Letting go, moving on

An Ottawa dad – and his 10-year-old daughter – find new ground after the end of a marriage


Darren Brown and his daughter. Photo Courtesy: Darren Brown

Iremember it vividly. Standing in our apartment’s small kitchen before work, putting peanut butter and jam on toast, I began to cry.

I was going to be a father but I wasn’t ready, this relationship wasn’t ready and I could already feel the end.

We tried, and there were good times, definitely, but years later, after time had evaporated the last droplets of hope, I found myself crying in the basement again.

This time, it was really over.

Sadness quickly turned to anger over the circumstances that ended the relationship. Anger turned to rage and rage began to eat away at my soul.

Despite the darkness, I made changes in my life. Through deep reflection and reading, I learned the biggest lesson of my life: Let go. I let go of the anger, released the rage and began to find love where I once saw hurt and frustration. I worked to see the situation from both sides.

By focusing on forgiveness for both of us, I was better able to focus on our daughter, improving the quality of the little time we had together. Work schedules meant that I saw her every other weekend. When I was a full-time photographer at the Ottawa Citizen, the time went by quickly.

Now that I’m self-employed and working from home, days become weeks. With such a small window of time, I find it difficult to get into a rhythm with her and often, by the time we “settle” in, it’s time to go.

We have our little routines now though. Friday or Saturday or Sunday is Foolish Chicken night where we sit in our favourite window seat in the family restaurant on Holland Ave. If it’s a Friday night, we can reconnect and catch up. Some nights the conversation flows, other nights I feel like I’m my father, struggling to find the words.

But every night (except school nights) is movie night. Under the blankets that Nana knit us, we cuddle on the couch, snacks loaded up, and try to find something we both haven’t seen. With her spending most of her time with her mom, by the time she’s with me she’s already seen the blockbusters. I resort to Plan B: classic ‘80s movies from my childhood like Ghostbusters, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, or Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

I often feel an overwhelming pressure to make every weekend together epic, full of activities or some sort of experience, whether it be getting out for a hike or visiting one of the many cultural institutions we have in Ottawa. But after a week at school, I often get her tired and wanting, like most kids, to just relax at home with her iPad.

I can’t help but feel shortchanged but I try to remind myself that as long as she’s not feeling shortchanged, it’s OK.

Another caveat of the abbreviated visits is the pressure to put my life on hold when she’s with me.

In my search for lasting happiness and a greater connection to the world around me, I’m researching different life philosophies and even looking to reconnect with religion.

Recently, we had a head-to-head when I asked her to come to a community church with me.

She dug in her heels and after an argument, I relented. We talked before bed about how I would like her to see me as more than just her dad, to see me as an individual who, like her, is figuring out this world and how to be happy in it. I expressed how I would like her to be a part of that journey and she seemed to get it. Maybe it’s too much for a 10-year-old, but I’d rather that than talk down to her.

The end of a marriage is, simply stated, an unfortunate event and when children are involved, it’s a complicated one. As often as possible, I remind myself that everything will be OK, to keep “letting go,” and that one day, it will all make sense.

But I know this much is true: moving forward can’t be done looking backwards.