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

happiness

Going for Gratitude No Matter What

Every morning I wake up and contemplate my gratitudes. Often it is in contradiction to how I feel and I use the first moments of the day to reorient my attitude. It would be much easier to wallow in the negative, the losses, the current crappy situation I have landed in. But I know the negative can rule my life. I can live in the down and depressed. Anger on the other hand is an emotion that I have a hard time accessing. So if I can even be grateful for the anger in my life, perhaps I can harness some of the energy that’s caught up within that emotion.

This morning’s meditation came back with plenty of the negative aspects of my current situation, as it does many mornings.

  • I’m homeless (my last relationship included her house)
  • I’m alone (as it should be, I’m refinding my solo-self)
  • I’m working a shit job (it’s the most fun I’ve had at work, but it won’t pay my car payment)
  • My ex-wife gets half of everything I earn, after taxes, so my effective hourly rate is somewhere in the $5 – $6 hr range.
  • I feel the frustration of the pennilessness every day.
  • I no longer see my kids every other weekend, I don’t have rooms for them, so I see them “as I can make dates with them” and with teenagers that’s a challenging goal

And somehow I feel entitled to more. I should have a job that utilizes my 15 year career and college degree. I should have rooms for my kids, though things are a lot easier on all of us now that we’re not switching every other weekend. I would love a relationship, an opportunity to be building again towards the future. And I’d really be happy to reach some arrangement with my ex-wife that takes the impossible financial burden off my daily life and ties the payoff to the sale of a piece of property that I inherited. But that’s not how things work. We go through hard times, we survive, and we come out the other side changed. And I think we either come out smarter, leaner, and more optimistic, or we break and become bitter. It is through the active reframing of my life, with positive affirmations and prayers, that I am changing my attitude about my situation.

  • I am grateful that my kids are healthy and doing well in school and life.
  • I am grateful that my ex-wife has maintained gainful employment since the divorce.
  • I am grateful that my mom (humbling disclosure) still has an extra room that I inhabit.
  • I am grateful that I am able to maintain joy in my current job.
  • I am grateful that I have the financial help of my mom, as strained and emasculating as that is.
  • I’m grateful that I am super healthy and getting plenty of sleep.
  • I’m grateful that my creative energy is strong and my inspiration is growing.

Today, I have everything I need. I may not be close to having everything I want. But my basics (food, shelter, safety, community) are pretty well covered. If I can keep my attitude at the proper trajectory I can see that my current state is temporary and my prospects are ever-growing and improving. I have to believe that. I have to believe that I can find a high-tech marketing job as an “older worker.” I have to believe that I will grow out of this phase of my life back into the self-sufficient adult that I thought I was, that I have been, that I will be again. It’s like a prayer, really, these affirmations. I keep repeating my thankfulness. I keep appreciating what I have. I keep letting go of my expectations and immediate gratifications. And I am learning, everyday, to be closer to living in the moment. I am appreciating my current life, my current job, my current loneliness. And sitting in this place, I am also learning to become more conscious, more compassionate, and more humble about what I have vs. what I want.

Just for today, I will rise above it.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: man in stress, creative commons usage


Sexual Energy and the Power of #Desire in Men and Women

I have no authority to write this post, and perhaps it will piss some people off, but I’ve been thinking a lot about sexual energy and the power of desire. Let me explain. As human animals, specifically men, we have been told we are programmed by our sexual desire to be in continuous pursuit for a sexual partner. It’s animal, we’re trying to reproduce and ensure the continuation of our genes. And this sexual pursuit is hard-wired into our brain and body. And from what I experience of my own behavior and fantasies this appears to be true. To a point.

I do love looking at women. Men, not so much. And I do enjoy seeing young, fit, attractive women as well. But they are not sexual objects to me. They are not targets for my affection, they are merely beautiful creations to be appreciative of. The same way I admire a Ferrari. I don’t want a Ferrari, and I don’t really want any of the young women sexually, but they are both amazing to look at. Is this the same thing?

What makes “people watching” so fascinating? I think it is the flow of human beauty that we enjoy looking at. Again, we might initially be more drawn to the fertile and nubile of our human tribe, but this gut reaction is not all about sex. And one thing I’ve noticed about myself, even when I’m sexually depleted, having zero sexual energy, I’m still attracted to watching the flow of women passing by. What could that be about? It’s not about passing my seed, unless this is an unconscious drive, and that’s Freud’s assumption. But it is something sexual. I’m not drawn to men in the same way. Still, I find it fascinating, that even when I have no sexual energy or passion, my mind still get’s “up” for a pretty woman.

As it stands, I’m not in the market for a lover. I have two children, so I’m not in need of procreation. And yet, women, the female form, fascinates me. Is the unconscious hard-wiring that strong? It’s as if I can’t look away without effort. And my attention is not only on the youngest and fittest. In fact, most of the young women resonated with thoughts of my daughter and are actually less interesting for that reason. And maybe that’s the crux. “For that reason” does point towards some sort of sexual tension.

And coming from a man’s perspective, I’m curious if women approach people watching from a similar perspective? I’ve read that women don’t feel sexual energy the same way men do, something about testosterone, but I’ve also read that we underestimate the sexual desire in women due to social mores. I can see how a man might be more driven, if you will forgive my pun, for release. And women might be more driven by security and power. But is that just clichéd thinking? Do women view attractive men in a less sexual manner?

I’m sure there is a difference in the chemistry of men’s and women’s bodies. And I’m sure that testosterone has a role in that “drive” towards sexual fulfillment. But I’m curious, for a population in their 40s – 50s, with “families” already established if the sexual drive is more similar in men and women? Do we both enjoy the sexual thoughts that come from people watching? Aren’t we essentially doing the same thing? Asking that tried and true question of our inexperienced, and pre-family youth, “Would ya do them?”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: frame rate, creative commons usage


Losing Everything Again, And Finding Happiness Anyway

I’m in a rough place. At the same time I can’t say that I’ve ever been happier. But I’m just beginning to realise happiness is about my relationship to myself and not someone else. Sure, I’d like to be in a relationship. I really miss the physical contact, the camaraderie, the checking-in at all hours of the day with little texts and messages. I love being in love. And I love being in relationship. Until it’s not working. Then I’m not all that good at expressing what I need to make things better. So I suffer. I moan. I get depressed. What I should get is ANGRY. But I suck at that even more.

Two months ago I was asked to move out of “her” house. I was broken. I was freaked out and scared that I was retreating to my mom’s house to die. I imagined myself sleeping all the time, fighting with my mom about not getting up, like a teenager. I knew the sadness was going to be overwhelming. I mean, I loved this woman with all my being, and she was everything I dreamed I wanted in a relationship, and now she was going away? I was almost as afraid of the darkness I was going to descend into, more than the darkness I was in, but I knew that staying was not healthy. I was anxious and depressed at the same time. And I needed to get out of the house and get on with the grief and healing that would come from losing it all again.

And for the first two weeks I suffered. Very differently than I thought I would. I was sad. I was grieving. But I was also relieved. I relaxed a bit once I was alone again. I slept better. I napped anytime I felt tired. I took back control of my schedule and my priorities. And one thing I did, for sure, was I exercised every day. It was a commitment I’d made over a year ago when I was struggling. No matter what, I can walk. Even if it’s only 3 miles or so. I can walk. And while that won’t make me feel better in the short-term, in the long-run I knew it was as good for my soul as it was for my health.

I also attended a boatload of Al Anon meetings. I was going almost to keep from being so alone. But I was listening too. And I spoke a few times about the struggle of giving up on a relationship. And I got a lot of phone numbers of people I could call when I just needed someone to talk to. It was the best support network I could’ve asked for. In ways that were different from friends, these “friends” had experience with what I was going through. Most of them had years in the program and gave pretty sage advice when asked for it. But mainly they were sounding boards for my recovery thinking, about the relationship, about where I was going, about how sad I was, about how I couldn’t see my future at all. And mostly they listened. That’s really what we need more than anything, someone to listen.

Well, as it turns out, I never really fell apart. I was expecting it to happen at any time, but I simply kept going on with my life. I kept walking. I read and worked the Al Anon program. I went to meetings. I talked to some people on the phone. I got a sponsor. And I really just struggled on with my normal life, except that I was alone and not living with someone. (Well, my mom, but that is different. And we worked out a pretty good relationship around privacy and sharing resources.)

I sought out the grief. I watched sad movies and cried. I read books about breaking up and grieving. I wrote goodbye letters to my former fiancé. I dug into my feelings and sat there, not really sure what actions to take. So I stayed still. I sat with the feelings. I prayed and meditated. I ate three meals a day and walked in the brutal Texas heat. And I kept going.

I wasn’t feeling better during those first few weeks. I was feeling liberated, somehow, but sad and alone.

And about three weeks in, something happened. (I think my new meds kicked in.) I started to see possibilities for the future, my future. alone but surviving. If you’ve never experienced true depression you don’t quite understand the depth of the helplessness that happens. I didn’t really see my demise, I just couldn’t imagine my survival. But a new dawn began to break as a result of my work, my time away from a toxic relationship, and the help of my chemical altering drugs.

Then my brain kicked back in at about 4 weeks. It was as if I had been sleeping the entire time prior, and now awake I was capable of accomplishing anything. I wasn’t grandiose, I was just happy again. I was hopeful again. I was still doing all the same things, walking, napping, getting plenty of sleep, eating well, and boom, like a light switch was flipped, I was back.

