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

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Things Broken and Unsaid

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Sometimes, from broken things, beautiful things are made.

It’s hard this time of year (December) to not have a home. I’m not whining. I’m in restructuring mode. And I’d have to say I’m a bit more settled this year than I was last year when this reality dawned on me: I could not afford my house and my child support payments.

So it’s also especially hard to drop the kids off at my old house, a mere 5 years ago, and still see things I wanted to fix. Seeing my son’s room in total disarray. I hunger for a way to support him, but it’s not my place. It’s not my house. Even if I installed the light fixtures in his room, and the heavy black out curtains.

As a dad, when you get divorced, 90% of the time you are going to be the one asked to leave the house. That’s just the way it is. And as reality begins to set in, after you’ve gained your emotional balance again, you realize that affording a house and a large child support payment is going to be a stretch. Perhaps you’re luck enough to have plenty of money, so that the issues are more *how* to split the money rather than “where’s the money going to come from.” But that wasn’t the case in my marriage nor my divorce.

So while I’m whistling Blue Christmas by Elvis, I’m actually more clear-headed and positive than I’ve been in a long time.

When you are comfortably housed you take a lot of things for granted. Even as I complained about my little starter cottage it was still mine. I set my own rules, made or didn’t make my own bed, and … as things would have it, do the dishes when I felt like it and leave them in the sink when I didn’t feel like it. There’s a lot of freedom in establishing your new identity through a home. Even as mine was not a perfect fit, there were some wonderful aspects of it that I miss. I could walk the neighborhood and end up at the edge of a lake. In the summer I would jump in as a finish to my exercise.

But that’s not the way it is, now. And it’s still going to be several months before I get into a financial position, including child support payments, where I can begin looking for my own place again. I’m a bit ashamed of my misfortune and poor planning. Oh, and the economy and all that stuff. But really, I just miss having a place where I can spread out, claim, celebrate, and cry that’s all my own. This year’s Christmas lights carry a slightly different nostalgia for me, now that I don’t have any place to put them if I had them.

I’m not wallowing in the sadness. In fact, I’m about as happy as I’ve ever been. (I seem to say that a lot. Is it a mantra? A prayer? An affirmation I *need* to believe?) In spite of the circumstances, most of the aspects of my life are going quite well.

  • I’m healthy in mind and body and getting fitter by the month.
  • My creative juice has remained strong all year.
  • I am enjoying all the time with my kids I am giving.
  • My stress level is extremely low.
  • I’m basking in my aloneness rather than seeking a mate.
  • My super-flexible schedule has allowed me to catch up with some old friends.
  • I’m playing tennis or exercising 5 or more times a week.
  • My work is steady and rewarding and building momentum.

So while I’m whistling Elvis’ Blue Christmas, I’m actually more clear-headed and positive than I’ve been in a long time. I’ve got a ton of things to be grateful for, and tonight, getting to decide on tonight’s schedule and entertainment is actually a pleasure, without even a tinge of sadness.

Again, I’m sure I say these things, in some form of self-regulation, where I’m soothing my sad self (I know it’s there) by accentuating my happy self. But as I look back on the last few months on this blog, I’m a bit pleased with ratio of bitching posts vs. love poems.

Yes my siren song is going out. I’m approaching my 10,000 hours of love poetry, at some point, and I realize this too as a form of self-regulation. I am writing love poems, poems of desire, as a form of hope. By affirming my own longing and desire I am also learning more things about the structure and shape of my heart.

I am deciding to be alone, at this time. I have shut down all dating activity and profiles for a moment to reflect on me and my last year. Two books of poetry and a CD of music in 2014! Not bad. Sometimes, from broken things, beautiful things are made.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: DYHaC, andres rodriguez, creative commons usage


Everyone Loses In Divorce – What We Can Never Get Back

OFF-my-kids

A few gaps in my kids education are due to my divorce. A few are due to my bout with depression, while struggling to recover from job loss and mid-life disorientation following 9-11.

And tonight, for no reason, I’m wishing I could just tussle their hair and tell them that I love them.

One of the sad symbols of my loss was my old toolbox. And what leaving it behind meant for both me and my son, who should’ve been building forts and projects with me by his side. And as we’ve gone along in the fractured mode, there are huge gaps in my knowledge and relationship with my kids. It’s something you don’t really understand until you’re well into the process. Or maybe you do understand, and that’s part of the huge sadness of divorce.

When I pick up my kids from school on Thursday it will have been seven days since I saw them, hugged the, really got to check-in with them. There are so many moments that are missing. So much information and growth they experience in the custodial home, and they return to me as slightly different, slightly more mature individuals. I too am changing. We all do the best we can.

But the gaps… the gaps are maddening.

My ex-wife gave me a handful of photos last week. All scenes that I had no recollection of, of course, because I was not at the beach trip. I was not a part of that biographical memory of theirs. Even when you try to show up for every event, and give them all the attention they can stand, after divorce there are still the maddening gaps.

Like my son learning to shave is mustache shadow with a women’s razor. What? A cat my daughter is holding, that I’d never met.

I have a lot of gaps in my relationship with my dad. After the divorce he chose to exit the scene, for the most part. He curled up into his alcoholic choice and married another drinker. I never wanted to go over to his house with his new wife. I learned not to get in the car with him. Ever.

We’ve got texting. We used to have Facetime. But things are busier. And the routine check-in is about all I can expect.

Of course, my kids have nothing like that, with me. And my ex-wife and I have done everything we could to keep any disagreements between us not color the relationships with our kids. And that’s fine. We’re doing a good job of it. And still… Still I am not getting enough time with my kids. And I am sure they are not getting enough time with me. We’re all fine. Everything is wonderful, except for the gaps.

And now they are both in middle school. 4.5 more years and my son is off. The gaps are beginning to add up. I am certain they don’t know much about me. I try to share everything I’m doing, but they don’t really have the time. They’ve got homework, music, sports, friends. It’s fine. It’s my problem. I get it. I’m riffing here, a bit, but I’m ever more aware of the missed days. And tonight, for no reason, I’m wishing I could just tussle their hair and tell them that I love them.

We’ve got texting. We used to have Facetime. But things are busier.  And the routine check-in is about all I can expect.

And the gaps… I’m sorry for the gaps.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: kids away, the author, 2014 all rights reserved


My Funny Man Divorce: A Little Bill Murray a Touch of Robin Williams Mixed w/ Ferris Bueller

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If anyone can explain why he hasn’t been able to find the love of his life it’s Bill Murray. And I’ve often been likened to a younger Bill, so I read this Vanity Fair article with a bit of self-interest.

“Not to diminish a relationship with a woman but I can’t take care of another relationship if I can’t take care of the things I really need to take care of the most. It’s not a selfish thing . . . it’s just sort of an obligation.” – Bill Murray

What Mr. Murray latches onto as his reason for not being in a relationship is his own lack of attention and self-examination. He mentions his children from his previous two marriages, but it’s clear Bill hasn’t found what he’s seeking in a woman.

Murray did admit that he wonders why, at 64-years-old, he still hasn’t found the great love of his life.

“I do think about that. I’m not sure what I am getting done here. I do have kids. I have children that I am responsible for and I enjoy that very much. And that wouldn’t have happened without women.” – ibid

>He knows he need to so the self-examination work, but he doesn’t really want to do it. He’d rather show up as a comedian extraordinaire and find his love in the public embrace. One of my favorite movies with Bill is Lost in Translation. It seems to capture the loss and ennui of Mr. Murray’s self-reveal in this article. Fascinated and crushing on the young Scarlett Johansen, Mr. Murray tells much of his life story. I’m guessing that this film captured a bit of what it must be like to be Bill Murray. Detached and disoriented by the “jobs” that send him all over the world. Drawn to youth and beauty. But in this touching film, the father-figure chooses not to take advantage of the young woman. It’s an amazing moment. And it’s a huge win for both characters and the film.

Only from a place of inner-wisdom and self-knowledge can you hope to regain your balance in life and open your heart back up to the possibility of love again.

And Mr. Murray plays his role in a number of Wes Anderson movies as well. Perhaps it is easier for him to act out the scripts that others put in his mouth rather that examine or work through his own troubles.

Robin Williams is another character and body type I’ve been associated with. I share the bear-ish shape with these two rock stars as well as some of their demons. Whatever depression Robin was dealing with, he killed himself while his adoring wife slept in the next room. How terrifying. How dark his night must’ve been to extinguish even his bright star of hope.

AS a bit of a frenetic funny man, myself (I’m not putting myself in the same league with these greats, please.) I am also prone to flights of fantasy and falls of desperation. And it’s wonderful to hear that someone as buoyant as Bill Murray can come out and share his own difficulties, much like he does in Translation. I can take a different path from either of these body doubles. (I wrote myself in as Ferris Bueller in divorce, as well.

I am committed to self-examination and taking care of as much of my sh*t as possible. In the same spirit I can do what it takes to keep my dark thoughts at bay. Often it is the self-examination and self-revelations that come from doing deep work, that keeps me above water. Bill speaks of the difficulties of stripping off the mask and looking at the ugly truth.

Asked what has stopped him from committing to himself, Murray continued, “What stops [any of] us is we’re kinda really ugly if we look really hard. We’re not who we think we are. We’re not as wonderful as we think we are. It’s a little bit of a shock . . . it’s hard.” – ibid

As men, we are often not encouraged to dig deep and feel what’s going one. The man’s role in the world is to be strong, to be stoic, and to be a good provider. I don’t see either of these men being described as feeling fathers. Perhaps Mr. Murray has had to distance himself a little from his role as a father. (Of course, I have no idea.)

What it takes, as a man, to deal with divorce is the courage to strip away the facade and let the feelings and frustrations out. You can do this in therapy, on a blog, or with friends. You cannot do this with your kids or your ex-wife. But most of all, you have to do it. You have to strip back down underneath Bill’s Caddyshack character and understand what’s hurting inside. Only from that place of inner-wisdom and self-knowledge can you hope to regain your balance in life and open your heart back up to the possibility of love again. Because with the risk of love comes the risk of failure, again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Note: My brush with greatness involves Bill Murray. I was on the set of Ghostbusters, my sister worked for Warner Bros. at the time. During a break Bill came around the corner and saw a teenage boy standing there in red painter pants. “Whoooooo’s the madman!” he shouted, as he reached out and shoot my hand.

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images: bill murray, publicity shots


Fall of the House of Dad

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I’ve written about this before. I’d like to recap and bring some structure and organization to the story of my house struggles and my depression surrounding the crushing effects of the divorce on my personal and financial stability.

In divorce the man often is the parent who is asked to leave the house, and leave the rest of the family as undisturbed as possible. I get it. We are trying to lessen the impact of the divorce on the kids. But… What about the dad? As they continued on in some sort of “daddy’s on a business trip” mode, I was immediately homeless and alone. Um, it is quite different.

And one of the first challenges, if money is an issue, is establishing a new home, a place where you can begin being a dad again. How long it takes to reestablish this residence depends a lot on your mental state of mind and your employment situation. In my case both were significantly damaged. I moved into my sister’s spare bedroom. And this might have been a saving grace. I was not ready to be alone alone. When I was “off” I had my sister and her two kids to keep me company. My story became, “And I didn’t need to be alone. I was so lucky.”

But I tried to keep my joy and wits about me as well.

My divorce was finalized in August of 2010 and my next full-time job came along in December of that year. I appeared to land on my feet at a fairly high-profile and well-paying gig. Immediately I started looking for a place to live. I knew with the way credit works that I needed to establish myself as a home owner as quickly as possible. And in February I found a smallish house in a neighborhood a lot less expensive that our family home, but within my kid’s school district. And in March we launched the “gnome house” chapter of our lives. My kids were in 4th and 6th grade at this time, and my house was actually closer to my son’s middle school than their mom’s home. It was a short-lived victory.

In July of that first year, my employer changed their entire business model and eliminated my position after six months. Now, I could give into my mom and sister’s evaluation that I jumped to early, but I knew that my options for buying were going to be much harder without the big job. I was glad I had a home, but I collapsed into a summer of hardship as I struggled to find work again. At the same time, my kids and I had a great summer. We swam in the nearby lake, we played basketball and soccer in the twilight of the summer evenings, when the Texas heat gave way. We had an adventure together. And for all intents and purposes we were happy in our little house. On the days (most of them) when they were not with me I thrashed and struggled with my life and the impending loss of my newly established home.

