[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.
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:
- 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.
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 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.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
- The Game of Divorce
- I Try to Forgive My Ex-Wife, But I’ll Never Forget
- The Edge of Tomorrow with my Ex-wife
- You Are Ahead by a Century
- The Painful Business of Divorce
- Your Contempt for Me is Hurting All of Us
- The Humans Of Divorce, Dear AG’s Office Special Cases Officer Mr. McK!
- And Just As We Reach A Calm Moment
- What I Still Fail to Understand About My Ex-wife
- When Kids, Money, and Divorce Collide
- Trusting Your Unreliable Ex
After divorce, struggling with identity and depression is common. This single dad has found strength by focusing on hopefulness and cultivating a joyfulness within himself.
It’s been over five years since I walked out of my family home and changed everyone’s life for ever. Sounds dramatic now, but when I was going through it, I was not sure what the rest of my life held. There were moments I could not tell you one good thing that was ahead for me. And I cratered for a bit, taking refuge at my sister’s house while I decided what I was going to do.
Now, looking back on it, the worst event I can recall in my personal history, I have somehow grown more resilient after having survived it. And I suppose my kids have also gained a bit of survival-in-the-face-of-the-storm strength. And today, even though I’m in a similar start over place, I am not afraid or unhappy. I have taken a tumble as the result of my own actions, my own over-optimism, and the hostile ex-y. I have landed here. Starting over again. And there is hope here. The horizon is bright.
And the evolution of The Off Parent has followed a similar trajectory. I have come from angry and vindictive to forgiveness and now letting go. And reaching this point offers some new opportunities. Rather than dealing with the Divorce I am thinking more about Dating and what another relationship might look like. Rather than writing vitriolic screed I’m leaning into love poems.
And I have learned a lot on this path. And even today, with a chest cold a fever, I can say I am happy. I have learned to take, even the catastrophic failure and flip it around into opportunity. And then somehow continue to see the hope in that opportunity. There really is a wide range of paths out of this moment of pause. And there is no reason to thrash. I will reemerge when the next job provides the means to support both myself and my kids. And until then I’m going to enjoy this moment to the fullest. I’m recommiting to tennis and fitness. I’m starting to sing songs again.
When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure what you learn is how to get back up. And inside that how is the hope that is self-generated and self-sustaining. Hope is the key. Without it the daily grind is brutal and even the smiling pictures of your children don’t lift you. But if you can imagine a single hopeful idea, cling to it, set it on fire and tend the hopefulness. You can find the energy again to reach out for what you need by building and nurturing the hopefulness in yourself.
In the five years I’ve shown my children a lot of emotional sides of myself. I’ve remained true to my promise of keeping all money issues and anger out of my relationship to them. The adult stuff needs to be handled outside their sphere. And I’ve shown them how to rebound with hope and energy time and again. In recent years, as my life has stabilized quite a bit, I have been able to not only show them, but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope. That’s my gift. Seeing them dealing with setbacks in their young lives with similar resilience has been a fine reward for both their mom and me.
The Off Parent
back to The Hard Stuff
- What I Need To Tell You: Take Heart. It Gets Better.
- Creative Parenting and the Gifts of Enthusiastic Participation
- A Moment of Zen With the Ex-Wife
- The Good Side of Divorce – Making Things Go Easier
image: father and daughter support, cc 2015 the author, creative commons usage
THIS IS NOT OKAY. Text from daughter at 7:00am.
[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.
The Off Parent
- The Divorce Library (reading list)
- Songs of Divorce (free listening library – youtube sourced songs)
- Laugh It Off (building a resource library of funny videos and other diversions)
- Facebook (follow us on Facebook and keep up with all the conversations)
- The 5 Love Languages (a book on love styles by Gary Chapman)
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.