That was six weeks ago and the reignition has stuck. I’ve gotten over the edgy side effects of the new meds. I’ve calmed down my fantastic ideas. I’ve watched my sleep schedule very carefully. And I’m still soaring what I consider my “normal” functioning self. I’m happy. I’m alone and living at my mother’s house and working a shit job, but I’m happy. And I’m writing. That’s one of the big tells with me, if I stop writing something is off. My brain likes to express itself with language. And when I clam up, I’m battling something bigger than just a temporary setback or disappointment.

I’ve learned to ride the edge of my good feelings too. And I’ve learned to laugh off the overused term “manic.” Sure, back in my teen years I had a manic phase. But since then, when I get high, I think I’m returning to my natural “high self.” There are psychological terms for this state as well, but I don’t even think hypo-manic fits for me. I could get there if I drank too much coffee, didn’t eat well, and didn’t watch my sleep. I could easily slip over the edge of mania and do some crazy shit. But I learned when I was sixteen, that this type of behavior only results in sadness later.

So I’m alone, homeless, and happy. How joyful I will be as things begin to turn in my favor. And it’s the season, fall, where I usually get stronger. I’m trying to relax a bit more. I’m thrashing a bit about being alone. But at the moment, as you can imagine, I don’t have many options for being in a relationship. And I KNOW that I don’t need another relationship right now. My relationship to myself is the one I need to nurture and continue to build. I’ve still got a lot of forgiving to do for my failures and failings. At the moment, though, I well on my way.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: cartwheel, creative commons usage


love loving love

[from strange horizons poems]

in this blistering pace of the day, this life
all that is missed or lost or unremarked upon
all the moments we didn’t stop
and pause in prayer of affirmation
what gets lost?
what loves go unfound
unspoken
ungifted

i am certain in my last days
the joys i have celebrated will out balance the dark times
or, i am certain
that given the chance
starting at this very second
that I could begin
to tilt the balance towards
more love poems
towards more love moments
towards love
period

pointing this direction of my life
i can choose my targets
i have opportunities so clear as this
given the choice
given this life, and this pause
given everything i do and everything i’ve yet to do
if i choose with intention
i can aim my arrow
towards a deeper appreciation
of love loving love
and being loved back

01/2015


The Wonderful World of Parenting Hell on Social Media

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Rationalizing Your Divorce

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

FK That.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Admitting My Depression Publicly

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I must be in a really good place or a really awful place to begin talking about my depression publicly, again. My talky therapist cautioned me. “There might be some future complications.” As in, health insurance! Or looking for a job.

In depression we want to constantly collapse. We hope for constant rescue. But the truth is we’ve got to be self-rescuing knights and princesses.

If you’ve ever had to seek services for a mental illness you’ll begin to understand what he was hinting at. 90% of the therapists I’ve seen are private pay only. What that means is your health insurance that appears to cover mental health, really covers some consulting by your family PA. Or at the maximum, a beginning therapist who’s willing to see patients for $35 – $45 per hour. And I can tell you, that’s not many.

And here I am, freaking out my family (no my fiancé however) by coming out as a sufferer. Why would I do this? Fame? Hardly. Fortune? Um, yeah, from what, an Oprah appearance? No.

I started this new blog (my 5th) to capture all of the writing I’ve done in the last 6 years about depression, creativity and depression, and divorce and how it triggered my worst depression ever. I’m coming out. Much in the same way sexual orientation used to be the stigma, I think today we’re more afraid of someone with a mental illness than we are of a gay or transgender person.

The media, and the congress majority party like to point to mental illness every time there is a mass shooting. But what they are doing is deflecting the bullets that should be going right for their main financial contributor, the NRA. Yes, mental illness is a huge problem in the US. And yes, many of the people who commit horrendous crimes are suffering from mental illness either temporary or clinical, I mean, how else could you shoot someone outside of a war zone?

Mental illness is very poorly understood. And, in fact, the doctors are only slightly more informed than those of use who suffer. See, we tend to do a lot of research, seeking out relief from this invisible and debilitating disease. And the pharma industry is working hard to replicate the success of Prozac, but even the drugs are a shot in the dark.

In my case, a cocktail of some of the old drugs, the cheaper ones now in generic form, tends to work the best. I tried some of the fancy new drugs, atypical they are called, and they flattened me out like road kill. So I go with the tried and true, and cheap, Wellbutrin-generic. (The same drug sold as a smoking cessation med.) And this drug serves like a persistent cup of coffee during the day, more than a feel-good drug. And I occasionally need to add in some Lexapro-generic when I’m starting to have obsessive thoughts. Between these two drugs I have successfully recovered over and over. It’s exhausting. But it’s better than the alternative.

Now I’ve just admitted to my illness and given you my prescription. But there’s a lot more to my strategy and care team. The drugs can help, but believe me, they are not a cure. The only cure is in my actions. I must take action to feel better. The Welbutrin tends to help me get out of bed in the morning. But it’s what I do with those 12 – 18 hours before I get back in bed, that really matters. The actions are up to me.

If your therapist agrees with you about what you can’t do, they are giving you the permission to not do stuff that you need to do for your recovery.
I believe in talk therapy as well. And I have learned over my 30+ years in therapy, that there are huge differences in the quality of care provided by the different schools of psychology and the different levels of training a therapist has. But the main thing in finding a talky doctor is to feel and empathetic bond with them. This is not transference. I don’t want my therapist to be my mom or my dad. I want them to FEEL into me, and understand and be articulate about FEELINGS. And then help me to take ACTION.

I’ve had men and women therapists and both have provided great care in my past. I have noticed a tendency that’s worth noting. Women therapists, in my experience, tend to be more empathetic and nurturing. But in the same vein, they tend to coddle me a little bit too much. They give me support where they should give me a harsh talking to. Sometimes, a therapist will collude with my depression. This is a role they must never have. None of your care team should ever agree with your diagnosis or symptoms of depression. Let me explain.

When I’m in my happy place I can laugh at and examine my depressive episodes from all angles. This is often where some of the good work around coping strategies gets done. BUT… When I’m in a depressive state it is easy, when talking with me, to want to give me encouragement and hope. Some of that can veer into collusion. Here’s what I’ve learned about that.

  • I want you to accept and nurture me.
  • When I’m depressed I need acceptance and warmth.
  • When I’m depressed I will say very convincing things about what I can and can’t do when I’m depressed.
  • You should never agree with me about what I can’t do. That is collusion.
  • If your therapist agrees with you about what you can’t do, they are giving you the permission to not do stuff that you need to do for your recovery.

Dear loved ones and therapists, please do not give me permission to stay in bed all day. Please do not excuse my missed appointments, or missed dinner dates, for any reason. They are a symptom of my depression and an example of how I am NOT DOING WHAT I MUST DO.

The recovery from depression always comes from forward momentum in action. Taking action is a contradiction to the depression that is telling you to close-it-all-down, stay in bed, isolate yourself to protect others. But those are lies.

In my childhood (between 4 – 7 years old) I would often take to the hills when my father would hit a rage-filled moment in his alcoholism. We lived in a neighborhood that had huge lots. So I would climb the hill behind my house and build stick and stone forts. I would go there to be alone, to be safe. I would gather rocks and sticks nearby for weapons. But who was I defending against? My mom and dad? How was I ever going to win or even survive that battle?

As an adult I exhibit some of the same behaviors in response to high stress and depression. I isolate. I think that I will feel better by curling up in bed and closing the blinds. But it’s a lie.

I did not get better up in my stick and stone fort. I only got better when I returned to the house and found my mom. I only got better by taking action against what I really wanted to do. I really wanted to stay up in that fort until they sent out a search party. I desperately wanted someone to come find me, pick me up, and tell me it was going to be okay. As a kid that is a perfectly acceptable request. It’s what parents should do with kids. As an adult this type of behavior and desired response from others is likely to cause you a lot of pain. It might even get you in trouble with your job, or put your relationship into jeopardy. You cannot wait for someone to come rescue you from your stick and stone fort.

I cannot call in sick, I cannot opt-out of activities I used to love just because I am depressed.
The only way out of the fort is by your own action. The only way out of your depressive moments is by making contact with others in the world. You might call your care team. You might call a friend who understands. You might have a loving spouse who can give you warmth and cuddle without the coddle. That’s what you need. You need peace, love, and understanding, and then you need action.

Only you can take the action. Your therapist and family can all make suggestions, can all think they have a handle on what’s best for you, but only you can do it. Only you have the ability stand up in your mess of a fort/life/situation and ask for help. You have to tell those around you what’s happening and what you need. And you must ask them NEVER TO COLLUDE WITH YOUR DEPRESSION.

Telling me he understands my stick and stone fort is a therapist’s job. Telling me it’s okay for me to call in sick is colluding. I cannot call in sick, I cannot opt-out of activities I used to love just because I am depressed. Sure, I don’t need to add a lot of stressful activities, but I cannot isolate. Only through massive action, action forward, action back towards engagements and people and tasks, can we find the grip on the slipper slope back to wellness. We must fight to climb back up the hill ourselves. We can have a team of people around us cheering us on, but it’s an individual sporting event.

