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

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After Divorce w/ Kids: You Won’t Believe How Good It Can Get

OFF-coupledacing

Off as in wacky. Off as in when you don’t have your kids after divorce. Off as in batshit crazy. What is an OFF Parent?

As I have begun to reemerge as a happy dad I have paid careful attention to who deserved my “off” time.

Divorce sucks. And in the end, divorce may have been the most liberating and creative thing that ever happened in my life. I have certainly been transformed in many unexpected ways. And the decision of my then-wife that wrecked and the reshuffled my family life, might have been the event that set me in motion towards the next true love of my life.

But getting from married with children to divorced with children to dating with children to whatever-you-want-to-call-next with children… Well, that’s the tricky part about being an off parent. I’m here to offer hope.

I’ve been through:

  • major depression
  • financial disaster
  • dickish ex-wife moves set to hurt me
  • complete loss of my identity and home
  • rebuilding and reassessing
  • creative rebirth
  • establishing relationships with my kids during *my* time
  • losing a best friend and partner in planning and future visions

Through all of it, things get a bit rough. Things might even get so bleak that you consider dark and harsh alternatives. Hope is hard to come by at times.

And I arrived at:

  • creative freedom
  • effortless and inspired writing about my experience
  • creating my own parenting style, not burdened by my ex’s OCD
  • establishing father-son and father-daughter bonds in the time that I did have
  • a rested state of living (naps whenever I wanted, instead of a fight)
  • redefining *my* needs and passions
  • exploring and learning from what went wrong
  • setting sail for a new kind of relationship
  • finding the love of my life

I’ve been married twice. And I can tell you the divorce from both of those relationships was difficult. With kids, however, you never fully get divorced from your co-parent. And as I have begun to reemerge as a happy dad I have paid careful attention to who deserved my “off” time. I went through a few test relationships, learned some powerful lessons along the way, and arrived here: madly, passionately, and freely in love with a new woman, a partner unlike any I have ever imagined. Better. Stronger. More passionate. Much more compassionate.

The second love of my life took over 52 years to arrive. We had been looking for each other for 5 – 7 years. And when we connected the sparks flew, the inhibitions evaporated, and our hearts began to sing in harmony, the big “Yes” from within minutes of our first kiss.

“That was the most auspicious beginning I’ve ever experienced,” I said to her a few days after we’d spent the first weekend together.

My kids, as important as ever, will be building new connections with the WE, rather than just me, Dad.

The exhilaration has not stopped. The continuous effort on both of our parts to find the time, find the space, and find the way to connect both in an out of the bedroom. And of course, the sex is amazing. And how could I have imagined, as my known world was collapsing, that I would be having the absolute best sex of my life at 52? And more sex than I’ve ever had? How could this be possible?

When you embrace the loss of your marriage, you can begin healing yourself and reestablishing your relationships with your children and yourself. As you burn through the pain and frustrations, you may find yourself stronger and more self-assured. You may find yourself unwilling to settle for half-ass. And with the compressed amount of time you have, you will value both the ON parent time and the OFF parent time.

Today I begin a new journey with my girlfriend. (That term seems so weak compared to what we have established.) Today we begin building OUR relationship WITH and AROUND my kids. The parenting plan I defined with my then-wife spelled out a 6-month waiting period before introducing the kids to a partner.

The new relationship is between her and me. My kids, as important as ever, will be building new connections with the WE, rather than just the me, Dad. She won’t ever be Mom, but she can bring a new idea in to their young lives.

In the next 4 years of my son’s life, and the next 6 years of my daughter’s life, I can show them what a healthy and happy relationship looks like. The last time they saw my then-wife and I in respectful partnership was when they were about 5 and 7 years old. What a gift I imagine in this new, re-envisioned partnership, with the next love of my life.

The more amazing thing about finding love again, is when you find the flow of energy and affirmations is easily expressed by both partners. In my marriage I was the “emotional” partner. My then-wife was more logical and excel/task/budget based. This new connection is stronger and more pure than anything I’ve experienced in my life. (I know this sounds like puppy love, and I’m not afraid to admit we are still in the honeymoon glow.)

Where we go from here is together and up as a newly formed family unit. The three of us now have a co-pilot. I now have a collaborative partner to reason things out, to make joint-decisions, and to reflect on the demands and requests of my ex-wife. Not to mention, the most exciting partnership I’ve known.

Today, I have it all. I’m still rebuilding. My kids are still adjusting. Perhaps we will be readjusting our entire lives from the fracture that changed everything. Today, at this moment, I can say, “For the better.” By a long shot.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

OFF-gtr-2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Basics:

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

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

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

Now, more coffee.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: the author and his dog before the separation, creative common usage

king-scrambles-497


Her Unfair Advantage and My Loaded Weapon

OFF-clint

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

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

I am weaving a story.

I am clear today about several things.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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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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Patience Please, I’m Doing The Best I Can

OFF-fkyou

When I say to my ex-wife today, “Thanks for your patience,” I’m really saying, “Fuck you and your impatience.”

When we were married she chose to divorce me. When we were divorced she chose to file her anger by setting the office of the attorney general on me.

This week I started my new big job. A victory? Yes. A failure? Perhaps. But such a bellwether moment, when on the morning of first day at the new job, the ex-y sent me her recommendations on what type of insurance I should provide for the kids and how I should set the child support up on an automatic withdrawal. She even said, “Because it will be so much better for the kids, that way.” The crow in my mouth was hard to swallow as I thanked her for her support and advice. Of course…

When you are a parent you never quite get to part ways with the ex partner. Now we are co-parents. And everything we do can be couched in terms of how it best supports the kids. Except when it doesn’t. And the things that my ex-wife did to get me to this point (not the new job) are inexcusable. And yet, we have to let that pain and suffering flow right under the bridge of life, in the best interest of minimizing the ongoing animosity and friction between us.

But make no mistake. In the darkest moment of my single parent life so far, my ex-wife not only refused to give me some slack, she actually filed against me with the Attorney General of Texas. As I was struggling to find new work, and trying to keep my house around me and the kids, she struck her final blow. There’s not much else she can do. She’s done turned me over to the authorities for collection. And in that moment, I believe, she revealed the core of her anger. Only through a lot of work and self-reflection, I have come to understand that our marriage may have unraveled around the issue of money.

If she didn’t really want to go back to full-time work, she could prod, push, shame, and fight me back into the big corporate job, and she might be able to work a 20-hour flex schedule. Except we wanted to keep the nice house in the nice school district. And when the big job had spit me out with a 6-month severance, in stead of regrouping with me, she went on the offensive. She was determined and adamant about *my* next job. And she stayed focused on that issue for a year. Sure, she was retooling her ideas about what she wanted to do for a living, but if she could just shoehorn me back into a big job… Things would be so much easier. For her.

That’s not the way it went down. And in the end, when she made plans to divorce me, she also had to find gainful employment. It seemed easy once she had her plans in place. She got the new job, she met with an attorney, she made her *options* spreadsheet somewhere on her computer. We divorced.

And when you find yourself in some dire straight, in some position of need, in the future, I will NOT do the same to you.

But as we were both making our way in the world, as “co-parents” she turned much more pragmatic. It wasn’t about a relationship, or mutual support, it was simply business. And when I stumbled in my work, and I told her I would be late on a few payments, she took the harsh approach, much like she had when I was voicing my ideas about self-employment during my sabbatical. And when the complaining and anger didn’t motivate me back into a job (in either circumstance) she fired off her final weapon.

