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The Ties That Bind: My Father’s Day Wish for My Son

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My son has really started getting into dressing formal. He’s considering a career in fashion now, as an alternative to his math and engineering mad-skills. As he graduates middle school and begins 9th grade next year, I am excited that he has a clearly defined personality. Distinctly different from me. (grin)

Often when we go out these days I am in my casual shorts and knit golf shirt while he is sporting a suit jacket and long pants and some sort of formal shoe that would’ve set him back $300 if not for the Nordstrom’s sale. People comment on his style, “Wow, you’re quite a dresser.” And they turn to me, “Looks like you taught him well.”

We both smile. “Um… I didn’t teach him anything. He’s teaching me.”

To all fathers and sons, enjoy the time you have with one another, celebrate your differences, and recognize any and all shared enthusiasms.

A few months age he discovered my box of ties. I haven’t worn a tie for work in a long time. (Mother’s day and Easter are often the only holidays which cause me to wear a choak collar.) My son, on the other hand, is stoked about ties and three-piece suits and Italian designers I’ve never heard of. All of the men working Nordstrom’s men’s section know him by name. He loves that. I’m a bit proud, if only a bit confused about where he got his flare for dressing up.

When my father died I was 21 years old. I remember the idea that I would be inheriting my watch collection and some of his shirts and person things. I’m sure his pants and shoes would not have fit. I had the idea that it would be cool to wear my dad’s monogrammed button downs from time to time. His new wife, had other plans, and my brother and I never saw any of my father’s personal belongings. The Oyster Perpetual was given to a boyfriend days after my father passed. “Your dad gave it to Bob,” wicked step-mom said. “Before he died.” Um, yeah…

So when my son co-opted several of my ties the other day, I was sort of proud. And I have a lot of very cool designer ties that I’m sure he will appreciate later. Today they are too radical. Taste’s change.

I suppose I collected them when I was the new business lead for an interactive advertising agency. I had several ties known as “fuck you ties.” They were so loud that only a “creative” in the agency could get away with them. The account guys had to be much more in alignment with our potential customer. As a creative I had leeway to show some flair.

Today my son is more along the lines of Alex from Family Ties. Who knows where his politics will eventually land.

The other day he told me he was getting into “fuck you socks.” We smiled.

My daughter’s friends, two years younger, are quite taken with him. Sometimes when they come over to our house I hear them squeal, “You’re brother is the suit guy?” And they erupt in a cackle of laughter.

I wondered if he was going to get picked on by the jocks or uber-popular kids in his class. But it turns out he has mapped out his own niche within 8th grade and he is given wide allowance for his eccentricity. He’s very smart in Latin, Math, and orchestral violin. So he’s got a quiver full of skills and interests. His suiting is just another proud brand he has developed. Sort of the snappy geek.

I am honored to have such a cool son and to be able to explore our relationship and masculine ideas as he continues to grow up. My dad’s influence really ended when I was about seven as he left the family house in divorce and began his alcoholic descent with a vengeance.

My son is a dapper dresser. And while I was recently planning for a vacation trip to NYC I took him with me as a fashion consultant. He really wanted a sweater we saw ($45) he settled for some fuck-you socks for $8.

I would’ve liked to have worn some of my father’s ties or dress shirts. For my son to have the same privilege he’s going to need to work on his chest and shoulder size quite a bit.

To all fathers and sons, enjoy the time you have with one another, celebrate your differences, and recognize any and all shared enthusiasms.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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I Think I’ll Take a Lover: Or What’s In It For Me?

Her long legs and high high heels looked much smaller in person. She was as beautiful undressed as I had imagined she would be. It’s amazing what a good camera can do to mask the imperfections. She had plenty, they did not matter.

I was not looking for her. And I even said so a few days ago. “I’m not interested in a relationship with a married woman,” I said. And we left it at that.

But she’d hinted at a romantic streak that matched mine. She accepted lunch easily. “Yes I’m married,” she texted. “Long story.”

Of course, at lunch the story was rather short. “I married him for security.”

She had dangerous looks. She asked pointed questions. She seemed very nervous. I wondered at first if there was something wrong with her. Or a drug habit. Or anxiety pills that weren’t working. She laughed easily. But I couldn’t take my eyes off her shaking hands. Thin, small, clean, smelling of soap.

What if she was awesome and I wanted to be with her? Somehow I already knew, or had convinced myself, that this was different. She would be a lover, I would be a lover, nothing more. She was married. For whatever reason, she was married.