Today, back at the top of the hill, reengaged with my family, with work, with my creative process, it is easy for me to shout about ideas and strategies for doing what I’ve just outlined. But only two months ago, I was in my own stick and stone fort hiding from everyone. The holidays are typically hard for me. But this past holiday I “took a digger.” And my lovely companion didn’t collude with me or my isolation. She constantly showed up, cooked healthy meals, asked me what I needed, and demanded we go for a walk. It is through those laborious trips up the neighborhood hills that I got my strength back. More than the meds and more than the talky doctor, it was the daily living experience that I had to heal within. And walking, staying close to someone else (even if you don’t talk much) is the key to getting better.

I may never be 100% free of this terrible disease, but I can do better each time. I can show my care team where I hide and ask them to call me out every. single. time. There are no exceptions to this rule. Anytime I was let off the hook, “Okay, you can stay home, I can see how tired you are,” was a time when I ultimately felt worse not better for the release. In depression we want to constantly collapse. We hope for constant rescue. But the truth is we’ve got to be self-rescuing knights and princesses. The truth is we can only do it for ourselves. Our friends, family, and support team can cheer us along, but it’s our legs and our lungs that have to propel us back up the hill.

… let’s continue tomorrow …

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Complaining Never Ends, Even After Divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

And there is one tiny bit of poetic justice here.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Office of the Attorney General, Child Support Division

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I started this blog even before I was divorced. The cold truth is, it only takes one person to ask for a divorce, there is very little the “still attached” party can do. I was mad. I was afraid. I was certain I had failed in some massive parenting test. And my greatest shame was what was going to happen to my kids. I “knew” about loneliness and missing a dad. I knew what growing up without a dad had done to me.

Turns out I do suffer from depression. And in my case, what that meant was I often withdrew from activities while I tried to figure out my own head. I often shut down and got quiet. I did not rage or get suicidal. I got sad.

Now, I’m not so bad, but I’m a bit of a sensitive guy. A man that’s more in touch with his feelings than his bank account. And this has caused problems in my life. It caused problems in my marriage. Not insurmountable problems, at least, not until my then-wife decided she had simply had enough. The trials-by-fire had worn her resolve down. Her family of origin story with a mentally ill parent had set her up to react badly to my depressive episodes.

And even as those depressions were behind us, and even though the employment situation was ON, she was afraid of something. She was afraid of what would happen next. Now, she liked to focus this attention on me and my mental illness, but over time I’ve come to understand that the “unknown” she was so afraid of was more about her, and her future. She was comfortable working 15 – 20 hours a week and letting me do the heavy lifting to keep our house paid for and our kids insured. Each time my situation changed we entered into some crisis counseling to figure out what was wrong with me. Every time.

Turns out I do suffer from depression. And in my case, what that meant was I often withdrew from activities while I tried to figure out my own head. I often shut down and got quiet. I did not rage or get suicidal. I got sad. I tended towards hopelessness and giving up. And to her credit, my then-wife and I weathered a number of trying times. 9-11 took out all of my income in one morning, and the economy was not very friendly after that even if I did know what I was doing, and even if I did give 100% of my attention to making a living. It was trying times for everyone. And my marriage suffered.

But we persevered. And in most cases that type of resilience builds strength and shared optimism. But some how in my marriage, things continued to feel hard even when things were going great. I got us back into therapy, hoping to rekindle the flame, or at least understand what was still causing my then-wife to react with such anger towards me. The therapy sessions tended to be about some crisis or another, but not about the heart of her animosity or growing frigidity.

Some seven years later, I’m still unraveling parts of the story. And one of the ways I’ve been deciphering what happened, all along, has been writing this raw blog about the entire experience. The loss and depression is here. The hopefulness and optimism. My attempts to repair the relationship with my ex-wife, even just for the kids, is here. And her continued actions against me, that seem to me to be against her own best interest, are all here too. It’s a complicated story. And the story seems to get richer even as I move further away from required interactions with her. As our kids get older, the parenting decisions required are less collaborative and more economic in nature.

My payments will likely be cut in half, or perhaps a tad more. The child support payments will more accurately represent the reality of our lives.

So yesterday, I attended a Child Support Modification session at the Attorney General’s Office. This was a meeting I had called, finally, to reset the child support payments that were negotiated 7 years ago, and that reflected my own optimism at finding the same big corporate job. Truth is, my employment has never equalled my Dell income again, and that’s okay. Except I was paying her based on that much-higher salary. Yesterday, I came to the table with my new salary, and asked for the payments to be reset accordingly.

Needless to say, she’s not excited by the prospect. She’s lived on a very healthy payment, and she would like me to go on paying. And even when I lost my job for a short period, rather than work with me, she filed everything with the AG’s office to “enforce” her decree. She feels she is owed that money. And every month that goes by that I don’t catch up on those “lost payments” is time that I am doing her wrong. She still angry about it. It comes out in everything she does. Even yesterday, she called the progress to a halt to make sure the economics would work out in her favor. So we postponed the decision two more weeks.

The funny thing is, it’s not going to change the amount of money she’s going to get. That writing is on the wall. My payments will likely be cut in half, or perhaps a tad more. The child support payments will more accurately represent the reality of our lives. Now, if we were in 50/50 custody situation, I could probably ask the court to make her pay me at this point. I’d bet that would piss her off even more.

This is not the system my wife needed. She needed compassion for her former spouse, and the patience to hear me saying, “I will pay you 100% of the money.” Instead she’s wasting tax payers money, and costing us 10% of the child support payments, to have the state’s attorney’s oversee our case.

She feels entitled to the child support. And even when I was suffering from a job loss, she didn’t give me time to catch up, she sent our documents for collections by the state of Texas. Well, in two weeks, she’s going to get another chance to take her medicine. Perhaps it’s the same medicine she didn’t want to take when I asked if we could renegotiate our working/money agreements to have a little more balance between us.

Turns out she’s making good money these days. And to get a divorce from me, she had to find that next job, that paid well enough, or she wouldn’t have seen her way forward. And as much as she liked the 15 – 20 hour work week, and playing mom the rest of the time, she’s now working a good bit more than she would’ve had we stayed together. You see, divorce is expensive. Two houses are more expensive than one. But the cost of living with someone who is angry with you 99% of the time, is not worth any compromise.

Just like the child support, she threw a wrench in the process ONE MORE TIME, to see what she could come up with to make HER situation better. It’s not about the kids. It’s not about better health insurance. It’s about HER and HER lifestyle.

I hope she has a productive two weeks figuring it out. The reduced child support amount is already set.

END NOTE: One thing I noticed while I was waiting with all the other parents in the Attorney General’s Office was how desperate they looked. These were poor women who were struggling to get by and hoping to track and bill their dead beat dads into paying their child support. This is not the system my wife needed. She needed compassion for her former spouse, and the patience to hear me saying, “I will pay you 100% of the money.” Instead she’s wasting tax payers money, and costing us 10% of the child support payments, to have the state’s attorney’s oversee our case. We did not ever need to end up in the AG’s office. Ever. Had the tables been turned, we would’ve worked it out, collaboratively.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Passive Aggressive Mis-Communication

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“Stop trying to change me.”

In my two marriages there were plenty of power struggles. Just like any relationship, people begin to wield influence. And asking for a change is acceptable. Manipulating the other person, through anger or rewards, in order to get them to do something you want but would rather not ask them to do, well, that’s called passive aggression.

As adults in relationships we need to be aware of asking for something and asking around something.

We often want different behaviors from those around us. I’d like the person in front of me to drive more quickly. I’d like my kids to pick up the towels from their bathrooms rather than throwing them for me to pick up. My role is to ask them to pick up their towels. And on about the tenth request, since we’ve moved into the new house, they are beginning to get it. They are teenagers, they could be not doing it to piss me off, or get some autonomy.

As adults in relationships we need to be aware of asking for something and asking around something. Let me give you an example from a few nights ago.

My fiance likes to drink. Not a problem. I am rather “meh” about alcohol, but I could always say yes to an ice cream. So when we are approaching a bar and she asks, “Would you like a drink?” I hear that she is asking if I am thirsty.

The other night she asked me and I said no. As we got closer, she asked, “Are you sure?” “Yep,” I said. And she asked a third time, “What about a water?” “Nope,” I said with some frustration beginning to show in my tone, “Nothing, thank you.” I probably said something like, “Quit asking.” But I don’t recall. I do know she reacted with a pout, letting me know I my frustration had registered.

Later the next morning as we were sorting through our plans and replays I made a discovery that excited me a bit.

“When we were heading towards the bar last night you asked me if I wanted a drink.”

“Yes, and then you got all pissy.”

“Wait. I just understood what was frustrating for me.” She looked at me with suspended disbelief. “When you asked me if I wanted a drink, I wasn’t sure if you were asking me if I was thirsty, or if you were making a request for me to join you for a drink.”

“Okay.”

“To me they are completely different.”

“I was asking if you were thirsty.”

“Yes, but you don’t have to ask me three times to see if I am thirsty. It’s very possible what you were asking initially, was ‘Will you have a drink with me?’ But that’s not what I heard.”

In our relationships with others we need to strive to ask for what we want. To complain when we don’t get the results we wanted. And to make our own desires as clear as possible.

“And if I knew you were asking me to join you for a drink, as in a request for us to share a drink together, then I can still say no, but I understand more clearly what you are asking. It seems like last night, the reason you asked three times, was because you might have been asking me to join you for a drink.”

“Maybe.”

“What do you think?”

“I think I was asking if you were thirsty?”

“Three times?”