When we were married she chose to divorce me. When we were divorced she chose to file her anger by setting the office of the attorney general on me. And this ultimate anti-co-parenting action has lasting consequences. She’s removed the actual compassion from our relationship. It’s now just business. Perhaps that’s a gift as well. Perhaps that’s a more accurate representation of our core relationship anyway.

Her actions against me with the AG’s office stripped me of any options for keeping my house. I was forced to let it go. I had to withdraw my map and plan for the future, and I returned home, defeated, to my mothers. FK. I won’t ever forget it.

And some day in the future, when she finds herself in some dire straight, in some position of need, in the future, I will NOT do the same to her. I will have compassion and patience.

Here’s my closing statement.

You were my partner and mate for 15 years. I will always give you the benefit of the doubt. I will always err on the comfort and joy of our children over any animosity I have towards you. Now and in the future, I will remain calm and patient.

I want you to know, I am not thanking you for your patience today. As my income stream comes back online, I am slapping you with my gratefulness. When I say “Thank you for your patience,” today, I’m saying exactly the opposite. Fuck you for your lack of compassion and patience. And fuck you for putting your selfish needs above those of our children, or me.

I will never forgive you. Perhaps I will learn to forget.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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You Should Go For What Makes You Happy (Divorce Me)

OFF-greenergrass

Have we made it too easy and convenient to get divorced?

I know that sounds rather absurd, after all the pissing and moaning I’ve done around my divorce. But some how, my ex-y decided it would be easier, more to her advantage, more joyful to go seeking a relationship with someone else. So she decided, well before I was aware we were in negotiations, that she would check with a lawyer to discuss options. Or more bluntly, what she could get.

And so we divorced. I was not happy about it. And though I swear I’m moving on, I don’t guess I will ever fully be OVER it. I mean, what am I doing tonight? Seeing if a date is going to materialize through the txts and emails I’m exchanging with someone from Match.com. And I’d rather be hanging with my kids: chatting about their day, their projects, their hopes and dreams. Much like the past five days of this dad-weekend.

In relationship therapy she didn’t answer the question, “When did you exit the relationship?”

The ex-y on the other hand, seemed to move on rather quickly into a couple relationships that seemed a bit more like reactions, or rebounds, or “wouldn’t this be thrilling,” rather than Relationships. (capital R added for emphasis) Okay, but I’m not here to judge.

But something a “friend” of hers said today, brought a bit of a different perspective on things. What if my ex-y’s DIVORCE gave permission for this “friend’s” divorce. Heck, I didn’t even know she was divorced as my daughter is best friends with her daughter, and seems to think they are still married. (Odd. I wonder what they’ve told their kids?)

Either way, there is something about the permissiveness of divorce these days. Perhaps greener pastures are enough of a reason today. Perhaps the THRILL of something new is reason enough to wander, to flirt, to “have lunch” with someone of the opposite sex. Or if you want to get really thrilling, how about the same sex?

So this friend mentioned how horrible I had been to my ex-y with my blog. She was telling me why or how I lost her and her (now ex) husband in the mix.

Hmm. Her point is well taken. And something I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about while writing and publishing The Off Parent.

  1. I started this “process” in the heat of the divorce. It was my way of recording and vocalizing my anger.
  2. Anonymous is only so effective.
  3. When asked in the summer of 2010 to take The Off Parent offline, by my soon to be officially ex-wife, I didn’t fight back. I was depressed. I was deep in the anger and sadness of the whole mess. I took the blog down without question. And I apologized.
  4. A year later when I turned The Off Parent on again, it was from a different place. This process [of divorce and recovery from divorce] was bigger than my ex-y and bigger than my anger and advice. I learned that I was still living the experience. And that the experience of divorce never ends.
  5. The process has now devolved into all kinds of interesting topics of self-revelation: 1. depression; 2. online dating; 3. self-improvement.

And as I evolve this narrative and journal I hope it is clearer that this is not about the ex-y.

But, let’s come back to that in a minute.

When given a choice to try something  new and “exciting” my ex-y chose to exit the relationship for what might make her happy. (Or maybe at this point, for her, it was *less angry.*) It reminds me of the two times I actually feared for my relationship.

She had a working buddy who became a pen pal. I stumbled onto an email thread between her and a coworker that was all about me, my depression and how unhappy she was. Turns out she’d gone to several lunches with him. And the thread was one of several that went WAY DEEP into our relationship. Add to that, he was attractive to her, she had mentioned him in several passing conversations.

So maybe he was the first infidelity. It was only emails, phone calls and lunch. But it was all done on the down low. Just checking out things. But if it was innocent and honest, why hide it? The several times during our marriage, for example, when my first ex-wife called with some reason we needed to have coffee, I would talk to my then-wife about it.

[Um, this is how the ex-y and I got started. She was WITH someone when we ran into each other again. We went to a few lunches. It was just lunch, right?]

Fuck. That didn’t feel good. I flipped. She apologized. She agreed that she had crossed the boundaries. But in couple’s therapy she never answered the question, “When did you exit the relationship?” Perhaps it was too soon to admit it to herself.

The second time I felt a tectonic shift, very different, was at a titty bar. We were there joking about bringing home the young girl with us. We’d always joked that it was fine to have another woman, as long as she (the ex-y) was there. It was a running joke, as if she had lesbian fantasies and of course I did. I mean, you know…

So was it too easy for her to set her sights on that new goal, male or female, and then make her calculated and spreadsheeted plans to get there?

Funny thing… However, when the young thing, a bit rough around the edges and smelling of cigarette smoke, was assigned to give the ex-y a lap dance… Well, all kinds of things broke loose. I guess I recalled how easily she revealed private issues with her pen pal, I felt a flash of fear, watching her really enjoying the affections of this pretty little siren, that she could just as easily leave me for a girl as leave me for another man. The point was, things were unstable, and I didn’t want to consider her leaving me for any reason. We never tried that little experiment again.

Chances are she was already in the process of leaving, separating.

And all it would take was that last offer, opportunity, greener pasture, to launch her into a new trajectory. A path away from me and the family we’d created.

So was it too easy for her to set her sights on that new goal, male or female, and then make her calculated and spreadsheeted plans to get there? That’s kind of how her mind works. Still. Spreadsheet first, emotions later, if at all. It’s okay, it’s just very different from what I needed. And, as I understand from writing here, very different from what I truly think I need. I need warmth and emotion. I need a partner who takes an equal part in generating the joy and warm emotions in the relationship. I need someone who adores me, and who I adore back.

I know it’s coming. And more clearly now, than when I started this rant. I think through this process I am growing, redefining, and exploring what went wrong and what I want to get right next time.

And for now, I’m alone tonight because of a choice she made. I’d rather be with my kids. But ultimately I’d rather be with someone who loves me back with honesty and love language I understand. For her too, I hope her multi-year boyfriend materializes for her into something that makes her happier. The kids will benefit from joy all around.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: i am blank and out of focus, sofia minetto, creative commons usage


This Is Going To Hurt – Divorce With Children

OFF-marriagedance

Take a deep breath and count to ten. Relax. Divorce may feel like the end of the world, but it’s not. It’s bad, it requires a lot of strength and self-reflection, but you can make it. This is going to hurt, but you’re going to be stronger and more resilient as you emerge as a strong single parent.

