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

hardstuff

The Cut-out Dad

November begins the season of holidays and birthdays in my family. Remembering when the kids were young and Christmas was still a mystery. My son just turned 17 and my daughter will be 15 this month. And to say they are in a period of disconnection would be an understatement. But there’s something more disturbing that’s been happening.

Their mom has been leaving me out of critical parenting discussions.

  • Like if my son is allowed to sleep over with his girlfriend.
  • Like if he’s been prescribed anti-anxiety medication.
  • Like if it’s okay to smoke pot in her house.

I don’t know what else I don’t know, these things were big enough. I only know about them now because of the crisis we went through several weekends ago. And then was not the time to “go into it.” But today I wrote her a letter stating my disappointment and asking to open communication between us back up. There are no excuses for keeping your co-parent out of parenting discussions. If you go it alone you are giving a strong signal to the other parent and the kids that one of you doesn’t matter. I was not considered when these decisions were being made.

As I head into the holidays I hope to recommit to reaching out to both my kids daily to let them know I am here. I know that when I was in college all I wanted was for my father to see me, to recognize me and what my strengths were. I think I do a good job of affirming both my kids all the time. I am not there as often as I would like, but in the time given I show up.

There’s no good way to share that the holidays are a tough time for me. I will be looking after my own health and happiness much of this season, to assure that no melt down occurs in my life. But I will also leave some of my bandwidth open for my kids. Letting them know I am here. Letting them know I support them and their ideas.

I hope my ex agrees to co-parent with me again, rather than going rogue. It makes things easier on all of us.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: father son, creative commons usage


An Absence of Time with My Kids: The Gap Years

My kids are both teenagers so they are clearly on the path of separation from their mother and me. The experience, however, could not be more different and some of it is my fault.

Several months ago, as a relationship ended, so did my ability to house and feed my kids on the alternating weekends that had become my primary opportunity to connect with them. Truth was, I was a little ashamed and disconnected from them even when they were with me. Something about not being a success, not being as close to them as I was when they were kids, and something about putting my priority on my primary romantic relationship at the expense of some of my conscious parenting. I was punting the major duties of guardianship and discipline to their mom. I was imaging that I was staying close, but I can see how I was responsible for the drift.

As we were sliding into the end of their 14th and 16th year I was content to keep mainly to myself. I no longer had a place for them to stay on the weekends, but the alternating housing routine had become a tedious exercise that no one appreciated. And as teenagers, one with a car, they wanted to be elsewhere every weekend anyway. And I was okay with that. Kind of. I was also sad about it, but didn’t know what remedies were available. Certainly some of it was my own sadness at the loss of my younger kids, the kids who needed and depended on me for everything, including entertainment. Now, they needed nothing from me. Of course, I knew they needed love and my continued expression of desire to be connected to them and their activities. But needless to say, we were drifting apart as we muddled through the summer and began what would be their Freshman and Junior year in high school.

My relationship to both of them has been reduced to “dates” and “dinners” scheduled with semi-regularity. And the requests and ideas for these meetings was up to me. We were all happy to coast along in our disconnected relationship. Me as a parent, clueless how to rebuild. Them as teenagers with very different priorities and goals. Still, we needed each other. But the value of the relationship was much less obvious to all of us.

And much of this disconnection I have to place at the foot of the divorce and my loss of time with them from 5 and 7 until now. Those years when bonds and confidences and closeness are welded together, I was a 1/3 presence in their lives. I was also struggling with my own demons of depression and looking for high-level marketing work so I could both support them (child support) and afford a place to live.

As the years wore on, the gap became more obvious. Weekly decisions, weekly chores, and weekly activities were exclusively the domain of the mom-kid relationship. Their bonds grew closer while I learned to function as a bit of an outsider. Weekends with dad were different from the core of their lives. We all worked it out as best as we could, but there was a huge gap in our communication and bonding. As they grew closer and more connected to their mother, my relationship with my kids took on a more dutiful role. They were obliged to come to my house every other weekend, but there were no significant advantages to this arrangement for them. We were always having to “stop by mom’s” to pick up clothes, retainers, sports equipment, and books. They were saying with me, but more like a hotel with a good driver and less like a home. And I get it. Packing every other weekend for four nights (Thur-Sun) at dad’s was a pain in the ass. More so as they grew older.

I don’t blame their mom for this disconnection. In fact, I think she has done a fantastic job or stepping up to the plate to become their best friend, confidant, counselor, and caregiver. I have nothing but respect for her.

But this past weekend, as a major event unfolded in our lives, with my son ending up in the hospital, I was again struck at just how far out from their orbit I had become. So many items came up in the process of getting a grip on my son’s situation, items/issues that I had never been told or asked about. Huge parenting issues that had been overlooked and not shared with me. It was not the time to confront the secrecy, but it pointed out a huge gap in my parenting intelligence: the relationship between the mom and dad (especially after divorce) about core parenting issues, like drugs, school, relationships, sleep habits, discipline… I had been left out of the loop on some significant data points and in this moment of family crisis, I learned just how out of the loop I was. I was purposefully discarded as a resource and counsel on major matters concerning my son and his wellbeing.

I’m sad. I’m scared for my son and his future growth through this experience. And I’m not looking forward to the eventual conversation/confrontation with my ex-wife about these gaps in our parenting narrative. She’s got reasons for leaving me in the dark. I have to be ready to step up to the plate for the requests that may come out of my readmission into the family structure.

I admit I’ve been a bit self-absorbed trying to get my own shit together. I had no idea how far the breakdown had been progressing on their side of the orbit. And today, I am left wondering when and how to both support and renegotiate my relationship with my ex-wife. Parenting is a journey best shared by both partners. I am strong enough to engage with love and caring and the knowledge, that somehow she believed leaving me out of the loop was the best option for my son.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: hospital image, creative commons usage


My Miss Fortune

In my first two marriages I had money in the bank. My relationship to money has been challenging my entire life, why should now be any different? I thought by the time I reached 50 I would’ve had this career-thing down. Turns out, the market is ever-changing, and ever more competitive than before. And if you happen to be in social media, the millennials have sort of taken over the game. I’m now considered an older worker. (For at least 10 years now, but I failed to make note of it before.)

In marriage one, my starter marriage, I had money in the bank, a good job, and the prospects for more. We lived pretty high on the hog. In fact, we both took off full-time work for over a year. It was a great year. I worked on my writing and small press publishing. She painted. But it couldn’t last. The estate of my father turned out to be a lot more complicated than originally thought and we were both back to working. I started working in Advertising. As the marriage broke up, she did some weird things, however. Months before the end she was putting money in a different account and buying a lot of expensive jewelry. I didn’t really see it coming, so I also didn’t suspect anything. Boom, I was taken for a lot. And in the end I paid her a good portion of the money I had in the bank to end the prospect of paying for both sides of a divorce.