“I agree, that’s a bit much.”

“So you understand how I got frustrated?”

“No, I just thought you were being an ass.”

“But I’m never an ass on purpose. I’m an ass to register frustration, or if I’m clear, to ask you for a behavior modification.”

So the passive aggressive way to ask me to join her for a drink, would’ve been to ask if I wanted a drink. But typically I say no to that question, because a “drink” is rarely what I’m thinking of. If she EVER asks me if I wanted an ice cream, I’m guessing I’d be 100% compliant. But with alcohol, I’m more like 10%. Just not my thing.

“Do you want a drink?” is very different from “I’d like you to have a drink with me.”

In our relationships with others we need to strive to ask for what we want. To complain when we don’t get the results we wanted. And to make our own desires as clear as possible. Anything unspoken, or actions used to manipulate the person into doing what we want, well, that’s out-of-bounds.

Speak what you want. Complain when you don’t get it. And ask for a modification if it becomes a habit, or pattern of disconnection.

“Do you want a drink?” is very different from “I’d like you to have a drink with me.”

The first is about me. The second is about you. If you want me to have a drink with you, say it. It shouldn’t matter if I have bubbly water or bubbly, unless that is also what you are asking.

The clearer we become in our communications the clearer we can be with our intentions and disappointments. Only through this type of honest communication do we get tuned-in to one another.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Where the Sidewalk Ends

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[This post is a continuation of this series: You Are Ahead By a Century and Collaborative Divorce My Ass!]

It’s a shame how divorce tears everyone apart. I have a dream (had a dream) that divorce could be different. I wanted my divorce to be fair, kid-centric, and loving. I was an idealist.

We will be cooperative after all, about every expense after their 18th birthdays. So she’d better get cooperative and collaborative now, because the law won’t help her in a few years.

Divorce is messy no matter how collaborative you are. There are sticky issues, even for the most cooperative co-parents. Like who’s going to pay for the out-of-pocket health care expenses, even if dad is paying the $1,200 a month COBRA bill? And we’re going to be coming up on some new bigger wrinkles that our decree offers very little guidance about.

My son will be able to drive next year. And he’s certainly thinking his parents will be able to provide him with a car. And we will, but who pays for that? It’s not in the decree. And what about college? If my sister’s kids are looking at annual tuition of $60,000 per year, even a $20,000 scholarship is just part of the payment. You see, when you go out past 18 years of age, the bills and financial commitments don’t just end, they actually get bigger.

And my ex and I won’t have the agreement to guide us. For me, that’s a good thing, as I’ve shouldered the lion’s share of the cost of getting divorced. We will be cooperative after all, about every expense after their 18th birthdays. So she’d better get cooperative and collaborative now, because the law won’t help her in a few years.

I say this as if I’m bitter. Well, there should’ve been a more equitable agreement between us. We parented 50/50 and we should’ve divorced 50/50. But that’s not how she wanted it. So I was forced to give her the upper hand in the custodial parent roll and by paying child support. AND I’m paying for 100% of their health care. I’m not sure how this is fair, but that’s pretty much the way the law falls if you’re a dad.

It’s not how it has to be. You can ask for 50/50 custody. You can ask for 50/50 financial agreements. The state is not used to that arrangement, but basically if you and your ex-spouse agree on an arrangement, the state is not going to get in the way. Of course, again, that’s not how my ex-wife wants things.

But did she consider the implications of setting the AG’s attorneys on me? Did she know or care that it would strip my ability to keep my house? No she did not.

Today she’s happy to keep the AG’s office at my throat. She claims she’s never gotten regular payment of the child support except once they were involved. I try and remind her, that no money coming in (unemployment) means no money to her or me. She doesn’t care. She just wants her money on the due date.

I’ve got an arrangement now, but it’s not a happy one. According to the AG’s office I owe my ex-y $27,000. This amount is greatly inflated, and it’s true, when I lost my employment, I had a number of months that I could not make my child support payments. But wait, she got the house (with a very low payment) she got money from me, that was greater than her house payment, and I payed 100% of the health insurance? Yes, I can see how that would work out for her.

But did she consider the implications of setting the AG’s attorneys on me? Did she know or care that it would strip my ability to keep my house? No she did not. Did she give a flip when I asked her to release the lien on my credit account so it would quit showing up on my credit report, the same credit report that potential employers often run to see if a new hire has got their financial house in order? No she did not.

I only have one asset and one potential inheritance. And at some point one of those events will take place and she will get her blood money. But it’s not the way it should’ve been. It should’ve been figured on both our incomes. It should’ve been figured on both our expenses. And it should’ve been changed the minute I was unemployed. I would’ve helped her if the tables were turned. But again, we are very different people.

We grew up in different economic households. I believed, that there would always be enough to go around. I still believe that we will be able to cover our kids college with future earnings and those inheritances when they occur. She believes that having the AG’s lien against me is a good leverage to make sure I keep paying my child support.

What do you think it would take for her to believe I was GOOD FOR IT? Do you think a YEAR of making solid payments would allow her to relax the AG’s grip? Do you think she has any benefit from taking the DEAD BEAT DAD label off my credit report?

It has prevented me from getting at least one high paying job. It prevented me from renting a house or qualifying for a used car loan. She’s not concerned with my well being. I mean, how could she be, she’s busy, she’s over worked, she’s tired. She’s still living in the house we bought together from my money. Money I had before we’d married.

I do believe you have the kid’s best interest in mind. You’d love to justify your actions with the AG’s office by pointing to the great results you accomplished.

So she says the AG’s office is the reason she’s getting paid on time. Well, the real reason, honey, is because I have a job. My first obligation after food and shelter is the kids. But you don’t see it that way. You think the kids are my primary obligation before I can afford a house or a car or even a rental.

Well, it’s fucked how things turned out between us. And it’s really a shame because I do believe you have the kid’s best interest in mind. You’d love to justify your actions with the AG’s office by pointing to the great results you accomplished.

But you forget to add that three time so far the AG’s office has simply shut down my bank account and left me without money to pay bills, buy food, or even gas to get to work. You think that’s in the best interest of the kids? Well Fuck You and your AG’s office lien against me. I will hold that against you from now until the time the kids are both 18 years old. Then… dear ex wife, you are on your own.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Little Ghosts Still Flutter My Heart

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The depression was a killer. (As depression is actually a killer.) But in my case, it was almost too hard to manage. Somehow, I managed. My fiance said during one of our walks up a very steep hill, “You’re either going to make it up the hill, or die.” It was a pretty good metaphor for depression. Even when the hill feels insurmountable, you have a couple of choices: deal with it as best you can, call 911, jump off the nearest radio tower.

I don’t talk to anyone or tell them where I’m going, or what’s wrong. I simply leave and hide. It’s a terrible coping mechanism for an adult.

I can recall that when I was between 5 and 7 years old, I used to have fantasies about the very high radio towers that were near our house. When I was feeling particularly bad about my parents divorce, or my perceived shun of a cute girl at school, I imagined myself plummeting from the top of one of the towers. How sad everyone was going to be. How if they had known they would’ve loved me like they should. How if my parents had really cared about me they would’ve stayed together and my father would’ve stopped drinking. That’s not how it happened. Fortunately that’s not how I chose to deal with it either.

One of the ways, in my young, sad, and confused times, I dealt with being overwhelmed with sadness was by climbing up the forested hill in my back hard and building rock and stick forts. I would construct a shelter, sharpen sticks for weapons, and typically freeze my ass off. I’m not sure why it is always winter in my forted memories, but perhaps that’s more mythology than truth. I’m sure I had many overwhelming moments (dad yelling) in the heat of the summer as well, but for some reason in my mythical fort I am also freezing.

As an adult, I sometimes find myself behaving like this young boy. I isolate just as I did in my fort. I don’t talk to anyone or tell them where I’m going, or what’s wrong. I simply leave and hide. It’s a terrible coping mechanism for an adult, but when my brain has begun to shut down and get hopeless, my thoughts quickly turn to how I can kill all my plans and stay in bed. This probably sounds very weird and juvenile to anyone who hasn’t dealt with depression, but something happens, and the “rise and shine” of life becomes “duck and cover.”

As the most stabilizing force in my life, this woman leaned in, continued to tell me she loved me, and continued to ask me to go walking, every – single – day.

And this isolation technique didn’t work any better as a small child. I would hide, cry, defend against my feelings, alone in the stone fort. I would wait for the yelling to die down, perhaps a car to speed off, or darkness and quiet to descend before I went back into the house. In the past few months I was dead set on getting out of all obligations beyond work, feeding myself, and feeding my kids and getting them to school when they were with me. But a beautiful thing happened and continued to happen.

My fiance stayed beside me. She asked me to go on walks, to play tennis, to eat good food. She carried on conversations between us when I was in STFU mode. And to her credit, she took nights and time off for her own rejuvenation. But she never abandoned me. In my little boy brain, that can emerge during depression, I was abandoned by my dad with his anger and drinking, and ultimately when he left the house in my parents divorce. In my small mind, I was also abandoned by my mom who didn’t come rescue me up in my rock fort. So I’m looking for signs of being abandoned during these down periods. And this loving woman, and still-new relationship, stayed solid. I tried to tell her what was going on. I tried to include her in some of the decisions I was making about meds and strategies. And she hung in there.

As the most stabilizing force in my life, this woman leaned in, continued to tell me she loved me, and continued to ask me to go walking, every – single – day.

