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

hardstuff

Texts From the Ex. What’s the Crisis?

OFF-texts

Very few messages from the ex-y are welcoming and warm. That’s fine. We’ve stripped down to the bare metal in our relationship. What do you need? When is the transfer? Can you take her to volleyball on Tuesdays?

And for the most part, things are fairly simple and civil, until there’s a problem. Then it’s either a minor issue, an escalation of a minor issue into a more important one, and on up to a crisis. We’ve got a crisis on our hands lately. It’s about one of our dogs. The old fella we rescued a year before the divorce. I should say, “she” rescued, because it was 100% her deal.

It wasn’t a crisis on Monday, though she made it a crisis. It’s not a crisis today. She’s relaxing back into “we’ll just take him whenever” mode…

So the old fella doesn’t like cold weather. And when it’s cold and rainy outside he tends to skip the brisk exit into the back yard and he takes care of his business inside somewhere. Okay, we can solve for that. So he’s in a fenced-in tile area in her house. It’s a pain in the ass, but we’re not too far from better weather. And, in fact, if all goes to plan, we’re weeks away from me re-housing and having a place for him in my environment.

But… That’s not usually the way things work. Something escalates and she begins to spin up the BFC drive. (Big Fkin Crisis)

Over the weekend we started the march towards a confrontation. She was convinced that the dog was ready to be put to sleep. I was convinced she was overreacting due to my new job, the promise of a steady income stream, and a host of other variables that tend to flare up for her when something great happens in my life. On Monday the full-blown ISSUE had caught fire. And after several furious texts I simply said my piece, “Deal with the fkin dog for two more weeks,” and stopped responding to her texts that arrived every two minutes for at least 20 minutes. I wasn’t even reading them at this point.

On Tuesday she sent a text that started, “I hate to text you about this kind of thing, but …”

I didn’t respond. About 10-minutes later she sent an email. I responded.

We made plans according to her needs and fears. She would take the dog to the vet on Friday for evaluation and an overnight. On Saturday we would pick him up together, with our daughter, to get the jointly heard and jointly approved plan for the burning crisis, that to me just seemed like an old dog who didn’t want to go out in the cold to poop.

Yesterday she texted me if she could take the kids on Saturday to the gym with her. My Saturday. I reminded her that we were picking up the dog at that time. She started a renegotiation dialogue which I shut down with a “I’d rather you not take them to the gym on my weekend.”

Today this

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 3.20.27 PM

I don’t want to renegotiate. The crisis was not necessary on Monday, and we came up with a plan during the crisis of Wednesday to take care of the crisis… WTF? So I asked a reasonable question.

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 2.53.45 PM

Then of course, yadda yadda yadda.

Well, here’s the deal. It wasn’t a crisis on Monday, though she made it a crisis. It’s not a crisis today. She’s relaxing back into “we’ll just take him whenever” mode and it makes me a little pissed that she’s ramped up so much BS around a non-issue and now she’s going to drop it?

Maybe she was fking with me all along. Either way, I’m writing here on my anonymous blog rather than to her. Because there is no discussion that needs to happen.

.Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 3.24.09 PM

Yeah, let’s let that sleeping dog keep sleeping.

Screen Shot 2015-01-23 at 2.19.06 PM

Oh crap, here comes another one…

It’s 4:15 on Friday afternoon. I am picking the kids up after school from her house. Should I push the issue or just release and breathe?

*OM*

+++

But wait, the story continues here, twenty minutes later:  The Best Will Come Out, Eventually… But First This

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Winter of My Discontent: Ex-Partners and Co-Parents

OFF-discontent

Last week I started my big corporate job again and my ex-wife couldn’t be more excited. So excited, in fact, that the morning before I started my first day she sent me instructions about how I should set up the kid’s insurance and recommending that I set the child support on auto-withdrawal. “It’s better for the kids.”

It’s not much different than the way she acted the last time I got the big corporate job that pulled our family up out of an economic recession. That time I was on my orientation trip to San Francisco, and the first morning, before I’d even had a chance to meet my new colleagues she was hassling me about what day the kid’s insurance would kick in and when my first check would be deposited, and why didn’t the company pre-pay for the hotel room, before I checked in. We got in a dramatic yelling argument about how I was being irresponsible for not getting this information upfront. I hadn’t even made it to the office to get my employee packet, and she was angry with me for not doing it right.

She got mad at some point and stayed that way. Mad when going to bed. Mad when waking up in the morning. And somehow I was usually the recipient of the antagonist’s laurel.

I couldn’t fathom back then, six or more years ago, that she could be mad at me when the tap was about to be turned back on, in a big way. How was it possible that at the moment of my start she was pissed about how I was treating her, how I was behaving. This seems to be a pattern. And unfortunately it does not seem to have abated in the nearly five years we’ve been divorced.

On Monday of this week, day four of my job, she was asking for the insurance card, even though I gave her the group number and company on Thursday (day 2) and said the new plan would kick in on Feb. 1. Even with that information she said she wanted the card to schedule an appointment for our daughter. When I told her about the Feb. 1 start date and the number that I’d already given her, she snapped back that she was just getting ready to set up our daughter’s annual physical. She said, of course she could wait until the policy started.

And there are a few more things she’s on-top of at the moment. It’s as if, the moment things look up, improve, she’s got to act quickly so she doesn’t miss anything. Or is she so aggressive when I have new changes, usually for the better, that she feels she needs to bring me down a notch, knock a little sense into my euphoria.

In San Francisco, I asked her to come join me. I had made arrangements for the kids to be taken care of by my mom and sister. We needed a romantic break. We needed something nice. She got even more mad about this fantasy. She was incensed that I was considering spending the $450 dollars for her round-trip ticket. Of course the hotel room was already covered. And we’d need to be buying and eating food no matter where we were. But she was pissed.

And in some ways she’s never gotten un-pissed. And I’m still not all that clear what she’s mad about. She hasn’t always been mad. But she got mad at some point and stayed that way. Mad when going to bed. Mad when waking up in the morning. And somehow I was usually the recipient of the antagonist’s laurel. Well, I’m sorry she’s mad, but it’s really not my problem any more. Oh yes, I still have to deal with it, but when she began blowing up my phone on Monday morning with angry text messages, I did not have to respond.

I am learning to let go. And perhaps she can still be influenced towards a more empathetic approach.

And I’m sure it has been hard for her, having to do with less in the nice house. Not being able to afford a maid. Having to work full-time. I’m sure those are things that could be pinned on me, as the issue. But I’m no longer there to stand in as her target. And I no longer need to respond to her every complaint or rant. And sometimes silence is the best response.

The culmination of all this angst yesterday came in a text that started, “I hate to text you about this, but…”

I didn’t respond.

She sent the same message 15 minutes later via email.

I am learning to let go. And perhaps she can still be influenced towards a more empathetic approach. Or maybe not. Either way my response, or non-response is up to me. I can only control my own actions, and that’s fine. As a divorced parent, there are a few things I still have to engage with her about. But that tick list is short. And if it’s not about the kids… Well, silence and not attacking in-kind is my compassionate repose.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Fundamental Flaw at the Beginning of My Marriage

OFF-last-winter

I didn’t know it when we started going to lunches together, but the woman who would eventually become my wife and the mother of my children was living with another man. I’m certain that he didn’t know she was seeing me across town at some organic restaurant and sharing smiles and flirts and “catching up.” And years later, as things were getting tough in my marriage, I didn’t know that she was having lunches with a younger man across town. She didn’t tell either of us about her lunches with other men.

I caught on when I read an email that looked like spam to be deleted from the family computer. It wasn’t spam. It was an explicitly intimate letter about their lunch, their trip to our local library, and a few of the deep topics they discussed, including my depression and her unhappiness.

The real crux of her secrecy was how it came out in other ways, and ultimately how the issue of trust was paraded out over and over again as “my” issue.

I guess that’s how it starts. Emotional infidelity might eventually lead to a sexual affair, and most likely to divorce. But we were struggling, that’s for sure, but in my mind we were struggling together, to get through tough emotional and financial times. The break in our team effort, the inclusion of this stranger, a man I’d never met, felt almost unbearable. I WAS struggling with depression. And I was in one of the deepest periods when I came across this letter. I entered a period of deep detachment.

I confronted her. We went to therapy. We worked through it. Sort of. She apologized. She said she understood how this could be hurtful to me. She never owned the infidelity aspect of what she’d done, but she said she’d never do it again.

Years later as our sex life wained, and I was asking and trying to unlock the combination to her sexual desire, the ideas of this “other man” haunted me. What was preventing her, really, in this obviously unhappy state, from seeking satisfaction outside the marriage? How was I supposed to understand the total lack of intimacy with me, and not imagine that she was being open and sharing with someone. Maybe her therapist. Maybe another man.

And throughout the course of our marriage there were casual dates with her ex-husband that she didn’t tell me about. So in some corner of her mind her “lunches” were none of my business. I didn’t get it.

The real crux of her secrecy was how it came out in other ways, and ultimately how the issue of trust was paraded out over and over again as “my” issue. When I got a speeding ticket and didn’t tell her, I was being deceitful. All these little things kept adding up and dominating our couple’s counseling. My problems. My depression. And until the tail end of our marriage, as I was gainfully employed and beginning to feel some of my natural self-confidence back, I just went along with the story that I had a lot of issues to work through. But wait…

I did begin to speak up that Christmas and January/February before she asked for the divorce in March. I had started asking about closeness. I had started challenging her isolation and anger issues as she pointed them at me. I began to hear her “fuck you” outbursts when they came at random times. And at this time I was unwilling to bow down to the plea that I was the problem. It wasn’t me, baby, it was WE. We had a problem and it was time to either put up (“Let me out of the glass box,” I would say.) or break up. Even as I would like to put the “asking for divorce” on her shoulders, I was pressing the issue of closeness.

In the final moment of exposure and truth, I expressed my love and desire and my hope that we could rebuild from ground zero.

And in my expressions of passion mixed with righteous anger, I was saying, “Either things change, or I’m outta here.” My flaw was, I was fighting to say in the marriage, I was fighting from a belief that the foundation of our family was more important that any “issue” we had between is. I was stripping the relationship back down to its core to examine the fundamentals. “How can we go months without kissing? How is that okay with you?”

And in that last moment, I still believed we were in therapy to join together again. However, I also knew that our therapist was not a marriage counselor, he was working to get us actually hearing each other. He was trying to get us to the reality of our relationship, and not biasing our conversations in any way, but allowing us to sort through the issues. In these last sessions I believe we began to hear one another. And in the final moment of exposure and truth, I expressed my love and desire and my hope that we could rebuild from ground zero.

My then-wife expressed her dissatisfaction with our relationship and how I was not changing enough to give her hope that things could be different. She was talking about trust. She was claiming the high ground at that last second, and pointing the finger at me, saying I was not honest enough. Her statement of clarity at the end of our marriage was that she did not see any hope that I was going to become (change to become) the man she needed.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Note: I think this poem unlocked the feelings to make this post possible: love and what was missing

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She’s Still Mad at Me

OFF-madgirl

It’s been almost four years since my divorce was finalized. Today marks the anniversary of my leaving my house, our house, for the last time. And I’m not exactly sure how or when it happened, but my then girlfriend-to-wife-to-parent was not so unhappy when we met. I would’ve run the other way had she shown the vitriol she is capable of maintaining and even increasing over time. What happened?

I hear the story all the time: responsible mom, lazy dad, equals unhappy family. But that’s not the way it was in our house, in my eyes. But that’s the problem right there, “in my eyes.” I have no way of knowing what happened in her eyes. I cannot pull out the thoughts in her head and thus I am left with only my side of the story.

We had some great times and some hard times. And we rallied along together for a long part of our marriage. Through financial difficulties, through a major medical scare with the pregnancy of our second child, and even through some emotional infidelity on her part. I forgave. We grew bigger as a couple. And we continued with our married life. Everybody has ups and downs.

It’s impossible for me to know what her thought processes were. Other than fighting with me, she didn’t share to many of her dreams of where she was going, or what she wanted.

And just as we were beginning to find some footing again, my stable job at a huge corporate tech company, the kids doing well in school and thriving, and her retooling her career and reimagining where she wanted to go from here. Well, something in her eventual vision began to exclude me from those visions.

It happened just as the 2009 economic downturn forced my big corp employer to layoff all of my innovative team. Since we were not directly tied to an ROI we were let go, but in the most generous way possible. Essentially I was given a small golden parachute, that said, “Thanks for your effort, here’s a little something to send you on your way.”

But this was the beginning of the end of my marriage. In this moment of repose, refactoring what I wanted to be doing next, I saw this moment as a great opportunity for both of us, for our whole family, to reestablish priorities around our work/life balance. And the parachute gave us nearly 8 months of running room, in my mind.

Not in my then wife’s mind.

We had lunch one day, soon after my sabbatical began. I had started a blog (which I still write) about digital marketing and I was enjoying a little extra rest and flexibility. We were talking about the future over tacos.