When school started up again, things began to fall apart for me.

And the strains of money began to show up in discussions with my ex-wife.

We struggled on, I continued to profess my intention of getting caught back up with the child support that was set during the divorce at my “big corporate job” rate. She started feeling the pressure of the cash call as well, and there is no blame here. She was a very responsible money manager. In her mind she was doing what she felt was necessary. I was doing what I thought was necessary as well. I remember an email exchange between us where she said, “You seem to think that your mortgage and expenses are more important that your responsibility to your children. I don’t understand that.”

Um… My response was this, “I think we knew this was going to be hard. And I think dad deserves a place to live and a food and electricity to provide a place for himself and his kids, when he has them. I will get caught up on the child support, and I assure you I am not spending any discretionary money. I have no discretionary money. I am working to find a job so I can keep my house and resume full payments to you.”

At this point I was just irregular. When things got really bad is when I actually missed a full payment. Her emails became more hostile. And our “conversations” devolved into sometime resembling this exchange. ME: “I think we should talk about the kids summer plans.” HER: “When will you have the next payment?” ME: “Um… I don’t know. I have some prospects, but nothing has come through.” HER: Silence. And that’s how the communications between us, that had been positive and kid-focused, got off track. And things went down hill fast after she started refusing to discuss anything with me that didn’t involve a payment date and plan from me.

And then things were forever changed. She filed her cause with the Attorney General’s office. And we were suddenly in a legal battle again and I went from struggling and working and not making enough money to a “deadbeat dad.”  But that wasn’t enough. I was also now nearing default on my mortgage. I again pleaded with her to give me some options. She began her new response, “I signed an agreement with the AG’s office not to negotiate about money with you.” END OF DISCUSSION.

As the last year began to close it became clear that she was blocking my attempts to file restructuring bankruptcy to try and keep the Gnome House. I looked to my mom for some financial support, but she really hadn’t like the house from the beginning. Fuck. I was out of options and in newly threatening weekly letters from the AG’s office. It was time to sell. And without a full-time big corporate job I didn’t have the income to even look for a place to “move to.” And so at 51 years old I was heading back under the roof of my mom. The shame was palpable, but what were my options?

So in March of this year, 2014, I sold my home and moved in to my mom’s house. OUCH. My mom and I laughed through the situation with a phrase, “Well, it beats living under a bridge.” Yes, it does. But it didn’t have to go this way.

Some where in the divorce she had lost all compassion for me. When my house was being threatened by foreclosure she pressed the entire issue, her issue, to the AG’s office, thus obstructing any potential remedy I might seek. And in the loss, my kids and my mom and I have gotten very close. And it’s funny, they have better rooms and better meals than they ever had at my house. In my haste to reestablish a homestead and a place for me to be dad, I had chosen a house that has some fundamental issues. (No dishwasher, a septic system, and only one kid bedroom.)

At this moment I’m in a converted single-car garage in the middle of a rich neighborhood. It’s not bad. I’m not thrashing. But it’s hard. I have no privacy, no place to even think of establishing a relationship. And what’s the first warning sign anyway? Someone with money troubles, or god-forbid, no home.

In the divorce I am certain we were both doing the best we could. In the blindingly sad negotiations I agreed to giving up my request for 50/50 parenting, and I accepted the financial responsibility that would lock me into the big corporate track for the duration of the agreement. (Until my last child reached 18.) But what I didn’t know is that in all this “good will” negotiations that my soon-to-be-ex-wife would press the entire thing onto the state’s attorneys.

She did it with little more than a reference to “looking after the children’s interests.” Um, sure, maybe, if I was doing something that demonstrated I was trying to skip out on my child support payments. That’s when you go to the AG’s office! Not as a normal course of business. And when my home was threatened is the moment, I think, that you get real about the situation, you show some compassion for your co-parent, and you pause.

In divorce, you are still in a financial coupling. When I lost my job we all suffered. But that’s not the moment to file against your former partner. I do think she’s still mad at me, the same anger that infected our marriage. I’m not sure how that happens, or how someone dissipates it on their own. It takes work. And in a recent kid-focused therapy session her rage surfaced again, and I was again seeing the woman who I gladly release. I don’t need to be in any kind of relationship with someone who harbors such vitriol. And so we drop down into a logistics-and-money relationship. Sad. But maybe that’s more accurate. That’s kind of how the marriage had become as well.

We carry on. We do better. We keep going.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent – still in transition
@theoffparent

image: the gnome house, march 2011, the author, cc


Girl Gone: She Doesn’t Need Or Want My Attention

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In fact, often, our attention is unwanted all together. We can easily forget this if we’re not paying attention to our actions.

The beautiful young woman sat at a table across from me. Unblemished, blue-eyed and blonde, and opened her Macbook Air. And of course she drank tea and not coffee. And I caught myself being fascinated. A bit too fascinated.

She’s as plain and simple, and amazingly beautiful. The last thing she wants from me, or perhaps anyone in this place, is a proposition.

As men it is easy to slip into the hunter mode. I’m alone, slightly lonely, and she’s a beautiful potential. And she’s not. It’s hard to remember that all women are NOT potentials. And this woman is clearly out of my own desirable age range. Of course, she is still pretty and nice to observe. But more like a gymnast in the Olympics, and not as a potential partner.

I don’t desire her. In fact she reminds me more of my 11 yo daughter than any kind of relationship candidate. Still we’re trained, conditioned, prone, to look. Are we recalling our earlier lives? Are we simply appreciating one of god’s beautiful creations? What does she hold, in terms of my intentions? Nothing. I am merely an observer.

What then is objectification?

  • Seeing every woman as a potential sex partner
  • Appreciating a feature of a woman (large breasts, for example) rather than the entire woman
  • Qualifying or ranking women in terms of beauty or sexual potential
  • Unwanted appreciations or propositions from a stranger

Okay, so I’m clearly not in those patterns. I can see her. Appreciate her. And leave her along. But it is a process I’m learning. My natural instinct was in full display a few weeks ago when I was attending a cardio tennis workout at a local tennis club. A young woman joined our group and I was again “fascinated” by her youth, fitness, and natural beauty. And I’ll admit to a weakness for women in tennis skirts.

And as the first class ended I had this impulse to ask her about her relationship status. What? I was tempted, but I quelled the urge and looked into what was going on for me and for her.

First her: She was in a tennis class to get fit and get back into tennis. She was only able to join the class, she mentioned, because her youngest daughter had finally entered pre-k. (Um, so she was YOUNG.) And she had every right to join our class without being hit on. BOOM.

Me: She was attractive, fit, and wearing a black Lululemon tennis skirt. She was fun and happy. She played tennis. And she radiated her happiness at being there, playing, and being unmolested. I got it. I stopped short of saying anything but, “See ya next time.” And I even had to check my intentions on that, as he skipped off the court. I wasn’t prospecting, I was merely being welcoming.

In a world full of hungry men, I am sure women are constantly under the sexual predators focus. My intention is not to be that predator. Unwanted affection or attention is an invasion. I know it’s hard to see that sometimes, but even the common, “You look great,” can be a probing statement rather than a complement. I was certain that I wasn’t heading down that road. But I will admit that I was hoping she was at the next class.

As a man currently not in a relationship, I am more acutely aware of the pretty women in my presence. But my hunger is mine alone.

This focus for me is more about understanding the world I want my daughter to inherit. Men need to get our acts together and keep our testosterone in our pants. I asked on Facebook a few months ago about this.

“So when a beautiful woman enters the room. And you notice. She’s obviously put a lot of effort into showing up and being gorgeous. What’s the appropriate response?”

The overwhelming answer from women was, “Nothing. She’s not dressed up for you.”

The other options were, “Smile.” And the ever-risky, “You look nice.” And leave it at that.

Today’s culture has the idea that she is looking to get laid. Or that she’s seeking the attention of every man. She’s not. She might be dressed to the nines for an interview, for a new boyfriend, or just because she likes to dress up.

And today, the woman at the table working on her Macbook and listening to music is not dressed up or made up at all. She’s as plain and simple, and amazingly beautiful. The last thing she wants from me, or perhaps anyone in this place, is a proposition. Today we’re full of the idea that catcalls and overt expressions of lust are okay. They aren’t. It’s almost as if I’d protect her from a predator. Of course I won’t… Or wait, I am. I am protecting her from me and my on hunger, my own predator instincts.

Women are beautiful. As a man currently not in a relationship, I am more acutely aware of the pretty women in my presence. But my hunger is mine alone. And my responsibility is to keep my lust and desire to myself. There are certain situations where this attraction impulse is appropriate and part of the ritual. On a date, in a dance club, perhaps. But here in public, at a coffee shop, on the tennis court, she, every woman, deserves our respect not our misdirected intentions. I’ll keep my intentions to myself, thank you very much. I’m sure she’s enjoying her tea just fine without my encouragement or encroachment.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

I hope this is the effect of my coffee love letter poems. Simple appreciation and zero impact.

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image: girl gone, the off parent, cc 2014


Free, the Poet – My Soul Podcast Interviews The Off Parent

A wonderful podcaster interviewed me today. She’s amazing. Free, the poet. Tune in and listen while we talk about life after divorce, and dating again. What would real love look like again? How do you listen for it?

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click to hear the podcast

Free, the Poet presents My Soul: Re-Defining Aging and Lifestyles: MEN: Personal Journals “The Off Parent” Tune in and turn on.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent


Isn’t Dad’s House Is Also Important In Divorce?

OFF-loss

As my wife was proposing divorce, I asked her, “Do you think we can afford two houses in this neighborhood?” She had no response.

There is something amazing about being cut free from all of your worldly possessions. It’s a bit disorienting. I remember the first year without a house, when most of my “stuff” was in my old garage, her garage. We had agreed that she would keep the house, and I would get some of the retirement savings she had socked away while we were married. While the financial split was equitable, the appreciation of the house and the penalties of early withdrawal from retirement accounts were not really factored in. Oh well, water under the bridge.

Well, last week was an amazing succession of unfortunate events.

  1. The AG’s office took control of my banking account. (AG’s Office Round 2)
  2. My storage unit (since I’m homeless again, at the moment) auctioned off all of my “stuff” for a $350 late payment.

Today I am finally untethered completely. I guess if I were in a negative state of mind I would be taking this much harder. But somehow, even the “stuff” feels like a release. But I might be in shock. The loss of all of my books, all of my music recording equipment, all of my furniture, the bulk of my clothing, everything, leaves me a bit like I was when I first left the marital house. Very lean and not-so-mean. But I’m prepared to get meaner.

On the same day she asked, “How’s it going with the house,” which might sound like a friendly encouragement, she also told me she’d “turned it all over to the AG’s office.”

Let’s not forget, that in divorce BOTH parents have to have a place to live. Both parents need food, electricity, wifi, and the means to make a living, or continue to hunt for the next job, as the case may be.

I am not certain my wife had thought through the ramifications of the divorce at the time I asked her about the houses. She was not concerned about MY house. Why should she be? Once divorced, it was not her problem.

Except, it is. See, if she wants to have a dad that is able to remain in the kid’s lives, she has to understand that, for better or worse, we are still attached financially. The only problem is, if you don’t keep this perspective in mind, you might think child support is an entitlement. You might begin to imagine that child support supersedes food and shelter for the other parent. And in the eyes of the law you might be correct. But in the eyes of your kids…

That’s where the rub is. If you are willing to file against your ex-partner when they are trying to find work, when they are remaining attached and available, when they are sharing all the information they have about prospects, timing, and money. If your co-parent is doing everything they can to get back on their feet, why oh why would you then file with the Attorney General’s office to enforce the divorce decree? There is nothing to get? The AG’s office got $1,200 on Thursday.

Now, my fault is not figuring out how to deal with the AG’s office sooner. I was advised by my attorney to pay her something. But in the months since I lost my house my income has been almost nil. I’ve made $4,500 in consulting fees, but the rest of my food and living expenses has been a loan from my mom. An on-going loan, that I ask for and renegotiate monthly. And of course it comes with intense scrutiny and baggage. She’d prefer I not do anything but stay at home and look for a job.

But my job search has been aggressive and fruitful, but has not produced the required salary that would support my child support obligation AND a place to live. At this point even an apartment is out of reach. And if I can’t figure out a path forward with the AG’s office, I suppose I’m going to jail.

