Divorce, Single Parenting, Dating, Sex, & Self-Recovery

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big night at whole foods

jesus walked into whole foods today
mary was close behind in an elegant silk robe
the wise men were nowhere in sight
i believe they were seeking papaya
and a tannin-free pinot
no one noticed
perhaps they had just finished ice skating on the roof
refreshed almost
lest you think it wasn’t *that* jesus
let me assure you streaks of light
were shooting out of his head
as he walked by
“maybe the halogen lights in your eyes?” you say
or perhaps
i am an unbeliever or unsaved
maybe even of unsound mind
but i’m not kidding
oh, look over there
it’s buddha in the checkout line
with a beautiful woman or two
it’s a big night at whole foods
in austin, texas

john mcelhenney – 2015

image: whole foods, creative commons usage

The Cut-out Dad

November begins the season of holidays and birthdays in my family. Remembering when the kids were young and Christmas was still a mystery. My son just turned 17 and my daughter will be 15 this month. And to say they are in a period of disconnection would be an understatement. But there’s something more disturbing that’s been happening.

Their mom has been leaving me out of critical parenting discussions.

  • Like if my son is allowed to sleep over with his girlfriend.
  • Like if he’s been prescribed anti-anxiety medication.
  • Like if it’s okay to smoke pot in her house.

I don’t know what else I don’t know, these things were big enough. I only know about them now because of the crisis we went through several weekends ago. And then was not the time to “go into it.” But today I wrote her a letter stating my disappointment and asking to open communication between us back up. There are no excuses for keeping your co-parent out of parenting discussions. If you go it alone you are giving a strong signal to the other parent and the kids that one of you doesn’t matter. I was not considered when these decisions were being made.

As I head into the holidays I hope to recommit to reaching out to both my kids daily to let them know I am here. I know that when I was in college all I wanted was for my father to see me, to recognize me and what my strengths were. I think I do a good job of affirming both my kids all the time. I am not there as often as I would like, but in the time given I show up.

There’s no good way to share that the holidays are a tough time for me. I will be looking after my own health and happiness much of this season, to assure that no melt down occurs in my life. But I will also leave some of my bandwidth open for my kids. Letting them know I am here. Letting them know I support them and their ideas.

I hope my ex agrees to co-parent with me again, rather than going rogue. It makes things easier on all of us.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: father son, creative commons usage

An Absence of Time with My Kids: The Gap Years

My kids are both teenagers so they are clearly on the path of separation from their mother and me. The experience, however, could not be more different and some of it is my fault.

Several months ago, as a relationship ended, so did my ability to house and feed my kids on the alternating weekends that had become my primary opportunity to connect with them. Truth was, I was a little ashamed and disconnected from them even when they were with me. Something about not being a success, not being as close to them as I was when they were kids, and something about putting my priority on my primary romantic relationship at the expense of some of my conscious parenting. I was punting the major duties of guardianship and discipline to their mom. I was imaging that I was staying close, but I can see how I was responsible for the drift.

As we were sliding into the end of their 14th and 16th year I was content to keep mainly to myself. I no longer had a place for them to stay on the weekends, but the alternating housing routine had become a tedious exercise that no one appreciated. And as teenagers, one with a car, they wanted to be elsewhere every weekend anyway. And I was okay with that. Kind of. I was also sad about it, but didn’t know what remedies were available. Certainly some of it was my own sadness at the loss of my younger kids, the kids who needed and depended on me for everything, including entertainment. Now, they needed nothing from me. Of course, I knew they needed love and my continued expression of desire to be connected to them and their activities. But needless to say, we were drifting apart as we muddled through the summer and began what would be their Freshman and Junior year in high school.

My relationship to both of them has been reduced to “dates” and “dinners” scheduled with semi-regularity. And the requests and ideas for these meetings was up to me. We were all happy to coast along in our disconnected relationship. Me as a parent, clueless how to rebuild. Them as teenagers with very different priorities and goals. Still, we needed each other. But the value of the relationship was much less obvious to all of us.

And much of this disconnection I have to place at the foot of the divorce and my loss of time with them from 5 and 7 until now. Those years when bonds and confidences and closeness are welded together, I was a 1/3 presence in their lives. I was also struggling with my own demons of depression and looking for high-level marketing work so I could both support them (child support) and afford a place to live.

As the years wore on, the gap became more obvious. Weekly decisions, weekly chores, and weekly activities were exclusively the domain of the mom-kid relationship. Their bonds grew closer while I learned to function as a bit of an outsider. Weekends with dad were different from the core of their lives. We all worked it out as best as we could, but there was a huge gap in our communication and bonding. As they grew closer and more connected to their mother, my relationship with my kids took on a more dutiful role. They were obliged to come to my house every other weekend, but there were no significant advantages to this arrangement for them. We were always having to “stop by mom’s” to pick up clothes, retainers, sports equipment, and books. They were saying with me, but more like a hotel with a good driver and less like a home. And I get it. Packing every other weekend for four nights (Thur-Sun) at dad’s was a pain in the ass. More so as they grew older.

