Divorce is about goodbyes. Goodbyes you never thought you’d be saying. Instead of everyday, like I imagined, I only see my kids 10 out of the 30 days in an average month. That’s a lot of time without their smiling faces. And when you’re the off parent, it’s a lot of time alone.
Today I’m in a much better place with it, but it’s never easy. I miss them. And I’m amazed when days go by without even a text or Snapchat. But they’re teenagers and doing their own thing. I get it. Still, it’s a heartbreaking situation for someone who’s emotionally open and connected. I suppose there a people who are more business like about it, but I’m a card-carrying member of the attachment parenting movement, and perhaps the attachment is just as strong both ways.
I’ve been a divorced dad for almost seven years and I’m still going through empty nest syndrome. Perhaps this is one of the gifts of divorce, the real empty nest won’t be so hard for me, since I’ve been 2/3 empty already. But the gift is a painful one.
On Monday mornings, at the end of my four-day run with the kids, I drop them off at school and then return to my old house and drop off their bags. Early on in the divorce this was hugely depressing. Everything about it brought back the pain. My old house. Dropping them at school knowing I wouldn’t see them for several days. And that one day thing on the off week is pretty hard too, but drop off Mondays were really a bitch.
Just this past Monday I had a moment of sadness and overwhelm. There were a lot of other pressures that converged on this particular Monday, but something about the drop off really struck a deep chord of pain in me. There’s no explaining it. I used to get sad sometimes dropping them off at day care when I was going to see them that same night. I miss my kids. I like to hear about their day (what they’ll tell me) and their ambitions for whatever. Being around them in their daily activities is a joy.
The only tonic to this sad dance is picking up your own life and moving on. In the spaces between being dad I learned to reinvest in myself. I healed from my sadness and divorce by writing, exercising, and living through it. And I continue to work on myself outside of my relationships, doing the emotional excavation to understand my sadness.
I was asked by a friend the other day what was the hardest part of divorce, losing my primary relationship or losing my kids? Kids. It wasn’t even close. Maybe that’s still some of the anger of the divorce talking, but I could imagine myself without my ex-wife, I could not imagine my life without my kids. It’s not that I’m living for or through them. But your love for your kids is something unlike any other relationship. There’s no explaining this to someone without kids. It simply doesn’t compute.
Today, I’m glad I have the time to devote to all the messy loveliness of being in a relationship again. I’m engaged to be married and very happy about life.
Do I still get tripped up on drop off Mondays? Yep. It’s part of the ebb and flow of life as a divorced parent. One day things seem okay and the next day the universe is split in two: time with your kids and time without them. I’ll take what I can get and do the best I can in that time. The rest is up to me.
The Off Parent
< back to Single Parenting
- The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce
- When Will I Get Over My Divorce?
- The Divorce Part You’ll Never Understand: Living Within the Compromise
- I Want To Thank You for the Divorce
image: kids at play, creative commons usage
We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses.
I’m certain that I prayed to God to save my marriage. More than once or twice. I would’ve done nearly anything to keep my little family unit together. I counseled with my minister, I shouted out loud at the heavens, I wrote prayers that sounded more like love poems. And nothing…
Turns out, somewhere, a bigger plan was being put into motion. Praying for the repair of something broken might not have been aligned with the plan. Who’s plan? What plan? And when would I know the rules and routes of the plan? I knew very little about any plan, and I was getting pretty snarky in tone as I pleaded with my higher power to fix things. I wanted them fixed the way I wanted them. I had no idea what was in store, but I had a lot of living and self-discovery ahead before I would catch a glimpse of my bright future.
My then-wife and I got really spiritual about the time we decided to start “trying to have a baby.” That means we ended all birth control and had a brief window of joyful and bountiful sex. It was the opening up to the possibility of a child, or children, that was the big Ah ha moment. We had some woo woo things we did, like talking to the baby in the womb and going to birthing classes. And we prayed and said thanks all the time. Life ahead appeared to be full speed ahead.