In marriage two, the one with a pair of kids, I was also in a positive financial position at the start of the relationship. I must’ve looked like quite the catch. I owned my own condo near downtown, and was working freelance for a company out of Boston. She moved in with me over the first six months and we were already talking about having kids. We were getting to be that age. And as things went, my earning capacity stayed strong, if somewhat uneven, over the next six years we were married as we became new parents. And her full-time gig was put on hold, so someone, Mom, could meet the kids at the bus. The lifestyle we chose, and the neighborhood we selected for the schools, was just a bit too expensive to have her be a stay-at-home mom, though that would’ve been my preference. I never, we never, quite got there.

When my big corporate gig ended, due to the 2009 economic meltdown, we began to fight about money. She wanted me to go straight back to another corporate, well-paid, gig. I wanted to take some of the six month severance time and look into doing something a little different for a living. She was not happy with that idea. But we agreed to disagree. Just over a year later we would be divorced. And a lot of it had to do with money. She didn’t really go back to full-time work until she decided she wanted a divorce. Then she had no option. And, jump forward to today, I am very happy my ex-wife has maintained a well-paid job ever since we divorced. She’s a great worker, and is a good and committed mom. No harm or foul there.

But the money had been the root of the disagreement. Now, looking back on it, I wonder, was she right?

Since the divorce, where I signed a contract to deliver child support based on my average $72,000 per year salary, I have not been able to achieve that income level for more than six months at a time. And the child support police don’t care if you’re unemployed. The bills keep coming in, the crackdowns keep happening, and despite any goodwill or promises, I’m seen in the eyes of the Texas Attorney Generals Office as a dead beat dad. I’ve paid her a percentage of everything I’ve ever earned. But it’s not enough. It’s not enough to make her happy. And by default, it’s not enough for the state of Texas either.

So I’m currently living in default, in deficit, as the asshole who won’t pay his ex-wife. Of course, I mean, pay the money for the support and care of my kids, but you’ll forgive my ambiguity. Today I have no money. I’m working an hourly job (I’m not whining here, just stating the facts.) that won’t make my car payment. And it certainly won’t make much of a payment on anything when she and the kids get 50% of all of it. How can a dad make ends meet?

The truth is, often the dads are the one’s who fall under the bus, financially. In my case, I was also challenged by some serious bouts of depression, resulting from the divorce. So, needless to say, I have never been able to pay 100% of my child support since year two. And two months after I was late my ex-wife called in the authorities to enforce the judgement. I don’t think it helped. I haven’t been looking for a job any harder since they entered the picture.

I’ve had a few jobs. I’ve had some good freelance gigs. I’ve made some money. But it’s never enough. And at the moment, it’s really not enough. But I stay positive anyway. I’m interviewing for real jobs. I’m exercising regularly. I’m happy. I’m single. And, while I don’t get to see my kids as much as I’d like, I think we’ve all come to an understanding. All of us except my ex-wife and the AG’s office. See, she could cut them out of the equation with a single phone call. But somehow, she feels it’s better for my kids to have the AG’s office on my ass, and a lien on my credit. She’s determined to get her money.

See, that’s the funny part. Or is it the sad part? I think I was being sarcastic. The sad part is, she was/is going to get all the money she is entitled to anyway. By law I cannot shirk a single penny of my obligation. I’m happy to pay it, as I keep working, and I will/am paying it. It’s just a bit slow at the moment. But somehow, she’s happy with the arrangement. She’s always been happy with her decision to toss me to the wolves. Her new husband once told me, about the AG’s office, “It’s just how everyone does it these days. They’re like an accounting department.”

Well, that’s bullshit. She never needed to file against me. She still doesn’t need to ask for their protection. And yet, there they are, freezing my bank account ever six months or so to take half of the cash am holding on to for bills and food.

Everyday she doesn’t release us from the AG’s supervision is a day that I wake up and have to forgive her for acting and continuing to act on her fear. I’m paying as fast as I can, it’s just less than we both expected.

Ho hum. And onward we go as single parents.

Note: If you are a woman and are reading this as a complaint, as a whining dead beat dad, I might ask you to reconsider this. Shouldn’t both sides of the family live at the level of income they can provide? Today she still lives in our nice home in the nice neighborhood, and for my kids that has provided unequalled stability. But she has done this even with my payments getting behind. Was it necessary to punish me with the AG’s involvement? I am struggling to find the money each month to keep food in my mouth, much less the mouths of my kids. She is not struggling, and that’s good for my kids. For that I give her my sincere thanks.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: tango, 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


What Every Dad Loses In Divorce

Everyone loses in divorce. But in many ways the dad in the equation typically loses more and much faster than any other member. It doesn’t have to be this way. In my opinion, 50/50 parenting with no child support should be the norm. It’s not what I go, even though I asked for the 50/50 split regardless of the money. That’s not what my then-wife wanted and her lawyer had told her what she’d get if we went to court, so we started negotiations there. It sucked. It was unfair. And as the dad, I lost everything in a single stroke of the pen.

In Texas courts, seven years ago I was handed a divorce I didn’t want with a schedule that was unfair, and a financial burden that continues to make my life very difficult. It’s just the standard deal given to men when divorcing in this state. The mom gets the kids, the house, and the money. Period. You can fight it, and you might win, but that’s going to cost you more money and turn an amicable divorce into a contested divorce.

I took the idea of a collaborative divorce to heart. But in the end there was no collaboration. I lost all my issues. All that “collaborative” meant was that I wasn’t going to sue my soon-to-be-ex during the negotiations of our divorce. That was my mistake. I was trying to be the nice guy, the stand up dad, the conscious one. And I believe we were both trying to do what was best for the kids, in our own minds. But society has this idea that a mom’s love is more valuable than a father’s love. Maybe 25 years ago, when the man typically worked as the sole breadwinner and the wife was a stay at home mom. You can see how that family system might make sense after divorce as well. But that’s not the financial society we live in today.

If I want to rent a small apartment, one bedroom, no space for my kids to sleep over, I’m going to first have to pay the child support, $1,350 after taxes and their healthcare, $550 after taxes. THEN if I have money left over I can eat and pay for cellphones and gas. And then, if I have a really fucking great job, I have the money left over to think about rent. Whereas my ex-wife got a house with mortgage payments that are significantly lower than my child support payments. How is that balanced? It’s not. There’s nothing fair or balanced about divorce. Dad’s prepare to get screwed or fight for your right both to your kids and to the financial arrangement that is equitable.