I walked away. But my erotic mind did not. I said goodbye, but my sexual imagination was just beginning. I don’t think that I will sleep with her again, reflecting at this point, several hours later. It was good, the sex. She was beautiful and smooth and small. She fluttered like a bird for 15 minutes after we’d finished. She seemed like she might blow away. Something was missing.

So I took a lover. I had to ask myself a few questions. Why would I do it? What did I have to gain from being with her? What if she was awesome and I wanted to be with her? Somehow I already knew, or had convinced myself, that this was different. She would be a lover, I would be a lover, nothing more. She was married. For whatever reason, she was married. And I wasn’t going to be in a “relationship” with a married woman. Would I have an affair? I guess that’s what I did. But I preferred to think of it as a fling.

What did I have to gain? What was the soul of the matter for me? I went to Thomas Moore’s The Soul of Sex: Cultivating Life as an Act of Love to figure some of it out. And he talked about the mystery of sex, the erotic imagination of sex that is as close to the mysteries of the divine as we get in the modern world. But that’s not what it was.

Here’s what I came up with.

1. I am happy. 2. My life is pretty simple right now, and I do not want any major drama or complications confusing my plans. 3. By accepting the terms of “lover” we could jump straight into bed without concerns about “next steps” or “dreams.” 4. I had one experience, since divorce, that has a similar tone, and all went well there.

Why not?

A friend made me examine it from a slightly different angle. “What’s in it for me, is the wrong question.” he said. “It’s more about how does this serve me, at this time.”

Here’s what I got from the deal. Here is what served me well about this afternoon with a fragile goddess.

1. I cleaned the house a bit more rigorously  2. My energy and enthusiasm have been elevated for the last few days. 3. I felt wanted. 4. I performed with great satisfaction for both of us. (she let me know) 5. I felt the sex for sex right in the moment, and knew that it was not what I was after.

So I took a lover for a day. She was as fragile as she was beautiful. And I was reminded, when answering her question, “What are you looking for?” that I was looking for something else. There is nothing wrong with taking a lover. Having an affair might not be my choice, but she was clear about her marriage and she expressed earlier that it was a mutually understood convenience. So we explored the passion. We applied the pressure and scratched the itch.

I don’t think a lover is what I want to be.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Deal Breakers, Red Flags, and Hand Grenades: Relationship Building 101

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There are a number of red flags (issues) when you’re dating relationship begins to move towards a Relationship. Here are 8 indicators and warning lights to keep you on your toes when you are evaluating a potential match. Once the dating has gone beyond the 4 – 6 dates and you are beginning to get really comfortable with each other, this is when the deeper relationship issues might begin to creep out of the closet, like old skeletons.

Walk away from the burning building slowly and without panic. You didn’t cause the fire, and you certainly can cure the fire starter.

Learn from your previous mistakes in dating or marriage. You probably have well-learned responses to some of these issues, that worked for you in the past. Listen to what this person is saying and what they are doing. And then make your own decisions about the viability of the relationship. If you want a relationship it will take work. With too many of these issues still in-play, you might not want to put in the effort and relentless bridgebuilding it takes to maintain a wobbly fit. “But it feels so good, sometimes.” I can hear myself say it. Damn. I’m sorry about that. Listen. Evaluate. And when things keep showing up for repair, consider mending your fishing gear.

1. You’ve got to figure out the collective goal. Where are you going? Not the timing or the plan to get there, but you need to make sure you are on the same page.

2. Dealing with disappointments and conflicts. So, let’s say you’ve got a “date” planned and all the preparations have been made, anticipation anticipated… And something happens, and you can’t make the date. Of course there are hurt feelings, and of course, there are repairs to be made. Can you make them? Can you move on and reset for the next “date” or does this first miss become a harbinger of dramas yet to come?

3. Kids and Parenting and All That. Okay, so what if the kid eats like an animal when you are with your potential? Not bad manners, but exaggerated bad manners? Eating habits that embarrass you a bit when the waiter comes by? That could be an issue in the long run. How your friend parents can tell a lot about their level of maturity. The health of their relationship with the child, and the ex. All of these things factor into the bargain. If their parenting rules and regulations are out-of-bounds, well, consider what it indicates. (I’m not a psychologist and I don’t play one on my blog.)

It’s best to bless former date, wish them well, and step back into the fishing boat.

