The separation from my then wife in 2006 tore a deep chasm in our family life. I was the one who left the apartment we shared and looked for my own apartment not too far away. Back then, our children had to cope with the fact that their dad no longer came home after work the way he usually did. And they also spent the weekends or holidays either with their mother or with their father, but no longer with their parents.
It was a difficult and challenging time for all of us. Apart from very practical problems, the emotional burden was extremely high. But my wife and I managed to be reasonably fair with one another and not burden our children with our disagreements, which were not always constructive.
Looking back, I would say that about half a year after leaving our home, things had calmed down to such an extent that a regular and relaxed relationship between all of us, but especially between my children and me, was possible.
Our daughter was 10 years old at that time, our son was 4. I saw my children regularly on weekends, during the holidays and, if necessary, occasionally. It wasn't too difficult because we lived only 50 kilometers away from each other. A quick phone call was all it took and I drove to my family after work to talk things over or give math tutoring.
I didn't really feel like a separated father in these days. It hurt that I didn't see my children every day, but on the other hand it was possible without any problems to meet them frequently and at short notice and to spend time with them. In this way I was able to observe, accompany and support them in their development, which as a loving father was and still is a great need for me.
The beginning of the end of the regulated contact
This rather relaxed period changed about two years after our divorce, which happened in 2008. My divorced wife announced to me that she was planning to move to Hamburg with our children. I couldn't understand her reasons, especially since there were no practical constraints. She wanted to move to Hamburg because she expected a better life there in an admittedly great city.
After I got over the initial shock, we discussed it a lot and at length, but she was not impressed by my arguments. She had it in her head, there was nothing to be done about it. Of course, I also talked to my daughter and son about it, but I didn't want to put any pressure on either of them. I saw that they were in a difficult bind and did not want to aggravate their dilemma by telling them about my needs and concerns.
So I left it at that by offering my children that they could stay with me if they didn't want to move to Hamburg with their mother. I also expressed my belief that her mother's plans would not work out anyway. A difficult labor market and a tight housing market were clearly against this. “Don't worry!” I kept saying to my children.
Since I could not and did not want to deal with this topic on a long-term basis, I put it in the “pipe dream”. I left it there and lived reasonably at peace with it for a few months, even though my divorced wife kept pulling open that drawer and reminding me that there was a sword of Damocles hovering over our heads.
Not much will change - will it?
Her phone message was therefore not completely unexpected, but still it caught me cold: "We will move to Hamburg at the beginning of July". That was in March 2011!
I asked my divorced wife a few questions to make sure she didn't put a bear on me. But I could not take hold of clear thoughts, and I also found it difficult to bear her displayed euphoria. So I ended the conversation relatively quickly, lay down on my bed and tried, with my eyes closed, to understand what had just been announced to me.
50 kilometers are no big deal, but 850 kilometers surely are. Stopping by quickly after work is no longer possible. And visits at the weekend are feasible, but time-consuming and associated with high travel costs. So not really suitable for every other weekend.
So how, under these circumstances, should my children and I maintain a contact that maintains familiarity, mutual interest, connectedness and love? At that time I was very afraid that I might lose my children. Out of sight, out of mind and at some point also out of the heart!
I told my divorced wife about my fears, but she assured me that they were unfounded. I wouldn't see my children much less, and she would share half of the travel expenses. I believed her because I wanted to believe her!
Question after question
Back then it was a mixture of helplessness, fear and disbelief. How could my divorced wife move to Hamburg with our children just like that? Surely it couldn't be that she walked over my body and the bodies of our children just to fulfill a lifelong dream!
But did she really walk over the bodies of our children back then? Of course, she used the time and opportunity to gradually prepare our children for what was ahead. When the time came, at least both children were no longer averse. Our daughter was happy to get out of her hated school in a suburb of Munich. And our son wasn't at the age where he rebelled or asked questions. He simply accepted the decision of his mother.
So all that remained was my body or my broken father's heart. Of course, the thought also occurred to me of hiring a lawyer and having my divorced wife's plans put to a court. Why I didn't do that, I would like to report in another article. And of course I will write about how my relationship with my children and how I myself - as a person, as a man, and especially as a father - have developed!