My guess is that my ex-wife would not have wanted me to go to jail. But she didn’t show any remorse about the embarrassment of the AG’s lien against me on Thursday, or the fact that this shut down 100% of my financial options for the long holiday weekend.

We lean on family in times like these. And I am grateful that my mom has not only a place for me and my kids to live, but also a little money to help me get through this moment between a rock and hard place. But I’m feeling the squeeze.

When my kids leave their mom’s house it is expected that I can shelter, feed, and entertain them. But when my ex-wife filed against me with the AG’s office, while I was showing her my income, talking to her openly about my financial issues, essentially showing her all of my cards. And even when I was negotiating with the mortgage company to reset my mortgage, and she was aware that I was trying to do this to keep the house, she filed.

On the same day she asked, “How’s it going with the house,” which might sound like a friendly encouragement, she also told me she’d “turned it all over to the AG’s office.”

I am proof that you can co-parent with a gun to your head, but it’s a lot harder.

Today, stripped of my house and of all but my bed and a few clothes, I am lean and getting mean. I’m not sure what options are available to me today. But as things get better, and I get stronger, I’m going to revisit the entire agreement between us.

Starting with my court-ordered weekends. I’m going to ask we go back to 1st, 3rd, and 5th weekends again. I gave them up to allow my ex-wife to sync her schedule with her boyfriend’s schedule. Well, since his kid is now off to college, it shouldn’t matter to her. But to me, it’s the possibility of an extra weekend about 4 – 5 times a year.

Dad’s house is important. Please remember this. If you are fighting to hurt your ex, your fighting WILL hurt your kids. As you strike a blow of entitlement, you are also stripping away some of the trust and goodwill you both agreed to in cooperating during the divorce process.

Well, I am proof that you can co-parent with a gun to your head, but it’s a lot harder. And I can only imagine, how in that moment, when I was nearly begging for compassion, she must’ve been holding onto some anger, some vindictiveness that prevented her from seeing the kid’s experience of what she was about to do. But I can’t imagine doing the same, had the tables been turned. If you are still angry with your ex you need to get that stuff out in other ways. Rousing the “enforcement” of the state has dire consequences. And there was no “enforcement” to be had. Even in seizing my account last week, she is no closer to getting the monthly support payments back on schedule. But she has thrown me, and thus the kids when they are with me, back a year or more in this journey back home.

I initiated some talks this summer to see if “birdnesting” in the house might be an option. It was at the request of the kids. During one of the first sessions my ex got so angry, lit up the room with her fury, about how I was not doing my part of the parenting, with doctor’s appointments, and dental appointments, and etc. Her list, I am sure was as endless as it had been when we were married. Except I am not the cause of her anger. She’s responsible for her own on-going anger issues.

I was happy to have a counselor in the room to settle things back to reality. And the next day I let the counselor know I wasn’t going to be pursuing the birdnesting. I don’t ever need to open myself up to that rage again, about anything.

Update: I saw my Asteroids machine for sale on Craigslist. So asked them if I could get some of my personal items. Here’s how they responded.

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.24.53 PM

 

Update #2: this was hard, but at least positive.

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 6.11.45 AM

And a bit of a sad moment, my Asteroids machine, that I bought during college is for sale on Craigslist. And you can see my dresser and dining room set in the background. I am negotiating with the guy to see if I can get one thing back, maybe trade for it. It’s humiliating.

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 11.38.02 AM

 

And I am meeting the gentleman and his wife this afternoon to recover some of the personal items that they couldn’t sell. They are also selling me back my printer and a hard drive. It feels like something out of Risky Business. “Never fuck with another man’s empire, Joel.”

Hopeful, happy, and upward.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Urban Fit Uber Cute Couple Bias – UFUCC

OFF-lulu

A number of interesting ideas came up during my walk around the local lake this morning. I was blessed with the presence of my 11-yo daughter, who is just about full-on irritated with me at this point. “Right on schedule,” I said to her, as she rolled her eyes at me for the 15th time this morning.

The good thing about reaching the “dad is such a dork” phase with my kids is this, I don’t have to behave in perfect and rigid parenting patterns, I’m more of a crackup. And they have grabbed a wicked sense of humor from me. So I am unabashedly dorky, and I’m happy to crack myself up full-on and catch my daughter busting a smile over in her eye-rolling seat.

At one point I made a joke this morning, as she switched the radio for the 10th time to another rap/pop non-musical “tune.” I said, “Listen I’m starting to have a few problems with our relationship. I think we’re going to need to see other people.” She rolled her eyes. I went on. “I mean, I’m paying for everything, I don’t like your music that much, and we never agree on where to go eat these days, so… I think we might need to take a break.” We both cracked up

We’d had so many pseudo blowups, that the real one wasn’t even very interesting or dramatic. It was disappointing, because I had prepared a lot of goodies for the date night.

The resonance, however, with the conversation I had last night as my “friend” was blowing up at me at the “hi-how-ya-doin” moment of our date night. She started spewing a ton of “always” and “nevers” at me. And I registered that she was off her rocker, blaming with wild generalizations about the “entire relationship” and not just her disappointment. And let’s see, that morning she had been 20 minutes late for our walk meetup. And I was fifteen minutes late, due to a father-daughter issue I needed to work out, and BOOM, I’m uncaring, unsuited for a relationship, and obviously only interested in doing what I want to do. (Oh, and I actually don’t dig her choice in music, but that was never brought up.)

If I could’ve rolled my eyes at her last night I might have been better off then trying to negotiation or talk rationally about her outburst. There was no “hi” at the door, there was “I’m mad at you.” And as I tried to blow it off and make light of it, as she often reverts to, “just kidding” this time she wasn’t kidding. And there was just enough resentment and disappointment underneath the wine she’d been drinking to set her off on an unreachable tear. I left. And I’m done done. We’d had so many pseudo blowups, that the real one wasn’t even very interesting or dramatic. It was disappointing, because I had prepared a lot of goodies for the night. But it was more drama and crisis that screamed RED FLAG and GET THE HELL OUT.

I walked.

And this morning as my daughter and I continued our playful banter about all things boy-girl, all things father-daughter, all things “dad is a dork” we laughed off most of the jokes. Sure, she was irritated with me. But it wasn’t really about if I did something great or if I did something dorky. It was just her being 11 year-old and reaching that separation journey. It’s okay. She needs to find her detachment. And now I’m free to play the “dorky dad” she likes to complain about. And I’m free to crack us both up and to illicite eyerolls at any moment. This is where we are.

She was still acting out some routine with her ex-husband or something. And I’m in no mind to be a stand in for her target practice.

Just as we were finishing our hour walk an uber fit couple came down from their lakefront condo in sporty LuLuLemons (my daughter’s crush brand at the moment) and started stretching on the trail as we walked by. I have to admit the woman looked spectacular. And I’m guessing my daughter noticed the tall dark and handsome guy in the fancy workout clothes as well.

We got off on this riff about LuLuLemon clothing for guys. “It’s only for gay guys,” I said. Eyeroll.

“No dad, it’s not.”

“Any guy, inside the LuLuLemon store, and not there with his daughter or girlfriend or wife, is GAY. G. A. Y.”

“Dad that’s so wrong… You’re being, what’s the word for racist except about…”

“Sexist.”

“Yeah, you’re being so sexist.”

“Actually you’re right. I’m being sexist.”

“See.”

“But tell me this…” I was ready to set the punchline of the weekend.

“What…” She was pre-rolling her eyes as we were getting ready to get back in my car.

“What is the LuLuLemon logo in the shape of?”

“Hair.”

“Yes, so what non-gay guy is going to wear shorts with girls hair as a logo? Gay I tell you, gay.”

“They are not gay, dad, you’re just being your dorky self.”

“Fine. We can agree to disagree.”

“And I’m going to get you a pair of LuLuLemon shorts for your birthday.”

“Oh really… You’re going to pay $75 for a pair of shorts for me? Nice.

“Yep. And you’ll be hooked after you wear them one time.”

“I’ll be looking forward to it.”

As far as the woman who misbehaved last night. She was not 11 years-old. She was demonstrating time after time how unready she was to have any kind of adult relationship. She was still acting out some routine with her ex-husband or something. And I’m in no mind to be a stand in for her target practice.

So I walk on, right past the UFUCC. And I anticipate my new LuLuLemon shorts in November when I will officially become gay. Unless I don’t, and then I suppose I will become a LuLuLemon spokesperson.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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[Note: I don’t think I am sexist, or anti-gay, or homophobic for writing or joking about this. And I don’t really have any beef with LuLuLemon, except for the CEO’s comments, and the price of their fancy yoga gear.]


The Infinitely Desirable Woman with the Fractured Soul

OFF-fractured-girl

She was walking across the parking lot this woman, my ideal physical type. (Perhaps more of a cultural archetype) Tall, model-thin, dark hair, dark skin, and slightly disheveled. And an alcoholic.

How do I know? She was heading into an AA meeting, at 9:30 am, on a Wednesday morning.

What is it about the devilishly distraught woman that calls to our hero hearts? What caregiver gene is responsible for this longing for the vacant and damaged woman? There must be something in my past that causes me to reach out, even if only in my mind, for this waife in distress.

Ah, I got it.

She is my sister. My sister who was ten-years-old when I was born. My sister to raised me like her child, or doll, or “baby buddha brother,” as she used to call me. Ah, that hurts.

My sister committed suicide when she was in her early thirties. She was so brilliant and beautiful, though. And so creative, talented, and loving. When she threw herself from the bridge on Christmas day, our whole family grieved on so many levels. We’re still uncovering them today.

I saw a fractured woman, who was also strikingly attractive, with an undertow. It was that undertow that I’ve become leery of.

Like today, I didn’t see my sister walking across the parking lot. I saw a metaphor. A cliché. I saw a fractured woman, who was also strikingly attractive, with an undertow. It was that undertow that I’ve become leery of. If the attraction is too visceral… If I want her just a tad too much, I have to go back to the drawing board and try to understand what is going on inside me that is calling out such a strong emotional reaction.

I long to fall in love. I crave the free fall. But I know that often this euphoria is more like a drug that an actual signal for the beginning of a healthy relationship. Crap. I don’t want to worry about healthy relationships. I want heat. I want magic. I want the drug.

There was nothing beyond her beauty today, that triggered this response in me. Well, that and my loneliness for companionship. Okay, maybe I miss my sister. Sure. Maybe that’s the love someone is supposed to feel for their moms. Well, my “mom” was really my sister. My singing, dancing, gypsy sister.

I’m not sad talking about her. I’m sad understanding that my soul still craves something that is missing of her love. Some closeness, and openness, that I have never experienced again. Something that I saw in my first relationship post-divorce. Some part of her that could just adore me for being me. Nothing to deliver. No expectations. Just love.

What is pure love? We understand it sometimes in terms of how we feel about our pets. They are pure love, because they love us unconditionally. They are dependant on us, and wait for us to reappear in their lives when we are gone.

Somehow, today, I realised I am still waiting for my sister to reappear. Not in physical form (holy cow, that’s either zombie talk, or ghost talk, and I’m not a fan of either) but in feeling. I’m hungry for someone to love, to love with an unhinged abandon. I’m ready to fall.

And even noticing this tendency towards the edge, towards someone who I know would be toxic, given my history, I can still feel the pull towards this woman as she meanders into the halls of recovery. I am not actually craving her, or even her body type. I’ve grown more aware, recently of how programmed we have become by the fashion and marketing industries to crave the Victoria’s Secret image. I don’t. I don’t any more. I used to. I still feel the rise and pull. But I can walk away from that trap, with the same firmness I continue to my car and drive back to my office.

Let’s leave that dishevelment alone. In our relationships lets not look for a person who needs our help, and not a person who can help us, either. Let us look for happy, healthy, and balanced.

See, I was in my own therapy this morning. I’m in my own recovery. Not from drugs or alcohol, but from something that might make those addictions much easier. This morning I was in counselling for my own health and welfare. Almost like a coach. But I don’t have a life coach. Almost like an AA meeting, but I don’t have an addition, unless you call this proclivity towards unavailable women, an addiction.

I’m getting better on all fronts. I’m healing, day by day. And, in some ways, I’m still healing from the loss of my loving sister. She comes out in my unhealthy desire for the fractured soul of the dishevelled woman.

Let’s leave that dishevelment alone. In our relationships lets not look for a person who needs our help, and not a person who can help us, either. Let us look for happy, healthy, and balanced. Everything within reason, right?

