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

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An Unfair Advantage and a Loaded Weapon

OFF-clint

There’s no doubt, I get some sense of power from this blog. And certainly a sense of release has come over me, as I continue to write my way out of my marriage and into “what’s next.” And while this material is not intended for my ex-wife or my two children, there is a bit of self-satisfaction in the writing and releasing of this work. When the ex-y is making my day a bit more unpleasant than usual, I write and publish and promote with an additional zeal. I’m aware that my dark material must feel like a loaded weapon to my ex-wife. I get that.

And I wish I could say, I’m above it. I’m not. Well, let me take that back. I am unashamed of my own struggle and emotional collapse as a result of my divorce. (My second divorce, but the only one that involved children.) I have struggled. I have ranted. I have celebrated recovery, slipped back into depressive episodes, and refound my inner strength, again and again. But in all of it, I have continued to strip myself bare and attempted to uncover the dynamics at work in my life and relationships.

I am weaving a story.

I am clear today about several things.

  • The divorce was my release from a dysfunctional relationship
  • My kids have seen both my ex-wife and I struggle and regain strength.
  • My kids emotional, mental, and physical well-being trumps most of my plans, for now.
  • Only I can be responsible for my own health and fitness.
  • While I crave a next relationship, I am happy and content as a single dad.

Finding that balance in my life, between parenting and self-actualization has been one of the great teachings of my divorce. I learned again, as I had known before we married, that I am essentially a happy being. I wake up happy. I meander through my days, happy. And it is this happiness in spite of the tumble and turmoil of life, and this divorced life, is what I have given to both of my children.

Finding happiness is one thing. Learning to maintain an inner happiness even when things are not going to plan, is another skill that I celebrate in each of my kids. We’ve even talked about how the transition of the divorce has ultimately been good for all of us. Sure, there are times we’d rather be together when we are not (those times are about to pass through the teen years) but for the most part, my kids flutter between our two homes with little drama and stress in their lives. They can focus on school and friendships and developing their passions.

I have released and ranted here with my perceived injustices. I have complained, whined, yelled, and cried at the unfortunate evolution of our divorced with kids relationship.

I am also involved in a similar trajectory. I can focus on myself, my work, and my passions. And, is it happens, my next primary relationship.

Still, there is this matter of the loaded gun. I can sort of understand how my ex-wife resents and angered by this semi-public exposé of our lives. The highs and lows of marriage as well as the rough business of coparenting in less-than-optimal financial times. And sometimes I wonder if she thinks, hesitates for a moment, before taking action against me. I can’t really ask her (because I have and I only got back loud noise) what caused her to file with the State of Texas as a deadbeat dad. There was no call for it. Somehow she convinced herself, or was convinced, that I was not going to abide by our decree.

Even as she knew the child support we agreed upon was way over the income amount I was able to achieve, even as she knew I was struggling to restructure my mortgage so I could keep my starter house, even as she agreed that I was not trying to hide money from her… Even with all of these indications she chose to load her own weapon and threaten me with it. Perhaps her “AG’s Office” threats were her version of this blog. You’d better get your shit together or I’m going to turn everything over to the state’s attorney.

But wait. I am still the same person she parents with. I am still the same partner she asks to take the kids when she needs to travel for work. I am still the man who agreed to change-up our parenting plan to accommodate her schedule with her boyfriend. I’m still the father of her children who gave her a nice house while I was jettisoned off into the wide world, alone, with a new $1,500 monthly payment, that didn’t include any food or shelter for me.

And some how I’ve managed to take the higher ground. Except with this blog. I have released and ranted here with my perceived injustices. I have complained, whined, yelled, and cried at the unfortunate evolution of our divorced with kids relationship.

And still, I have also risen back up several times from despair. And writing has been like a continual therapy for me. And unwinding of dark things, an opening of new ideas and possibilities, and even a release and prayer for the health and happiness of my ex-wife. She will do what she does. And I’m sure she will do more dumb stuff. And I’m sure she will think I am being an asshole about something, yet again.

I’ll keep writing, and doing my best to leave it here rather than echo it back into my kid’s lives. Yes, I have the loaded gun too, but I have made a vow never to fire it off.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: paris, marais 2013, denise bocquet, creative commons usage

what if i

OFF-smiling[from strange horizons poems]

a touch
stretch
creaking open
this dusty
space of
alone
me

venture
towards
joy
you
juiced
kissing
hands

embark
this time
arrives
now
for
some mystery
to
take hold

fearless
open
joy
becomes
life
worth
exclaiming

1-28-15

image: she fights, melania brescia, creative commons usage

Back to the Beginning: Serenity with Your Coparent

OFF-blackdog2

 

Co-parenting is about accepting the other person for who they are, exactly as they are, and holding them in the best light you can.