I remember a conversation with my therapist at one point, “No one else is willing to spend that much time with you being with you. She must really care about you.” The logic held. The relationship weathered a massive structural change, and we continued to work, love, and play together as best we could.

I’m pretty sure it’s the hope I am currently running on that allows me to smile at this ghost rather than get afraid.

Now on the other side of this event, the two of us are starting to sort through more of the details and stories behind what was going on. We are celebrating the emerging laughter and ideas that are beginning to come out of my mouth. And through it all she never stopped kissing me, or asking for me to join her on trips, walks, “adventures.” And I kept saying, “Of course,” even when I meant, “No fking way!” And 95% of the time I got up and out of my pit and went for a walk up the torturous hills behind a spry woman who was leaping and chattering ahead of me.

Even as I am coming out of it, I can still feel some of the residual effects of the last few months. There’s an anxiety that pops up, often at night before bed, that worries about some future event. “What if it returns? And comes back right now, just as I’m getting some of my joy back?”

For these little flutters I’m stopping and recognizing them. I am almost waving at the anxious flutter to acknowledge my current state of mind, and the careful balance that will keep me from slipping back down. I say a few Serenity Prayers and a few gratitude prayers of thanks, and then I move on. I’m pretty sure it’s the hope I am currently running on that allows me to smile at this ghost rather than get afraid.

For me depression is a lot about getting afraid and then continuing to listen to the fear more than the present. I’ve used some mantras during my walks that have seemed to push me up the hills with more energy and joy. “Further, Stronger, Healthier, and Happier.”

That’s how I move up the hills even when I don’t want to. There’s something to be gained from all this hard work. I can’t always get there, but with my ally, I am given the opportunity to show up even when I want to run away. I have to keep showing up.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Turning the Other Cheek to Your Angry Ex – Because There’s No Other Option

OFF-raging

This relationship isn’t going away anytime soon. So I’d best learn to live with the woman, even if she does the most maddening things sometimes. Like arranging a weekend swap and then scheduling three events over that weekend, when she knows our daughter was going to want to go with her. “Why did we swap weekends, again?” Oh, well, hands in the air, I do a little dance and forget about it. Water under the co-parenting with a narcissist bridge.

Everything she asks for is usually serving some purpose other than the kids. She’s very good at asking for what she wants. And she’s even better at throwing a tantrum when she really wants something. And in our case, even when I was being open and transparent about my financial situation, she was demanding that I pay her or tell her exactly when she would get the next check from me. It was several summers ago, but her actions, turning our affairs over to the state’s Attorney General’s office, have had lasting and damaging consequences for both of us.

The minute you involve lawyers or the attorney general’s office, you are taking actions that by damaging your former partner will damage your kids.

There was no need for her to throw me under the bus. And in doing so she collapsed my fragile housing situation. She knew that’s what would happen. She was closing any options I had for keeping my house and demanding that she get her checks. Blah blah blah, it is an old story, I’m sure. Dead beat dad refusing to pay for various reasons. Except my reason was not anything I could change. My company lost an anchor client and half my salary went away. There was nothing I could do to convince her that my honor and good will was going to get the payments back on track. Something about the enforcement and authority of the state’s attorneys gave her comfort. Or maybe the whole process satisfied a twinge of anger.

In her mind, as she expressed it occasionally to me, she was looking out for the best interests of the kids. As if some form of “enforcement” was what was keeping me paying the child support I had agreed on. Somewhere during the months after the divorce, she began to see me as the bad guy. She knew she could call out the “dead beat dad” cry and the law would put the hurt on me. She was right. There was one small problem she didn’t think of. Attacking me, causing me to lose my house, was just like attacking the kids.

In our negotiations we always said we would keep the kids out of the money and “grown up” negotiations. And in this case, I knew that I had nothing to gain from telling my kids that their mom was the reason I was losing the house. At some point in the future, they will know the truth. But in the moment, during the school years, there is nothing good that can come from talking negatively about your co-parent.

There is never a good reason for attacking your co-parent’s livelihood. but that’s not how she saw it then, nor how she sees it today, two years later. Somewhere, in her angry mind, she sees the AG’s office as a partner in getting the money she is owed. But I have no cash to give her. I am working again, and the first paycheck kick on the full child support as well as a payment towards the debt I have amassed. This is not how our relationship should’ve gone. As we were partners in parenting we should be partners in divorce. My earlier appeals to her common decency did not wake her from the vindictive slumber she appears to be in, even today.

I know if I struck back with the same thoughtlessness I could fight to gain 50/50 custody. It’s not great timing for her. She needs money for house repairs and back to school clothes and supplies, but hey… It’s in my best interest that I have the money to provide… Oh fk, I can’t even pretend to believe this crap. I can’t imagine what was going through her mind, what rage was present when she decided the state’s Attorney General’s office was a good way to support her kids. By attacking me and my ability to pay for anything, or even get a job, she was hurting her kids. Maybe she didn’t have a line of sight on how difficult losing my job and my home was going to be. But she should’ve thought of the kids before she thought of herself and satisfying her rage.

When you attack your ex-partner you are making things tough for everyone.

There is never a good reason to file against your co-parent. Once the AG’s office is in your affairs you will never be able to get them back out. If you have a disagreement get professional help, but not legal help. The minute you involve lawyers or the attorney general’s office, you are taking actions that will harm your kids. There is no way to prevent collateral damage when attacking your ex-partner. In our case, the kids were inconvenienced by the loss of my house, and having to move to grandma’s house for 9 months. The angry blow was not too bit a loss for them. For me, as the man, it was an enormous blow to my masculine self-esteem. I’m a 52-year-old man and I live with my mom. How is that a healthy example for the kids? Of course they had no idea why we had to leave the house near the lake.

Even today, she’s got the idea that having the AG’s office on her side, will keep the cash flowing. And perhaps that’s really all she’s concerned about. She has no idea what her actions have done to me or my current ability to move forward with my life. She never had to make late payments on her mortgage. She never had to contemplate filing for bankruptcy just to keep her home.  She had the house and the money from the divorce to support her. And of course, while I was able to pay it, the child support payments.

In the end, we were lucky. Things could’ve gone much worse. As the money tap is starting up again this month, I suppose the AG’s office will be placated for a while. However, my financial rebuilding can’t begin until I come up with 20K cash, or file a lawsuit to have the AG’s lean and black mark on my credit report removed. That dead beat dad title is emblazoned across my name any time a potential employer runs my credit. It’s a horrible label. And yes, my ex-wife gave it to me.

The real downside, however, is the inflexibility it puts on our ability to cooperate with each other. What could’ve been a collaborative partnership about our kids is much less trusting. With the spectre of the AG’s office over my head I am unwilling to offer any additional support, financially or emotionally, when it appears that all of my best intentions are met with indifference.

In asking to swap next weekend with me and then scheduling events on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, she is saying that my “daddy time” doesn’t matter to her. She’d like our kids to sleep at my house on those nights so she can be with her boyfriend, but as far as my weekend, that concept doesn’t really matter much to her.

Coparenting should be about flexibility, compassionate support, and good will towards each other. When you attack your ex-partner you are making things tough for everyone.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: emotion card rabbia, luigi mengato, creative commons usage


The 5 Laws of Anger in Divorce and Co-Parenting

OFF-anger

Divorce is Hard, Why Make it Harder On Your Ex or Your Kids?

Always keep your kids smiles in mind when you think about striking out at your co-parent.

Sometimes, I admit, I’m an asshole. It happens. Sometimes I get frustrated with my ex-wife and I mouth off or email her a nastygram. I’m better now. I really don’t hold any ill will towards the woman, except when she does stupid shit. That really hits my fk you button. In general, I’d say I’m over the frustration and anger part of that relationship. I wish I could say I’m over it all together, but with kids… Well, there are always going to be flash points, even in the healthiest and friendliest of co-parenting relationships.

We can be sailing along, nice Summer and all, and boom she says something that can only be taken as passive aggressive. Or maybe it’s just plain offensive. Our recent exchange around scheduling and the AG’s office: What I Fail to Understand about my Ex Wife, for example. She does not trust me. She does not respect me. And she even does things to hurt me. It is fine to couch them as “for the kids” but it’s not about them. It can’t be. It has to be unresolved anger AT ME. Bummer.

You’ve got to process your anger at your ex. There is no way around it. Jumping into a new relationship without resolving your failed marriage is going to only make things worse. You are likely to repeat the same mistakes that led you to divorce in the first place. And you are going to cover up your unresolved anger by trying to transfer or sublimate it with a new relationship. It can’t work. And in my exy’s case, she’s been in her next relationship almost three years, it hasn’t changed her anger and attitude towards me.

If she had spent the time alone, working through the shit, rather than moving on, she might have resolved some of what fked us up in the first place. Of course, that’s none of my business, except that it keeps jumping up and biting me in the ass. What you’re looking for in your co-parenting relationship is a spirit of cooperation in everything. When the vindictive motivations are hidden as self-defense, or “in the best interest of the children” the angry person may feel clear and justified.

1st Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

Anger is usually a personal issue. Another person may “trigger” your anger, but if it persists, or if it causes you to act against your own best interests, your anger is actually hurting you. And your unresolved anger hurts everyone around you. Even when you’re happy, you’re not as happy as you could be. And you’ll have doubts when the volatile anger can flare up and wreck your day. That’s a personal issue.

