Sunday, July 11, 2010

The Face of Melancholy

As everyone knows, I live in Montclair, New Jersey, a town that I have adopted and that have adopted me as my second home, after my hometown of Guaynabo.  Montclair is like a small Manhattan, refined, cosmopolitan, socially progressive, racially diverse and tolerant, very tolerant.

When summer arrives, those of us who have children strive to find fun things for them to do while they enjoy their summer vacations.  Since Montclair has three public swimming pools, two weeks ago I got the season pass for my daughter and me, and since then, whenever we can we go to "Essex Pool”, a public swimming pool we have just two blocks from where we live.

Adjacent to the pool is small park for children, where I take my daughter when she gets tired of being in the pool.  On Friday, while we were there, I saw a scene that brought me sad memories.  A young man, perhaps in his mid-thirties, played with a beautiful girl, no older than two years old.  Both showed the features that we usually associate with Slavic races, including light hair and very light blue eyes.  While talking to a friend of mine who at the time was also there, I could not help noticing that although the man could not stop smiling while playing with his daughter, behind his smile there was a clear hint of sadness, of ill-disguised melancholy.  Since I could not see a wedding ring on his hand, I concluded that this man was a divorced father, and I wondered if what I was seeing was just the little time that family courts award to the majority of divorced fathers to be with their children.

I could not help feeling sad myself.  This man, whose face mingled the joy of playing with his beautiful daughter and a painfully hidden sadness, reminded me that a year ago that man was I.  A year ago, before the court granted me a fairer schedule to be with my daughter, I used to feel that bitter joy, that sad aftertaste after each otherwise joyous moment.

I say that it is a tragedy that there are so many fathers suffering the slow hell to which the family courts subject them by excluding them from the lives of their children, and/or by subjecting them to the status of vassals of their former wives.  In most cases, divorced fathers are reduced to the humiliating category of second-class parents, parents of a second order.  The human need to feel worthy and valued prevents a father in this situation from enjoying the brief time that he shares with his children.

Earlier this week, talking about the social services that churches provide to their communities, I said that one of the tragedies of the human condition was that the only pain we can understand is our own pain.  Now I say that it is a tragedy that only the fathers who live these calvaries could understand the continuous and excruciating pain that feels to be in this situation.

To me, who have had the dubious privilege of having being there, those desolate faces of fathers bring me memories, and make me sad.

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