“So, I think we’ve got a little breathing room to decide what we want to do next,” I said.

“It’s not that much money.”

“What?”

“What’s going to happen when the money runs out?”

We argued. She too was looking for work at this moment, but she was trying on several different paths and not having much success establishing a new career. I was applying for jobs and playing tennis in the afternoons, and getting a bit of time to myself.

She really didn’t want to work full-time and she was pressuring me, in more than one way, to get the next job that would make all of our lives easier.

At this point, looking back, I can only guess at her mindset. Either we were both going to start working in some full-time capacity, or I was going to find another big corp high-paying job, and she could continue to seek her bliss. I was imagining a few months to regroup and reset our priorities together. She was already done with that and really just wanted me to go back to work, and quickly, before there was a gap in our income stream.

Um… We had a disconnect. And this is about the time the “fuck you” outbursts started showing up in her vocabulary. I can only guess that things would’ve been easier for her if I had merely complied and taken the first corp job that came along and we could return to status quo.

But I was unhappy with the arrangement, as I shipped off to work everyday to a 45 minute commute each way, and arrived home in time for dinner, or in time to bring dinner home. She wasn’t really doing the happy housewife has dinner ready thing, not that I expected that. I was stressed and tired a lot of the time. The culture at this corp gig was notoriously bad and it had become more hellish once a re-org took away my manager and replaced it with an arch-enemy. My last year at the corp gig was pure antagonism.

Unfortunately, the next year of marriage would be pretty antagonistic as well. I was unclear what was going on at the time, and today I can merely guess at the worries in her head that led her down the divorce path rather than the joining-in-a-new-dream path.

The stereotype is of the man who does nothing around the house. He goes to work and says, “Well, I’ve brought home the money, you do the rest.” But that wasn’t our arrangement at all. If anything we were 50/50 parents. I was the early riser who made lunches and breakfasts and got everyone out the door, including my then-wife when she was working. I was actively trying to do better and better at noticing chores and doing them without being asked. But honestly (and this is a common refrain as well) I didn’t see a lot of the issues she saw. The dishes in the sink overnight were worth the opportunity to wrestle with my kids for a few more minutes before they went to bed.

She didn’t see it that way. But something about her attitude about the differences between us began to change. Some how the situation, or her anxiety about the situation, was my fault. Even though it was pretty obvious that dell had laid-off about 5,000 people, somehow I wasn’t fulfilling the required breadwinner role at the moment. I was fine with that. She was not.

But here’s the part that I still have difficulty understanding. It was during this year, as we were trying to negotiate our new financial order, that she made -$5,000 for the year. I didn’t see this number until we were doing our taxes the next February. And I was happy to support her in looking for something she wanted to do for a living, but she was NOT finding any work. Okay. So the pressure grew on our financial planning, and eventually my severance came to an end, and while I had done a bit of consulting work, I was nowhere near making our full nut with my consulting business. But the big corp job had not presented itself even though I was applying all the time.

And this is when things really began to break down. The only thing I can come up with, as I try and project myself into her mind (which I can’t do, but we always try) is that she really didn’t want to work full-time and she was pressuring me, in more than one way, to get the next job that would make all of our lives easier. Um… No.

In the end, I would’ve stayed in the marriage despite the unhappiness, so in many ways she did us both a favor.

And in December of that last year of our marriage I did get the next big corp gig. And while it was thrilling, there was very little celebration on my family side. Rather than be excited about my new income stream, she was fighting with me on my first week on the job about “when does the insurance kick in?” I was excited and fighting about money at the same time. It was an awful feeling. I had WON the big job but LOST my happy wife.

The happy wife never returned. And perhaps when she landed the full-time job in February, she was already mapping plans for her departure. Again it’s impossible for me to know what her thought processes were. Other than fighting with me, she didn’t share to many of her dreams of where she was going, or what she wanted. Well, beyond me getting the next big job and us all living happily ever after.

And in March, just as her job was starting, my big corp gig took an unexpected turn and they let me go in somewhat of a coup, but we don’t need to go into that right now. And my marriage quickly unraveled after that. There was some crack that had been widening between my then-wife and me at that point.

And the loss of the job that was going to save us was the breaking point for her. Of course, if she had already consulted with a lawyer at that point, her intentions were already in motion. I’m not sure of the timing on those events, but the loss of this new job broke the thread hope for her. Somehow the struggles we had been through would lessen if we were no longer together.

In the end, I would’ve stayed in the marriage despite the unhappiness, so in many ways she did us both a favor. I can say that now. But it still hurts to have your primary mate and confidant decide to bet against you. And I understand it wasn’t me she was betting against, it was somehow preferable, in her mind, to break up the family and go it alone. And it’s true, the happiness equation would’ve taken a complete 180 in her attitude and approach to our life together. She would’ve had to return to the woman I married. And that wasn’t going to happen.

So she’s mad. Today we met about the school year schedule and I almost forgot how mad she could get. Everything went without a hitch, but I was glad to have the therapist there, just in case. I no longer need to be exposed or responsible for someone else’s rage. And today she wasn’t mad. But I know better than to count on compassion and patience, though that is what I attempt to give back. We move along, now on different paths without joint progeny, and we are okay. That’s enough.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

OFF-flyingchild

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

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

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

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

Writing is therapy.

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

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

I am not writing for you.

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

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

Next Steps

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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references: The 12-Steps of AA – wikipedia

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Waiting for the Other Person to Change – The Path Towards Divorce

OFF-dead

[This post was written as a response to this post from Divorced Moms : The Moment I Knew It Was Time to Divorce.]

Here’s what I wrote in the comments section:

Sorry to say it, but you’re story says to me, you are already gone. You say it yourself. And whatever has happened between you and your husband, with and without of your therapist, is water under the bridge. Here’s the rough part: He’s not going to change.

But here’s the win for you: You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy. Get the support you need. And do what YOU need to do. This state of dysfunction and living with your corpse-like husband is not likely to evolve into a healthy relationship. And a lot of it IS your perspective and YOUR unspoken agreements or wishes.

Here’s the full post:

A lot of your story resonated with me, so I thought I would comment and share some perspective from the other side of the bed. Yep, you are waiting for your husband to change. And that’s a trap, for both of you.

As the kid of an alcoholic dad I got an early experience in Alanon groups and Adult Children of Alcoholics groups as well. And one of the guiding principles is this: You cannot change the other person, you can only change yourself.

I hear that you are trying to act with compassion (in some aspects) and looking out for your girls. But I also hear your resentment and anger at your husband. I get it. You’re pissed that he’s not doing enough, that he continues his pattern of irresponsibility, and you are doing everything you can to revive a dead marriage. Um, well, I’ve got some good news and some bad news for you. He is never going to change. You on the other hand, can and have to change. It’s all you can do. Everything else is wishful thinking, fantasy, and victimization.

When she was healthy again, and we resumed our coupling, she would go through periods of coldness. And even that’s normal, I get it.

More good news, you are not a victim of this marriage. You also have all the tools and resources at your disposal to help you through this, regardless of which path you take next.

Here’s the part that’s like me, the part I resonated with that’s part of your husband’s failure. You mention him taking the “just enough” approach to a lot of his responsibilities. And on a few of your examples, my mind was saying, “Oops, that’s me too.” Let me try to pull some of those issues apart, in hopes of illuminating some of my own dysfunctional thinking, but also to share some of my perspective, that it’s not really a problem, it’s the disagreement between the two of you that’s the problem.

I am a “just in time” kind of person as well. I don’t like to pay bills. But a few late payments doesn’t really worry me either. When these issues came to light in my marriage, a lot of the friction was because we assumed we knew the other person’s reasons for their behavior. I figured my then-wife was really uptight about money because she had come from a family of origin that struggled for money. I came from a background where money was not the issue, love and time was the issue in my early memories of my parents marriage.

Okay, so I didn’t mind paying a few bills late and possibly even letting a few go longer. This drove my partner crazy. Was I being irresponsible as she claimed? Was I refusing to grow up? Of course, those are perspectives about why I would think and act differently around bill paying, but they were not the answer. However, the resentment around this issue was much worse that the issue itself. There was a lot of energy coming from my partner about bill paying. And the intensity of that emotional panic gave a lot of insight into how differently we saw the money issue, but mainly, it revealed a few of our “unspoken agreements.”

She believed that if I loved her I would pay the bills with precision and promptness. I didn’t connect the two items at all. For me bill paying was a pain in the ass, even if I had the money. She was very disciplined (maybe obsessed) about chores and I was not. We could walk down the same hall day after day and I would never notice the burnt out lightbulb, yet every day she would get madder and madder that I was not a responsible or caring husband. Why? Because I was not changing the lightbulb. What?

We saw the world and the house in very different ways. And it took a while to uncover a lot of these assumed agreements, that weren’t agreements at all. In her mind, if I cared for her, I would change the lightbulb when it was burned out. Anything else demonstrated my irresponsibility and disdain for her priorities. That wasn’t really it at all, I just didn’t notice the damn lightbulb. And for her part, she was waiting for me to change, to notice things like lightbulbs and scruffy lawns, and just do the work. Just take care of it. Just fix it. “Just pay the damn bills on time.”

Now I can see this had something to do with me: she was mad about something, she was withholding intimacy because she was trying to get me to change, she was using intimacy as a tool.

Uncovering the assumed yet unspoken agreements is hard work. And while, I am not saying this will change your husband into the caring and loving person you want, it might get to the core of what is bothering you.

Your initial reaction that things were over, that it was a dead relationship, however is harder for me to fathom. And this is just the point that hit me the hardest. I read your title, and kept the email in my inbox until I was ready to read it. See, I think my ex, also, decided at some point that things were over, she just failed to mention it to me.

And when you mention his addiction to porn, um, are you sure that’s what’s going on? Again, I can’t possibly see into your relationship, but sometimes the “addiction” has more to do with sexual issues in the marriage, rather than his insatiable desire for 19 year-old porn stars. I’m guessing that as you decided he was a corpse in your house that your interest in sex with the dead man has been almost zero.

In my marriage we had periods of peak sexual connection and then nothing. The connecting activity of intimacy, even that didn’t involve sex, came and went with the emotional tides of my partner. And when the tide was out, she rejected all offers, all invitations, all teases, all strokes, that MIGHT lead to intimacy. She exited the relationship emotionally and one of the ways that showed up was in her lack of desire to connect with me on ANY PHYSICAL LEVEL. Nothing. Nada. She could go a month and never think of closeness.

Meanwhile, I was frustratedly pining away. And sure, I turned to porn. It was even a spoken agreement between us. When she was recovering from giving birth to each of our two kids we went through the normal periods of asexual intimacy, and I would take care of myself in other ways. So I did, but it was no substitute for her, or the real thing. It was cold, emotionless, release. And sure, people can get deep into it, and addicted to all the varieties of fantasy that they might never act out in real life, but that wasn’t my case.

But when she was healthy again, and we resumed our coupling, she would go through periods of coldness. And even that’s normal, I get it. I understand that women are very different from men in their need for sexual release. It’s something about testosterone levels. But when the woman shuts the passion down completely, something else is happening.

I can guess at what my wife’s dysfunction was, but that would also be silly. So much of sex and sexual intimacy is in our heads. To try to pull apart her lack of sexual desire, for me, would be a serious case of projection and bullshit. So I didn’t do that. I asked nicely. I asked jokingly. I set aside special kid-free times. I did the dishes and bills more often. I looked for the lightbulbs that might be out. And guess what? Nothing worked. She was still closed for any form of closeness.

Okay, so now I can see this had something to do with me: she was mad about something, she was withholding intimacy because she was trying to get me to change, she was using intimacy as a tool. Bad idea. And she was having issues of her own: antidepressants maybe, overworked and overwhelmed maybe, unresolved anger issues with her family of origin. And of course, unresolved issues with me. But when the distance and anger goes on for days and weeks, the issue is much deeper than her and me. And it was. Or, I assume it was, I still don’t know.

But in my experience of the fracture and fallout at being placed in this emotional prison was horrible. And I thrashed a little, while trying to get things to change. I tried new things. I tried different ways of asking, connecting, nurturing. But again, that wasn’t the issue. I could not make her change. I could not make her be someone else.

You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy.

As I realise, now, four years later, that I was just like the partner of an alcoholic, waiting for them to change, I am glad I was ultimate released from that unwinnable spiral of loss and frustration. And for my kid’s sake, I hope she’s happy. I hope she figures it out with her new boyfriend. I really do. Because I don’t want to see her in pain, even now. Even divorced, I want her to be happy. Her happiness is directly tied to my kid’s experience of happiness and hope.

I learned my dependency in my family of origin. I was the little kid trying to be a hero, magician, football star, to get my dad to notice me and my value. I was trying to get him to stop drinking by being valuable enough as a son to be worthy of his attention. Of course, that’s not how it works. Nor, does that path ever work. Ever.