4. Flexibility. How good is this person at adapting to different situations, different levels of affection, and even the spaces in-between that are bound to happen? How is the silence between you? Do you begin to wonder what is wrong when they get quiet? Does their texting drop from 5 a day to 0? Or 10 a day to 1? If you get the sinking feeling, you might listen to that. You might be right. You know how intuition served you well in your previous marriage? Well your holy-crap-whats-wrong-now radar might still be on high alert, but that doesn’t mean you can discount the warning blips and pings.

5. Fights Fair, Stay Present, Doesn’t Generalize. I know that’s a lot. But good grief, we’re adults, mid-life adults, we should know how to fight fair. Disappointments and disagreements come and go, but the second the potential whips out the “I just don’t think we’re going to work out.” Or, “You’re always blowing me off. It’s always about what you want to do.” Listen for “always” that’s the word of choice for generalizations. Try and stop them when they come up. “Are you trying to say that I’m always late?” for example if you are late for the first time and it causes a ruckus. Arguments don’t need to escalate into shouting matches. “I’m mad with you” doesn’t have to turn into “Maybe it’s just too difficult for two single parents to be in a relationship.” Wow, really. That’s pretty much an ultimatum. An ending statement. You might hear the “Get the hell out of dodge” message and move on.

The close woman, the smart and smiling woman, needs to go back to her isolation, and you, need to continue your quest for healthy and happy potential dates.

6. Stays Positive and Works Towards a Solution. Too many times we’ve been the caretaker. Listen for the needy, the wounded, the moaning. And then decide if you’re ready for another relationship where you are trying to take care of the wounded or explosive partner. “You always try to say I’m the one with the problems,” when shouted at high volume, sort of makes its own point, don’t you think?

7. The Grass on Your Side of the Fence. If you want a relationship, even in the face of signs in the first six items, you’re in fairly deep. Tread lightly. Perhaps you are one of those, “Grass is actually pretty green right here, honey–come look.” people. Be careful, you’re leaning into a dark forest if things continue to be rough. Sure you REALLY DIG this person, and sure you’re willing to go for 110% effort, but watch your overly optimistic attitude when things keep spinning into difficulties.

8. When you get really close, watch out. Often insecure people will sabotage things just when there is the time or moment for even more closeness. Say you’ve had a date planned for weeks, and you’re finally to the big evening. THEN, surprisingly (or is it?) some minor miscommunication blows the whole thing into an issue. Suddenly, and without much warning (if you’ve been ignoring the earlier steps and signs), the whole date/weekend/trip is off. And of course, you’ve screwed it all up. Just when this person is feeling the most comfortable, if they are afraid of closeness, they will toss a hand grenade into the mix just to see how you react. It’s like an acid test. “Oh you’re really digging me, well see how you handle this little love bomb.”

And sometimes you really do have to cut bait and go fishing again. The close woman, the smart and smiling woman, needs to go back to her isolation, and you, need to continue your quest for healthy and happy potential dates. All this wallowing in the issues is too hard and too soon. When the big bombs show up early, even if the chemistry and sexual heat are there, beware of the hand grenades and land mines. You can’t prepare for them or sniff them out. But sometimes, your old “husband’s in trouble” alarms will still tip you off to what’s in progress.

Walk away from the burning building slowly and without panic. You didn’t cause the fire, and you certainly can cure the fire starter. It’s best to bless former date, wish them well, and step back into the fishing boat. Sadly, sometimes, even with a ton of potential, there’s just nothing else to be done.

[Funny note: So mermaids kill men when they take them under, right? I guess some nice ones saved me as well. An interesting metaphor for relationships.]

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

see the poem of the night: dark woundings of my own

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Wait. I’m the Father of Your Children, Remember?

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When my business hit the skids about three years ago I had to fight to keep my house. My ex-wife grew impatient with my excuses. “I’ve got bills to pay, too,” she said. “Kids come before our needs,” she said. I pleaded with her to be patient. “My setback is temporary, I will get caught up as soon as we replace the anchor client.” I lost the fight and I lost my house. She didn’t care. She wanted her money. The kids money. She was mad and mad about it.

It seems to me, women go into divorce knowing they have the advantage. That’s why my then-wife went and “checked on her options” with an attorney, before she ever told me.

Then when I tried to schedule a team meeting about the kids, she would defer with this type of statement. “When can I expect the money?” And she would refuse to give me the time of day unless I could answer that question. The problem was, I couldn’t answer. So rather than lie and fail, I said, “I’m not sure.”

