Do you know the nursery rhyme "There´s a hole in my bucket"? I guess you know it! If not, you can easily find it on YouTube. And what to do with the hole in the bucket? Of course, you mend it. No question!
The fact that the hole cannot be mended is pretty funny in this song, but rather sad in my life. In case you're wondering which hole I'm actually writing about here: It's about the hole that opened up in me when my family moved from Munich to Hamburg.
The separation from my first wife was a long time ago, and my family moved to Hamburg several years ago. Time heals many wounds, they say, and that's actually true: I experience it again and again. What was a great pain years ago is no longer even an itch.
But what I also experience: Time doesn't fill gaps. I can still feel the hole in me to this day. By and large, I've learned to live with it, but there are days when I don't really succeed.
That is why there have actually been efforts on my part to mend the hole again. But more on that later!
A sketchy alphabet
What does it look like, this hole? Or to put it better: What was before at the place where now the hole gapes? Every separated father will answer this question in a very different way. Some answers will be at least partially similar, but each answer will definitely contain an individual and very personal part. This individual part is probably the cause of the greatest suffering.
What have I missed since my family moved to Hamburg? At this point I could start listing, and I would probably not be finished tomorrow. I could start at A for attention, take a detour to C for comforting, then go to L for listening and end at Z for zest. This personal alphabet would have significantly more than 26 letters.
Most of these things are irreplaceable, they determine and shape the relationship between father and child. The shared experience connects and strengthens the relationship. It is extremely painful when all of this is no longer possible or only very rarely possible. A father lacks a good part of his purpose in life when his personal alphabet consists of very few letters only.
The lack of these shared experiences leads me to lose the feeling of being a father from time to time. I mean this deeply rooted power that carries from within and makes me feel, think or act in a very specific way - just as only a father feels, thinks or acts.
I never would have thought it possible, but there are actually phases in my life when I completely forget that I am the father of two wonderful children. During these phases I am not connected to my children either mentally or emotionally. I don't have any children at such times. It goes so far that I don't even think about inviting them to my birthday party.
When I'm stuck in such a phase, then of course I don't see or feel the hole in me. But these phases end at some point, at the latest with the next phone call or another event. Then the curtain rises and reveals the dark, deep hole that had not disappeared, but was only covered.
And when everything becomes visible that fatherhood means for me, and now is possible only sporadically or not at all, it can happen that feelings of sadness arise over the many losses, but also feelings of anger. I don't manage well to endure such feelings every day, and I am very familiar with the need to fill the hole again quickly.
The desire to have a child (again)
I can still remember very well how I talked to my current wife about having a child. It was the summer of 2013, we were lying by a lake and talked about this and that. But I can't remember how it came about in the first place. Perhaps we were inspired by the many children who screamed and raged around us.
In any case, we suddenly thought aloud what it would be like to become parents of a child together - at first just a mind game. My wife has two grown children of her first marriage and I have both of my children. There are no common children.
During the conversation I felt how this thought fascinated me, and I got more and more into it. My wife wasn't completely averse either, although she wasn't nearly as enthusiastic about the idea as I was. We were aware of the increased risk for mother and child during pregnancy and childbirth. We were both in our mid 40s at the time, so we wouldn't have been young parents anymore.
It was also clear to us - after all, we had years of experience as parents - that a child is not just fun. I think I can do without explaining this in more detail at this point. Everyone who has children knows the sunny and dark sides only too well.
On the other hand, I was fascinated by the thought of having a child again, of seeing it grow up, accompanying it on the way through life and being able to really be a dad again. As I said, my wife was much more reserved than I was, but back then at the lake I felt that I really wanted to be a dad again with everything that goes with it. The idea had me under its spell.
We decided that my wife should have a conversation with her gynecologist, after which we wanted to revaluate the situation. In the days that followed, I reeled a lot: For one thing, I felt guilty about my two children because I was afraid I would betray them. On the other hand, I wished dearly that I could be a dad again. In between there were fears, hopes, uncertainty and determination - like clouds of mist on the field.
After talking to the gynecologist, it was clear that the risk was at least increased during pregnancy and childbirth. We definitely did not want to take such a risk, we had agreed on that from the start. So we buried the wish for a child together again, which made me a little sad, but the sadness disappeared very quickly. I was mainly happy and relieved that this issue was finally over for me.
Only then did I consider why I would have so much wanted to have a child again. What was really behind it? I discovered the real reason very quickly: I wanted to mend the hole that I have in me. This common child was supposed to mend the hole that had opened up when my family moved away: a substitute child or stopgap, so to speak.
When I realized this, I was shocked and relieved at the same time. Shocked because I realized what role our child would have had in our family, because it would have had to replace at least two siblings. A task that cannot be mastered and that can even break a person.
And I was relieved because luckily it never happened and it won't happen again. My children cannot be replaced, that became clear to me at the time. And I also realized that this hole in me cannot be mended. It's an inseparable part of me and I'll live with it, even if it hurts a lot at times.