Sorry to say it, but you’re story says to me, you are already gone. You say it yourself. And whatever has happened between you and your husband, with and without of your therapist, is water under the bridge. Here’s the rough part: He’s not going to change.

But here’s the win for you: You can and must change yourself. You are the only person you can influence. And you owe it to yourself and your daughters to get yourself healthy. Get the support you need. And do what YOU need to do. This state of dysfunction and living with your corpse-like husband is not likely to evolve into a healthy relationship. And a lot of it IS your perspective and YOUR unspoken agreements or wishes.

Speak now or forever hold your peace as you move along for the good of yourself and your daughters. Your husband will eventually have to take care of himself.

I wish you the best.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@offparent

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reference: The Moment I Knew It Was Time to Divorce – Divorced Moms

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A big part of my recovery program is the serenity prayer:

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


Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody

OFF-dance-d

[This post is a continuation of a discussion started here: Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight]

My dad was fighting my mom in their divorce. And he was fighting to win. I’m not sure it was all about me, but that’s what the courts were involved in. My dad was going for blood. He wanted my mom to have very little of his ample estate, and he wanted me, the only minor in the family at the time. And in those days, in that circumstance, I am grateful that my dad did not WIN. I am grateful that laws and judges were in place, to protect my mom and me from my dad’s wrath. He was angry, bitter, and vindictive.

When he married his new wife, my only step-mom, before his divorce was even final, I’m sure the consequences could’ve been dire, had my mom had the money or resources to fight back. But she simply wanted out. And she wanted a way to provide shelter and food for her sole remaining minor child.

I am grateful to my ex-wife for having the job, so far, while I have struggled to find full-time work while continuing to do my best as a consultant while I’m looking.

In those days, the courts started with the assumption that the kids belonged with the mom and that the dad would provide for their maintenance and health, in accordance with the lifestyle they had become accustomed to. In my dad’s case, that was a pretty fancy lifestyle. And I think he was most angry about the money. Sure, he fought for me, but it was mainly to get back at my mom. (Of course this is all mythology by now, what really happened is up to interpretation.)

And yet my father fought and lost. It was not such a huge loss for him financially. ($500 a month in payments until I was 18.) And it wasn’t really about losing me either. I think my father’s anger and war was waged because of his hurt pride, his sadness, and his own depression around his failed marriage and how he had ultimately turned to alcohol as his mistress.

Today, I am guessing many of the divorce battles are similar. If you are in a contested divorce, you need to gear up for war. And if you spend any time on the web discussing divorce, it’s not long before the very sad stories emerge about how warring parents try to damage and hurt each other. This is a fact. I do not contest that there are really messy divorces and often they are driven by really angry men, who are madder than hell about having to pay the money to their damn ex-wives, who seem to be living in the continuing lap of luxury. I get that.

That is not how my divorce to the mother of my children went.

Divorce sucks. It’s expensive. It’s painful to all parties. And I would do anything to make things easier on my kids, and thus, my ex-wife.

And still, as I was negotiating, in good faith, with my soon-to-be-ex and a highly paid divorce counselor, I was fed the non-custodial and paying father option as if it was a given. And the real sore spot was, it was being presented as “what’s best for the children.” And the earliest disagreements in our split-counselling sessions were about who was the fittest or most “responsible” parent.

Again, these are heated moments. Emotional and hard to navigate without feeling attacked. And the counselor did a good job of helping us talk. And then she advised me to take the deal.

What?

“In the best interest of the children” was used a lot.

And I bucked for awhile. I brought in examples from books I was reading. I made a sample 50/50 calendar for consideration. And somehow, it was like I was not part of the deal. And when I confronted the counselor she was quick to point out, “if you went to court… blah blah blah.”

Of course that was the reality. But that wasn’t the reality of our parenting roles, nor the reality of what was best for the children. It’s hard to describe this without coming across as vindictive or angry. I’m not. But I’m concerned that most men are put in the same position. And in our case, we were negotiating a cooperative divorce, uncontested, and with both of us willing to forgo lawyers and fights. AND in this case, I was still given the “deal” of the non-custodial dad who pays a hefty child-support payment, regardless of my employment status.

We need to rethink what’s in the best interest of the children. If it’s not staying together and working on the marriage, then it might not be an assumed financial stipend for the mom who just wants out.

And I agreed to the deal. What could I do? Fight our counselor and my wife? And then head for court and fight again? I’m guessing this is the situation facing many dads who are wanting to do the right thing. And we get screwed for being the nice dad. Did I have to start with war to get a fair deal?

Now, four years into the divorced parent role, the child support payments have become a battering ram. If you know anything about the economy, you know that many folks are having a hard time finding a job, much less a job at their previous splendor. And I’d have to say I am grateful to my ex-wife for having the job, so far, while I have struggled to find full-time work while continuing to do my best as a consultant while I’m looking.

And there was no need for her to file against me and go to the Attorney General’s office to enforce the payments. THERE WAS NO NEED TO INVOLVE THE COURTS. But she did. Even while she’s had the good job, and she’s had the house and equity in the house, and she’s got the children a lot more than I do. It’s been hard.

Again, I’m not bitter, and I’m not trying to sue her to change the “deal” we made.

As a nice dad, I am working to find work at my old income level, a level that would allow me to support her and at least have an apartment of my own. As it turns out, I was forced to sell my divorce recovery home, due to some of the shenanigans of my ex-wife and her pursuit of the money. Even though the money was never at risk or even being contested.

I do get that she has bills, just like I do. And I do understand that the money for food, clothing, shelter, and health insurance are requirements for any parent to provide to their kids. And I do get that she’s been the “more responsible” one in being able to stay employed at this wildly competitive time. I bless her daily for her efforts in this.

And yet, I cannot earn enough to have a house? Where is dad supposed to live?

Divorce sucks. It’s expensive. It’s painful to all parties. And I would do anything to make things easier on my kids, and thus, my ex-wife. And this is why, I am NOT fighting for 50/50 custody. This is why I hired a lawyer only to protect my credit and did not take any action to change my child support payments, even though my earnings have been much less than our projected agreement.

But what are my options? Earn more money. Give up a healthy job and balanced lifestyle and return to the big corporate job? Or file for joint custody and let her fend for herself in the housing and credit markets just as I have for 4 years?

It’s not fair, it never was supposed to be fair. But we were supposed to be negotiating in good faith for what was “in the best interest of the children.” And today, in many cases, this is simply: mom gets the kids, dad pays. It’s the same starting point that my dad fought against as an angry and vindictive ex.

We need to rethink what’s in the best interest of the children. If it’s not staying together and working on the marriage, then it might not be an assumed financial stipend for the mom who just wants out. The greener grass has a history of child support payments to help pave the escape path and provide the ladder over the fence.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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reference suggested by a reader: Men on Strike: Why Men Are Boycotting Marriage, Fatherhood – and Why It Matters

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Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight

OFF-mermaid

Let’s get something straight right off the bat. Divorce is not about being fair. It’s about following the law, and hopefully, doing what’s “in the best interest of the children.” But that’s not really the intent of the law either. The laws surrounding divorce and custody in Texas are in place to streamline the average divorce, and provide the mother with some support once the father is gone. Staying in a bad marriage just because of the money is a bad idea. But again, that doesn’t mean the law is fair.

Early on, when we I was finally convinced that divorce was the only option, I agreed to seeing a counselor who would help us build the perfect parenting plan for our kids. The idea was, that in cooperation, we could lessen the impact on the kids, be civil to each other in a difficult process, and go through the process of divorce as simply as possible. We were “kids first” in our approach to splitting up. All that was good.

Building the parenting plan, and the agreements we would abide by as parents was the most important part of the divorce for both of us. And the “impartial” therapist was there to help us work it out. So we paid a lot of money to her, rather than lawyers, to advise us in setting our kids up for success in the post-family world.

And then, somewhere along the way, during the process this statement came out of our counselor’s mouth.

“This is what the mom would get if this went to court. So we can start here.”

What about me? Well, that’s where the fairness ends. Because if I can’t make the full payment, at any time, my ex can file against me at the Attorney General’s office and wreak all kinds of havoc on my credit and career.

I had been heading towards 50/50 parenting or bust. I had made my case for how much care I had provided in the past, and how much care I was willing to provide as a single dad. Still the words from the therapist’s mouth were hard to swallow. She was saying, if we went to court, my ex-wife would get primary custody and the SPO, as they always did. Oh, and, “this is what’s in the best interest of the children.”

What?

I didn’t really know what all that meant, but I trusted the counselor and listened to her. It was not fair. But that’s what my ex would get if I fought her in the courts. I was confused, that’s why we were paying her all the money, because we were not going to go to court. We were using her to avoid court, and to come to an equitable arrangement as civil adults and caring parents, without fighting about it.

We were meeting weekly with her to determine what was best for our children in our case, not to abide by what the State of Texas generally did in the case of divorce. I was pissed, but I didn’t really have much support for my view. I had bought a few books about cooperative parenting, and suggested a 50/50 schedule that was recommended in one of them. This was the offer that was being shut down by our cooperative therapist with the approval and appreciation of my soon-to-be ex-wife.

Here’s what I am slowly learning.

  • 85% of divorces in Texas end up with the mom as the primary custodian. Dad’s are considered non-custodial parents as a default.
  • And most of those dads are then given the SPO, as what’s “in the best interest of the kids.” The SPO (Standard Possession Order) is the governing calendar for your time with your kids.
  • The SPO is not near 50/50, and the “month” in the summer is a joke to offset some of the inequity. But show me a dad who can take a month off in the summer to make up for time lost with his kids, and … Well, it’s just not realistic.
  • With the non-custodial role comes a big fine. In Texas someone is going to pay. And the non-custodial parent is saddled with a set fee, based on estimated income, that is defined by the state and enforced by the state. If you’re the non-custodial parent get ready to pay.

While 50/50 parenting is not uncommon, it is not the norm. And if that’s what you want (as I did) you should fight for it. In our case, I should not have had to FIGHT for it, that was why we were mediating and paying a counselor to help us determine what was best for our kids. What we got was a good parenting plan, with “if you go to court this is what she’s going to get.”

So using some abstract numbers for a second, let’s see what that non-custodial assumed fee (called child support) looks like.

Let’s say you have two kids. And for simplicity’s sake let’s say your mortgage on your house together is $2,000. When you divorce, you’re going to 1. give her the house for “the kids;” 2. pay her a monthly support fee for “the kids;” 3. pay for the kids health insurance; and then, if you can afford it, 4. figure out how to put a roof over your head too.

So let’s see. If together we were paying $2,000 for our house. And separate she’s going to pay $2,000 for the same house. But I’m then going to pay her $1,000 for child support, and $500 for health care for the kids, then in theory she’s paying $1,000 for the house, and if I can find a 3-bed-room apartment nearby for $2,000, then I’m paying $3,000 plus $500 just for living expenses. I mean, I do what what’s best for my kids, and I do want them to be able to keep the house, but…

What about me? Well, that’s where the fairness ends. Because if I can’t make the full payment, at any time, my ex can file against me at the Attorney General’s office and wreak all kinds of havoc on my credit and career. So to start, I’ve got to make $3,500 a month before I get to think about electricity, food, water, clothes for myself. Um, that’s not such a good deal.

So how could we have made this more fair? Well, to start we could have negotiated in good faith, rather than this “what she’s going to get” BS. That was a low blow, and I’m still a bit angry with the otherwise, stellar, counsellor.

As it turns out, I agreed to the non-custodial deal, and the SPO and the payments to my ex-wife. And as it turns out, the economy has beat my income stream into ever-changing levels. And when I began to get behind, even as I was explaining to my ex exactly what was happening, and that I was not trying to get out of paying 100% of what she was owed, even with all that good will, and “what’s in the best interest for the children” talk, my ex-wife filed on me for being two months behind on my child support.

The cascade of my financial collapse was pretty swift after that. While I had been able to buy a house (shelter for my kids) I was falling behind on my mortgage too. And since my great job evaporated, I had not been able to replace it. I was working as a consultant, but I wasn’t making enough to cover all my expenses (survival expenses, not travel, or new things, or extravagance) and make the $1,500 support and health care payments. I was confident I would get caught up, I was expressing that to my ex-wife, and for some reason she filed anyway. Not fair, I thought. But that’s not what it’s about.

The point is not that I owe her the money, or if she is entitled to the money. She is entitled to every dollar awarded to her through our agreement.

I had to sell the house to get caught back up on my debt to Wells Fargo. I had to hire a lawyer to protect me from my wife’s actions with the AG. And I’ve been struggling to find a new full-time gig, at a much higher salary, so I could pay for all of this AND a place for me to live, preferably with three bedrooms so we all have our own space.

But in the SPO world, there really isn’t much consideration for what I will do, how the dad will do if he struggles a bit. It’s good for the moms to be taken care of. And most of all it’s good for the kids to be provided for, without a lot of drama or fighting between the co-parents. But I was unceremoniously tossed out of my house, which I agreed to give her, and told to pay a whopping $1,500 fee to her, and THEN look for somewhere I could live. In an expensive city, with kids in an expensive school district, it was not a pretty story. And while I nearly made it, my few months of struggles were enough for my “friendly” ex-wife to basically use the State of Texas to sue me for her back child support.

