Between Svitlana and I, we have 5 children. From our perspective, they are all our children and we love all of them. Three of my children were born to Carolyn Hayes Reusche, one to Olga Vinogradova Reusche, and the father of Svitlana’s child is her first husband.
My children live in 3 countries. Three in different places in the US, one in Moscow, and one close by in Ukraine. With the exception of Alexander (Sasha) I am not in their life and although I have tried, time, distance and history take the upper hand especially with the three in the US. Now retirement, I hope to spend more time with my US children. I was/am willing to live near them for extended periods, to do things together, and to get to know my grandchildren. Marta, in Moscow, is closer. But, as far as future goes, “Que sera sera”. The war between Russia and Ukraine already impacts the possibilities. I will offer Marta my flat in Kyiv if she wants to go to the University in Ukraine, but I sense that her mother will insist on Russia. I would help her if she wants to go to the US, or school in Western Europe.
My US children are all casualties of divorce. One incident is telling. I was visiting Nabil in North Carolina, Lua joined us. I was sitting around the dinner table with Nabil, Lua, and Svitlana. Nabil, obviously uncomfortable, says during an otherwise normal family conversation: “I don’t know you.” It was like he had been waiting to say this to me. Lua, no less uncomfortable, starts crying. Not exactly a high point in father-child relations. I don’t think Nabil was trying to say something bad, only what he was feeling. And Lua, she was expressing her feelings too. This happened more than 20 years after the divorce.
My children stopped visiting me after their school years. For Aileen, the last trip was to the Netherlands. For Lua and Nabil, to Moscow and the dacha in Abramovskyoe around the turn of the millennium. For Nabil, after a long break, he visited me in Ukraine in 2017. So all that I have to work with in a memoire for my US children is based on the distant past, memories that have been influenced with the trauma of divorce, and the bits and pieces I know about their lives via Facebook. Divorce is unquestionably a disaster for normal relations with children. I hoped it would not be so and fought the idea for many years. Now unequivocally, the divorce and the years following the divorce created a wall between me and my US children. On the surface, with the proximity of their mother, and her frequent visits, the relationship with their mother has been excellent. That is the image that I get from both Carolyn and the children. But I don’t think it can be good without their father in their lives. Probably they don’t see it that way but Aileen has anger problems, Lua has needed support, and Nabil finds it very difficult to talk to me (much like his mother). It’s not my decision to be out of the picture.
When I see movies with children showing love for their father, helping him, taking care of him, I think: “My US children don’t show this behaviour. The filial connection is absent. How did that happen?” The only possible answer that I can find is that the divorce, plus the distance, plus the role Carolyn relegated to me after the divorce. My role as a father in Carolyn’s eyes was forfeited by the divorce. That was her legal position. She never once in almost 30 years wanted me to be part of their lives. Instead, she chose to replace me with the second Gary, her second husband. There is no way she can say that I was not concerned, and therefore I could not be a father. I was absent because of the life that we had chosen together, the life she ran away from. The life the children were born into.
The divorce was destructive. After the divorce Nabil began to engage in criminal acts and then sought another family for security and love and a father figure. Aileen began relations with men seemingly designed to thumb her nose at her parents’ values, and complained to Sandy, my sister, that she was unhappy with Carolyn’s new husband. Lua withdrew to herself, became depressed, then followed Nabil’s lead to “adopt” another family (and ultimately marry into the family), a family whose values were diametrically opposed to her family of origin. This man, her first husband, was physically abusive, convinced her that a HS education was all she needed, her taught her to be verbally abusive and critical. His strategy was simple from my perspective. Lower everyone else, so that he can be higher than everyone and feel empowered.
Let the record be clear. Prior to Carolyn running away from Sri Lanka with the help of Cathy, her sister, there was no talk of divorce. None. It was Carolyn’s choice that destroyed the relationship. My children do not understand this. When Lua heard about what I call “the great escape”, she asked her mother if it was true. I am neither the “father” nor the “grandfather” of my American children and grandchildren.
I love my children and to me fatherly love is normal, natural, constant, immutable— an eternal spiritual connection. Overtime it develops into a mutual love, and in all the Holy Writings of whatever religion it is the responsibility of the parents to help the children, and the children to honour their parents. It is a design feature that God implanted in our souls. If I think of my own life, the love relationship was heavily influenced by divorce. My father was absent for much of my youth, and my parents did not live peacefully together before they ultimately divorced. Yet, I loved them for who they were and I always made an effort to see them. Loving ones parents is a natural feeling. Not loving one’s parents leaves an emotional hole; that is what I see in my children.
After the divorce there was physical separation. Day to day interactions no longer existed and perhaps all the children even questioned my love for them. Aileen’s rebellion started in Sri Lanka, with the encouragement of her mother. Since Sri Lanka, there has been no outward sign of her love for me– just anger. And, I feel certain she feels that I don’t love her. Since Sri Lanka, Aileen has been spreading the news that I am a critical and demanding authoritative figure. In her early childhood memories, her memories are warped by her anger. Yes, I was the bad guy. I was the one that insisted that she follow the strict regime for her health– not because I was a strict father (the thought is foreign to me). In Sri Lanka, when she was pre-youth age, she sees her mother unhappy and crying. If I look at the pictures from this period, I see happy children and a happy family and a full life. That is how everyone saw us, including our closest friends who knew us intimately. So why was Carolyn crying? Because of my physical aggressiveness, my verbal aggressiveness? No, because she experienced neither. After the great escape when Carolyn ran away with the children to her sister’s house, Aileen became a player in the divorce. I told Carolyn that was inappropriate, to introduce our 12-year old daughter into the marital problems. And, typically Aileen, always strong-willed, the 12 year old knew everything– at least according to her. Nabil in Sri Lanka started to think that I didn’t love him. I can’t figure out where this came from but I can guess. After the divorce Lua believed that I left her, not her mother.