As we walk through our individual lives we necessarily come in contact with a lot of other people. And the primary relationship with our significant other, is going to be the deepest journey of our life. Yes, we’ve got to figure out our own B.S. so we can self-regulate and learn to mind our own business. But in our primary, one-2-one, relationship we’ve also got to learn to love another person even when they are dealing with their own personal struggles.

The dark thoughts multiply and begin the pull downward even as the poor depressed person is acutely aware of what’s happening.

It’s hard not to tell others what you think. It’s double-hard not to tell your partner what you think, especially when you imagine you can see a better approach for them. But even in that deepest of emotional and physical relationships, you cannot really know, really see, what’s happening in the other person’s mind. You might think you know. But the right answer you imagine, the minor tweak you see that could make their lives so much easier, is a figment of your imagination.

It’s more than minding your own business. That’s an idealistic goal that is easier to imagine than to put into practice. The act of allowing your lover, partner, co-parent, to flounder and fall and struggle, is actually the deeper gift.

In my life I have struggled with periods of depression.

The first appearance of the black dog came while I was a freshman in high school, fourteen going on fifteen. I was “away” at prep school in New England, and while I should have been having the time of my life, I began to unravel a bit as the Winter came on with a vengeance and my natural exuberance began to falter under the dark days and extreme conditions. As November and my 15th birthday arrived, I was concerned that something was wrong with me.

I remember a few of the moments quite vividly. I was struggling with my first foreign language, Spanish. And something about my brain just felt off. I tried to study each night during the enforced study period from 7 – 9 pm, but I found myself staring at the pages rather than reading them. I sought advice from my advisor. She was even more clueless than I was about why a young seemingly normal teenage boy would struggle so much. Her advice was more like a form of scolding. Even though I had sought her out she used the opportunity to recant the rules and policies of study period, and maybe I was just goofing off more than I should. “Maybe you shouldn’t play music in the room when you’re trying to study.” That was her highest thought. It was a disastrous year.

Over the course of the next 15 years or so, I struggled a bit with the black dog, but for the most part I got better help, used various therapeutic remedies both chemical and verbal. It was a bit of a jagged line, but I’d say my line graph trended in the upward direction overall, between the collapses.

It turns out, depression is part physical and part mental. And according to Peter Kramer in Against Depression, the body begins adapting and changing physically as a result of the swings down into the pits of darkness. As a person experiences depression several times, the body begins to identify the early symptoms and essentially leans into the chemical pathways that cause the depression to strengthen and deepen. Depression becomes a learned coping mechanism in response to periods of great stress. And after those neural pathways are connected by the initial bouts of uber-sadness, they become more likely to get fired up and activated with stressful events.

And the dark thoughts multiply and begin the pull downward even as the poor depressed person is acutely aware of what’s happening. It’s a bit like a Hitchcock scene from Vertigo. You see the dark ground below, you begin to tremble and swoon with dizzying panic, and in an act of escape you actually jump towards the blackness.

The Black Dog Stops By Again

In my second major moment of fear and despair, the darkest moment of my life, I can remember the taste of the fear as it leached in and sucked the joy out of my heart. I was married with one son and another child in-the-oven, and I cannot begin to imagine the frightening experience my descent must’ve caused for my then-wife. And she’d had some experience of deep sadness in her life and in her family of origin, just like me. It’s part of what bound us together, this recognition and acceptance of our moodiness. It’s part of who I am.

In periods of great drama and stress you either split apart or you deepen your connection to your significant other.

This time, as an “adult,” the onset was more noticeable and pronounced. I never tried to hide what was happening even as I was trying to cling to the joy in my life as a metaphorical cliff edge. I sought out medical help. I sought out spiritual and mental help. I sought out my own inner work. I tried running as therapy. I tried focusing on the good in my life, the beautiful pregnant wife, and the amazing baby boy, but nothing could lift the filter of fear that had started forming between me and my experience of life.

It was in this time, as we struggled as a little family in crisis, that I became dependent on my wife for my own survival. I know this was an unfair burden to place on another individual, but I was unable to see the way forward without some form of counsel and daily encouragement. It was a dark time indeed.

We survived. I survived. The marriage survived. And over the next few years, filled with diapers and tears, I began to get my footing in the world of work and the optimism of life continued to grow in all of us. And just at this time, my wife experienced her own moment with the black dog. I was back, ready for bear, and again we persevered. We didn’t exactly thrive, but the joyful days outweighed the mournful ones, and we gave our kids the optimism-in-spite-of-the-moment, that they still rely on today.