Expressing your anger at your ex-partner, or using anger as some justification of your bad actions will never feel right. In fact, acting in anger will actually create more anger rather than dispel it.

2nd Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

Any action taken against your co-parent is about unresolved anger. If you were not angry you’d see that aggression against that person is also aggression against your children. When you strike a blow against your ex the repercussions are felt by your kids. Even if you keep good boundaries, as we do, they can feel the impact of your shitty moves.

3rd Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

Child support is an agreement and a contract between you and your co-parent. When they go though tough financial times, you don’t strike out at that. If you were still married you’d work together to make ends meet. If you are feeling entitled, and feel that filing your decree with the AG’s office is “justified” think again. You are acting out of the anger at your ex. You have lost all compassion for the former mate. You would never strike against a willing co-parent who is honest and open with their financial situation. If you do, please pause for a minute. Get some help. You’re anger at your co-parent is causing you to see them as the problem. Reason things out with another person, preferably a professional.

4th Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

The anger you shoot out from yourself, comes back to you 10-fold. I don’t believe in karma. I believe that living with anger, creates an angry life. Showing the angry life to your kids is not the lesson you’d prefer to give them. Discharge your anger however you need to do it (this blog was great for me), but quit firing poison darts at your co-parent. You are liable to hit one of your kids instead.

5th Law of Anger in Co-Parenting

When you are free from anger your happier life, post divorce, can begin.

Always keep your kids smiles in mind when you think about striking out at your co-parent. No matter how justified you feel, it’s really not about them. The anger should not be a legacy you pass on, and you should work to resolve it before moving into another relationship. Sure, romance and getting to know someone might distract you for a while, but eventually your old anger is going to flare up, even at your new partner.

Anger is a great motivator. Anger can dispel and counteract depression. Use it to your advantage. But expressing your anger at your ex-partner, or using anger as some justification of your bad actions will never feel right. In fact, acting in anger will actually create more anger rather than dispel it.

Take charge of your anger. Heal yourself. Move on as a happier, healthier person. It will be better for you and everyone around you.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: i am angry, cc 2015 the author, creative commons usage


What You Gave Up On Is Still Shining In Me

off-happy-nyc

They say that living well is the best revenge. And while it’s taken me 5-6 years to get here, I am happy to report that my shining qualities are back up and shiny. And I’ve found someone who can appreciate me, as perhaps you did near the beginning of our relationship, before kids, before money, before the house, and 9/11, and unemployment, and all that hard stuff.

I can’t help thinking you are targeting my happiness in hopes that somehow you can get some of it. That somehow, my joy and your needs will sync up and make you (finally) happy.

The thought of you giving up on me, however, still has a sting to it. From time to time I wonder, wow, what would it have been like if we’d stayed together, rejoined in our marriage, and continued to combine forces to build our family and the empire of love we set out to create. But you didn’t.

At some point you decided, made a decision, to seek a different path. I hate you for that decision, and while I still love you for being the mother of my children, I will probably never fully forgive you for that transgression. And when I wonder, in those sad moments of reflecting on what could’ve been, I still feel a bit of anger. Some days, a lot of anger. Some days none. But I’m getting better at forgetting what you did. I’m getting better at loving you as the mother of my kids, and as a woman who made some judgement calls that went against us staying together.

But the part that makes me mad is how you gave up on me. Not only our dream together, but me personally. As I began blogging for fun at the beginning of 2010 you felt threatened and angry that I would be spending ANY TIME doing something other than looking for a job to replace my big corp income. And that Twitter thing that I kept writing about and spending time on, well, that was just some form of mental masturbation and distraction from what I “should be doing.” Again, in your eyes I was not doing what you wanted me to do.

Today, I’m in the process of pivoting my entire career around the blogging and writing that I started and continued even as you protested and threatened me with leaving. There was no call for that kind of manipulation and there is still no call for it today. And today I say, “Well, you missed on that one.”

If you could separate your joy from mine I think we’d both be a lot happier.

It’s not enough that I’m doing well, it’s in these exact moments that your angry teeth come back out and you start grabbing and exclaiming for more. You start screaming of the injustice in the debt you have incurred because I lost my job during the last 5 years. It’s like Pavlov. When I do well, you send in the daggers and demand more of something. You push into my happiness with your demands. And again, I can’t help thinking you are targeting my happiness in hopes that somehow you can get some of it. That somehow, my joy and your needs will sync up and make you (finally) happy. But I’ve got a reality check for you:

  • My actions are not the cause of your anger and distress.
  • My joy is also not the cure for your ennui.
  • We are parents of two great kids, but that’s it. For them, anything. For you, only what serves them.

You seem to get these things mixed up from time to time. Asking me to consider your situation. Asking me to take into account your hardships and what you’ve endured. And then, with consistency, asking me for something, in the “name of the children” that is really a request for YOU.

If you could separate your joy from mine I think we’d both be a lot happier. See, I was trying to do this when we were married. And in those days, I DID have some responsibility to support your happiness. Today, my responsibility stops with the care and parenting of our kids. I’ve worked hard to divorce myself from your needs and your wants. But I’ve done it. I’m free.

Until I think about the leisure time we could be enjoying if we hadn’t needed two homes, two mortgages, and all that silliness with the AG’s office. But that’s where we are. I do, in fact, wish you well. But more in terms of how you support my kids rather than are you happy or not. I think that’s as it should be.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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see also: the nyc poem sequence: nyc m

image: the author and the object of his affection, cc 2015, creative commons usage
+++


love times five

OFF-love-times-five

[from the collection nyc m]

word and hand
finger and smile
you are here
and all the world
is rushing by
oblivious to the transformation
taking place
right here
between us
underneath the daytime stars
in and around
strawberry fields
of joy
this

moment

is the last

moment

we will spend
this far away
as we surge forward
into
a new
relationship
status
a
new celebration
for our friends
of what we’ve known
since
the week
we first kissed

6-21-15


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

OFF-suiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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the hunger

Screen Shot 2015-05-25 at 3.04.14 PM

[from strange horizons poems]

in my hungry state i’m more agitated animal than man
lack of food or companionship get me buzzing a bit
as if each young woman is part meal part plaything
i know it’s not right
i can feel when all is not right with my world

and then…

in a flood of torrential proportions
the transformation occurs
in the act and arms and embrace
an alchemical phase change of every cell in my body
from a negative cool charge
i am flipped on
warm, hot, positive

only one thing can burn away the hunger
and the hotter the fire, the hotter the friction
setting electrons, every electron, in motion
reorienting towards due north
win
yes
home

when i am empty i roam the desert like a predator
full i become more kitten than killer
and in the seconds and minutes that follow the feast
a new set-point can be established
an imprint of what “really good” feels like
again

at last
finally
even just for now
enough
full-joy mode

1-20-15

image: headless lovers, ludo, creative commons usage


Am I Back? What’s New, What’s Changed, What Will I Do Differently?

OFF-gtr-2015

I’m back in my old neighborhood, after 4.5 years of divorce. I’ve been traveling through some rough places. I’ve had some wins and more losses than I care to recount here. But over the course of the last 6 weeks, I’ve landed a new job, rented a house (since my credit and cash are lacking) and returned to my old neighborhood. And for the first time, yesterday, I hit a moment of sadness.

I don’t know exactly what it was. I’m certain my body and spirit is still adjusting to the full-time corporate job again. I’m no longer able to nap and play tennis during the day. I’ve got new bills and new expenses and my ex has begun the cash-rattling dance that she has become known for.

Maybe I was postponing this inevitable requirement. Maybe a full-time job was really the only solution.

And this morning, I’m sitting in my new place, dog and cat back in my care, girlfriend off to work, waiting for the plumber to come fix an anemic shower. It’s been a while since I wrote. The hyper-angst of the ex’s continuing actions against me while a week or two back, are just part of the landscape now.

And my reset, collapse, rebuild is complete. So why am I not bullet proof?

As much as I craved alone time in my temporary digs I might be better at being alone while together. Maybe someone to push back against is part of what gives me my drive to be alone. I don’t think that’s it, but I’m voicing the meandering thoughts, rather than the resolution.

So I’ve returned to full-time work. It’s what we’re supposed to do. My ex and thus my kids are already feeling the relaxing of austerity brought on by the failure of my business dreams. And maybe I was postponing this inevitable requirement. Maybe a full-time job was really the only solution. IF I wanted to get a place of my own to live. IF I wanted to have a relationship. IF I wanted my kids to be proud of me and their time with me, rather than something to be endured.

Or maybe it’s all me. Maybe the change in venue and responsibility will just take a little of time to get used to. Maybe the exercise that was such a big part of my recovery and rebuilding needs to be reinjected into this new place.

This morning, in my new place, I give back the confusion and worry, and return to the beginner’s mind.

And in my personal life I have a new relationship. A rich and exciting connection. Maybe the connection and relationship I’ve been hunting, praying, and writing about. But again, that’s an unknown and a new variable that I have only limited control over.

This morning, in my new place, I give back the confusion and worry, and return to the beginner’s mind. I’ve never been right here before. I’ve got a lot of things in motion. A ton of changes. Sure there are going to be moments of “wtf” but that’s expected. It’s not the WTF that takes me down, it’s the paying too much attention to the fears and not enough attention to the details of my own journey.