There is nothing in your life that prepares you for becoming a parent. The amazing mystery of life brought into your home and brining your “family” together for the first time. The transition into a parent, for me, was one of the most welcome changes in my life. I wanted kids. I had a strong and beautiful partner who also wanted kids. We did the kid thing. And now I’m a proud parent of two bright children, one boy and one girl. Just perfect.

Everything was about money. Every decision was based on a line in an excel spreadsheet. And any discussions outside of the “get a job” box for me were met with major resistance.

And we grew as parents as they grew as kids. And so the story goes. Things got a bit more difficult as adults. The economic meltdown of 2009 really took its toll on my job and my then-wife’s job as well. Suddenly, the shine had worn off, the mystery while still available and magnificent was undercut by survival necessities. It was no longer enough for me to be a good man and a good father and a good husband.

And as things began to get tough, the shine wore off in my relationship as well. As newly minted parents we knew we had our work cut out for us, but the reality of money and insurance and late mortgage payments began to crush the camaraderie. Something else began to raise it’s ugly head. Money. And who’s going to earn enough of it to keep us in this nice house and this excellent school district. How are we going to survive?

The answer wasn’t as easy as it was during the mystery years. When both of you are focused on the magic of your kids you will do *anything* to provide for them. You will sacrifice time and sleep and health in order to make your family home a happy one. Except that is not a sustainable model for very long. And when you’ve been heading down that road for a few years you may wake up and find yourself fat, stressed out, and tired 95% of the time. Now what are you going to do? What are the options?

The painful realization came for me a few weeks after my big, fat, corporate job had given me the first golden parachute I’d ever earned. I was exhausted. I was about 25 lbs. overweight. And I was tired of the grind of the corporate cube farm. I had been willing to do it, to get us set up, to provide the best insurance we’d ever had, to make the happy home/stay at home mom/dream come true. Except I couldn’t maintain it. I was on the heart attack track. My blood pressure was beginning to register borderline hypertension. I was ready for something to change, but I didn’t know what.

What I thought was that the  six month severance with benefits would provide me a window of time to reexamine and restructure the next career path for me. I needed a change.

Something else happened at the same time. As I got a glimpse of life outside the corporate walls again, I remembered that I had owned my own consulting practice for 8 years before having kids. And while the economic climate was against any start-up ideas, I began it imagine what it would look like to be working for myself again. I kept up the hyper-focused job search for yet another corporate job, but my imagination began plotting alternative career and lifestyle choices.

What came out, in the weeks that progressed, was the vast difference in our perspectives on the future of our family.

One of the questions that got asked during this moment of reconsideration was about my then-wife’s work/career plans. We had been a bit vague about what the strategy was once the kids were in elementary school. We had organized so much of our lives around the kids we hadn’t planned to far into our future as a family. And under the pressure of the our economic faltering we both went into a bit of “survival panic.” Everything was about money. Every decision was based on a line in an excel spreadsheet. And any discussions outside of the “get a job” box for me were met with major resistance.

The problem was, I knew I wanted something different from what I had been struggling through job-wise for the last 5 – 7 years. And I also knew that while I was looking for a corporate replacement job I was also seeing that as a temporary option, not a life path. I needed more time with the kids and less time working to keep our heads above water. WE needed a plan. But the discussions were amazingly dysfunctional and heated every time we got into money.

In my typical fashion as a conflict-adverse male, I backed off the hard topic of what was she going to do for money. But the hard question had been breached and neither of us was happy with the initial negotiations. We entered couple’s therapy for the third and final time.

When your kids arrive all of your priorities shift and they become your focus. Nothing is too hard, nothing is too tiring, no goal is to hard to strive for, when you are talking about your kids. And as a dad in this newly minted family, I did all the right things. I did everything I could to provide a nice house, a nice neighborhood, a nice housekeeper and nanny, and for this role, as dad, breadwinner, and head-of-household, I was on the hook for the bulk of the money. In the early years this was an easier agreement. But as our kids became a bit more autonomous and the time opened up a bit more as they began going to school, I started imagining some other options for myself as well as my then-wife.

What I didn’t expect was for her to begin fighting with me during the second week of my paid layoff. And I further didn’t expect that she would also lose her part-time job and create a double burn on my six-month paycheck. But that’s what happened. At this time another feature showed up in the relationship between me and my then-wife. She started getting angry a lot. She told me a few times that she didn’t love me any more. She began to yell “fuck you” from time to time. I was confused. Something was changing for her too, I suppose.

In therapy we worked on the crisis issues. Money, jobs, trust. And I suppose the expectation was that we would get our individual issues worked out in our individual therapy sessions. But the therapy was not to fix our marriage, our therapist was not a marriage counsellor. We were working with a therapist who was trained in helping people communicate clearly with each other. And one other aspect that was front and center in his work was the parsing of what was reality and what was fantasy or fear, but not real. We got very real.

What came out, in the weeks that progressed, was the vast difference in our perspectives on the future of our family.

Me: Yes, things are rough, but we’re big enough to get through it. We love each other enough to work through anything. I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track to reorganizing our family about more rational objectives.

Her: Things are not getting better, in fact, they are getting worse. Nothing is going to change or get better.

As she continued to express anger, frustration, and unrelenting demands for me to become “responsible,” she was going in the opposite direction.

And we worked on how each of us were operating on internal projections of reality rather than the actual NOW we were in. And we struggled along. And she was always mad and I was always off-balance as I tried to do the right thing, say the right thing, and keep the peace.

But fundamentally, I was saying something different. “I will find the big corporate job again, that’s critical path at the moment, but I’m not agreeing to that as our long-term plan. We both need to figure out how we’re going to divide up the financial obligations of the choices we’re making for our family.”

That’s the request that broke my marriage.

Over the next year, I worked as a consultant while looking for the big corporate job and continued to bring in just enough money to keep us afloat. Painfully afloat, but shelter and food were not being threatened.

Over the next year, however, she did not earn any money to contribute to the family. She went through a couple “what am I going to do next in my life and career moments” which I peacefully allowed. And when the taxes were being organized for the year behind us, she had actually lost $5,000 on the year. Wait, what?

I think that was more telling than any conversation or argument we had. She was pressing me hard with survival and crisis demands and yet she was unable to contribute anything. Something was wrong with the picture. Something was not honest.

As she continued to express anger, frustration, and unrelenting demands for me to become “responsible,” she was going in the opposite direction. And somewhere along that path, she went to see an attorney to understand her options. What she would get if she divorced rather than partnered with me. And that’s essentially what happened. She decided to bet against me. Somewhere in her stressed-out and angry mind she determined that the best course of action for her and our family (because as a parent you know this decision affects everyone) was to ask for a divorce.

And as we stated our final summaries to our counselor on our final meeting, we said essentially the same thing. It was clear. One of us wanted to fight for the marriage. The other wanted to fight her way out the marriage.

I’m not much of a fighter, but I’m getting better.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: dancing thai poosam, peverus, creative commons usage


We’re All Happy Now, After the Divorce

OFF-santacat Yeah, we’re all happy. It’s Christmas time and the kids get two Christmases. How fun. Except we’re not. The loss is accentuated at this time of year as we make plans for the vacation time and the transition of the kids on Christmas day to house number two. (A temporary housing situation for me, at this moment.) And yes, we’re all doing fine. We’re happy, in fact. So why lift up the angry and sad curtain that reveals the bitter divorce beneath the civility? Why indeed? This year, let’s skip it. Sincerely, The Off Parent @theoffparent back to Single Parenting   A few other posts of interest:

image: not so merry, trish hamme, creative commons usage


Happy Birthday, Can You Do Some Laundry?

