I knew that eventually Jenn, my ex, would start dating someone. I was OK with that. We had too much of a past to ever consider getting back together, and the present was too good to consider changing. I thought we’d already been through the hardest part. We’d managed to get past the breakup of a 5-year relationship, which culminated in my return to drug and alcohol rehab. We’d navigated our way through the short sale of our home. We’d had to get lawyers. We’d fielded questions from Lola, our 4-year-old daughter, as to why Mommy and Daddy were no longer living together. Each hurdle proved to be difficult, but we agreed on one basic premise: What’s best for Lola?
After a while, joint custody seemed almost normal. Thursdays, Fridays, and every other Saturday at Daddy’s house and the rest of the time with Mommy seemed fair—on paper. Pick-up and drop-off were always pleasant, but sometimes life happened and we had to accommodate the other person’s schedule. Not once did we have to refer to the legal document issued by the courts. We just communicated. Always starting every conversation with: What’s best for Lola?
We became good friends who could rely on each other, and our daughter was happy. Sure, she might secretly want her parents back together, but she’s happy. I wasn’t sure how I’d feel when Jenn told me she had a boyfriend, but I knew it was coming. It was inevitable. And when it did happen, the only thing I could think about was: What’s best for Lola?
No matter how much ice cream I put in my mouth, the only thing I could think was: Is this what’s best?
Jenn waited months before even considering introducing her boyfriend to Lola. She wanted to make sure he was more than just some guy she was dating. It made sense to me. I was happy that she was out living her life on Friday nights when I was home with Lola playing Barbie, watching movies, and popping popcorn. I totally got it. But then one Wednesday morning, Jenn asked me if she could have Lola on Friday night. She wanted to take Lola bowling with her boyfriend. I didn’t know what to say. I knew the right answer was, “Of course,” but it made me nervous. So on that Friday night, I purposely didn’t make plans. Maybe I was trying to torture myself. I sat on the couch watching television and doing my best Bridget Jones imitation with a pint of ice cream. But no matter how many spoonfuls I put in my mouth, the only thing I could think of was: Is this what’s best for Lola?
I got more comfortable with the idea of Jenn’s boyfriend being in my daughter’s life. It didn’t sting as much the next time, and it got even easier the time after that. He was slowly integrated into all of our lives. He was around when I’d come over to the house. And eventually it became part of our new normal. It started to feel like we were all cast members in some reality version of Modern Family. We could all be in the same room and it wasn’t awkward—or maybe the awkwardness made us comfortable. We were all on the same page of what was best for Lola.
This past summer, I was invited to go swimming over at Jenn’s condo. I gladly said yes because it was extra time with my daughter and it was really hot out. I put on my bathing suit and grabbed a towel before heading out the door. My daughter loves to swim. She was already in the pool by the time I unlocked the gate to get in. A huge smile came across her face when she saw me. It makes me so happy whenever I see that smile. I quickly said hello to Jenn and her boyfriend and then jumped in myself. We were swimming, splashing and having contests of who could hold their breath the longest. That’s when Lola asked her mom where her boyfriend was because she wanted to play Marco Polo with him.
Lola jumped out of the pool to go find him. My throat closed up and my heart sank. I needed to get out of there as quickly as possible, I thought. Fear, anger and insecurity started to pour through me like candy from a busted piñata. I wanted to scream. Jenn looked at me because she’d overheard the conversation. She was just as speechless as I was. She didn’t know what to say. Lola and Jenn’s boyfriend returned to the pool to play Marco Polo. I didn’t get a personal invitation, so I just watched. Every ounce of my body wanted to grab my towel and run to my car. I watched as my daughter played; she was smiling, laughing, and having fun. It only made me want to leave more. I thought about it. What kind of message would I be sending to my daughter? That she shouldn’t be nice to my ex’s boyfriend? That she’d upset Daddy? I hated it, and I really just wanted to leave, but that wouldn’t be best for Lola.
I try not to let my ego get in the way. I want to be the best father that I can.
I stuck around, and I’m glad I did because Lola wanted to play with me 15 minutes later. But even a few days after that I still felt wounded. Eventually my emotions were discharged from the intensive care unit and moved to concentrated care. Sometimes my mind would race and project crazy thoughts, like somehow my daddy card was being taken away. I felt sorry for myself, like I was some kind of victim. I knew I wasn’t being rational, but that didn’t make me feel better. I needed to take my daily dose of medicine and remind myself: What’s best for Lola.
Things are good now. I try not to let my ego get in the way. I want to be the best father that I can. I want Lola to have a good relationship with her mother’s boyfriend no matter how jealous I get. I just need to remember: WBFL (What’s Best For Lola).
The way I see it, it’s smooth sailing—until she starts dating.