Divorce, Guilt, Pursuing Happiness
June 22, 2008 4:40 PM   Subscribe

Am late 50s, living in Portland, OR, divorced many years, really don't want to be here (interested in relocating to southern california), but have early teenager daughter. How do I reconcile wanting to pursue what I want to do with the years I have left, with staying around in this area for my daughter (my ex has custody, zero problems with visitation, etc.). By the time she turns 18, i'll be in mid 60s+, which i know is not the end of the world, but...am i being selfish for wanting to pursue what I think will make me happy, versus "doing time" here just to be physically close to my daughter (we have a great relationship). Genuine feedback appreciated.
posted by america4 to Human Relations (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What is in California that draws you there? Why do you think your life will be better there?
posted by decathecting at 5:21 PM on June 22, 2008

Middle school years (12-15) are really, really tough on girls. Your presence, especially at this time, will make a big difference (especially when she decides that she hates her mother, which will probably happen sooner or later.) Fathers are particularly important as they start to think romatically/sexually about boys. (Believe me, they think about for a long time before they are ready to do anything and they are do things at a younger and younger age.) Being there for her, assures her that she can be loved by man that she loves (you) and when you treat her well, she learns that she deserves to be treated respectfully - she doesn't have to compromise herself just to get boy to pay attention to her. By late teens, if she seems to be doing weill, she should be able to get what you need from you via phone calls and visits so maybe you don't have to wait until 18.

They say "Where ever you go, there you are" - What is magic about southern CA? Can you start making the changes that you want while you stay in Portland? It is hard to believe that if you commit to being in Portland for another 3-4 years, you couldn't find somethings that would make you happy. What I'm trying to say is that if you get creative, it is a false dichotomy to think either I'm selfish or I have to give up all happiness.
posted by metahawk at 5:25 PM on June 22, 2008

listen to metahawk. that "oh I would be happy if I lived far, far away" thinking is awfully adolescent... when I hear people in their late twenties talking that way, it raises a little red immaturity flag in my head. the desire to move isn't immature, and thinking that you'd prefer another place isn't immature, but believing that at all costs you can only be happy in that other place is ridiculous. You'll still be your own unhappy self.
I also think you might try to think about your daughter, and what that relationship means to you. Maybe you're so bogged down in the day to day that you're taking for granted the "great relationship" and see your life as "doing time". if I were you, I'd realize that a great relationship with one's non-custodial daughter is not something to take for granted. I don't want to get all "cat's in the cradle" or anything - but you're the grown up now, and it's your job to do the work of the relationship - if you do not, you can't expect her to make time for you when she's grown. Ask yourself if jeopardizing a lifetime with your daughter is worth whatever fantasy you're cherishing of life in sunny, southern california.
posted by moxiedoll at 5:43 PM on June 22, 2008

Isn't this pretty much the central dilemma of parenting, in a nutshell? Trying to balance what you should do for your kid(s) versus what you want to do for your own self?

So, why is this coming to a head for you now, a decade or more into it? I suspect you know the right answer, but it's not very much fun and you're asking the opinion of a bunch of random strangers in an attempt to justify the other choice.

Maybe there's a way to make it a win-win for everyone. It sounds like you don't have primary custody now...how about something like: live in Portland during the school year and see your daughter as much as you regularly do now, and spend the summers *with her with you* in SoCal. She'll love the change of pace, too; California will be fun and exotic; her mom will get a break from that special mother-daughter drama during the roiling teenage years; you'll get a chance to know your daughter even better than you do now.
posted by Sublimity at 5:44 PM on June 22, 2008

Gut reaction is to stay with daughter. Make Portland work for you. It's not your location, it's your attitude. You'll never regret living close to your daughter during these years.

Sublimity's idea is great if you can swing it financially.
posted by LoriFLA at 5:46 PM on June 22, 2008

I can only speak for myself. I grew up in my mom's custody. My dad lives far away from my mom, so I see him about twice a year. Now that I'm an adult, I have even less time with him, since I suddenly have two weeks off a year total (what??? what about spring break??? summer vacation??? christmas???????) and have to split that time between my mom and dad.