It can get worse. Once I got a month behind on my child support, because I had lost a large client in my freelance business, my then-ex filed with the Attorney General’s office to begin proceedings to collect the child support she was owed. Less than 45 days in, she put me in a losing battle with the state’s attorneys who behave like collections agents. Their most fun technique is to freeze your bank account. All outstanding checks and charges bounce and you pay those fees. And you pay for the privilege of having a lien put on your account. The first time it happened I was eating dinner at a restaurant with my kids. My card was declined. I was surprised. I pulled up my phone app and saw that I was $43,645 overdrawn. Luckily my daughter had just been given some cash for an upcoming vacation. I had to borrow money from my 10 yo daughter to pay for dinner. That was pretty humiliating. Of course, I couldn’t tell the kids, “Your mom is the reason this happened.” I had to make up some excuse about a bank error.

And today, seven years later, she’s still got the AG’s jackbook on my throat.  Everyday, she wakes up and decides not to call off the AG and resolve the matter between us. Everyday she puts my credit and masculinity up on the wall as a “dead beat father.” And she has made this decision everyday now for over five and a half years. We get close to an agreement and she always backs out. We get close to meeting with the AG’s office to reduce my payment, and there’s always a problem with her schedule. For two years I’ve been trying to get her to meet with me so we can set a more reasonable child support payment based on what I make. And she’s stalled every time. “I’m so sorry, I can’t make it.” And I have to ask the AG’s office for another meeting and it goes back to being scheduled six months later.

Divorce is a bitch. There is not two ways about it. But it does not have to be a war. My ex-wife puts me on the losing end of the deal everyday. Not because she needs the money. Not because she thinks I won’t pay her. But because it gives her some satisfaction that the AG’s office is running my finances until both kids turn 18. Well, if you’re in this situation and just beginning your divorce journey, lawyer up and ask for 50/50 with no child support. You pay for them when you’ve got them and you split the bills. That’s the only fair way to go. I support you in getting time with your kids and a reasonable financial arrangement that doesn’t cripple your future.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: dad with kids, creative commons usage


What I Can’t Get Over or Forgive

We said we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. And sure things changed and go weird, toxic even, but I was still in there fighting for my life as well as the relationship. When you made a choice OUT of the relationship, the whole house of cards came down around us. We cried together. But it was still you that had given up. Whatever your reasons, I can’t forget that you asked me to leave the house. Your house, I know, but still… You broke our promise to fight for the relationship.

I can only talk about my experience of the last 6 months of our relationship. It wasn’t pretty. And I own that a lot of the mess was my mess. I was chemically depressed in a way that I had not known since my 20s. And I couldn’t break out of it. My meds were off. Nothing was working. But I was working desperately to keep it together. And of course you couldn’t have known how bad it actually was. So perhaps, to you, I appeared lazy or unmotivated. That was far from the truth. My own internal truth.

When the wedding was called off the idea was it would be rescheduled as things regained a balance between us. But I think you began to leave the relationship in many ways from that point forward. Sure, you were in charge. You had the money and the nice job. And you had a tight grip on my balls too. But I colluded with that. I was gripping tightly to try to keep you even in the midst of my crippling depression. And that clinging was not good for either of us.

But there was another elephant in the room with us, that I was too afraid to bring up. As they say, each partner is 100% responsible for their own participation and failure in a relationship. I was unaware how powerful your drinking had become in weighing me down. Of course my dad was an alcoholic. And I’m not saying you are or you aren’t an alcoholic. I guess that distinction has to be owned by you. But I do know that your drinking affected me. It affected us. It was a problem in the relationship. And it was this reason, in the end that I decided to cut our Summer together short once you gave me the ultimatum.

What I wasn’t expecting was how much relief I experienced after moving out. As much as I loved you and looked forward to you getting home every night, I was also afraid of you as well. When you drank you sometimes got bitter and vindictive. Sure, you said you were better able to speak your mind after a few drinks, but once you were working on drink number three, there was no discussion to have. You were checking out and saying mean shit, and I had no way to respond. Talking to or reasoning with someone who is drunk is a zero sum game. So we isolated, even while we were together. And it made me very sad. But amidst all of my self-absorption, I was unable to see how powerful an effect it had on me. Until I left. When I left I got real clear, real fast, that I was no longer afraid. I had no more anxiety. It was like a miracle cure. I wasn’t even aware of the suppression that your drinking was causing in me.

Still, I was willing to keep working on it. Maybe you could control your consumption. Maybe you’d want to if I got well again.

But one of the first things you learn in Al Anon is you can’t focus on the other person. You can’t cause them to change. The only person you can work on is you. So I have worked tirelessly on myself. I have worked to let you go. I have worked to love you anyway, and walk away from you at the same time. It’s heartbreaking, but I’m healing.

I hope in your future you take the path of recovery, but I can’t count on it or wait on it. For now, we can’t really be in a relationship. For now, I can only watch you from a distance and pray for your health and wellbeing.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: drinking, creative commons usage


The Long Retelling of My Divorce

off-telling

What I thought marriage would be like.

I was getting married for the second time so I was certain I knew what I was looking for. I needed someone much more stable than my first wife. I needed someone who understood depression; heck if she suffered from it herself that would be okay too. I wanted her to be solid, serious, and able to express herself creatively. And sure, we had to have fun.

What really happened in my marriage.

There was some drama in our courtship. As we were just getting started “dating” my future wife cut off our relationship. She needed to get right with her current boyfriend (WHAT?) and give that some time to sort itself out. It was a classic dear John lunch. And we agreed to not see each other for the foreseeable future. What she didn’t tell me at the time was she was actually living with the guy. Kissing me and living with the guy. I never knew until later. So we embarked on what I called our “moment of silence.” But what it really should’ve been was a BIG RED FLAG to get the fuck out. I didn’t.

She called me several months later, saying, “It’s done.” I was excited and we jumped into the “relationship” part of our courtship rather quickly and easily. She moved in with me a several months after that. And I remember our first fight was over when we would start trying to have a baby. She was getting freaked out by her age, and really wanted children. I did too, but didn’t subscribe to the drama of how quickly we needed to start trying. She freaked out. I consoled. We agreed we would start trying soon after we got married.

We bought a house in the fancy part of town (great schools, expensive, both of us had gone to the same fancy high school and we wanted the best for our kids) and rented my condo. Very quickly we had a mortgage together and were constructing our nest for the kids. She suffered an early (first trimester – were we even into a trimester language yet, I don’t think so) miscarriage. This gave her some sense of urgency that we try real hard to get pregnant. She was very goal oriented.

