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

dad

The Off Parent – Series: love, kids, divorce, humor, release, sex

when you lose everything, love comes into focus

when you lose everything, love comes into focusLet’s take a new approach. Let’s go after local resident and legend Adrian Grenier and see if we can give him another successful show. Let’s feature Austin, SXSW, ACL, Barton Springs, and Formula 1, all as part of what gives this show gravitas. It’s going to be a must-see on HBO (our first choice), because the heart behind the show is writer and single dad advocate, John McElhenney. (Me.)

How would a tv show bring about real change in the family law that gives dads the old 70/30 shaft and asks us to accept that moms should be given the house, the money, and the kids? That’s the way it was in the ’50s. But the states don’t want to give up the gravy train of child support collections. That’s what makes up 80% of most Attorney General’s budgets. And it’s paid for by the government. The states are incentivized to assign child support to one of the parents and then they make their money based on the “money” they have under management.

If you would like to be an early script reviewer or a pilot test group member, please reach out to me via email here: john.mcelhenney (at) gmail (dot) com.

Enjoy. Blessings.

 


Your Contempt for Me After the Divorce is Hurting All of Us

OFF-maidamerica

There were two minor events that happened in the first weeks of my relationship to the woman who became my wife and mother of my two outstanding kids.

About two years into the divorce, and a year after the full payments are in force, I hit a rough patch in my employment.

ONE: After we had begun our committed relationship, she got in the car one afternoon and said, “I’ve just gotten a new prescription for birth control pills.” EXCITEMENT PLUS. Woot!

TWO: She got in the car a few weeks later and asked me why I was upset. I told her that I had left $150 cash in the glove box of the rental car. I had called and, duh, they didn’t have the money. Her response was immediate. “Well, at least you are rich enough that you don’t need the money.” BOOM.

It not only hurt, but it also stung me quite deeply. I recoiled and had to ask her what she meant. She didn’t do a very good job of explaining how $150 to her would’ve been a huge deal, but to me, it was little more than an inconvenience.

That’s how she saw me. MONEY. Even early on in our relationship. MONEY. I’m just now getting clear on this. As she is still grilling, hammering, and looking for “enforcement” from the Attorney General’s Office about MONEY.

We got over the early yelp I gave out at her contempt for my slightly more affluent upbringing. And we moved along down the relationship road until she moved in with me. Into the house I owned. She never mentioned the money again, but now I can see, with 20/20 eyes, that it was much more important to her than I realized.

When she got pregnant, we made plans to move into a house, rather than my condo. So the kids would have a yard. So we could begin building our nest. The money for the down payment came from my family. And we bought a nice little house in a nice middle-class neighborhood. We probably bought about 3 years too early, because a tiny baby doesn’t really need his own room. But we were young, in love, and ambitious.

Fast forward the tape 10 years into the future and we’re getting a divorce. Suddenly my money is her money, the house that was made possible by my inheritance, and my owned condo was all we really had between us. And the breakdown of the finances left us on unequal footing. She got the house, I got some relief from the $2,400 a month child support and insurance payments.

When she didn’t get her money after two months and 27 days, she filed the whole thing with the Attorney General’s office.

About two years into the divorce, and a year after the full payments are in force, I hit a rough patch in my employment. We lose a client. I lose 50% of my income. I tell her immediately that I’m going to be a little late on the child support. She throws a fit.

Now, to slow things down a bit, let’s examine the situation.

I was paying $2,400 per month in child support and insurance. She was living in a house (basically covered by my child support payments) and only had utilities, food, and clothing to provide for the kids. She had a steady job. Had we still been together, we would’ve worked together to survive the lean months and made up the slack when I got another job.

As divorced parents, she was furious at me. She wanted her money. She refused to talk to me about the coming school year and parenting stuff. Her response to every request from me was, “When can I expect my money.” Seriously, it was like a bad cartoon.

Well, when she didn’t get her money after two months and 27 days, she filed the whole thing with the Attorney General’s office. If she couldn’t make me pay her what she was entitled to, maybe the lawyers and police could.

Now, even two years after the AG’s office has driven my credit into the dirt, and really gained nothing for her, she still believes there is a benefit to keeping them in the relationship between us.

Why?

I’ll let her tell you. From an email a month ago.

A fact it would be weird for me to ignore is that involvement of the AG corresponds with XX and XY receiving more support than they did for the year /18 months before the AG was involved. It’s our job as parents to represent the interest of J and C and them having more financial support is in their interest. Until  there is an alternate method to oversee the result of XX & XY receiving a percent of your income for their support, I’d be laying down my obligation to XX and XY if I said no thanks to the strategy that has coincided with you more consistently paying support.

And when I shared with her the payments coincided exactly with my employment. I have to have an income to pay you a portion of it.