OFF-whatever

Last night, in planning for the transition to my house, my ex-wife also asked if she could send the kids over with a couple loads of laundry for me to do. Um… What? Not only is it Thanksgiving, it’s my birthday and I have the kids for two days before they go back to her house.

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Of course it doesn’t matter that it’s my birthday, or Thanksgiving, really. It’s all about the kids, right?

One more chore I won’t be doing. Just another in a long series of disappointments, I’m sure. She can take the laundry to her boyfriend’s house or to a laundromat. I am neither.

And happy Thanksgiving back at ya.

Yes, I’m afforded a bitch and moan post every now and then. (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Everyone Loses In Divorce – What We Can Never Get Back

OFF-my-kids

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

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

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

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

But the gaps… the gaps are maddening.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And the gaps… I’m sorry for the gaps.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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


Fall of the House of Dad

OFF-gnomehouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent – still in transition
@theoffparent

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


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

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

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click to hear the podcast

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent


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

OFF-loss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Screen Shot 2014-09-02 at 10.24.53 PM

 

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

Screen Shot 2014-09-03 at 6.11.45 AM

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

Screen Shot 2014-09-06 at 11.38.02 AM

 

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

Hopeful, happy, and upward.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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When Did Our Halos Lose Their Sparkle? A Marriage Comes Apart

OFF-couple-ocean

When you met your partner you were wearing your halo. That’s the little glow that allows us to overlook faults, blemishes, and even malfunctions. The good news is the halo is what attracted you both enough to get married. And maybe the glow lasted long enough for you to have kids. That’s awesome. That’s how it was for me and the mother of my two kids as well. But something changed over time. It’s a common story. Almost cliché, but perhaps more like a historical myth. It’s a myth because it’s such a universal truth that they wrote a bunch of stories about it.

This is the story of how my girlfriend and I went from lovers, to parents, to ex-partners.

When we met I was damaged from my previous disastrous marriage, and a business opportunity that was collapsing out from under me. But I was also displaying my superpowers: music, writing, and poetry. In fact, I re-introduced myself to my future wife with a poem. We’d known each other in high school, and the Easter morning we met I ran back up the hill to my house and scratched out a love poem. She had inspired everything. She had blown the fear and dust off my halo and allowed me to bring it back into the light.

When your lover’s ecstasies and artistic celebrations are no longer musical to your ears, it’s time to move on.

And we were living together six months later and talking about kids. We were older, we needed to decide pretty soon or be childless. So we were a bit rushed, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like magic. AND it felt like we were being responsible adults. We measured each other against our ideals and goals. And somehow the halos kept showing up as valid, shiny, and inviting. We had hooked each other deeply, and within two years we had our first child, a smashing baby boy. All was right with the world.

Well, not exactly perfect, but the halos (and glow provided by them) were still in place.

And if I count back to the days of our courtship, and look at my actions and passions I see an artist, singing with a band, playing at local clubs a few nights a month, writing poetry and short stories, and refactoring my career due to the collapse of my employer from the UK. I was still shining, and I was in flux, working to figure out this business of money and creativity. It’s the typical artist’s life struggle.

She was also an artist. She was a painter. She was a writer and singer. And she was shining in all her mysterious ways. And I danced beside her as a cheerleader and sponsor. Before we had kids, we often parted on Saturday and Sunday after breakfast, to head to our studios. “I’ll call you when I’m winding down,” she’d say. And we went off in our respected and revered directions to create. And it was part of what made us tick. We had each other and we had the commitment to the craft. We were artists in love.

And then our son shattered all previous illusions and re-mapped our lives to a new beat. His beat. His house. His rules and wants and needs. And our dreams melded with his dreams. And we stuttered on in our creative pursuits, but we were changed. Our son had become our favorite song to sing. Or lives with him were so much more rich than our lives off in our separate studios, alone. We were never alone again.

My musical studio moved from the second bedroom to the third bedroom to give our son his space. And we were a happy unit. And my then-wife was still deeply involved in her art, and the art of mothering. She created paintings and poems in-between feedings and naps and late night insomnias. We were deeply invested in our little ship of fools.

On we rowed, with the newest adventure yet to begin, a second child was readying in the womb and we began to alter our paths for her arrival as well. And the love hurricane number two came in the November directly after 9-11. It was a time of universal unrest, confusion, depression, and economic free fall. Our happy little unit hit a mass of stormy waves. My consulting practice froze completely. And just at this time, our daughter, at her first sonogram demonstrated some signs of a rare medical condition. We began weekly trips to the neonatal surgeon in hopes of keeping her viable until she was big enough to be born.

On she came, amidst the struggle and depression in our lives, and the lives of all of our country. On she travelled, through dooms of love, and sonograms of crisis, and she was born even more healthy than an average baby. She was amazing. We were whole again. Still in the midst of a crisis, personal and economic, but whole as a family again. She had arrived. We sailed and rowed as best we could. All was not well, but all was moving forward out of the darkest storm clouds.

No one can take charge of your energy, your sleep, your emotional balance. That is 100% up to you.

I remember writing a song for her, even before she was born. Transparent Heart. It was about her immanent arrival and our frequent trips to look in at her with hope and fear and sonograms. I was also writing love songs to my wife and son. And poems to try and capture some of the moments. And their mom was still artistically activated too. She was putting up poems and short stories. And that Christmas I bought her an amazing easel that could fit in our bedroom, since the kid’s rooms were now fully utilized. And I moved my music gear into the garage.

Artist’s in love, with kids and jobs and a house. What could be better?

Somewhere along the way, in the midst of all of this struggle, we began to show our stress in unkind ways. We had some difficulties with money and we fought each other rather than the problem. We had chores and payments and kid care that wore on our artistic time. And we began to fray at the seams a bit.

I’m not sure how it shifted for good, but there was a moment, after a particularly stressful period, where my art (music, writing, time in the studio) had somehow become resented by my partner. It wasn’t that she didn’t have access to the same materials and time that I did. It was more about our DNA, and the hopefulness or hopelessness that came up during times of great stress. See, somewhere along the way, she began to see my creative ambitions as a threat. I can only imagine that her fear was that I would have some kind of success and I would abandon my career and my sweet family life to attempt rockstar status. That was never my plan. I never spoke of it. But she somehow started making my music (playing live, rehearsing, even recording in our garage) an enemy of the state. How my music became a threat to her safety I don’t know. But I hear, from other artists that this is a common issue.

What I didn’t understand, however, was how her art began to fall away from her life. Again, this is an individual journey, and if an artist is not fully committed, the “art” can become more of a hobby and not a life path. I cannot stop creating. I cannot silence the music that I hear in my head. And I make sacrifices to be able to keep working on my craft. But these sacrifices were not at the expense of the family. At least I didn’t see it that way. I took my music into the garage and into the night after the kids (and often the wife) were asleep. I worked my songs into the wee hours of the night, even when I had a day job to return to at 8:30 am. And I was the morning champion for the family as well. I was up and making breakfast before anyone else in the house was conscious. It was a chore I gained energy and joy from.

And in my artistic craft I tried to capture some of these moments as well. I was satisfied as an artist, that my ultimate life’s work was not going to be interrupted by my art, but supplemented by my loving family, in life ideas and passions. I would eventually get my appreciations. But it might be when I was in my 80’s. That was not a problem. I labored on, with love and intention.

