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

Posts tagged “single dad

An Absence of Time with My Kids: The Gap Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: hospital image, creative commons usage


Going for Gratitude No Matter What

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just for today, I will rise above it.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

image: man in stress, creative commons usage


#dad #divorce #depression

Screen Shot 2016-09-05 at 6.22.59 PM

“They may have less of me, but they’ve got a fully empowered and alive dad.”

My recent series of depressions were a direct result of my divorce 6 years ago. There’s no way to beat around that bush. I had been depression free for quite some time, but the fragility was still there beneath the surface. So, even as I counseled my kids, negotiated with my soon-to-be-ex, I was reeling inside with doubt, sadness, and plan old garden variety depression.

In my counseling sessions with both my meds doctor and my talky doctor we discussed the difference between chemical depression and existential depression.

I missed my kids every day they were not in my life. And as a dad, that meant about 70% of the time I was alone. The crisis came swiftly as I was asked to leave my house, my neighborhood and support system, and move into my sister’s spare room. There was not a large amount of money in our accounts, and I’d recently lost a high-paying corporate job. It was a hard time for anyone. But with my propensity towards hopelessness, I was set up for a fall unlike any I had experienced before.

In my counseling sessions with both my meds doctor and my talky doctor we discussed the difference between chemical depression and existential depression. The circumstances of my physical life were depressing = existential depression. AND, in my case, the chemical depression caused by my brain functioning improperly and giving off distress signals that were causing untold havoc in my body, mind, and attitude.

Through a number of previous “really hard periods” I had learned the pattern of hopelessness. I was prone to giving up when things got too bad. In my youth this was a result of being kicked out of a top prep school and the death of my father when I was twenty-one. Each of those events affected me profoundly. And part of me decided that the deck was stacked against me in some way, and perhaps — the depressed person incorrectly reasons — I need to give up. I suppose the ultimate giving up would be suicide, but I was a bit of a softie for that. Heights and guns terrified me, and pills, well, there was a lot of bad pill stories out there, if you’re researching how to do yourself in. It wasn’t going to be my thing, suicide.

Instead I was going to wallow, fall, cry, complain, sleep, and hope in a magical rescue that would bring me up and out. Going for a rescue is another one of my common patterns. I make my life look so horrible that maybe someone (in my high school days it was my mom) would see my distress and rescue me. But as an adult there was no person who could sooth my hopeless soul. There was no one in my life to say, “Everything’s going to be okay.”

It’s hard to say which came first, the positive attitude or the improving life, but it’s clear that there is a direct connection between the two.
That’s really your therapist’s role. My talky doctor and I examined past and present depressions and tried to reason some things out. My meds doctor consoled me with the idea that the meds would eventually have a lifting effect on my mood. But it was more than mood. It was life. existentially, in divorce, I was in a depressing place. Still, I had to find a way to make a go of it, for my kids, for my family, and ultimately for me. I had to find a way to stand alone, as a single dad, and proclaim that life was good. I was a long way from that a few years ago.

Today, I’d have to say, I’m in a stable relationship, I’m working and paying my child support, and I’m happy with my life. I’m okay with the divorce. My existential life has caught up with my positive attitude. It’s hard to say which came first, the positive attitude or the improving life, but it’s clear that there is a direct connection between the two.

When my existential life is crushed my mental life will often follow. But the level of stress I can endure without cratering is also substantial. I had been able to sustain a wobbly marriage for a year or more and get us into couple’s therapy to see if we could save the core of our relationship. I was working and doing my fair share of chores and kid duties. Neither of us was HAPPY but we were working on it.

I was not aware when we entered therapy that she was actually already considering divorce. The yaw of divorce had not been allowed to enter my consciousness. Divorce was the 100% dead option. Divorce to me WAS suicide. And while I continued week after week to talk her down off the ledge, I was ultimately unable to fix things that I didn’t see as broken. It was probably more about her family of origin than about us. But still I failed.

In failing at marriage, I was certain that I had failed in my life, that I had failed my kids. I was most certain that I failed as a man. The full story is I didn’t fail, I was still giving it 100% when I was told things just weren’t going to work out for the other person. There was nothing I could do.

Divorce changed everything about my life in a matter of weeks. From that collapse I have rebuilt a stronger, faster, smarter me.

I fought. I tried to bully her back into the relationship. I pleaded. I reasoned. I failed again and again, because she had decided and never wavered from her decision. The rest was my reaction to this failure. My reaction to the loss of the majority of my “dad time.” There is no way to understand the loss until you are a parent and you learn that you’re going to get 1/3 the time with your kids you are used to. It felt like a violation of my life, my principles, my religion. But it was just a divorce. And in divorce the kids get split between houses.

Would I have not gotten depressed if I gotten 50/50 parenting like I’d asked, I doubt it. My stress level, in the “year of negotiations” trying to keep my wife in the marriage, and now the collapse of my marriage and loss of my kids and house, for any amount of time… I think I would’ve succumbed. The existential depression was inevitable. Could I have started the chemical repair sooner? Sure, but until things broke down I was feeling really strong. Stressed, but strong. Once I was out of my family home I was no longer certain of my positive future.