I don’t blame their mom for this disconnection. In fact, I think she has done a fantastic job or stepping up to the plate to become their best friend, confidant, counselor, and caregiver. I have nothing but respect for her.

But this past weekend, as a major event unfolded in our lives, with my son ending up in the hospital, I was again struck at just how far out from their orbit I had become. So many items came up in the process of getting a grip on my son’s situation, items/issues that I had never been told or asked about. Huge parenting issues that had been overlooked and not shared with me. It was not the time to confront the secrecy, but it pointed out a huge gap in my parenting intelligence: the relationship between the mom and dad (especially after divorce) about core parenting issues, like drugs, school, relationships, sleep habits, discipline… I had been left out of the loop on some significant data points and in this moment of family crisis, I learned just how out of the loop I was. I was purposefully discarded as a resource and counsel on major matters concerning my son and his wellbeing.

I’m sad. I’m scared for my son and his future growth through this experience. And I’m not looking forward to the eventual conversation/confrontation with my ex-wife about these gaps in our parenting narrative. She’s got reasons for leaving me in the dark. I have to be ready to step up to the plate for the requests that may come out of my readmission into the family structure.

I admit I’ve been a bit self-absorbed trying to get my own shit together. I had no idea how far the breakdown had been progressing on their side of the orbit. And today, I am left wondering when and how to both support and renegotiate my relationship with my ex-wife. Parenting is a journey best shared by both partners. I am strong enough to engage with love and caring and the knowledge, that somehow she believed leaving me out of the loop was the best option for my son.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: hospital image, creative commons usage

The Coffee Date Fail

Ah, the coffee date. It was a beautiful morning, I was hopeful and ready for coffee and conversation with a new woman. A woman I’d courted online for several weeks. A woman who inspired some sense of sexual interest in her online profile and then actually responded to one of my emails. The day and the meeting was set. It felt like a winning morning.

Nothing happened.

It’s my fault, perhaps. I don’t know that I’m really INTO IT. I mean, I know I don’t like being alone, and I’d like to start “building” a new relationship, but I’m simply not gung-ho about it. I think you’ve really got to bring a lot of energy and optimism to this dating process. If you’re just “meh” about the process, then you will get “meh” in return.

This date was okay. She was attractive. She was interesting. She was not interested in me. The disconnection was obvious. The chemistry was off from the first introduction inside the coffee shop when we first spotted each other. There were no outward signs of dissatisfaction. She was dressed nicely, looked fit and happy. She was chatting with a friend when I came in. I introduced myself and shook his hand too. Then I got my coffee and went outside and waited for her to fetch her fancy coffee.

I think I was already leaning out rather than leaning in on the introduction. I’m not sure what triggered it. I was happy to sit and talk for 30 minutes or so, but we were just killing the appropriate amount of time. We both agreed that being alone was working for us and we had trepidation about bringing someone into our lives. And we both had our doubts about how online dating might provide some realistic opportunities.

She mentioned how many men she met did not match up with their profiles. “Well, how am I doing compared to mine?” I asked. She paused. I was looking for some feedback. Was there something in my profile that I projected that didn’t show up at this coffee? “Your profile was pretty sparse,” she said, after considering it. She was talking about the words. I was interested in the pictures. I think that’s what we key on. I know that’s what I key on. Are they cute? (At 55 do women still want to be referred to as “cute?”)

The mass of women on OK Cupid and Match.com are not cute. And the ones that are usually ten years younger than me. And the few, this woman was one, who are my age and seem cute-enough for a closer look, are far and few in between. I don’t even visit the sites anymore. It’s the same faces. The same few women who ignore my emails. And more swiping through hundreds of sad profiles.

What are we doing? Is the reach of our online connection worth the disconnect of our emotional system? There was nothing in our profiles that prepared us for our coffee today. Neither of us felt it. That was obvious. But we’d decided to take the time and the risk to actually meet in person. And I wasn’t sad leaving the coffee shop. In some ways, I’m sure, I was relieved. Those next steps towards “dating” and building a relationship are so complex and time-consuming. I’m happy as I am right now.

The sky started misting as I was driving home. The fall air pushed in the cracked windows and lifted my spirits a bit. It was likely to be a rainy weekend. No tennis. Plenty of work. And no relationshiping. Okay, I’m resigned to that. Maybe next week I’ll open up the dating sites again and see if I can lure another woman into a conversation.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: blue bottle coffee, creative commons usage

My Miss Fortune

In my first two marriages I had money in the bank. My relationship to money has been challenging my entire life, why should now be any different? I thought by the time I reached 50 I would’ve had this career-thing down. Turns out, the market is ever-changing, and ever more competitive than before. And if you happen to be in social media, the millennials have sort of taken over the game. I’m now considered an older worker. (For at least 10 years now, but I failed to make note of it before.)