When I was a teenager, there were many times that I needed my dad badly, but he wasn't there. He was there for my graduation, and he was there for Christmas, but he wasn't there when I needed help with my homework, or when I fought with my mom, or when I just felt like I wasn't sure who I was or who I wanted to be. He was especially not there when I just wanted to hang out with my dad without doing anything much but being near him. He wasn't there at the dinner table. He wasn't there for me to know that he was there in case something happened. He wasn't downstairs when I was upstairs. I couldn't tell him that I loved him without making an international phone call. He wasn't there to get to know me as I grew up. He wasn't there to hear my stupid jokes. When I had the flu, he wasn't there. When I went to my first dance, he wasn't there. When I got my driver's license, he wasn't there. He wasn't at any of my birthday parties. He didn't look at college brochures with me. We didn't watch Star Trek together. We didn't get to be a family together. Every day, however unremarkable, I needed and wanted my dad to be there.

When your daughter grows up, chances are that you'll see her a few times a year for a few days here and there. You'll never be able to spend as much time with her as you can now. My dad and I have a good relationship, and I am not angry that he made choices that resulted in our spending our lives apart (although, for a time, I was), but I am crying as I write this...
posted by prefpara at 6:09 PM on June 22, 2008 [13 favorites]

I could have written prefpara's response. I don't resent my dad's choice to move away now that I am an adult (as a kid and in my teens, that's a different sotory). But do I wish he'd been close-by? Hell, yeah.

My dad moved away because he was upset about his divorce from my mother, and thought that living somewhere else would help. It didn't - he moved on with his life and started a new family (a family I love very much and hold no hard feelings against), but having left only made him feel guilty.

I can't say that things will be the same for you, but if you and your daughter have a good relatioship now, I can say that it's very likely that your moving away will leave her sad and confused. Seeing staying in Portland as "doing time" when you know this is where your daughter is...that kind of bums me out. What is it about Portland vs SoCal that so strongly tempts you to leave?
posted by DrGirlfriend at 6:30 PM on June 22, 2008

I can relate somewhat to your situation - I live where I live because of my son (who lives with me). His dad and I made a promise to him when we split up that we would make it as easy as possible for him to spend time with both of us. I made certain to move to a home that was in his same school district when we moved out, and later when I remarried, my current husband made the same commitment to him - we're staying put until Son is finished with high school (another 3 years).

His dad recently made the decision to move over 5 hours away (for many reasons - new wife, new job, opportunity to cash in on a piece of shared real estate) - it has been a real challenge to deal with the fallout from this decision, as Son is at any given moment wistful, angry, sad, disillusioned, bitter.

I guess the only thing I can add to the advice you've heard so far is this - think very carefully about any promise, explicit or otherwise, that you've made to your daughter, and what it might mean to her if you break it. While I know my son will get past this, and I'm doing everything I possibly can to help him do that, it's terribly hard to watch and I can't help but think that it might color his future relationship with his dad.
posted by ersatzkat at 6:32 PM on June 22, 2008

My anecdotal answer:

My dad lived in the same town as mom and me til age 12 (they had divorced when I was less than a year old). He had decided that 12 was old enough that I knew who he was and how to get ahold of him if I needed him, and moved many states away. After that, I saw him perhaps two weeks of the year, all of them miserable (equally because of an awful stepmom and because most of that time was spent in the "getting to know you again" phase). Two years ago, I moved to the same town as dad, and though we have many opportunities to see each other, we just don't. Our relationship is difficult and strained and though I can't tell you how much that's due to his moving away, I can tell you that it had a big effect on me in terms of how I viewed boys in my teenage years, how I viewed my importance in his life, and how well I knew him (and he knew me) as a person, not just as a dad (or a daughter, in his case). As others have noted, frequent phone contact is not the same as just hanging out, watching tv, or shooting the shit, as it were. A girl needs her dad.