Divorce changed everything about my life in a matter of weeks. From that collapse I have rebuilt a stronger, faster, smarter me. And in some ways, I think my kids (13 and 15) are also stronger and more resilient as a result of our break up. If she wasn’t happy, she was showing them through actions and words, what unhappy looks like. If I was stressed I was not able to be my effervescent self and the dad I wanted to be.

I am showing them how to recover from a loss, and to become a happier, more focused man. And as a dad, I am showing up in ways I couldn’t have as a married man. I’ve got more energy, more time, and more attention for each of them, in the smaller amount of time I have. They may have less of me, but they’ve got a fully empowered and alive dad.

… I will continue tomorrow…

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Not Winning At Divorce

winbook

[This post is a continuation of thoughts started here: The Game of Divorce.]

Maybe in today’s world divorce is about winning and losing, but it doesn’t seem that’s the right approach to me. I was cooperative in my divorce and still I lost big-time.

She went for what she wanted rather than what was best for the kids. Because I know she did not believe that moms are better parents.

That’s also part of today’s world: 80% of the time the mom gets primary custody, the house, and the child support check. The dad gets booted out of the house and saddled with two bills (child support and health insurance) that might’ve best been shared as a liability, but that’s not how family law works. See, the family law we’re all operating under is adverse to men because of our history:

  • Unemotional
  • Full-time breadwinner
  • Discipline rather than nurture

And in our past there has been a good number of dead beat dads who run and hide from their responsibilities as dads. Again, as a divorced dad I was subjected to this same bias even though I was admittedly the emotional heart of the family. And while we shared the care giving duties, I was the parent on the hook for getting two kids off to school, fed, dressed, and happy, every day of the week. My then-wife was able to take her time, do makeup, get ready for work. That’s how we worked it out while we were married.

But the minute she said she had consulted with an attorney the power shift happened immediately. Now, in order to see my kids on a regular basis I was going to have to provide a lot of money and be happy about it. She knew and was told by the lawyer she consulted with that she would get:

  • The house
  • The kids
  • The tax-free paycheck

It’s a pretty good deal if you hook up with the right man, I suppose. But again, that’s the wrong way to look at divorce.

I was the cooperative and steady parent who was slaughtered by the system. Because I agreed to a cooperative divorce I got much less than the 50/50 schedule I wanted.

If WINNING at divorce means gutting your former partner, is it worth it? Do you want to WIN emotionally, socially, and financially? Why can’t we both win? Why can’t we work out an equitable plan that supports both of us in divorce?

Of course I wanted what’s best for my kids. And while I didn’t believe that the mom was the better parent, I also didn’t believe that I should sue her to get my 50/50 wish. I thought we would start there. I was wrong. She’d been to see the lawyer. She knew she would prevail in any legal battle, so she played cooperative until I raised the parenting schedule issue.

I was prepared to pay the full child support payment. But I wanted the kids half the time. She didn’t want to share and she didn’t have to. She went for what she wanted rather than what was best for the kids. Because I know she did not believe that moms are better parents. I know that she was grateful for my morning-dad routine that allowed her flexibility and extra sleep. I know that she knew what she was doing, and that’s the part that hurts.

If you know your soon-to-be-ex is a worthy parent why would you fight to limit their access to their own kids? The current SPO (Standard Possession Order) works out to about 1/3 – 2/3 parenting. So the mom is getting twice as much time as the dad. AND she’s getting paid for it.

Today my kids are 13 and 15. And wouldn’t you know it, my ex-wife is wanting to renegotiate this lopsided parenting schedule. See, she got what she wanted. Now the kids are older, a bit more of a handful to support, and she wants me to take over 50% of the chores and routines associated with having two teenagers. Um, fk no. And fk you.

Sorry, I didn’t mean to get mad right there, but the injustice of the first 6 years of my divorce are still painful. I was the cooperative and steady parent who was slaughtered by the system. Because I agreed to a cooperative divorce I got much less than the 50/50 schedule I wanted. So NOW she wants to renegotiate? At the time when the kids are wonderful, yes, but also more demanding, more of a pain-in-the-ass, and more trouble over all. She wants to give them back to me NOW?

I’m not in the mood to renegotiate the parenting schedule at this time, because it doesn’t buy me anything but more time running the kids to school and to friend’s houses.

I get it. And it’s hard for me not to jump at the opportunity to have more time with my kids, but there’s one BIG ASS hold up. She’s still got the AG’s office on my ass. She’s still got a lien for $20,000+ from when I didn’t have a job, lost my house, lost everything. Rather than deal with the reality of the economic collapse, she racked up a debt that I still owe her. It’s her money, she knows it, she’s prepared to go to war for it. And she wants me to have some compassion for her “schedule?” It makes me chuckle a little.

A week ago I filed my salary information and health insurance payment information with the Attorney General’s office. They are supposed to review my case and give me a ruling in the next week or so, hopefully reducing my monthly child support payment. See, I’ve never made the salary we projected for me, since the divorce. The big corporate jobs have just not materialized. I’m doing okay, but it’s way under what my child support was calculated on 6 years ago.