Adaptation, Survival, and Change

In periods of great drama and stress you either split apart or you deepen your connection to your significant other. And maybe the deeper story in our case, was a little of both. In my “video camera” retelling of the story I would color things with a slightly rose-colored lens. I might say, “We went through it, we survived, we’re stronger than ever and ready for what’s next.”

I can say that I had no idea what my then-wife struggled with during my dark times or her dark times. What I knew was that I had another person in the storm with me, holding my hand.

My then-wife’s retelling would vary in one significant way. “We went through it, it was hard, we’re stronger now as individuals, and I think my happiness will return outside the marriage rather than continuing in this way.” And in this moment, even 6+ years after the statement came out of her mouth, I cannot begin to imagine what was going on inside her during those final months of our marriage.

I had learned that I could only rely on my own best thinking, and take care of my own actions. And even as my then-wife was making choices that I didn’t agree with, I was ultimately accepting of her decision. I saw things and experienced things very differently. I imagined our future together *with* this additional strength. She saw our future ahead with this additional liability.

The darkness we had suffered and recovered from together had changed us in different ways. I wanted to return to the relationship with her as a the start of the next chapter. She wanted to set out and find a new partner for that next chapter. It would be absurd of me to characterize of attempt an understanding of her experience and her decisions.

We passed through several dark nights of the soul together. And as we go forward in our kid-connected lives we will still have moments where we think we know what would work better for the other person. It’s pretty clear, from this side of the divorce, that I had no clue what was happening in her mind during all of those ups and downs. Her actions for part of the experience were connective and supportive. At some point, after she grasped that she could not change me back into someone she loved, she decided to make plans to seek a different relationship.

I’d like to put a bow around this difficult story with some sort of statement of silver lining. Something like, “We’re better for it, we’re stronger because of it, we all have a more realistic view of life and dealing with setbacks and disappointments.” And while I can’t really say that, I can say that I had no idea what my then-wife struggled with during my dark times or her dark times. What I knew was that I had another person in the storm with me, holding my hand.

Even today, nearly 5 years after the divorce, I can’t project thoughts into her mind. I can imagine that I understand idea behind some of her actions, but it’s only my projection. I have no idea what goes on in her mind.  That’s okay, that’s not the idea. Co-parenting is about accepting the other person for who they are, exactly as they are, and holding them in the best light you can.

Occasionally I get mad and I don’t see my own part in the dynamic, but for the most part I have learned to mind *my* business, to pay attention to *my*actions and *my* words. That’s the best I can do, always. That’s all I can do.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

reference: Against Depression – Peter Kramer, M. D.

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image: with the wolves, sprinkle happiness, creative commons usage

The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.

she says yes

shesaysyes-POEM

[from strange horizons poems]

and when she says yes
opens
and pleases at the touch
laughs
remains calm in the middle of the fire
when she arrives
with flexible thinking
mind
body
and she says yes the second time
enough to make you imagine
you’ve heard her correctly
she might
have
arrived
just at the right moment
in time
to answer
one
more time

yes

1-24-15

Entitlement & Narcissism: The Blurry Lines Between Divorced Parents

OFF-sharing

Entitlement is a hard word. It’s a bit harsh. It carries a lot of judgement, so I’m going to try to take this one apart and examine it from all angles. If I can stay objective, perhaps I can learn something as we go along together in this post.

Let’s start with a definition.

entitlement

Okay, so now we’ve got a few starting points. First let’s start with me, that’s usually the best place to begin a self-examination.

My Family of Origin

I do have certain rights. And I do believe I am deserving of good things, but not necessarily special treatment. The fact is, my father was a successful physician and made a ton of money before his death at 56 years old. I wouldn’t say his success made him happy.  But a lot of his path was colored by alcohol, so his happiness is not a very good touch point for my sense of entitlement. I do have something though, that rubs up close to that last, less flattering, definition.

I was raised to believe that I too would have financial success. But even with this auspicious beginning, at some level I equated financial success with devastating dysfunction, both emotional and physical.