I’m waiting today for the expected good news that I will be starting a new full-time gig shortly. One that should provide for my child support and even a place for me to live. If I can afford a three bedroom place to live, is yet to be seen. I’ve got my fingers crossed, and am still putting in applications elsewhere every day. And other than how it would affect my kids if I were homeless, I’m guessing my ex-wife could care less, unless it means the full child-support payments will resume immediately.

That’s the plan. I’m not sure it’s a fair plan, but that’s the plan.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

[Please note: This post is likely to draw a lot of heat from the single mom’s. The point is not that I owe her the money, or if she is entitled to the money. She is entitled to every dollar awarded to her through our agreement. And she will get every single dollar awarded to her, as I promised/promise her. The point is, had I known all my options, I might have fought for the 50/50 parenting plan I wanted.]

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Getting Angry, Reaching Forgiveness, and Moving On After Divorce

OFF-happy-sadIt’s been four years and counting since my divorce began. It was finalized in August, but by this time I had left the house for the last time. And while many things have remained the same, and the relationship with my ex is centered around the kids now, and not so much about our relationship, there are still things that can trigger a painful memory, or feeling of loss. Today was one of those times, when dropping the kids bags off at my old house, and seeing a book on the kitchen counter was enough to spark a bit of WTF?

The book, Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships, made me laugh at first. Then made me say, WTF? Then sort of made me feel bad for my ex who must be trying this time to form a healthy relationship with her 2+ year boyfriend. But the book sort of ticked me off. I’m not exactly sure why. But the basic reaction was, “YEAH, that’s a good one!”

But after the knee jerk jerkishness passed I was a bit saddened by the idea.

  1. That my ex would buy and read this book now, rather than when it could’ve had an impact on her marriage
  2. That my ex must be struggling with how to light up the passion with her bf
  3. She must be hopeful of marriage, and getting it right this time.
  4. And if she’d stayed IN this marriage, we would be working together to keep things passionate. As it was, I was the only one who seemed to think there was a problem.

How can I still be bitter about her decision to exit our marriage? Well, it’s easy when you see the impact it has had on our kids and their ideas of stability and family. Sure, perhaps their perspectives are now more in alignment with reality, things change, love fades, and even divorce can rearrange things for the better, eventually, but it’s gonna hurt real bad first.

Something had been lost. Through the toil and tear of our relationship and the struggle of life, we had (she had) begun to shut down her passion.

Okay, so that’s not a lot. And I’d have to say I am more grateful today that I am no longer in a passion-starved marriage. I am enjoying the first benefits of singlehood again, and feeling fairly strong about my capabilities as a lover, potential mate, and even husband again. IF that’s where we go. I am certainly also learning to question my need for that marriage. Today, I’m even asking questions about monogamy. I mean, what’s the point? Couldn’t we get a lot more energy and excitement by changing partners every once in a while?

Of course, that’s not the way it worked for me. That’s not the way I was wired. Today, I don’t know. But I was fully committed to my marriage, and this woman now reading a book called Passionate Marriage. I was never doubting my desire or steadfast resolve. However, the truth is, I was unhappy.

They say the sign of a codependant relationship is how powerfully you wait and work for the other person to change. It doesn’t work out. Some of the things I was beginning to howl about:

  • Lack of affection
  • Lack of touch of any kind
  • Lack of sex
  • Lack of financial partnership in the earning part of the business we had together

I learned, towards the end, when I withdrew my overbearing touch-love-joy energy from the relationship there was nothing left. There was zero energy coming back. And when the vacuum was created, what I hoped would happen, she would wake up to the loss of playful affection and come back with some energy and affection of her own, didn’t happen at all. All that happened was the void of any feeling in our marriage was so clear, that even though I fought FOR the marriage over the next several months, I also knew I would not settle for anything less than a rejuvenated and passionate wife.

I have to thank my ex-wife for the release. My own desires and unmet needs were causing me great pain. And that pain was probably not going to be met by her.

Something had been lost. Through the toil and tear of our relationship and the struggle of life, we had (she had) begun to shut down her passion. And while things in our relationship began with a lot of passion and touch and yes, sex, it was virtually a one-way street during the last year of our marriage. I was always asking, and always providing the way and the caress and the casual kisses. She was doing something else, had different priorities, was withdrawing emotionally from our marriage.

As a divorced and emotionally available single parent here are a few of the things I am finding again

  • Affection (If they don’t dig you, don’t do it. If they can’t hold you and comfort you, don’t do it.)
  • The Love Language of Touch (Sure you can be with someone of a different language, but it’s always going to be a compromise.)
  • Sex that is open and fun (Healthy sex is an amazing thing. A woman who knows what she likes is another level beyond that. A woman who can teach me some things, and WOW.)
  • Financial partnering doesn’t come into play for a while, but it might in the long-run
  • Pure friendship (Do you like being with the person? Do they engage your mind and your imagination?)
  • Comparing notes on the experience of single parenting
  • Desirability (There are women out there who find me attractive, who are not looking for rail-thin men in their 30’s or even 40’s. (I’m 51!)
  • Mature women are more emotionally available, and more sexually open, and birth control is a non-issue. (Woohoo!)

And with all those wonderful aspects of my new lease on life, I have to thank my ex-wife for the release. My own desires and unmet needs were causing me great pain. And that pain was probably not going to be met by her, unless she changed dramatically. And whatever caused her to change in the first place, was probably not a quick fix, and certainly not something a book or counseling session was going to alleviate.

And with that, today, I give thanks to my ex-wife for actually having the balls to ask for a divorce. I would’ve limped along limp for the next several years, maybe forever, imagining, “This is as good as it gets.”

Well, it’s not. Things do get better. And the process of forgiveness and release is a continuous one. You don’t wake up one day and you’re healed, done, finished with your ex-partner. If you have kids, that road is going to go on for a long time. And you will need the other parent from time to time and the best way to become a good co-parent is to heal yourself and move on. You will have good days, and fuck you days, but as long as you keep returning to the process of release and move on, you will continue up the spiral of healing that leads to your next life. The post-divorce life that holds great riches.

Good luck.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Zen and the Art of Lovemaking – Won’t Save Your Marriage

OFF-tattoo

I was heartbroken to learn that great sex was not the answer to a long-lasting marriage. I have no idea what makes that possible, and now that I’m on the other side of that wall (divorced) I’m wondering if I’ll ever go back to being married. I mean… What’s the point?

I’ve been a sex enthusiast since a very young age. I don’t know where I got the idea, but once I had the idea I worked like a mad man to learn more, and this was long before I ever had the opportunity to touch a girl, much less a woman. You see, when I was 10-years-old I bought Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask, at a convenience store on the way back from a beach trip. My mom and her friend were in the front seat, and the whole way back from Corpus Christi I was hiding my precious and my book. I can only imagine the smile on the clerk’s face when he rang me out, two moms sitting in the idling car. I don’t know where I hid the book when I walked back to the car. I must’ve bought a slurpee. It was not a pre-meditated act. I saw the book and seized the opportunity.

Turned out the sex bible of the 70’s was a gateway drug, and I soon graduated to harder drugs. And I should probably confess, I’m addicted. I love sex. And not in the Sex Addicts Anonymous kind of way, I know how to stop. (grin) I just don’t want to. Ever.

I must’ve been huddled down pretty low and faked being asleep most of the way back as I entered the world of oral sex, masturbation, and the idea that IT IS ALL OKAY. I was a sexually liberated 10-year-old in a matter of hours on that road trip home.

And our initial chemistry and passion was high. Sure mine might have been a bit more obsessive, and bit higher, but she was matching me stroke for stroke in the beginning.

Of course I had to wait a bit before experimenting on live subjects. And so I practiced on myself, and in my mind. Again, I’m not sure what the compulsion was, maybe I should talk to my therapist about it. Sure, I was starved for my dad’s love, but gosh.

And into middle school I was the fountain of knowledge for my uneducated male friends. I made  up stories. But mostly shared what I knew thus far, and I shared my Playboy collection. And in about seventh grade girls were no longer untouchable, but it took a while longer before I got to actually touch one. And after that I was hopelessly hooked. And something in my early education led me to the goal of pleasing the woman first. I’d get mine later. (See: She Comes First) I was just that interested. It was like science or mysticism. Women, the great mystery.

At 27, I got married to a fiery Basque woman. Small and hot. Dark skinned, dark curly locks, and a rocket body that initially gave me a lot of new experience. Once married, however, things changed, so dramatically I was shocked. I won’t go too far into it, but she had been sexually abused. As she felt more and more comfortable in the marriage, and she started going to therapy, the demons of that past began to creep into our sex life. Before long, sex became a very difficult balancing act. And it was harder still because she was so beautiful. I had thought I was getting a great package deal when I married her, but the skeletons soon came out and wrecked our sex life and ultimately our marriage. I learned at this time that sex could be a lure that was covering up much deeper issues. I was out-of-town when she filed for divorce and the papers were served to me at work when I returned. Harsh. I count my blessings that we had never contemplated kids.

I walked around wounded and hungry for a several years after that. I had a few girlfriends, but nothing that lasted. I was so needy and empty. I had no idea what I wanted, in life or in a future relationship. The sex drive was still alive and well, but the means were less available, and my wounding prevented me from being a very avid pursuer.

Then an old high school crush walked back into my life and our paths quickly entwined. Again, I was mesmerized by her beauty. Her smile, her fit body, her easy-going chatter. We were dating within a few months and living together within the year. I remember early on, as we were leaving the coffee shop where we re-met, she turned and said to me, with a sly smile, “I just got back on the pill.” Thrillsville.

And our initial chemistry and passion was high. Sure mine might have been a bit more obsessive, and bit higher, but she was matching me stroke for stroke in the beginning. And we started talking about unprotected sex while we were on our honeymoon in France. More thrills. All warm fuzzies, fantastic momentum and affection… AND…

What I know is I was starving to death for affection from a beautiful woman who was lying right beside me. And there was very little I could do about it.

Our son was born. And for a few months we cooled, of course, as our lives were melted and reformed around this new priority. But soon our sexual activity came back online, a bit less, but still very healthy and honest. Of course, we wanted a second child, and within a year she was pregnant again. Good times. Sex with a pregnant woman is highly erotic, even if infrequent. She was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. I fell in love with her every day, repeatedly. We were happy.

I’ve covered a lot of the disruption in our marriage in other posts, but the part that I didn’t see coming, at this point was how her sexual drive was about to take a nose dive. Sure, postpartum hangovers and all that, but several years after our daughter was born, we were not having sex very often at all. I was not sure what had happened, and I wanted to find our previous connection again. And for a period of about six weeks we had a miracle rekindling. I got a vasectomy. Affirming both our intentions of now enjoying an unfettered sex life. And for the weeks following the surgery, we had a project together. A sex project. I had to have 30 ejaculations before I could be tested for the efficacy of the vasectomy. And like jack rabbits my wife was into it. We did it in the shower. She would do me at the drop of a hat. And I was pretty easy in those days. And we chalked up the wins and headed back to the doctor’s office for my test and BOOM we were cleared for take off. What happened however was more like a grounding.

Over the next few months our rabid sexual pairings became fewer and fewer. The problem in my mind was she didn’t want to have sex any more. The problem in her eyes, as she expressed it at the time was chores, and money, and kids, and house cleaning, and stress, and tiredness. There was nothing really that I could do. I could try and ask in different ways. I could try and pick up the house between the weekly maid visits. I could try and earn more money and put more money in the bank. However, nothing seemed to work.

It’s possible that her sex drive was goal oriented. We used to joke about it. That when she had the chart and the goal she was very hot for sex. But after that, even she admitted, she liked sex, but it wasn’t really all that essential to her happiness or feeling of connectedness.And again, I can’t know what all was going through her head, but what I noticed was she would go weeks without expressing a single romantic desire. And if I didn’t howl or plead for affection, she was okay to just live that way. It was not part of her essential need. And maybe that’s a Love Language thing. And maybe it was the natural level of sexual desire returning to normal after the missions had been accomplished. I don’t know.

What I know is I was starving to death for affection from a beautiful woman who was lying right beside me. And there was very little I could do about it. And it wasn’t about the quality of the sex, as I’ve said before, I was dedicated to getting her off first. Perhaps it was the routine we got into. Or perhaps, as she expressed occasionally, it was just too much effort. She did have a more difficult time reaching climax, but I was always up for the challenge. And maybe when a woman gets tired, something about sex becomes a chore more than a pleasure. It never was for me. Never has been. I’m still fascinated by it. I’m still studying. And, holy cow, now I’m being given a chance to experience new women.

