Life ends every Sunday morning: When his wife left, Ian Hugo had to cope with becoming a part-time father

Click to follow
Indy Lifestyle Online
AT 9.55pm on Thursday 25 January 1990, my wife told me she was leaving me.

I didn't respond very adequately; in fact, I remember playing a football simulation on my son's computer shortly after. What would an adequate response have been? We had attended a function at my wife's office. On our return, she had something to tell me. It was: 'I don't love you any more. I have got someone I do love and I am going to live with him. What have you got to say?'

I can't remember saying anything. She asked if I knew who it was and I guessed: a fellow Quaker involved as she was in various charities. The only other thing I remember was saying I wanted at least 50 per cent of the time with our children.

The next day was a blank. At my office, a colleague kept asking if anything was wrong. I said no. I arranged an appointment for the next Monday with a solicitor, who turned out to be useless for my purposes. I didn't know what to ask. She seemed not to understand my confusion, although she did explain the distinctions between custody and care and control (now superseded). I then knew that care and control were what I wanted. She implied that these were my wife's right, told me that shared care and control was not legally valid and that I should consider access possibilities.

My wife and I had agreed that we would tell the children, Susan, 11, and Christopher, nine, the next Wednesday. Susan said nothing. She cried silently and refused the cuddle I tried to give her. Christopher blinked away tears and asked defiantly: 'Well, what's going to happen then?' I felt a traitor to them both.

Next morning I phoned the headmaster of their school, of which I was a governor. He said he would advise the teachers and personally keep an eye on my children.

I still had no idea what to do next. I found what I needed at the Citizens' Advice Bureau: a reference to Families Need Fathers (FNF), and some suggestions for alternative solicitors. Through FNF I became acquainted with the full facts of my predicament, and received some support: one of the solicitors it suggested had a record of persuading courts to agree to shared care and control. At last I felt I was beginning to understand what I had to do.

This solicitor tactfully dismissed my indignation and asked if I could pay my wife off (it was to cost about pounds 100,000) and still manage the resultant mortgage. Now we were getting down to practicalities. What could I persuade my wife to agree to? Financially, the best option was to sue immediately for divorce on the grounds of adultery.

However, that would mean going to court, which would take little account of Emy children's wishes, at their ages, though I believed they woulTHER write errord opt to be with me. I was left in no doubt that the courts would be of no help to me. My wife wanted an eventual, agreed divorce on the grounds of two years' separation, so could we compromise?

The result was a separation agreement which is leading to divorce. Initially, my wife and I agreed to my having the children from Thursday through to Sunday morning. After three months, the children asked for more time with me, and my wife conceded to their being with me from Wednesday evening.

But could I support them, in every way? I had worked for myself since 1978, and from the time Christopher was one I had taken one working day off a week (making up the time in evenings and weekends) so I could spend time with my children and my wife could 'escape'. A recession was looming. I was a one-man band and, though I worked from home, I often had to be away. At first, my mother helped to fill the breach, and neighbours and friends offered emergency cover.

So we have survived, albeit with some scars.

The first time my wife collected my children on Sunday morning, I turned off the radiators in their bedrooms; it felt as though I were turning off their existence, life to be resumed the next Thursday.

Susan's teacher reported that she had lost her confidence in class: she still participated in lessons but mumbled and lacked her former enthusiasm. My wife complained of Susan being awkward and, on two occasions, Susan phoned to ask me to bring her home. Fearing the courts and the legal situation, I said I couldn't. I felt lower than ever before in my life.

Christopher's teacher saw no discernible reaction, but at home he started wetting his bed, continued to do so for about six weeks, and suffered frequent nose bleeds.

Eighteen months later, his teacher showed me an essay he had written. The class had watched a video about Northern Ireland, then been asked describe an example of conflict in their own lives. Christopher had written about the break-up of my marriage. After all those months, at the age of 10, he had faithfully recorded the exact time of my arrival from work, the issue (No 4) of the magazine he was collecting, the precise time at which my wife had told him she was leaving and her exact words. When he handed in his work, he had burst into tears.

Life is better now. My children have adapted and seem to function successfully. There have been rows with my wife. Susan decides her own path and sticks to it stubbornly; Christopher avoids conflict wherever possible and, I fear, may never stand up to a determined person.

My emotions are mixed. I feel almost elated that I have been able, with a lot of support, to sustain the new mortgage and retain the house and large garden that the children have come to love. But for their sakes, I had presented the break-up of my marriage as though it were of little consequence to them, and I felt like a Judas. Denying Susan's calls to come home, whatever their motivation, cost me more than I dare admit; encouraging Christopher to become more confident in himself preoccupies me.

My wife is one of the new generation of women who have decided to 'take control of their lives'. Feminist, independent and, in her case, Quaker, she has her course mapped out. What she has left in her wake only the future will reveal.

Comments