2 - Single
At the time of completing this book, I’ve just turned fifty. I’ve had to keep changing that number as it’s taken longer than I’d hoped to finish this book but, as you will see, I’m an optimist at heart. I’ve been a single dad for what feels like forever, but it’s now just over seven years which made me forty-three when Rose, my ex-wife, and I separated.
Seven years as a single dad is seven years longer than I planned. When I said ‘I do’ with Rose, I did. I meant till death us do part, honouring, obeying and all the rest of the fine print. Rose and I spent sixteen years together and for the vast majority of the time we were a model, happy couple. We fought at times but which couples don’t? Mostly it was as it was meant to be – loving and harmonious, and the children were always doted on.
One of the important facts about me is that I’m not famous. I’m not single-handedly raising my children in a mansion while coping with an unsympathetic media as I try to cure my addictions to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. Chance would be more than a fine thing. I’m trying to raise my children while working, studying, keeping the house clean, making lunches and dinners, writing and, right now, wondering how expensive it would be to be addicted to sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
I grew up and still live in Palmerston North, New Zealand, which can be charitably described as a great place to raise children and uncharitably as dull. It’s not as bad as John Cleese, who was probably having a bad day, made out when he called it ‘the suicide capital of New Zealand’. It’s relatively small, with a population of around 80,000, but it’s big enough to have all the amenities you need for a great family life – quality education, affordable housing and space in which to run and breathe. What it lacks is the dynamic pulse of a large city in which sports events, theatre, historic sites and the general hub-bub make you feel you’re in the centre of the world.
Compensating for this, Palmerston North has few of the issues that plague large cities – pollution, over-crowding, lack of living space, unaffordable housing unless you’re a millionaire, traffic, crime and, more recently and alarmingly, terrorism. Ordinary and typical are probably words that sum up Palmerston North.
Although I’ve lived here for most of my life, for a number of reasons I’m not a flag-waving fan. In fact it isn’t really through choice that I’m here at all. I’m trapped and have been for years. First it was through career success when I briefly flirted with scrambling up the corporate ladder, and who wants to leave a promising career? Then came the arrival of children. It was a matter of considerable irony that just at the time my children came along, so did my redundancy notice nipping that promising corporate career in the bud. More about that later.
Rose and I have two children. Rog was born in 2000 and then Liv (Olivia) in 2001. Yes, Rog has the same name as me, and no, it wasn’t part of a dynasty I’m trying to establish. By heck there’s been a Roger McEwan in the Manawatu for the last century, I’ll have you know. In fact, given some of the looks I’ve got over the years when Rog’s name comes to light, I often wish we’d named him something different.
The story, and the absolute truth, is that after we had a mid-term ultrasound to make sure everything was okay, we discovered we were having a boy – ‘Undoubtedly a boy’ were the sonographer’s actual flattering words. While Rose and I debated our first born’s name, we started calling the emerging bump ‘wee Rog’. After a few months of this, and in the absence of arriving at any other name that we could agree on, we named our new bundle of joy Roger. I’ve felt obliged to tell that story dozens of times.
As the children grew we decided to move out of the suburbs and bought a house on a huge section (1800sqm) on the outskirts of the city. That allowed us to kick back and relax or to charge around like lunatics, depending on the weather and everyone’s mood. Our home had two large lounges, and the children’s rooms were upstairs and incorporated a landing that was able to house all their toys. We renovated the kitchen – the ‘we’ part was me paying for someone to do the job right.
Our section also contained every sort of fruit tree you could imagine: peaches, apples, grapefruit, lemons, mandarins, tamarillos, figs, raspberries (which were divine), gooseberries, feijoas, blackberries, strawberries and red currants. Throw in a massive vegetable patch and we were in a prime location to raise children and pretty much follow in Tom and Barbara’s footsteps and live The Good Life.
To earn a living, post my unexpected redundancy, I started my own consultancy business, McEwan and Associates Ltd, which I have been running now for over a decade. It sounds grander than it actually is as I’m the director, manager and consultant. In other words, it’s just me and I don’t really have a range of enthusiastic associates. What self-employment gives me is the ability to juggle work, family and study, and that’s been invaluable for a single dad.
On the flip side, Palmerston North isn’t exactly the corporate capital of anywhere, and so I’ve had to turn my hand to a variety of tasks as well as hit the road from time to time in order to keep cash, the life blood of any business, rolling in. My main business interest, and love, is strategic management, which I also study and teach, although strategy contracts are rare. Not many people understand what strategic management is, fewer still in Palmerston North it seems.
On the surface everything was idyllic but, to cut a long story short, the relationship storms came and in mid-2008 Rose and I separated. Marriage that ends without someone dying, of natural causes that is, is often branded a failure but I think that’s wrong. My marriage didn’t fail, it simply didn’t last. Rose and I aren’t failures, we are successful, older and wiser parents and adults. Therefore my children aren’t from a broken home, they’re from two loving homes. Having both parents under the same roof is, I think, a pretty weak measure of relationship success or of a positive home environment.
Like everyone, Rose and I entered into our marriage and raising a family with no thought of what life might be like if it didn’t work out. Anyone having those thoughts shouldn’t wander down the aisle in the first place. In New Zealand when you separate you remain married in the eyes of the law. The only grounds for divorce is two years’ separation. Therefore it was my newly acquired ‘lack of a stable sexual relationship’ that found me classified, for the first time in a decade and a half, as single. Only this time a single dad.
I’m curious: what images come to mind when you picture a single dad looking after his children? Many people would imagine the scene as a bit of a shemozzle – the stereotype of a hassled grumpy dad yelling as the frozen dinner burns in the kitchen. I have had days like that, but they are memorable because they are the exception and nothing remotely like the rule.
Being a dad isn’t a chore either, something to be endured until I can mercifully drop my children back to their mum where they will be cared for properly and I can get on with my real life. It makes me wonder how much sharing, or more accurately off-loading, parental responsibilities is a driver for seeking a new partner. That will likely end in tears for all concerned.
Chapter continues . . .