I hope she enjoyed all that extra time with the kids. I was devastated and alone. And still, I went along with the deal. I’m not in the mood to renegotiate the parenting schedule at this time, because it doesn’t buy me anything but more time running the kids to school and to friend’s houses. I cannot bring back their childhoods, I cannot get back those afternoons I missed. And going forward, I’m going to make the time with me 100% awesome. Not as a Disneyland dad, but as a well-rested, well-balanced, father who has loved and supported them in spite of the game I lost.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Dating a Divorced Parent: How Can We All Stay Connected?

OFF-kidsculpture

We’ve got some connections to make in this world of relationships, parenting, and divorce.

Point One: Divorced parents are still parents.

If we (as a couple) can focus on our relationship and let the co-parenting relationship exist in a parallel universe, with different laws of physics and gravity, we’ll do fine.

A divorced dad is still a dad. (I’m relating this to dads, as that is the only role I know. Please substitute mom if you’re reading this from that perspective.) Even though our relationship has changed, I’m still “tha dad.”

Why it’s important to remember.

  • Schools will often communicate and support the single mother in ways that are very different than the single father.
  • Single dads may not have cheated, messed up, been an alcoholic, or done awful things to cause the divorce.
  • Dads have a very different experience of divorce. Even when hurting, disconnected, depressed, angry… A dad is still important in his kids lives.
  • Single dads are made fun of in the media and even in our daily lives about things that are hard. It’s true, we don’t know how to braid our daughter’s hair (until we’ve been taught) and we’re less competent at making school lunches from time to time.
  • Single dads often shoulder a disproportionate amount of the financial burden and are usually required to find new living quarters. The money issues alone are enough to hinder a strong person.

Point Two: Divorce is very different if you have kids.

I have been through two marriages and two divorces. The first one, which I rarely reference, I consider a mistake. A mistake I learned a lot from, but a mistake nonetheless. No kids were ever on the planning horizon and I’m grateful that I bypassed that lifetime connection with this woman. When you divorce without children, it is hard, but the process has an end. I have not spoken to my first ex wife for years, and once Apple released the option to block a contact she was vanquished from her random “Hey how are you?” communications as well. Good. I am happy to not to orbit her in any way.

With children, you’ve got an entirely different set of circumstances. Sometimes I’d love an escape option, when she’s being dramatic or unreasonable, from my perspective. But she is never going away. And in all fairness, our time together was filled with loving attempts at being married with children. I was no Al Bundy, and she was less Peg than I occasionally claim, but we didn’t make it as married parents. So we are divorced parents.

In my current relationship, with a woman who’s had no children but was married for 17 years, we have a very different experience of life. She likes my kids, she loves my fatherhood role, but she doesn’t need my kids in the same way I do. I understand that. That’s our relationship that we get to focus on, when the kids are with us and when they are gone.

You can’t walk away from your kids and thus you never get to fully walk away from the other parent. This point cannot be stressed enough. Every mean thing you say or do towards them, comes back ten fold, just when you least expect it. You may not think so at this moment, you may be angry, you may be fighting about something, but… Your kids are non-negotiable connections.

Get over your issues with your coparent.

Us divorced parents can really benefit from an unattached, unreactive, partners. A partner who sides with us under any circumstance.

We still have plenty of issues to work through. I wish we didn’t, I wish she weren’t so dramatic when she tries to get her way, but that’s the way it is. That’s the way she’s probably going to be for the rest of our lives together. Perhaps she needs to be this way when I seem so disconnected or unresponsive. I get it. We are stuck in this relationship with one another. Our kids will need both of us for the rest of their lives.

We’ve done a great job of keeping the money issues separate from our parenting issues. We don’t agree on some things. We’d both like things to be different than they are. But we’ve learned to put the kids first and negotiate about their lives and their needs with a holistic perspective. We can fight about other stuff, but when it comes to them, we’re a team.

Parents are parents. Make sure you treat each parent, married or unmarried, with the same respect and courtesy.

Divorces with children are more entangled. If you’re dating a divorced parent you don’t have to understand all the weirdness of their relationship with the ex-partner and children. You don’t even have to love their kids or understand why things between them, the kids, and their former partner may occasionally feel like a an inside joke that you’re not a part of. The relationship between you and the divorced parent is a common variety configuration these days. If we (as a couple) can focus on our relationship and let the co-parenting relationship exist in a parallel universe, with different laws of physics and gravity, we’ll do fine. We can focus on the we, and when we are expanded with my kids, we can focus on the we as coaches and cheerleaders of these wonderful kids.

Divorced parents are dealing with a lot of changes. And if you are lucky enough to be in a relationship with one of these kid-attached folks the blessing you can bring to the equation is to stand slightly outside of the odd divorced-family dynamic and maintain a supportive closeness with your partner. Us divorced parents can really benefit from an unattached, unreactive, partners. A partner who sides with us under any circumstance.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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A Quick-Start Guide for the Divorcing Dad: The Off Times

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When you go down the path of divorce, however you got there, a few realities are going to rush up and greet you rather quickly if you are a man. There are two important issues that it is critical for you to understand. Time and Money are the only negotiating points you have. Let’s jump straight into the story, shall we…

When my time with them dropped so significantly, I began to crater on the days and weeks that I had zero access to their smiling faces.