Was my own response to care and love my children inadequate? I think the verdict is: guilty”. I was not open enough and not demonstrative enough. Svitlana always tells me that. So one time I said to Svitlana: “You think the same! You think I’m not demonstrative enough! But, do you have any doubts about my love and commitment”? Nonetheless, I could not stay in touch with my children when I was so far away, and gradually the physical distance became an emotional distance. I didn’t know how to overcome this barrier and the children are not interested to make an effort. After my retirement, I was ready to live part time in the US, near my children. I proposed this. There was no interest, so I let it drop.
The argument is made that divorce is better for children than continual fighting and disunity between parents. It escapes the point. It reminds me of a movie, where a single event results in different outcomes. What would produce a better outcome, suffering through a bad period of arguments and disunity, but remaining together for the sake of the children? Or, divorcing for the sake of the children. Or simply divorcing because one’s personal needs trump the requirements for the family and the future of the children? With experience, I say that some problems just require the couple to endure the problem and keep trying.
I rationalise “My first 3 children were with me during their formative years. Therefore, between genetics and character formation and extrapolation, I think I have an accurate mental picture of my children. To this I add the snippets that I was able to glean during brief visits. Children almost never agree that a parent can “know” their child. So, I see my children, from the their birth, watching and helping them as they grow and develop until, say, 9 or 17 years old (the ages when the divorce became final). This is a period where all children are open and transparent. He or she has not yet learned to mask or hide feelings and character. Let’s not forget genetics. More and more research shows how our personality traits are linked to genetics.
I never wanted to be an absent father. Before the great escape (when Carolyn ran away from Sri Lanka with the children), I had never contemplated a divorce from Carolyn. It is not that I was entirely satisfied with the relationship, but on the whole, it was much more positive than negative. After the divorce, my rights as a father were supplanted by the legal code giving Carolyn the legal right to solely act in regards to our 3 children. Not only was there divorce, but an God-given right was replaced by a man-made legal code giving the wife the authority to make decisions without the participation or involvement of the father. Carolyn not only accepted this as normal, but she made no attempt to include me in any of the decisions regarding children. If an attempt was made, I made it.
And Marta? In 2018, this is still an open book. So it will be completed later. In my marriage with Olya, she wanted (insisted) on a child. So I reversed my vasectomy, the one I undertook after Lua was diagnosed with GSD like Aileen. After a few years, no child appeared but we didn’t know why. Only after a consultancy in the Philippines where I met an Israeli project manager, my age, with young children, did I take any action. He called me a schmuck for not trying harder for another child. Olya and I were already working with a family counsellor, as there were issues in our marriage. The family counsellor thought a child would be helpful. And so Olya and I started on the idea of a child, and the idea consumed Olya, our energies, our time, financial resources, emotional stress…. Our marriage was breaking apart, but giving up was not an option. Even as the marriage failed, it did not become an option. Perhaps because we didn’t believe it would happen. God always has the last word. A child conceived without unity, conceived and born as the separation took place. I could only say: “I radiantly acquiesce to God’s Will.” So, from Marta’s birth, I did not have the rights of a father. Again, deja vu.
Discounting the rights of the father is the legal/cultural norm, in the US and in Russia. In my understanding of the world, this is wrong. There needs to be a recognition of the rights of both parents. Decisions should not be taken without consultation and agreement. Divorce does not remove the obligations of both the mother and the father, and neither can be replaced by step-mothers or step-fathers– no matter how supportive and wonderful they may be. But I think we’ll have to take up this discussion in heaven, when we see more clearly the effects of our actions.
My children in America refer to their step-father as father, and my grandchildren refer to their step-grandfather as grandfather. This is offensive to me. In fact, they are saying that my life is separate from theirs and that I have been replaced. They say this in many ways, from not visiting, to not staying in contact. When Lua was around 10 y.o., she cried: “Why did you leave me, daddy.” I replied: “I didn’t leave you at all. I love you very much and always will.” But, that is how it felt to young children, mostly Lua but also Nabil. And, as the children grew older, I became increasingly distant, and irrelevant, because I lived too far away to be part of their every day life. To me, distance was not a factor. To the children, it was everything. And, Carolyn supported passively my elimination in the family hierarchy.
My children do not see my life as something wonderful, the life of a person that left his native country to advance the Cause of God and assist in the development of peoples and societies around the world. They see me as an absent father, uninterested, and uncaring.
In my heart,there is an empty place where they belong. Movies and books, showing the love between children and fathers cause me to feel emotional. How is it that they missed the fact that my life’s goals pre-dated their existence, and the world they were born into is still the world of their father. And that I love them, since the moment of conception, and pray for them.