In less than a year after being married, we were gifted with the first child, a son. Once again, our lives were transformed as we surrounded him and each other with a warmth that only comes from some kind of spiritual grace. We were aligned, in-tune, and in-communication with God, capital G, for sure.
Through toils and snares we tried again and were given a baby daughter this time, to fulfill our pair, one of each, our unimaginable fortune. For years and years the kids took all of our energy, all of our creativity, all of our focus, and a lot of our time. But we were happy for the transformation in our lives from self-important to parents. It was not a sacrifice to tell friends, “Sorry, I can’t come see the movie, our kids are working on an important Lego fortress and I’ve got to help.”
It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams. As it turned out in our case, the bliss didn’t last. And after a series of events, none of them catastrophic, we agreed to get a divorce. In spite of our love for each other, and our love for our kids, the love of our relationship had wained. Perhaps we didn’t focus enough on each other as we were praising and singing to our children. Perhaps we didn’t pay enough attention to our own individual needs. But in the Spring of 2010 we were no longer a family unit, we were two houses and two kids and two single parents.
That’s the moment I came face to face with my own relationship to God. It’s not like I went looking for some spiritual revelation. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I began to crumble under the loss. The nights and days without seeing my kids was torture. All the years we had spent as one unit, to be locked out of my own house, outside the circle, and given about 30% of my parenting time back, was akin to being turned into a zombie. Lucky for me, I had family in town who took me in. I had recently lost my job, and had no money for an apartment, and no desire to find one. I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.
Except when my kids arrived. Everything changed when they were around. My little girl snuggling and asking me to chase her around the house. My son hard at work on some project or another, rather stoic and aloof. And me, trying my best to put on a brave face. I was anything but brave. I did hold it together, somehow, but there were times when I was actively trying to give up. That’s what depression is: giving up. Of course, when you have kids, there is no such thing. I suppose you could run off and vanish from their lives, start over in Montana or something. But without that option, the future was here, in the same town with my ex-wife and my kids, trying to hold it together at school functions and holiday kid swaps.
Somewhere in that period I went through my dark night of the soul. I had joined a divorce recovery group and we were supposed to write out our “anger letter” to our ex. I started out at about 10pm, with a fairly tame rant. By 3am I was on fire and fuming. This anger was the energy and turning point that expelled the depression from my heart. And even as I was writing the words to her, I was also expressing my anger at God, at “the plan,” or “his plan,” if that’s what you want to call it. I was fuming mad and I was going to get it out in every way I could.
Depression, the saying goes, is anger directed at ourselves. Well, I had un-targeted myself and was shooting sparks at God and my ex-wife and all of her friends and the friends who had abandoned me… I was just plain mad. A bit “mad” actually. But the anger sure got me motivated and un-depressed.
During this period, one of the weekly chores of the divorce group was self-care, or doing something that helps you feel better. I started an Aikido class and began learning how to get thrown down on the mat every afternoon. And I didn’t think much about God except during the quiet times, when the kids were away, and my Aikido hadn’t burned all the fire out of my day. In these moments, staggered between loneliness and the potential of growth and energy I was cultivating that I began to pray again. These prayers were much more like love poems. Like Rumi as he called out to the beloved, I was also seeking a beloved. I still had a long way to go, but I began to hope and dream about being with a woman again, and the possibility of even falling in love again. Hard to imagine, but easier to pray about.
In the quiet moments, I do think my higher power was listening. Maybe it’s just the higher power in me, but the praying, and love poem writing began to soften the anger just a bit. The driving force that got me up off my ass was not very conducive to finding a date. I was pretty far from dating material, but I was at least beginning to think about my quality of life when I was the “off” parent, when the kids were not with me.
Looking back at this time of rebuilding, strife, prayer, Aikido, and living with my sister, I can sort of imagine the roadmap that got me here, to today. I can acknowledge that my marriage to the mother of my children was not serving either one of us, for whatever reason, and in the moving on I was given a new lease on happiness and even love. All of those fractured years, after the divorce, I spent building new ideas about myself, about what was important to me, and keeping the focus on building my now time-limited relationship with my kids.