So divorce hasn’t really been the worst thing that ever happened to me. But the end of sexual joy in my marriage was certainly up there with the big disappointments of my first 50 years of life.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Easier To Be Quiet

the off parent - being quiet

I know it would be easier for everyone if I would just shut up about my divorce. We’ve rehashed all the problems, all my perceived injustices, all the ways I’ve been wronged. I know I keep telling the same story, over and over. I know, I hear you.

And I won’t shut up. Sorry.

The beautiful thing about anger, that I did not know until I had unleashed some of it… Anger is healing and powerful.

In my marriage I learned to cope. I learned to nurture myself in the absence of love. I self-regulated and made due with less and less affection. But the education, the pattern that I learned about what love looked like didn’t begin with my ex-y. Nope, I learned how to be disinterested and disconnected from my parents, just as you probably did. I mean, they were the only examples we had. And boy did I learn how not to do a marriage. But of course, my images and imaginings were done by the time I was 8. It was all over by then, for my mom and dad. And everything else I thought I knew, I made up.

We are not ready for the changes of marriage. And we are certainly in no way prepared for parenting. It changes everything.

In my marriage, the changes were too much. We lost touch with one another and learned to be quiet even when we should be shouting at the top of our lungs, “This is hurting me.”

Anger was a form of control in my family of origin. My father would rule his house with rage and yelling. And we would hide, tremble, and obey. But this is no way to behave. But what it did to our range of acceptable emotions, was to limit our own access to anger. What it did for me was teach me to be agreeable, at all cost. To even lie if it meant I could avoid a fight.

But in a healthy relationship we need to fight. We need to have access to our full-range of emotion. And when I started getting angry about what wasn’t working, I learned that it was okay. Of course, my ex-y would’ve loved me to stay in the submissive mode, I started to draw boundaries for the first time in my marriage. I started expressing what wasn’t working. I started to express my anger at being ignored emotionally and physically. And I demanded a change.

Of course the change I was hoping for would’ve come in the form of realigning our marriage, and what I got was an exit request. But I was no longer willing to just be quiet.

So sure, I could shut up about the divorce, the depression, and the anger. And it would be a whole lot easier on all of us. But the beautiful thing about anger, that I did not know until I had unleashed some of it… Anger is healing and powerful.

Anger does not have to be abusive or rageful. Anger can be a consistent request for love and affection. Anger can be a demand for the other partner in a relationship to wake up and relearn how to express joy. Anger gave me back my balls, so I could express what I really needed in my marriage.

I am still embracing my ability to ask for what I need, to seek truth and connectedness, and to find another person who expresses themselves easily through physical affection.

Try as I might, I was not able to call my ex-y back into love with me. Perhaps things had gone to far by the time I started fighting for my rights as a lover and husband. Perhaps my attempts to ravage my beautiful wife were no longer welcome. But I did not give up. I did not back down. I was no longer willing to masterbate alone all the time and wonder why she never had a sexual impulse. There I said it. I wanted to have sex and for some reason she didn’t.

And it wasn’t the typical dude grabbing at his woman daily for gratification. It was not a rutting sex I was after. I genuinely needed to feel skin-on-skin contact. I needed to affirm my warmth and closeness with my lover. I needed to be a lover and to reignite the lover in her.

I lost that negotiation. And ultimately I lost my marriage and the full-access to my kids. Bummer. But I was not willing to just be quiet and bear the coldness and aloneness that my marriage had become. And while she ultimately was the person who asked for a divorce, I was the one who had finally begun speaking up. And even in the face of her divorce request, I was certain I was fighting for my marriage. I wasn’t. I was fighting for what I wanted my marriage to return to, or what I’d hoped my marriage would become.

It’s not easier to be quiet, actually. It’s devastating not to speak your truth and be embraced. It’s debilitating to ask again and again for affection and be given all number of reasons that it’s not the right moment, or that I didn’t ask in the right way. I was starving to death while lying next to the one person who could nourish me.

Well, fortunately I learned my lesson. And I am still embracing my ability to ask for what I need, to seek truth and connectedness, and to find another person who expresses themselves easily through physical affection. It’s simple when you both crave the same Love Language. It’s a stretch and a negotiation if you don’t. But it’s never easier, in the long run, to be quiet.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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+++ for a moment of comic relief


You Know They’re Watching You, Right?

Dear Ex-Wife,

more attention to her phone then our kids

Our kids keep telling me things that concern me. The top of the list is “she never picks up” referring to your newly distant approach to receiving phone calls from your kids. Not my calls, I could care less about me, ignore me all you want. But the kids SEE YOU GLUED TO YOUR PHONE. They see you texting and talking with everyone, they see you interrupt conversations to check your phone. So when you “don’t pick up” they get the message. Something is more important than them. Wait? What?

Is something more important than a phone call from your kids?

+++

A friend, the other day on Facebook, took some time to give me a moment of insight into what she thought was going on with the ex-y and her angry behavior. The concepts she shared have stuck with me.

  • She did not understand your language. She did not get you.
  • She knows what she has done and she is ashamed of her behavior. Anger is a way for her to cover that up for herself.
  • Your kids will eventually get the truth about what happened. And they will see how you fought repeatedly for your marriage. She knows this will come back around.

So is this blog like a loaded weapon pointed at my ex-y’s dignity? Even with the anonymity, is she threatened by my blogging? I can see how this material, mostly The Hard Stuff, is impossible for her to imagine. I’m also assuming she doesn’t read me, though she does know about this blog.

So to her, The Off Parent is like a loose tooth and a time bomb all at the same time. I don’t have any plans to unleash this material on her or the kids. But… and I guess this is a big one, I imagine at some point in the distant future, my kids will read the book, or the poetry, or whatever this material turns into. But didn’t Bob Dylan’s kids know he wrote Idiot Wind about their mother?

As adults we explore our past and our parents in new ways. I am not writing this to my ex-wife or my kids. This is a testament of my own journey, my own reconciliation with myself. And while the content has shifted away from divorce and onto “what’s next” I am always jarred back to reality when some of the crazy divorce stuff happens.

Already I know this is petty, but…

daughter is sick

Sure, she might have been in the shower. But this woman is glued to her phone. And all I was looking for was an update on our daughter, who had an injury last night. This passive aggressive shit has got to go. 37 minutes for a check-in? Am I being petty? Oh well. Frustrating.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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The Divorce Whisperer

the divorce whispererDoes the divorce of someone near us cause us to consider divorce as a viable option? Did my divorce encourage my ex-y’s best friend to leave her husband too? The green grass thing… Yeah. Not so much!

Here’s what I want you to know about divorce, especially when you have kids: IT SUCKS.

All this positivism I preach here. All this self-improvement, dating, love poem bullshit is really just my new part-time job, since I have all this time on my hands. It might have been harder to write a love poem to my ex-y when we were still married, but I was trying. Love songs? Check. Love letters? Check. Love advances, requests, seductions, pleadings? Check.

There was a survey I found before our divorce process was in full-swing, that showed a majority of divorced couples reported 3 and 5 years later, that they WERE NOT HAPPIER after their divorce. Hmm. Something is out of whack here.

Top Reasons Not To Get A Divorce

  1. The kids, the kids, the kids.
  2. Money gets even crazier. And even harder to talk about.
  3. Your best friend is still there, they are just scared and angry. Work through that and…
  4. The shared history is hard to come-by and impossible to erase.
  5. Finding true-connected love is a long shot.
But happier? As in happy? I don’t think so. I had the belief that the ex-y and I could regain our initial joy again.

Maybe things have gotten hard. I mean really hard. Maybe sex happens once or twice a year. Maybe the loving feeling was lost and now you’ve got more of the tolerant roommate vibe going. Maybe you’re craving something to liven up your life, to wake your ass up.

All that shit is workable. You, waking your own ass up is all that is required.

Oh wait… There is the other person too.

Top Reasons To Get A Divorce

  1. You are waiting, have been waiting, continue to wait, for the other person to change.
  2. Things have gotten abusive.
  3. The kids are suffering under the lack of joy and love in the house.
  4. Infidelity.

I remember having a friend come over for dinner with the ex-y and me, while we were deep in the discontentment part. And this loving guy, who’d just recently split from his live-together relationship of 17 years, was going on and on about this new younger woman he was dating. And the amazing chemistry (mostly about sex) that he was getting from being with someone “so new” and “so fresh” and “amazingly creative.”

I felt like a cuckold. My then-wife was in some sort of freeze out period going on two months, and I sat at the table listening to my friend’s joy and enthusiasm, thinking, “I am in hell. This is what hell must feel like.”

See I still adored my wife at that time. But her attention, her passions, and her vibrancy had moved elsewhere. I could understand at that moment, why someone might choose to leave a marriage in search of greener bushes. But, even then and there, I knew in my heart that my friend’s joy was not where I wanted to go. I was still determined to work it out with my then-wife. I adored her. I needed her. I ached with the raw absence of affection that my friend’s descriptions pointed out, so clearly.

So, at that time, I dug in deeper. I began to express my dissatisfaction with our relationship. I started telling my then-wife that I needed things to change. “I need to be let out of the box of isolation.”

I’m not sure how differently men and women are wired, but I learned about Love Languages pretty late in the game. And my language (touch) was not the same as the ex-y’s (do something for me). And to be starved of touch, even the little touches, was unbearable. And I got more clear on that miss in my life, and I wanted to reinvent my relationship with my wife.

There was very little I could do to get her to unpack and reinvest in loving me and keeping our marriage alive. I was no longer a priority for her.

The problem was, I guess, she didn’t want to change. While I was feeling solid in my marriage enough to question the relationship, she was already thinking about leaving. She was seeing the answer outside the marriage. I was still trying to create and revive the marriage I wanted from the sad house we had created.

What I know from Al-anon, you cannot be waiting on the other person to change. The only change you can affect is your own. I had to work on myself and my commitment. I had to invest time in my happiness and not count on the other person to make me happy.

But without cuddling, hugging, and simple touch, I was starving to death, right there in bed, next to a woman I still considered my “match.”

Over the course of the next several months I began to get more and more vocal about my dissatisfaction. And what I learned as we entered the end-game of our marriage: both partners have to want to continue. My ex-y’s heart had already been packed away for the next opportunity at love. There was very little I could do to get her to unpack and reinvest in loving me and keeping our marriage alive. I was no longer a priority for her. The priority was figuring out her options and making a decision about when and how to leave the marriage.

In my mind, I was coming from a place of confidence and commitment. I wanted this marriage. I wanted my family. I loved my house, my life, my wife. And I was confident that my joy and hard work would re-warm her heart, and we would see bright days again. I was wrong.

Today, looking back, three years later, I ask myself, “Am I happier now? Am I better off?”

Two hard questions. I’ll take the easy one first. Am I better off? HELL NO. The financial hell is partially a result of our divorce. Now we’re trying to afford two houses, cause we’re certainly not going to live together, and the economics are hurting us both. We are floundering. We will find higher ground, but at the moment, I haven’t been in a lower place financially. And still…

Am I happier now? This one is much harder to parse.

Emotionally, I am much happier than I had been in the last two years of my marriage. What changed that turned the whole enterprise sour, I don’t know exactly, but it had a lot to do with money. And when you are tossed into the void of alone time following divorce, you’ve either got to figure out that relationship with yourself again or rush to try and fill that void with another relationship, as my ex-y did. I have been thriving in the alone time. UM… After I got over being terribly depressed. But today, I’d say, inspite of the financial crisis that is looming, I am happier than I remember being for a long time. Ever? No. But I’m happy.

Happier as a parent? Sure. Now, my kids get a fully-focused dad. When they are with me, it’s a bit like vacation-dad, but that’s more about the imbalance of time, rather than my approach to being dad. I am back to my joyous-self. And my kids see this. They tell me how happy I am, how they notice my joy, all the time. And I am rubbing off on them. I think their balance is pretty good. They are both a bit freaked out by any type of conflict (the ex-y and I didn’t really fight, so they don’t have very good examples) but good and smart kids, making their way in this new two-house reality.

But happier? As in happy? I don’t think so. I had the belief that the ex-y and I could regain our initial joy again. I still had glimpses of it. And I still desperately wanted to be with her. (Note: I don’t want to be with her any more, but this is due mostly to the ongoing damage she continues to hurl in my direction.)

I believed until the day she revealed that she had already consulted a lawyer, that I was fighting to SAVE MY MARRIAGE. I didn’t know the other half of my marriage had already left.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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How To Jack Your Ex-Partner’s Day

Rejecting a call from your exWas it passive aggressive? I don’t know. But the kids have been expressing their concerns this way, “She never picks up.” They are talking about their mom and her telephone manners. Today, it was a simple request for information. And unless there was some emergency, there’s no reason an answer could not have been generated within an hour or so, even giving the benefit of the doubt for sleeping late. It is a work day, however so that’s wouldn’t seem to apply.

Let the record show, that around 8:00 in the morning I wrote an email to my ex-y asking about the possible splitting of son and daughter duties after school. Both kids had after school activities, and my son was pretty sure his mom was coming to his cross-country meet. By 10:38 I was ready to either make other plans for the transportation of my son, but I still hadn’t heard from my ex.

