From Rivals to Co-Parents

The Man I Was:

“You’ve been served!” I could only imagine the look on my soon-to-be ex-wife’s face when the processor served her divorce papers at work, that Spring day in 1995. The anticipation excited me while waiting for the confirmation that she’d been served. But I hadn’t always been this mean. In fact, I surprised myself in being capable of such hostility, but a failed marriage with custody issues over our daughter brought out the worse in me. My self-righteous attitude made an already complicated matter messy for everyone involved.

The Backstory:

To get the whole picture you’ll need to return with me to 1991 when we found out that she was pregnant. Usually, a pregnancy brings couples together as they celebrate the new life being created. For us, it was an unplanned, and it set in. motion a series of events that would shape our lives for the next 30 years.

I was living in New York City pursuing my career as an actor/model, when I found out my girlfriend in Virginia Beach, Virginia, was pregnant. We discussed our options and decided to keep the child—I’d put my career on hold and return to Virginia. Within a few months we decided to get married and give this whole “starting a family’ thing a shot. All at once, we were navigating the foreign waters of marriage, new careers, and parenting.

I must confess we really believed we could make it work. After maternity leave, my wife returned to work and I became a stay-at-home dad, while working nights waiting tables. It wasn’t a glamourous life (like the one I’d left behind), but being a dad made it all worth it.

Looking back, I retain a lot of great memories. Just the other night, at my daughter, Jessica’s apartment, her mom and I reminisced through a whole bin of photos from those early years and savored the memories.

The Rivals We Became:

So, how did I become the guy who found pleasure in humiliating my wife? By 1994 our toddler seemed unable to keep up with her peers in strength and mobility. A few months later, after several tests came her doctor’s diagnosis…Spinal Muscular Atrophy Type 3. At the time, we had never heard of this disease nor did we know what the long-term prognosis would be. Talk about adding a ton of stress to the already swaying marriage…and it became a blueprint for disaster.

During these early years I suffered from severe chronic back pain and I needed spine fusion surgery—with screws, rods and plates—to fuse the lower spine. Thankfully, through the Screen Actors Guild from my tv work, I acquired great health insurance, which paid for my surgeries as well as all Jessica’s medical costs, at nearly 100 percent.

Reflecting back, what I now remember most about this rocky period in our marriage was my wife, Rose holding down a full-time job and caring for our disabled daughter while putting up with me while I recovered from my surgeries. Well, rather, I self-medicated with alcohol and opioids as my back fusion failed, and I had to have another surgery. The chronic pain got worse instead of better. God was still at work and was blessing us financially. As a stay-at-home dad, I received residual paychecks from my tv commercials, furthermore, I even booked a commercial with Rose and Jessica in it!

  “And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:19 (NIV)

The Downward Spiral:

Due to the fact, I continued abusing opioids and alcohol, I wasn’t fully aware of how bad our marriage was, or if I was, I chose not to acknowledge it. As if this wasn’t enough, Rose suffered from my horrible mood swings, and angry fits from pain. I was also bi-polar (but was not being treated for it). At the time I wasn’t all that lovable. Finally, the stress of it all became too much and we separated.

The sense of failure over our marriage was deepened by the fact that I had given up my career for it, and now that was gone too. The displaced anger I felt towards God and my wife began in my heart and spilled over into my everyday life. Full of self-righteous indignation I questioned, “How could God dare do this? Where were my rewards for putting my career on hold to get married and to do the right thing!” I recognize now, the bad religious thinking only compounded the already difficult separation.

I remember speaking with my attorney about serving her at work and for some reason it seemed like such a great idea. I think it needs to be said, some divorce attorneys like to fan the flames and add more fuel to the fire. Up to this point, my feeling hellbent on getting custody of Jessica seemed justifiable since I had been the full-time caregiver while Rose worked. As we fought, I believe I never acknowledged that Rose loved our daughter and only had her best interests at heart. My self-righteous anger blinded me to my own sin, but also prevented me from seeing the humanity in my wife. She was still the same person that I had married only a few years earlier, someone I had agreed to spend the rest of my life with.

The Unhealthy Arrangement:

We settled out of court and agreed to 50/50 custody. As a single dad, I felt victorious, but again the self-focus prevented me from recognizing my now ex-wife’s and daughter’s feelings. Over time this custody arrangement became difficult for Jessica. To be split up mid-week and shuffled back and forth took its toll on all of us, but especially her. The animosity between me and my ex-wife still festered with no end in sight.

As I pursued the Lord, it became clear that my angry heart was still broken over the divorce. Yet, through it all, I remained blinded to the sin in my own life and continued to place the blame on my ex.

The Revelation:

Around this time, Rose and I found new partners, (and I’m proud to say that both these marriages have stood the test of time). We’ve each been blessed to find a loving spouse. As the Lord removed the blinders to the mess I’d created, it became clear the 50/50 custody arrangement was not the best set up. It began to weigh on me, something had to change in order for all of us to move forward with our lives. Finally, I sensed the Lord moving me in the right direction but that didn’t make it easy. I was reminded in scripture,

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 (NIV)

The Surrendering:

As my current wife, Aimee, and I prayed for God’s will regarding the best arrangement for my daughter, I sensed the Lord telling me to give up my portion of the custody and allow our daughter to live full-time with Rose and her husband. It’s difficult to describe the pain I felt, in words on a page, but eventually I knew my sacrifice benefited our daughter. Slowly the anger, resentment, and self-righteousness melted away, as I continued to put it before the Lord. With my surrender, my attitude towards Rose changed as well. Once I stopped seeing her as the enemy, I no longer wanted to punish her. I accepted she was the mother of my child and she loved her just as much as I.

We had all suffered enough and this new arrangement allowed our focus to fall on becoming the best parents/co-parents to our daughter. I felt humbled, but blessed, with a deep sense of relief that I had finally listened to the Spirit’s still small voice. No longer was I the guy who found pleasure in humiliating someone else.

“I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” Ezekiel 36:26 (NIV)

The Man I Became:

I can remember it clearly as yesterday, the pain as well as the relief, when I shared with Rose and her husband my plan to surrender my visitation rights. This became the catalyst that brought healing and restoration to our relationship. My transformation came as a result of seeing my ex-wife through the Lord’s eyes. A mom who loved our daughter, a mom who was striving to do the best she could under the circumstances, and finally, a woman who had found someone else to love and cherish her. With this newfound clarity, I refused to stand in the way of God’s plan for our lives.

The Man I Am:

To this day, we remain great friends as we co-parent our daughter. The sacrifices Rose makes for Jessica are amazing. The way she cares for our daughter and her continued disability is selfless and her deep commitment. I couldn’t have asked for a better relationship than what we currently have with each other. Out of the wreckage of our broken marriage, the Lord brought restoration to every area of our lives.

When we surrender our lives fully to the Spirit’s work in our hearts anything is possible. Obedience for obedience sake, humility where there is pride, and a deep trust in the Lord creates miracles. Fully releasing what you clench clears the pathway to freedom. To let go. and let God can be the hardest decision you’ll ever make, but I’m a testament that His ways are so much better than our own. God filled my broken marriage with His grace and redeemed it. May you find courage in your own journey to let God take the lead and carry you to places that may seem scary yet could be the best decision you’ll ever make.

Jason Umidi resides in the Tidewater area of Virginia with his wife Aimee. He is a father to three children and travels around the country as a construction manager. You can read more of Jason’s writings at http://www.todaysoneminuteread.com. To know more about Jason you can find his full bio above under the “About Us” link.

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