But somewhere along the way, my art became a source of stress between us. My music was a distraction in her eyes. Maybe I would work more and make more money if I didn’t stay up all night writing songs. I can’t believe that’s what she really believed, but some how she had construed the thing she feel in love with, when we met, into an activity that threatened her livelihood.

So in our life struggle, our path from lovers to parents to ex-partners we lost sight of the things that we fell in love with.

As artists in love, both partners have to keep up their end of the bargain. I wasn’t skipping out on my chores, or my kid duties, or my financial obligations. And I was encouraging her to continue to find the time to paint. “But I’m so tired,” she said, often. Again, this might be a sign that I wasn’t doing enough. But it wasn’t. I was doing everything to the best of my ability. I worked hard. I cleaned the dishes, mowed the lawn, put the kids to bath, bed, and beyond. And still she was tired. Perhaps there was some other cause of this ennui.

As our halos began to tarnish and remain more hidden than shared, she stopped hearing my love songs. She missed the love poems I left around for her. Rather than finding the juice and thrill in my passionate expression of love for her, she would’ve preferred another kitchen pass so she could get to sleep early.

No one can take charge of your energy, your sleep, your emotional balance. That is 100% up to you. You might get help from a partner, or counseling to learn better ways to build your life force back up. But no one can give it to you. And no one can take it away from you either.

So in our life struggle, our path from lovers to parents to ex-partners we lost sight of the things that we fell in love with. The halos were still there. But we had averted our eyes, or complained to the point where it was safer to keep the gifts and epiphanies to ourselves rather than share them with the one person we should be able to share them with. When my best love song was no longer a welcome sound to my lover, my time was limited. There was no way back. No poem, song, or successful financial enterprise was going to bring her back. She was gone. Gone inside somewhere, where she needed (needs) to work more of her life struggle out. Perhaps her artist will re-emerge at some point. Who knows, I’m not part of her circle of friends, perhaps she’s painting and writing up a storm.

When your lover’s ecstasies and artistic celebrations are no longer musical to your ears, it’s time to move on. That’s what she did. And that’s where we are…

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Urban Fit Uber Cute Couple Bias – UFUCC

OFF-lulu

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

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

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

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

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

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

I walked.

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

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

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

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

“No dad, it’s not.”

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

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

“Sexist.”

“Yeah, you’re being so sexist.”

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

“See.”

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

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

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

“Hair.”

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

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

“Fine. We can agree to disagree.”

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

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

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

“I’ll be looking forward to it.”

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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


Opposites Attract: Pheasants and Porcupines

OFF-cutout

Nothing about our relationship on paper would’ve indicated compatibility. Nothing but the heat and sexual attraction could actually hold us together. The gravitational pull towards intimacy was immediately apparent, but there were still plenty of touch points. Still we both accepted the “opposites attract” idea. Perhaps one of us more than the other…

Creative mind vs. scientific mind… Should that be a problem? I write, sing, play, but I also love big data. She likes facts, seeks truths, clings to theories even when the data suggests an altered course might be necessary to achieve the desired response. Okay, that’s not too much, right?

I was so addicted to the first chemical romance that I was willing to die for the cause. Bad idea.

Maybe the difference was more in the realm of relationships. What does a healthy relationship look like? Relationship between husband and wife, between mother and father now divorced, between mother and child, all those relationships factoring in and altering the science behind our present relationship. Friends and lovers. But something kept happened to upset the data. While I continued to recalibrate and adjust my research I continued to receive results that indicated my hypothesis might be off. And off by a lot.

“Fine, I’m a clear and present lover, let’s cut through this.” At least that was my statement to myself each time she broke off the relationship due to some internal data error of her own. But the data, even in my mind, was suggesting otherwise. There were plenty of reasons to listen to her corollaries and contradicting ghost-data. “We are too different.” She could make this a truth any time she desired.

But we desired more than we fought. (Well, kinda.) But what is a fact, we desired quite a bit. And the complications of single parenting, for both of us, presented challenges, as it does in any relationship between adults with kids. For me, the challenges and disappointments were well worth the effort. Remain calm, don’t over react to the chemical imbalances. Be like a pheasant in the rain, water off the beautiful shiny feathers. Ease along.

And while parts of the relationship felt like, full-steam-ahead, there were indicators that the sharp quills she was wielding might also have poison tips.

At some point, don’t you have to listen to the objections of the other person, even if the arrows and barbs seem less about the relationship and more about the unfinished business? But, of course, unfinished business can be a big problem. But I did mention the sexual chemistry thing, right?

One relationship since divorce with a passion to match my own. You might say it was my blind side. While constantly craving a relationship, I found my black swan, my pheasant under glass, my porcupine. I could suffer a few quills. I mean, how often do we get chemistry and compatibility? (That’s a rhetorical question, because I would have to answer, “once.”)

While beautiful and successful, she was unwilling to emerge from the glass cocoon for more much more than a day.

And it wasn’t as if the issues were building for me, or that they were piling up. I was pretty flexible when it came to missed expectations. The misses did not feel like jabs with a pointy quill. But, early on, I was unaware of of the poison. I could feel it, I could tell things were not quite right as we rolled on deep into the summer together. But I continued to check my inventory, my gauges and test results, and things seemed okay on my end. But I wasn’t listening to the spiky feeling in my chest every time she fired off an I’m-upset-type email or text.

Text is the devil. Data is not in the details when it comes to texting. Once the dataset heads towards the red warning numbers, you need to cut the text and find a physical examination opportunity. Love cannot be fathomed remotely or virtually.

However, let the data show, that texts of uncertain emotional origin can indicate the present of a long-lasting poison in the research. If we choose to ignore the inner warnings, the entire results may be worthless. Skewing the data for our emotional satisfaction is never a winning strategy, not in science nor in love relationships.

And how weird to hit the first mentions of “love” while things were receding in connectivity. The reactivity was still high. And as I mentioned before, the sexual yum was still craveable. But I was beginning to taint my own research.

The poison was beginning to take hold deep inside, and something while numbing, was also identifying itself as MY OWN ADDICTION. Crap. Her intelligence, beauty, and joy in the bedroom, was not enough to mask the pain of the jarring WTF-moments. And that numbness, my slowness, my non-urgent response, was a tell. The poison had numbed my defenses. My research was toasted. I was unhealthily hooked. And I knew it. I knew it months ago. I was altering my data, erasing data inputs, and praying for some stability to the mix.

But when she demonstrates her fuckedupness, she strikes out with defensive and destructive slashes that can either be seen for what they are, red flags, or be overlooked or sublimated for some other purpose.

Of course these things don’t mix. Bad chemistry, mixed with great chemistry, still has a tendency to explode. And the minor explosions kept happening. And the deeper the numbness the less I reacted, the more comfortable I became with the disconnect and the spikes. If you looked at the emotional reactivity, like a lie detector or Richter scale, you’d see, little earthquakes all along. From the first minor blip, after the first major night together, the indications were there all along. And as I erased the spikes in my mind, I was stuck with more poison jabs and I became more complacent. But I couldn’t pull my head up out of the now-drugged, data.

But as the sexual connections found some breathing room between them, as single parents can often experience, some of the other drug, the anesthesia, was also wearing off. I began to sober up just enough to sense the error in my judgement. As I felt into what was showing in the daily reports, I was starting to piece together my own self-deception. I was the skew. I was the bad data set. Her quills and issues had been showing quite brightly all along. She even pointed them out to me, with her warnings.