I lived my formative years in two very nice houses. But by the time I was progressing through 4th grade my mom and dad had begun a knockdown drag-out divorce. See, my dad was also an angry drunk, and he was determined to ruin my mom, rather than see her enjoy any life after divorce. He used a scorched earth mindset to attack, sue, and humiliate my mom. And some of it worked. My mom has always been frightened about money. And some of it backfired. Seeing my sometimes raging and sometimes despondent father made it clear to me at an early age, that I would never go live with him. No matter how awesome his mansion became, no matter how inviting the views and the swimming pools, he and I were mortal enemies. As he tried to destroy my mom, in some elementary school Oedipal complex, I became her champion. I became a shining defense against my father’s hate. And in many of those years the hate spewed out directly at me, for siding with her. But that wasn’t the story. I was hiding from him and his unbridled fury as much as I was trying to support and survive with my mom.

Anyway, in my early years, I knew what it was like to have a lot of money. Money covered with furious guilt and anger. But nonetheless, I was raised to believe that I too would have financial success. But even with this auspicious beginning, at some level I equated financial success with devastating dysfunction, both emotional and physical.

But my inner-core of  entitlement must look something like this: I can achieve great success if I work hard, stay sober, and keep a positive outlook. So far, things have not always gone to plan, but I do believe I have used that inner belief as part of my resilience. Somewhere deep down inside, I believe I will enjoy the fruits of my labor. And every time I do, even if it’s just having enough money to buy the groceries I need for the week without having to check the bank balance, I am not only relieved but grateful. I have a lot of appreciation for life when things go right. It’s not luck or fate I’m talking about, it’s faith and belief in my own ability to thrive and survive even within horrible circumstances. I’ve always had this inner voice. I believe this is the gift of my entitlement. I will make it. We will make it. Things will be okay, eventually. No time to fret or worry obsessively about, it’s time to get back to work.

Her Family of Origin

Now, without taking too much time, since I really can’t give much insight into her family of origin experience, I will give you a skeleton view of my ex-wife’s family of origin. Dad was a severe disciplinarian and a hard-working engineer. Money and fame were not part of the routine, but hard work, perseverance, and a strict attention to spreadsheets and details and mechanics was always at the center of the plan. Mom, on the other hand was slightly unstable, but very creative and artistic. She was a bit of an Amelia Earhart type: she even raced airplanes, rode a motorcycle, and had a touch of the delicious madness of emotional imbalance. (BTW: I have a good bit of that too.)

I can’t blame her for seeing the money around me and imagining the money and good times to come.

The result of this early training for my ex-wife was that she gravitated to the safer parent. She too became very pragmatic and less emotionally focused. Sometimes in our marriage, and in couples therapy, the lack of emotional energy was really an issue. She too liked to build financial models, built scenarios, and project future trajectories. But she didn’t like things to get too touchy-feely. So in some ways, as polar opposites, we fit together like a circuit. Her logic and financial prudence, matched nicely with my emotional epiphanies and earning potential. But there was more of a business-type fit, rather than an love-type fit. I didn’t know the difference when we started dating. I thought I had met my perfect foil. The perfect woman who could collect and multiply the financial rewards of my genius. (Oops, that’s probably a bit of that grandiose thing I do.)

I can’t blame her for seeing the money around me and imagining the money and good times to come. And I’m sure I was (and still) project great confidence about my potential. But of course, that’s part of the issue between us, always, I’m saying, “Things are looking up, this deal is just about to break, I’m on the cusp of a big breakthrough” and she was saying, “But we need to put another $2,000 in our IRAs to take advantage of the tax breaks.” Oh, that was music to my ears. Well, it was, until things didn’t go so well.

When the financial plans got a bit more complex and more faith-based, after 911, my wife began to drop down into the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. Her focus turned, naturally for her, to spreadsheets and bank balances. And cash flow was a problem for everyone at that time. I did my best to rebound from the total loss of my freelance business, but it was a dark period for us personally over the next 5 years as we weathered the storms of our economic free fall and the emotional separation that began to divide us along our two vastly different senses of entitlement.

So things got messy. I got depressed. She got furious. I held the emotional heart of the family while she managed the spreadsheet and the withdrawals from our next egg, put there courtesy of my dead father. We rallied around the parenting duties and the great love of our children. Between the two of us, however, something was beginning to pull apart. I wasn’t aware of what was going on, but I knew she was more pessimistic and angst-ridden than I ever remembered.

Financial Entitlement

Okay, let’s cut forward to today, to our lives now as two separate but connected households. In many ways she’s still counting on my big paycheck each month. And when the child support checks stopped arriving, when I lost my work, lost my house, lost most of my possessions, she got even more furious. As if her fury and demands were going to motivate me to do more, be more, earn more. Except that wasn’t the problem. But of course, as things got tense between us, as I missed my first child support payment (even with two months notice that I was about to hit an unexpected financial problem), she moved in to hyper-accounting mode. This was her M.O. This was how she dealt with stress, both while we were married, and now almost 5 years after our divorce.