(That is to say, try to stay in the area if you can stand to. At least til she's 15 or 16.)
posted by alpha_betty at 6:53 PM on June 22, 2008

These are the years when your daughter is changing from a kid to the person who forms the basis of who she'll be for the rest of her life. You know, child to woman, all that hokey uncomfortable guidance counselor stuff. Don't you want to be near her for that? I'm 18- when I think of how much I've changed from 13 to now, well. My dad's had a lot of problems over the last 5 or 6 years, but he had his lucid periods and I wouldn't give them up for anything. If you and your daughter have a great relationship, what could make you consider moving away just as you have the chance to meet the beginnings of the person she'll be for the rest of her life? I can't imagine anything more fascinating than watching your child turn into a person who can relate to you as an equal, of sorts.
posted by MadamM at 7:28 PM on June 22, 2008

Please stay as close to your daughter as possible. She is your first responsibility. Besides, you will benefit immensely, in ways you don't even know yet. In addition, there is no better feeling than looking back in few years, having no regrets, knowing you did the best thing under difficult circumstances.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:36 PM on June 22, 2008

I take it your parents weren't divorced, eh? Or if so, one never moved far away... the only upside, as far as your daughter is concerned, is that if you live somewhere interesting and different, and she visits you, then she's somewhere interesting and different. Other than that, sorry man, but it's all negatives, and going to Disney Land really doesn't make up for it. You won't be around when she needs you, you won't be around when she doesn't think she needs you (but she really does), and you won't be around when it would just be nice to have a shared moment. The phone doesn't cut it, don't delude yourself, and neither do a few weeks of summer vacation and flying in and out at Christmas.

Do what you feel you have to, but moving away is going to seriously change whatever relationship you have with your daughter. These are some heavy, heady times, the teen years... if you're not within TriMetting distance, you're not going to have much of an impact. You're going to be a stranger in large part, and you're not going to be able to help your daughter become the best person she can be. I'm not saying that she'll develop attachment issues because of it, or that she won't love you, but your absence for the next eight years or so will define your relationship with her until your death and beyond. You will never be as close, or as... family, I suppose... as you would have been if you'd stayed nearby and participated more fully in her life.

I get the impression that most of us answering this question were in your daughter's potential position, with a non-custodial parent who moved a significant distance away. I was. Ask yourself if you want your daughter to be saying the same things we're saying now, in about 20 years time. It's your choice.
posted by mumkin at 7:51 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Is there anything in the OP's question or profile that leads us to believe OP is the father and not the mother?
posted by Joleta at 8:36 PM on June 22, 2008

Joleta, the OP indicates that he's male in a number of his previous askme questions.
posted by mostlymartha at 8:57 PM on June 22, 2008

No man every lay on his deathbed wishing he'd spent more time on his career. I assume the opportunity in So Cal is either work related or a potential relationship. Are they worth giving up your daughter? Your choice. Guilt, the gift that keeps on giving.
posted by ptm at 9:04 PM on June 22, 2008

Joleta, I believe this is what has everyone pretty sure the OP is the dad.

As for my answer, I would advise that you stay put until she's at least graduated from high school. Yeah, she can visit you in SoCal for the summer. But as someone said above, what of those times during the school year when she'll need you? There's lots to contend with in high school (homework, prom, wanting to be on student government, boys, etc) that I'm sure she'll want to have you there for. If nothing else, there are days where she'll appreciate being able to just come across town and have you hold her.

Remember, when you and your ex decided to bring her into this world, you made the commitment (even if unspoken and unconscious) to do what was right for her above all while she still needs you. At this point in time, I'd say she still needs you. I know the urge to go find your own happiness can be overwhelming. However, you won't be sorry you did this. She will remember this with fondness and love you all the more for it.

Good luck.
posted by arishaun at 9:15 PM on June 22, 2008

"She'll love the change of pace, too; California will be fun and exotic"

Just like to weigh in here... In my early teens I was often dragged off to stay in a strange city with my dad. I knew no one and missed my friends and home horribly. In our early teens being surrounded by peers is very important, and I don't know many people that age who would welcome a change like that. (Sorry)
posted by smoakes at 9:53 PM on June 22, 2008

Your other kids are 18 and 23, and lost contact with you when they were 11 and 16, right? If you've re-established contact with them in the last couple of years, maybe you could ask them what they think.
posted by hades at 10:10 PM on June 22, 2008 [1 favorite]

Suck it up and do what's right for the kid. That is part of the joy and pain of parenting. You get one shot at this and the rest of your life to think about.

FWIW you will get a LOT of heat from your daughter when you ask her to spend her high school summers away from her friends.