Today the love poems are arriving en masse for a woman who has arrived to wake up my sense of God once again. “How could I have known?” I ask her, playfully. “That all of that shit would crack open my creative spirit again, and that from these prayers and poems I would find you.”
She still smiles at my pontifications and says, “Those that fired us, brought us here.”
We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses. And in the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits. It is in the listening that I was able to hear what aspects of a relationship were important to me, and what things I would like to avoid in the future. And while there’s not guarantee, the woman of my dreams is sleeping beside me these days, as we flow through the happiest moments of our lifes. Even when my kids are not with us, the joy between us… Well, isn’t that God, in a way.
Love = God.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff posts
- Back to the Beginning: Serenity with Your Coparent
- What You Gave Up On Is Still Shining In Me
- I Want To Thank You for the Divorce
- The Best Will Come Out, Eventually… But First This
- Texts From the Ex. What’s the Crisis?
- Give Me a Bullet to Bite On: My Ex and Her Anger
image: santo cristo tile image, mary anne melo, creative commons usage
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?
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.
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.
The Off Parent
back to On Dating Again
- Dating Time Out: Swiping Left or Right is Wearing Me Out
- Gentle Catch and Release
- Unadulterated Love: What Is Joyful Sex?
- Reversing the Flow: Putting Women in Charge of Courtship
image: dance, vladimir pustovit, creative commons usage
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?
Free, the Poet presents My Soul: Re-Defining Aging and Lifestyles: MEN: Personal Journals “The Off Parent” Tune in and turn on.
The Off Parent
[from a second wave – poetry]
gazelle and zebra
dash and zip by
and i am tempted
by the hunger and the beauty
and the chase
but it is you i want
all the pretty women
in bright shorts and bra tops
to my eyes
and something inside
but it is you i really want
i cannot have everything i want
and i know this very well
i have learned to dial it back
to be a bit quieter
but it is not youth i want
we run we jump we play
as older beasts in the herd
and find our desire in similarities
and contrasts of all kinds
that fascinate me
still it is you i want
if you see my eye flashing
as the athlete runs by
base instinct ready for the hunt
and you see my heart quicken
just for a second
know, it is you i want
beautiful women are all around
we too were young and sleek
god continues to amaze
and we continue to worship
and learn new prayers
still, it is you
[from a second wave – poetry]
we are both waking up
to what could be
not yet what is
what waking up together
days without you
even they build
longing that i know
and someone that i’m meeting
again and again
at the edge of what i’ve known
you are the unknown
and the future is
you are the risk
i want to take
image: stars, robb north, creative commons usage
[from a second wave – poetry]
in the moment i could no longer feel or smell her
but her glow was still around me
though her breasts and mind were elsewhere
she was all i could think about
it’s not healthy, i know
it’s not obsession either
well, love is a pretty strong word
i don’t think i know what any of that means anymore
oh, i know the energy she gives
i know the pleasure
and the secrets
i can’t wait any longer
waiting is the name of the game
it can’t be all the time
balls to the wall
all all all
it’s just now
image: touch, bhumica bhatia, creative commons usage
[from The Black Pages – poetry]
any known answer or explanation would be wrong
there may be nothing to understand
as i feel the absence
ache and weight of the missing
part of me
of my heart gone south
away from the path and plan
away from this was that is no more
the clear cold sky is cheerless
and haunting old seasons
of wrapt and attentive snuggles
that became a dull chill ache
rather than a call to blankets
and your smile
i can not ever release it
everything came from there
like a light
now taken from view
closed up and buried
and this missing feeling
approaching yet again
image: courtesy of david jewell – model: katherine casey
And I want to do better, and I want to not enjoy just a smidgen of her troubles… But she can still make me madder than anyone else on the planet. And that’s understandable, she’s my ex. Legends about the evil ex abound. There are even Twitter hashtags devoted to the cult of the ex. Of course, she’s not that bad. (On Twitter see #thatswhyyourmyex)
In fact, in this fourth year since our divorce, I am working to release her from the evil ex moniker. But a little healthy anger can sometimes help, if we know how to use it appropriately or dispose of it. Keeping your anger inside is a known stress booster, it shortens your life and lengthens your belt size.
