Ben Heldfond and Nikki DeBartolo take their ‘modern family’ story national

When Tampa Bay Business & Wealth interviewed Ben Heldfond late in 2018, he spoke about a book he and his ex-wife had been working on.

Now, “Our Happy Divorce” is out on bookstands nationwide, and the two have been on a media tour promoting the book.

The book is Heldfond’s and DeBartolo’s account of their divorce, and how they managed to create a blended happy family through it all.

Heldfond shared an excerpt from the book with TBBW. Read on for a sneak peek.


Living in a hotel isn’t so bad. Actually, it was pretty cool at first, before I’d tried everything on the room service menu and watched everything on pay-per-view. Leaving my room for the first leg of my new daily commute that morning, though I had to admit that the novelty had worn off over the past few months. Now, the most exciting days were when the hotel added a new movie into the rental rotation.

The clock on my dash lit up as I started the car—six-thirty on the dot. Our home was less than five miles from my room at the Renaissance, no more than fifteen minutes in the worst traffic, but I didn’t play fast and loose with the timing. Asher’s sleep schedule was downright robotic. He went to bed every evening exactly at eight and woke up, without fail, between 6:55 and 7:10. I always gave myself at least an extra ten-minute buffer to get inside and get settled.

I didn’t always make it over for bedtime, but Nikki would cover for me on those nights, letting Asher know I was at a meeting or a business dinner. I was always there when he woke up in the morning, though. I snuck into the house to preserve the illusion that I was still living there. My son was only three, still young enough that Nikki and I could try to hide the growing rift between us.

Getting out of the car was like jumping into a sauna. My shirt was already sticking to my back and the sun hadn’t even fully risen yet.

“Tampa,” I cursed under my breath.

I was in a weird mood already. The entire time I’d been out of the house Nikki and I had been talking about getting back together and giving it (yet another) shot. I had almost been completely convinced, before last night. In the space of one breath, Nikki had gone from telling me how much she loved me and how much she wanted to work on the relationship to informing me she would be in L.A. that weekend. In the back of my mind, all I could think was that these were just words that I had heard before and nothing was going to change. Our relationship had gone insane—not violent or nasty, but insane, like watching your favorite movie for the hundredth time and thinking the ending was going to be different this time.

So, that morning I was already a little on edge and confused as I walked into the house. Luckily, Asher and I are creatures of habit and our morning routine did not let me down: a big smile, a big hug and Shrek Eggo waffles before work and school.

“Hey buddy!” I boomed as he came into the kitchen. “Dad!” Asher grinned.

I popped the Eggos into the toaster and grabbed the newspaper, leaning up against the counter. My phone buzzed steadily beside me, and I multitask happily between work emails, my son, and sport scores.

Too soon, Asher finished his breakfast and ran to get his backpack.

I wrapped him up in a bear hug and watched as he and the babysitter left for school.

The happy, homey feel dissipated behind them. I was alone in the house feeling out of sorts again. I wandered aimlessly around the kitchen trying to remember what specific event had spurred me to move out. To this day, I honestly don’t remember.

Nikki and I never really fought. Over time, our marriage had just devolved; it felt like living with a roommate. It was awkward and it wasn’t fun anymore. Instead of being adults and honestly asking ourselves what we were doing, we’d just swept things under the rug while hoping our relationship would miraculously mend. We’d both suspected our differences were too big to solve so we’d stopped communicating at all.

We were in limbo now. On some level we both knew that we needed to do something different but we were too proud and stubborn to admit defeat. We were scared to even face the idea. We didn’t want to subject our son to a divorce. We wanted to provide Asher with a two-parent household; we wanted to stay together for him. We considered divorce a failure, and we didn’t want to fail ourselves our families, our child.

I decided to grab some fresh clothes and some paperwork to take back to the hotel with me, so I walked into my office—well, the office that I’d once occupied. Since I’d been gone, Nikki had quickly made it her own. I sat down at the desk in front of my computer, but I was distracted. The two brain cells I had left in my head began throwing stones at each other.

You owe it to the marriage and your son to not throw in the towel. Are you crazy? What is going to be different?

Absentmindedly, I started riffling through a stack of papers on the desk. I stopped short at the sight of one of Nikki’s world-famous handwritten calendars.

Nikki has always been an organizational powerhouse and these calendars were fine-tuned, well-choreographed masterpieces. This coming weekend, of course, showed her trip to L.A. to work on her jewelry business—an irritating reminder. As my eyes trailed further down the calendar, though, I could feel the blood rushing to my head and my heart pounding through my chest. Irritation turned to fury.

She was scheduled to be gone for the next four weekends.

How are we going to work on our relationship if she’s living a totally separate life in L.A.?

The thought struck me like divine intervention. Nikki had done a great job telling me exactly what I wanted to hear, but none of it lined up with her actions. She wasn’t here doing the work to mend this and she clearly wasn’t planning to schedule it in. My house wasn’t mine, my marriage wasn’t mine—even my life didn’t feel like my own.

Ten years of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole had taken its toll. I was depressed and hurt. My ego was shattered. I was done. I didn’t call or leave a letter. I left my wedding ring on top of the stack of mail and walked away, bitter and out for blood.

You can purchase the hardback book on Amazon for $24.95. ♦

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