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

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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


Bad Daddy and the Delicious Breakfast Dilemma

“Daddy, will you make me an English muffin?” she asked, waking up just before noon on a Tuesday summer morning.

“What is hard about making an English muffin?” Daddy asked. “Is something too hard for you?”

“Yes, I want you to make it,” said the daughter, Little Lazy Lucy, as she *slounched* into the comfy chair to pet the cat.

“I see,” Daddy said. “Is it too hard to cut the English muffin?”

“Yes, Daddy.”

“What about the butter?” Daddy asked. “Do you find that too taxing as well?”

“Yes, Daddy, you do it so much better.”

“And adding the jelly” Daddy prodded, “Is that part difficult for you in some way?”

“Daddy, please make me a muffin, I’m much to tired to do it.”

“And what about eating the English muffin, is that too hard?” he asked.

“No, that part I’m really good at.”

“Very well,” said Daddy, “I’ll start on an English muffin.”

And with that Daddy went into the kitchen while LLLucy scrounched even further into the comfy chair and laughed as the cat kneeded into her soft belly.

Upstairs another door flew open and dapper son Badly Buzy Ben announced, “Breakfast? What’s for breakfast?” as he stomped down the stairs. His hair was cuoffed and his suit looked freshly pressed. The blue tie matching and shining in concert with his pocket square.

“Daddy,” he said, as he entered the room and eyed LLLucy with disdain. “I am hungry.”

“Very well, Ben,” Daddy said, “What did you have in mind to fix for yourself?”

“Um… What are you making?” he asked, noticing the English muffin Daddy was cutting in half.

“Little Lazy Lucy has asked for an English muffin,” Daddy said. “But she’s too lazy to help.”

“I would like some bacon and eggs,” BBBen announced.

“Great,” Daddy said, “We’ve got eggs, but I think we’re out of bacon. So you’re almost all set. You could put the eggs on an English muffin if you like.”

“Will you make my eggs?” BBBen asked.

“Why,” Daddy asked. “Is something wrong with your arms and legs?”

“No, Daddy, but I’m in a hurry, and I’ve got a homework assignment that’s due in 15 minutes. Can you make it, please?”

“It only takes about 5 minutes to scramble some eggs, let me show you where they are,” Daddy said.

“I’m really not that hungry,” BBBen said, looking quite skinny in his fine suit.

“Yes, I understand,” Daddy said. “If you actually grew and filled out, you’d need a whole new wardrobe.”

“It’s not that, Daddy, I’m just very busy this morning, and I’d prefer your eggs to my own.”

“Nicely said,” Daddy replied. “I’m pretty sure, if you have time to eat the eggs you have time to make them.”

“Okay, I’ll just have an apple and go back to my room.” He said.

Daddy cut the English muffin and put it into the toaster oven. The timer was set to dark, but he knew that this really resulted in the perfect toasting of the English muffin.

“Do you want to come put the butter on?” he asked, LLLucy.

“No Daddy, Shadow (the cat) is kneeding my belly and I’d really rather stay here.”

“Very well,” Daddy said, as he shaved a few pieces of butter onto the steaming English muffin. The smell of toasted muffin and melting butter began to fill the kitchen, and Daddy could feel his own tummy rumble. “This sure smells good,” Daddy said. “It’s making me hungry.”

“I can smell it do, Daddy. It does smell delicious.”

“Would you like to come put the strawberry jelly on the muffin?” Daddy asked.

“Can you do it Daddy, I’m much to relaxed here with Shadow,” she said. The cat had curled up in her lap and was licking his paws vigorously. It was a nice scene. Daddy could understand how it was hard to get up when getting up meant upsetting the cat in your lap. So he proceeded to put the organic strawberry preserves on the warm and buttery English muffin.

“Yum, Daddy. That smells great. Is it almost ready?” LLLucy asked.

Daddy didn’t answer.

“Daddy? Is my English muffin ready?”

Daddy walked out the front door with the English muffin in hand. “Yes, the English muffin is delicious and ready, but it’s not yours. I made it.”

“Daaaady,” LLLucy cried.

“There are more muffins and I’ve left out all the ingredients right beside the toaster for you.” he said.

“But Daddy! You said you would make me an English muffin. You lied to me.”

“I’m sorry Little Lazy Lucy, but I said I would make an English muffin. And since you were too lazy to help and too comfortable to get up, I had it myself, and it was amazingly good.”

“But Dad! I wanted you to make it. I’m too tired.”

“You should make one for yourself.”

“And Shadow is sooooo comfortable,” she said, as I peeked back in the door. She eyed me with her teary and beautiful eyes. “Daddy, please!”

“Yummy yummy, in my tummy,” Daddy said, as he closed the door and left his children to starve.

Take care, and if you need someone to talk to about dating, divorce, or depression check out my coaching page.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: english muffin, creative commons usage


Developing Low-Reactivity as a Divorced Parent

My ex-wife does stuff that pisses me off all the time. The trick for me, has been to ignore the affront and keep moving along with my own agenda. I think sometimes she does things to upset me. Maybe she’s still mad. Maybe she’s spiteful and vindictive. Maybe she’s unhappy with her current situation.

I’m not sure what causes her flare-ups, but they are getting further apart and that’s a good thing. My winning approach has been to stay low-key.

Today and everyday until my daughter is 18, my ex-wife will be suing me for child support. Now, there’s no need for her to involve the AG’s office in this way, but she does. And with a phone call she could turn them off. But she doesn’t. Something about having the lien against me gives her pleasure, confidence, assurance, something. But, by law, I have to pay her 100% of what we agreed to in our divorce decree. Not even bankruptcy or death gets you out of your obligation to your kids. And I’ve never tried to get out of it. Still she keeps making the decision to let it ride on my ass.

Even this situation is done. There is nothing I can do about it. I’ve asked. I’ve offered alternative collateral. I’ve reasoned with her. But there’s no change. It gives her some pleasure. But I will not give her the pleasure of watching me thrash against it. So I let it ride.

I remember when I did a personality test for a job a number of years ago. The hiring manager was looking over my results and mentioned that my “sense of urgency” was very low. “Everyone on my team has a high sense of urgency. I don’t think you’d fit in very well.” She was right. I’ve cultivated a low sense of urgency. Why? Because I like to avoid conflict and I usually get my work done without the whip being applied. So, she did me a favor by not putting me on a team, her team, where are the projects were in crisis mode. No thanks.

So, that’s the way I deal with my ex as well. No crisis. No drama. Sure, she tries to make craziness out of minor issues. She tries to escalate mundane issues. But I don’t jump. I don’t take the bait. I remain in my low sense of urgency and ask her what she needs from me. “How can I help?” Is actually a very effective response. Often there is nothing I can do. That’s the point of being out of urgency. Still, she likes to include me in the excitement. It is my choice how I want to respond.

And that’s really the point of divorce relationships. You can’t control the other parent. But you can choose your response. If you can diffuse the urgency and your need to be right, smart, witty, or even a jerk, you will go along way towards lessening the drama and making things easier for both you and your kids. And in many ways, a low sense of urgency lessens the stress and drama in my ex-wife’s life too. But I don’t think too much about her wellbeing. That’s no longer my role.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: urgency, creative commons usage


I’m Sorry for All the Things I’ve Done and Said…

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-7-01-41-am

…but you’re out of hand these days.

I’ve tried negotiating with my ex-wife. I get delays, abusive emails, and a lot of bs. I’ve tried offering ideas about coparenting with my ex-wife. I get rejection, reasons why it won’t work, or ignored. I’ve asked for facetime where we could work some of our “issues” out and I get excuses, I get her new husband instead, I get a lot of nothing.

My ex-wife treats me like a misbehaving child. I’m in time out.

So I rail. And I feel good about it. And I feel bad about it. I mean, she’s the mother of my children, how can I be talking (writing) so disparagingly about her?

Well, for the first part, she’s a royal b****. Second, she’s decided not to deal with me but to let the state of Texas deal with me. (She turned our relationship over to the AG’s office a few years ago, to enforce her decree.) I guess she forgets I agreed to the terms of our divorce. I guess she forgets that only death can separate me from my debt to her. I guess she forgets that if we’d gone 50/50 like I wanted, there would be no child support, we’d have had to pay our own way. I guess she forgets.

But I don’t think she forgets, that’s a cop-out. She hates. She seethes. And she’d rather not see me for fear for lightening up on the angry legal approach she takes to everything I ask about. I’m not asking for much. I’d like the lien on my credit report to be lifted, so I don’t show up to potential employers as a deadbeat dad. I’d like her to acknowledge that the AG’s office was a bad idea and to make the single phone call that could end their intrusion into our lives. But she won’t.

She’s convinced, and she tells me from time to time, that they provide a service to us. They provide the accounting that we’d eventually have to come up with. They provide an easy way to pay her the child support. She’s convinced that having them in our lives is a good idea. Still. She still wants the arm of the law and the lawyers of the state on her side. I don’t know how to respond. So I learn not to respond. I learn to respond here. I learn to let it out in a healthy way (anonymously) that won’t damage her or my kids in any way.

Am I right? I don’t know. Does it feel right? Sometimes. Do I need an outlet for this rage that comes up when she pulls one of her dickish moves? Absolutely.

I’ve developed a term for what she is. The term was brought into use when referring to a new girlfriend’s mean ex. The dickish ex. That’s what I’ve got: a dickish ex.

She knows she’s being dickish. She knows that sending her new husband to meet with me rather than meet with me herself is a dickish and cowardly move. Well, the AG’s office has a surprise for her. In our child support negotiations it’s only going to be me and her and the AG employee. She’s going to have to tell the case worker why she’s being a dick. (grin)

I’m sorry for the things I say here. I’m also happy I have this outlet so I don’t take my frustrations out in some other way. To my dickish ex I give my middle finger. To the AG’s office I say, “I will comply to the letter of the law, as I always have.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: pretty close up, creative commons usage


Kids, I Did Not Choose to Leave You Alone In the Divorce

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-11-03-18-amDear Kids,

I’m writing this because I want you to know the divorce was not my idea. I did not choose to walk out the door to the house for the last time, I was asked to leave. While this may not mean much to you now that you are older, when you were 5 and 7, it was a big deal. And I couldn’t help but feel sad when I could not tell you the truth. It was not “our” idea. The divorce was against my wishes.

Today, it’s fine. We’re all friends. But back then, back when you were such vulnerable little kids, it was heartbreaking. I’m not saying we should’ve stayed together. As you could not have been aware, things were tough, things were unhappy, things were no longer joyful, more we had moved into a survival marriage. I agree, today, that’s no place to be. So in many ways I thank your mom for the divorce, but when it was taking place, I fought her, I fought for you guys, I fought to keep us together.

Of course, I can’t really come out and tell  you this today, either. I mean, I don’t want to damage your relationship with your mom. And, as they say, it’s water under the bridge. So why mention it?

The action of leaving the marriage was devastating to all of us. And one person made that decision and enacted the next path before we had a chance to even understand what was happening. It was May of 2010 and by August of 2010 it would be official, final, signed and delivered. And I would no longer be there to tuck you into bed every night. I would be living with my sister and looking for a new job and a place to live, once I had that new job. You’re mom was only concerned with you guys and your happiness. And as she should’ve been, she was letting me fend for myself. But I have to tell you, it was rough out there. Back then, there were days I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

Of course, you know I suffer from depression from time to time. And the divorce brought this illness up in spades. Perhaps you were given this “illness” as the reason we were no longer together, or the reason I was living with my sister and no longer in the house. But that’s not really the full truth. Depression had been a part of our lives before and was a struggle both parents weathered from time to time. So it was no reason for divorce. It was a symptom of the divorce. And the divorce triggered the biggest bout of depression I’d ever experienced. I was destroyed.