The legal system is set up to support single moms and to force dads to make their child support payments, regardless of changing situations or dad’s ability to pay. That’s not their problem. And the typical support package includes the Standard Possession Order and some percentage of your income, depending on the number of children you have. Let’s get real clear on both of these new realities in your life, as a dad.

SPO (Standard Possession Order) is the parenting schedule you will most likely be offered. The reasons behind this 70/30 parenting split were established by the state over years of divorce and custody battles and negotiations. The rationale behind it sounds like it made sense 30 years ago.

The mother as the primary care giver will be given the majority of the time with the kids. This allows the continuity of their primary relationship in this trying time. This leadership role will be called the custodial parent. The Attorney General’s office, should they ever be needed, will treat the custodial parent like a client. The non-custodial parent, on the other had, is a bit of a second class citizen. This morning when I was confirming some of the details about my current arrangement, I noticed this contact list on the AG’s website.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 8.07.29 AM

The custodial parent get’s their own line. As do employers and people not so certain of their paternity obligations. All others please call the general number and get put on hold and endless transfers through voice activated systems. “If you are the custodial parent, press one. If you are the non-custodial parent [the only reason you are calling us is because of a problem, and you’re probably a dead beat dad] press two.

Time and Money. Those are the two negotiations you will have to settle in order to get divorced. I was the uber-cooperative divorcé. I agreed to everything. I was told it would be in the best interest of the children for the mom to get the house, the child support, and the lion’s share of the time with the kids. I had a naive idea at the outset that we would divorce 50/50 just like we had parented. I was wrong. And the state’s attorneys have given us a lot of precedents that show this role for the dad is the best one.

Non-Custodial Parent. Standard Possession Order. Child Support. Those three little phrases are about to become very important in your life. And your understanding, navigation, and negotiation in setting them up, might save you a lot of the heartache and drama that I’ve been through.

TIME

The 70-30 split sounds a bit abstract until you are in middle of your “off” week and you are trying to imagine surviving the next 4 days until you see your kids. Here’s how the typical schedule breaks out. Dad gets the kids every other weekend. During dad’s ON week he gets two additional nights. Thursday and Friday. If your kids are already in school, that’s really after school time, and getting them up for school on Friday morning and Monday morning, if that’s your schedule. (All schedules can vary and still be basically the SPO.) On the OFF week, you may or may not get a single night sleep over. Again if your kids are in school, that’s really one cycle of feeding, homework, and back to school the next morning. Those single night stays were hard. The loss when taking them to school on the off Fridays was brutal.

I struggled to stay brave while I was with them, and suffer greatly when they were gone.

Time with my kids was the most important aspect of my life after they were born. Everything I did, I did in consideration of my then-wife and my kids. I centered my hopes and dreams around being a great dad, and being there for them every night, every volleyball game, every time they needed advice. And when they were younger, say after 3rd and 5th grades, they really did need a lot of interaction and caring. When my time with them dropped so significantly, I began to crater on the days and weeks that I had zero access to their smiling faces. I might have done better to fight and receive a more equitable divorce. Maybe Joint-Custody and a real 50/50 schedule would’ve provided more connections between us. Maybe I’d have been able to get my son into tennis or bike riding. Maybe I wouldn’t have crashed so hard into depression.

When I was thinking about the math last night, I was surprised to understand that she had the kids more than twice as much as I did. The 70/30 split is very abstract until you are losing so many nights and weekends with your kids. I still think a 50/50 schedule would’ve been better for my kids. And today, I have some ideas that might make that possible. But today my kids are teenagers. Today they have their own independent lives. Today, my interactions with them, even when they are here, is fleeing, abstract, and often superficial. I dig being with them, and I try and make myself open for their questions. But at this stage the lead in the relationship is up to them. Asking your kid, “What happened in school today,” will never get more than a “not much.” When your kids want to chat they will seek you out. By being available, still only 8 days out of a 30 day month, those opportunities have smaller windows.

So my ex-wife gets more than twice the time with the kids. Wow. It’s a lot. But until you’re IN DIVORCE and have kids, you can’t really understand what the loss means. It took the breath out of me for over two years as I struggled to stay brave while I was with them, and suffer greatly when they were gone. The OFF parent has a lonely road ahead.

MONEY

This is where the rubber meets the road in divorce. In general the dad will have the child support obligation. The idea is that he is often the primary bread-winner, or at least as a man, employable at a higher wage. And as the story goes, the kids and their mom should be able to continue with the lifestyle that they have grown used to. (No mention of what’s about to happen to dad’s lifestyle.) And while that language sounds okay, the execution of these documents are often brutal and pugilistic.

Here’s an abbreviated version of what my “deal” looks like.

29% of my take home pay will be paid to the ex-wife for the children’s care and feeding. That money is tax-free to her, since the taxes were taken out of my wages prior to the withholding. Wow, that’s a pretty good deal. Seems like it should be a deduction for me and the taxes should be taken out equally. But that’s not how it goes.

When you are considering divorce, as a man, consider the two most important issues as a parent: Time and Money.