As she gets older she needs you when she needs you. There's no planning it. If you're not there, I mean within an easy drive, she will go to somebody who is.
posted by trinity8-director at 11:45 PM on June 22, 2008

The difference between 13 and 18 is far greater than the difference between 57 and 62. If you wait five years to go to SoCal, big fricken schmeal, but your daughter will miss having her dad during her high school years, which she'll never, ever get back. You went and brought this person into the world, and it's your responsibility to do the right thing for her.
posted by fnerg at 1:32 AM on June 23, 2008

If my dad had moved away when I was 13, I doubt I would have noticed much. I mean, provided I got to take vacations to see him once or twice a year. At that age you're pretty busy trying to get away from your parents anyway.

The father of a friend of mine left for the US (we're Canadian) when we were about 14. As far as I remember, it was more exciting than upsetting. After all, she had somewhere completely new and different to call home [away from home].
posted by sunshinesky at 3:20 AM on June 23, 2008

How's your financial situation? Are you able to afford a vacation home in SoCal? Would this be a good interim step? Stay in your daughter's vicinity now, but have a regular second home that is "yours" (as opposed to just going on vacation there) where you can start building professional and social contacts.
posted by nax at 4:20 AM on June 23, 2008

I'm kind of curious if you would want to stay closer to your kid if you'd had a son instead of a daughter.

I think you might as well move. It's better than resenting her for making you stay somewhere.
posted by onepapertiger at 7:40 AM on June 23, 2008

posted by notjustfoxybrown at 12:13 PM on June 23, 2008

I think you need to be aware of the amount of privilege you have at the moment. Right now you have a considerable amount of influence over the kind of relationship you have with your daughter, the amount of time you spend together and the kind of interactions you have.

Do not anticipate this being the same when she is older and has her own busy, involving life. Especially once she has moved out of home it will be her who decides whether you will see each other frequently or not. Think what you like about the real degree of complexity of the life of an 18 or 20 year old, but people have complicated, full lives and if you haven't set some kind of precedent of being involved in what your daughter's goings on, she may not see you fitting into her life in any huge way in the future.

So, I think the way you behave now can set a precedent for the way you guys will relate to each other later on. And I do think it will be appreciated; those teenager years are very shaky and the more stable, trustworthy people you have in your life through it, the better.

This is a pretty hard question for me to answer without foisting all my experiences on your story, which is certainly different, so by way of a disclaimer, I sort of was the kid in this story. I think I can understand your desire to be somewhere else after a divorce. After my parents divorced, my dad sat me down and said that New Zealand would not be far enough from my mother for his comfort (my family lives in the UK), and he spent much of the years following their serious rift traveling. There are many reasons my dad and I are no longer in touch, but I can see the way his relationship with my brothers is affected by him being not a stable, responsible presence but this sort of flakey person who spends most of his time abroad. He probably has his reasons for doing this, and without doubt he'd make an interesting acquaintance, but in doing so he has skipped the father role somewhat.

In some years your daughter will be an adult, and it will not be you who is setting the terms of your relationship. So think about the precedent you might set by doing an up and move. Certainly, YMMV, and on the reread I'm sorry if this sounded like a lecture. Good luck.
posted by eponymouse at 1:51 PM on June 23, 2008

Being there for her, assures her that she can be loved by man that she loves (you) and when you treat her well, she learns that she deserves to be treated respectfully - she doesn't have to compromise herself just to get boy to pay attention to her.

Reading this almost made me cry. Let's just say my dad wasn't around (mom had moved us a thousand miles away), and I wish I had been able to learn this from my father.

She deserves to have you there for her. You will never be able to replay these years.

I'm actually in a similar situation to yours, as a non-custodial mom of a 9-year-old girl. I don't wish to stay in this city (I miss my family and the snow, and the heat here drains the life out of me), and will move (if I can) when my daughter goes to college. It can be hard to really resign yourself to staying somewhere you don't really want to be. I get bummed out and feel oppressed about it from time to time, but then I slap myself and realize that such feelings are non-productive and only going to make me feel miserable if I let them have free rein. It feels like a ball and chain sometimes (or rather spike-in-the-ground and chain) but overall I am able to keep my attitude in check.

I try to focus on the things I'd miss about this city if I were to move away. It is a nice place to live in lots of ways, and I have made a pretty good (though extremely modest financially) life for myself here.

Don't let bitterness get the best of you, and don't guilt your daughter about causing you to stay. It would poison the good thing you have going for her to feel like she's holding you back.
posted by marble at 12:59 AM on June 28, 2008

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