What I want to say to you today, as you are now 13 and 15 years old, is things broke up because your mom decided she needed to do something different. She chose divorce. I was fighting to stay together. Today we are better off for having gotten divorced. You are stronger, less dependant, and more resilient. We’ve gone through some tough times together. But I want you to know, regardless of how it felt, or what you were told, the divorce was NOT “our” idea, it was her idea and I was forced to go along with it. What you’ll learn as you enter into relationships of your own, it takes two people to have a relationship. When one person wants out, that’s it, game over.

This post is on my anonymous divorce blog. I still protect you and your mom from the full brunt of my anger. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. Nothing would come of giving you this piece of information now. Perhaps when you are older it will be a conversation we can have. But today, I just wanted to record, for the future, that the divorce was not my idea. Ever.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Why Fathers Give Up After Divorce

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I see why divorced fathers give up. It’s all stacked against you from the first. The very first time she utters the word “divorce”, a father is screwed. The more you fight, the more it’s all your fight. The less you fight, the more is taken away, little by little. It’s really a no-win. It’s not just the system, it’s those ingrained by the system. It’s the everyday attitudes, the automatic assumptions, the resistance a father gets from those situated in his child’s life, which typically are women (nurses, secretaries, administrative, teachers, etc.). It’s being marginalized while being smiled at, patronized so “the father will just go away satisfied so we can get on with business with the REAL parent”.

Nathan S from a Father-centric FB Group.

Nathan is expressing the essence of divorce for dads. There is no WIN in divorce, and yet the courts are stacked in the favor of the mom from moment one. In Texas, where I live, 80% of the time the dad gets the SPO and the non-custodial parenting role.

SPO – standard possession order
You will have your kids approximately 30% of the time. Every other weekend and one day on the off weeks.

Non-custodial parent
She’s going to get the house and a nice child support check from you until each of your kids turns 18.

Parenting plan
From that starting point you will be asked to design a parenting plan. But really it’s designing what 70% of your kids lives you are going to give up. You decide on Christmas, Thanksgiving, Birthdays, and the summer. Oh, the threatening summer. And there’s this little carrot they give to the non-custodial father, the summer MONTH. If you’ve got a day job it’s never going to happen, but they like to balance out the imbalance on the books by giving the dad a full month in the summer. This is very important if you live in a distant city. But for us trying to make lives WITH our kids we cannot afford to have them for a full month, nor could we afford the additional child care if we had to work.

The deck is stacked against dads. And once the dust settles from the divorce decisions and getting the decree in place, you’re going to have to look for shelter, outside the home you once knew, with a significantly reduced paycheck. My ex-wife gets $1,300 per month for our two kids, AND I pay the health insurance for both of them, adding another $400 – $600 per month. So take that $2,000 out of your take home pay, because it’s taken AFTER taxes, and then see what you have remaining for rent. How does a crappy apartment sound to you? While your wife and kids get to keep on living in the style they have become accustomed to.

Money troubles are part of the biggest issue for dads after divorce. Just making ends meet after the child support and healthcare have been subtracted, well, you can see why a good full-time job is of critical importance. For me, I had to move in with my sister for several months before I was able to get a good-enough job to get a place on my own. While that arrangement had some advantages, I also had zero personal space, and zero disposable income.

Dads often give up because it feels like the deck is stacked against them. The money, the courts, the ex-wife, all want the dad to pay, and when he can’t pay (due to illness or layoffs) the court doesn’t care, the $2,000 is still due each month. No matter how careful you were when you set up your savings or retirement accounts, no matter what you make, that first paycheck to the ex-wife becomes a painful reminder of what a crappy deal you just got.

I’m not saying it’s easy for moms. Divorce is difficult for everyone. But the days when “moms were the best nurturers in the family” are long gone. In fact, my ex was not very nurturing at all. I was the breakfast-get-the-kids-to-school dad. That was me. She either slept in, or was doing her makeup and clothes for hours before leaving on some mysterious job interview, or business opportunity. That she made little more than $15,000 a year for the last few years of our marriage was fine, we made an arrangement, but she was NOT the top nurturer in the family.

Well, Dad, if you can afford it, get a lawyer, no matter the terms of your cooperative divorce, you need representation. Then fight for 50/50 parenting, joint custody, and NO CHILD SUPPORT. Yes, kids are expensive, but they should be equally shared as an expense and as a joy. This 70/30 split is bullshit. It’s demeaning to fathers. And it’s based on a parenting concept from the 50’s. Sure it makes it easier on the courts if everyone just goes with the plan. But don’t. If you want the time with your kids, fight for it.

Maybe it’s too late for me. Fighting my ex-wife for 50/50 custody would now be more upsetting to the kids. The benefit now, as they are teenagers is different. A lot of parenting teenagers is being a hotel and a taxi service. That’s okay, that’s the age they are. But as a parent, there are better things I could spend my time doing. Sure, I want my kids 50/50. It’s what I argued for when we first started divorce discussions. But in Texas, in 2010, I was likely to lose my court case. Today, I am told, you have a fighting chance, if you want 50/50. You should go for it.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: kid crying, creative commons usage


You May Think I’m the Enemy, But You’re Misguided

screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-5-08-56-pmMy ex still thinks I’m her problem. When she vents at me I begin to feel like she’s got some unfinished business. Just like I did when we were married. People have to do their own work. You can’t do it for them. You can’t prod them into doing it. The business of healing is hard and avoided by most people. But in relationships that tactic is a disaster.

So she didn’t talk to me then. She doesn’t really talk to me now, unless it’s a text about something she wants. She couches the request as something “the kids” want, but 99% of the time it’s just a variance request from her. “Will you take the kids to the dentist next week?”

Maybe she’s just unhappy. And if she can’t point to me as the reason for her unhappiness, well, that takes a lot of pressure off her and her own self management.

Coparenting is fine, it’s the goal, it’s the only way to be divorced parents. But when one partner is still playing with loaded dice the room for civility and compromise is impaired. She’s so mad at me… It’s been six years, so I’m not sure why, but it’s a fact. When I ask her a simple question I often get a vitriolic message with so much anger that I often don’t make it past the first few sentences. I’m learning not to ask. Kind of like when we were married. Don’t talk, don’t ask, don’t tell. Not the way to a healthy marriage, and today, not the way to a healthy coparenting relationship.

If I’m not the enemy, and she understood that, what would she have left to work on? Herself, perhaps? Or she’d have to own the damage she did in the way she’s gone about the divorce. She’d have to admit she was wrong to turn me over to the collection agency of the state’s attorney general’s office. She’d have to look at what she’s still doing to fuel the rage and resentment at me. She won’t do it.

And perhaps I’m a good foil for the difficulties in her life. Perhaps it’s easier if you’ve got someone to blame. It’s no longer about money, she married a wealthy man. It’s no longer about my work habits or sexual desires. She doesn’t have to worry about those. It’s not even about the money I owe her from the 9 months that I was unemployed and looking for work. What reason could she have for still being mad at me?

Maybe she’s just unhappy. And if she can’t point to me as the reason for her unhappiness, well, that takes a lot of pressure off her and her own self management. It’s not like she doesn’t have a therapist. She had the same one the entire time we were married. Unfortunately all therapists are not created equal. This “yes therapist” just reassure her, tells her she’s doing great. There are no big issues. There’s no mention of her anger. And thus she gets a clean bill of health and does none of the work that still needs to be done. This is the way it was in my marriage. Plenty of work for both of us. I was doing it. She was talking about doing it.

I own my part of the divorce. I own not speaking up when I began to sublimate my desire. I know I did things wrong. But I’m no longer mad at her.

We all have our issues. I get that. And while this may sound like I’m taking her inventory, I’m really trying to call it as I see it. If my ex-wife is still mad at me six years after the divorce was finalized, don’t you think she needs to get some help with her anger issue?

I own my part of the divorce. I own not speaking up when I began to sublimate my desire. I know I did things wrong. But I’m no longer mad at her. I’m trying to get over the anger she shoots at me on a routine basis. I’m trying to make things easier for my kids, and low and behold, for my ex-wife as well. That’s not always appreciated or acknowledged, but hey, I’m not after any kudos from her. I’m done with her. And to the extent that I can be DONE with her, I’d rather not talk to her at all. We still have to. And we will have to for the rest of our lives, but with someone who’s harboring so much venom, I’d really like to move along with less and less contact with her.

This is not the way it has to be, but her unresolved anger keeps the walls up between us. What’s my part in it all? Do my confrontations on her unreasonableness have any effect? No. Do my friendly offers for help, or extra carpool support, or running errands with them, make any difference in the timbre of her voice? Nope. She’s not done with me, she’s furious with me, still.

That’s something I wish she’d get over. It’s not necessary and it hurts all of us in subtle ways.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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When You’re Trying to CoParent with a Narcissist

off-childrunningThe truth is, for a divorce to happen, you both had to do something wrong. While at first you might feel like the splitting of your marriage is a failure, I’m here to testify that it can also be seen, eventually, as the best thing that ever happened to you.

In my marriage, to the mother of my children, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was married to someone who has a pretty miserable view of the world. THEIR time was always more compromised, more valuable, and more stressful than anyone else around them. Now, divorced from this woman, I can gain some perspective of what I was dealing with while trying to keep our marriage together.

While married there always seemed to be some problem.

  • Not enough money
  • House not clean enough
  • Too busy and too tired for sex
  • Parenting routines were considered chores, to be taken care of rather than enjoyed

I wasn’t this way. I was raised with money as a given. I was always confident in my earning ability, even after being let go from a job. I cleaned house when things bugged me, but often they did not bug me. Sex was important to me, and felt like one of the spiritual and emotional ways two people can bond. And the kids were always a gift, a blessing, and the routines, always cherished. I wasn’t one for complaining about how tired I was, or making excuses for any of it because I was soooooo busy. So much busier than you, in fact.

Needless to say, my then-wife and I came from different universes emotionally. I was mostly happy. I woke up each morning with a clean slate, and eager anticipation of what the day might bring. She woke up with a chip on her shoulder, and usually it had something to do with me. I was the cause for her unhappiness.

Today, six years later, she’s remarried to a man with “plenty of money.” And she’s still not happy. She’s got new shoes, new gadgets for her house, and new handbags, but she still has the resting bitch face all the time. All. The. Time. She’s expressing how she’s not happy about life in general, and me specifically.

Take the back to school night at my kid’s 10th grade year of high school. Sitting in the classes listening to my son’s teachers talk about their program and their expectations for our kids, my ex-wife was opening her bills on the desk in front of her. Opening her mail, in my son’s back to school night? What could be more self-centered. I’m sure she had good reason to be so rude to everyone in the class including the teachers. I’m sure she’d just been too busy to do it at any other time. But why was she even at the back to school night, I wondered, as I shook my head in disbelief.

I’m certain I didn’t understand why she would do such a thing. I’m sure I wondered about her boundaries, and what she felt was appropriate vs. necessary to get HER schedule moved a few squares ahead. I was livid and cordial. And somewhere I was also noting my superior social skills and her lack of a clue or care for all the people surrounding her.

And just this week, she also started the kids on a very expensive regime of Invisilign braces. Now, under the “joint custody” rules she can not make these kind of decisions without talking to me. If I’m going to be responsible for 50% of extraneous expenses, I need to be consulted BEFORE the expense is incurred. I found out about them because one of my kids was complaining about the braces. He apparently did not know why he was enrolled, and how he might get unenrolled if he objected. She didn’t share the important details with him either. Typical narcissist: doing what matters to them without much attention given to those around them who will be affected by their actions.

