Growing up I believed in the whole fairytale idea of marriage. That one day I would meet that special woman, we’d have this perfect relationship, work well together, grow together and want to have sex everyday!
Well, life just isn’t like that, well it wasn’t for me, not in the beginning. I was in the last year of medical school, 25 years old and I met a woman in her early 30s. She was from North America, fascinating and visiting Australia. Six weeks later I took her to meet my parents. It was not a good evening. In only a sentence or two I explained to them that here was my new girlfriend who was not Jewish (a kind of big deal in a Jewish family) she was pregnant and we were going to get married the next day. They didn’t come to the wedding.
I had done the maths in my head. I knew I had only three options with the situation I was in. One – she would have an abortion and I was pretty sure that would have been the end of our relationship, I loved this woman and I did not want it to end that way. Two- she could go back to her country and bring up our child on her own. I knew I wasn’t ready to let her go and I didn’t want my child growing up without me. Third option was that we could have the baby and hope it would just somehow work out. So, there we were, just the two of us, the next day at the registry office.
My family and friends were shocked and went into a tailspin. The age difference, the speed of our relationship and the cultural difference was too much for them to handle. It felt like we had been shunted into some kind of Romeo and Juliet saga. It hurt to feel this fundamentally rejected when we had made a decision that felt right to us, so we moved away from the whole world I had known and relocated to the East Coast.
Fast forward a few years and we were living in in a small town, with two young boys now 18 months old and 3 ½ years. I was working as a GP in emergency medicine. Life had been tough in our relationship as it often is when you have babies and toddlers and a roller coaster of exhaustion, but we had an idea that life would be different once the children were able to sleep through the night and feed themselves. We thought we would be able to find our centre together, a sense of humour once more.
The very morning after the children had reached both milestones of sleeping and eating, we had a fierce row. I told her that I didn’t love her anymore, the words just somehow came out of my mouth and she packed her bags and flew back home overseas the next day, leaving me with the children on my own. For the first six weeks I was traumatized and couldn’t function. I could see my life crumbling around me. I didn’t have much of a choice about staying in that headspace though, I had to leave the last of my boy-self behind, step forward and put these two small humans in front of any needs of my own. It was a painful but sacred time.
Those six months with just the three of us was the making of me. It was the hardest scar I have had to endure and yet the bond I was able to grow with my boys became the most extraordinary heart based thing and I know it has absolutely shaped my purpose in life helping boys navigate into manhood. I remember those single parent moments when I had somehow managed to wrangle both children in the car, made lunches, done the to-do list in my head with only minutes to get them dropped to childcare and to work on time, when a small voice would call out behind me “Dad, I really need the toilet!” Big sigh, head on the steering wheel for a moment, then put on the brake. Nothing else to do in that situation, but laugh at yourself!
After six months, she came back and we began the journey of shared parenting and all the challenges of new partners and navigating children between the two of us. We had to find a way to make the terms of our relationship all about what would be best for the children and put any pain out of reach. Not the easiest thing to do for any human, but we managed. As time went by, she moved with the children to Tasmania and as my son was finishing his last year of school I took the year off from my life in Byron Bay and moved there to spend as much of that year with them. It felt like a bookend of time – I had been there as my sons had entered pre-school and helped my son complete that final year to be ready to leave home.
This scar did have an impact on me going forward in relationships. It felt like I had trusted women with my heart and too often I watched it be dropped to the ground and skid off under a couch to be stomped on accidently by the nearest passerby. I became very guarded and wary in new relationships and resistant to opening in full love for a long time.
I know that there is a part of me that is still guarded. I am in a great relationship now with a wonderful woman, but I recognize that my heart still has places that are locked up. When you are a young man you fall all in when you fall in love, but life can make you a bit more unsure to experience further heart pain. I know that if this relationship ended, I would survive.
It’s a special gift to be able to have the time to deeply father your children and I am grateful for that life scar experience to have had that. It has meant that I have a rock solid connection with my sons, a bond that a lot of Dads who don’t get much time with their kids are not sure how to reach. I know that’s a big reason behind my life’s purpose. I see how important it is to help boys safely and lovingly grow into adulthood.
ABOUT DR ARNE RUBINSTEIN
Dr Arne Rubinstein is an expert on adolescent development, with 30 years experience as a medical doctor, counsellor, mentor, speaker and workshop facilitator. His programs and seminars have been been attended by over 25,000 people globally and are designed to support boys to successfully make a safe, healthy transition to young men, with a particular focus on creating coming of age Rites of Passage. In 2008, he was nominated for Australian of the Year for his groundbreaking work with youth.
Dr Arne’s 2013 book, The Making of Men, has become a bestseller and is a practical handbook for parents and teachers of boys. It is the culmination of his years of experience in working with teens and their parents, in particular fathers and sons.
He was the Founding CEO of the Pathways Foundation, 2000-2008 an organisation that creates contemporary Rites of Passage for adolescents. Dr Arne was also the founder of Uplifting Australia in 2013, a not-for-profit set up to improve the emotional wellbeing and resilience of children and their families around Australia. His work has been informed by practising for 15 years as a GP specialising in adolescent health, and preventative and emergency medicine.
He is the passionate father of two wonderful young men, a mentor to many, a practising ER doctor, as well as being a keen surfer and musician.
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