodical was that the letter changed my life – literally. I’ll republish the letter, but I’ll add more details to my response for my own readers (wink wink):
I’ll cut to the chase and it may make me sound bitter, but I am bitter. I am 35, father of three children whose mother decided that being a wife and mother wasn’t what she thought it would be. She packed her bags, left a letter for us on the kitchen table, and that was the last my children or I have heard from her.
I’m not going into detail if we had an ideal marriage or life; that’s not the point. The point is that she didn’t think her life lived up to what she fantasized, so she cut and ran. I won’t bore you with the details of the unbelievable pain my children and I have been through and how agonizing the first few months were. I don’t even think you can imagine what I was going through. Forget about the fact that my wife and best friend left me without so much as a discussion, just a Dear John note on the table, but I had to face our children and explain to them something that I didn’t understand: “Mommy isn’t coming home.” No matter how many times I said that it had absolutely nothing to do with them, how could they not feel that they may have done something to cause their mother to leave and stop loving them? The tears were flowing freely for a long time.
I thank my family and friends for helping me in the beginning and continuing to help me now. Because of them, I found an excellent child therapist and began sending my children for regular sessions, and I slowly started to put the pieces of my new life together. I had to adjust my working hours, relying on family to be home when the children came home from school. I learned how to cook a decent meal, I managed to do the laundry without ruining our clothes, I managed to do the food shopping and not keep asking my sister to help with that. It took a long time, but soon I learned that it was okay to be happy again, and my children started to smile and laugh.
You may think, “Is he writing because he’s having trouble finding someone to date because he has a stigma because his wife left him?” You would be nowhere near the truth. I’m not ready to date yet, and my children still need time before I venture into that world again and even think of bringing someone into their lives. I am writing because of how our fellow brethren have treated us. No, they have not been rude or confronted me as to what I did to make my wife leave without her children. The truth is, they have done nothing to me. It’s as if everything has continued as it was. In the first few weeks, there was shock, anger, and then the sympathy for my children; but that was it. Except for my family and close friends, no one has done anything to help me or to extend a courtesy to me. I hate to say it, but if my wife had passed away, I would have been supported by the community. I have seen it with my own eyes. When there is a widow or widower with children in the community, everyone gathers around them to help. Meals are cooked for the family. The community even helps to raise money to pay off the mortgage on the house so the spouse doesn’t have that extra worry, or money is put away for the children’s college education or wedding. I know this because I used to be someone who donated money to help such a family. Now I’m in this situation and no one has asked about my finances (my ex-wife worked full time and earned a six-figure salary).
The lost income has affected our life significantly. We may have to move soon because I can’t afford all of our expenses: yeshivah tuition (there was no sympathy there), car payments, grocery bills, and mortgage on my one very decent income. It’s just not enough to cover everything. People go out of their way to help the widow or widower, but not so much for the spouse (and children) left behind. My ex-wife is merely an avoided topic in conversation with others. No one is asking “How’re the kids doing?” anymore like they would if their mother died. It’s a horrible thing to say, but unfortunately, it’s my life and my truth; because my wife left us, the community hasn’t done anything to help me or my children. Sure, the kids get invited to a friend for Shabbos afternoon and to parties and other places. But that is it. I am now struggling with all I have written about and more. If not for my siblings and parents, I don’t know what would have become of me and my children. That’s the plain truth.
My children need help. No matter how good their therapist is, they still come home to a house that their mother chose to leave. When they go to friends’ houses, it’s to a two-parent household. None of my children have friends whose parents are divorced. My children can only remember when they were part of such a family. It’s heartbreaking. I’ve looked into trying to find support groups for my children or some sort of organization that can help my children adjust. But I haven’t had much luck. Most of the frum organizations out there to help single-parent families are geared towards assisting the mothers, not the fathers. Sure, I have been helped occasionally, but when you go to an organization where the husband is usually the one to leave, you can’t help but feel awkward. But I will continue to go because I would do anything to help my children. I know no embarrassment or awkwardness when it comes to providing, giving, and loving my children.
I’m not here to preach or to tell the frum community how bad they are. I am here to beg people to look around them, and if they know of a family such as mine, where a spouse has left, don’t just think, “They’re probably okay. They have their father. He’s working. They have what they need.” My children and I will be okay, but we were far from “okay” months ago. Don’t only give to those who have suffered an “acceptable family trauma” such as death. Families in a situation such as mine need their neighbors’ assistance just as much – but I feel that because we aren’t your typical “nebach case,” we are ignored. It’s wrong. My children and I need help – socially, emotionally, and financially. I have always believed in the pasuk, “Mi k’amcha Yisrael,” until I needed am Yisrael. Except for a few people and fewer organizations, I’m still waiting for assistance of any type.
Goldy, do what you can to spread my email. Our frum brothers and sisters need to be made aware that divorced or abandoned spouses need your help probably even more, because our spouses chose to leave us and their children behind. They weren’t taken from us by passing away. They chose to walk out the door and we are left with questions and needs that apparently aren’t as acceptable from organizations or benefactors as being the surviving members of a family.
That’s it. That’s all I have to say.
My answer and my story to Pinny is a lengthy one, and literally changed my life. It will be published in next week’s paper.
Hatzlachah to you all.