And if you have or hope to have a high-paying job, that’s the mark you will use in the negotiations for the decree. In my case the rough number was set at 1,200. Okay. But wait, that’s not all. In most cases the dad is also responsible to pay for health insurance. Again, this might be more fair if it was split 50/50 but that’s not usually the way it’s done. Again, I think this was set up when dad had the big job, and this would prevent him from tanking that job and losing the good insurance as a way of punishing his now ex-wife. Either way, this additional obligation is tacked on to the sum of $650 – $1,100 depending on your plan, and depending on your employment status.

So, just to sum things up for you. At this very moment, since I am employed by a contractor who does not offer health insurance benefits. My monthly total in child support obligation is $2,300. Wow. That’s a chunk of change. It puts a significant squeeze on my opportunities for employment, since I have to make that before I can begin to think about rent, food, car insurance, phones, for myself. If you start every month with a $2,300 bill, that’s a real demotivational blow. It has felt insurmountable from time to time.

And when I lost my job, as a result of the tanking economy, the child support obligations or payments didn’t change. I could’ve hired an attorney and asked for a reduced child support payment, but I didn’t have the time or the money to do that. I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep my house. The house that I’d managed to buy, in spite of the large child support payment, when I landed a great new job, post divorce. Only the great job didn’t last. The startup changed their business model and eliminated my director-level position.

The killing blow, the unforgivable transgression that I’ve had to forgive, came when my ex-wife decided the proper course of action would be to turn my late support payments over to the AG’s office for “enforcement.” This one act of anger, has cost me and my family thousands of dollars and has actually gotten less money into my kids pockets. And the debt, as seen by the state, is a huge lien on my credit. This one act caused me to lose the house. And for one year, I actually had to live with my mom again. Fortunately, she and the kids and I had a humorous attitude about the whole thing.

“It’s better than living under a bridge,” my mom would joke. And she had a garage that we converted into a place for my bed. The kids each had rooms. So in my mom’s house, at least I was able to accommodate my weekends. By filing with the AG’s office, while I was trying to restructure my debt so I could keep the house, was the last act of anger and aggression that she could take. She took it. I lost everything.

From those ashes however, and even under the $2,300 monthly payment, and now a big fat lien on my credit, that prevented me from qualifying for a used car loan when my car was destroyed in a hail storm, despite all of that, I’m still surviving. I wouldn’t say thriving yet, but I’m getting by.

When you are considering divorce, as a man, consider the two most important issues as a parent.

  1. TIME: If you parented 50/50 and would like to continue to maintain your relationship with your children at the highest level, you should go to the court and ask for 50/50.
  2. MONEY: When you negotiate child support you can do two things very differently than I did. Ask for joint-custody. You can then be assured you will have equal rights if things ever get to the AG’s office. And make sure the amount you agree to in the decree, the amount that will determine your child support payments, is either conservative, or real. In my case the amount was set on historical data and on the hope of a promising job interview, that didn’t pan out.

Finally, if you’re going to agree to a cooperative divorce, make sure you add in a clause about NEVER INVOLVING THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE. EVER. My ex and I were in an argument about the timing of my child support payments and how I was planning on catching up, when I lost my job. She waited a few months. At this time she began to get very belligerent. She refused to meet with me in person about parenting or school issues. Her response to my email requests were simple “when can I expect my money.” That shut down all opportunities for co-parenting that summer.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

back to Single Parenting

This early negotiation breakdown is chronicled short summary.

The big AG breakdown in chronological order and how my life fell through the cracks.


Sunday Means Get Together: Or Get Alone – And Breathe

happy sunday - the off parent

Here’s one I’ve never written before.

This morning I woke up with enthusiasm and a headache. I was longing for connection. Of some sort. Here’s the path I am taking today.

  1. Chatted via Facebook with an old flame. Literally my first high school sweetheart. Who lives at the farthest reaches of the US where Winter is still happening. We imagined making love, and chatted with hot thoughts, more virtual than real. From high school flames.
  2. Tried to arouse myself with random pics and streams. Oh physical connections are so much more rewarding. Got bored with that.
  3. Started to write a song, a poem, and a story at the same time. Got confused.
  4. Reached out on Facebook to the wife of the pastor of the only church I would consider myself a member of, I’m spiritual but not religious. Got the time for the current service, confirmed that her husband was there this morning.
  5. Made a pathetic plea on FB for someone to join me for breakfast. Oh, I hate that, don’t you?
  6. Read some poetry.
  7. Made a decision to go get breakfast tacos and go visit my family at the liberal church next to the big white conservative church, that I call mine.

Imagined telling my friends about this random trajectory and my willingness to launch into the unknown having unsuccessfully connected with anyone within a 1,000 mile radius except the wife of my favorite minister.

Life is exactly where it should be. I am happy. I am hungry. I am starved for connection. And I have all the connection I need.

Sometimes breathing is the best exercise. We (I) get too focused on the doing, going, producing… And forget to stop and pause and appreciate. That’s where I’m headed. But I wanted to give you a little chat and wave before I head out the door, just me and Jack Kerouac’s poetry.