Today, I salute my sister and her beauty. And I salute Victoria’s Secret models and the woman crossing the parking lot to attend to her own healing.

I’d prefer something a little less dangerous, and perhaps a little less racy.

Always Love,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Divorce Support: For the Children *and* the Parents

OFF-fighter

We need to dispense with the pleasantries right up front. (You are welcome to let me know how you feel about this in the comments. They’re always open.)

  • Divorce is an awful hardship for everyone in the fracturing family.
  • With two professional parents, the man is likely to make more money.
  • Two homes costs more than twice as much, for the person paying child support.
  • Child support is not an entitlement, even if the law and the benefactor might see it this way.
  • The financial bindings of the family exist long past 18-years-of-age.
  • Both parent deserve food, clothing, and shelter.
  • When adversity strikes, both parents are affected.
  • 50/50 parenting after divorce is not the norm.
  • If your former partner struggles for a few years after divorce, with emotional issues, financial issues, etc. this is an opportunity for continued compassion, not legal action.
  • Some fathers will be assholes and try to get out of paying child support or (in the case of 50/50 custody) their fair share of the expenses.
  • 50/50 custody and a 50/50 financial split actually keeps the father closer to the family.
  • If you married and parented 50/50, regardless of how you feel about the divorce, regardless of which side you were on (stay married or leave), you should work together towards a 50/50 divorce.

You can’t ask for primary custody and then start complaining about having too many parenting responsibilities. Well, you can, but the argument says more for 50/50 custody than it does for your obvious hardship. Of course, you complained during our marriage that I didn’t do enough. Didn’t pay the bills right, didn’t mow the lawn enough, didn’t put the dishes in the dishwasher every night before heading to bed.

So we’re divorced. And in the eyes of the law you are the custodial parent. It’s what you wanted. I’m sure you had your reasons, I’m sure you could’ve told the judge, with a straight face, how you do all the parenting. But you know it’s not true. Not even close.

She didn’t care about me or my house. She wanted the money. She was entitled to it. Obviously. It was right there in writing.

Let’s say you get married and both of you work. In the negotiations for how kids will be possible you both decide that the mom will work significantly less, so that the kids have their mom with them at all times. As they enter school, perhaps you will start back to work, so we can share that load again. And we may decide that you will still meet the bus at 3:00 every weekday, but it’s a privilege not a chore. It’s a benefit not a burden.

So when the grand consul de divorce asks, “So how do you share the parenting duties now?” You can answer, I’m the primary care giver. And I know you honestly believed it. Well, okay, maybe a tad of it was vindictive and defensive. I mean, you had to say that to even begin the discussions at anything other than 50/50 custody. How old school.

Falling back on the line, “It’s what she will get if you go to court,” I was handed the options. Non-custodial parent, SPO (standard possession order), and a hefty child support payment.

But wait… Didn’t we agree to the parenting arrangements? And now it’s being used against me? Didn’t we agree to a cooperative divorce? How is this cooperative, when you come out of the gate asking for well-over half?

If I had really gone the cooperative route, I would’ve hired an attorney right at the beginning as well. She did. Instead I put my faith in the counselor, and in the good will of the mother of my children. I was wrong, or misguided, on both counts.

Here’s the situation. When the court awards custodial and noncustodial roles, a nice child support formula kicks in. That’s how the state likes it. Somebody is going to pay. And in your decree, if you are as lucky as I am, you will have a document that even allows the court to garnish your wages first, before your take-home pay. The message is this. You cannot be trusted to pay in a timely manner. And even if you are having financial difficulties, the child support payments come first.

At least my kids have rooms to sleep in when it’s my time. But did she think of the consequences of taking legal action against me?

I don’t argue that my kids deserve the full benefit of both of our salaries. But when I lost one of my primary clients, and was about to slip into a late-payment status, my ex-wife pushed everything into the Attorney General’s office. Putting my livelihood at risk and preventing me from taking any measures to save my house. She didn’t care about me or my house. She wanted the money. She was entitled to it. Obviously. It was right there in writing. I signed the decree. What was I arguing about.

I wasn’t arguing. I was pleading. “Please don’t do this. I am not trying to hide any money. I am looking to replace the client. I am looking for a job, to leave the consulting practice I had built over the  last four years. Just hold off. There is no need to bring the state’s lawyers into this.”

Here filing our case with the AG’s office was akin to her shouting “Fuck You.” Of course, that’s my opinion. And, of course, she is entitled to her money. That’s the law.

But what is the law of human dignity? What does compassion for your co-parent mean? What does co-parenting even mean, when one of the parents has a loaded gun pointed at your head? At this very moment, my attorney tells me, the AG’s office could have my ass thrown in jail for failure to pay child support. A criminal? How cooperative is that?

As we moved closer to AG day, I was asking my ex-wife to understand my situation. “Don’t you think a father also deserves a place to live, and the electricity and cell phone service to continue gainful employment?” She answered, “I don’t know what you want me to answer to that.”

Um… What I wanted her to do was not file suit against me with the State of Texas and turn me into a deadbeat dad. What I wanted was to keep the house I had fought so hard to buy and afford, just barely scraping by, even in the good times. What I wanted was a tiny bit of compassion. “Just pause for a second and think about what you’re doing. Do you think it’s going to help the situation by filing suit against me? Do you think that will make me work harder, or look for a job harder?”

No answer.

I’m not sure what her motivation was at sending me pictures of HER with the kids. Maybe it’s motivation to get a job and get back into the swing of paying for her vacations with the kids.

And she filed. And now I’m a deadbeat dad. I’m lucky. My mom (yep, 51 and living with mom) had some spare rooms in her house. At least my kids have rooms to sleep in when it’s my time. But did she think of the consequences of taking legal action against me? Did she imagine how that might damage my credit? Might take my house out from under me? That it might even show up in my background checks as I’m looking so desperately for those full-time jobs that would afford me both a place to live and her child support checks?

I don’t know what she was thinking. I don’t really know what she thinks today. She’s still hoppin mad about something. The money. My 50/50 effort in getting the kids to doctor’s appointments, after school activities, etc. She’s just mad. But she’s been mad at me for years. At least one full year before she divorced me. So she’s gonna be mad. That’s a fact of life. I hope she gets better. But I can’t count on that.

I’ve had fantastic interviews all summer long. Five of them turned into final-round negotiations. And I still haven’t gotten the offer. Hmm. I’m not sure what’s in that background check. I’m hoping that her AG action did not put a “do not hire” mark in my file. But I guess I won’t know.

Anyway, it’s a long road back to having a BIG CORP job and a happy home. Even getting back into a house, now is going to be a long way off. She took… Wait, it was my fault. I should’ve done better. It’s a long way back. And I’m not sure she would’ve fired off the final “Press Charges” missile had she known her actions would damage my ability to pay her the money she was demanding.

It’s all okay. We’re going to make it. All of us. Her too. She sent pictures tonight of her and the kids at the beach. (That was our family vacation.) I’m not sure what her motivation was at sending me pictures of HER with the kids. Maybe it’s motivation to get a job and get back into the swing of paying for her vacations with the kids. (Sorry, that was bitter and sarcastic.) I’m sure she was just sending me happy pictures along with her happy thoughts of me getting that next big job. I think that’s what she wanted all along. Maybe that was even the unconscious reason she divorced me. (see: please stay gone < poem)

Onward and upward. I’ve been asked to a full-day interview next week with a company I’m very excited about. This is my fourth full-day interview this summer. How do I get a look at that “background” file? (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

this post recast in a poem: please stay gone

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No Divorce Expert: But If You Parent 50/50 You Should Divorce 50/50

OFF-doghouse

I’m kinda sick of the divorce experts and family law (meaning un-family law) solicitors who are hovering around the business of divorce. The only problem is, it is a business. And divorce is a business decision. And without some good counsel you might get screwed. Still, calling yourself a divorce expert sounds really stupid to me. I want to ask them, “Oh, so how many divorces have you been through, and which one turned you magically into an expert?”

I’ve been divorced twice. And what I can tell you is, I’m no expert, I’m no advice columnist, I’m no self-help blogger. If you’re heading towards or in the middle of a divorce I recommend you get some help on your side. And providing your are not in a high-conflict divorce situation, you might include your future-ex in the discussions about finding counsel. That’s not exactly how the sequence went down in either of my divorces, but that ultimately became the intention and result. We wanted to collaborate on our divorce not drag each other through the legal halls shedding thousands of dollars along the way.

So we decide to divorce, or one person decides, and then we divorce. Our kids world’s are split into two parallel universes.

Here’s the big ah-ha for me about divorce: If one partner wants a divorce there’s not much hope for a reconciliation. In the case of my second marriage, when the partner has consulted a divorce attorney before raising the issue with you, you’re pretty well on your way to being handed a divorce whether you want it or not. I didn’t. It didn’t matter. We’re divorced. I’m getting over it.

The second ah-ha about divorce was: how you got into the divorce process is probably how it’s going to go. In my case, if my then-wife had gone to see an attorney, even while we were actively in couple’s therapy, there is some sort of major emotional disconnect that is not going to be resolved in the divorce. But knowing this is where she was coming from, that even with a counselor involved she was not able to get her needs met, I was able to let her go more easily. I knew that nothing I had done had caused her to seek divorce. In fact, I was doing everything I could to keep the marriage together. I was working harder. I was improving my chore-tackling attitude. I was trying to be more empathetic to her complaints. But the complaints were getting longer, and it seemed like our therapy sessions stayed focused on these surface “You didn’t do” issues rather than the kind of tectonic hurts that drove her to seek divorce advice before letting me know she was leaning away from our marriage. I was shocked and hurt when she admitted the fact in therapy, but I immediately had a better understanding of this person who was asking for her exit pass.

If you’ve got kids you’ve got to make them the focus of the hopefully-peaceful divorce. In our case the kids did come first, though I might have negotiated things differently had I been less empathetic. Heading into the new kind of therapy sessions, the one where you are writing the rules of your divorce, I was disoriented and depressed. We even stopped the negotiations for a week as I made my case to my wife about why I didn’t want the divorce. We then moved along towards a parenting plan with her help. At least I got the moment of pause and reflection. But I could see in my wife’s face and hear in her responses, that she was done. Done done. Not just done.

So we quickly moved to the logistics of the divorce. I came with a plan to go for 50/50 custody. My wife had other plans. And unfortunately in my state, Texas, the laws were very much on the mother’s side in 80% of all divorces. I understand from my lawyer (who I hired last year to protect me from my ex’s unreasonable child support demands) that in 2014 things are looking up for the dad who wants 50/50 custody. It appears the judges are more likely to hear both sides of the story and make a ruling that is based on desire and fairness rather than legal precedent.

And somewhere along the way, perhaps when things looked a bit more locked up than she was used to, our “impartial counselor” suggested to me, “That’s what she’ll get if you go to court.”

Unfortunately I got divorced in 2010. The legal precedent was with the mom all the way. And our divorce counselor quickly moved our discussions to how things would look with me being the non-custodial dad, and how the “time was not really all that different.” What I did not know, and I did not have an attorney tell me, so listen up: if I had gotten 50/50 parenting, as I wanted, I would not be forced to pay child support. We would do our own thing, we would pay our own way, and we would part as 50/50 responsible co-parents, just as we had parented. But that’s not what happened.

I did my research. I brought books and selected copies from those books to our sessions. I drew up some creative 50/50 schedules. And I was politely humored, but somewhere, in the cabal of women, they both knew I would give in to reason. Or the powerfully sounding, “In the best interest of the children.”

Wait a minute.

I understood that the kids needed both a mom and a dad. And I also understood that at the moment my soon-to-be-ex was making more money than I was. And I was paying this counselor to represent my side of the case as well.

And somewhere along the way, perhaps when things looked a bit more locked up than she was used to, our “impartial counselor” suggested to me, “That’s what she’ll get if you go to court.”

Yes, but…

Today I can look back and see I was railroaded. Perhaps in the name of efficiency and lowering the conflict I was given the verdict. Settle for non-custodial, or go to court and pay to be given non-custodial. This sucked. But again, I was depressed, I was living in my sister’s house, away from the kids, and I was desperate to get on with whatever life we would have after the business of the divorce was settled. So, I succumed. I agreed to the SPO and the non-custodial role that was offered to me. And the negotiations went pretty quickly from there. To be honest, I just wanted out of the meetings with my still-wife. I was still in love with her. I was holding back all efforts to plead with her. And her steely eyes showed me she had other plans. She was more prepared for the divorce negotiations because she had been thinking about it and maybe even planning her actions, long before I was aware there was a divorceable-rift in our marriage.