Um, okay, I escalated to a text.

No Response from Your Ex

 

Her response came at 1:30. “Yes I’m going to the meet.”

That’s it. No acknowledgement that I’d been waiting for an answer for over five hours. And it’s not like she doesn’t check her phone. I’ve been around her enough to know she’s ALWAYS checking her phone and texting back.

So, in the end, we worked out a cooperative arrangement. And of course I didn’t blast her, because I still needed her help. It would be better for my son if he could catch a ride home with her, rather than waiting with the entire team for the bus back to the school.

What do you think? Was she jacking with me? Was I being unreasonable or pushy from my side?

My ex does not want to talk to me any more. While we were negotiating for our marriage, she also put in a request for me to quit emailing her my thoughts. She was done. In this case, I think she’s just ignoring me. She might even be ignoring the kids, which I see as more of a problem.

Sure, I like the power of silencing a call I don’t want to take, and often, if SHE’S calling there must be a problem. But a call from my kids, I have bypassed them once or twice, but called them back as soon as I was off the other line. (see: she is silenced in my back pocket – poem)

But when your ex begins taking over five hours to respond to a question about the kids…

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Candy Crush in Co-Parenting: Here Comes Halloween

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Of Course You’re Not Happy With Me, We’re Divorced

my jackass sequence to recovery

And I want to do better, and I want to not enjoy just a smidgen of her troubles… But she can still make me madder than anyone else on the planet. And that’s understandable, she’s my ex. Legends about the evil ex abound. There are even Twitter hashtags devoted to the cult of the ex. Of course, she’s not that bad. (On Twitter see #thatswhyyourmyex)

My unvented anger became anger pointed inward. That’s one definition of depression: anger pointed at yourself. And I just about rowed that boat over the waterfall of darkness.

In fact, in this fourth year since our divorce, I am working to release her from the evil ex moniker. But a little healthy anger can sometimes help, if we know how to use it appropriately or dispose of it. Keeping your anger inside is a known stress booster, it shortens your life and lengthens your belt size.

I’ve been framing up something I’m calling The Divorce Recovery Roadmap, and anger plays a very critical role in this growth through and ultimately freedom from anger at your ex. I believe anger is part of the engine that got me out of my depression. When my world was shattered, even if I was complicit in the dismantling, it wasn’t until I found my anger, and began to voice it, that I started to recover my authentic self.

I’ve talked a lot about the self-awareness part of my recovery. And I will state it again as clearly as I can. Divorce has been the most devastating event in my life. And it has transformed me, sometimes by fire, sometimes by tears, back into the happy and creative individual I was before the divorce, maybe even before the marriage.

When I started this blog, even as I was still living under the same roof with my ex-y, I tapped into the vicious anger that was brewing inside. “What? You’re fucking giving up on me?” I wanted to rage. But I wrote it instead of yelling it. And it wasn’t all pretty. In fact, some of it was hurtful and spiteful. As if I wanted to say, “If you’re taking me down, I’m taking everyone down with me.”

But the fight wasn’t with my ex-y at that point. The fight of your life, the recovery from the wounds of divorce, is with yourself.

In that summer of discontent, when I had lost everything and was living with my sister, basically homeless, I raged. I wrote the FUCK YOU that I couldn’t say. I got a few pats on the back for the blog and pressed on, and eventually found my voice, with The Off Parent.

Then she found out about the blog and called me on the phone.

“I found The Off Parent.” she said.

“Okay.”

“And I want you to take it down. It makes it too hard to trust you. And we’re trying to raise these two kids together, and it’s just too hurtful.”

At that moment, I was so distraught at my situation, and my self-pity (we’ll get back to that in a minute) that I simply said, “Okay, I’ll take it down, now.” And I mothballed the blog.

What was not apparent to me at over the next month of so, was how quickly my unvented anger became anger pointed inward. That’s one definition of depression: anger pointed at yourself. And I just about rowed that boat over the waterfall of darkness. I didn’t get suicidal until the following summer, but I lost touch with my anger at her. Healthy anger. Anger that needed an outlet.

In order to flip your life back to ON you needed to commit to Massive Action. You had to commit to doing EVERYTHING all at once to get well.

I crumbled. And maybe that’s when I hit what alcoholics refer to as rock bottom. Because I started feeling really sorry for myself. I started placing the failure and blame on myself, on the things I did or didn’t do. When, in fact, I made numerous pleas with my ex-y to stop and reconsider her request for divorce. I wanted reconciliation, I wanted change. But I didn’t want a divorce.

I had been exposed to the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous a long time ago, when I started attending ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meetings, back when that movement was emerging. And some of the principles I learned, still guide me. But in my despair I grabbed onto two AA principles that lifted me back from the dead, even without this blog.

The first principle was Self Pity. It is one of the core shames we learn when we are raised in broken or breaking homes. As we uncover just how horrible things have been, we begin feeling sorry for ourselves and our plight. (This is magnified 100-fold for folks battling alcohol addiction, so I don’t mean to make light of it.) In my case, as I was in my sister’s house, basically breaking down mentally, was this sorrow at what had become of my beautiful life. My regrets and should’ve-dones became like a mean Greek chorus shouting me down as I tried to find my footing as a single late-forties man. Man In Divorce, it’s a thing.

I started reading some recovering alcoholics notes on the web. I attended a few AA and Alon meetings to remember how miserable I was, and how far from those darknesses I still was. And the idea of getting over my self-pity, my wallowing in my own stew of misery, was a good one. I wanted to comply, to shake it off, and to grow up and grow a pair, but it wasn’t that easy. Those AA slogans are great when you finally believe in them. Initially they come across as unhelpful platitudes. Still I grabbed on to the life ring of Self Pity and waited for someone to pull me back to safety.

Of course, that’s not really what happens either. Not in real life, anyway. So I slogged on. Read some AA material and tried to apply the maxims to my life. Live and let God. Giving up my pain and process to my Higher Power and all that. But it wasn’t until I hit the next gem of wisdom that I finally got moving.

I was reading a blog about recovery and the phrase that struck a nerve with me was “Take Massive Action.” The idea is, in recovery from addiction it is not enough to go to meetings, say the sayings, read the literature, you could not dabble in your recovery process if you were serious about getting well. In order to flip your life back to ON you needed to commit to Massive Action. You had to commit to doing EVERYTHING all at once to get well. And leave no little pockets of doubt that you could fall back on later.

I needed to build and agree to my own Massive Plan of Attack. Here’s what I did.

  1. I enrolled in an Aikido class that was a few miles from my sister’s house and I agreed to go to class 3 or more times week.
  2. I enrolled in a divorce recovery class that started in two weeks, based on the book When Your Relationship Ends.

And two weeks later I was already feeling the changes as I attended the first night of the divorce recovery class. And when I started hearing this masterful gentleman talk about the divorce recovery process I knew I had hit a vein of gold. Here were 20-or-so men and women in various stages of divorce and willing to admit that things sucked and we needed help.

The very real, very visceral, and transformative power of that night of anger, brought me back to life.

And that first week after the class we were required to call at least two other classmates and check-in on the phone. I remember really hitting it off with the first person I called. And as we chatted she let me know she was a recovering alcoholic. She became one of my champions in my Massive Action campaign.

I called her a few days after our first phone call and said, “I don’t want to go, and you don’t need to call me back, because I’m going to my Aikido class right now. I’m not happy about it, but I wanted to let you know I was going. Fuck.”

(People in that class liked to cuss a lot. And fuck seemed to be one of the best words in use. Maybe because none of us were fucking.)

And so my massive action plan began to take shape and I began reshaping my relationship to the divorce. More importantly, I began reshaping the relationship to myself.

About seven weeks into the class comes Anger Night. Essentially you go through a process of expressing all the “fuck yous” you need to by writing a letter. A letter you never send, of course. And then you share your letter with some of these other people in your class.

I was sad and overweight when I started my massive action plan. And by Anger Night I was at least in motion, but I was still pretty depressed. But the night after the class, when we were given the assignment, to write the real letter, I came uncorked.

That night, in the process of writing out all my fuck yous and complaints to my ex-wife, I reconnected with the healthy part of the anger. The part that I had been stuffing and hurting myself with. The fury, once unleashed, became unmanageable. And I wrote from about midnight to about three in the morning. But I was transformed.

When I accessed my anger that night, it was like a switch had been thrown on inside and the power to my healthy system was restored. The transformation was notable. And four weeks later, when the good doctor was looking for facilitators for his next session, he invited me to be one of the shepherds. What an honor and a validation for the work I had done.

By the end of the class I was on a roll. I was negotiating a new job, I was still hitting the mat in Aikido several times a week, and I was beginning to feel like “life” was possible again. I’ve never looked back at that letter. It’s still here, on this computer, somewhere. But I don’t need to read it. The very real, very visceral, and transformative power of that night of anger, brought me back to life.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: Santorini’s Donkey sequence via creative commons license


Maybe My Unhappy Ex-Wife Is Simply Unhappy

an un-happy personLast night I attended back-to-school night for my son. And of course the ex-y was there. And I had a big realization, as I was looking over at her, she just looked unhappy. At rest, she looked unhappy. Glued to her text messaging phone, she looked unhappy. Any time she wasn’t being engaged by another parent, she looked unhappy. And a lyric from a recent favorite song came to mind

You’ve got that special kind of sadness
You’ve got that tragic set of charms

And it occurred to me, perhaps that’s part of what I was drawn to, back in the day. Not a rescue, per say, but someone who might need me. UG! Let’s update that bad idea and move forward.

This morning she sent a check-in email. And completed it with this sentence. “Any news on your house?” I had been threatened with foreclosure by Wells Fargo and the date for the sale was yesterday.

I replied that I had been given an additional 30-days to complete the paperwork, crisis temporarily averted. And things are looking up.

Her next response was more to the point. “I know it’s terrible timing for you, but I had to go ahead and file with the AG.” Oh, yay. So, the logic goes, he didn’t have to declare bankruptcy, let’s start drilling for child support. There is no question that I owe her the money, I’ve never asked for a reduction or said I wasn’t going to pay. Still…

Okay, so the one good outcome I can see from this. I will not accept or respond to another money email again. We put the AG’s office between us. But I tell ya, unless she’s going to start having me arrested, there is no extra money here. I’m not hiding anything. I’m working, and looking for work. And I really don’t mean to be whining, but perhaps I am. Busting ass to get back on the high-level of earning that I’m used to, and I’ll get there. Today, that is not her concern.

Well, let’s see how this progresses from here.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Some stronger lyrics to express my goodbye to the drama.

So break me down, if it makes you feel right
And hate me now if it keeps you all right, so,
You can’t break me down if takes all your might
Cause I’m so much more, than all your lies!


What You Took Away; What I Get To Remember

OFF-father-daughter

The privilege of walking into my daughter’s room just now and giving her a hug and a kiss, is something I never thought I would lose, in my lifetime. But divorce changes all that. Sure, the relationship had been deteriorating for years or months, even if I’m not the one who asked for the divorce, or consulted a lawyer. BUT… You took my kids from me, effective immediately, no discussion. The minute you walk out of the marital home, you’re life changes forever.

Three summers ago I stepped out of MY house for the last time. It became, “Your mom’s house,” from then on. And I knew that I would not be good in the house alone, so I left it without fighting. The kids needed some security in this amazingly unsecure world we were thrusting on them. There was a cover story, “That Dad was sick and taking some time off at Aunt A’s house.” But it was done. There was no returning or repair for that summer of despair.

I don’t take a single moment with my kids for granted. I am transformed when they are around. I cook. I rouse. I wrestle.

The happy thing I have to report is this Summer, while trying and destabilizing at times, has been the best Summer yet. The closest I came to being depressed was struggling with a sore throat that took over a week to heal. And I was kind of ready for the down time. I’d been running and jumping pretty fast all summer.

And in our routine, Summer means I get my kids on Thursdays AND Fridays every week. (It helps the ex-y with the child care bills, and gives me an extra day of kid time.

I was chatting with another dad the other morning. We were waiting for our daughters to get inside the gym where they were counselors at a gymnastics camp. He said, “It doesn’t matter if they are off playing games, something about knowing they are in the house, is comforting.”

One of the most spiritual moments in my life was the first couple times I stood in my newborn child’s room and watched them sleep. Something about those moments affirm why we are here, and why we as adults keep working so hard to provide a better life, even when things get really hard. In those earliest parenting bedside prayer and answer sessions I felt, somehow, that the life I would provide for my kids would be less traumatic than my own.

And today I understand it more than ever. I don’t take a single moment with my kids for granted. I am transformed when they are around. I cook. I rouse. I wrestle. I take them on errands, I walk down to the lake and swim. I listen to their stories. I tell a few of my own. And while their mom is missing, it feels nearly complete. It’s the closeness and the joy I take in holding hands, or putting a hand on my son’s shoulder while he shows me his latest computer game creation.