Happy Sunday. Go breathe, together or alone. But go!

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

Resources:

image: sunday means get together, yasin hassan, creative commons usage

+++ bonus

swimming

Oh, so now I’m understanding why I joined the swim team in high school. Three of the front row, in sequence, blew my little high school mind. We were 2nd year boarding students. Wow.


single dad

poem with a poison dart [from The Black Pages – poetry]

this is a love letter with a poison dart
but it’s only hurting me
i cannot help my sadness
abandonment
anger
i don’t want to help it
i reel in it
as i learn what i miss
what parts are taken or unspoken

a father alone
stands outside the circle of women
teachers, moms, educators, networks
are not comfortable with the angry dad
or sad, not doing so well, losing
it was not planned this way
the functions are all in place
but the numerator has been lost
the dividing line not clearly explained

we slog along with imperfect ideas
of how to say it right
to be gentle
to work out our issues elsewhere
but the blood is being spilled elsewhere
am i to be happy, to celebrate
as i am threatened with losing my home
my survival as dad is at risk
my survival

and i don’t doubt the sheriff
may be called at some point
but there is no more me
to go around
i am trying
i am hopeful and charging head-on
but the issue is different this time
i am the enemy
yet we are still a team
how does the tiger not eat the boat captain

yes
love is still all around
love is what moves us
and the implosion of love is something else
it is not hate, there is no black heart
yet the safety structures have been threatened
fucking maslow has dropped me to my knees
i am not dead
or dead-beat
i am beating my chest

still

to ask
what gives this time
where is the flexibility
how do we continue
there is no
win

10-24-13


Blended Family Mating Call; Or How Do You Find a Sane Single Mom?

trying to date a single momI’m in this dating thing to win. Part-time of course, the other 38% of my time I’m a single dad.

I didn’t really start this blog with the intention of turning it into a romance, dating, and love poem blog. Things have kind of evolved that way. I’m not sure it’s perfect, but it does capture the whole of me, the OFF parent, both when I’m “off” (without kids) and when I’m “on” (single-dad). But it’s not really an opening line, “I write a fairly successful divorce blog.” Um, no. I don’t think I tell them that for a long time.

But it’s one of the things I do. I write to get this transition down on paper. Some forensics: what the fk happened to the relationship I thought was going to be my respite and resting place forever? And some aspirational: love poetry trying to give voice to the romantic in my soul that is still stretching towards ecstasy. The lover in me that refuses to give up one item on my wish list just to get rid of loneliness. Nope. I’ll wait.

There was an immediate chemistry between us, as the party progressed we kept finding ourselves paired up and chatting. She was married. But she was also a bit flirty, a bit open, and very sexy.

I’ll seek. I’ll sing. I’ll write poems. And I’ll improve my roll, as it were, with the dates I do go on. But most of all, I’ll stay true to the things I am learning about my true desire and my true nature. And EVEN WHEN THINGS FEEL GREAT, as they did with “almost mythical” GF #1, I won’t stop until the final equation, the final circuit is complete.

I demand a stellar partner. And I will remain alone until we find each other.

Meanwhile, on planet Earth, the process of dating, re-dating, re-framing my OKCupid profile, continues. And while I took most of the summer off to work on myself, to ramp my musical performance engine back up, and to give my dating ambition a rest… I’m hungry.

Two years ago: Enter single mom of two young kids. Much younger than mine. Am I ready to be in a relationship with someone who has a three-year-old? (Um, wait… I’m getting ahead of myself.)

This single mom was not single when we met at a friend’s birthday party. There was an immediate chemistry between us, as the party progressed we kept finding ourselves paired up and chatting. She was married. But she was also a bit flirty, a bit open, and very sexy. I kept my intentions pure and when the evening ended I made the, “we should connect on Facebook” play. And she eventually came around to it after a few asks. Again… She was married.

Two months ago: A random LIKE on one of her Facebook pictures elicited a “Hey, what are you doing?” And in a matter of days I learn she’s divorced, and might like to grab a cup of coffee or drink sometime.

BINGO! The light goes on in my head. Sexy. CHECK. Chemistry. CHECK. Intelligent and engaging conversation. CHECK. And now she’s not married any more. And then this happens, over and over and over:

“Hey, how’s it going?”

Me, “Great. How’s your afternoon going?”

“Crazy busy.”

Me, “How about  a cup of coffee later?”

“Can’t, sitter just called in sick.”

Over and over and over.

I understand a couple of things from this ongoing (we still have not met face-to-face in the two months we’ve been pinging back and forth on Facebook) reconnect and lack of connection.

  1. Early stages of divorce are filled with all kinds of crazy emotions, crazy scheduling nightmares, asshole ex-parents, and all the other stuff that goes along with resetting and formulating every detail of your parenting life.
  2. Full-time working mom’s have a lot of responsibility. And their children come first.
  3. This particular mom might not have it all together yet.
  4. For some reason, even after two years, we are still drawn to each other.

Now, I’m also concerned about my own reactions to this woman’s advances and CONTINUAL disappointing outcomes.