With the first kid came the burden of the child care and the house upkeep weighing down on us, we began to show some stress. I was working freelance, but had a steady gig with an online magazine. Times were good. 9/11 swept my business right out the door. And she was working part-time for her big employer, mainly to keep the insurance that would provide the coverage for our second child. I was crushed. We were both freaked out by money. We continued down the path to have a second child, but we were both struggling personally.

I suffered a major depression after 9/11 and during the medically challenging birth of our second child. She and mom suffered from a rare medical condition known as Kell. Their blood was incompatible and the mom’s body was trying to kill the daughter’s body. We visited a neonatal specialist every Monday morning for a sonogram that determined if our daughter was would need to be delivered in an emergency C-section, or if we could make it another week. It was harrowing. And our relationship suffered rather than got stronger. Doubt began to creep into my mind for the first time.

Then the hard middle years. Me struggling with depression, trying to find work, and the two kids eating up time, energy, and budget. Of course we were also in the glow of being new parents. We did bask in the amazing joy of being parents. But it was more us and the kids rather than us as a couple.

Nothing ever seemed to be settled for her. There was always something wrong. There wasn’t enough money. There wasn’t enough housekeeping help. There wasn’t enough spontaneous super-dad repairman around the house. She was mad that she had to ask me a couple of times to change a light bulb in the hallway. I was asking, “But the bulbs are right there, you can change it.”

During this hard time she confided in a new male co-worker. They shared several lunches together (just how she and I had gotten started) and I stumbled on an email between them where he was consoling her for being married to a person with depression. In my mind they were having an emotional affair. She apologized when confronted, and though she never apologized for the actual dating, she said she understood how it could make me upset and she would stop immediately. She never said she was sorry for doing it. She was sure she had done nothing wrong. But she would stop because she saw how it was hurting me.

This issue drove a wedge between us that may have been the crack that broke the marriage. We took it into therapy. We struggled with our financial issues. We were both stressed and not really going to each other with the work that needed to be done. I was using the energy to stay up late and write poetry, stories, or go into my music studio and compose. She was going to bed with the kids and waking up groggy and late. I became the “kids to school” dad. I was up. I was energetic and enthusiastic. She was always still getting ready.

Somewhere in that hard period she must’ve thrown in the proverbial towel. I don’t think she suffered from the same eternal optimism I did. I was solid and sure that we could return to the good times. I’m not so sure she felt the same way. She began to tell me how much I was disappointing her. It was part of our therapy that you could and should complain when something was out of balance. So she complained a lot. I struggled to find the way back to the joyful life that I knew was just around the corner. She began saying she didn’t believe that therapy or any of this “working on it” was getting us there.

In the end she made a decision to leave the marriage. While I was still sunk in the business of rebuilding she began to imagine life without me, parenting without me, and perhaps finding a new love, finding happiness again, with someone else. That’s the only motivation I could figure. More happiness elsewhere.

The final straw was certainly on my back. I was let go from the job that had saved us financially. And for three days I struggled to keep it a secret as I was working a new contract gig and interviewing for new jobs. I wanted to tell her, but not from a defeated place, from a place of hope. I wanted to say, “I lost my job, but I’ve already found the way to replace the income, so don’t worry.” It didn’t go down that way.

I was let go on a Friday. She and the kids were out-of-town for the weekend. When she returned on Sunday, I should’ve told her. Maybe I should’ve told her on the phone, but I didn’t want to wreck her holiday. She needed a holiday, for sure. So Monday rolls around, we’ve hardly had a chance to talk and I roll out the door just like I was going to my job, but I was going to my contract job, and later that day going to an interview. I kept the devastating news inside for one more day. I mean, I did have work. I did have a plan. It was a shitty plan, and a shitty thing to do. I thought I was doing it to save our marriage. What I was really doing was giving her the perfect reason to ask for a divorce. My untrustworthiness.

On Wednesday, while I was out at my “job” a letter came in the mail about COBRA medical coverage options. The jig was up. She was rightfully freaked out, more than usual. I was the liar, the untrustworthy child who wouldn’t grow up and take responsibility for his life. And in that position the only thing I had to argue was, “I think this is a turning point for us to regroup, reconnect, and recommit to our relationship.” It was a weak case at a bad time and she didn’t buy it.

That snap took place in March of 2010. In order to keep our kids in school through the end of the year, I argued to stay in the house and keep things “as is,” so they would not have to deal with this until summer. She did not agree, but the school counselor convinced her to wait. “Give them the summer to process this. Don’t do it while they’re finishing up their 3rd grade and 5th grade years.”

We lived in stasis. One of us slept on the couch or in a bed with a kid. I still did the morning breakfast routine, but the “relationship” was gone. In June I left the house and moved in with my sister. In August the divorce was final.

What I brought to the divorce.

I am conflict adverse. I’d rather settle, negotiate, lie, suppress, than get in a fight. My dad the raging alcoholic didn’t give much room for conflict in my family of origin. This caused me, over time, to avoid raising issues with my then-wife as things got tough. When sex went south in the marriage, I simply took care of myself and hoped for better days. I should’ve stood up and demanded we figure it out together.

I also brought my depression to the marriage. As an artistic soul I fluctuate sometimes between inspired highs and hopeless lows. I believe it’s manageable, but to some people it’s too hard.

I also have had a strong desire to work for myself. The “day jobs” I had were often a struggle as I scrambled to find the hours late at night, or early in the morning, to do my craft. It strained the marriage when I was always looking to steal back a few hours for myself. In the last years of my marriage I was helping put the kids to bed at 9 and staying up until 1 or 2 in the morning. Then going to work. I was burning the candle at both ends, and somehow napping, to my then-wife, was a sign of weakness, not a strategy to get more time later at night.

What was good about the marriage.

We did share some tremendous love in the early years of our marriage. While the time with the young kids was stress provoking, we mostly managed to focus on the bliss of becoming new parents, and the amazing evening activity of observing and interacting with these little humans. We loved our kids more than each other, I think, and that was ultimately the decision she made. Towards them (with 70% custody) and away from me. But for a good portion of our marriage we were two artists in love with our children and each other.

We did a good job of focusing on the parenting rather than the issues in our relationship. In divorce, this has been the saving grace. Our kids are now 14 and 16 and are showing signs of being intelligent, well-adjusted teenagers. While the fires have raged over money and the AG’s office, we’ve kept our kids above the fray. I’m sure there are frustrations they are aware of, but for the most part, the story is, we still love each other, we were just not right for each other in the long-term.