Basics:

  • Rest
  • Good food
  • Exercise
  • Exploring this new relationship – kissing a lot
  • Writing
  • Music
  • Giving myself time to adjust without criticism

And the kids return tomorrow, so this moment of reflection will quickly be consumed with errands, breakfasts, logistics, and love.

I like myself in relationship. I like myself with a job and position and a house. I like myself alone. I can ease up and give myself a moment to catch up with all the changes and just enjoy the moment.

Now, more coffee.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What a Farty Old Dog Taught Me About Parenting, Divorce, and My Codependency

jmac-scrambles-2012-3He’s completely deaf and mostly blind. He was driving my ex crazy to the point of her suggesting end-of-life strategies. But he’s just an old farty, blind, deaf, dog that I love. I love him anyway. I carry him up the stairs every night to put him in the warmer bathroom for safe keeping. He’s frail and a bit disoriented, but I have high hopes that his bounding spirit will return.

I lost my animals almost a year ago when I had to sell my house under duress. And my ex-wife was thankfully, willing to take back the old farty dog and my new addition, a cat. She wasn’t all that happy about it. And she put some conditions around their boarding, but she did me a great service by letting me keep them in the family. And today I will recover the cat as well.

Even as I complained inside about all the chores and kid runs I had to make, I was outwardly and spiritually happy to be of-service.

However, this morning, watching my old family dog wander aimlessly and blind around the back yard, I was struck by some of my emotional reactions to his presence. He’s not doing all that well. I think the year with the big-young dog was hard on him. And as my ex became more irritated and irritable about the situation, this little guy was seen as a chore and not a gift. I don’t care how many times I have to clean poop and pee off the floor of my house, he’s still family. Thankfully, he made it through the transition and has been relaxing in his new back yard, sans competitors, for almost a week.

He seems to be thriving, even as his frail condition becomes more obvious. But I am also noticing my reaction towards care taking. I would do almost anything to support and love this dog. And as I watch him wandering the back yard I often go out and pick him up, talk to him, and give him some hugs. His milky eyes turn towards me and back away, almost as if he’s ashamed of his blindness. And even if he can’t hear me, or see me very well, I know he recalls our loving relationship. Whatever it takes.

That was my approach to marriage as well. When I was farting and shitting a bit too much, my then-wife took up the lion’s share of parenting and household management. And we knew it would swing back around. And there were plenty of periods where I was the hyper-parent and responsible partner. And even as I grew weary of the duties from time to time, there was never any push back from me.

The year my son broke his leg was a good example. Or the year my then-wife broke her wrist requiring major reconstructive surgery… She couldn’t do anything for herself. And the months of early recovery were hellacious. And somehow strengthening at the same time. Even as I complained inside about all the chores and kid runs I had to make, I was outwardly and spiritually happy to be of-service. And it didn’t wear me out or diminish my love overall. All of these trials seemed to strengthen the bond, for me.

“We made it through the Winter,” we used to say, as the spring months broke the metaphorical grip on our warm hearts.

As the marriage wore on, my then-wife, somehow grew weary of the constant negotiation and navigation of parenting. She decided at some point, that going it alone was a better option for her and the kids.

As I watch my dog in the back yard today, I remember wishing back then that I had some way of protecting my kids and my then-wife from all the harmful things the might happen. I was struck occasionally with a sad moment when dropping the kids at the fantastic daycare in the mornings on the way to work. I wanted to stay there with them. I wanted to push my daughter on the swing all afternoon. I wanted to have the same kid time my then-wife had. But I moved along after a few pushes on the swing, “Come on, Daddy, one more!”

Today I see how my desire to go out and cuddle my old ailing pup is the same emotional response. We want to comfort all of our tribe members when they are hurting. Even if we don’t have any idea what’s going on in their hearts, we still project our own stuff on to them, and want to comfort OUR discomfort by comforting them. That’s called codependency.

With kids, it’s a given. They are dependent on you. And without healthy codependency they would probably starve and go feral. So we interconnect, we interrelate.  And as parents we commingle our happiness with theirs. Even as I watched the kids rush off to greet their “daily” friends I was saddened to be left behind. And even though my daughter complained every morning as I left, “One more, please,” I knew the responsible thing, the adult thing, was to do the work that made the money that provided the food and shelter part of our family living.

My dog is probably not feeling any pain in the back yard. Sure he looks around as if he’s surveying the landscape. And yes, he would like a continuous stream of wet dog food to magically appear. But for the most part, his life now consists of wandering, eating, pooping, and sleeping.  He does all of them just fine. And it is my emotional need that fuels my compassionate response to him. I’m guessing he’s a bit confused when I pick him up these days. It’s been a while since we had this much contact. And for him, this has meant very little contact over all, since he was one of three pets in a house of busy kids and an overstressed single mom.

I guess, somehow, I’m an old farty dog to my kids, and they love me anyway.

As the marriage wore on, my then-wife, somehow grew weary of the constant negotiation and navigation of parenting. She decided at some point, that going it alone was a better option for her and the kids. I think maybe she had the same overall compassion for me that she had for the farty old dog. As his maintenance grew into a chore, she was ready to put him to sleep rather than deal with it. The real story behind the dog’s issues was more about winter weather and freezing rain that kept him from going outside to do his business.

Today he has the same problems but he’s got me again, to nurture and provide comfortable transportation and living quarters. And yes, he needs some fattening up. And while I’m hopeful at his recovery back to a bouncy and hype old blind dog, I’m also aware that his current life is happier than it was a week ago. And next week, who knows.

For the last years of his life, my buddy will do whatever he does as an old dog. I will watch him zigzagging around the back yard and try to remain happy for him rather than sad for him. I will love on him as much as I can. And I’ll be aware of how my emotional attachments and complaints are mine alone. He’s a dog.

As a parent I know separation has to happen. My kids are now 12 and 14 and the process has begun. I am no longer the most awesome dad of all time. I’m ignored, complained at, and teased. It’s okay. It’s part of the plan. My old dog is still reminding me of how the process works.

I guess, somehow, I’m an old farty dog to my kids, and they love me anyway. (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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It’s the Quiet Time, the Alone Time, the Empty Spaces

OFF-lasskiss

When you’re happily married you think life is all set. Then you have kids and the world gets even bigger and brighter. Then some tough times come along and muck up the happily ever after. And after much hand wringing, and arguments the money is settled, the housing is decided upon, and dad (that’s me) is out on his own, to fend for himself, in the world of being a single dad with normal custody, that is to say, about 30%.

Some days I roll along like a happy man, a single dad working the program, doing his best. Other days, I fall below the “joy” quotient and I would really rather chill in my bed, watch movies, surf the net, and withdraw from all the activity. The holidays are some of the hardest times, for some reason.  And today, when I delivered my kids to my old house, my wife’s house, I was a bit bereft. Lonely. Aimless. Sad.

As the emotional aspects of our relationship got more complicated, the sex simply dried up completely.

It’s not that there was anything that happened. In fact, just the opposite. My life is feeling pretty sweet, considering. But today, as I was getting back in my car, backing out of my old driveway, with no particular place to go, I felt the punch. A light poke in the solar plexus. A minor ache, that continued to echo though my body the rest of the afternoon. It’s the little things that get you.

Like little places you pass that remind you of a good moment. And we had a lot of good moments, before we had all the bad moments. And today, eating lunch, I pulled into a place, not on purpose, that was one of the last good times I remember with my ex. She was working nearby, over six years ago, and we made plans to meet for lunch. It was in this golden moment, right after I’d had my vasectomy, when we were trying to score the 40 ejaculates before we could have the well-earned unprotected sex. And for a month, my wife rediscovered her libido, or something. She joked that it was more about hitting the goal. I was thrilled for the renewal and imagined the sex ahead would be even better.

After divorce, you count back in your head, sometimes, the moments when you knew things were great, and the moments when you first sensed that things were spiraling out of control, in the wrong direction. And the little moments of magic can pop up, like today, and re-trigger the old hurt. And who, knows, maybe there was part of me that wanted to lean into the ache that was already taking root in my chest.

This last moment flashed before me today, as I was eating at this funky little Mexican restaurant, and there was pang of sadness, a worry, will I ever have another moment, another love so good? The moment strikes at the heart of what ultimately blew us apart, and so this little scene of playful joy is not important, except for the feeling I still get when I remember it. We were happy, joyful in our quest for liberated sex again…

In good old days, this one time, we met at this restaurant, and in the parking lot around to the side, my wife gave me a quickie blow job, in the most silly and playful way. We were like kids, getting away with something terribly forbidden. Today, the flicker of that moment, showed two people playing at sex, enjoying the raucous play, and getting away with a little secret in the middle of the work day.

I guess the deeper part of the ache is the lack of spontaneous or playful sex I’ve had in the years since that peak. When the condoms came off the sex continued at ever slowing pace. It seems the “goal” really was part of the fun for my then-wife. I tried to rekindle whatever I could from my end, but things continued to fade. She became less willing to even be close, much less have sex.

We all have to work on our sexual communication. If it gets off, we need to chat about it. If it REALLY get’s off, we need to bring it front-and-center in therapy.

Sex is not everything, but it’s important. As our sex life continued to fade, I continued to be the interested party who was given the challenge to “ask differently” and “keep the house clean” and “pay all the bills.” It was as if there were a string of conditions for intimacy that became more of an alchemical mixture rather than anything I could predict or influence. Why is it, that this stereotype is so common? Men continue to want sex. Women, as we now know, get bored within monogamous relationships. Um, no shit. Men do to, it’s just we’re more willing to work on the monotony with more intention.