  1. I’m still engaged even after she’s left me waiting for the text or call that would coordinate our “walk” or “glass of wine” or “going out after work.” Why am I still even listening to her?
  2. She shows up as a bit of a party girl on FB. (Maybe everyone does.) And she’s trying to reestablish her “liveliness” and “fun” via pictures.
  3. I’m SO flexible and accommodating that I’m going to get trampled by her lack of follow-through or any consideration of what she’s agreed to.

Here’s the most recent example, from last weekend.

Saturday morning, 10:30 am: She asks, “Hey what are you doing today?”

“About to go for a walk. What great weather. How about you?”

“Dropping off some tickets to a friend.”

I get it, single mom’s are busy. Newly divorced people have got their schedules and priorities on their kids. AND I’m a sucker for a pretty lady and will cuckold myself repeatedly if I think it might be fun.

We chat for a bit and she calls on the phone. It is great to hear her voice again. We fall into a familiar cadence, just like we did at the party. It’s a little bit exhilarating. She’s going to call me back in about 30 minutes and we’re going to meet for a walk around the lake.

She doesn’t call. I’m ready to walk and I pause to wait for her call.

Not wanting to be the aggressor, or be too pushy, I give her an hour and a half before I text her phone.

“Did you get roped in?”

“You know me so well,” comes her quick reply. Then nothing again for hours. I refrain from begging.

By late afternoon I finally text her again. “What’s up?”

“Spent too much time with my friend, and ran some errands, what’s up with you?”

Maybe I misinterpreted her initial text and our phone call that included plans. Maybe I should point it out and be done with her. But I don’t. I let it roll on by.

A few hours later she asks if I’m going to watch the football game. I engage without enthusiasm. I’m heading to a friend’s house for a game night. She closes with, “I’m having a some friends over here, we’re watching the game. A little girl time.”

Done. I’m done.

We exchange a few texts the next day and again I pawn myself and ask for coffee.

“Can’t. Taking kids to park.”

I get it, single mom’s are busy. Newly divorced people have got their schedules and priorities on their kids. AND I’m a sucker for a pretty lady and will cuckold myself repeatedly if I think it might be fun.

Okay, that’s a bit harsh on myself, I’m not overly obsessed with this woman. She’s still showing up like a pretty butterfly. But I’m not sure what she’s after. Maybe I’m a “potential” that’s nice for her to have in her pocket. And maybe she’s the same for me.

For now, we do the dance, I’ll continue to answer any openings with an offer and perhaps in another two months we’ll meet up. But I’m not counting on it. She’s like a siren, calling me to shore. I’m not sure she’s really a resting place for my weary and romantic head, but it beats having no muses for amusement.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

< back to On Dating Again index

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Another Single Father’s Day

doing dad's day - team dadIt’s been three years. In posting about divorce and dating I’m here to say, the transformation in the last three years has been amazing. I don’t think it was the only way to go, but when the other person decides they are DONE, there’s really only the “business of divorce” left to take care of.

I’m struggling a bit, still. BUT, I’d have to say I’m on the happy side of the recovery process. I did wake up this morning with a huge panic, thinking my depression had just jumped on my ass while I was sleeping. (I do recall an epic bad dream.)

I’m happy to report it was only a momentary freak out. Probably based on the beginning of summer, and the fact that I was behind on one of my work projects. Because when I start feeling REALLY GOOD, I can also start fucking up. [Not this summer — my mantra — not this summer — not this fucking summer.]

It’s the end of day on a long Friday, where I’ve been up-and-at’m since 6 am. I’m actually going to the semi-annual divorce recovery graduation party tonight, hoping to introduce myself to a woman I crushed on last year, but didnt’ get to talk to. I was at the party with GF #1. Anyway, it’s been a long road. BUT, TAKE HOPE.

There is a way out. There is life beyond divorce. And there is happiness beyond all the grieving that must be done. Here are my last three Father’s Day posts. I expect I’ll write a real post in the next few days, as well.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

Update: As I introduced myself this evening to the crush she was getting her purse to leave. “I wanted to say, Hi. I’m J from Facebook.” She connected after a few seconds, and remembered that I had attempted to connect with her after the last graduation class. I said, “It looks like your leaving.” She smiled, “Yes, I’m going to my boyfriend’s house.” BOOM. … Next.

Resources:


Dropping the Parenting Bomb on Your Ex Unexpectedly

THIS IS NOT OKAY. Text from daughter at 7:00am.

is she leaving him home alone?

[These events happened a few weeks ago, so I’ve cooled off and tried to temper them with some perspective.]

Good morning! I’m sorta glad the ex-y got my daughter a phone. BUT not if the primary purpose is so she can leave my her and her 12-yo brother home alone.

The first time this sort of thing happened, I got a “Kids are home sick, I’ve asked babysitter to check in on them through the day, can you check in on them too?”

What are my options? As a good Dad, there was only one thing I could do. I went and picked them up, on her day. She had started a new job. I was being supportive, without a fuss. But I did not appreciate the unplanned reorientation of my entire day.

When we were married the scenario went more like this.

1. We’ve got a sick kid. How can we divide the care for him while keeping our jobs?
2. Then we would have the opportunity to discuss how to juggle our mutual schedules to minimize the impact on our work responsibilities.
3. The priority was on providing comfort for the kid, AND being flexible with one another.