“This often happens to the dads,” our counselor told us. “They are not aware there is a broken marriage until the divorce is in progress. And they are often slower to accept the breakup.”

Um… Yeah. I was fighting from within the strength of my marriage one minute and then being told she’d already consulted an attorney, those are two different universes in my life. And I was struggling to let go of the first one and begin to accept the second one. The universe where she would go on to be with other men, where I wouldn’t see my kids every night, where I was going to be alone again.

Divorce is the most painful and life transforming thing that I’ve ever been through. Perhaps as each of your kids comes into the world your life is transformed, and you grow into a parent. But as a divorcing parent, you are looking at losing a good portion of your kid’s lives. No way around it. The pictures my ex-wife takes of the kids are always painful. The vacations they now take without me, with mom’s boyfriend, are always a bit tender. I don’t really want to see them. I’m glad they had fun. I’m very happy when they return. But it’s like a two different lives they lead.

If the other person is unwilling to give up 50% of their parenting time, perhaps they need to reconsider the decision to divorce.

So we decide to divorce, or one person decides, and then we divorce. Our kids world’s are split into two parallel universes. One that they experience with dad and one that they experience with mom. Suddenly they have two homes. Maybe a new person in their parent’s lives that they have to adjust to. And the stories they tell around the dinner table are no longer shared in both universes. There’s mom’s universe and dad’s universe.

As parents, divorced parents, we have to do our best to fill in the gaps alone. As our kids are away, doing other great things, we have to keep our chins up and our spirits positive as we look towards building our own lives, now separate from them and their mom. It’s okay, I’m not whining. We all make it. But there were are few things I didn’t know going into the early part of the divorce process. And this most significant thing, that our “divorce expert” failed to tell me was also the part that has caused me the most pain and drama.

The Two Laws of Divorce:

  1. Kids first
  2. If you parent 50/50 you should divorce 50/50

Without exception, especially if that is what one of you wants, you should push for 50/50 parenting. If the other person is unwilling to give up 50% of their parenting time, perhaps they need to reconsider the decision to divorce. That would not have made a difference in my then-wife’s decision to divorce me, but it would have had a significant impact on my ability to thrive financially post-divorce. I was asking for the half parenting for purely emotional reasons. I cannot say what my then-wife had in mind, but she’d gotten some legal advice by this time, and I had not. Perhaps that was my own fault.

Do not go into divorce naively. Get informed. I came to my divorce counselling meetings with books, information, scholarly articles, and I still lost the negotiations. Today I would not make the same mistake. And if I am telling you this story so you don’t make this same mistake, then good for both of us.

If you want 50/50 parenting, and are ready in your heart and mind to step up to the large task of co-parenting, then you should go for it. And for the health and well-being of your kids (if you are a mom or a dad) I hope you get it.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

related posts:

image: in the dog house, alan ellis,creative commons usage


My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

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Step 4 of AA: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Today is a day of reflection. I am examining what I’m doing here on The Off Parent. Assessing the damage and progress of my self-observation, self-obsession, self-centered divorce blog. Let’s see if we can get to the heart of the matter.

  1. Strive to cut deep into the pain and healing of divorce recovery.
  2. Express anger and hurt without blaming the other person.
  3. Eliminate cynicism.
  4. Always go for the truth, my truth, the painful truth.
  5. Protect the innocent through anonymity and discretion.
  6. Write for my own personal journey and healing, if there is a reader that’s fine, but I am not writing for anyone but myself.
  7. Lift my psychology out of the hurt and sadness of depression and towards the healing and recovery for all the members of my family.
  8. Do no harm.
  9. Take on no more shame.
  10. Leave this discussion behind in favor of the next love and romance in my life.

Those are my goals. I’m not sure if I hit the mark with 100% of what is left here, but that was (is) my intention. I have progressed from a confused and angry soon-to-be-ex-husband to a hopeful and romantic single father. That’s the ultimate goal, and for that I give thanks.

Writing is therapy.

I hope you find love along your journey through whatever challenges you are facing. We can live through this shit together. And I will continue to light the way along my path so that you might learn from my trespasses and mistakes.

For me, when I write down an experience, I begin to understand it in new ways. I find common threads with other experiences in my life. I hear echoes of past hurts. I recognise the hopeful little boy who survived a crappy divorce and has now grown into a divorce and family of my own. And here on these pages, sometimes, I process the hard stuff, I leave behind puddles of blood and anger that I no longer need. I am discarding these stories as fast as I can write them. Discharging the energy they might still hold on my emotional life, by putting down the bones of truth, as I remember it.

I am not writing for you.

I am glad you are here. I have gotten a lot of support and love through the four years that I have been writing this blog. I have been amazed by some of the comments, troubled by some of the misunderstandings, and encouraged to keep digging for gold. Digging for the heart of joy that is still inside that needs encouragement to hope and dream of loving again.

And I have found the language for that love again. I am writing aspirational love poems. There are still a few divorce poems, but for the most part, this blog has transformed from angry/divorce/rant to relationship/love/discovery. Sure, there will always be flares of anger and sadness when managing the ongoing life of a single parent, but there are also great wins and joys that I am determined to celebrate here, right along side the struggle.

Next Steps

As I continue to change and challenge myself in the coming years, I hope this blog will continue to evolve with me. As I do find that next relationship, I hope that I can write with care and tenderness as “we” this woman and I, journey down the next road of our lives together. Or maybe that will be a different blog. I don’t know. And I’m not trying to get too far ahead of myself, here, or in my relationships.

As I grow and parent this blog will still be the rally point for my emotional triumphs and struggles. And as I struggle with depression, or employment difficulties, I will also try to pull back the armor and release the dragons that still loom ahead for me.

In all cases, I thank you for coming along for the journey thus far. I encourage you to start with the INDEX and read chronologically from the beginning. Or jump to any subject or thread that interests you at this time in your life. And if you have a comment, I value the feedback of my readers more than you can imagine. So tell me.

I hope you find love along your journey through whatever challenges you are facing. We can live through this shit together. And I will continue to light the way along my path so that you might learn from my trespasses and mistakes.

Final note: Why why why write about this painful stuff? My kids were 5 and 7 when my then-wife decided for all of us that she was done with this marriage and wanted to move on to some other configuration. We’re still reeling from the fallout. Not all of it has been bad, but all of it has been transformative. I give thanks that she had the courage to step into the unknown and make the choice she thought was right for her and thus for all of us. Whatever the motivation or past, we are now a family in divorce. We have commitments and connections that will never cease between all of us. And in my attempts to heal myself I hope to continue to be a positive influence in my kids and ex’s lives. We’re in this together. Let’s evolve to a higher discussion.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

related posts:

references: The 12-Steps of AA – wikipedia

image: practice, fabio bruna, creative commons usage


Dating A Divorced Dad: We Might Be Good For Each Other

OFF-kissme

This isn’t a mating call post, but more a look at some of the ways divorced dads are cool, flexible, and likely to understand divorced moms.

FIRST: Let’s compare notes on our kids. We’ve got our priorities straight. Our kids come first, our dates come second. Got it? Good. I don’t think any single parents will ever need to debate this. Now, dates without kids, or even parents who’s kids are long out of the nest, might present a bit more of a problem. There is an imbalance of time. I do spend more time with my kids than with my date. But, that’s only while we’re getting to know each other. But let’s stop right there and not get ahead of ourselves. We are talking about dating, after all.

So if this partner has their act together, even after a divorce, they’re probably pretty flexible and understanding when it comes to compromise and negotiating wants and needs.

SECOND: Let’s compare notes on our exes. I can lend a sympathetic ear to your stories about your dickish-ex. No problem, I’ve go my ex-y who can be a handful from time to time. I’m likely to take your side in any debate. And if you just need a sounding board, I’m here to say, “Wow, he really is a dick.”

THIRD: Let’s just say sex was getting less and less frequent and a bit less fun towards the end of my marriage. So, to say I’m hungry would be a bit of an understatement. Attentive might be a better word. I am so ready to make you feel good. Sure, we can get to me in a minute, but let’s just enjoy you for the moment.

FOURTH: By this time, even with a divorce and child support, we should have the money thing dialed in. Sure, there may be some setbacks (heck, I’m in the middle of the biggest one of my adult life right now, but…) along the money trail, but a partner with some history probably has found a way to make a living.

FIFTH: A well-balanced partner with kids and an ex has learned to get rid of the drama and strife. Divorce is one of the biggest stress potentials of our adult lives. So if this partner has their act together, even after a divorce, they’re probably pretty flexible and understanding when it comes to compromise and negotiating wants and needs. An unbalanced divorced parent is pretty easy to identify as well. Listen. Are they complaining about their ex? Do they have more drama than most people? If so you can move right along. But if your divorced partner still has a healthy sense of humor, they are likely to have a positive approach to navigating the path of developing a relationship.

If we can build our alignment of priorities around our kids health and happiness, then we can both relax when we are able to find time alone as a couple.

SIXTH: We’re going to understand if you’re too tired for the dinner and dancing plans. So you want to curl up on the couch, watch a romantic comedy and order chinese food? Sure, we get it. We’ll even rub your feet during the movie.

Relationships are not easy. But a divorced dad has a lot of experience under his belt that might come in handy as you too are dealing with parenting and dickish-ex issues. I’m pretty certain my next relationship will be with a divorced mom.

If we can build our alignment of priorities around our kids health and happiness, then we can both relax when we are able to find time alone as a couple. Perhaps that scarcity of time can build and sustain some of the honeymoon phase of the courtship. There is something quite motivating about sexual hunger for someone you are getting to know. Use that energy, prioritize your parenting, and have some fun. After all, we’re still talking about dating, we’re not going to get married or anything. (see What’s This About: Marriage?)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

related posts:

image: always kiss me goodnight, courtney carmody, creative commons usage


Deadbeat Dad Doesn’t Strike Back

OFF-dadtravels

This is not a particularly interesting story. It’s more common than we can imagine. And it’s carried out with swift precision and support of the courts and counselors across the country. Women get the kids, men get the bills, and that’s the beginning of the trouble for the single parents. In my state, Texas, 80% of decrees give custody to the mother with the dad getting non-custodial rights and often a hefty child support payment.

I admit, I was depressed and hurting when I was “negotiating” my parenting plan and thus my divorce from the mother of my children. Right in the middle of the negotiations the counselor rightly slowed the process, as I was more and more aware that I did not want a divorce. But a divorce is what my then-wife wanted. And I learned, pretty clearly, that you cannot continue a marriage when only one partner is IN.

Okay, so the story goes along then in common fashion. Dad leaves the house moves in with family until he can get reoriented and settled in his new role. Except there’s one huge new problem. Not only does he have to look for a new home but he’s got a new debt that decreases his opportunities for re-housing. I could forget about moving back into the neighborhood my kids were growing up in. And I agreed to let my ex keep the house “for the kids.” And while that was the right decision, it did not take into account “where Dad would go.”  I was sort of on my own.

It sure stripped away all my pretense of success. I have failed. I have fallen from the “owner’s” status to “living with my mom” and “deadbeat dad” all in the course of a few months.

Okay, so I struggled with the sadness, the loss of my marriage and closest ally. And the loss of my full-time access to my kids. And the list goes on and on: the loss of my house (which we had proudly purchased on money I had gotten before my marriage); the loss of the pets (I didn’t have a place to keep them); the loss of the neighborhood and community (tennis club, pool, neighborhood friends for my kids). And essentially for about 9 months I was homeless. I was living with my sister, but had zero privacy and very few of my material possessions. They were in the garage of my old house.

The only way out of the situation for me, was to find the next BIG JOB. There was no room for self-employment or consulting if I was going to ever be able to get back into a house. And something about apartment living didn’t resonate with me or my idea of who I had become nearing my 48th year as a man.

Finally, the call came, the big job started and I went looking for a place to live. I was lucky. I had not let enough time lapse between my last big job and my new big job to damage my credit or earning power. I was able to qualify and buy a much more modest house in a nearby neighborhood. And I was happy for a bit.