But I was bigger than any objections. She was just scared.

Um… No. She was still under her glass bell. While beautiful and successful, she was unwilling to emerge from the glass cocoon for more much more than a day. And part of the glass around her continued to become more obvious. And my attempts at access became more volatile and dangerous.

Okay, let me cut the crap. Metaphor free explanation: she’s way fucked up. She admits to being way fucked up. But when she demonstrates her fuckedupness, she strikes out with defensive and destructive slashes that can either be seen for what they are, red flags, or be overlooked or sublimated for some other purpose. I loved sex and play with her. I loved her brilliant mind. I was so addicted to the first chemical romance that I was willing to die for the cause. Bad idea.

END.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Terms of My Surrender: Our Divorce Papers

OFF-freefall

Under the terms of my surrender, I gave up a good portion of my time with my kids. I was under the impression that this was the path that “was best for the kids.” In fact, it was the path that was best for my ex-wife, the person in the marriage who decided she wanted out. So wait, under the terms of my surrender I am giving her the kids, the house, and a good stipend of my income for the next 11 years? Just a minute, I need to reconsider.

I’m defeated a bit at the moment. But I’ll get back up, I always do.

Of course, reconsideration was not an option. When one person decides they are done, the marriage is done. Sure, you could counsel or work things out, for a bit, but once the door has been smashed open, their exit is always a possibility. And now a threat. And in the case of divorce, just a matter of fact, please sign on the dotted line and be done with this business.

Wait.

We chose an uncontested divorce. I stubbornly agreed to her request for a divorce, because fighting would be expensive, might damage our children, and would echo the hurt still in my young-boy mind from my parents brutal divorce struggle. So I went with the path of least resistance, I bowed my head at the correct time, and allowed the head of my shining promise to be sliced off with little drama or prior bloodshed. That’s the way it was supposed to be, right? That’s what we were after.

But something along the way was not quite explained to me until a few months ago. I was on a date with a woman who had just given up primary custody, she was saying how much better her ex had become once he had to actually do 50% of the parenting rather than complaining about a check and doing nothing. I remember distinctly my reaction, “Wait, what? He doesn’t pay you any child support?”

So if I get this straight, my high-priced divorce counsellor who advised me to just take the deal and get on with the divorce, forgot to mention that the non-custodial parent (man or woman) was the one who pays child support. And why didn’t she listen or fight for my request to go for 50/50? Why didn’t she support the discussion about 50/50 parenting? She didn’t. Why didn’t she?

I guess I ultimately need to ask her. But in reconnecting with my attorney (the one who I contacted re: my wife’s new-found righteousness on turning me over to the Attorney General’s office) he said this.

I wish our counselor would’ve supported both of our requests with the same integrity. I wish my 50/50 parenting plans and 50/50 schedules had been taken seriously while negotiating our peace treaty.

“In 2010 when you guys divorced, she was probably right. Your wife would’ve probably gotten exactly what she wanted. Not that you couldn’t have gone for 50/50.” And he continued, “But today, things are a little different. Even in Texas. The judges today are listening when the parents want 50/50 custody. And more often than not, my dad clients are getting it, if they fight for it.”

Well, that is good news for today’s dads. Not so good for yesterday’s dads, or me.

What are my options today. Reopen the fight, go prove I’m a worthy dad, and ask the judges and the court to readjust my kids custody to 50/50. Is that what I want?

Here are the potential consequences:

  • It will cost us both a lot of money. Money that we tried not to spend in divorce, by consulting a wonderful Ph.D divorce counsellor.
  • It might damage my wife’s ability to continue to afford the house we bought together.
  • My kids might get the impression I am fighting their mom, or saying she’s doing something wrong.
  • It will cause drama and hardship on all sides.

Here are the benefits of doing it:

  • The $150,000+ would still be going to my kids.
  • I would be able to afford housing and perhaps not be forced to work two jobs or give my life back up to the big corporate job.
  • We could parent 50/50 just like we are doing now, but I would also be able to help with some of the clothes and supplies shopping.
  • My kids will know that I wanted them 50/50 from the beginning and was asked to take less.

As of this writing I don’t have the money to pursue the court’s resolution of my 50/50 desires. I wish our counselor would’ve supported both of our requests with the same integrity. I wish my 50/50 parenting plans and 50/50 schedules had been taken seriously while we were negotiating our peace treaty. They were not. I was given the patronizing approval, “that’s nice” but “that’s not how it’s going to work out.” And then I was told to accept what’s “in the best interest of the children.”

Bullshit.

I was sold a bill of goods by my then-wife, who had been consulting with her attorney, and our counselor who was found and selected by my wife. And then I was asked to sign the Terms of Surrender without being given the full story of custody and child support. My bad. I should have paid for my own attorney at this point, rather than stumble along blindly with the hope of good will, good intentions, and honesty.

I got none of the above. What I got was a temporary peace treaty that lasted until I was late on my second child support payment to my ex-wife. Then the courts of the great state of Texas were warmed up against me. And today, according to my attorney, I could be arrested at any time, by the AG’s office. That is certainly part of the Terms of Surrender that I signed, but it’s not in line with the honest and caring approach we took to setting up our peaceful retreat from the marriage.

I’m defeated a bit at the moment. But I’ll get back up, I always do.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: freefall, gabrriela pinto, creative commons usage


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

OFF-doghouse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wait a minute.

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

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

Yes, but…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Two Laws of Divorce:

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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


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

image: practice, fabio bruna, creative commons usage


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

OFF-kissme

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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


The 1st and 2nd Time I Knew My Marriage Was Finished

OFF-marriageproblems

I don’t talk about my first marriage much. My starter marriage. The marriage that took me five years to get out of, even after I’d decided it should leave. The marriage that, thankfully, produced no kids. The marriage I’ve left behind. But the setting and timing of my initial, “Holy shit, what have I done?” is so astounding I thought I’d best tell the tale. Then I’ll look at my real-marriage-with-children that could’ve had a quick stop at the initial RED FLAG, but I was too far gone when I discovered that she had been living with someone the two months of our courtship. OUCH.

But let’s start with the storybook wedding, big dress, big church, big party, big send off and honeymoon flight to Paris and cruise across Greece and Turkey. Let’s start there. We were 27 and on our way to great things as artist’s in the world. I had some money she had a father who was a divorce attorney. But of course this didn’t register as a problem.

It was in a marriage counseling session when she said something that caught me off guard. I don’t recall what she said but suddenly I had a very deep feeling of dread.

It was during the first week of our magical mystery tour heading to Santorini when my new bride got sick. It was ironic that I was reading Celine’s Death In The Afternoon at the time. If you don’t know the book, it’s one of the most dark and cynical books ever written. And it’s beautiful about describing the general unrest and anger the main character has with the world and how he feels he’s been mistreated. And I’m reading this angry and poetic book and my new wife begins to transform before my eyes into some feral animal. She was bitter, spitting, and unconsolable. She just wanted me OUT OF THE CABIN. She didn’t want to be around anyone. She didn’t want anything. And while some of that is understandable, the feeling I began to develop was an overwhelming sense of, “I’ve made a terrible mistake.”

It took me seven years to really get out of that one. I gave it the spirited try. I tried to be better. I tried to be more creative, to earn more money, to be more charming. She recoiled frequently into passions of rage and vitriol. I didn’t have any compass for this behavior, at least not from a small and very attractive Basque woman. I had seen this kind of blind anger from my dad when he drank sometimes, but she was stone cold sober, and even more dangerous.