Today I have much less flexibility (patience maybe) to be jerked out of my regularly planned work day because she couldn’t find a sitter, or couldn’t rearrange her day around her responsibility.

My responsibility is to the sick kid. My flexibility is in helping and being a good coparent to the ex-y. She gave up the mutually-shared-responsibility-and-drop-any-and-everything-to-make-it work-for-you partner a number of years ago.

I’m happy to report that this scenario played out much less antagonistic than it might first appear from my response. We talked on the phone. My daughter had jumped to conclusions and was doing her part in the family system to care take. The ex-y was not really considering leaving our son at home alone, sick.

The better part is I got a chance to share my vehement abhorrence of her idea of leaving the kids without a supervising adult for ANY REASON. The childcare is her responsibility when the kids are on her watch. PERIOD. I can help, I am happy to help, and most of the time I’d rather have them with me than anywhere else in the world. But for the most part, when I’m not the ON Parent I’m working to pay for my house and a good portion of their mom’s house.

I have never had easy access to my anger. When I start standing up for myself, my family often thinks I’m being an asshole. Let me reframe that. My mom, sister, and ex-wife think I’m being an asshole when I start using anger to push back a bit on their overbearing demands and requests. Without it, the anger, we are emasculated. Male or female, we need to be able to get angry. Especially in a complex thing like a relationship. If there is no anger (and there was very little in my marriage) then there might be an anger problem. Not enough.

I pushed back with an angry response. I let the ex-y know that I would not be compliant with this type of activity. If she needs something from me, in terms of parenting, she needs to contact me directly. I did not respond to my daughter. I contacted the ex-y with my response. We did work it out. And in the same communication I was able to establish that our daughter was not going to be left home after school, just because she has a phone. She’s in fourth grade. And our sixth grade son is not a babysitter. NO.

If saying no, and needing to say it loudly and repeatedly makes me an asshole, well I’m learning to own that persona. My “real” asshole dad, sort of RAGED the hell out of all of us. So it’s hard to raise my voice. It’s hard to demand my point be taken seriously. And being raised by three strong women, and on emasculated brother, was not easy.

But we’re learning and getting better. And I will re-educate my immediate family that anger is okay. It doesn’t mean I’m nuts, or that I don’t like you or respect your ideas and boundaries. It means something has threatened me. And I’m willing to fight for it.

Just like my kids at the end of the marriage. I fought like a banshee to stay in the house the last two months, while they finished 2nd and 4th grade before exiting our family system. As hard as it was for both my ex-y and me, it was the right thing. And of course I was accused of being unreasonable, and “off my meds” for demanding this strategy. But I persevered. And I think the kids WON as a result.

Know what to fight for and what to let go. But when you are pushed, be ready to bring the heat. It’s okay. No body is going to be hurt physically. But feelings often are not the best guide for what is best or right.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Footnote: There was a time I would do anything for my wife, if she was ill or needed help with a project. Um, now that she’s my ex-y I have a very different response to drama.

dropping the ball on your ex


Team Dad, “Even When We Can No Longer Be Together”

doing dad's day with livestrongI put on the LiveStrong band on Father’s Day this year. I was wearing the band in honor of my father who died over twenty years ago, and my long-time mentor who died six months ago. That’s why I put the band on. But the conversations I did have, were with MY KIDS.

For both of my kids the yellow band was a piece of jewelry. Like a watch or another colorful band. Both of them kinda knew who Lance Armstrong was. Neither had ever heard of LiveStrong, or knew what the band was about. But as a TEAM we wore the bands for our own reasons. I can see how binding up your positive energy with other cancer survivors or families of cancer survivors is a powerful support. With just the three of us, there was something magical about giving my kids these bands and having them wear them.

We talked about cancer. We talked about my dad. We talked about my friend who died. They had accompanied me to the wake at his house. And then we went swimming. And we put on lots of sunscreen.

Celebrate togetherness even when we are no longer able to be together.

And so the 30-days have passed with very little conversation outside my little Team Mac. And we’re over halfway through the summer. And what a summer. I’ve been taking Friday’s off to simply hang with them. Do what they want to do. Do nothing. Go to the pool, the lake, the movie, the corner convenience store to get a slurpee. And something occurred to me. I didn’t really get much “hang time” with my dad.

So I am basking in these moments. Storing my own warm times and giving my kids the memory of a Dad who knew how to hang and be flexible and had the strength to throw them high and far into the water. And that I think is the lesson I learned. The Team Mac picture was taken just before I let them go watch a terrible summer movie by themselves while I tele-computed from inside the mall. They wanted to go, I didn’t. I really didn’t. So we worked out a compromise. And the bands and even the picture symbolized that bond we are establishing. Trust. Care. Togetherness even when we are apart.

And maybe that’s the biggest lesson: Celebrate togetherness even when we are no longer able to be together. I feel their connection: my kids AND my father and father figures. While I am here, I will make this connected team of three the most important goal of my waking hours. And even as the yellow bands lose their charm and get put in a drawer, the memory of the throws into the cold, deep, lake water will never be lost.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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