Okay, so my wife is still unhappy, though “happily married,” as she claims. She’s got plenty of money (both from my child support payments, but more so from her new wealthy husband) and she’s not happy. And she’s still acting out of spite towards me, and that spite sometimes includes the kids in her range of fire. She’s a piece of work.

Most of all, though, she’s still not happy. Not about anything, that I can tell. All of her correspondence with me about the braces were filled with “I can’t fucking believe you are reacting like this” to “I didn’t think you were interested in things like the kid’s health, or their dental appointments.” See, shes’ still mad that 70% custody means she has 70% of the doctor’s appointments too.

She’s just not happy.

I am happy.

Most of all, I am happy to have the perspective that now shows me it was not my actions or failures that made her unhappy and destroyed our marriage. She’s just this way. Somehow life is just a little more difficult for her. Somehow her chores, and her time, are more burdensome than the rest of us. And for that, she’s not happy. Not ever. Sure, she can smile on demand, but generally her expression and outlook, at least while we were married, was ANGRY. Doesn’t she work with this in therapy?

Glad to be in my own skin, my own environment, and a new relationship with someone who sees life from the “half full” side of life, every single morning that we wake up together. My ex-wife’s continuous displays of contempt for me, and her repeated aggressions in emails and texts, just expose just how self-centered she is. It’s too back for my kids that she is this way. My son is a bit more cynical than I would like. But he’s doing fine in spite of it. And god knows I haven’t been the 100% rockin father that I wanted to be. But they do know and acknowledge that I have always done my best and stayed available and close to them. I can’t say the same for their mom. But maybe that’s just how she is.

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Dear Ex-Wife, You’re Missing the Point

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 8.18.40 PMThree years ago when my ex-wife tossed our child support issue to the Attorney General’s office I had no idea the world of hurt I was about to get slapped around with. She was doing “what she thought was best for the kids” by making me into a dead beat dad in the eyes of the state of Texas.

Even though:

  • I told her I had lost my income due to a client loss (I was working for a small business at the time and the one client was 90% of my income)
  • I told her I would get caught up as soon as I could, and that I was not looking to reduce the amount owed
  • She agreed that I was not hiding income from her
  • She didn’t need the money, she had a nice job and the house was nearly paid for

But that wasn’t reason enough for her to delay her bomb drop for more than a month. Somehow she thought that filing with the AG’s office was like adding an accountant to the equation, so THEY could keep track of what I owed vs. what I paid. Of course, my ex was an excel wiz so she was doing models and spreadsheets herself, but maybe the state’s attorneys would help.

A week before Wells Fargo refused my restructuring offer, she said, “Sorry about the timing, but I just filed with the AG’s office.”

She thought that she would get me back in line sooner if the law was involved. Well, in theory I guess that would’ve happened if I had disappeared or was trying to not pay her at all. That’s what the Attorney General’s office is for. Dead beat dads skip out on their kids, refuse to pay, demand paternity testing, and basically try to not pay for anything for their kids.

In our case, upper middle-class white folks with 99 problems… But my commitment and stated plan was 100% in compliance with the law. But, and it’s a big but, I had lost my client and income for an unknown length of time. I worked daily on new business, on getting a job (It was going to take me about 100k a year to pay the child support and live in an apartment.) and told her she would get a percentage of everything I made. It wasn’t good enough for her.

Today, three years later, I can’t get a used car loan on my own. Unless I’m willing to pay 19% interest. I’ve been turned down on two job offers once they ran my credit as part of the background check. And while I didn’t get foreclosed on, I had to sell my only, my post-divorce house, in a hurry. I did make $5,000 on the deal. And, of course, she wanted her cut of that as well.

Did she think what it would do to me? No. Did she think it was going to get my checks coming regularly even when I didn’t have a job? I don’t know. Did she think of the best interest of her children when she threw the father of her children to the debt collectors know as the OAG? (Office of the Attorney General) Absolutely not.

Today I ask her if she’d consider getting the AG’s office out of our pants. She says, “I’m not there yet.” I say, “Did you know they take a 10% fee out of the child support payments I make?” She says, “Are you sure of that?” I say, “You only get money when I make money, I don’t have any assets. You’re living in the only asset we had.” She said, “Help me understand why I only started getting paid after the AG’s office was in the picture?”

It’s because I didn’t have a job. When I got a job I started paying you 45% of every dollar I made. For the care and feeding of my kids. Excuse me, our kids.

I ask, “How do I know what the money is going to?” She says, “It’s none of your business.”

When your ex throws you to the wolves, what sympathy does she deserve? How do you maintain a civil relationship “for the kids?” I don’t know the answer, but you just do. I have never mentioned to my kids that their mom was the reason we lost the house and had to move in with grandma for 9 months. I never told the kids that the reason my bank account was frozen twice was due to their mom’s actions, and the AG’s aggressive actions to recover “her money.”

I could be mad about it. I could do things to get even. But I won’t. I have to rise above the blame and “imagine” that she’s doing the best she can. That keeping me in the dog house does something for them. Perhaps it makes her feel better. Demonstrates how childish I was. How I was irresponsible.

All I think it does is fuck me on a daily basis when I go looking for a job, try to rent an apartment, or rent a car. All I think it does is give her a stiff spike stiletto heel on my neck.

Oh well, in 5 years this will all be over. I’ll still owe her the money, but I’ll be paying her back as fast as I can. Cause, “it’s the kids money.” Um, yeah, right.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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#dad #divorce #depression

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 6.22.59 PM

“They may have less of me, but they’ve got a fully empowered and alive dad.”

My recent series of depressions were a direct result of my divorce 6 years ago. There’s no way to beat around that bush. I had been depression free for quite some time, but the fragility was still there beneath the surface. So, even as I counseled my kids, negotiated with my soon-to-be-ex, I was reeling inside with doubt, sadness, and plan old garden variety depression.

In my counseling sessions with both my meds doctor and my talky doctor we discussed the difference between chemical depression and existential depression.

I missed my kids every day they were not in my life. And as a dad, that meant about 70% of the time I was alone. The crisis came swiftly as I was asked to leave my house, my neighborhood and support system, and move into my sister’s spare room. There was not a large amount of money in our accounts, and I’d recently lost a high-paying corporate job. It was a hard time for anyone. But with my propensity towards hopelessness, I was set up for a fall unlike any I had experienced before.

In my counseling sessions with both my meds doctor and my talky doctor we discussed the difference between chemical depression and existential depression. The circumstances of my physical life were depressing = existential depression. AND, in my case, the chemical depression caused by my brain functioning improperly and giving off distress signals that were causing untold havoc in my body, mind, and attitude.

Through a number of previous “really hard periods” I had learned the pattern of hopelessness. I was prone to giving up when things got too bad. In my youth this was a result of being kicked out of a top prep school and the death of my father when I was twenty-one. Each of those events affected me profoundly. And part of me decided that the deck was stacked against me in some way, and perhaps — the depressed person incorrectly reasons — I need to give up. I suppose the ultimate giving up would be suicide, but I was a bit of a softie for that. Heights and guns terrified me, and pills, well, there was a lot of bad pill stories out there, if you’re researching how to do yourself in. It wasn’t going to be my thing, suicide.

Instead I was going to wallow, fall, cry, complain, sleep, and hope in a magical rescue that would bring me up and out. Going for a rescue is another one of my common patterns. I make my life look so horrible that maybe someone (in my high school days it was my mom) would see my distress and rescue me. But as an adult there was no person who could sooth my hopeless soul. There was no one in my life to say, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

It’s hard to say which came first, the positive attitude or the improving life, but it’s clear that there is a direct connection between the two.
That’s really your therapist’s role. My talky doctor and I examined past and present depressions and tried to reason some things out. My meds doctor consoled me with the idea that the meds would eventually have a lifting effect on my mood. But it was more than mood. It was life. existentially, in divorce, I was in a depressing place. Still, I had to find a way to make a go of it, for my kids, for my family, and ultimately for me. I had to find a way to stand alone, as a single dad, and proclaim that life was good. I was a long way from that a few years ago.

Today, I’d have to say, I’m in a stable relationship, I’m working and paying my child support, and I’m happy with my life. I’m okay with the divorce. My existential life has caught up with my positive attitude. It’s hard to say which came first, the positive attitude or the improving life, but it’s clear that there is a direct connection between the two.

When my existential life is crushed my mental life will often follow. But the level of stress I can endure without cratering is also substantial. I had been able to sustain a wobbly marriage for a year or more and get us into couple’s therapy to see if we could save the core of our relationship. I was working and doing my fair share of chores and kid duties. Neither of us was HAPPY but we were working on it.

I was not aware when we entered therapy that she was actually already considering divorce. The yaw of divorce had not been allowed to enter my consciousness. Divorce was the 100% dead option. Divorce to me WAS suicide. And while I continued week after week to talk her down off the ledge, I was ultimately unable to fix things that I didn’t see as broken. It was probably more about her family of origin than about us. But still I failed.

In failing at marriage, I was certain that I had failed in my life, that I had failed my kids. I was most certain that I failed as a man. The full story is I didn’t fail, I was still giving it 100% when I was told things just weren’t going to work out for the other person. There was nothing I could do.

Divorce changed everything about my life in a matter of weeks. From that collapse I have rebuilt a stronger, faster, smarter me.

I fought. I tried to bully her back into the relationship. I pleaded. I reasoned. I failed again and again, because she had decided and never wavered from her decision. The rest was my reaction to this failure. My reaction to the loss of the majority of my “dad time.” There is no way to understand the loss until you are a parent and you learn that you’re going to get 1/3 the time with your kids you are used to. It felt like a violation of my life, my principles, my religion. But it was just a divorce. And in divorce the kids get split between houses.

Would I have not gotten depressed if I gotten 50/50 parenting like I’d asked, I doubt it. My stress level, in the “year of negotiations” trying to keep my wife in the marriage, and now the collapse of my marriage and loss of my kids and house, for any amount of time… I think I would’ve succumbed. The existential depression was inevitable. Could I have started the chemical repair sooner? Sure, but until things broke down I was feeling really strong. Stressed, but strong. Once I was out of my family home I was no longer certain of my positive future.

Divorce changed everything about my life in a matter of weeks. From that collapse I have rebuilt a stronger, faster, smarter me. And in some ways, I think my kids (13 and 15) are also stronger and more resilient as a result of our break up. If she wasn’t happy, she was showing them through actions and words, what unhappy looks like. If I was stressed I was not able to be my effervescent self and the dad I wanted to be.

I am showing them how to recover from a loss, and to become a happier, more focused man. And as a dad, I am showing up in ways I couldn’t have as a married man. I’ve got more energy, more time, and more attention for each of them, in the smaller amount of time I have. They may have less of me, but they’ve got a fully empowered and alive dad.

… I will continue tomorrow…

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What I’m Missing Today as a Divorced Dad

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It’s been nearly seven years since my divorce and on average that means I’ve missed 2/3 of my kids lives since then. I’m not depressed about it, but the sadness does occasionally creep up on me on the nights they are with their mom. I fought for 50/50 parenting but was shown the law book as an excuse for doing the right thing. If you parent 50/50 both mom and dad should have equal access to the kids after the divorce.

What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce.