In marriage one, my starter marriage, I had money in the bank, a good job, and the prospects for more. We lived pretty high on the hog. In fact, we both took off full-time work for over a year. It was a great year. I worked on my writing and small press publishing. She painted. But it couldn’t last. The estate of my father turned out to be a lot more complicated than originally thought and we were both back to working. I started working in Advertising. As the marriage broke up, she did some weird things, however. Months before the end she was putting money in a different account and buying a lot of expensive jewelry. I didn’t really see it coming, so I also didn’t suspect anything. Boom, I was taken for a lot. And in the end I paid her a good portion of the money I had in the bank to end the prospect of paying for both sides of a divorce.

In marriage two, the one with a pair of kids, I was also in a positive financial position at the start of the relationship. I must’ve looked like quite the catch. I owned my own condo near downtown, and was working freelance for a company out of Boston. She moved in with me over the first six months and we were already talking about having kids. We were getting to be that age. And as things went, my earning capacity stayed strong, if somewhat uneven, over the next six years we were married as we became new parents. And her full-time gig was put on hold, so someone, Mom, could meet the kids at the bus. The lifestyle we chose, and the neighborhood we selected for the schools, was just a bit too expensive to have her be a stay-at-home mom, though that would’ve been my preference. I never, we never, quite got there.

When my big corporate gig ended, due to the 2009 economic meltdown, we began to fight about money. She wanted me to go straight back to another corporate, well-paid, gig. I wanted to take some of the six month severance time and look into doing something a little different for a living. She was not happy with that idea. But we agreed to disagree. Just over a year later we would be divorced. And a lot of it had to do with money. She didn’t really go back to full-time work until she decided she wanted a divorce. Then she had no option. And, jump forward to today, I am very happy my ex-wife has maintained a well-paid job ever since we divorced. She’s a great worker, and is a good and committed mom. No harm or foul there.

But the money had been the root of the disagreement. Now, looking back on it, I wonder, was she right?

Since the divorce, where I signed a contract to deliver child support based on my average $72,000 per year salary, I have not been able to achieve that income level for more than six months at a time. And the child support police don’t care if you’re unemployed. The bills keep coming in, the crackdowns keep happening, and despite any goodwill or promises, I’m seen in the eyes of the Texas Attorney Generals Office as a dead beat dad. I’ve paid her a percentage of everything I’ve ever earned. But it’s not enough. It’s not enough to make her happy. And by default, it’s not enough for the state of Texas either.

So I’m currently living in default, in deficit, as the asshole who won’t pay his ex-wife. Of course, I mean, pay the money for the support and care of my kids, but you’ll forgive my ambiguity. Today I have no money. I’m working an hourly job (I’m not whining here, just stating the facts.) that won’t make my car payment. And it certainly won’t make much of a payment on anything when she and the kids get 50% of all of it. How can a dad make ends meet?

The truth is, often the dads are the one’s who fall under the bus, financially. In my case, I was also challenged by some serious bouts of depression, resulting from the divorce. So, needless to say, I have never been able to pay 100% of my child support since year two. And two months after I was late my ex-wife called in the authorities to enforce the judgement. I don’t think it helped. I haven’t been looking for a job any harder since they entered the picture.

I’ve had a few jobs. I’ve had some good freelance gigs. I’ve made some money. But it’s never enough. And at the moment, it’s really not enough. But I stay positive anyway. I’m interviewing for real jobs. I’m exercising regularly. I’m happy. I’m single. And, while I don’t get to see my kids as much as I’d like, I think we’ve all come to an understanding. All of us except my ex-wife and the AG’s office. See, she could cut them out of the equation with a single phone call. But somehow, she feels it’s better for my kids to have the AG’s office on my ass, and a lien on my credit. She’s determined to get her money.

See, that’s the funny part. Or is it the sad part? I think I was being sarcastic. The sad part is, she was/is going to get all the money she is entitled to anyway. By law I cannot shirk a single penny of my obligation. I’m happy to pay it, as I keep working, and I will/am paying it. It’s just a bit slow at the moment. But somehow, she’s happy with the arrangement. She’s always been happy with her decision to toss me to the wolves. Her new husband once told me, about the AG’s office, “It’s just how everyone does it these days. They’re like an accounting department.”

Well, that’s bullshit. She never needed to file against me. She still doesn’t need to ask for their protection. And yet, there they are, freezing my bank account ever six months or so to take half of the cash am holding on to for bills and food.

Everyday she doesn’t release us from the AG’s supervision is a day that I wake up and have to forgive her for acting and continuing to act on her fear. I’m paying as fast as I can, it’s just less than we both expected.

Ho hum. And onward we go as single parents.

Note: If you are a woman and are reading this as a complaint, as a whining dead beat dad, I might ask you to reconsider this. Shouldn’t both sides of the family live at the level of income they can provide? Today she still lives in our nice home in the nice neighborhood, and for my kids that has provided unequalled stability. But she has done this even with my payments getting behind. Was it necessary to punish me with the AG’s involvement? I am struggling to find the money each month to keep food in my mouth, much less the mouths of my kids. She is not struggling, and that’s good for my kids. For that I give her my sincere thanks.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: tango, creative commons usage