The two times I attempted termination she agreed to enter counselling and to work on her stuff. We went together and we both went alone. Me to figure out what my part in her madness was, and her… Well, who knows. But things got worse and not better. They never got better. And finally, even though we’d talked about a peaceful separation, if it wasn’t going to work, she filed for divorce while I was out-of-town on a business trip. We were having a tough time, but I assured her that we could end as friends. And I begged her not to engage lawyers, if we did decide to part. Someone else was whispering in her ear by this time. And my first day back at work, I was served by the Sheriff and given a restraining order that prevented me from going within 500 yards of my house, my cats, all of my worldly possessions.

And even after all of that, the moment I took off my wedding ring I broke down in tears. I was so disappointed, even with all of the struggle and mess, to give up the dream of that long white dress and the promises we made at the altar. Strike one.

+++

In my second marriage, I had a lot more invested. We had a family together, two kids, and a house, and a significant number of hopes and dreams that we had joined together with our marriage. And while we had ups and downs, I walked pretty strongly in this relationship. I wasn’t really very concerned about the future of our marriage. The happiness and stress could fluctuate up and down and I had the belief that we’d be okay. I think we both did.

We went through a lot. 9-11 took out my entire business at the time. And we floundered for our bearings together. Always together. And we had a very difficult pregnancy of our second child and we took another round of despair and struggles and turned it into strength and bonding. We survived. And we struggled on over the next several years.

The idea of getting married still appeals to me. But what would the conditions need to be? I am not planning on courting a third ex-wife.

Even when I discovered an online tryst with one of her coworkers, a younger man who she had gone to lunch and coffee with, I worked in therapy to regain my trust. She apologized with all the heart she could muster at the time, but we were fragile and shaken by the “affair.” (see: Cheating Hearts, Cheating Minds)

The blow came much later, when I was certain, even in the face of growing unrest and antagonism, that we were still safe in the marriage. We just needed some work in the relationship. In the communication. In the trust. And I was certain we were both trying at our full capacity to keep the marriage together. The friendship and passion would surely follow.

It was in a marriage counseling session when she said something that caught me off guard. I don’t recall what she said but suddenly I had a very deep feeling of dread.

“Have you been to see a lawyer?” I asked, angry, scared, and curious all at the same second. (See: Giving Up On Me)

When she admitted she had been seeking advice from a divorce attorney I was thrown. And the buck off the horse was unrecoverable. Within a month I had capitulated to giving her a divorce. And though I went down swinging to keep the relationship together, she had seen some other light of promise outside our life together. Strike two.

The idea of getting married still appeals to me. But what would the conditions need to be? I am not planning on courting a third ex-wife.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

< back to The Hard Stuff

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image: marriage trouble, chris lau, creative commons usage


Seven Signs of a Healthy Post-Divorce Relationship

OFF-healthycoupling

Divorce is hard. Dating after divorce is tricky too, and I’ve found some things I think are good indicators of how whole a person is, and how ready they are for a healthy relationship. Sure, your dating profile says something like, “Let’s be friends first and see where that takes us.” But most people I meet are really hoping that friendship takes us to the next wave of affection. I think we are mostly looking to me found and appreciated by another person, while having the opportunity to appreciate them back. We want to become the most fantastic cheerleader for their hopes and dreams and we expect that positive affirmation in return.

We don’t need a relationship. We want one. We are fine alone. We have found our own way out of the desert of depression and despair. And now, standing strong and alone again, we are ready to dip our toes into the idea of being loved and loving again. It is a huge risk. And some people can’t get over it. Their divorce is still too painful, or their relationship with their ex is still too volatile. They are really not ready for a relationship.

If, however you begin to think your shit is sufficiently together to date again, some new boundaries are in order. And here is what I’ve found to be the indicators of a healthy start.

You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, out of the bedroom doing other things, and you’d be better of seeing if your “out of the sack” experience is good too.

1. The relationship with the ex is business-like and drama-free.

If your potential partner is still dramatically engaged or enraged at their ex partner, watch out. You are likely to take some of the “stand-in” damage for the anger that needs a place to dissipate. Irritation and conflict can always arise. But pay attention to how this person deals with these setbacks or conflicts. It’s likely this is how any future conflict with you might evolve, as well. Are they able to articulate what the problem is? Can they negotiate a solution and then let it go? The emotional baggage from divorce is huge. And it’s tough to get through all the processing that needs to happen before we can cut it loose and be free of the burden of our ex.

2. The other person puts their kids ahead of the relationship.

In my experience, I find a potential partner who has had kids (they can be older or younger than mine) is more likely to be accepting and accommodating of my relationship to my kids. When my kids call, they come first. Sure, it’s an interruption, and sure it puts the “special friend” in a secondary role, but it’s clear to me that my kids emotional and physical well-being is much more important than me having a girlfriend. At least at this point in my life, while they are still in school, and still very much under my influence. I have a deep respect for my role model as a dad, and as a man. I am showing both my daughter and my son how a man acts in the world. Even under duress, I am showing how I can remain calm, and make strong and positive decisions. And always, my kids come first. Especially in the early stages of a new relationship.

You’d think that if someone is dating again that they are ready for a relationship. But that’s often not the case.

3. In meeting the kids, there are no major hangups or obvious attachment issues.

Divorce traumatizes all of the family members. And often this trauma causes us to revert to old and unhealthy defense mechanisms. And of course, as a divorced, and now-single parent, I am going to do everything I can to take care of my kids needs. BUT… this has to be carefully done. I have seen both men and women who were WAY to enmeshed with their children. Maybe the kid was a brat who was completely undisciplined. Or perhaps the child was overly shy and withdrawn, folding themselves into the parent. At younger ages some of this behavior is acceptable. But as the child ages, and reaches the end of elementary school they should not need to be coddled or babied, because the other parent is trying to make up for some loss. The single parent cannot make up for the divorce. But everyone survives and moves on. Both the kids and the parents need to return to healthy boundaries and healthy communication styles, so that everyone can grow up, and let go of the stigma and shame of the divorce.

4. Conversations about divorce, parenting, or relationships are not tense.

In early stages of a relationship, most of the time you want to hear, “What happened?” And this opportunity to share your story and hear the divorce story of the other person, is a great time to listen for their repose. How have they accepted their own responsibility for the divorce. Even if the divorce was the result of some infidelity, have they been able to move beyond the anger? The best approach to the ex is to live and let be. Focus on the kids. Walking away from a marriage is hard work, and the way someone tells their divorce story is important. Listen.

5. Clarity of intention and honest expression of affection and desire.

You’d think that if someone is dating again that they are ready for a relationship. But that’s often not the case. You’d even imagine, that someone who puts up a dating profile online, and who talks about what they want in their next relationship, probably has some intention of being in a relationship. BUT, you might be wrong. I have been on quite a few dates where the woman had no idea what they wanted. I had one woman, who I connected with and had just spent nearly two hours talking to, tell me in the parking lot as she was getting into her car, “I can tell you at least three reasons I’m not right for you.” She didn’t, but she said she knew she had no real idea of what she wanted in a relationship. If you’re dating, be clear on if you want to “date” or have a relationship. I’ve heard that some people are into casual dating and casual sex. That’s never worked for me, but if that’s your thing, make sure that’s what the other person is saying as well. If the person cannot give  you a good idea of what they are looking for, how their next relationship might look or feel, they may not be ready to be in a relationship. And if you can’t articulate what you are looking for, if your vague, or simply lonely, you might want to keep working on yourself, and your approach to relationships before jumping right back into one.