For me the loss of my kids and being thrust into alone time was the most traumatic part about divorce. We had built a happy (somewhat) home and I was determined to keep it together. And sure, I was keeping it together for the kids, but probably I was holding on to a crumbling marriage because I didn’t want to be alone again. I loved the routines: 1. home from school; 2. homework and play; 3. dinner; 4. bath; 5. bedtime stories. My kids were young when we split. And the harsh interruption of this family dance was almost too much to take. I survived. We all survived. But for the most part, their lives stayed the same and my life was upended and cut off from all I knew.

It’s odd when you leave your house for the last time, all the little things you’re never going to remember to ask for, but you leave behind. In my case, I didn’t have anywhere to move to, so I moved in with my sister while I tried to get my act together again. So 95% of all my stuff stayed in the house. At some point, a few months in, she and one of her girlfriends packed all of my clothes and belonging into boxes and moved my material corpse into the garage. I’m grateful I didn’t have to do it. But it also felt like I was being buried, or put in my place.

I was fortunate to have a sister in town who happened to have a mother-in-law plan that worked out for me and my kids. While I didn’t have any privacy, my room was next to the media/tv/gaming room, I did have a place to sleep. And the room was big enough that over the summer the kids could spend their dad-weekends with me. So, I didn’t have it to bad. Or should I say, it could’ve been a lot worse.

But seeing my kids and ex-wife in the house, with all my stuff, continuing on with life as usual. It was like “daddy was on an extended business trip.” But I would never be back.

A few nights ago, on a typical kid-free Monday (M-T-W nights were always kid-free) I was feeling sad and I tried to examine what was making me ache. Again, this is seven years later. It was easy to identify that I missed my kids. Their laughs and stories about their day at school. Getting to hear what’s going on in their lives. But it was deeper.

In my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about.

What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce. And I’m sure it cut both ways. I’m sure that my ex-wife was sad on the nights when they were with me. Those young-kid nights when everything was about them and their connection to you and the world and each other. Here I was, seven years later, feeling sorry about what I’d lost when they were younger.

It’s different today, being in parenting relationships with teenagers. Most of the time the parenting role is about transportation and food. And with friends and boyfriend/girlfriends they’d mostly like to be somewhere else. We still have the tender moments, but they are sparsely scattered throughout our time together. What I was sad about a few days ago is the loss of that time, the tender time. My kids are still precious, and I am completely devoted to them, but there’s a longing, like wanting a puppy to stay a puppy, for that earlier time. Of course, it’s never coming back, and my sadness is just about me. Perhaps it’s me feeling sorry for myself all these years later, about what I lost back then.

This was the pain of divorce for me. The minute she said she had seen a lawyer I howled. And in my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about. When I lost my dad in divorce the loss was absolute. It was as if he fell off the deep end of his isolation and alcoholism. He was gone from my life. What I had after the divorce was a ghost of a dad.

I am not a ghost to my kids. I am a fully alive and empowered father. I was handed a less-than-fair deal and we’ve all learned to deal with it. Today my ex has been mentioning a 50/50 schedule, toying with the idea rather than making an offer. We haven’t reached any agreement, but there are more things in motion. And again, it’s just an “idea” she’s floating.

I’m also considering letting my sadness be my own and not mixing it up with my kids-of-divorce sadness, because, my kids seem extremely happy right where things are. My sadness is my own. It’s more from my little boy than my middle-aged man. I can recognize that and deal with it, on my own. And we’ll see how our relationships evolve over the coming years.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Divorce and the Goodbye Monday Blues

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Divorce is about goodbyes. Goodbyes you never thought you’d be saying. Instead of everyday, like I imagined, I only see my kids 10 out of the 30 days in an average month. That’s a lot of time without their smiling faces. And when you’re the off parent, it’s a lot of time alone.

In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it.

Today I’m in a much better place with it, but it’s never easy. I miss them. And I’m amazed when days go by without even a text or Snapchat. But they’re teenagers and doing their own thing. I get it. Still, it’s a heartbreaking situation for someone who’s emotionally open and connected. I suppose there a people who are more business like about it, but I’m a card-carrying member of the attachment parenting movement, and perhaps the attachment is just as strong both ways.

I’ve been a divorced dad for almost seven years and I’m still going through empty nest syndrome. Perhaps this is one of the gifts of divorce, the real empty nest won’t be so hard for me, since I’ve been 2/3 empty already. But the gift is a painful one.

On Monday mornings, at the end of my four-day run with the kids, I drop them off at school and then return to my old house and drop off their bags. Early on in the divorce this was hugely depressing. Everything about it brought back the pain. My old house. Dropping them at school knowing I wouldn’t see them for several days. And that one day thing on the off week is pretty hard too, but drop off Mondays were really a bitch.

Just this past Monday I had a moment of sadness and overwhelm. There were a lot of other pressures that converged on this particular Monday, but something about the drop off really struck a deep chord of pain in me. There’s no explaining it. I used to get sad sometimes dropping them off at day care when I was going to see them that same night. I miss my kids. I like to hear about their day (what they’ll tell me) and their ambitions for whatever. Being around them in their daily activities is a joy.

Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.

The only tonic to this sad dance is picking up your own life and moving on. In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it. And I continue to work on myself outside of my relationships, doing the emotional excavation to understand my sadness.

I was asked by a friend the other day what was the hardest part of divorce, losing my primary relationship or losing my kids? Kids. It wasn’t even close. Maybe that’s still some of the anger of the divorce talking, but I could imagine myself without my ex-wife, I could not imagine my life without my kids. It’s not that I’m living for or through them. But your love for your kids is something unlike any other relationship. There’s no explaining this to someone without kids. It simply doesn’t compute.

Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.

Do I still get tripped up on drop off Mondays? Yep. It’s part of the ebb and flow of life as a divorced parent. One day things seem okay and the next day the universe is split in two: time with your kids and time without them. I’ll take what I can get and do the best I can in that time. The rest is up to me.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Complaining Never Ends, Even After Divorce

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Yesterday my ex-wife texted me about my son’s phone. She’s still got the kids for 4 more days, and I knew the repair was about $80 bucks, so I asked her why she thought it was necessary to give this task to me? I mean, they spend an exorbitant amount of time at the mall, a simple drop-off and pick-up while they were shopping…

I asked, “Why are you giving this to me?”

My ex-wife, even when she was my wife, is rarely happy with how things are. She used to always complain that she was the only one who cared about the house, who paid bills, who took the kids to doctor’s appointments.

Then came the extraordinary reply that went into her health, her schedule, her work, and how if she “ever asked” me for anything it was with great effort. Um, yeah, I don’t think so. She asks for other’s to do her “work” all the time.

Am I enjoying some of my ex-wife’s exhaustion too much? Hmm. Good question. Am I withholding support of my kids in order to punish her? No way. So she’d like me to handle this mundane chore while the kids are with her? What? I just didn’t get it. Then in a conversation with another parent, not divorced, I said, “You could be dealing with the exact same shit as a divorced parent. It doesn’t stop.”

And that’s when it hit me. My ex-wife, even when she was my wife, is rarely happy with how things are. She used to always complain that she was the only one who cared about the house, who paid bills, who took the kids to doctor’s appointments. And this is when she was either not working or working 10 – 15 hours a week. Yeah, she was right. There was an imbalance, but it was never enough, no matter how much I pitched in.

And there is one tiny bit of poetic justice here.

At the beginning of our divorce I was asking for 50/50 parenting. I was thinking about the kids and not the child support. And I was denied my request for a number of reasons.

  1. She was the primary caregiver.
  2. The kids needed their mother more than their father.
  3. She was the more responsible parent (keeping track of doctor’s appointments and kid’s school assignments)
  4. (the big one) If we went to court this is what she would get.

So in the heat of that discussion, I was railroaded into giving up my dreams of being a 50/50 parent. I was told what I was going to get and I accepted their verdict. But I did not agree with 1, 2, or 3 at all. It simply was not true.

What was true is she got the house, a nice child support payment, and 2/3 of the kid’s time. It was a trade-off, I guess. For the money she was given, she would also provide for most of the child care and extracurricular activities. That’s just how it broke down. And this is when our kids were 6 and 8.

Now our kids are 13 and 15 and she’d like A LOT more help with all the parenting duties. That’s understandable. But, it’s not what we agreed to. So perhaps the non-custodial role has some benefit later in the divorce. Perhaps my reward, or my consolation prize (because I would’ve preferred having the kids with me 50% of the time) is that now she also has most of the extracurricular duties as well.

What I can do is be the best dad I can be given the time I have. And I don’t rub the situation in on my ex-wife, though I chuckle a little every time these complaints get filed on me.

Let me be clear. She was not the primary caregiver. We split that down the middle. From diaper changes, to nighttime feedings, to cleaning up around the house. And I do not agree that mom’s are more necessary for the kids. I believe dad’s get the shit end of the deal in traditional divorce. I think if you parented 50/50 you should divorce 50/50. And finally, she was not the most responsible parent, we had divided some of the parenting duties up, and scheduling was one of hers.

My ex-wife complained when we were married. And now that we’ve been divorced over 6 years she’s still complaining. And while I hear her requests, I also hear her asking for a more 50/50 parenting arrangement, something she denied me. Is it bad that I’m holding back on this? I don’t think so.

Today, with teenagers, I’m not so sure I want 50/50 parenting. Had I been given the same consideration when they were younger, I might think differently today. But I’m getting enough of my kids, at the moment. Sure, I miss them when they are away, but I can’t ever get back their early years. I can’t make up for lost time.

What I can do is be the best dad I can be given the time I have. And I don’t rub the situation in on my ex-wife, though I chuckle a little every time these complaints get filed on me. We’re no longer married. You no longer have my undivided attention for such things as “being tired.”

I love my kids and I still love my ex-wife for being such a good mother. But she’s still the custodial parent, and with that comes a salary and additional responsibilities. That’s what she asked for, that’s what she gets, even today.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce

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At the time of my divorce my ex wanted primary custody. I wanted joint custody. She wanted the majority of the children’s time. I wanted 50/50. In my understanding of parenting and what my kids needed, I was certain that our roles were equally important. For some reason, probably financial, she did not agree. And in our fair state of Texas she was awarded the custody just as she knew she would be.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent.

So, for the last seven years from the time my daughter was six and my son was eight, she’s had the responsibility and pleasure of parenting my kids two hours for every one hour I get. Back in the early months and years of the divorce this was devastating. I never got enough time with my kids. I longed for them twice as often and twice as long as she did. And in those tender years our kids really needed both of us. My son needed his dad more than he was getting him. My daughter craved my hugs and happy lifestyle. But that’s the way the divorce went down.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent. Well, she is engaged, but it’s a separate house, separate living quarters kid of engagement. And I imagine she is not lying when she says it’s hard.

And there is a part of me that still misses my kids during the 2-for-1 hours they are with her. But today, as teenagers, the quality and type of relationship with your kids is very different. Back then I wanted to teach my son to ride a bike, I wanted to take my daughter fishing more, I wanted to expand their horizons and let them see and be with their happy father. I didn’t get as much of an opportunity to do that. But back then it was a different type of parenting.

Today, as teenagers, my kids are even more interesting and self-driven, but they are also a lot more work. Most of the parenting activity in the teen years is driving them from place to place, waiting for them and their friends to get ready, and feeding and clothing them. It’s not as rewarding. It’s still engaging and important, but the “kid years” are really the golden age of parenting and attachment parenting specifically.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent.