I kept telling her, “I’m going to get caught up. I’d never skip out on my obligation to you and the kids.” But she must have been hearing something completely different.

See, the problem is, when you divorce, and you’re the man who 80% of the time get’s strapped with the child support obligation, it puts a very large additional obligation on your balance sheet. In the divorce, since I didn’t sue to get the 50/50 plan I proposed, I wound up agreeing to a child support payment that was based on the good years of my full-time employment history. And to make it crystal clear, here’s what you’re going to be obligated for, if you get divorced in Texas and are given the standard plan. (I didn’t have this information going into the divorce, or I would’ve understood why she fought so hard to get primary custody.)

And somewhere along this journey, she began to see that obligation, that deal, as her entitlement.

I was asked to pay child support based on prior income, not income that I was currently making. (I had a few good job prospects at the time, and in my optimism and attempt to smooth our way into the conflict-free divorce decree, I agreed.) I was also asked to pay the kids health insurance costs. (Again, since I didn’t have a job at that moment, it would be in the form of cash to my ex-wife, to cover the premiums. Okay, still all good, if I had solid and lucrative employment.) And when you add those two items together, in my case, I came out of the marriage with a 1,200 – 1,600 monthly payment.

Again, it’s not about the deal. That’s a standard deal. Dad pays approximately 20% of his gross income AND the health insurance. And this money allows the mom, theoretically, to be able to afford the lifestyle she has become accustomed to, and more importantly the kids have become accustomed to. I agreed, because I didn’t know what my options were. I agreed because I was optimistic about several job opportunities. I agreed because I wanted to do what was best for my kids and even my ex-wife, before I considered what was best for me. I gave in to the idea that she was the primary caregiver and thus should be paid to maintain that role and to give me additional nights and weekends to work. To work so I could pay the child support payment.

And somewhere along this journey, she began to see that obligation, that deal, as her entitlement. Just yesterday, as she was railing against me about the dog and my obligations and responsibility, she was saying, “The money you owe me.” And somewhere along the path, she saw my financial contribution to the family (even after divorce) as more important than my health and welfare.

She some how, got the idea, that she was entitled to everything and then some.

  • The down payment for the house came from my pre-marriage assets.
  • 60% of the money while we were married came from my employment, while 100% of the cash contributions to her retirement plan came from my pre-marriage assets.
  • Getting to keep and stay in the nice house was a financial deal, made possible by my child support payments
  • We had always agreed and parented 50/50 she was the better and primary care-giver

She believed that the money, the obligation was hers. Not a promise based on actual income. Not a percentage of salary earned. No she believed, still believes, that the child support is her entitlement. This is no longer a relationship it’s just a business contract. I am no longer a person to her, I’m a debtor. I’m the problem. I’m the reason she’s unhappy.

Striking A Blow of Unhappiness

So in the ultimate blow of her financial frustration and power (even as I was pleading with her to remember me as the father of her children, and still the man she married) she sought enforcement of the degree, enforcement of the child support payments, enforcement of her entitlement, buy turning me into the state’s attorney for collections. She was owed the money. And now it would show up as a BAD DEBT on my credit report until she was paid in-full.

Somehow she’d gone from being a partner in parenting to being an angry business partner with deal that had gone south.

Despite the fact that her retirement account was still full, and was built on the proceeds of our life while married. Despite the fact that she was living in the marital home and had never been threatened with even a late mortgage payment. She could see that I was asking for compassion, she could see, and even acknowledged that she believed I WAS working and looking for work. She could see, because I told her, and showed, her, and gave her all the information I had, that I was at risk of losing my house, losing my shelter. She did not see me as a struggling former partner, she saw me as her dead beat husband, who needed to pay his child support.

How we got that disconnected I’ll never understand. How could she imagine that suing me with the State of Texas’s AG’s office was a compassionate idea? Did she understand that she would be making it ever so hard for me to get my next job? Did she know that my housing options would be forever diminished by her vindictive blow? Didn’t she see that the money she was living on, the house, the retirement, was built from joint contributions?

No, somehow she’d gone from being a partner in parenting to being an angry business partner with deal that had gone south. She wants her money. Above all else, she’s owed that money. And I can see now, that the future money (oh, in the neighborhood of $120k) is also already hers. It’s the contract she won. It’s in her spreadsheet and financial models for her future. It’s not about the kids, when you repeatedly shut down your partner’s options. It’s not about the kids when you do things that hurt your coparent.

It’s all about her. Is this the definition of narcissism?

narcissm

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: drink from my cup, ian sane, creative commons usage