December 12, 2017
“The daughters will stay with each of the parents in their place of residence alternately for one week at a time – on odd weeks with the mother and even weeks with the father, the week being understood as seven days counted from 9:00 p.m. on Sunday to 9:00 p.m. on the following Sunday.” This is an excerpt from the “Agreement on How to Exercise Parental Authority and Maintain Contact with Children after a Divorce” that I signed with my wife a few months ago. We signed it in a positive atmosphere, without quarrelling or shouting at each other.
I remember very well that at the beginning of the year nothing had foretold such a positive turn of events. My wife Anna had asked me not to “inform the children about my orientation or, even more importantly, about my relationship with Daniel”. In an email titled “The future of our children” she had written: “Your life isn’t theirs. They have the right to grow up without problems, just like you and me. I don’t want their lives to turn into a nightmare. You owe them a peaceful childhood. I know you have a very radical approach to these issues right now, but one day you might change your mind. Any damage you do now to the children will be irreversible. I want you to respect their right to a normal childhood, without being punished for their parents’ lives.”
This topic often came up in our conversations at that time because, fortunately, Anna wanted to talk about it. And she listened. For example, she listened when I told her about my meeting with a lawyer from the Campaign Against Homophobia (KPH), during which I learned that in Polish judicial decisions there have been almost no cases in which the parental authority of a biological father or mother has been limited due to their sexual orientation. Anna was as surprised as I was to hear this. She also listened when I repeated for months on end that not only were my rights at stake, but also our daughters’ rights to have contact with their father. All the texts about people in similar situations to ours that we’d recommended to each other must have paid off, as well. When I made it clear to her eventually that I was determined to go through with the divorce, Anna finally changed course. Her regret and rejection gradually disappeared and were replaced by acceptance and willingness to cooperate.
The “Agreement on Shared Custody”, as I call it in short, is an important document. It’s a series of commandments by which we’ll live from now on. It includes the children’s rights and the various obligations of the parents, ranging from very specific ones (where the children’s identity cards will be kept) to more general ones, such as ensuring the moral and material well-being of the children, rules for their upbringing, the choice of schools, and the organisation of leisure activities. By signing the document, we also committed ourselves to building and strengthening a positive image of the other parent in the eyes of the children, and to bringing up our daughters in an atmosphere of love, tolerance, freedom, equality and solidarity.
While I’m writing this, Maya and Lena are busy playing with Legos in our new apartment (where I live with my partner and my daughters). We’ve just come back from a festive dinner at Anna’s place. It was very nice. Both of us are trying very hard to make our divorce as easy as possible for the girls. When I recently told my younger daughter’s teacher at a parent-teacher meeting that we were getting a divorce, she seemed surprised. She said she hadn’t noticed any changes in Lena; she seemed just as lively, cheerful and attentive in school as before. Apparently, this is unusual.
Philip, a reader of my blog, wrote the following to me: “For the good of the child it’s better for parents to live happy and fulfilled lives than for them to live together, hurting each other and being dishonest for many more years.” He added: “My partner has a good relationship with his wife. She doesn’t invite me on holidays yet (and I’m not sure I really expect that to happen), but she has accepted the fact that her husband and the father of her child has a partner and is gay. I respect her because she was brave enough to accept this situation.”
But in the messages sent to me there are more voices full of anxiety and pain. Martin writes: “Sometimes she would tell me I should move out of the house, and I was empty inside. I regretted the fact that my child would grow up without my constant presence. I regretted that when he woke up in the middle of the night and called out to me, I wouldn’t come to him because I wouldn’t be there. After such quarrels I felt very guilty that I’d caused all of this. With my sick nature.” And Andrew wrote to me: “Hey;) I’m 31 years old, I’m still married and have two children. Six months ago I told my family and wife that I was gay. At first the reaction was horrible now hmmm things with my mum and my whole family are super, not so much with my wife, which is understandable, we’re gonna get divorced. I hang out with my kids every other weekend and sometimes during the week. I have a partner, we want to live together. My wife doesn’t let my children see him… Maybe you know if it’s legal for my wife to forbid this?”.
I remember Daniel showing me a passage from some prose he’d written in the first months of our relationship in which he described Anna as being reconciled with what had happened in her life and able to truly enjoy the present situation. I didn’t believe then that Anna would ever let our bond of marriage become untied. I also believed for a long time that divorce and moving out of the house weren’t an option; I could recite a whole litany of arguments on the spot. But eventually I understood that I was wrong.
When I picked the girls up from my wife’s place a few weeks ago, Anna said, “I baked some banana bread. With nuts. Look.”
She likes to bake and is good at it.
“Would you like a piece?” she asked.
I smiled. Anna took the still-warm banana bread out of the baking pan, placed it on a board and held a knife over it. “I’ll cut this much for you.”
When she said “you”, it was clear she meant Daniel and I. The surprise nearly knocked me over.
Daniel returned the favour a few days later. Together with Maya and Lena he baked a fruitcake for Anna.