I did learn to love full-on in this marriage. I learned to put my whole soul into the project and come back with the joy of being a parent, and being in love, and being married. This total commitment is part of what blindsided me in the divorce. I was okay with things being a bit out of whack, because I “knew” they were going to sort out. I knew we would be happy again. In fact, inside, I was still happy, though the relationship was quite hard for the last year. I still woke up with joy and hopefulness in my heart. I’m not sure my then-wife ever recovered that joy in herself as she seemed consumed by a deeper rage and a sadness that was deeper than our relationship.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

 

@theoffparent

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Why My Ex-Wife Can Never Say She’s Sorry

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The first reason is she thinks she’s been right the entire time. She was right about investigating the divorce before ever mentioning it to me or our couple’s therapist. She was right about the divorce. She was right when she filed against me with the AG’s office. She’s always been right.

Perhaps she’s right to be mad at me still, six years later.

But one thing is for sure, I will die of starvation if I ever want to hear a kind word, or a word of thanks from my ex-wife. I’ve stopped looking for her approval on anything.

Here’s an example.

She and her husband have been talking to me about the AG’s office. One of the concerns we all share has to do with paying for college for two kids. Her husband has one kid in college, so he’s familiar with the costs. So we’re all very concerned about the expenses that we know are heading our way.

So as part of my due diligence I agreed to discuss the topic with my mother. She has made it known that she is leaving trust funds for the kids when she dies, specifically to pay for their college educations. I said that I would ask about the specifics to see if we could get some relief from the additional information.

My mom is leaving a trust fund to each of my kids large enough to pay for college, graduate school, and then some. And what did I hear back from my ex-wife? Nada.

What was I expecting? At least a “Great. Glad to hear it.”

I’ve learned to expect nothing but piss and vinegar from her. She’s bitter and full of bile. And I suppose some of that has rubbed off on my kids. I have a very angry and cynical son. Where did he get that from? How does he have a view that the world somehow is doing him wrong?

My ex-wife could never say she’s sorry for the way she’s treated me. Even after learning our kids are going to be well taken care of, well beyond what my child support or her entire legacy is going to be worth. She might have to admit she was an asshole the entire time. And that, my friends and followers, is never going to happen. So I’d best get over expecting it.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Another Reach for Power and Control After Divorce

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There should not be so much anger six years after my divorce. There should not be so much anger ever.

I’ve been divorced for six years. My ex-wife is “happily” remarried and yet still somehow furious with me. I’m not sure how that’s supposed to work. But I think  you get over your ex and move on. That’s the path to healing. The other, the obsessive hate, is corrosive to everything and everyone around you. Unfortunately my kids live in that environment 70% of the time. The good news is they have come out okay. At 13 and 15 I find them charming, well-balanced, and loving kids. My ex, not so much.

There’s some sort of power and control going on here, even now. She wants to know what companies I’m applying to? She wants to make sure I don’t try to skip out on the AG’s payments when I get my new job?

A great example of the game she’s still playing happened last week.

I am in the process of applying for a lot of jobs these days. And recently, with a financial institution, they let me know a credit check would be part of the final approval of me as an employee. Well, since my ex-wife sent my ass up river to the Attorney General’s office there’s a nifty little red flag on my credit report that says I’m a deadbeat dad. (Thanks ex, that’s really helpful.)

No, generally the AG’s office is reserved for deadbeat dads. Here’s a few definitions of deadbeat dads.

  • Skip out on financial responsibility for their kids
  • Hide money to keep from paying appropriate child support
  • Move away from their kids to keep from paying or being emotionally available
  • Refuses to take responsibility for their kids, financially, emotionally, physically.

I’m none of these things. Here’s what happened. I was working for a small business. The small business lost their main client. I lost my income. I told my ex-wife I would be getting behind while we looked for new clients. She waited exactly two months before filing against me with the AG’s office. Somewhere, somehow, she believed she was working in the best interest of her kids.

I had been talking to a friend who worked for the AG’s office (still does) at that time. I told her, “They do not provide the service you are thinking of. We should work it out between us. Bringing them in is only going to complicate things.” She filed anyway.

Today the AG’s office has a lien against me for the child support payments I missed during my period of unemployment. I asked my ex at that time, “Do you think I’m hiding income from you?” “No,” she replied. “Do you think I’m not looking for a job as hard as I can?” “No,” she said. But somewhere in her “still angry” brain she felt justified at turning me over to a glorified collections agency. And all hell broke loose at that time. Here’s the kicker: she knew the AG’s office would severely fuck with me and she did it anyway.

Did she get her money any sooner? No, because, as I’ve told her repeatedly, if there’s no money coming in there’s no money for either of us. She seems to understand this, but it makes her furious. Anyway, jump forward to last week and this financial institution I’m trying to land a job with. I had to ask my ex wife to write me a note saying I’m a good dad, and explaining that the lien is simply a financial issue we are dealing with together. Wow, that made me feel like I was getting a permission slip in kindergarten.

There’s so much anger coming from her side that this latest move felt normal. I mean, why would she want to give me anything that makes it easier for me?

But it gets better.

As she agreed to write the letter, she also asked to know the firm I was applying with so she could write it specifically to them. I was confused. “Can’t you just write me a “to whom it may concern” letter?” Her new husband said it would carry more weight if it was written specifically to the employer. “Great,” I said. “Then I need three more letters.” And she produced them.

There’s some sort of power and control going on here, even now. She wants to know what companies I’m applying to? She wants to make sure I don’t try to skip out on the AG’s payments when I get my new job? More likely she’s just being mean and finding a way to stay in control. And she is in control. But now each day I’m going to ask her for more letters. And she will write them. I guess this will continue until either 1. I have a new job, or 2. she gives up control and writes me the “to whom” letter.

There’s so much anger coming from her side that this latest move felt normal. I mean, why would she want to give me anything that makes it easier for me? And how better to keep on top of me than to require a letter of release for each potential employer.

Oh the joys of a power-hungry ex-wife. Blessings on her. I hope someday she forgives me so she can turn around and finally forgive herself for deciding to exit our marriage.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Serenity with my Ex-wife Begins and Ends with Me

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I will never see eye to eye with my ex-wife. She turned my late-payer ass over to the collection agency of the state, and all hell has broken loose in my life ever since. There really is no forgive and forget in that situation. It was NOT “in the best interest of the children.” It was not even in the best interest of my ex-wife, but if you spoke with her today, I’m sure she’d disagree.

See I WAS behind. But that was due to employment, not willingness to pay. And since then, I’ve paid her 1/3 or 1/2 of every dollar I’ve made. But the AG’s office of the state of Texas still has a whopping lien on my ass. I can’t get a used car, I can’t rent an apartment, set up new phone service, nothing. I’m not only a deadbeat dad in the eyes of the state, but I’m a 400 or less on my credit score. See how far that will take you.

