One of the saddest things a father can witness, is the loss of innocence for his children.
When we broke the news to Paul twenty years ago, that his mother and I were splitting up, he was nearly five years old. I wanted to look brave, but I was sobbing profusely the whole time. After I went to my room, his mother came up and told me he laughed at the whole thing. No, I didn't believe it. But I knew what was ahead for him.
I remember going to his soccer games. He was a natural at the sport. His secret was speed. He was not one for long endurance, but for the short haul, he could outrun any other player on the team. After about three years, however, some of the other boys started to catch up, and he traded soccer for karate, eventually getting his black belt at eleven.
Paul was a straight-A student, and generally well-behaved around adults and in public. I used to tell people, "Paul practically raises himself." It was true, and that was the problem. At some point in the fifth grade, he started to crash. A friend of his had committed suicide over the summer, and he was haunted by a mysterious figure in his room, never seen, but often felt. He had also been dating by then -- yes, the fifth grade (over my strenuous objections), and the breakup triggered the spiral that was already in the making. Had I the power to do so, I would have had him come to live with me for his high school years. But the monthly support check had become a de facto alimony payment, and his mother wouldn't budge. The poseurs who preside over family court in Virginia would have believed anything she said. One never knows what might have happened, but I'm sure of what would NOT have happened.
By the time he began at the Art Institute at twenty-two, he was back on track, and manages to stay there. Still, when I watched the World Cup matches these past two weeks, I was reminded of those days gone by. During my weaker moments, I wonder ...