My life is also very different. A bit over a year ago I started dating a woman who quickly captured my heart and imagination for the future. Today we are happily engaged and living together in a modest house that has two rooms in the back for my kids. And I relish every hour I have with them. But I don’t necessarily want more carpool and cafeteria shifts. That’s the hard work, low return, parenting duty that makes up the majority of parenting teenagers.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent. I am more than happy to carpool them. I thrive and excel at making them breakfast before school and getting them to their appointments on-time. It’s not a chore, it’s a pleasure. I’m guessing, my overwhelmed ex is asking for 50/50 parenting now because the mundane teen years are harder and less interactive than before.

So I lost the golden years of parenting. My son is a bit less masculine at times and he still doesn’t know how to ride a bike. He doesn’t want to learn, either. That’s okay. We have the relationship we have as a result of those years of absence. All those years where their mom tried to fill in the dad blanks. But I was not there. And I was given that share of the parenting duties by her selfishness and greed.

I’d love more time with my kids. But… I am okay with the time I have with my teenagers. In the time I do have with them I know I am the best dad they could ever have. And they are not begging to go 50/50 or anything. Why would they want things any different? It’s my ex that wants the change and today, unfortunately for her, she’s got the Standard Possession Order (SPO) she argued for and won. She’s got the kids about 2 hours for every 1 of mine.

Today, in the long tail days of parenting, it makes me smile. I’m still missing my kids just as much as I was as a newly divorced dad, but I’m missing a different role. I can’t get back that early dad role. They are grown and growing now and have different needs. There are different ways I can be an influence on their lives. And one of my greatest gifts is showing them how to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Now, I need to go wake one of my teenagers up so we can have breakfast together and talk about the world.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Edge of Tomorrow with my Ex-wife

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Do you know the premise of the movie, Edge of Tomorrow? In the movie the female protagonist has to shoot and kill the male every single day in order to reset the universe they are trying to do battle in. My life with my ex-wife has a similar story line.

When I lose my job, I have survival needs (as in shelter and food) that trump your comforts.

Every day I have to wake up and shoot myself to forget that my ex-wife still has an AG’s lien on me and my life. She didn’t need to go to the extreme. It’s like filing a restraining order against someone who’s never exhibited violence. Sure, you might think of doing it, you might even be advised to do it by your attorney, but there’s no reason to actually file it, because you know the ex is not a violent person. Somewhere along six-year road (so far) of divorce my ex-wife was concerned that I wasn’t going to pay her the child support she had come to depend on.

Um, yeah, that’s fine, but when I lose my job, I have survival needs (as in shelter and food) that trump your comforts.

During the summer of our discontent she would email me things like, “I can’t believe you are putting your material needs before those of your children.” Um, no, I’m actually not. And towards the end of the summer, regardless of my pleadings (“Don’t you remember who I am?) my ex-wife pleaded her case to the Attorney General’s office of the great state of Texas. And since then my life has been much more difficult. She didn’t need to do it. It hasn’t gotten her “her” money any sooner. If anything, it has slowed the process down. And I hear the AG’s office get’s a 10% fee for their services. What? We’re paying them out of the child support to collect the child support. I pointed this out to the ex just last week. She was unfazed.

Back in the summer of pain she did threaten me with the AG’s office. I had been telling her the exact status of my work and new business prospects. But she grew more frustrated and impatient with me. At one point, after it was clear she was heading towards putting my ass in a sling, I threatened her. I was stupid. My threat was this. “If you file with the AG’s office, I’m going to go back to the child support payments I’ve made, based on an income I’ve never been able to achieve again, and I’m going to go to an attorney to get the amount owed to be based on my actual pay and not on the decree.

Foolish, because it’s wrong. You can’t do it. Can you imagine how many non-custodial parents would file lawsuits to jam up the court system. So what I owe her, I owe her. But I wasn’t really worried about what I owe her, I was just trying to keep her from putting us into the grinding machine that would not treat either of us, more so the dad, with any respect. And really, she was sending my ass to the collections agency.

If she was willing to throw me into this system, taking action to change my dead beat dad status might be an admission of guilt. Like she had done something wrong.

Now think about that for a minute. Can you imagine sending your ex-partner, the parent of your children, to a collections agency? You do that to enemies, maybe, but not someone you care/cared about. Never. AND… That’s what she did.

Two years later, a number of shitty results of that action have taken place. When I got behind on my house payments, again as a result of the loss of my primary business client, her AG action prevented me from being able to renegotiate my mortgage with Wells Fargo and ultimately caused me to sell the house under duress. And three times, so far, the AG’s office has randomly seized my checking account. Charging me $75 for the privilege of bouncing any checks that came in after the freeze.

Today, two years into the AG’s process I am still asking my wife to write the letter that would remove their boot from my ass. I’ve been paying steady now, due to steady employment, for a year. When does she think it will be time? Will I earn my trustworthiness? Probably not. If she was willing to throw me into this system, taking action to change my dead beat dad status might be an admission of guilt. Like she had done something wrong.

Every day I have to wake up and shoot the part of me that’s still feeling violated by her stupid act of power and rage.

I’m certain, from conversations we’ve had, that she still feels she did nothing wrong. “Lots of people have ‘accounts’ with the AG’s office without any problems.” How cute, she calls it an account. It’s a debt collections agency that uses strong-arm tactics to secure her debt. And, mind you, there is no escaping child support payments, if I had wanted to. Even bankruptcy doesn’t affect them. But I have never talked of not paying her every dime. I’ve always paid her from every single dollar I made.

And today she’s got a magic wand that could easily take the lien and bad name off my credit report. And every day she does not take action is a day that I still have to forgive and forget. I can’t walk around with an angry chip on my shoulder, thinking about how she done me wrong. I can’t live my life like that. But somewhere, she still thinks I done her wrong and I owe her a lot of money, money that I should’ve paid her even when I had no ability to pay for my own house and electricity.

Her pound of flesh has cost me a lot. And every day I have to wake up and shoot the part of me that’s still feeling violated by her stupid act of power and rage. Setting the collections agency on someone you love… Well, it takes a very angry and dark person to do such a thing. And she’s doing it every day still.

I want to get mad at my ex-wife. I am reminded almost daily of the consequences of her actions. I want to rage and tell her how I feel. But the time for that type of action is over. Now, I will submit my papers to reduce the amount of child support I owe her on a monthly basis. Based on what I’m making, it might make a significant dint in her tax-free take home child support check. It took me six years to be this mean. And everyday I shoot the part of myself that remembers she did this on purpose and continues to do it every single day.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: february 19, 2016 filing for a reduction, the author, creative commons usage


Who Is The Off Parent

I am The Off Parent

He is learning to be a single dad.

He is trying to be a better man.

He is happy and mad all at once.

He is divorced and recovering himself from the wreckage that was created.

He is depressed but working on it.

He is overweight and under appreciated.

He is trying again.

He is not to be fucked with.

He is looking out for the best interest of his kids, sometimes even before himself.

He is sad about how things went down.

He is hiding out from time to time when things get hard.

He is a gift.

He is telling his story to the furthest depth he can.

He is openly admitting he is wrong and makes mistakes.

He is taking a fearless moral inventory.

He is alive and well.

He is the best dad he can be.

He is never giving up on having a cordial and sane relationship with his ex-wife, even when she frequently makes it difficult.

He is starving for more time with his kids.

He is an engaged father to an incredible son.

He is a dad who believes father-daughter relationships set the tone for his daughter’s future relationships.

He is not afraid to dance or make mistakes.

He is laughing.

He is here now, writing these words, hoping that you take away some ideas and moments of hope.

He believes in you and your struggle to be a parent, both men and women.

He loves moms.

He supports dads.

He holds his children as long as they will stand still.

He knows the children will leave the nest, and there are not enough hours between now and then to satisfy his expressions of love.

He loves a new woman.

He is hopeful for whatever comes next.

He believes his ex-wife is a loving and strong mother. She’s 50% of the reason the kids are cool.

He believes he was the better half in the divorce.

He believes child support should be mutual and 50/50.

He believes the court system is stacked against dads from the beginning. He also believes this rigid rule is changing.

He supports your healing and wellbeing.

He is doing this for you.

He is writing this because he can’t stop.

He professes deep and unending love to others all the time.

He says, “I love you” all the time.

He is the best dad on the planet.

He is becoming a better parent every day.

He is a believer in dreams and true love.

He is a poet.

He requires no permission or appreciation.

He loves himself.

He knows how to show happiness.

He can tell you what love tastes like.

He is here.

He is you.

He is all of us.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Announcing a new blog My Dark Days

mydarkdays-logo-360

I think it’s pretty obvious what this one is about. Launching this section on The Whole Parent I was discussing a book project with a publisher. She said, “If you had the same platform for depression as you do for divorce, we’d be interested.”

I give you my new platform. My Dark Days. Collecting my writing on depression from all three of my other blogs. Join us. Talk to us. Comment, share, and heal from what ails you.

February 2016


Bang! The Lies My Wife Projected On to Me

OFF-header-wanna

When we first started dating, my wife was living with another man. She failed to mention this to me over the course of several lunches that got ever-more flirty. So, in some ways she was hedging her bets by staying with the other guy and not telling me about it. She wanted to see how things went before telling the other guy she was unhappy or looking for something else. Hmmm. This is not a good opening.

She was confessing and confiding in another man about her husband’s depression, and the hardships of her life at that moment in time.

Then we got married, had two kids and suffered the financial disaster of 9-11. Everything we had imagined was going to be easy, was hard. And it got real hard.

During one of the hard parts she began to have very deep email confession sessions with a younger man from work. She even took him to lunch and showed him our local library. WHAT? Do you think I heard about this little migration? I did not. Another WTF moment. When I discovered the indiscreet emails, by accident (I was cleaning spam off our shared computer) she apologized immediately and cut off the relationship.

But it WAS a relationship. She was confessing and confiding in another man about her husband’s depression, and the hardships of her life at that moment in time. He was recently out of a relationship, and from what I understand, fairly attractive and bit young. < THIS MY FRIENDS IS EMOTIONAL INFIDELITY.

She may not have slept with the guy, but she went a lot deeper than that. Yet, the real betrayal was in NOT telling me what hardships she was experiencing as a result of my depression and the hard times we were in. She was a stoic. She clammed that stuff up and rarely talked about emotions. But it must’ve been easy with this guy, because it wasn’t long before she was revealing my depression and her dissatisfaction with her current life.

That’s when the light bulb goes off, now, looking back on the entire way our divorce went down.

She was unhappy with her life. I got us into marriage/couples therapy. She was not talking about being near divorce, but at the same time she went and met with an attorney to “figure out her options.”

We were spending weekly sessions in couple’s therapy and she was not talking about wanting a divorce? WHAT THE HELL? Why was she agreeing to be in marriage counseling if she was also seeking legal advice about a possible divorce. They say you can’t prepare for war and hope for peace at the same time.

She would occasionally go to lunch with her ex-husband and fail to mention it to me. Why? Why should she hide unless she was, again, “checking out her options?”

While all this was very shocking to me, as it happened, and even these years later as I’m still unravelling what happened, the illumination I got today was this: she had been lying to me all the time. Several times in our history, her trustworthiness was called into question. Yet in therapy she was hammering me for being untrustworthy. Like the time I didn’t tell her I’d gotten a speeding ticket. (As in avoiding unnecessary conflict with her during a difficult time.) But she was using those minor transgressions to trump of charges of being deceitful, and it was HER that was not coming clean. She was projecting her guilt and lying on me. Saying I was the one with the honesty problem.

There were other little things along the way, during our marriage, that didn’t make sense. She would occasionally go to lunch with her ex-husband and fail to mention it to me. Why? Why should she hide unless she was, again, “checking out her options?”

