My eyes chanced to fall upon this photo in my home office yesterday. What’s the big deal, you might ask, since the photo is there everyday for my eyes to see? Yes, it’s there, but rarely do my eyes see it. Even more rarely does seeing it cause me to think about the photo’s meaning in my life, or the cry of pain and defiance it signifies.
The photo, appropriately drained of its original color and punch, captures the four of us a mere two or three weeks after I separated from the mother of my children and moved out of our home.
Yes, there we are, Dad and his three children. All of us, like a party of lost explorers, searching for a safe path through the thickly overgrown jungle of challenges and emotional hardships that come when a family breaks up; when divorce irrevocably pulls it apart. A time also when a father and mother no longer choose to live together or jointly supervise the unspooling of their young children’s lives. Me, center right, proud and lovingly their father. A man without the security of a wife or the family foundation that once held his life together and unshakeable. A man alone and bereft of the persona of both husband and full time father. And, though you can’t readily see it in the photo, a man trapped and surrounded by the considerable debris of a broken heart.
In short, a man deeply hurt and depressed.
And there, too, my three children, Jesse, Kristin and Katie, ages 5 to 10, living in a strange new world without the dependable and comforting presence of both their parents in their daily lives. All of us bound to an every-other-weekend routine that flimsily holds together our ideas of the healthy, loving connection that should exist between a father and his children.
I had this photo taken back then, over 35 years ago, to make our connection seem more real and palpable on the physical plane. To prove something to either them or myself, I guess, or perhaps to both. After all, with this photo I could now see, or display, proof of my success in holding onto my children, even if I didn’t see them every day. Or every week. The fact that the photographer was an attractive—and available—single mother herself had little to do with my motivation.
You can’t tell from the photo, but I can see the pain hidden in each of my children’s frozen stares. All of us, perhaps with the exception of daughter Katie on the right, who did little to conceal her jealous antagonism towards the attractive photographer, clearly signal through our eyes and facial expressions the uncertainty of the moment, and the confusion that hangs over all aspects of our newly forming family life. We were Orphans of the Storm frozen in time and captured on photographic paper; cast offs from a way of life that would never return, or ever be successfully remastered.
Funny, how much you can see in a faded photograph!