As I have mentioned on here before, I am suffering from depression. I have also mentioned that I am recently divorced, although have been living apart from my ex for some years now. I am also a Dad. Hence the triple D – a Divorced, Depressed Dad.
What I haven’t described is just what a perfect storm those three circumstances create.
Depressed, not quite divorced, not a Dad, but you get the point…
You see, depression leads to isolation – or at least it has in my case. One of the key symptoms is an almost total loss of self-confidence. I have hidden away behind my front door and my computer screen. I eat (badly), making me put on weight thereby losing yet more self-confidence. I rarely (if ever) proactively arrange any sort of social activity and avoid crowded public places where I am likely to see happy families at play.
I’m fine at football – where we’re all part of one “family”, and you can hug a stranger when Welbeck scores in the last seconds, but I tend to go to Tesco at midnight and I haven’t been to Shul (synagogue) in months. I have had panic attacks even considering the idea – I can’t bear the thought of the constant “hi, how are you?” “Fine (actually not fucking fine at all thank you very much but I can’t say that can I ‘cos that would be embarrassing)” charade.
So what’s that got to do with being divorced? Well, I’ll tell you. In the world in which I live – middle class, Jewish suburbia, almost everyone (certainly in their 40s) is married with kids. All the people I called my friends before the divorce were (and are) married and have kids of a similar age to mine etc.
Now in this world, it is a universal truth that the wife is the keeper of the diary. Whether both spouses work or not, she is the one who makes the social arrangements. Let’s face it – how regularly do men call each other up “just for a gossip”? So when a man is on his own, this pipeline of dinner invitations and evenings out dries up – unless he is proactive and pushy about it (which is something of a problem for a DDD as I explain above). Oh – for a while, he gets invited – ON HIS OWN – but that soon slows and stops. GOD FORBID anyone should think he might like to be invited WITH HIS KIDS.
And herein lies the final nail in the coffin for the DDD. It doesn’t matter how amicable the divorce is (and mine was – largely – as amicable as it is possible to have. There was certainly no “bad behaviour” on either part), what the shared custody arrangements are, or how much interest or investment the father puts into his children’s lives. In the world in which I live, a divorce means one thing. It simply means that the FAMILY goes on with the mother. The father is perceived as SEPARATE from that family.
So, the mother gets the invitations to Shabbat and Yom Tov (festival) lunch or dinner – WITH THE KIDS (like before). The DDD gets – if he’s lucky – the odd invite BY HIMSELF. Of course the Dad is at a further disadvantage. It is far harder for him to reciprocate. The Mum is (and I’m generalising here) used to working out how to prepare a meal for 10+ people (and when everyone has 2-4 kids, that is how many you have to feed), especially on Shabbat or Yom Tov, when there are restrictions on what you can cook and how and when.
The DDD, on the other hand, has to learn from scratch how to feed himself and keep his kids from starving or, more likely, rioting. Expecting a depressed person to host a dinner party for his 4 kids and a family of 5 is like expecting Vladimir Putin to dress in pink frilly pyjamas while cuddling a well-loved teddy bear. Or Chelsea to sign a loveable striker.
Even to arrange such an event, which must be done months in advance due to the clogged diaries of everyone (other than the DDD, naturally) is a leap of faith. I don’t know about depressed people in general, but I do know that I can’t tell how high or low I’m going to be from one day to the next. To decide in February that I am going to be together enough in June to put together a Shabbat meal for 10 is simply never going to happen.
And all this isolation means that you are off the social radar. So when the invitation lists are being put together for that big party? Yup. You guessed it. And facebook is full of all my contemporaries saying what a fab time they had for another weekend. Oh joy.
Now I know this comes across as a bit of a rant. And I know it comes across as whiney and self-pitying. And I know that I could have done more to help myself (but that’s the point about depression – it makes you self-destructive). And I really am not trying to embarrass anyone (in particular). And I’m sure nobody MEANS it, and everybody loves me really. And I really (honestly and truly) don’t begrudge anyone else their happiness or their friendships – good for them I say.
But whatever the causes, everything I have written here IS TRUE. There are people who I would have sworn I would be lifelong friends with (and who live just a few streets away) who I haven’t seen for over a year or spoken to for almost as long. I have been dying to call to ask them to explain why I have been cut off, but I’m too much of a coward (or a man) to do so. So I will just write this instead.
And I’ve saved the real zinger for last. Just over a year ago, one of our sons reached bar mitzvah age. None of the weekend of celebrations took place in either parent’s home, both parents arranged it and, as far as anyone knows, we paid for it equally). The mother’s home was festooned with cards, gifts, flowers, chocolates. The father’s home? 3 cards – 2 of which were from his immediate family.
Can you explain that? I sure as hell can’t.
Speak soon (if you can be bothered, that is)
P.S. You see how I capitalised all that ON HIS OWN and WITH THE KIDS stuff? Genuinely, in the 3 years of separation I have had ONE invitation with the kids. ONE. Thank you to those friends who issued that invitation – you know who you are.