Six months into the new job, the company restructured and eliminated the entire service offering I had been marketing. And with one week’s severance and no notice I was out. And guess what? I still had my mortgage and my child support payments to cover. And then I was sad for a bit, with this new challenge of faith and ability and willingness to pack in my aspirations and just take whatever job came along.

But the remarkable happened. I didn’t find the next big job. I worked my ass off, sending in resumes, networking, social media-ing (this is what I do for a living) and looking for work. And while I got some contracts and some consulting gigs I have still not been able to replace the BIG JOB income that would allow me to pay my child support AND have a place to live.

The DEAL I got, the deal that was sold to me by our impartial divorce counselor was the non-custodial parent, who sees his kids less and pays for a good deal of their expenses.

And this is the situation with a lot of single dads who were given the same deal I got. And a lot of this I covered in my last post (Love, War, Divorce) but the thing that became apparent, when I was reading the comments on my UNFAIR post, was… This is not right.

The assumption that the non-custodial dad will bear the lion’s share of the expenses after the divorce, is simply not equitable. It’s the law. But it’s not fair. And in our case, my ex-wife got a full-time job (her first since we had gotten married) in order to divorce me, and has been able to keep mostly employed this entire time. What a blessing. And with the child support she has been able to keep the nice house in the nice neighborhood. And that’s what I want for my kids too.

The hard part is, I’m burdened by an additional $1,500 per month, even before I get to think about where I can afford to live. With 50/50 parenting it might have been more difficult for her, and thus we are stuck with a dilemma. I want what’s best for my kids over and above even my own needs or living quarters. But I do need to live somewhere. I do need to make enough money to provide food, shelter, and entertainment for my kids when they are with me. Right? It’s hard either way. Two homes is obviously more expensive than one. Where can we find the balance? Sure, I can make more and more money. And today that’s my only option.

But the real issue is, my ex-wife and I are still in this financial boat together. So when she got frustrated with my fluctuating income, and my two months of late payments of “her child support” she filed the whole issue with the Attorney General’s Office, basically threatening me with a lawsuit and (horror of horrors) completely damning my credit rating.

So wait, now I’m a deadbeat dad? In what way was I trying to skip out on my child support? Is it fair for me to have shelter as well? Is there any consideration about where Dad will live with the kids when he has them?

The DEAL I got, the deal that was sold to me by our impartial divorce counselor was the non-custodial parent, who sees his kids less and pays for a good deal of their expenses.

Okay, so I hear the women in the audience groan with each retelling of this story. And the comments on earlier posts bear this out. Women don’t want to hear how hard it is for a man to get by after divorce when his living expenses just doubled. They tell me how hard it is to be a single parent with the majority of the family duties, and very little money to do it all. But wait, that’s the DEAL they got, right? The got the TIME with the kids. So don’t complain to me about how hard that is. I was asking to do it 50/50 just like we discussed our parenting when we were imagining our first child.

I’m a 50/50 dad, but I was sold the non-custodial parent role by a system that favors mom’s in this situation about 80% of the time. And I did not want to FIGHT my ex, I was trying to fulfill a cooperative divorce agreement. We were trying to be non-confrontational. And so I got the bill and she got the kids.

This is the summer of my discontent, and something will give. And then I will give my ex-wife the money to continue in the lifestyle my kids grew up in, even though I cannot afford to live it with them.

I don’t know what the right answer is, but 50/50 is where we should’ve started. I should not have had to fight with our well-paid counselor about how 50/50 parenting might make sense for us. And I don’t know what I’m going to do now.

The rest of the story: I lost my house. I tried to file for bankruptcy just to keep the house, and my ex-wife’s AG filing prevented that from working. And I offered to give her a secured loan agreement if she would allow me to move forward, and she threw up her hands and said, “The AG’s Office has said I cannot talk to you about money.”

Fuck. That just about put me in a bind I couldn’t get out of. But I have family here. And my family came and helped me fix up my house and sell it, for a gain. And I moved into a garage apartment on my Mom’s house. Fuck again.

As we liked to joke, “It’s better than being under the bridge.”

Yes, it is better than being under the bridge. Or throwing myself off the bridge in a fit of masculine depressive acting out.

It sure stripped away all my pretense of success. I have failed. I have fallen from the “owner’s” status to “living with my mom” and “deadbeat dad” all in the course of a few months. And this is not how it should’ve gone, nor did it need to go this way. While we are in this together, the money is another issue all together.

Fortunately, my ex-wife and I have agreed to keep the money matters out of our parenting matters. But I fear this issue is about to come to a head, before the kids return to school in the fall. And I’m not sure what my options are. I have had THREE BIG JOBS within spitting distance of an offer and all of them went to someone else. And that’s the way it goes. And I’m even looking to go back to my old BIG CORPORATE GIG where I gained 15 pounds from the grind and stress of the place.

At this point I will do anything necessary to restart my life. I am willing to pay her what she is owed, and not contest the amount, even though it is $20,000 over what she would’ve gotten had it been tied to my actual earnings over this time. But I’m in a catch 22. A: I have to find the next BIG JOB to support her payments and have a half-way descent place to live and B: I could fight for 50/50 custody and not have to pay her any additional child support payments, but then that hurts my kids as she would be pressed even harder to keep their childhood home.

Of course I lost that home a long time ago. And now I’ve lost my do-over home. And I don’t have a home. But again that’s not the point, that’s whining. My actions are what matter. I’ve got more job interviews this week, and a call back from the BIG CORP for next week. This is the summer of my discontent, and something will give. And then I will give my ex-wife the money to continue in the lifestyle my kids grew up in, even though I cannot afford to live it with them.

And I seem to be complaining, but I don’t feel defeated. I’ve had a major setback. And there were lots of factors at play. And not unlike my divorce, I didn’t get what I wanted out of the deal. But everyday I have a chance to make a new deal, set a new plan in motion, get back on the road to recovery. I’m happy I have this insight, because things have been pretty damn hard.

Thanks for listening. Keep coming back, it works if you work it. (12-step rejoinder after a hard sharing)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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references:

related posts:

image: veronica lake and joel mcrea — sullivan’s travels , robert huffstutter, creative commons usage


Divorce Recovery: Loving Yourself Better, So You Can Eventually Love Again

OFF-lovehandles

Getting right with yourself after divorce is the biggest challenge you’re going to face. All the mechanics of divorce, will eventually take care of themselves. But the emotional fallout might be a bit tougher. I often rely on the language and support of the 12-steps to recover my balance when I’m under the rock of depression or sadness.

And for me, the biggest part of that recovery was regaining some self-confidence and self-love. I felt defeated and broken when I walked out of my marital home and into the world of single dads everywhere. I knew the loss that was coming, now and for the rest of my life I would not have unlimited access to my kids and their hopes and dreams. That loss is still the hardest part for me. I used to love going in late at night and appreciate (give thanks) for their beating and healthy little hearts. Now I can’t to that on most of the nights.

But the areas in me that needed healing were much more personal.

  • I didn’t feel sexy or desirable
  • My extra weight felt like a fat-sumo-wrestling-suit
  • The sadness made it hard to exercise at all
  • My initial attempts at dating felt desperate and disconnected
  • Loss of all touch and closeness (except from friends and my kids)
  • Loss of the hope that I would ever be with another woman
  • My mental processes were so wrapped up in ruminating the past, that I felt slow and unintelligent most of the time

And at the deepest core of my pain, I wasn’t sure my body, my soul, was worth all the effort it was going to take to resurface and regain my position as a strong father. A strong single father. At a few dark moments, it just didn’t seem worth it. But then I remembered my dad, and what the loss of him in my early twenties did to me, and I soldiered on.

I go from moments of feeling fit and healthy to feeling fat and uninspired, often in the course of one day. And it’s not that I’m fat one day and not-fat the next. It’s more about how I see and talk to myself.

Today, four-ish years after I walked out on my kids and married life (not my idea) there are still points of pain and sadness, but overall I’d have to say I’ve recovered most of my energy and enthusiasm. I still miss my kids on the nights they are not here with me, but we’re managing. All of us are managing.

Today I read a piece about how the human body ages over time, written from a very healthy and zen perspective. And while I don’t do all these things, I wanted to share them, and the source post, in hopes that you might find some inspiration for your own journey. You are worth it. Whatever you have to go through to get back on top of your game, whatever it is, DO IT.

Here are the  8 Things I Learned from 50 Naked People – published in The Elephant Journal.

breath in - the off parent

click for larger version

So let’s spend a brief moment together, breathing *that* in. I could spend a long time trying to absorb these wonderful affirmations into my own self-image.

The physical body needs love: Your body doesn’t lie.

What are the things that need healing around your body image? I’ll share mine.

The thing your most embarrassed about: my size. Notice I didn’t say weight. I go from moments of feeling fit and healthy to feeling fat and uninspired, often in the course of one day. And it’s not that I’m fat one day and not-fat the next. It’s more about how I see and talk to myself. And I’m working on it, on just loving whatever I am at the moment. Today those emotions are more tripped up by something I ate, or bloating, rather than some massive increase in my girth.

And what I can do about it:

  1. A better diet (not dieting)
  2. Fewer rich indulgences (the tend to breed next indulgences: frappacinos, ice creams)
  3. More activity (doing what I love)
  4. More energy from healthy activities; 4
  5. Emotional boost and joy from being in a relationship (when that happens).

I’ve got a gentler way of talking to my 50+ year-old self. I’m still easily influenced and sometimes angered by fat obsession. And I’ve never really felt fit enough since I left high school hyper athletics: I lettered in three sports and was always driving myself to win.

Now, of course, the matches are less important, and it’s the game that makes me happy. Even losing, I can appreciate the skill and performance of the other players. (Tennis is my passion.) But I love playing. I love seeing a player who has it all and disassembles my game with several well placed shots at critical moments during the match. It’s a chance to watch my own emotions and my own reaction to winning (when I win) and losing (when I get creamed). And that too is about balance.

So I lost at marriage. And here on out I have to learn to be a single dad to my two kids. So what. Sometimes the game doesn’t go the way you want it to, so you move on, try something different, and give up only after the last point is played.

Perhaps a partner who’s on the same trajectory of self-love and healing from fat-shaming. We’re not fat. We’re where we are. And we’re here to love ourselves, and with luck, others.

So my embarrassment about my fatness is really left over shit. I’m not *that* fat. I’ve been much fatter. And healthy, for me, is not obsessing about fit or fat, but focusing on eating better and playing more tennis. And knowing that we’re not getting any younger, when I look back at some college photos of me, when I was (at that time) feeling quite fat, and noticing how great I looked.

I’m guessing if we could look back on our “now” selves from our “much older” selves, we’d admire our energy and vigor. We would probably not say how fat we were. We might, but those are the tapes I am eliminating from my vocabulary, both inner and outer. So much of what we say to ourselves is mean. If you say it out loud, you might hear how to be more supportive of your process, as you would be supportive of a friend.

I’m not trying to become a model. I’m not really trying to call in some much younger women who are super-fit and perhaps more focused on super-fit guys. I’m not going to be that guy. But I am aware of things more tangible, like my energy, my optimism and creativity, my blood pressure. All those signs are GREAT. What more can I ask for?

Perhaps a partner who’s on the same trajectory of self-love and healing from fat-shaming. We’re not fat. We’re where we are. And we’re here to love ourselves, and with luck, others.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

 other posts of interest:

sources:

image: love handles are whorey handles, laura g, creative commons usage


Best and Worst of Father’s Day This Year

fathersday-2014Father’s day is always in June and always after the kids are out of school, like an after thought. And maybe it was really just a marketing ploy to sell more Craftsman tools and ties and cologne. I’m not a big fan of any of those things. Oh well…

But father’s day is important to me. My role as DAD is the biggest challenge and joy of my life. And I thought I’d roll up some of my past Father’s day posts and some of the appreciations as well. I’m going to stay on the happy/positive side of the entire discussion. And wish you all happy father’s days, even if you’re moms or kids. Someday my son will celebrate father’s day, and if I’m lucky I’ll get to live to see that.

And a few of the rest:

And from buzzfeed

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

Resources:


The Evolving Single Dad: Failure to Hopefulness Again

OFF-dadfeet-gmp

After divorce, struggling with identity and depression is common. This single dad has found strength by focusing on hopefulness and cultivating a joyfulness within himself.