Somehow, I’m still negotiating just taking the AG’s boot of my neck. The good news is I’m negotiating with my ex-wife’s new husband. He sees things in a more business light. Still he too is convinced that as an accounting system, the AG’s office is fine to have in our relationship. I disagree, but it’s not up to me. My ex-wife holds all the keys. And that’s how she wanted it. She grabbed the power stroke by putting the AG’s office on her side and against me. Call them up for any information and you quickly get the idea that as a non-custodial parent you are a lesser citizen. In fact, you wouldn’t be contacting them if there wasn’t an issue. And if there’s an issue the non-custodial parent is the only party that could be in the wrong. Simply put, according to the AG’s office, you owe her this money. It is a debt. What are you going to do today, how much money can we have out of your checking account today, to take care of it.

So I have to begin seeking serenity with myself. I have to forgive myself for the job loss, the employment struggles that are so common in our current economy. I have to give myself a break first, even if the AG’s office won’t.

I’m hopeful that my ex-wife’s husband can be a man about the situation and realise ONE MAJOR FACT: I cannot, am not, will not, ask for relief from the money I owe my ex-wife in back child support. That’s the law. There is no need for the AG’s office to be involved unless the dad is trying to skip out on his obligations. I am not. There is no need for the AG’s office unless the dad is hard to track, bill, or find. I am not.

I cannot get satisfaction from her new husband either. He sees the AG’s office as a convenient accounting department for the rest of our contract. That’s bullshit, and he’s spouting her rhetoric, but again, the healing is up to me. Here’s what I can do.

  1. Pay 1/3 of every dollar I make to my ex-wife until my kids both turn 18.
  2. Keep seeing gainful employment that would put a nice cash flow system in place for everyone.
  3. Ask for the removal of the AG’s lien.

The outcome is not up to me. I am responsible for my actions. I am responsible for nailing one of the next three job interviews. I am responsible to explaining to the potential employer that contrary to my credit report, I am NOT A DEAD BEAT DAD. (That’s a bit of a harder sell, but I don’t think we’re going to get relief any time soon.)

I may not reach serenity with my ex-wife and her new husband ever. That’s okay. The serenity is within me. I am doing, have done, and will do the best I can to support my kids and keep my relationship to them above the fray my ex continues to keep seething around us. The AG’s office is not your friend. If you sick the AG’s office on your ex I sincerely hope you are doing it as a last resort.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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My Ex-Wife Never Was All That Honest

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She was living with another man when we started having lunches. She started dating me before telling me or him of the other person. Along the way, that summer, she shut down our relationship so she could go “finish up” with him. She called me about six weeks later.

That opening volley should have been a red flag. But I was smitten. She was/is very pretty. I was very lonely. We hooked up soon after she moved out and she moved in with me in a matter of weeks. She made a very sensible move. She let go of the man who was unlikely to ever give her a child, something she had desperately begun to think about, and she found a man of means who was also ready for kids. Bingo.

There were a couple of wrinkles in her fantasy, however. 1. I did not make enough money to support a stay-at-home mom in the neighborhood we were committed to raising our children. 2. I suffered from occasional bouts of depression. She did too, but that’s another story all together.

So there we were, heading towards kids with some drastic changes to make. I was playing in a band, working for myself, and living in a condo that was paid for but not big enough to raise a family. What she needed was for me to get a real job, quit the band, and buy a house that could support our desired 2 kids in the neighborhood with the good schools. I caught the vision to. And so that’s what we did. I quit the band, got a full-time job, and we moved from my condo to a house in the “good schools” neighborhood. Of course we were 5 – 6 years ahead of needing those good schools, but hey, we were kids, we were in love, we were becoming parents.

So time goes along for a bit, we have two kids, a boy and then a girl, and we start having the frictions that married-with-children couples do. And a lot of that trouble had to do with money. I didn’t really think of it at the time, because we had decided to have her stay home with the kids as much as possible, while I continued the “big job” pursuit. While things went okay, the job market after 9-11 was awful. Our boat was taking on water. We spent most of the cash from the sale of the condo, and we were down to bare bones on our mortgage and house repairs.

It was about this time, and for some of those reasons, that I started a major slide into overwhelm, otherwise known as major depression. Not only was I responsible for an entire little family now, and a house payment, I also had lost my self-employment opportunity when the real estate market shut down after 9-11. Everybody had it hard, I get that, but somehow we didn’t join together as a team. Somehow we grew apart and the plan was for me to work, and work harder at finding work, and for her to … Well, we weren’t really sure what she was going to do. She didn’t know what she “wanted” to do, so I was committed to letting her fish around and figure it out. Meanwhile, our finances are swirling down the drain. But I never was one for being a stickler around money.

About the time things got really hard, she began to take lunches with a co-worker from a new group she was consulting with. Of course, I had no idea she was doing lunch with anyone. I stumbled upon a series of emails between them one afternoon while I was de-spamming our communal computer. BOOM. I was punched in the dick. She was revealing her deepest secrets, her concerns for my depression, her loneliness, and even her own inner struggles about being married to someone with depression.

I remember she came home with the kids and tried to talk to me about the evening plans. I was almost incoherent. It might have been easy to chalk that up to my struggles with depression, but this was different. Somewhere along the way she had taken out our personal love story and begun sharing it with another man. She was introducing him to the free coffee at our neighborhood library. She was doing lunches with a younger man just when her actual man needed her the most.

She came clean at this point. Not at doing anything wrong, but in acknowledging how this behavior might hurt me. She agreed to never do it again, and to end the “relationship” with this other man. But the damage had been done. She’d broken our sacred trust. And I am not sure if I ever felt 100% secure in my relationship after that. When sex went on hiatus, I remember wondering if she were seeing another man on the side, this time with physical comforts as well as mental comforts. I don’t think that was ever the case, but I’m not 100% sure.

Once the infidelity happens, even if it’s only emotional, the trust suffers. The odd thing, however, is how she made our “trust” an issue that I was mostly responsible for damaging. The “trust” issues seemed to all be about me. Not us? Our therapy sessions were less than productive as we searched for answers to MY depression and MY trust issues. She was the “okay” one.

Today, it’s easier to see how the entire relationship had been based on half-truths and omissions. I don’t have any regrets, at this point, because I look at our kids and I know we did the best we could. The best we could, however was less than 100% from her. At the moment when your partner is suffering and in need of your comfort, that is not the time to begin a “friendship” with a new person from work. A woman, maybe, but a handsome man?

I have learned a lot about trust and honesty in my life. My first and second marriages have taught me many things. I know that I will not tolerate infidelity, emotional or physical, and that TRUST is an issue that is shared. We had a trust issue in our marriage. While she was actually out doing something untrustworthy, I was the one being attacked. Perhaps the attack was the only defense she could come up with, for the way she was feeling inside.