So I was being raked over the coals about being dishonest and my wife was consulting with an attorney rather than bringing her issues into couples therapy. She was focusing her unhappiness on me and what I was or was not doing for her. That is what killed us. Her lying. Her secrets. And her trying to keep the focus on my issues to keep from revealing or confessing her own. And that’s fucked. We were doomed from the time we started dating, by her distrust and dishonesty. Wow. And I’m just getting this six years after the divorce.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: close up portrait, creative commons usage


You Are Ahead by a Century

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Let’s talk a bit about the dumper and dumpee. If you were NOT the one who thought of the divorce first, you are the dumpee. And there’s an amazing thing that happens to dumpees. We are divorced and alone long before we get used to the idea of what’s happening. In my case, I objected with a vengeance, but quickly learning, in counseling and eventually divorce financial consulting, that it takes two people to want to stay married.

And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip.

So let’s assume that my ex-y had been contemplating the divorce for six months. Taking steps to secure certain parts of her plan. She wanted to make sure she had her ducks in a row, long before I knew I was being lined up for an exit.

And, yes, it’s usually the man who leaves the house. That just makes it easier on the kids. (And if you believe that bullshit line… Well, we don’t have to go into that now.) So now, I’m learning for the first time that my wife had already been to see a lawyer about options, and she was asking me to leave the house. Just walk out in the middle of April. Two months before the kids were to be finishing up 3rd and 5th grades. Um… NO WAY.

I was surprised in our marriage counseling by something that she revealed. Something didn’t sound right. “Have you been to see an attorney?” I asked.

And that’s when the world was thrown up on it’s end. I was being asked to simply pack a bag and tell the kids I was going away on a business trip. What? Why?

I knew we were having problems. That’s why we’d been in therapy on and off for years. But DIVORCE? I was crushed. Angry. Stunned. And most likely in a state of shock.

In the session I flatly refused to leave the house. “If you’re so unhappy, and so ready for a break, if that’s what you’re calling it, why don’t you take a trip?” Both my ex-y and the therapist looked at me with eyes of concern. Perhaps it was pity. I was thrashing against the idea of the divorce, and she was asking me to leave tonight?

When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over.

As it’s often the woman who gets the house if you have kids, it’s also very common for the woman to reach the breaking point while the good-natured husband just thinks it’s a “rough patch.” And until I learned that afternoon, that she’d already been weighing her options and strategy for leaving me (or getting me to leave, to be more accurate) it was only a rough patch.

“I may not like you right now, “ I had written in an email a few weeks earlier, “But I love you very much. We will get through this period. It’s just a rough spot.”

One rough spot too many I suppose.

When you are the dumpee it’s likely the other person is much further down the road to healing from the split. In fact, they may have reached a place of being ready for it all to be over. And this is before us poor saps even know we’re heading that way.

And the mechanics of divorce can happen very quickly. From the moment she told me, to when I was actually leaving the house for the last time was about two months, but this is only because I fought with her about the idea of splitting before the kid’s school year was done.

It was a hellish two months. But today, I can say, I held the line for THEM. I kept their soon to be uprooted lives sane for two more months so they could have the Summer to fall apart with me. Their mom was already working on “what’s next.” The head start down the divorce path becomes a very strong tactical advantage. I was still willing to bargain and negotiate, because I was certain we would work something out. She was already working out how to pay rent on the house after I moved out.

No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.”

She was a century ahead of me in all the negotiations. I was still reeling from the loss and onset of depression from my sister’s downstairs bedroom, and she was working on the taxes and the financial split arrangements. (She takes the house. I take the house. We sell the house. I didn’t want to lose my house or my family.)

While I was her ex she was still my beloved, but troubled wife. The mother of our two kids. Oh, the kids. They were the ones who were gonna suffer. It’s all about them. This divorce stuff is for grown ups. In divorce you do everything to shield the kids from the fight and fallout. Which includes letting them stay in their primary home with the primary caregiver. (Again, I call bullshit, but I was so confused and sad at this point that I was not negotiating at all, I was recoiling. I was in duck and cover mode both emotionally and financially.

When her lawyer requested a heafty child support payment AND 100% of the health insurance premiums I was compliant. I didn’t even retain a lawyer except to look over the final decree. (Maybe that was a mistake.)

But we’d decided to do a collaborative divorce.

Yeah, the nice guy needs a lawyer. Take my advice, no matter how civil you think you’re going to be, no matter how cooperative and collaborative she is at the beginning, when the shit hits the fan, the one with the lawyer wins.

No one is going to take care of you in divorce. Your ex will make selfish decisions and continue to make selfish requests couched in “the best interest of the kids.” Bullshit. If it’s about “primary care giver” or “primary nurturing adult” I was both. She was the mom, yes, but she was emotionally unavailable to the kids – sort of still is. I was the emotional heart of the clan. She was the accounting and hard ass board member.

Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.”

Perhaps it does not have to go this way. Perhaps there are goodwill collaborative divorces. And I’m sure there are. Ours was supposed to work out that way, but things don’t always go as planned.

My first big loss was in being refused 50/50 custody and 50/50 parenting time. This will continue to be an issue that I feel frustrated about the rest of my life. I should’ve had my kids 50% of the time. That’s how we parented. Why was I suddenly a lesser parent (non-custodial) and the only one required to pay the other person. What if I lost my job? Well, we were gonna find out about that one soon enough.

Here’s my belief. If you parented cooperatively and intend to divorce cooperatively, great. Get a lawyer. And if you want 50/50 custody and parenting, ask for it. No, better than that, FIGHT FOR IT. It turns out the courts are more likely these days to give 50/50 requests

In my case I waived the right to an attorney. And when our high-paid counselor said the 50/50 parenting plan I presented was just “not what she would get if you went to court” I lost everything. I lost the house. I lost the money. And most importantly I lost the time with my kids. The time when they were in their tenderist years.

Well fuck that. Go for 50/50 if that’s what you want. You might not win, but you won’t regret it if you lose. I regret it that I gave up in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.” It wasn’t. It isn’t. And I should’ve fought for it.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Unbearable Weight of Things

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When you’re down, everything seems hard. I know this sounds like whining, but it’s something deeper. My silence usually means one thing. SAD.

It’s a bit more than sadness, however, that pulls me under. It was a bit more than sadness that changed the marriage to my kid’s mom as well. And before I get the push back about depression just being a weakness of character, or laziness, let me clarify what I’m talking about.

Negative predictions. Catastrophic terminations of everything from my job, to my love life, to my life in general.

You know the sinking feeling in your body as you can tell the flu has entered your system? Depression is kind of like that feeling, except you don’t have any outward signs of illness beyond your refusal to do things that bring you pleasure and avoid everything that’s hard. But it’s not like a hiding that’s going on when your depressed. It’s more like a death that’s happening right inside you. There is simply no pleasure to be had. It’s as if the hope molecules have been completely depleted from your body. My self assessment comes in the form of ice cream and my craving or lack of interest in it. If I can’t get excited about Ben and Jerry’s Coffee Toffee Crunch, then something is seriously out of whack with my system.

The minute I feel it coming on, if I’m that self-aware, I begin taking action to delay or avoid the storm. I try to exercise regardless of the ballast that’s beginning to weigh down on my back. I do my best to get enough sleep and good food. I try to keep talking to my loved ones. But sometimes, despite my best efforts, I fail and fall in to a period of silence.

The silence is only in what I’m willing to share. My brain is not quiet at all, if fact, it’s on fire with bad ideas. Negative predictions. Catastrophic terminations of everything from my job, to my love life, to my life in general. And again, I want to stress this (especially now that I’m on the other side of this “episode”): depression is an illness like no other. The flu-like symptoms are mainly in your mind. And when I try to tough it out, it’s usually the sadness that wins.

And it’s not that I’m giving up, either. I’m fighting like hell to maintain my outward appearance of normalcy, but it rarely works. In normal times I’m fairly loud and flamboyant. When I go quiet, everybody notices.

Today I’m moderating my joy. I’m trying to take simple steps back into the routine.

On this side of the darkness I can look back, examine, plan, and talk about ideas that might help next time. When I’m IN it, there are almost no words that help. Here are a few that did make a difference. My significant other did her part to remind me that she was here for the long haul, that she loved me, and that she was not leaving. And even when she couldn’t quite understand what had happened to me, she stayed close, cuddly, and supportive. That’s the best you can do. Stand beside me. Don’t try to make it better, that’s my job. But do tell me you’re not leaving. And then stick around.

Depression is exhausting for everyone. If you, as my partner, can stay out of the tractor beam of my darkness, you can take time for yourself, and let me know it’s hard. And primarily, take care of your heart and your emotions. Mine are shot. I will try to get you to save me, primarily by replaying my helplessness. But don’t give in. I’m not helpless, that’s the depression. And it’s my fight against my own feelings of helplessness and hopelessness that is my path back to normal times. Happy times. Even ecstatic times. (Oh, but be careful about those, the term bipolar is bandied about too easily these days, but it must be taken into account.) Those of us with the deepest lows often spring back into hyper highs. And without meaning to, we can rebound off the happy ceiling and blast right back into the sadness. It’s a vicious cycle, this cycling. Something must be done.

Today I’m moderating my joy. I’m trying to take simple steps back into the routine. I’m introducing my “big projects” back into my activity stream, but I’ve got to be watchful that I don’t blast off. Finally released of the flu-like hopelessness, you can only imagine how much I want to soar, and zoom back into my ultra-productive hyper times. My thinking today is that it’s the small steps that I can take to come back online. It’s also the tiny victories I will log as I reject my avoidance habits and step back into full responsibility for my actions.

It’s when I try to disappear that I realize I’m avoiding. Avoiding even my own life. That’s a bad sign.

It’s not like depression is a release from those responsibilities, but it’s as if I no longer see myself as being capable. And when you begin imagining yourself absent from the future consequences, because you simply won’t be alive, you can see how this too (suicidal ideation, they call it, thinking about suicide rather than acting on the idea) is an avoidance. We learned avoidance when we were really young. And as a defense mechanism it occasionally serves it’s purpose. But as an adult coping mechanism, avoidance is the worst. I can’t say it’s the reason I fall off the wagon, but it’s one of the harbingers of my decline.

Taking the responsibility for all of my life again, requires some ramping up. From things like, making a dentist appointment, getting the car into a service appointment, and even showing up at my daughter’s basketball games, is part of my responsibility to SHOW UP. It’s when I try to disappear that I realize I’m avoiding. Avoiding even my own life. That’s a bad sign.

We all need defense mechanisms. I’m looking to build some healthier ways of coping with stress and complications of being a parent and recently engaged partner. If I can just say the things that are worrying me, write them down, share them, I can find a way to own up to getting them done. I believe for me, those are the baby steps back towards making the unbearable actually joyful again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: into the blue, arindam bhattacharya, creative commons usage


When Will I Get Over My Divorce?

OFF-jumpdad

This is really a continuation of my rant that began here: Money is a Bitch After Divorce

Divorce changes everything. And what I thought were immutable agreements were immediately called into question.

As rants go, I think mine a pretty tame. It’s not because I don’t have access to my anger and vitriol. It’s more because I’ve been tempering my temper for so long, I’ve sort of internalized a lot of the anger. Maybe that’s what’s making me fat again. Or maybe it’s the stress of working a job and getting less than 50% of my take home pay. (Wait, I thought there was a clause in my decree that… Oh wait, with two kids they can take up to 60% of your take home pay.)