I am Dad.

When my father walked out of the family home (as my mom tells it, she had given him an ultimatum about his drinking, and he chose the booze over us.) everything went to shit. Christmases suddenly became very sparse and un-festive. And he really withdrew further into drinking and eventually married a woman, a much younger woman, who liked to drink as much as he did. But the end result was my happy/unhappy home was dumped out and crushed and my father vanished into his own dark pit.

In the beginning moments of the divorce I did not know if is was possible to remain friendly. And even as we struggle a bit with money issues (now divorced) I know we are both doing the best we can.

We had visits. I went to dinner at his house once a week. But he was bitter. And his bitterness inflamed his drinking. And my mom and I had to develop a communication system about how I could call her to come get me when my dad was too drunk to drive. I remember sitting on the floor of his living room, watching Ba Ba Black Sheep together. He was remarried and the Mexican house keeper made the most amazing chopped up french fries for dinner.

And we tried talking about stuff. But he was heading towards oblivion most of the nights, and since he didn’t have to cook, it was easy for him to slip into the comfort of his pouring and adoring wife.

The last time I recall spending a Thursday evening over there, I was in 8th grade. He came home a bit early so we all decided to swim in their pool. I was thrilled he was going into the pool. It almost never happened.

And in the horseplay that seemed so rare and exciting my father grabbed me and started holding me under water. I’m sure he was euphoric with both drink and exercise, but he didn’t let go. And in a final effort to free myself I kicked him in the balls and swam away from him as he released me. I called my mom and went home without having dinner.

And that touch is something I know will never happen with my kids. I’m not a bitter divorcé. In fact, I’m framing myself as a single parent for now. And I do occasionally wrestle and horseplay with my son who enters 7th grade in a few days. And the thing I know, even in my loneliness and feelings of separation when they are gone, is that I am a great father. And I will continue to be a positive and loving force in their lives as long as I live.

I can see the benefits of my divorce from time to time too. I have time to restart my live performances as a musician. I am rarely exhausted. I am learning to cook. But that moment, every so often, that comes up when they are not under my roof, that wish to return to the quiet newborn’s room and know that things are going to be okay, I don’t forget or ignore that moment either. I am grateful my ex-y and I have done such a good job at pulling our marriage apart while remaining good co-parents.

In the beginning moments of the divorce I did not know if is was possible to remain friendly. And even as we struggle a bit with money issues (now divorced) I know we are both doing the best we can. And our children together are thriving, even with two homes.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: i love my father as the stars, yvette, creative commons usage


The Beginning of the End: Losing Touch In My Marriage

OFF-losingtouchI found this text file today, that represents the last straw in my marriage. I remember the moment quite well. I was working a new job, making good money, and was preparing for the Friday drive home on a snowy January evening. I was meaning to type up a quick, I don’t like you but I love you, note. What happened next is MY SIDE of the story for why we got divorced. This was the tipping point for ME.

(I have left the lowercase and lack of punctuation as it was written in the email – I have corrected the spelling and removed any identifying names.)

+++

i am mad at you… i’m trying to get through it… forgive my slowness…
i say we’re doing well, you say we’re bouncing checks
i say, i’m making 100k, you say you’re making 2k per month
i say I recognize my accelerated mode, yellow flagging myself
you say, yes but… there’s more…

yes there is more… always more…

bottom line: my love is never-ending for you, you are more beautiful to me today than any time in the past, I can see you with a vibrancy as I am buzzing over here at P o L. but, I am tired of always being the one to hold the overview perspective, always the one to suggest parties, beach trips, cars, whatever… and have you… say, and I know you will agree that you are tired of this role as well, so this is what we are working on… no, we’re not safe, the house is not clean enough, we don’t have the money for that, we have other priorities. I am tired of holding the line when I am angry or in disagreement, when you seemingly let them fly when and where you see them, without regard for where I’m at or what impact it might have.

The other night as I was reading in bed, hoping that you would be returning from the snake room, you patted my head. The hard part was how good it felt.

What I realized standing next to you in the closet this morning, i don’t like you very much. I am holding some shit, and for that I am sorry. So rather than speaking my mind, I mozy on to the office and work. Rather than complaining when you say you are going to come out of the kids room and watch a movie, I blow it off, throw it in the canyon for a later day.

I guess the later day has come. I am negative. I am not happy. I am not giving you the wrapper that I would like to. You suggest the beach via email a few days ago and my first thought is, “yeah right.” Glad it was your suggestion and not mine.

Well, that signals to me that I am off. What I am off about is something that feels like an imbalance. I am enthusiastic about therapy and what we began to hit on this week.

I don’t feel like I’m better than you or that I am doing it right and you are wrong. I don’t.

But I feel like you have some critical eye that is telling me what I am doing wrong, how I am not meeting YOUR expectations on several levels, and even when I come up and self-proclaim my own warning card, rather than join, you say, but wait… there’s more. Well, that’s what we’re doing, I guess. The more part.

What a learned over the next few days and then weeks was: if I didn’t generate the love language in our house it simply did not exist.

I am sorry for my negativity. I am focusing in on the kids. I am irritable when you talk out loud because I think you are telling me something to do. I am short with you. And I’m happy in C’s room. (I guess you know that one, eh?)

I hope you can see that this is a love letter and not a bitch session. AS I WRITE THIS I AM FEELING VERY SAD.

I do not want to be on the receiving end of so many “you shoulds.”

Here’s the most telling example I can come up with. The other night as I was reading in bed, hoping that you would be returning from the snake room, you patted my head. The hard part was how good it felt. I don’t think our outward expression of genuine amusement and love of the other is very balanced. I am certain you are expressing that with J and C in spades. Me… well, it’s complicated.

And wrapping up, so I can come home, SEX. (I can see your expression changing in my mind…)

I add sex to your list of chores for the weekend. You feel like I am taking a pot shot at you. So you add, Looking for the when, where, how… Okay, so do ever have the thought… “horny”

You have expressed in the past that you do in fact have these thoughts.

So do you ever wonder when, where, how… or is that my department, like taking out the trash or switching lightbulbs? (that came across more harsh than I wanted) Nonetheless, I am harsh right now. I could care less about architecting the clean house, no kids, right mood, structure that it often requires to have sex together. So you know what, I’m having sex alone. Bummer.

Are you having sex?

+++

(The text exchange I initiated in bed, weeks later, was a continuation of this inquiry: Are You Having Sex, Because I’m Not)

The moment I knew I was in serious trouble, was as I was typing up this note. And as I began to get overwhelmed by the feelings of frustration and sadness. It had taken me a week to sort through those magical feelings above “you patted my head.” She also leaned down and said to me, “I love you.”

I was stunned. I was confused. I was out of my body for a minute trying to figure out what was happening. And I didn’t really connect with the message, but the feeling in my body was somewhere between exhilaration and terror.

As I was writing this note home, as a pre-amble to our weekend, I realized that her actions of genuine affection towards me were almost nonexistent. The amazement I felt was how alien it was for her to be touching me and telling me she loved me. The extreme sadness that poured out of me as I was writing this pivot letter, was how much it hurt to know how little she appreciated me for me. She liked the money, the chores, the great dad with the kids, but for me… She had very little affection.

We were established on our opposite sides of the bed. And while I was reaching over I was getting an ice cold response.

It was at this very moment that I began to test my assumption. If I didn’t over-generate the affection in the marriage where would we be. What a learned over the next few days and then weeks was: if I didn’t generate the love language in our house it simply did not exist. I don’t think it had always been like this. I’m not sure when she reversed engines away from me, but it was probably about the time she confessed in couples therapy that she didn’t really love me any more.

Both times (in therapy and writing this note) I wept openly for the loss. My center was caving in and it crushed my hopefulness.

After this letter and the subsequent observations I began to express my dissatisfaction. As I ended this email, I began my exploration of why she didn’t want to have sex with me. Why she never expressed appreciation. Even when I was doing it all the time. And being the best and brightest I could be every single day as I woke up.

We were established on our opposite sides of the bed. And while I was reaching over I was getting an ice cold response. But I was waking up to that painful reality. And I was voicing my anger at how things were playing out. I was bucking against the reins that had been put over OUR passion.

I would not win. But I would no longer be quiet and settle for such a lack in my life.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Image: Susan Benarcik’s Losing Touch

A video that captures it nicely: Something’s Always Wrong – Toad the Wet Sprocket


Love and War; It’s all Here – Seeking Love and Peace

Love and War, Love and PeaceA contrast and comparison of the two most powerful letters I’ve written this year.

1. Love letter to the silent “woman with potential.” (partial) Responding to an email she sent me about why she hasn’t been able to see me over the last two weeks.

+++

Sweet [woman’s name], (i like the sound of that)

I completely understand.
If the moment is casual and easy and without expectations, maybe it would be easier to just include me in an activity you’re already going to do. No prep or primp, just “hey J I’m going for a walk at 2, wanna go?” (Imagining some of the resistance is merely the additional effort required to include someone else, someone who’s “checkin you out.” But that’s an easy one to interrupt, right? Just time together, that’s my goal. Intentionality is useful in many situations, but here, I’m easy and free of expectations.
And me:
1. I can be more invitive (invite-y), but I feel this adds pressure rather than enticement. And thus patience and peace of mind is my repose.
2. Thrilled with the idea of [woman’s name].
3. Happy.
4. Intentional when it makes sense.
At the moment it appears it doesn’t fit. That’s okay. I can imagine you are frazzled and adding ONE MORE FKIN THING, even if that thing is magically delicious, is too much.
Here I AM. As long as it’s okay for me to ping you every now and then to check-in, I can mind my own mind. And when there is an opening on your end for more… Well…
Final thought: I loved, love, will love, getting your messages in the future and I will respond in kind.

+++

2. Declaration of Independence from the Ex-y’s continuing drama about money.

+++

Money.

What I can tell you.
1. You are going to get every penny you are owed. Any language from you about “collecting” or “enforcement” now makes me laugh rather than get mad. It’s absurd. Maybe it’s your dad speaking, but there is no DEFAULT on my child support.
2. If there is a perception, from the kids that money is flowing, it’s a misperception, maybe due to my joy in life at the moment.
3. After my mortgage and base necessities, you and the kids are my first priority.
4. Work is good. And it does look like I will get several new pieces of business that should speed up my catchup.
5. A month that I am able to afford a house keeper is a good month. But that $100 has no bearing on your payments.
6. I am not spending ANY money on myself, after food, shelter and internet.
What I cannot tell you.
1. Timing or schedule of my payments through the summer. I simply don’t have the information myself.
2. Exact amounts you can expect through the summer.
If you have doubts about me ever getting caught up those are based on fear and not reality. I will do my best to inform you of when money is coming in, and what portion of every income event you can count on. But until the check is in my hand from my other clients, I will not guess at dates and schedules.
There will come a day when the money and schedule are easy and predictable. I am working towards that with 100% of my efforts.
That’s the best I can do.

+++

Maybe I could do more, better, try harder, but I don’t think so.

The real story is that my life is good. In spite of being in arrears with Wells Fargo and the ex-y. I am working plenty. I am landing new business. I am keeping my head out of the gutter of depression around the pressure of money and lack of money.

Here’s the rub.

When we were married I worked as a freelance consultant for years. I was successful and then 9-11 took the prosperity right out of my self-employment. What ultimately forced me to seek FTE (full-time employee) status was 1. the need for my family to have robust healthcare coverage; 2. the ex-y’s unwillingness to get a full-time full-pay job herself. Of course in the early part of our kids lives, that was by design, but towards the end of our marriage, it almost felt like defiance. Case in point, the last full year of our marriage she actually had a negative income after taxes and expenses were taken out. How’s that for escalating the stress levels. Of course, the party line, was it was me with the “employment” problem.

Now, however, in divorce, the ex-y must have full-time employment. And with that comes the opportunity to put the kid’s healthcare on her policy. Still bill it to me, but the access to healthcare, that “these days” still requires a FTE status to acquire. As a result, the opportunity to become a self-employed consultant is possible for me again. She really doesn’t have any say about that.

I would’ve liked to have provided enough financially for her not to work at all while the kids were in elementary school. We did the best we could and she averaged 15 – 30 hours a week for a good portion of that time. But as the kids got older, the expectation was that she would start contributing to the overall household growth again.

And the most amazing thing. When she decided she wanted to divorce me, she created a job with a firm that was owned by some personal friends. When she was required to work, she was very good at it. And when her desire required her to go to FTE status, it was a quick and decisive event.

Today, when I’m working my flexible schedule, I wonder how it would be easier if we (my child support) were not paying on two houses. How we might have both enjoyed a more flexible lifestyle had we stayed together.

That was not the choice we made. And today she is the FTE. And while I am paying the healthcare costs, and the equivalent of two mortgages, (and I will get caught up) she is still in some sort of crisis about money. Seems like this was a pattern in our marriage too. She was in crisis about something most of the time.