She knew the moment I spoke of it, that afternoon when I found the email, that she had betrayed me. She never fully apologized for it. She said she wouldn’t do it again. That was as good as it ever got between us. I think that fracture is what led me towards divorce once it was offered. While I fought against the divorce, when I saw what I was up against, I gave in and complied. I guess I did the same thing at the beginning of our relationship when I first heard about the other man she was living with.

Things would be very different in my life had I walked away. I did not.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Why Fathers Give Up After Divorce

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

Nathan S from a Father-centric FB Group.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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I May Never Reach Serenity with my Ex-Wife

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-5-12-49-am

Divorce is hard. Coparenting is hard. Being civil to someone who is constantly attacking you is hard. Being solid and positive for my kids, above everything else, above all she throws at me, is not hard.

Sure we do it for the kids. We tried to keep the marriage together “for the kids,” and that didn’t work out so well. After divorce, you’ve got a harder hill to climb. You can NEVER let your angry face show. You’re coparent is golden in the eyes of the kids. There is no other option. Any anger you voice to your kids about your ex comes back to haunt everyone. I can’t say I’m not tempted.

And her best, today, means the AG’s office gives her some reassurance that she will eventually get every dollar she was awarded in the divorce decree. It’s a shame she sees that as an entitlement and not a cooperative agreement.

Just yesterday I was really really tempted to tell my 13 yo daughter, “You know at 15 you can decide who you want to live with.” I’d never say it. But I wanted to. I wanted to reclaim my daughter for the last few years of her attached child role. Once she’s gone to college all things change. And their mom made some decisions that forever changed our trajectory together. And to say I got the short end of the bargain would we an understatement.

I got the typical non-custodial role. I pay child support to the tune of $1,300 per month, and I get the kids about 30% of the time. That’s not fair. But that’s Texas. In fact, that’s still most of the country. The dad is a second class citizen. Oh, and did I mention she got the house and paid-for car too?

Still, there is no time to be angry with your ex. If you spend time fuming at them, you are wasting your own life. If you can channel that energy into something creative (writing a blog for example) then you can make use of the wonderful power that anger brings. I’m angry with my ex-wife. She does things daily that confound me and clearly do not live by the “do unto others” rule. But she has also abided by the no negatives rule. We focus on the parenting of our kids. There may be money issues, and basic courtesy issues that are all out of whack, but we make our best effort to keep our kids out of the fray between us.

The best result is that our kids are happy, productive, and thriving in high school and middle school. You will do almost anything to keep that positive result as the focus of your relationship with the other parent. Yes, I named this blog in an attempt to capture some of the “off” things that my ex does, but it’s also a testament to venting anonymously and keeping the shit-storm out of their lives.

I’m sure she does not see it the same way. I’m sure she doesn’t read me anymore, but she knows this blog is out here. And yes I’m cataloging the ills, tribulations, and trials of being a father with a narcissistic ex. My coparenting skills are tested almost weekly. I have to breathe and stop all action. From this calm place, I can remember the faces of my lovely children and take the next right action. It is NEVER to attack my ex. I’d like to. I’d really like to let her have it. I’d like to sue her and get 50/50 custody as I had asked for. But I won’t.

Yes, it’s my kid’s problem, because they have to deal with her attitude and resentment 70% of the time. But when they are with me, I can be 100% positive, no matter what.

I have to admit things are working out for me. I’ve got a new relationship (2 years) that’s heading towards marriage in several months. I’ve got my health. And in the near future I will also be rebuilding my credit.  She says, “I just don’t see it,” when I ask about removing their boot from my ass. But she too is doing her best. I have to believe this. And her best, today, means the AG’s office gives her some reassurance that she will eventually get every dollar she was awarded in the divorce decree. It’s a shame she sees that as an entitlement and not a cooperative agreement. Yes, it’s enforceable. And yes, she’s enforcing it. But she doesn’t need to. I am paying 1/3 of every dollar I make. Every. Single. Dollar. Suing me is not going to change the pace or the improve the volatility of the employment market.

Today I can say I love my ex-wife and hate her at the same time. Yes, yes, “it’s a thin line…” but this is something more. She still carries a lot of contempt and anger towards me. This is exemplified in her need to keep the state’s lawyers in the picture. Heck, she even works for lawyers, so you’d think she’d get some counsel. And today she’s married to a wealthy man. She’s still not happy, but guess what? It’s no longer my problem. Yes, it’s my kid’s problem, because they have to deal with her attitude and resentment 70% of the time. But when they are with me, I can be 100% positive, no matter what.

Get that engraved in your heart. Positive no matter what.

And love on.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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When You’re Trying to CoParent with a Narcissist

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

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

While married there always seemed to be some problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s just not happy.

I am happy.

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

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

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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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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Dear Ex-Wife, You’re Missing the Point

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

Even though:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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A Thin Line Between Love and Hate: Marriage to Divorce

OFF-2016-loveandhate

How did I get in this position? How did my ex-wife get so entitled that she turned my ass over to the Attorney General of the great state of Texas for “enforcement.” How did I get assigned to the Special Collections Unit? How do I still have to look my ex in the eyes and smile at our children’s school and sporting events? When did it all switch from love-and-working-on-it to divorced-and-where’s-my-money?

She wanted me to take the kids to some of their doctor’s appointments. She wanted to balance things out more. Um, wait, that’s what you argued against when we were dividing up our parenting duties.

We’d have to roll the video tape way back to catch the first moments of contempt. It was easy over email for her to be a total bitch. She too was a writer. She prided herself on her pretzel logic and how she could write a scathing email and argue both sides of the issue and leave me utterly confused about what she was saying. Face-to-face we usually did pretty good. But give her some room, the ability to focus on some imaginary image of me as the dead beat dad, and she could tear me to shreds.

I saw this first-hand only once since we’ve been divorced. We had chosen to see our kid’s therapist for a counseling session on keeping our parenting schedule amicable. She was beginning to sag a bit under the strain of the standard possession order (SPO) that she had argued for and won. She wanted me to take the kids to some of their doctor’s appointments. She wanted to balance things out more. Um, wait, that’s what you argued against when we were dividing up our parenting duties. You seemed to think you were the responsible one, that you were the nurturing one, that you should get the kids 65% of the time.

And again just this week she sent me an email about some detail of one of our kids and lobbed this love bomb over the transom at the end of it. “Also, J needs his vaccine.”

When I responded to the initial reason for the email but did not volunteer to take my son to the doctor, she responded, after thanking me for the first portion of the acceptable response, “I don’t know how to take your silence on the doctor’s appointment.”