It’s been over five years since I walked out of my family home and changed everyone’s life for ever. Sounds dramatic now, but when I was going through it, I was not sure what the rest of my life held. There were moments I could not tell you one good thing that was ahead for me. And I cratered for a bit, taking refuge at my sister’s house while I decided what I was going to do.

When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure, what you learn is how to get back up.

Now, looking back on it, the worst event I can recall in my personal history, I have somehow grown more resilient after having survived it. And I suppose my kids have also gained a bit of survival-in-the-face-of-the-storm strength. And today, even though I’m in a similar start over place, I am not afraid or unhappy. I have taken a tumble as the result of my own actions, my own over-optimism, and the hostile ex-y. I have landed here. Starting over again. And there is hope here. The horizon is bright.

And the evolution of The Off Parent has followed a similar trajectory. I have come from angry and vindictive to forgiveness and now letting go. And reaching this point offers some new opportunities. Rather than dealing with the Divorce I am thinking more about Dating and what another relationship might look like. Rather than writing vitriolic screed I’m leaning into love poems.

And I have learned a lot on this path. And even today, with a chest cold a fever, I can say I am happy. I have learned to take, even the catastrophic failure and flip it around into opportunity. And then somehow continue to see the hope in that opportunity. There really is a wide range of paths out of this moment of pause. And there is no reason to thrash. I will reemerge when the next job provides the means to support both myself and my kids. And until then I’m going to enjoy this moment to the fullest. I’m recommiting to tennis and fitness. I’m starting to sing songs again.

I have been able to not only show them, but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope.

When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure what you learn is how to get back up. And inside that how is the hope that is self-generated and self-sustaining. Hope is the key. Without it the daily grind is brutal and even the smiling pictures of your children don’t lift you. But if you can imagine a single hopeful idea, cling to it, set it on fire and tend the hopefulness. You can find the energy again to reach out for what you need by building and nurturing the hopefulness in yourself.

In the five years I’ve shown my children a lot of emotional sides of myself. I’ve remained true to my promise of keeping all money issues and anger out of my relationship to them. The adult stuff needs to be handled outside their sphere. And I’ve shown them how to rebound with hope and energy time and again. In recent years, as my life has stabilized quite a bit, I have been able to not only show them, but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope. That’s my gift. Seeing them dealing with setbacks in their young lives with similar resilience has been a fine reward for both their mom and me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: father and daughter support, cc 2015 the author, creative commons usage


Too Positive, Too Optimistic? A Blind Side.

the off parent - slivered moonI really want to blame this last sag on my exey, but it ain’t so. The morass I have just been climbing out of was mine and mine alone. Sure there were some inflection points, post divorce, that could’ve been mitigated with some cooperation from the exey, but the fail was really mine.

I don’t want to write about this.

My Achilles heel is being too optimistic. And certainly, at times, too forceful in my positive (possibly aggressive) approach to life and problems. I recall the “muse” saying to me, “You’re just about the most positive person I know.” I felt proud of that. But…

Well, occasionally my happy outlook and plans don’t work out the way I hope. (This is everybody, I know.) And this time a few things fell through to make my recent transition much more swift and dramatic than they needed to be. Had I been working a more realistic and pragmatic life program I think I could’ve done a better job and saved myself and my family a bit of heartache.

Again, I’m not talking about the divorce, I’m talking about … money. (Frown.)

Not what I wanted to admit to or blog about, EVER. Of course I have blogged about it, a lot. But I was on the “it’s going to work out” side of every story. It didn’t work out.

Now I’m in regroup mode. My lovely but not ideal house is sold. And I’m in a total rebuilding process. It’s good. It’s going to be better. And there are things I was neglecting. Now, with eyes, open, I’m conscious of bringing down the YES-force a bit, and get back into the “what needs to be done” mode.

New beginnings are always hard and exciting at the same time. I’ve gotten back on the tennis court. I’m about to start Aikido again. And my focus has returned to the loving support of my family, ex-wife included, and how I can best provide for all of us. It’s hard to imagine how intertwined we remain even after the divorce, but it is clear we still need each other.

If I have one Sagittarius trait in spades it is positivism and energy to carry out those plans. But it’s also my weak point. If I put too much faith in my “win” attitude, the losses can set me back more deeply than if I had also been making contingency plans.

Onward.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Dating Etiquette – This Is How I Want It To Be

hands-offA STUDY IN DATING ETIQUETTE:

I took my daughter to a Father/Daughter dance this evening. She’s 11 and in 5th grade. And I thought, this is what a “date” is supposed to be like.

Very respectful, interested, open. We talked about a lot of things. Then she ran off with friends and kicked balloons for a while. Then we did some swing dancing lessons. Then she ran off with her friends again. Then she came up to me and gave me the usual, “Daddy, I’m bored.”

We left. On the way home we held hands. I asked her, “Do you want to go get a yogurt, or something?” I was looking to extend our time together.

“Sure.”

“I mean, only if you want to go?”

“I want to go,” she said, with confidence.

That’s the standard I have to look for in my “dating.” We genuinely want to be together. We are interested and interesting. And when the question is asked, “Is that really what you want to do?” The answer is a swift and decisive, “YES.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Candy Crush in Co-Parenting: Here Comes Halloween

Halloween, the Real Candy CrushLet’s get straight to my complaint: sugar is poison and a highly potent drug. Your kids are susceptible to its powers. I mean, who’s not susceptible to chocolate? And when my kids arrive with large bags of candy, three weeks before Halloween, I need to have a talk with their mom.

I have a love hate relationship to candy. I love it. I hate what it does to my brain, my cravings, and my body. But in my little nuclear family, I am the only one with a weight problem. I work to keep from getting fat. So when my then-wife would bring home junk food for the kids, and the costco bags of candy, I would not be happy. For me personally it felt like an assault. Maybe it wasn’t passive aggressive, but it wasn’t healthy parenting either. I control the candy in my single-parenting life. For myself first, but also for my kids.

So, almost three weeks before the holy grail of candy, Halloween, for my kids to show up at my house with literal bags of candy… well, I am not pleased. And I’ve had a few too many sweet-tarts at the moment, so I’m cranky too.

Why would you EVER buy your kids a 12-pak of Dr. Pepper? Even when they profess their undying love for the elixer, and promise to do chores, homework, and brush their teeth “without a fuss” every single day.

“Please, dad. Please,” they plead in the store. And then the inevitable, “Why not?”

I’m not saying it’s bad to occasionally give in. But as a routine, having sodas and candy and junky food in the house is not good for your kids. And they have a lot less self-control than we do, as adults. At least that should be the case. When candy or ice cream is around, in my house, that’s not the case. I am an addict.

So… Here comes Halloween, and I think this year the kids are with me, for the first time in a long time. WHOOPEE. And they were already saying, “Yep, Dad, time to get some candy for Halloween.” But with me, they knew it was a joke, and didn’t expect it to happen. I’m not in control of what happens when they are with their mom, but I get from them, that it’s not a big deal.

Sure they know candy and sugar is bad for them. And my ex-y has been great at explaining to our son, who suffers fairly severely from seasonal allergies, that sugar hurts your body’s ability to deal with your stopped up nose and achey head. AND THEN SHE BUYS THEM BAGS OF CANDY. WHAT?

Okay, so my two kids and my beautiful ex-wife do not have weight problems. In fact, in some cases I’d say it’s the opposite, we have to make sure they are eating enough. An occasional candy bar, or slurpee isn’t going to trip the scales for any of them. So that argument isn’t valid for them. But it sure was for me.

I’m still getting better about food, but I’ve eliminated candy, sodas, and junk food almost entirely from my house. And I’m working to become a better cook, for myself and my kids. Our health depends on it.

So we enter Halloween season with bags of candy. And I guess this is an opportunity to continue the discussion with them about candy, health, and brushing their teeth. But it should be a holiday and not a season of sweets. I’ll talk to their mom about these early bags. Bags! Of! Candy!

I’ll be positive about it. I’ll let it be the babysitter’s fault. But I can’t just let it go. I owe it to myself and my kids to stand up against what I know is a bad idea, regardless of body fat composition. Their mom and I are on the same page about sugar, but we’re on different planets about the availability and consumption of it.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Happy Mom Chat About How I Got Here: What I Figured Out

Exes Into Plusses - The Off ParentI took lunch to my mom’s house today, just to stop by and say hi. We talked about this blog for a bit.

See my ex-y left some sort of message about something I was doing that was damaging my family. My mom wanted to know what it was. I showed her The Off Parent and explained how it was anonymous.

“But it’s on Facebook,” she said.

“Yes, but it’s not connected to me in any way. I don’t even LIKE my own page.”

She was happy with my explanation. And she said something next that brought the conversation to a different place.

“I’m glad to see you taking a different path than your father.”

She went on to tell me about how he once told her that she was the reason he drank. “So, I told him I wouldn’t be that reason any more.”

We talked about my dad and how he went on to marry another drinker and eventually drank himself and her to death. And I told her, that her survival after the divorce had colored a lot of my childhood, and probably formed a good portion of my personality. She was always quoted as saying, “I’m turning X’s into plusses.” And that’s kind of a maxim that I have learned to live by.

Even as things got hard for us, back in my elementary through high school years, she would keep us pointed at the good side of the situation. A lot of the time I thought it was bullshit. Just a way of escaping some of the pain of the moment. But eventually I heard myself using the exact same phrase when talking to myself about bad situations.

I told my mom about how this blog had given me a voice, a place to process the anger and frustration at the divorce. And how eventually those parts of the blog began to subside and a new part of the story began to emerge. As I transitioned out of anger, depression, and divorce mechanics, I started moving into how to turn this major X into a major WIN.

The divorce is the biggest thing that’s ever happened in my life, and I’m 50 years old. What ripped through my safety and joy has now become the fire that has burned away the bullshit and brought me down to WHAT’S IMPORTANT.

Here’s what I figured out about the positive side of this blog, and the positive part of the divorce, for me.

1. Self-care. Physical and mental health are a full-time process for me. While I’ve never had a substance problem, I have used the 12-step program for various parts of my recovery. What I am working on is EMOTIONAL SOBRIETY.

2. Kids First. There is nothing in my life more important than the love and support of my children. Keeping them safe from the bitterness and anger that could’ve erupted in my divorce was always part of my agreement with their mom.

3. 100% Positive. While there are plenty of times I’m angry with their mom, there is NEVER any reason to voice those complaints to my kids. I remember how horrible my dad was at speaking about my mom. And of course, she was doing only a little better at voicing the victim side of the horror. And it was pretty bad. Eventually, in high school my dad began taking it out on me, saying that the divorce was my fault and saying that I didn’t love him. These will never be words that my kids hear from me. And I believe the ex-y has the same intention.

4. Lead With Love. I may not be in love with their mother, but I will never stop loving her. It’s often that love that turns to bitterness and hate when it’s flipped around. But I won’t ever go there. She is gone. She is someone else’s. And I can do better each day remembering the relationship of the divorce is about my kids. And if she’s happier, they will benefit.

I don’t always get it right, but I keep trying to return to these principles. And as my ex-y has now turned me over to the Attorney General’s office I guess we will see what it’s like trying to abide by these principles while she is suing me. I imagine that she is doing the best she knows how. At least, I suppose, she will know with the bankruptcy that I’m filing, that I’m not secretly stashing money away, or trying to keep her from child support payments.

Even in cutting off most of the conversation between us, I think she must be doing that for some personal, self-preservational reasons, rather than hate at me. We’ve got these great kids. And we do everything we can to support and encourage them. If she no longer wants to sit face-to-face to map out some plans with me, that’s okay. I guess we go back to emailing each other. That worked some while we were married.

And I’ll keep mapping my own path along this journey here. Turning my ex into a plus.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Moving Forward and Reassessing In The Moment

san juan and de vaca drive

So, how am I doing? (The photo represents my current location on the path of life. Each day we have an opportunity to travel down the path of GOOD (San Juan = Saint John) or the path of MAD (De Vaca = Cow Path). Each day I make a conscious choice to find the good side is a day that I am happier, my kids are happier, and by extension, even my ex-wife is happier.

I wanted to take a moment of pause to look back over three years of processing my divorce through The Off Parent and see what I can learn about myself, about the changes I’ve made, and the growth I still need to keep aspiring towards. Self-observation has been the most powerful tool I’ve had in my healing and recovery. This blog is a reflection of that process, and thus a good opportunity for illumination.