Money

When you have kids together you enter a pact. For better or for worse you are going to do whatever it takes to make their lives easier. In our case we agreed to split the chores of parenting 50/50 (as much as that is possible). And we agreed that I would continue to work full-time while she took the time she needed to parent, nurture, and do the mom-thing. It was how we saw the world together as parents. Or should I say, as married parents.

Divorce changes everything. And what I thought were immutable agreements were immediately called into question. In our case the idea of a 50/50 divorce was tossed out the window like a novel idea. Perhaps back in 2010 it was. And in the process, I agreed to a non-custodial, SPO (standard possession order), child support package. The problem was, my job had just ended, and while I was in some late stage negotiations with a company, after the decree was filed, the job fell through. So we calculated my child support amount on the potential job that fell through. It actually took me an additional four months to find full employment. And for each of those months I was still on the hook for the full amount.

And over the last five years, I’ve had various employment statuses. It’s sort of the nature of this unstable employment market. But the amount of child support I agreed to, back when I was blinded by the sadness of the proceedings and wanting to find the path of least resistance to get out, stayed the same. Today I still end up paying my ex-wife on behalf of my kids, about 2,300 a month. (1,200 in child support, 1,100 in health insurance) To be fair that insurance money doesn’t go to her, but the number represents my contractual obligation and my current employer does not provide insurance. Here’s how that works out in real dollars earned.

Screen Shot 2015-10-13 at 4.37.03 AM

So let’s see, I need a $36,000 pay check just to pay my child support and insurance? (I pay the taxes on the money before I pay her. And I don’t get a deduction.) That’s a lot of work. And if I want to provide for any kind of shelter or amenities for myself and my kids when they are with me… Well, obviously I’ve got to work a lot harder.

Time with my kids is the main loss of the divorce. As they both enter the teens I see their attention moving towards friends and dates and sleep overs.

And this sucks. I understand the idea behind it. And I also understand that I have to lawyer up to make a change to this amount. So, at this point, I’ve chosen to let the decree and this financial obligation to remain. “It’s for my kids,” I say to myself when I receive my portion of my salary.

When am I going to be over my divorce? Um, in about 5+ more years, when my second child turns 18.

Time

For this imbalance in money obligations I also get an imbalance in time with my kids. And if I try and see this as a benefit I can understand how dads began to get the reputation for being uncaring and stoic. I’ve had to stoic-up a bunch to make it though the extended weeks without my kids. And some weeks are better than others. Some weeks I can even imagine that I’m paying my ex-wife for services rendered as a child care provider. That’s funny for a minute. And then the next emaciated paycheck arrives.

Time with my kids is the main loss of the divorce. As they both enter the teens I see their attention moving towards friends and dates and sleep overs. The real time lost was when they were 7 and 9. Those were the years when they could’ve (I could’ve) used more closeness, more masculine nurturing, more dad. But that’s not how it worked out. And today, I’m resolved that I’m doing the best I can with the time I do have. Again, that’s the decree, that’s the way the State of Texas tends to divide the baby, so to speak. Moms are the nurturers and dads are the bread winners. I hope this continues to be challenged as a hurtful stereotype that does an in justice to the dads and the kids.

Anger

I think the real measure of being “over it” for me is how much anger I still have towards my ex-wife.

Today: not much.
Tomorrow: who knows, but she still pulls dramatic somersaults that can trigger me, so I’m not done.

I think for me, getting over the injustice of the divorce system and the divorce decree I signed was the biggest part. Well, okay, getting over her turning our affairs in to the AG’s office for collections was pretty bad too. (She knew I was unemployed and trying to save my house, but oh well…) Yep, I even have to get over that past “fk you” to move on with my life.

Do I get to leave it all behind like I did with my first crazy wife? No. With my kids involved my ex-wife is part of my life for the duration. Yes, I’ve heard of people truly walking away after their kids leave for college, but I’m pretty sure in this economy we’ll be dealing with each other and negotiating about money for a lot longer.

Can I maintain a civil relationship with the mother of my children? And can I see the bright eyes and hearts of my kids as the indication of a job well done?

I smile at the thought that our negotiations about money might move to a more equitable and fair percentage. And I wish there were some way for me to share with my ex-wife the feeling of futility and hopelessness that comes from landing a new job and learning that even with this new title, new salary, and new health benefits, I can’t afford an apartment or get a loan for a used car. Oh, but that has a lot to do with the AG’s office.

Am I still mad at my ex-wife?

Most of the time no. On payday, just a tiny bit. On some dramatic outburst about something, a bit more. On the AG’s office, well yes, that one I may not ever be able to forgive her for.

But I don’t let those feelings color my life much. They are still there, under the surface, if I’m honest with myself. But the degree to which the “divorce” stuff bothers me is very slight indeed. And for me that’s the main thing. Can I maintain a civil relationship with the mother of my children? And can I see the bright eyes and hearts of my kids as the indication of a job well done?

To those questions I must answer a resounding YES.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Giving the Blunt Mom Her Due

OFF-ave

 

Written in reaction, not response, to some damn fine writin, over there at Blunt Moms. Yep. I love’m.

And I wouldn’t have my woman/partner any other way. If you are sweeping stuff under the rug and not letting the kettle boil over once in a while, you’re probably not doing anyone a favor. Perhaps in my last marriage, my emotionally unavailable wife was not expressing her angst and anger until it started coming out uncontrollably in random “fuck yous” and other sideways outbursts.

In the past, I have admitted to my daughter that I can be an asshole. That I am less than perfect, as a mom, and that I have a lot to apologize and feel guilty for.

Today is not that day.

Today is not that day. Today is not a day for apologies, but for expressing the fucked-up-ness that is my ex-wife today. She’s not just exclaiming random fuck yous in the form of her continued assessment that the AG’s office being attached like a pit bull to my ass, is a good thing. She even says things like this:

Unless your experience of the AG is different from what everyone I’ve talked with there tells me (and maybe it is – the AG has f’d up parts for sure), the reason you’ve had to suffer the ugly end of their enforcement isn’t because we’re in the AG system, but rather is because you at first did not respond to their several non-enforcement-level attempts to get you in the system…

Really? “everyone I’ve talked with there…” She’s using the staff of the AG’s office as a validation for her continued request for “enforcement.” SRSLY? This was her opening expression of GOALS yesterday.

AG-blur-fin

How quaint. Keeping the hobble on your ex-husband horse is a good idea. Because…

Dad’s who are behind on their child support are the enemy of the state and debtors no matter the circumstances. We are defaulting on our obligation.

She says in her mind that the AG’s office is the only reason she’s gotten paid in the last 18 months. And I try to remind her of the sequence of events that were set in motion by her AG action… But this isn’t a conversation we ever have. She’s got the law, the decree, and the self-righteousness to see the debt as an entitlement. And I suppose she’s right. Sure. And I’m good for it. When I have the money.

And it’s funny, these conversations always seem to come out when I’m doing well. She sees my new job and thinks, “Okay, now’s the time to get caught up, apply a bit more pressure, send some crappy “positive sounding” emails.

WAIT!

Perhaps my perspective is off. She is the Saint Mom. She’s the one fighting the good fight for our kids. As she sees it, the AG’s office is insurance that I’m not going to what… skip town?

It is true that there are dead beat dads and high-conflict divorces, but ours is neither. And in all her talking about “doing what’s right for the kids” makes me a bit sick. She has no concept that forcing the father of her children out of his house was a bad idea. She gives not one fuck that the AG’s lien on my credit prevents me from getting a used car loan of any kind. Or that several of my high-paying gig quests were ended at the “background – credit check” stage of the negotiations.

In her “saintly mind” the AG’s office is her new champion. And I’m merely the lazy, irresponsible, and dead beat horse that is not performing up to speed. I suppose if glue were a possibility that could pay back my debt to her, that would be okay. Well, except for the fact that the longer I live, the more money she can expect from me.

Again, I know I’m going about this all wrong. It’s not HER money. It’s money for the “the care and maintenance of the children.” Yes, that’s true. And if I felt the kids were missing out on some things because of it… Wait. Again, I’m having epiphany after epiphany here. My kids ARE missing out on many things. But the most egregious of those things is the loss of time they get to spend with their dad.

We were a 50/50 household. We entered into a cooperative divorce negotiation. And somewhere along the way I was given more like a 70/30 divorce. That’s what the real numbers work out to in the Standard Possession Order and the Non-Custodial parent. And give the old AG’s office a call, you’ll be amazed how they segment the calls off by that distinction.

The gun you keep firing at me is causing a lot of collateral damage. And you’re “saintly” aggression is also preventing you from letting go of your anger and righteousness.

“If you’re the custodial parent press one.” I’m guessing this is more like a service and support call. “How can we help you?”

“If you’re the non-custodial parent press two.” This is more like a collections agency. Dads who are behind on their child support are the enemy of the state and debtors no matter the circumstances. We are defaulting on our obligation. Even if we are attempting to be transparent about everything.

Dear Ex Wife, a portion of my income, every single cent I earn, is owed to my kids. This is true. With our two kids it works out to about 25%. That’s fine. But when I have no income, those promissory notes continue to pile up. And when you strike me down with your actions, guess what happens? More loss of income. More promissory notes. More “dead beat dad” letters from your pals at the AG’s office. So, keep your narcissistic view of the world wrapped in

Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 6.25.23 AM

Yeah, the old trope is looking a bit worn from here, my dear ex-wife.

I can tell you what I think that is, but you’re not listening. And maybe that’s the root of the problem after all. We stopped listening to each other at some point. I stopped hearing your complaints and “fuck yous” and you stopped hearing my “here’s an idea” solutions. And maybe, the cards were set against us in the long run. “Just two very different people,” you might say.

But I think it’s a bit more fundamental than that. You got what you wanted. A house. A couple kids. And when I failed to perform up to your expected (maybe psychologically required) expectations financially, and you realized, as the kids were becoming more independent that you’d have to go get a real job too. It was a nice run, when we could swing it, but we always agreed that WE would support the family.

I suppose now we are getting that chance. But your continued reliance on the AG’s office is an affront that hurts all of us. The gun you keep firing at me is causing a lot of collateral damage. And you’re “saintly” aggression is also preventing you from letting go of your anger and righteousness.

If we are two parents trying to do “what’s best for the kids” then we’d cooperate again. You’d have to let go of the state’s attorneys, but in return you might get back the healthy horse/dad who can share the wealth when the good times come.

I’m expecting you’re going to stay with the Goddamn Saint role. And I get it. You’ve done a kick ass job being a mom in this last six years. But you’ve completely sucked as a human being and compassionate co-parent.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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reference: Mommy is a Goddamn Saint – Blunt Moms

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Flogging the Deadbeat Dad

OFF-flogging

Dear ex-partner and co-parent,
let me tell you how this is going to go
for everyone involved. Not well.

off-noncustodial

click to enlarge

I wish I could’ve had this knowledge when I was trying to negotiate with my exy about the money I “owed” her. I didn’t know anything about the law, about my rights (which were surprisingly few) and about the process the AG’s office would put me through. And all because she was angry and somehow felt justified at turning me over to the authorities.

Guess what she got?

LESS.

Guess what I got?

While I pleaded for her to pause, take a breath, and give me a bit more time, she was determined to hammer me into paying her something.

A black mark on my credit report that has stopped high-paying job offers in their tracks. A credit score so low my used car loan was going to be at 20%. A “dead beat dad” label that will follow me until I can figure out how to placate her demands for her pound of flesh. She’s my own personal Shylock (from Merchant of Venice). She wants her money, dammit. And if I can’t give her an exact timeframe for her next child support payment, well, fk me. It’s simply not her problem.

To be fair, that’s not exactly how it went down. Close. But it was more like this.