I’ve been framing up something I’m calling The Divorce Recovery Roadmap, and anger plays a very critical role in this growth through and ultimately freedom from anger at your ex. I believe anger is part of the engine that got me out of my depression. When my world was shattered, even if I was complicit in the dismantling, it wasn’t until I found my anger, and began to voice it, that I started to recover my authentic self.
I’ve talked a lot about the self-awareness part of my recovery. And I will state it again as clearly as I can. Divorce has been the most devastating event in my life. And it has transformed me, sometimes by fire, sometimes by tears, back into the happy and creative individual I was before the divorce, maybe even before the marriage.
When I started this blog, even as I was still living under the same roof with my ex-y, I tapped into the vicious anger that was brewing inside. “What? You’re fucking giving up on me?” I wanted to rage. But I wrote it instead of yelling it. And it wasn’t all pretty. In fact, some of it was hurtful and spiteful. As if I wanted to say, “If you’re taking me down, I’m taking everyone down with me.”
But the fight wasn’t with my ex-y at that point. The fight of your life, the recovery from the wounds of divorce, is with yourself.
In that summer of discontent, when I had lost everything and was living with my sister, basically homeless, I raged. I wrote the FUCK YOU that I couldn’t say. I got a few pats on the back for the blog and pressed on, and eventually found my voice, with The Off Parent.
Then she found out about the blog and called me on the phone.
“I found The Off Parent.” she said.
“And I want you to take it down. It makes it too hard to trust you. And we’re trying to raise these two kids together, and it’s just too hurtful.”
At that moment, I was so distraught at my situation, and my self-pity (we’ll get back to that in a minute) that I simply said, “Okay, I’ll take it down, now.” And I mothballed the blog.
What was not apparent to me at over the next month of so, was how quickly my unvented anger became anger pointed inward. That’s one definition of depression: anger pointed at yourself. And I just about rowed that boat over the waterfall of darkness. I didn’t get suicidal until the following summer, but I lost touch with my anger at her. Healthy anger. Anger that needed an outlet.
I crumbled. And maybe that’s when I hit what alcoholics refer to as rock bottom. Because I started feeling really sorry for myself. I started placing the failure and blame on myself, on the things I did or didn’t do. When, in fact, I made numerous pleas with my ex-y to stop and reconsider her request for divorce. I wanted reconciliation, I wanted change. But I didn’t want a divorce.
I had been exposed to the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous a long time ago, when I started attending ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meetings, back when that movement was emerging. And some of the principles I learned, still guide me. But in my despair I grabbed onto two AA principles that lifted me back from the dead, even without this blog.
The first principle was Self Pity. It is one of the core shames we learn when we are raised in broken or breaking homes. As we uncover just how horrible things have been, we begin feeling sorry for ourselves and our plight. (This is magnified 100-fold for folks battling alcohol addiction, so I don’t mean to make light of it.) In my case, as I was in my sister’s house, basically breaking down mentally, was this sorrow at what had become of my beautiful life. My regrets and should’ve-dones became like a mean Greek chorus shouting me down as I tried to find my footing as a single late-forties man. Man In Divorce, it’s a thing.
I started reading some recovering alcoholics notes on the web. I attended a few AA and Alon meetings to remember how miserable I was, and how far from those darknesses I still was. And the idea of getting over my self-pity, my wallowing in my own stew of misery, was a good one. I wanted to comply, to shake it off, and to grow up and grow a pair, but it wasn’t that easy. Those AA slogans are great when you finally believe in them. Initially they come across as unhelpful platitudes. Still I grabbed on to the life ring of Self Pity and waited for someone to pull me back to safety.