Perhaps I should’ve let her have a touch of my anger, but I didn’t. Maybe silence was more passive aggressive. Or was it aggressive aggressive? Either way, I did not take the bait nor the action item to get our son to the doctor. 1. She didn’t ask, she just lobbed it into the previous conversation. 2. She didn’t ask the second time she just showed a bitch sign for her disapproval. 3. She still didn’t ask.

But it shouldn’t be like an invoice that I owe. It should be a cooperative arrangement between two people that still love their children, just not each other.

But let’s put another chess piece out on the table between us. Two and a half years ago she turned our decree over to the AG’s office for enforcement. Now I’m a dead beat dad on paper, and the lien on my credit report means I can’t get a used car loan for less than 19% and a home rental company denied me without even talking to me about the issue. Yeah, it’s a big issue. And yeah, I owe her some money at this point. But even without the AG’s office I would’ve owed her the money. And I will pay it all to her. But I can’t pay her any money if I have no money coming in. When I lost an anchor client in my small business, I begged her to be patient and to listen to my voice, “I will get you the money. I’m talking to new potential clients everyday.”

And today you’d hear her say, “He didn’t pay me anything for the entire summer and he was threatening to not pay me at all.”

She knows this is not true. I am obligated by law to pay her every penny on the decree, regardless of my employment status or ability to pay. But it shouldn’t be like an invoice that I owe. It should be a cooperative arrangement between two people who still love their children, just not each other. But somewhere along the way her anger turned towards me as the root of her problems. Somehow my job, or lack of job, was making her uncomfortable. And that made her furious while we were married, and doubly so after we were divorced.

So in I went to Mr. McK****’s Special Collections Unit. Dead beat dad. Credit score below 450. Fucked, essentially.

Today I’m working a job that pays for the child support and the health care for the kids and little else. If I didn’t have a fiancé who had a good job I’d still be living at my mom’s house. Do you think she had sympathy for my situation? Do you think she was aware of the impact losing my house had on the kids? No. I took it all in a very Ferris Bueller way: I smiled and sang danke schoen while she refused to accept any of my offers to secure the debt I owed to her. But I was doing that for the kids. They didn’t need to get in the middle of their mom’s contempt for me.

In the AG’s eyes I am paying the maximum amount they are allowed to take from my paycheck. That’s the best I can do. Sure, I’d love to help my ex-wife and my kids, but I’m afraid my hands are tied.

My kids will know, when they are older, that their mom did these things to me. I’m too nice a man to reveal the heart of the matter to them while they are still in high school. They need both parents right now. But at some point they will want to read my divorce book.

There’s one last tidbit that came up last week that brings a small smile to my face. In January my daughter suffered a major migraine headache and had to be hospitalized. Even though I have great insurance for them, the deductible was quite high. My ex-wife asked me to split the bill with her. Um…

In the AG’s eyes I am paying the maximum amount they are allowed to take from my paycheck. That’s the best I can do. Sure, I’d love to help my ex-wife and my kids, but I’m afraid my hands are tied. I suppose she can sue me. She works for a law firm. It wouldn’t surprise me any more than I was surprised when she told me she consulted an attorney after we’d been in couples therapy for a few months.

Nothing surprises me about her adverse actions. Striking at me was moving against the best interests of the kids. Now she can have her AG-sanctioned income, tax-free, and howl until she passes out before I give her an extra dime. No, honey, you blew through cooperation two and a half years ago. Dig it?

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Where the Sidewalk Ends

OFF-header-sidewalkends

[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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A Period of Ease

angers

I need a little anger right now. Things have been too cordial between the exy and me.

WAIT A MINUTE. Be careful what you ask for…

Let me take that back.

I am usually engaged in some creative project that has the potential to break me free from the constrains of the steady job, child support and insurance payments.

I could use the energy that I get from being really angry about something. Often that target has been the divorce and damage done. Recently, my anger has been pointed in at myself. And I’m still struggling a little with that. Like what did I do with all that OFF time when I wasn’t writing or publishing? Yeah, I lost some weight, but wasn’t it mainly due to my suppressed appetite?

What if a good portion of life is really fairly mundane? And we seek out anger, excitement, even depression when things get to smooth. I’m not saying that’s what happened in October when I “took a digger,” but there’s something to be said for my initial sentence there at the top of this post.

I don’t do mundane very well. I am usually engaged in some creative project that has the potential to break me free from the constrains of the steady job, child support and insurance payments, to liberate me as an ARTIST once and for all. But is that how it works?

I’d like some anger because it makes for a better, more impassioned story. I’d like some anger because it fuels attention outside myself rather that AT myself. I’d like some anger because the mundane is boring.

I know that I have always put my sails to the wind in search of a big win. Writing and music, those have been my inspirations. And neither of those paths offer quick or simple wins. There’s really not that many slots on American Idol, and I’m a bit old for the camera anyway.

But I go on. I keep working.

The kids don’t care. They don’t even know. They are teenagers and in many ways so is my ex-wife. Shopping, shopping, shopping.

I’m in a lull. Not a deep lull, that’s what I’m coming out of. But I’m not firing on all cylinders yet, and this makes me sad, scared, a bit bored, and mostly just restless for the burning inspiration that comes from the white-hot heat.

I’m not asking for an incident. I’m not asking for a movie deal. I’m really asking my inner creative to get back to the task at hand. Writing. The blog is a great start, but it’s not going to earn me any royalties. Meanwhile, I continue to have very little money in my pocket, because in the divorce I agreed to pay child support AND healthcare for both kids. That’s good when you have a job that provides for a good portion of that expense, but when you’re paying it all, or paying through COBRA, it’s a lot to swallow.

There’s my anger. Why am I working a job to give 98% of it to my ex-wife and kids? The kids don’t care. They don’t even know. They are teenagers and in many ways so is my ex-wife. Shopping, shopping, shopping. That’s the mantra in that household. It’s not a way to establish a relationship or orient a life. But I’m not privy to the 65% of their “family” time. I’m only able to provide my parenting around alternating weekends. And in some ways I’m afraid I’m becoming my father.

Does my son even know me? Am I just the next dress shirt that I can buy for him? Does my daughter think of things other than Lululemon? And I’m complicit to a certain extent, I let them squirrel away into their rooms most of the time. They are 13 and 15. Tough times to be sure, but I’ve got to do a better job of setting some examples of “things we can do together, besides shopping.”

It’s a challenge.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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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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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
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Her Unfair Advantage and My Loaded Weapon

OFF-clint

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

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

I am weaving a story.

I am clear today about several things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This blog has been an unwinding of dark things, an opening of new ideas and possibilities, and even a release and prayer for the health and happiness of my ex-wife.

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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