What is it that made her so mad? How did the money become MY problem and not a shared problem? Didn’t she get the house? Didn’t she get custody? Didn’t she get the money she wanted? Didn’t I have to pay for the kid’s insurance as well? What did she have to be impatient about? Impatient enough to throw the AG’s office at me?

It seems to me, women go into divorce knowing they have the advantage. That’s why my then-wife went and “checked on her options” with an attorney, before she ever told me. Even though we were in couple’s therapy, she kept that critical little detail from me. Why? So when she did get her ducks in a row, she could spring it on me, creating a tactical advantage.

The summer I left my house I was disoriented, homeless, and missing my kids with an empty feeling. And missing my kids about 70% of the time. She literally got everything. She got the package deal. Why is it we think this is still “in the best interest of the kids?” It’s not. It’s in the best interest of their mom, but against the good will and good fortune of the father.

Dad’s asked to leave the house, leave a hefty part of his paycheck, and most of his parenting schedule. There’s no science behind this equation. It’s just “old school” divorce.

Today she still has the sweet end of the deal. She’s still got the house, that has tripled in value. She still gets a hefty paycheck from me, tax-free. She gets the child tax credit.

Today, you can fight this bad deal. And even if you vow to do a collaborative divorce, you need to know that around the money issues, things will get tough. It’s as if she was threatened by the money. Like she was fighting for her survival. I can understand this while the initial negotiations were going on, but three years into the deal, her deal, she should’ve been able to lighten up and realize she got the sweet end of the deal.

Today she still has the sweet end of the deal. She’s still got the house, that has tripled in value. She still gets a hefty paycheck from me, tax-free. She gets the child tax credit. And she’s still asking me for more money for stuff. Nope. Done. She’s had her fun. There are at least 5 more years until my second child is 18. And that’s a lot of money.

I feel like the expenses should be shared not just thrust on the dad. And when he loses his house, the financial burden becomes even more difficult. How could my wife then file our divorce with the AG’s office? It was as if she were turning me in for collections.

  1. I never said I was trying not to pay her.
  2. I begged her to pause and consider her actions and the damage it would cause me AND the kids
  3. I showed her my income statements.
  4. I told her I was trying to save my house from foreclosure.

She still filed against me with the AG’s office, effectively listing me as a dead beat dad. I had never been doing anything but trying to accommodate her demands. Today she would tell you that I was saying I wasn’t going to pay her. Today she would tell you that she was protecting the interests of the kids. Really? What about the interest of the breadwinner of the family?

When you divorce you both want whats best for the kids. But don’t be blinded by that rhetoric. Your ex-wife wants whats best for her.

So my ex-wife filed her grievance with the AG’s office. So she could ENFORCE her judgement against me. Wait, what? It should’ve been our collaborative agreement that outlined the best case scenario for our finances moving forward. Then with honest communications, it should’ve been adjusted as our situations changed. It was not. I still owe my ex-wife $1,200 a month for two kids. AND I’m paying another $1,200 a month for COBRA health insurance. AND she get’s the child tax credit? Something is not right with this situation.

But it takes money to consult with an attorney. It takes money to save money. And somewhere in my sad dad bones I’m being mean. But that’s not really fair, is it?

When you divorce you both want whats best for the kids. But don’t be blinded by that rhetoric. Your ex-wife wants whats best for her. And no matter how collaborative you are, no matter how much of a good dad and good guy you want to be, there may come a time when she’s going to press charges on you and coerce you in to giving her the money. Even when you tell her she’s going to get her money.

I still tell my ex-wife I will catch up with the money. Even when we should’ve been splitting the costs all along. She’s considering letting me buy the kids their cars and forgiving the judgement that she has against me. That debt sits on my credit as a lien to the State of Texas, Child Support Division. You know what this says about me?

I am a deadbeat dad, even if I’ve paid every single month I’ve had an income. Every single month. She doesn’t get it. And she’s paid nothing to me.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Rationalizing Your Divorce

Screen Shot 2016-09-12 at 1.40.53 AMThere’s no getting over the fact that a divorce is a failure. And I may never forgive my ex-wife for changing my time with my kids forever. The system is rigged in a mom’s favor, and as a dad I was given my “deal” and told to grin and bear it “for the benefit of the kids.”

FK That.