Of course, that’s not really what happens either. Not in real life, anyway. So I slogged on. Read some AA material and tried to apply the maxims to my life. Live and let God. Giving up my pain and process to my Higher Power and all that. But it wasn’t until I hit the next gem of wisdom that I finally got moving.
I was reading a blog about recovery and the phrase that struck a nerve with me was “Take Massive Action.” The idea is, in recovery from addiction it is not enough to go to meetings, say the sayings, read the literature, you could not dabble in your recovery process if you were serious about getting well. In order to flip your life back to ON you needed to commit to Massive Action. You had to commit to doing EVERYTHING all at once to get well. And leave no little pockets of doubt that you could fall back on later.
I needed to build and agree to my own Massive Plan of Attack. Here’s what I did.
- I enrolled in an Aikido class that was a few miles from my sister’s house and I agreed to go to class 3 or more times week.
- I enrolled in a divorce recovery class that started in two weeks, based on the book When Your Relationship Ends.
And two weeks later I was already feeling the changes as I attended the first night of the divorce recovery class. And when I started hearing this masterful gentleman talk about the divorce recovery process I knew I had hit a vein of gold. Here were 20-or-so men and women in various stages of divorce and willing to admit that things sucked and we needed help.
And that first week after the class we were required to call at least two other classmates and check-in on the phone. I remember really hitting it off with the first person I called. And as we chatted she let me know she was a recovering alcoholic. She became one of my champions in my Massive Action campaign.
I called her a few days after our first phone call and said, “I don’t want to go, and you don’t need to call me back, because I’m going to my Aikido class right now. I’m not happy about it, but I wanted to let you know I was going. Fuck.”
(People in that class liked to cuss a lot. And fuck seemed to be one of the best words in use. Maybe because none of us were fucking.)
And so my massive action plan began to take shape and I began reshaping my relationship to the divorce. More importantly, I began reshaping the relationship to myself.
About seven weeks into the class comes Anger Night. Essentially you go through a process of expressing all the “fuck yous” you need to by writing a letter. A letter you never send, of course. And then you share your letter with some of these other people in your class.
I was sad and overweight when I started my massive action plan. And by Anger Night I was at least in motion, but I was still pretty depressed. But the night after the class, when we were given the assignment, to write the real letter, I came uncorked.
That night, in the process of writing out all my fuck yous and complaints to my ex-wife, I reconnected with the healthy part of the anger. The part that I had been stuffing and hurting myself with. The fury, once unleashed, became unmanageable. And I wrote from about midnight to about three in the morning. But I was transformed.
When I accessed my anger that night, it was like a switch had been thrown on inside and the power to my healthy system was restored. The transformation was notable. And four weeks later, when the good doctor was looking for facilitators for his next session, he invited me to be one of the shepherds. What an honor and a validation for the work I had done.
By the end of the class I was on a roll. I was negotiating a new job, I was still hitting the mat in Aikido several times a week, and I was beginning to feel like “life” was possible again. I’ve never looked back at that letter. It’s still here, on this computer, somewhere. But I don’t need to read it. The very real, very visceral, and transformative power of that night of anger, brought me back to life.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff pages
- Waiting for the Other Person to Change
- Love, War, Divorce: Why I’m Not Fighting My Ex-Wife About Custody
- Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight
- Getting Angry, Reaching Forgiveness, and Moving On After Divorce
- Easier To Be Quiet
- 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)
image: Santorini’s Donkey sequence via creative commons license
[from Misconfigurations of Love – poetry]
kissing this night
and the crickets singing
in harmony with the clear cold stars
holding this image of fascination
with just where you are
how the light of this darkness
strikes your heart
and are you longing too
[from Misconfigurations of Love – poetry]
ensnaring her in my imagination
she stumbles across my words
rapt and tingling from the assumptions
she is young and old
and finding new pleasures
where the previous ones have gone missing
i meet her in my projections
lover, romantic, singer, dancer
i too am shutting down old wings
in this very word
and this one
she is taken