What is it you are asking me to rely on to assure you voluntarily will pay? This isn’t a sarcastic question. Help me understand what has changed to make it so you’ll contribute a part of your income no matter your financial situation.

So that’s clear, right. The AG’s office means my contribution to my children’s welfare is compulsory rather than voluntary. What I think we’re seeing is her rationalizing the entire affair that has caused me to lose my house and several employment opportunities. She won’t ever say she’s sorry. But maybe she will eventually see the damage the AG’s involvement continues to have on her children’s lives and mine.

But that’s not likely to happen, now is it?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written April 2015

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DATING METAPHOR: Two Tails Are Wagging or Neither Tail Is Wagging

the dating metaphor

OFF-bostons

From across a 100-foot divide I can tell if a woman is attractive to me. What? What am I looking at, at that distance? Like a dog, from behind, I can only be keying off her overall ratio (hip-waist), the cut and color of her hair, and what she’s wearing. How can those simple details be enough to get a rise out of me?

And when given more time, and more angles, but with about the same amount of information, how can I work myself up into a lather about a woman who I know nothing about?

And when the cutest woman in the world is sitting across from me, and has already asked it I wanted to kiss her (Here and Now) what is it that begins the turning away? A wag is just an initial blush of arousal. But without it, the arousal may never come. I do believe my metaphor about two dogs meeting in a park is quite accurate in assessing the “wag.”

The Dog Dating Metaphor

Two dogs meet in the park
a. either both tails are wagging
b. only one tail is wagging
c. neither tail is wagging

That’s it. It’s that simple. The quicker we can admit the wag or non-wag the quicker we can get to the next step. Relating. But without the WAG there’s no need to take the next step unless you are looking for a running buddy rather than a mate.

Taking the dog metaphor one step further, I believe we are born a certain type of dog. (I think I’m a Boston Terrier.) That’s how we look, how we behave, and it defines a lot about how attractive we are to other dogs. If you’re a poodle and you’re into Boston’s, we’re in business. If you think Boston’s are ugly, or simply don’t get your tail wagging, there’s not much else either of us can do about it. I’m a Boston: tenacious a bit on the muscular side, and very positive and boisterous.

So, seeing the woman with dark hair from 50 paces is very much like spotting one of my preferred breeds across an open field.

And when I get her to the table, even if she’s my type, and she’s interested, there’s got to be the next part: relating. Does she make my brain sizzle? Is our conversation equally balanced? Does she have more going on in her life than work and the gym? Is there a place to slot me in for some activities?

With the smiling woman, cute as a button, and run-obsessed, is there anything else? Is she working on anything extra? Does she have ambitions beyond having fun when she’s not running or working?

I wonder if I’m only going to be interested in artistic women. As a writer, I need someone else who shares a passion for creative expression. Another person who can appreciate the whim of the creative process can hear, “I’m really hitting stride on this project, can we skip tonight?” and not freak out. If the person doesn’t have that burning desire, what does this mean to them? Does it mean I’m not that interested in her? Does it mean that she is not a priority in my life?

But more than that, what is SHE bringing into the relationship? What passions and creative ideas can she bring into the relationship?

If there’s nothing there. The wag simply becomes a wag. “Wow, a very attractive woman.” Just like the woman at the top of the page. (Happily married, I’m sure < I project.) She is a woman with potential. She’s a breed and fit I like.

We are a lot more like animals than we think. By being closer to my animal instincts and listening to my internal Boston Terrier’s heart and compass, I am steering myself towards a partner with both WAG and SWAG.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Note: this post was written May 2013

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The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage

OFF-lunching

True Confessions Of A Cheating Suburban Mom says, ” I am a 40-something woman near the end of my divorce, and I am the one who was unfaithful.” < thus started a popular post on DivorcedMoms.com and Huffington Post’s Divorce section. And just the title irritated me. Sensationalizing cheating seems like a bad idea, sure you might get massive hits and comments, but confessional divorce material needs to have a redeeming quality, if it’s just a tell-all, it’s more of a Hollywood Housewives, rather than material for growth and self-understanding.