My kids were 5 and 7 when they lost me. And my ex-wife made the plans to move on, without even letting me know. Sure we were in couple’s therapy, but I thought we were doing it to save our marriage. I think she was doing it to plan for her future. I never understood how cynical she’d become, and I didn’t clue to the fact that her toxic anger was directed 99% of the time at me. I didn’t get it. I was so in love with being a parent and being a good father, that I missed the clues she was putting off.

There were some clues I couldn’t ignore. In the last year, when I was still clueless to my then-wife’s scheming, she would occasionally burst out with a, “Fuck you.”

She had to apologize several times when she shot the verbal FU in-front of friends. She was incapable of keeping her rage contained. “Where,” I wondered aloud, “is her individual therapist in this situation?” How could a good therapist allow their client to seethe month after month.

While divorce is a terrible thing, a worse crime is staying in a marriage “for the kids.” I suppose, if I were to be honest, in the last few months, before she went to see an attorney, we were not very happy. I was definitely “staying for the kids.”

But I was staying out of strength and conviction that our marriage and our love relationship was worth saving. She was occupied with another pursuit. She wanted to know her options. She wanted to build financial models base on our assets. She must have known months in advance, how much money she would need to survive after divorce, even if I gave her the house.

I didn’t fight, once she’d told me she’d consulted a lawyer, “to understand her options.” I should’ve lawyered up at the same time, but I didn’t. I naively thought that our good intentions would serve us. I stupidly imagined that the phrase, “In the best interest of the children,” actually meant we would cooperate to find the resolution of our relationship that would benefit our children the most.

Her idea: Mom gets 70% of the kids time. Mom get’s the house. Mom gets a nice monthly stipend so she doesn’t have to work quite so hard at being a breadwinner during this trying time.

My idea: We shouldn’t be getting a divorce at all. If she would get real she’d see that this hard time was the perfect moment to reset, rebuild, and recommit to our marriage. AND if we were going to divorce, I wanted 50/50 parenting, with a 50/50 schedule.

The divorce therapist we met with sold me down the river. Sure it was 2010, but I really didn’t have a chance.

“This is what you would get if you guys went to court,” the therapist said to me in private when the 50/50 idea was being railroaded by both her and my soon-to-be-ex. “So why don’t we start there and work on the things you have some say over.”

Wait, what? I was paying this woman to tell me 50/50 was out of the question. I still wonder if my ex had been talking to her on the side, before we got into our parenting plan negotiations. I was almost laughed out of the therapy session when I brought in my 50/50 schedule and my three books that told why coparenting was better than custodial parenting.

I lost everything. For every night I had my kids, my ex-wife had two nights. I fell into despair. Had I been more susceptible to alcoholism, I know this would’ve done the trick to slip me into the addiction. As it was I dealt with a nasty episode of depression. Ouch. AND I dealt with missing my kids twice as much as my newly divorced ex-wife had to.

The deck is still stacked in the mom’s favor. In Texas, my home state, the man gets the non-custodial role in 80% of all divorces. The mom gets the house and the child support payment. I guess in a wealthy divorce that’s the split that makes everyone happy. Dad get’s less time with the kids but more time to make money. Mom get’s to hold on to her matriarch role and get paid well for the privilege of staying home with the kids.

The good news, I don’t ever have to go through that again. More good news, the state is doing 50/50 plans, with ZERO CHILD SUPPORT, about 50% of the time these days. And if the parents agree to joint custody and 50/50 parenting, the AG’s office doesn’t get involved.

That’s not how it worked out for me and my kids. As a result I will always have a sad place in my heart and memory about that time. But we’ve moved on. My kids are now 13 and 15 and we are entering a new “teen” phase of our relationship. And I have to hand it to my angry ex-wife, we’ve done a good job at being civil and keeping the relationship between us focused on being good parents first, and financial partners second. We’ve never gotten our priorities mixed up. Well, except for my wife’s angry move to involve the AG for enforcement of the decree when I was 60 days behind on child support. She will never be forgiven for that violation of trust and integrity.

It’s water under the bridge they say. And today I focus on my happy and well-adjusted kids. She’s 50% of that parenting team. And while she still holds the loaded gun to my head financially, she’s kept her mom-hat and mom-responsibility in the proper ratio. Our kids are doing great in school, they seem to be thriving in their lives, and as they grow older, I know our relationships will continue to change and prosper. But when we were going through it, it was all I could do to agree to the divorce, much less FIGHT with my soon-to-be-ex about custody, parenting plans, and money.

I give you my thanks dear exy. And I hope you choke on your own vitriol while keeping our kids happy and well-fed.

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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