I am not.

And yet the contrast could not be more obvious.

She: has 30K or more in her retirement accounts, little or no credit card debt, and equity in the marital home in the neighborhood of 50k – 70k.

Me: spent all of my retirement savings to live and gain access to home ownership again, have no credit cards and bad credit, am behind of my mortgage.

Yet still. I am very happy and optimistic that I am pulling out of this. And I am trying to reassure her, just as I did when we were married, that there will be enough. “We’re gonna be fine.”

And she is stressed to the max, thrashing against me for money, and convinced I am the answer and cause of her distress.

I can maintain my neutrality. I can try and respond with kindness rather than anger. I will continue to focus on the happiness and wellbeing of my kids. The happiness and well-being of my ex-y was not something I could manage then, and I certainly cannot manage it now. The good news is, now I don’t have to.

UPDATE: How do you think my message went over? To deaf ears. More saber rattling, more demands for a plan or a schedule. Okay, so I’m putting the ex-y in the bill pile with Wells Fargo. And I’m taking the emotion out of my response.

“Talk to the hand. You’ll get it as soon as I get it. I’ll let you know in real time as I know more.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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She Would’ve Liked Me To Just Leave the House

divorced dad and kidsWhen the proverbial shit hit the fan, and she had fully articulated that she wanted a divorce, that she had gone to see an attorney to understand her “options,” that even our therapist had shown his doubts about our survivability, she wanted me to leave. She was incensed that I simply would not LEAVE THE HOUSE.

I made a declaration over and over as she kept raising the subject. “I will not bring this divorce full-force into this house until our kids have finished this year in school.” She was not happy. She used ideas like “trial separation” as enticements. No way.

But I was not willing to uproot the entire family, because the ex-y had come to a decision, had weighed her options, and seen an opening and a greener pasture outside my arms.

I was the survivor of a horrible divorce, when my parents started the kid wars that became my life. When I grieved my divorce, as it had been spelled out for me by my sessions with the ex-y, I was crying for my kids, not for me. Of course, I’m aware enough to know that my tears for my son were really tears AS A SON, who was losing his dad. I lost my dad, big time. When he walked out that door, the second time, he never came back. And our lives quickly descended into a living hell for years. My dad is not me. My son is not having that experience. Not by a long shot.

But I was not willing to uproot the entire family, because the ex-y had come to a decision, had weighed her options, and seen an opening and a greener pasture outside my arms. Our kids were in 2nd and 4th grade. It still makes me angry to think she was so oblivious to their needs and only focused on HER needs. Her needs for immediate separation and space. For her to get HER house. I guess…

I did not move out until the kids were done with school. It was two of the hardest months of my life. Knowing I was toast, that my wife was unreachable, and that I was more of a ghost dad than a dad. But I stayed my ground. Fuck her and her separation and space. And fuck if I was going to give her the house, just like that.

In the end, that’s what happened, she got the house, as my real estate friend who was experienced in several divorces said she would. “She’s gonna get the house, and your still going to be paying for it,” he said. And while part of that does not seem fair, it’s the way it is. Any whining about it is whining. Let’s move on.

I did not walk out the door that March. But in many ways, as June arrived and the kids completed their semester in elementary school, I suffered mightily for my decision. I think it was the right decision. As I said to the ex-y, it’s a business. We can’t just divorce overnight. There are a lot of details to work out. So what’s the hurry? Other than the fact that you want me out, you want to start whatever is next. And boy didn’t she. She was sexing it up within weeks of the divorce papers being filed. SHE WAS THE STARVED PARTY? What? That’s kinda funny.

…Being a great parent, and looking after the best interests of our kids even when it goes against what we want or think we need.

Okay, so I stayed and now I have my badge of honor and my heart-on-sleeve righteousness. But it was a hard two months. As we navigated sleeping in separate rooms and getting the kids ready for school, and coordinating the details of running a family. By June I was a basket case. I was depressed beyond belief, I was hardly functional, but hey, we’d done it. The kids got to finish 2nd and 4th grade without the sigma of their familial collapse.

I’m trying to take precautionary action this year, before June arrives with it’s regret and memories. The long summer. The death of my marriage. The real separation of my kids from me. And the last three summers have been very hard. I can plan, strategize, and keep meeting with my talky doctor, but to say I’m bulletproof heading towards summer would be a fool’s dream.

I am leery of summer now. I am a bit sad just now, thinking about how hard the past three summers have been.

I am also strong, rebuilt, and reoriented towards health, fitness, and being a great parent. And part of that includes looking after the best interests of our kids even when it goes against what we want or think we need.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Divorce Growing Pains: Accepting that She Doesn’t Want Reconciliation

Post divorce sex and dating means letting go of your exAs things begin to pick up for me again, both emotionally and financially, I still get this twinge of anger from time to time about the woman who lost confidence in me. Often there is one person who does not want the divorce (the dumpee) and the person who initiates the divorce.

And the spark of pain, that I occasionally still have to acknowledge and let go of, is SHE decided long before I did that she was done. When she toyed with “maybe a separation would help me,” she had already talked to a lawyer. I was still solid as a rock that we would get through this. We had been through so many trials of the spirit before, this was a chance to set some of our emotional connections right. That was my delusion.

It was November of last year, that I sent the last, “If I could change anything, or start over with someone…” email. She demurred. She was not interested. But what that letter did for me was release every last option in MY control. And when she passed, I was free to really explore dating.

She was looking to greener pastures. She was giving up on me. That still stings.

It didn’t work out that my aggressive get-out-and-fk approach didn’t really work for me. But I did let her go on another level when I saw myself actually having sex with another (a different) woman. Some core sexual thread was released back to me. I was still not sure that I wanted it back.  I am still attracted to most of her physical qualities, her smell, the way she dresses, her smile.

But she is not attracted to me any more. She moved on within weeks of the final divorce and began sleeping with a plumber who caught her eye. WOW, now that was bold, or way off, you’d have to ask her. But it was at that time that I was so happy we’d put the “six-month dating before introducing to the kids” rule in our parenting plan.

She didn’t want to try separation. She was trying a way to ease me out of the relationship  She was looking to greener pastures. She was giving up on me. That still stings. All the money we now put into TWO homes have made the economics much more stressful.

So we move along. We grow. We challenge what we knew about relationship, what we think we know about physical and spiritual attraction.

That final stage of release continues to happen. And I find myself looping back into desire for “what was.” It’s not for her any more, but the idea and memory of the wonderful times we had. And the loss every single time I drop my kids off and won’t see them for 5 days. OUCH! That I never wanted.

Today, I can say my dreams of reconciliation are more about getting my kids back. She’s not available to me. She’s been with her BF for almost a year. He’s met the kids. And even if she asked tomorrow, admitted her mistake, I know that I would say “No.” She was emotionally distant the entire relationship  She didn’t know how to connect with deep feelings. It was never safe for her to do so with her mom and dad.

So we move along. We grow. We challenge what we knew about relationship, what we think we know about physical and spiritual attraction. And now we move in different directions. And that too is good.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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“Watch out squirrel!” I Needed To Shout This Today: “Fk You!”

squirrel loses the war

“For some reason I needed to tell you today, that I fkin hate you for giving up on me. And, of course, it is a blessing. We weren’t happy. But as much as I’d like to talk about the sour grapes, I’m still somewhat devastated. You bailed.”

Ah, that anger again. We’re gonna have good days and bad days. And today has been a good day. When I was driving to the store today I saw a vulture snacking on a squirrel. Why this reminded me of my own pain, I’m not quite sure. But today, with an email from you, I learned what it was about.

I am not okay.

And I am fine. But here’s the rub. We were so fkin close to making it. Sure I hid some of my desires and you pretended to still have them for me. And sure the economy has been tough, it’s tough on everyone. And then like the squirrel, I got distracted. I paid attention to your anger rather than my own. And now the vultures are snacking on my heart. [okay, that was for dramatic effect only. let me recalibrate and try again.]

As so many things are coming back together for me, after almost two years of struggle, I am sorry not to have you as my mate to share this wonderful time with. That’s the part that still has some kind of sting. But that’s my shit. And I’m working on it. [here]

In the same way WE were so close to making things work out back then, I am very close today, on both a personal and professional level. Sure, a relationship will follow, at some point, but I’m taking major life/balance things first. And before the divorce was started, when I said to you, “You know we can’t afford TWO houses in this neighborhood.” I was wrong. Sort of.

There’s an imbalance to how all this divorce stuff goes down. I’m not angered by the child support payments. My kids need a lot of stuff. And I’m happy to provide. BUT… Some how I’m now paying TWO mortgages. How did that work? How is that fair? Who’s helping me out?

There’s some statistic about the SPO being about even. But there’s a real big mistake in that logic. HUGE actually. The SPO has this wonderful provision for the working dad, primarily the one who gets the shorter end of the stick on the SPO laws. And this provision has the kids spending an entire month with dad, theoretically during the summer. Um, yeah.

QUESTION: When the fk am I going to be able to afford to take a week off with my kids, much less a MONTH? REALLY! No, Dr. Who-Knows-Best, tell me about that mythical MONTH that helps balance the schedule out the rest of the year.  Oh, and before you answer, let’s talk about how much of the financial burden I’M going to be carrying, in addition to trying to scratch out a living for myself. So, really, what’s the fkin SPO percentage when I can’t afford to take that MONTH off, in fact, we don’t DO that part of the SPO, because it’d be too damn expensive.

Another big shock, if you’re on the mortgage for another house, it’s gonna be harder than hell to afford a new place. Much less, BUY something. And when they are looking at your financial feasibility, they are going to examine your SPO like frikin proctologists. Because, my friends, the dad is getting fked right up the wazoo.

Without going into numbers, let me illuminate the situation.

My child support payments, which include a percentage of my salary AND the cost of healthcare for both kids, is exactly $100 less than my new mortgage. And about $200 less than the mortgage on my old home. So how did the math come out, that we’re getting the kids 43/57 but I’m still paying both mortgages? (Here’s a link to the Standard Possession Order in the State of Texas.) Here’s what the Attorney General’s website says about our great state, to give you the full flavor of the situation here, “In Texas, about 10 percent of non-custodial parents are mothers.” – handbook for non-custodial parents.

Yeah, yeah… Men often make more than women. And yeah, yeah, women often suffer more financially than men in this situation. Fk that, it hasn’t been so in MY CASE. [sorry, i’ll try to quit shouting.]

Here’s what you are going to hear from your legal support team. (her’s and your’s) “The SPO is the way to go. Being the Non-Custodial Parent (NCP) is no big deal. That’s how it’s going to go even if you fight it. It’s just the way it is.”

And there’s going to be this, “50/50 is too hard on the kids. Too much transition. The SPO is better for everyone. It has been worked out over time.”

So what do you do? What did I do? Of course I went in asking for 50/50 and the Dr. advised that my request was more of an emotional matter, and not one that was necessarily in the “best interest” of the child. And “The SPO is the best approach.”

And I kid you not, she said this, “And she’s going to get that if you fight her or not. Most of this is about what she is willing to negotiate, knowing that she would win in court. But neither of you want that.”

And she was right. I was in no position to fight. I was still reeling from the idea of losing something much bigger than a custody battle. I was willing to put everything in the “best for the kids” column, if it meant less time dealing with the trauma of the divorce.

Besides–and this still haunts me–“what she is willing to negotiate.” The assumption, even by this neutral [ha!] third-party was… SHE WINS.

As Dad’s we just need to deal with it. Buck up and be prepared to PAY.

+++

I’ve been lucky. Even in my devastating depression, surrounding such a depressing event, I got a pretty awesome FT-job about six months after the divorce was final. And I moved quickly to purchase a house on that job.

I have nothing to complain about. I mean, I can rant here, but overall I am personally in pretty good shape. And while my first post-D job only lasted 4 months, I am poised to start some contract work that could put me solidly back in to the black. Where I get to pay both of our mortgages for way less than 50% of the time.

I’ve got a funny way of looking at it: If I had to pay for childcare during all the time I have to myself, I’d probably be paying  A LOT more. So do what you can to get over the anger. And get the possession order that makes the most sense for YOU. I’m meeting a ton of parents who do more of a 50/50 thing. I wonder how that would’ve affected the amount of money I had to pay to my ex-y.

Let me be clear: I want my kids to be provided for. I want to be that good provider for my kids. But… where does it say that she gets a free house in the deal, just for starters? “Because she knows that’s what she’s going to get.”

I’ve officially just burned through my entire retirement savings. I could probably petition the court and show my REAL INCOME for the past 18 months and have the support amount reduced significantly. Heck, I was optimistic when I signed the SPO and decree outlining how much I was going to pay my ex-y for the next 9 years. But mostly I was just trying to get through the loss AND the process of the courts. And of course, everyone counseled me that she would get the SPO anyway, and I should just agree and move on.

That’s fair, right? Fk that! [don’t be a fkin squirrel or the vultures are gonna rip your furry body apart.]

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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