I never thought that my basement is where I would be spending most of my time. I mean, I had heard of “man caves” before, and I knew they were often in the basement, but those were places that dads went to escape, to watch the game and have a night with their buddies.
It wasn’t where they lived. Where they slept. Not while the children and the children’s mother were upstairs….and yet, in separation and divorce during a global pandemic, this is what it’s become.
I certainly did not think that this would become my life, and that there were so many others living like this.
But there are many “basement dads,” as I call them now, and it seems like the number is growing based on conversations I am having.
How did it get like this?
Is there a reason that this is a way of life that men are “choosing”? For me, this wasn’t a choice- it was a necessity. Let’s look at why:
In the beginning, my then wife and I opted for separate rooms ostensibly because she could not sleep in the same room anymore as my movement and snoring had gotten worse.
When a solution for those two issues was found, it became about our desire to sleep in very different temperatures – I like it cooler at night while she prefers to have a hot place to curl up into.
Then, it was my youngest daughter who was riddled with such anxiety at bed time that she finally gave up on sleeping alone and just moved into the master bedroom in need of a good night’s sleep. Obviously, this is one I was happy to support, but still…
It became permanent when an already struggling marriage that had seen its communication lines completely break down led to a total loss of or desire for intimacy of any kind.
Four years ago, the rings came off for the final time and we have been living as a separated couple ever since – me in the basement, her upstairs and common ground in the middle.
For financial reasons, a situation that would have almost assuredly led to a divorce resulted in my moving to the basement – my desk, single bed, books and other items making the move with me.
It’s my new way of living in my own home, and while many days it feels “okay”, the trend is towards most days feeling like it is time to change.
And yet, I have no idea how to make that happen.
You see, we are a single-income family, with my job being in the not-for-profit sector. She could work, in theory, however her health is such that it would have a major impact on her capacity to navigate a full or part-time job while still managing a home on her own, especially on weeks when she would have the kids. And my salary, split in two, would basically drive two families into a situation where we were literally scraping to get by each month.
It would feel selfish to make the decision to move into separate homes and put all of us into that situation.
But the sacrifice is starting to feel too heavy, like I am giving up living just in order to keep comfortable, and to keep up appearances. Many of our friends don’t even know we are living this way, never mind that we essentially see ourselves as separated.
I am a loving guy – I miss the moments of intimacy with a partner, from those simple moments cuddling on the sofa to the more private ones that happen in the bedroom… or elsewhere. I miss going out on dates with my beloved, and to treating her like a queen. I miss the silliness of Valentine’s Day and the fun of surprising them with something special on their birthday.
I miss not walking into a room and wondering what kind of energy is going to meet me. There’s a reason they don’t make floor tiles out of eggshells – walking on them all the time is exhausting.
And as my daughters get older, even the physical affection I used to get from them has started to wane- only the youngest gives regular hugs, and regular is becoming much more, well, irregular.
I still get to do all the things I love to do with them – we have managed to keep up the family eating together at dinner, and any activities like basketball, skating or the like fall to me.
But this cannot be living, not fully, not the way I feel I should be. Deserve to be.
Nor do any of the many men I have spoken to in the men’s communities I am a part of. And there are lots of us. All with our story. All with our own reasons. All with that slightest hint of sadness, and shame, about where they find themselves. All looking for a way out.
In my case, I have decided to see if I cannot create a second income stream to create the financial freedom that would allow me to support two smaller, scaled-back households without impacting our lives too much. Still too early to say if this will work, but things look promising.
But the thought that for every man like me there are many who are likely trapped in that situation forever… Well, that somehow just doesn’t feel right.
And, in my opinion, we need to start thinking about how we can better support men and their families in situations like these to help get them out of the basement and back into their lives.
This should never be allowed to become the new norm. No matter how nice the basement, our men, our fathers, including myself, deserve better.