Intention: I am not here to make you feel better. I am here to get it out. I am here to share my journey. To make me feel better. But mostly to FEEL THROUGH this bitter, enlightening, transformative experience. (from my about statement)

Major Topics Content Mix:

Anger – 44
Dating – 92
Depression – 39
Divorce – 115
Kids – 41
Love – 43
Marriage – 35
Money – 26
Poetry – 41
Self-care – 34
Single Parenting – 30

Stepping back the progression and change seems clear. I can see how this blog afforded me a sort of Divorce Recovery Roadmap.

Divorce Recovery Roadmap

As I began to ascend from the darkness of depression and anger, the energy also opened up and allowed more hopeful ideas to enter my daily activities. My recovery and my kids health became priorities in my life by year two, and more recently, in this last year I have found myself ever more arching towards a next relationship and the imagining of what that might look like.

So, according to me, I’ve moved from the darker parts of divorce toward the hopefulness of dating again, and aspiring towards simpler and healthier relationships with my ex-wife. I don’t think I will leave any of the elements along this path behind. There will be days when I’m angry or sad. But as I can direct my life and thoughts more towards the aspirational parts of the process, the happier I will become.

Without this blog I don’t know that I would’ve had the outlet for the anger. And for me, that’s one of the issues I struggled with during my marriage. I was “too nice” most of the time. And I sublimated my own needs and desire in the name of being a loving husband and good father. But the anger is power, in some circumstances. And even pushing it somewhere else (overeating, acting out, rage) doesn’t really get rid of it.

There’s a great phrase from Reshad Feild that often helps me remember to deal and open up to the anger.

“There is no time to slay the dragon. The dragon is your friend.”

In fact, during a highly creative and emotional time, about six months ago I went through a “tattoo desire” phase. I was certain that some ink would help establish my new creative promise, and my own promise to myself, never to sublimate my joy, sadness, or any other emotion. Ultimately I purchased a package of temporary tattoos of the design I created from a drawing off the web. Here’s what it would’ve looked like.

No time to slay the dragon - the off parent

The beautiful part is, I can have the tattoo anytime I want. To make the statement. But on days when I’m no longer in that mode, I am just fine with the fade and loss of the tattoo dragon.

To summarize: I have moved from anger and bitter darkness towards dreams of doing it all again. Better, smarter, and with more self-awareness, but getting back out there and giving my heart another chance to connect and soar. That’s what most of the poetry is about. Imagining poetry on the left side of the recovery path would yeild a very different voice. I prefer aspirational love poems. And with that The Off Parent has been transformed into the Poet of #Desire.

So yes, I’d say, this has been an amazing journey. Goal setting for Year 4 is next.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

Reference: Steps to Freedom  by Reshad Feild

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Separating Stories and Seeking Purpose

getting through divorce one step at a timeIt’s time to sort this story and pull apart the tasty bits, throw away the vitriol, and find the pure “off parent” story. Like pulling apart the colorful threads that are bound together in a rope, if you begin to separate the various issues you can focus and perhaps solve them independently. As a whole the strength of the problem is overwhelming and seemingly unsolvable. But taken as smaller parts, with diligence, you can find your way into a solution, or at least resolution.

In looking back at the three years since my divorce, I see how this writing journey became an important part of my recovery of self. As I was able to articulate the pain/joy/struggle of finding myself alone again I gave voice to my own recovery. What started in anger and confusion, has risen through many ups and downs into something of an anthem to self-examination and (in my humble opinion) victory.

And all the parts of this expression have formed who I have become, as I walked, crawled, cried, and sang through my journey back to wholeness. As I reflect on the content now, I see some very distinct threads.

  1. Divorce Process, Mechanics, and Resolution
  2. Kids, Parenting, Single-parenting, Fathering
  3. Pure Anger and Bitterness
  4. Depression, Loss, and Recovery from Depression
  5. Dating, Desire, Sex, Relationship Journey
  6. Poetry of Desire, Loss, and Aspiration

Assessing the strength of this rope, I see one “voice” that needs to go away. (Not be deleted, but not be encouraged either.) The vitriol and black anger that has come out, may have felt justified and righteous at the start of my fall from the family as it previously existed, it does nothing but feed on itself and stir up more of itself. Time to acknowledge it and move on. Turn it over to a higher power, if you’d like a platitude. There is no growth or healing from bitter focus. It is a step you must pass through. The hope is you move through it with great passion and without much damage to yourself or (more importantly) others. Even your ex does not deserve the vile that is likely to come up. But get it up and out, you must. In my case, this blog was started with that bitter voice. Titty dancers, Fuck Yous, and “You really fucked up,” all formed some of the energy that got me started.

Next on the list of “maybe this should go somewhere else” are the aspirational love poems. While they too have given me great hope and insight into my dreams and desires, AND they are part of the divorce/recovery journey, perhaps their song should be published elsewhere. As part of a divorce story they are tinted by the rest of the rope. But pulled away from the whole, perhaps those prayers, laments, and songs will gain a lightness. I believe they belong here, but I also know that I was probably publishing them here because of the audience that has developed.

And finally, the exciting part for me, the Single-parenting content. (Here’s a prime example: Just Being Dad Is Enough: A Hot Summer and a Ghost Horse) This thread run brightly through the narrative as it unfolded, but the energy and focus was always mixed with the other “colors” of the writing. How could I be bitching and praising their mom in the same place, much less the same post?

The first vacation (alone) to the beach with my kids was an eye-opening experience. And the joy that emerged on that first journey was one of strength and hopefulness. And the idea for The Whole Father emerged. I wasn’t ready, at that time, to really begin imagining myself as a teacher or model father; I’m still not.

But, the awareness that was so exciting to me was this. In getting divorced we have to regain skills, chores, and  parts of our whole selves that we had parsed off to the other parent. My ex was really great at the beach. She loved it. She loved shepherding the kids and giving me some hours to lounge, sleep, read, whatever… But without her, there would be no down time. I had to up my game. I had to become more whole again and recapture and rework those parts of myself that had been languishing.

This was a wonderful insight. And today, I’m going to begin expanding that concept and giving voice to The Whole Father as a new blog for all the positive and negative aspects of becoming a single-dad and having to learn all over again how to be a parent. I had to fill myself back up enough to become whole again, and while I had the vision early on, it is only now that I feel competent enough to expand on that gift and road to discovery.

So I’m not leaving The Off Parent behind. But I do think there are other places for me to find joy and focus, and perhaps the weight of the “off-ness” is heavier than it needs to be for poetry or joyful single-parenting. That’s where I’m headed.

Here’s the first post: A Return to Wholeness After Divorce | The Whole Parent

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Marriage and Money: A Fairy Tale

stay at home mom dreamsMaybe I seemed rich to the first two women who became my wives. Perhaps my downtown condo, and simple lifestyle appeared to be something other than it was. I had/have potential, yes, but the real world has a way of changing the game on you, frequently and with indiscriminate outcomes. Maybe the fairy tale went something like this:

  1. Marry a fine gentleman of money.
  2. Have children in a nice house in a top school district.
  3. Stay home and work on parenting and yoga.
  4. Hire weekly housekeeper and part-time nanny.
  5. Live happily ever after.

Something always changes. And when the plans were reset in both marriages, the “stay and home and live the life” part didn’t work out as planned. I had hopes. I had means, during various periods in my life. I still have promise and opportunity. To hone in on the mother of my children, there was never any resistance to working. In fact, for much of the early stages of our relationship she made more money than me. (Yay!) And we had a coordinated idea of how we would finance the children and give her the “stay at home” life, as much as possible. We both agreed, we would like one of us (Mom) to meet the bus when the kids began going to school. And when they were infants, well, of course she would stay at home with them. That’s how we imagined it.

The fact that my dad died of a 4th heart attack and cancer at the age of 55 is not lost on me. But my dad had problems. Mistakes I learned from. Fears I’ve recoiled from. And a devastating divorce I have striven not to repeat.

For the most part, the birthing and getting to school-aged progeny worked. There were some tumbles, mainly 9-11, but we soldiered through, as a family. And reached the “meet them at the bus” stage without too much damage to our credit scores. But the dream (examples set by so many lucky wives in our upscale neighborhood) was not fully realised.

She did have to return to part-time work. We still maintained the nanny and housekeeper, but mid-day yoga classes would have to wait. (Bummer.) And I was bummed. I thought that the dream I saw paraded in the HEB and at our kid’s schools, the cars, the house, the fit-happy-zen wife, was supposed to be within my earnings. I needed to earn a bit more.

So I travelled the big corporate route, to seek relief, for my suffering and the suffering of my family. But even that wasn’t fulfilling the dream. Sure 20-hrs a week beats 50+ with a 2-hour daily commute, but it wasn’t a competition, it was a cooperation. Still, the dream was suffering. I was suffering. I think the wife was suffering. My suffering had to do with my childhood and my father’s extraordinary success. And through many gross legal stories, 15 years after his death, my inheritance was null and void. But I grew up in the most famous house in our town. While things were never very happy there, the outside world must’ve thought we were living the high life.

While I was hammering away and being hammered from both the job and the wife, she was actually losing money? Tough times, yes, but perhaps her encouragement of my career had just a twinge of self-motivation behind it.

Aspire as I might, I won’t likely achieve the financial riches my father accomplished by the time he was 40. The fact that he died of a 4th heart attack and cancer at the age of 55 is also not lost on me. But my dad had problems. Mistakes I learned from. Fears I’ve recoiled from. And a devastating divorce I have striven not to repeat.

Back to me and the ex-y. So, things change. The big corporate job (which had be getting grayer and fatter by the week) went through a major contraction in anticipation of the 2009-2010 financial collapse.

While I saw this as a golden moment to redefine our lifestyles and priorities, my then wife, was panicked. And the road ahead WAS hard. But I imagined that together we would survive and ultimately thrive again. Of course, the economy was hard for everyone, not just us. And the job market was fragmented and getting more ageist by the year. What had been an asset (we’re hiring you for some of your wisdom) became a badge of failure.

I was heading towards 50 and interviewing with 30 year olds. My gray hair had to go. And on the financial front, things didn’t work out as planned there either. The ex-y was fired just days after the big corporate layoff was announced. The good news: my fat corporate job provided for 6-months at full-pay, with benefits, and 70% of my annual bonus. The bad news: with the ex-y out of work that windfall would be eaten away in three months.

Okay, so the work was set out for us. And it was hard. COBRA payments for child insurance are very high. Occasionally we were paying almost as much for our mortgage. And the job hunt was challenging. At one point, nearing a crisis, I sold most of my music equipment to make a couple of mortgage payments. (It was bit like O’Henry’s story, but I wouldn’t know that until later.) Dark times.

And then another fat corporate job came through, for me. This time with even more promise and excitement than before. The ex-y went through some kind of mid-life work reassessment and fished around for multiple job ideas, considered going back to school to learn coding. I shipped off to San Francisco on my first day on the job, to meet the creative team I would be joining. The relief didn’t really come soon enough.

The ex-y was fighting with me on the phone, during my second day in San Francisco. She was demanding to know when the insurance would kickin, when I would get my first full check, and why I had put the room on my credit card. Sure, she was feeling the heat. And sure, she had been paying the bills over the previous six months, while looking for herself and satisfying work. (That’s what we all want, isn’t it, “satisfying work?”) B

ut the proof came out later, something I was unaware of, being focused on breadwinning and not the daily bread. When we pulled the information together for the last year of our joint tax return she actually had a negative contribution to the family budget. WHAT? While I was hammering away and being hammered from both the job and the wife, she was actually losing money?

Tough times, yes, but perhaps her encouragement of my career had just a twinge of self-motivation behind it. See, if I would just get that big corporate job again, we could return to normal, “meet the bus after school” part-time livin. Except that’s not what happened.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

An earlier run at the Stay At Home Mom story

Note: After an early morning chat with my talky therapist, I’ve come up with a catch phrase to frame the renewed attitude of detachment from my ex-y and her future struggles. “Oh, I’m sorry that didn’t work out for you.” It’s more compassion than I ever got from her while I was struggling, and certainly more than I got yesterday. I guess I have to consider the worst outcome and at least have that in mind. I suppose she could have me thrown in jail for not giving her the money I don’t have. I’m already skating above bankruptcy and just trying to keep a roof over my head and the heads of my children. But I suppose she might do it.

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And a wonderful song about it all from Blur, Country House.

country house from blur

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