In the last year of my marriage, I am certain we could easily go for a month at a stretch without having sex. And it’s not that I wasn’t asking, cajoling, seeing if she wanted a massage. Her switch flipped off and stayed off. There was not much I could do about it. As I was making lists of things I could do to entice her, she was becoming more distant.

In a recent post by a friend, on what to get your husband for Christmas, I was saddened that the tone, even from this psychologist, was so one-sided. Here’s the list.

  1. Oral Sex
  2. Regular Sex
  3. Some Other Sexual Thing…
  4. Appreciation
  5. Love
  6. Wear a Santa Hat and Nothing Else

This is a common theme. The “how sex used to be” theme. In a Facebook post Dr. Psych Mom poses a theoretical question from a reader.

“Why his wife last 69ed before they had kids, 12 years ago. Then i can answer, with solemnity:

My friend, there is probably no amount of doing the chores that is going to get you that again. It’s one of those things that women only do when they are young and uninhibited, like dyeing their hair purple, or dancing on top of the bar.

Now if you took care of the kids for an entire weekend while she visited the friend with whom she used to dye her hair purple and dance on top of the bar….. then maybe.

No promises.”

But that’s the point. I was doing the extra things. I was offering her “girl’s night out.” I was taking care of putting the kids to bed so she could get in the mood. Except, more often than not, she was falling asleep or working on a project when I came out of the kid’s room.

We all have to work on our sexual communication. If it gets off, we need to chat about it. If it REALLY get’s off, we need to bring it front-and-center in therapy. Somehow I was letting our sexual disconnect be “okay.” We went to therapy, but we were usually dealing with some “crisis” that I didn’t really see as a crisis. And I’m sure, that was the problem. I wanted closeness, and maybe even sex. She wanted all the worries and struggles of the day to be gone.

Sure men have an easier time getting turned on, and women take some warming up. But women also have to be open to suggestion, or it’s a non-starter no matter how you phrase it, or what technique you use to rub her feet. Needless to say, it wasn’t the sex that caused us to get a divorce, but the loss of sexual connection sure indicated that something had gotten out of balance. Unfortunately I was never able to regain that balance with my then-wife. And as the emotional aspects of our relationship got more complicated, the sex simply dried up completely.

So dear, Dr. Psych, what is a man in a committed relationship, who *IS* doing all the extra things and still getting the cold shoulder supposed to do? Move on?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

This posts continues here: Sexy Sex and the Other Two Kinds of Romantic Relationship

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reference: What To Get Your Husband For Christmas. And None of The Suggestions Are From Brookstone – Dr. Psych Mom

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Is Marriage a Cliché? How Mine Fell Apart Along Party Lines.

OFF-madwife

My marriage was fine as long as I was prepared to sacrifice my health and time with the kids to work. If I brought home the big paycheck all was somewhat jolly. Maybe not always for me, but the mom and kids seemed to enjoy it. And then I got laid off and asked for a moment to contemplate the future. I mean, the nice fat corporate job, that had stressed me out to the max and gotten me a lot fatter in the process, had also given me a silver parachute. 6 months, full pay and benefits. Seemed like a great plan.

And I remember the lunch date I had with my then-wife during the first weeks of my sabbatical when she came unglued at my idea. She calmly pointed out that is simply wasn’t that much money. My severance wasn’t going to last us very long. She obviously didn’t like the direction my thinking was going. And to be fair, with two kids, a nice house, nice cars… She had a point.

I wasn’t taking things seriously enough and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her career. We floundered as a couple.

But the point that she failed to fess up to at the time, she really didn’t want to re-enter the workforce full-time. Ever. I don’t know this to be true. And the poetic justice of the divorce has mitigated those ideas, but she really got mad at me over lunch for not taking her concerns as seriously as she took them. Somehow, I was being immature, reckless, and self-centered in wanted to recalculate the work/life balance. And yes, my discussion would need to involve her plans for returning to work full-time as well.

It seemed, back then, that we were actually pretty close to achieving a more balanced and fair split of the financial obligations of the lifestyle we had chosen. Our kids were in 3rd and 5th grade, so they were less dependent on our extreme focus 24/7. It felt, to me, like things were in a position to lighten up for us. And this was a good time, while we (I say we, but she’d been maxing out at about 20 hours a week at that point) weren’t quite so strapped for cash, to look at what we wanted to create for our family over the next 5 – 10 years while they finished up school.

But I don’t think that’s the discussion she wanted to have. She wanted to know what my plans were for providing for the family. I was saying “we” she was saying “you.” Hmm. I guess we were at an impasse of some sort. I didn’t know it then, but we were crossing over a threshold. We took the issue into our couples counselor. We worked on things. We struggled. We tried to listen to each other. We tried to see eye to eye. Meanwhile, the severance, while paying the bills was being burned twice as fast, because she had lost her job at the first of the year too.

Yes, things were intense. But they were manageable. And in my optimistic way I was certain we were in a position to plan and strategize about “our” work plan rather than just “my” work plan. We tried.

“We both expressed our ideas about the future and while I wanted to discuss changes, she wanted action and me to stabilize our future, immediately.”

I kept looking for work and interviewing at other big corporate jobs. And I put my all into the process. Of course, the layoff that culled 50% of my team was caused by the major economic collapse of 2009. No body was eager to hire high-level marketing staff. At least none of the jobs I was hearing about and applying for. Still we had my severance, and they were going to pay me 50% of my 2009 bonus as well. That bought us another month.

But I wasn’t saying the things she wanted to hear. And she wasn’t hearing me either. I wasn’t taking things seriously enough and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to do with her career. We floundered as a couple. We began to experience breakdowns in communication and trust.

She recounted the pivotal lunch in therapy as me completely disregarding her concerns about money. Somehow I could not hear her.

I recounted the same exact lunch as “we both expressed our ideas about the future and while I wanted to discuss changes, she wanted action and me to stabilize our future, immediately.” It wasn’t that easy. And the threadbare trust in our relationship began to break down. Even as I was feeling hopeful and collaborative, she was feeling scared and angry. We limped along, but the sparks between us were more angry than inspirational.

And that’s when our sex life fell off a cliff as well. So as a man, I was in a real double bind. I not only had my self-esteem all mixed up after being laid off and having a ton of unproductive interviews. I was also getting shut out of the bedroom and the emotional closeness that comes from being intimate. So both of my anchors were gone. I was floundering, but I was doing it mostly alone, with an angry partner who kept saying I wasn’t listening to her. She began to express how mad she was at me. And during this time she even blurted out how she didn’t really love me any more.

Had we collaborated instead of separated, today we’d be looking at much better economic times.

I suppose I had two choices. 1. Completely withdraw my demand of a recalibration of our future and just hit the “whatever works” job search and get the job and shut the hell up to see if that made things better; or 2. stand strong in my conviction that I was not willing to simply go back to the factory in support of my white picket fence and semi-supportive wife. I was not willing to go back into the cube farm without a fight.

And so we fought. Meanwhile the money ran out and things went up another step on the urgency and alarm scale.

Looking back as clearly as I can, I suppose at this time, after she had gotten laid off from her job as well she really was soul-searching in the same way I was. What were we going to be as a family? Who was going to provide the money and who was going to provide the nurturing? How would we split the obligations and parenting and chores? But the kicker for me, the thing I still struggle with as I try and reconcile this period in my marriage: for that entire year, from January to December 2010, my wife actually spent more money on her consulting “business” than she made.

When I try and imagine what was going through her mind the only thing I can come up with is

  1. She was determined for me to return to the high-paying job that would allow her the same flexibility she had enjoyed while the kids were younger.
  2. She was searching for her bliss. She didn’t want to continue the string of unsuccessful jobs that had not taken her further up the job satisfaction ladder.
  3. In all her fears and worry about money it was easier to focus on me and my work search than to pay attention to her own financial contribution.
  4. Since she was the “accounting” partner it, even as it was clear we were heading into crisis mode, she doubled down on me and my job search, rather than doing what she wanted me to do, and “take whatever” so that we could catch up on the bills.
  5. Maybe she was using the leverage of the economic collapse to force me back into the big corporate job so she wouldn’t have to figure out how she was going to contribute financially.

No matter which of my assumptions are true, the actions she took are now fact and not projection or mind-reading. In March of the following year, she decided she’d had enough and she made some decisions to leave the marriage and break up our family. No more “for better or worse,” she was going to greener pastures must exist somewhere else. I was devastated. Even as I was angry and frustrated at the current state of affairs, I was also beginning to express my anger at being emotionally isolated. And I try to let her off the hook most of the time, by owning my part of the anger and frustration in our marriage. But I was in the marriage to WIN and STAY. She decided to LEAVE.

I can’t take any of it back. And I can’t even gloat at how much she is having to work now, because it’s not how I wanted it to go. This moment, today, is not how it should’ve gone, in my mind. We should’ve come to a balanced plan where we BOTH hunted and landed good paying jobs, WE stabilized our financial situation, and WE made commitments to re-energize and re-invest energy in our marriage.

Had we collaborated instead of separated, today we’d be looking at much better economic times. All the money that has gone into two homes could have gone into the bank. She would be working a lot less today had we stayed together. But somewhere along the way, she lost the trust that I was a worthy collaborator.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Things Broken and Unsaid

OFF-santa

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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