When something is missing in your life, it usually turns out to be someone.
My ex has a big sign up high on the wall in her kitchen. “Life is all about plan B.” I don’t know whom she is quoting. And I have the impression she doesn’t really believe in anything resembling Plan B. But it has been all Plan B since our divorce almost three years ago.
I have been thinking about Plan B a lot recently. Plan B’s are the ugly step-children of Plan A’s. They only exist because of all the Plan A’s that have gone awry. I find myself working down the alphabet of Plans with my oldest daughter Paige, who hasn’t spoken to me hardly at all the past year. One of my most important relationships is in such a bad state I have had to completely reframe my hopes and expectations.
It’s not all due to the fact that she is about to turn 15 either. Some of her angst/doubt/separation expressed as anger (toward mostly me) is as they say a natural expression of what it means to be a teen-ager. But that’s like saying that some of GOP frontrunner Mitt Romney’s gaffes on the campaign trail are simply due to his being rich. My oldest daughter’s anger is of course tied to all the things that teen-agers normally have to deal with. Much more of it I fear has to due with me.
This is not exactly how I pictured things, even after her mom and I divorced. I mistakenly thought that expressing my love for her and her sisters often and sincerely would give comfort and assurance despite the fracturing of the family they knew and wanted. It’s not how it has turned out. A little over a year and a half after the divorce in what had up to then seemed a smooth transition for Paige, she blew up at my fiance and I and stormed into a cold February night. The language she used toward us didn’t come from the tiny baby I first carried into our home in Ann Arbor in 1997 either. I remember thinking as she raged and I dodged the fists she swung at me that there seemed little left of the adorable little girl who smelled like baby powder and loved to sit in my lap.
I tried to remain calm even as I felt the delicate bricks in the foundation of our relationship crumble beneath me. The one or two moments where it appeared we might be back on a path toward rekindling our connection since have vanished like a scented candle whiffed out by a sudden breeze.
Accepting the idea that my vision for a tight, connected and relatively normal relationship with each of my daughters–the same one I pictured before the divorce–is no longer possible doesn’t come easily. And holding so tightly as I have to that vision causes problems for both myself and my daughters. The Buddhist in me knows that all things are in transition at all times. Nothing is permanent. Yet don’t we as parents hold on dearly to the hope that our little girls and boys will still love us and need us when they grow up? Don’t we yearn for their adoration throughout their lives? In fact, don’t we want our very relationships with them to remain basically the same no matter what?
I have had to completely reframe my relationship with Paige. No longer are we talking and joking around. I could no more put my arms around my little girl-cum teen-aged woman than I could grasp exactly what happened between us. She and I are traveling on our own roads and right now in completely different directions.
The deterioration in our relationship has cast both our futures in to new territories where the old hallmarks of our father-daughter relationship no longer apply.
And that I think is the key to understanding and, ultimately, being satisfied in life. All of our relationships, even those we covet the most, are always in transition. It is the process of nurturing them, coaxing them along to be what we want them to be that is at the core of our mission. We have to realize that our relationships are always in process, always shifting. Sometimes they will feel like shit and not be at all what we want. We may even have to jettison some relationships like my friend Abby did in order to survive.
I adore Paige and I miss her greatly. I realize that only one of us right now wants to be in this relationship. So I will wait and hope that her path crosses mine again sometime soon. And I will realize that whatever happens, relationships change.