Sunday, 11 August 2013

I should have listened to my mother

In the end, I should have listened to my mother.
And I shouldn't have trusted him, that's for sure.
But the person I married, the person my friend Katie now refers to as "the bad man" became my everything, and then I became my nothing.
Choosing love over career was a bad decision on my part. Having his children was an even worse one.
"But look," said the bad man. "At least you have these beautiful children!"
"Yeah," I said. "But I could have had these children with someone who didn't leave me."
I was thinking about this conversation reading the New York Times this morning, a feature about women like me who "opted out," then, when their marriages fell apart, wanted to opt back in. I am one of those women, albeit a little older than the ones featured in the article.
When I met the bad man, I was having a relatively successful career in Ottawa. Back in the 80s, before mandatory enforced bilingualism, I could easily have slid into a job in government after a stint in politics. Or I could have tapped one of my connections and entered the world of business as many of my colleagues did.
Instead, I opted out and followed the bad man to Saskatchewan where I had two kids in quick succession and freelanced, which seemed to be my best option. After Regina, we moved to Ottawa, then to Toronto where I had another child, my only daughter, and had a spectacularly successful career as a speechwriter and marketing communications specialist. I was pulling in six figures.
Then the final move came, back to Ottawa, and I lost all my work.
By this time, my lack of French was giving me problems. Worse still, was the decision of my husband to drop me and take off after a woman he'd had a love affair with thirty years earlier. The divorce was bitter and he eventually moved to Montreal, and after much acrimony, essentially, abandoned the children.
This led to a ten year depression on my part. I couldn't find any work as he had poisoned my well. My own personal problems became the stuff of gossip. I was being laughed or pitied by my former friends and colleagues. I lived on my RRSPs.
My career never recovered, even though I did. I'm still here, stuck in Ottawa, with little means of supporting myself. Last year, I earned $25,000 working for a multinational company because I couldn't get work from anyone in my own country.
Fortunately, I remarried and I have tenants in the basement.
Otherwise, I'd be living in a tenement some place. That I know for sure.
I have nothing to show for the old life: no big house in the suburbs, no brand new car every three years, no retirement fund.
The bad man, meanwhile, is a multimillionaire with a six figure pension, a farm in the country, a house in the city, a hotel he owns with his wife in the Caribbean.
While I was raising his children, his career was soaring.
He did pay a price. He never sees his children. Another man will walk his daughter down the aisle when she gets married next year.
But my decision to "opt out" stays with me as the worst decision of my life, even worse than marrying the bad man.
I regret many things, but I do not regret my children.
I just wished I'd listened to my mother, the widow, who spoke from experience those many years ago.
Be the man you want to marry.
It's a piece of advice handed down through my family, but never heeded.
I should have listened to my mother.

1 comment:

  1. I made very similar decisions. I think too many women are completely unaware that when they give up a career for family, they not only hit "pause," but, if and when they return, they usually go back to the very beginning as if all the skills they developed never happened. Consider reading "Lean In." I'm thrilled that a younger generation of woman are looking at these topics and discussing them without fear of being labeled *gulp* "Feminists." I don't think it's too late for either of us. Good luck to you!