Relationships are fun. And now that we have our kids, and our independence, we can be more intentional and clear about what we want in our next relationship.

6. Alcohol or tv are not constant sources of entertainment or escape.

Drinking together can be fun, but it shouldn’t be a lifestyle choice, unless you are both into it. If the person doesn’t really open up until a glass of wine or two, you might be rubbing up against someone who has a hard time expressing themselves. In moderation, as a celebration lifter, a few drinks on the weekend are no problem. But if it’s every single night, and the glass of whatever becomes like the cup of coffee in the morning, a necessary lubricant, there is probably an issue there. And I’ve seen TV become the same sort of numbing or escaping addiction. I went on a few dates with a woman who professed an addiction to reality TV shows. She also turned around and fought with me about the virtues of TV overall, and how TV was no less interactive than reading a book or playing a game with someone. Um…. Yeah.  Escapism should not be a common theme. You want clear and present as the normal relating condition between you and another consenting adult.

7. Affection that moves into sexual relations doesn’t change the overall tone of the friendship.

Of course, you’d like to be friends first. And if the chemistry is working, there may be a pull towards the bedroom. But of course you need to know that if you are looking for a relationship, sex, while important, is not the most important aspect of a relationship. You are going to be spending a lot of time with this person, out of the bedroom doing other things, and you’d be better of seeing if your “out of the sack” experience is good too. Don’t get me wrong, a good sexual chemistry is a powerful motivator. But don’t let the sex cloud your understanding of who the person is, and what other things you like to do together. You can’t screw all the time.

And initiation of sex shouldn’t cause major shifts in the relationship. You’re friendship should still remain a focus in all of the stages of a relationship. Perhaps that’s part of what led us to divorce, we stopped dating our partners and began to take them for granted. We stopped cheerleading and became more of a negotiator, or even antagonist.

Listen to yourself as you talk about the relationship as well. When you are describing your relationship to a friend, notice the words you use. How do you describe this new interest? What are the highlights that you are proud to share about this person?

And listen as you talk to this person as well. Are you open and free with your expressions of affection or desire? Can you say what you need? Are you holding back, or withholding some information for fear of upsetting the other person? All of these are clues that the relating part of the relationship might still need some exploration.

Relationships are fun. And now that we have our kids, and our independence, we can be more intentional and clear about what we want in our next relationship. It doesn’t have to be about marriage, but can be more about learning to love and feel loved again. Take your time. Be intentional with your time, attention, and actions. And if things don’t feel right, move along. If you’re not in a hurry, there are plenty of fish in the sea, and plenty of time to find one that’s just right. Or at least better than what you’ve done before.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Losing Everything in Divorce; Learning to Carry On

OFF-home

Can a man survive without a home? Without a job? Without his family? Divorce often feels like the end of your life. And, of course, it is the end of life as you have known it up to that time. Post-divorce life is very different for everyone. And some of the life-threatening blows, may become less severe as time goes along, as water under the bridge continues to flow.

The first death-blow for me was losing my house. Of course it was a lot more than a house. The house we created for our family was filled with our hopes and dreams. It was the physical manifestation of our plans as a couple with kids on the way. We bought the house for our future family. And everything we became in the years within the house was our family history BD. (before divorce) As a symbolic loss, a man’s house is very important. The money, the commitment, the work that went into buying and maintaining the house… it was the only home I knew for my family. Walking out, or being asked to leave, was the first life-threatening loss in a long series of future losses.

If I want to have a place to live, it requires a much higher salary base. As long as I have the BIG JOB I can have a place to live and pay my child support.

Can a man survive without a home? As a single dad with the Standard Possession Order it is possible to survive for a while without a home. For me, I was able to find shelter at my sister’s house. I was homeless but I had shelter. I was even able to have my kids on my weekends. And we made it work. But it was not easy.

A few of the intangibles you lose when you lose your house go beyond the material goods. Sure there are a lot of “things” that you lose, that you wouldn’t even know how to ask for, but there is so much more to the loss. For me I lost my neighborhood, full of green belts and parks, and home to the tennis club where I played three times a week. The dream that we had created was working for me. And now it was lost.

Can a man survive without a job?

The second death blow. This one is tougher. With today’s economy this struggle for solvency is much more difficult than I remember it ever being in the past. Of course, now I have an additional $1,500 a month in expenses, and that puts even more pressure on my employment. And, if I want to have a place to live, it requires a much higher salary base. As long as I have the BIG JOB I can have a place to live and pay my child support. But when things get even a bit tight, something will suffer.

As things went for me, I was lucky. In a few months of living with my sister, I got another BIG JOB and felt like I was off to the races of picking my life, as a man and father, back up. Of course, I want a home for my kids. And of course I want my ex-wife to be able to afford the home I left. I want them both. And I am willing to work to support both dreams. So off I went, on my new job and I immediately set out to buy a new home for myself and my kids. It was a right of passage. I needed to establish another home. I needed a place for my things again.

And things were good for a few months. I got my home, I got my kids in my new home. We swam at the nearby lake, we jumped on the new trampoline, we became a family, a single-dad family, once again.

Today, I am without a home. I am without a job. And I am surviving on goodwill, guts, and hopefulness.

But things changed, and my employer changed their business model and eliminated my position all together. And six months in, on my new mortgage, I was jobless again. And for a while I was able to make ends meet by cashing in my retirement funds, and my savings. And I landed some contracts and some project work. And I made my payments and my mortgage as best as I could. And for the next year and a half, things lurched along with some sacrifices and some drama, but for the most part I was able to say on top of the money situation.

And things changed again.As my primary contract changed my billable hours, I saw that I would be late paying my ex-wife on the child support. I contacted her to let her know what was going on. And we were okay for the first month. However things did not get better with my work. And the loss of hours was not immediately replaced.

It was in the second month of my delay that my ex-wife began threatening to turn it all over to the Attorney General’s office. I asked her to reconsider. She pressed. We devolved into angry exchanges over email. We were both sure that we were right.

In the end she did turn all of our financial details over to the AG’s office. She had some reason. She was doing the best she could for her family, I suppose, but it was very hard for me to reconcile her actions while continuing to cooperate on all the parenting tasks. We agreed that the money fight should not affect our parenting. And we did okay with that.

But when I lost my steady income, or it dropped to an amount lower than my survival rate, I did not have any backup funds, I had no safety net.

In the end, I was unable to replace the income loss from my main work contract. And I was unsuccessful at supplementing that income enough to get caught back up on my mortgage or my child support. And now with the AG’s office putting the credit screws on me, I was unable to refi or file for restructuring bankruptcy. I lost my house. Well, I got to sell my house, but it was not what I wanted.

So now, I’m homeless again. And I have this same choice to make. I can go for the BIG JOB and make enough money to have my own place and support their mom in keeping our old house. Or I can fight in the courts, for 50/50 parenting, what I wanted in the first place, and reduce my primary expenses by $1,5oo a month.

Today I am interviewing for the BIG JOB. And I am hopeful to return to full employment in the next few weeks. And I will begin making my child support payments as soon as that is possible. But today, I am without a home. I am without a job. And I am surviving on goodwill, guts, and hopefulness.

Sincerely

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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