“Hey, I’m going to be a bit late on this month’s check.”

“How late?”

“I don’t know. We just lost a major client. I’m still working to replace the income.”

The civility between us lasted about two weeks.

“Can you give me an update on the check?” she asked.

“Sorry, I don’t have any way to pay the $1,153 cash right now. We’ve got some new prospects, but I have to make my mortgage and my car payments. Other than that the money is all yours.”

Heading into the 5th week she began to threaten me.

“Maybe we should just turn the whole thing over to the AG’s office.”

“Um… How would that help? Do you think I’m hiding money from you?”

And by the end of the 2nd month of zero child support she fired off this warning.

The minute my ex-wife turned my ass over to the Attorney General’s Office she did irreparable damage to our entire family.

“I’m going to file our decree with the Attorney General’s Office. I can’t be waiting around for you to pay me when you can. I need the money now. I’ve got bills to pay. The kids need things. This is not about you and me, this is about them.”

And while I pleaded for her to pause, take a breath, and give me a bit more time, she was determined to hammer me into paying her something. Unfortunately, nothing was coming in at that point. I had already depleted my entire retirement savings to make payments, I had nothing left. My security/nest egg was gone. Nada. As she continued to press, I went into defensive mode.

“If you turn it over I am not sure what you think you’re going to get. Do you think they are going to make me go back to work? Or make me take a day job in addition to my consulting business so you can get your monthly check? Bear with me for a bit longer, we’ve got a few prospects that appear to be close to signing a deal?”

To her credit she did pause. On the other hand she refused to meet with me face-to-face to talk about any of our other topics. We had the new school year starting, the new schedule to negotiate relative to the school drop-off and pick-up. But when I broached the subject of a coffee meeting her response was always the same, “When can you pay me? Until we get that figured out there’s no use in meeting.”

She had lost sight of the bigger picture. And she was sure that I was the cause of her problems.

Child support is a touchy subject for everyone. Women who depend on it get very angry with me every time I write a post about my struggles to stay above water. Men’s rights advocates come out and praise me for standing up for “our rights.” I’m a bit in both camps. Child support can be an essential part of a co-parenting arrangement. But it should be cooperative, not “enforced” by the lawyers for the state.

At a low point in my life. Struggling for survival needs. (housing, food, safety) She struck her hardest blow against me. The fk you that keeps on giving, I call it.

The minute my ex-wife turned my ass over to the Attorney General’s Office she did irreparable damage to our entire family. She still doesn’t see it, today. She still feels that the AG’s office “is the only reason I’ve seen any money in the last 18 months.” She said that in an email just two weeks ago! I was hurt, yet again, by how much anger and victimization she was still projecting.

Point of Order: The only reason she got money in the last 18 months was because I had work. With income I can provide child support. No income, no child support. I was living with my mom, for christ sake, what more “support” did she think I could offer.

No, the AG’s office crippled me. I have never told the kids about this vicious act. I have never told them that the reason daddy lost his house, was due to mommy’s anger and legal actions against me. For what? For trying to survive during a tough economic time?

The coup de grace happened a few months later, as school had started and the hateful dust appeared to have settled a bit. At this point the income had not come in, and I was now struggling to make my mortgage payments. I had depleted all of my savings. And still I wasn’t paying her. I was going though a mortgage modification program with Wells Fargo to see if I could lower my payments. On the day that I was denied a reset in my mortgage my ex-wife filed our case with the AG’s office of the great state of Texas.

At a low point in my life. Struggling for survival needs. (housing, food, safety) She struck her hardest blow against me. The fk you that keeps on giving, I call it. On the same fking day! Wow, I thought, and my therapist thought, she’s really really angry about not getting her money. He used the term “entitlement.” Rather than cooperative she had become combative. And instead of talking to me, meeting with me face-to-face, she turned me over to the courts.

Two years later, we’re still in this fked up situation. She still thinks the only reason she got “paid” is because the AG’s office was garnishing my wages and killing my livelihood with their credit crushing marker placed on my account.

No, dear exy. The only reason I paid you, was because I got paid. From every fking cent I’ve made you have gotten 25% off the top, TAX FREE.

The day I got my new job in January, I was emailing with her about the WIN for the family. I said I would write the first check after I got the first check from my new job. On that very day, the first day of my new job, she informed the AG’s office of my new employment. And the letter arrived a week later. The HR woman asked me to come to her office, She was also a divorced and single mom. “I’m really sorry she’s doing this. But the AG’s office just sent us a letter about garnishing your wages.”

Even as I was telling her every step of the way, here’s my new job, here’s when you can expect the first check, she felt the AG’s office would be a good “enforcer” for her and the kids. “In the best interest of the kids.”

Fk that. The best interest of the kids is not fking with your ex’s life by introducing the AG’s office into your process. Now we can’t get rid of them. Or, rather, she doesn’t want to get rid of them.

“You mean, I’m supposed to believe that you will voluntarily pay me the money without the AG’s office,” she asked, two weeks ago.

“Yes,” I said, exhausted. “That was always the plan. That’s what I’ve been saying all along.”

For now, she’s more comfortable with the AG’s office garnishing my wages. It’s her right, for sure. But it’s the most fked up rationalization she’s ever perpetuated in our lives together. And while the kids don’t know anything about our struggles, someday, in a galaxy far far away, they will read The Off Parent. Someday.

Today, I called the AG’s office to give them my new job information. It was a pleasant conversation.

“So if we worked out a deal and wanted to get you guys off our case, what would be involved in doing that?”

Officer Garcia replied, “She just needs to call us. We’ll discuss the case, and if she wants to remove our oversight it’s a pretty easy process.”

She still doesn’t want to. We are no longer partners in parenting, we’re just parenting.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

And we’ve learned nothing. This post continues here: And Just As We Reach A Calm Moment

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Confronting God Alone, After Divorce

OFF-jesus-necklace

We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses.

I’m certain that I prayed to God to save my marriage. More than once or twice. I would’ve done nearly anything to keep my little family unit together. I counseled with my minister, I shouted out loud at the heavens, I wrote prayers that sounded more like love poems. And nothing…

It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams.

Turns out, somewhere, a bigger plan was being put into motion. Praying for the repair of something broken might not have been aligned with the plan. Who’s plan? What plan? And when would I know the rules and routes of the plan? I knew very little about any plan, and I was getting pretty snarky in tone as I pleaded with my higher power to fix things. I wanted them fixed the way I wanted them. I had no idea what was in store, but I had a lot of living and self-discovery ahead before I would catch a glimpse of my bright future.

My then-wife and I got really spiritual about the time we decided to start “trying to have a baby.” That means we ended all birth control and had a brief window of joyful and bountiful sex. It was the opening up to the possibility of a child, or children, that was the big Ah ha moment. We had some woo woo things we did, like talking to the baby in the womb and going to birthing classes. And we prayed and said thanks all the time. Life ahead appeared to be full speed ahead.

In less than a year after being married, we were gifted with the first child, a son. Once again, our lives were transformed as we surrounded him and each other with a warmth that only comes from some kind of spiritual grace. We were aligned, in-tune, and in-communication with God, capital G, for sure.

Through toils and snares we tried again and were given a baby daughter this time, to fulfill our pair, one of each, our unimaginable fortune. For years and years the kids took all of our energy, all of our creativity, all of our focus, and a lot of our time. But we were happy for the transformation in our lives from self-important to parents. It was not a sacrifice to tell friends, “Sorry, I can’t come see the movie, our kids are working on an important Lego fortress and I’ve got to help.”

I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.

It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams. As it turned out in our case, the bliss didn’t last. And after a series of events, none of them catastrophic, we agreed to get a divorce. In spite of our love for each other, and our love for our kids, the love of our relationship had wained. Perhaps we didn’t focus enough on each other as we were praising and singing to our children. Perhaps we didn’t pay enough attention to our own individual needs. But in the Spring of 2010 we were no longer a family unit, we were two houses and two kids and two single parents.

That’s the moment I came face to face with my own relationship to God. It’s not like I went looking for some spiritual revelation. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I began to crumble under the loss. The nights and days without seeing my kids was torture. All the years we had spent as one unit, to be locked out of my own house, outside the circle, and given about 30% of my parenting time back, was akin to being turned into a zombie. Lucky for me, I had family in town who took me in. I had recently lost my job, and had no money for an apartment, and no desire to find one. I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.

Except when my kids arrived. Everything changed when they were around. My little girl snuggling and asking me to chase her around the house. My son hard at work on some project or another, rather stoic and aloof. And me, trying my best to put on a brave face. I was anything but brave. I did hold it together, somehow, but there were times when I was actively trying to give up. That’s what depression is: giving up. Of course, when you have kids, there is no such thing. I suppose you could run off and vanish from their lives, start over in Montana or something. But without that option, the future was here, in the same town with my ex-wife and my kids, trying to hold it together at school functions and holiday kid swaps.

Somewhere in that period I went through my dark night of the soul. I had joined a divorce recovery group and we were supposed to write out our “anger letter” to our ex. I started out at about 10pm, with a fairly tame rant. By 3am I was on fire and fuming. This anger was the energy and turning point that expelled the depression from my heart. And even as I was writing the words to her, I was also expressing my anger at God, at “the plan,” or “his plan,” if that’s what you want to call it. I was fuming mad and I was going to get it out in every way I could.

Depression, the saying goes, is anger directed at ourselves. Well, I had un-targeted myself and was shooting sparks at God and my ex-wife and all of her friends and the friends who had abandoned me… I was just plain mad. A bit “mad” actually. But the anger sure got me motivated and un-depressed.

In the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits.

During this period, one of the weekly chores of the divorce group was self-care, or doing something that helps you feel better. I started an Aikido class and began learning how to get thrown down on the mat every afternoon. And I didn’t think much about God except during the quiet times, when the kids were away, and my Aikido hadn’t burned all the fire out of my day. In these moments, staggered between loneliness and the potential of growth and energy I was cultivating that I began to pray again. These prayers were much more like love poems. Like Rumi as he called out to the beloved, I was also seeking a beloved. I still had a long way to go, but I began to hope and dream about being with a woman again, and the possibility of even falling in love again. Hard to imagine, but easier to pray about.

In the quiet moments, I do think my higher power was listening. Maybe it’s just the higher power in me, but the praying, and love poem writing began to soften the anger just a bit. The driving force that got me up off my ass was not very conducive to finding a date. I was pretty far from dating material, but I was at least beginning to think about my quality of life when I was the “off” parent, when the kids were not with me.

Looking back at this time of rebuilding, strife, prayer, Aikido, and living with my sister, I can sort of imagine the roadmap that got me here, to today. I can acknowledge that my marriage to the mother of my children was not serving either one of us, for whatever reason, and in the moving on I was given a new lease on happiness and even love. All of those fractured years, after the divorce, I spent building new ideas about myself, about what was important to me, and keeping the focus on building my now time-limited relationship with my kids.

Today the love poems are arriving en masse for a woman who has arrived to wake up my sense of God once again. “How could I have known?” I ask her, playfully. “That all of that shit would crack open my creative spirit again, and that from these prayers and poems I would find you.”

She still smiles at my pontifications and says, “Those that fired us, brought us here.”

We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses. And in the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits. It is in the listening that I was able to hear what aspects of a relationship were important to me, and what things I would like to avoid in the future. And while there’s not guarantee, the woman of my dreams is sleeping beside me these days, as we flow through the happiest moments of our lifes. Even when my kids are not with us, the joy between us… Well, isn’t that God, in a way.

Love = God.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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