+++

Did I really need to read this post? Is this “suburban mom” going to give me some advice that will be helpful in my recovery from infidelity and divorce? Is there something educational or illuminating about this confessional, or is it more of a slowing-down-to-gawk-at-the-car-crash-moment? I’m not interested in the later, and I spend a lot of time trying to pull apart my own dysfunctional mistakes as I move forward as a single dad. But again, this headline and first sentence have me forming my response before I’ve heard her “True Confession.” Even that title starts us off on the wrong foot, with a sensational tabloid headline like that, how can this be an introspective or evolutionary post. I will pause here and read her post… Back in a minute… Please stand by…

+++

“I didn’t consider divorce. What I hadn’t realized is that over time I grieved the end of my marriage while I was still in it. I lay awake in bed at night crying, wondering how it was ever going to get better. He was next to me in bed, never a word to me, never wrapped his arms around me, never asked what was wrong.” – ibid

“I threw myself into my children and work and ignored my own needs. I did this for a very long time and continued to put myself last on my own priority list.” – ibid

“A friendship with another man grew into something that was not tawdry sex, but a renewed sense of happiness and hope. It evolved over time and wasn’t based in lust, but conversation, appreciation and understanding.” – ibid

“If I had known what would happen, and was aware of myself enough to understand what it all meant, I would go back and end my marriage before any infidelity took place.” – ibid

+++

She got it. Okay, I’m relieved the popularity was not based on some drive-by sensationalism. In fact, the author, keeps things very clean and honest. And if this were my ex-wife I would have to applaud her for digging in an figuring out how disconnected she had become from her marriage, herself, and finally waking up when another man showed her the respect and care she was starving for.

The emotional infidelity is probably what signaled the demise of my marriage, but the behavior was evident at the beginning of the relationship.

It’s true, when we marry we have not real idea what’s ahead. When we add children to the mix, all things are changed forever. We’ve got a completely different responsibility at that point. For me, my needs and dreams, took a back seat to supporting and loving my family (both wife and two kids). I was a committed and engaged father. And we experienced some of the moments of joy in our lives that were unimaginable before kids. That will never be lost.

The magic and mystery of your first child is like nothing you can imagine. I can’t begin to tell you what’s going to happen. You have to let it happen, you have to be open to the transformation to take place in your life. But if you dig in deep with your wife and new baby you will find… spirituality unlike anything church can provide. (I’ll leave the religious epiphanies out of this post.) And that awe changes everything you do, and for me, everything I then dreamed of and worked towards. I was transformed even as our son was in the womb being prepared for his journey into my hands at his birth.

The doctor let me catch him as he sprung forth into the light of our lives. AMAZING. I didn’t need to cut the cord, I was already blissed out. And the days and weeks after his arrival passed in a haze of love and bliss and reconstitution. I was blown apart by the arrival of my son. I was father, son, and holy ghost all in one second. And then I had a new mission in life. Be the dad I wanted. And be the father that would nurture and protect this little fella throughout his life.

And that’s not exactly the way it worked out. But that was the plan and the dream and motivation going into the efforts of having a second child. We, as a family, sailed on into the chaos of post 9-11 emotional and economic free fall. And we nested as a new family unit seeking protection and joy. It was a hard and dark time for everyone. And our blissful moments, while still sparkling and plentiful, were also punctuated with depression, stress, financial woes, and eventually relationship strain.

Somewhere in that morass of bliss and brokenness, my then-wife began having lunches with a young work colleague. She wasn’t telling me about these liaisons. And if I look back at how we began our courtship, they too started with lunches. And though I didn’t know it at the time, she was living with a man at the time we began lunching.

So lunching was a gateway thing. And something that she needed to not tell me about. Hmm.

When I was checking the shared computer one afternoon, there was an odd message in the open gmail account. As I was the IT-manager of the family, and this subject line looked like SPAM I clicked on it to delete it with the “filter this type of email” button. But the first sentence was not an offer for New Internet Cable, as I suspected from the subject line. It was a thinly veiled love letter from this young colleague.

She never quite copped to the fact that it was an emotional infidelity. Or that her actions were an obvious exit from the relationship.

To be fair, I don’t think my ex-wife ever slept with this young single male. But she was lunching and exchanging emails with him. As I sat, horrified, I read about the struggles of my marriage, my depression, and my difficulties finding work. These were issues that he was responding to in this email back to my wife. And at the end of the letter, the kicker. “Thanks for showing me the library. It was a great place to talk and get a free cup of coffee. I’m sure I’ll go there often. It was great to see you.”

Boom. I was shot dead at that very moment. The lunches, the sharing of our local library (books and coffee – a huge connection between my wife and myself) and the deep sharing about her husband’s issues. And here was this sympathetic young man, offering his support and future correspondence, as she needed it. And future lunches or coffees in the library down the street in our neighborhood.

I didn’t know how deep this cut me, at the moment. I was suffering through some depressive issues of my own, it’s true, but those hurts and issues should’ve been something my then-wife expressed to me. Or at least in therapy. But not to another man. Not over lunches. And NOT in our local library.

I still visit the library. It’s a wonderful place with coffee by donation, nice books, and comfy chairs. And still, somehow, the ache of that found email that caused our family great heartache and drama. We eventually worked through most of the issues in therapy. She apologized immediately and said she recognized how it could’ve been hurtful to me.

She never quite copped to the fact that it was an emotional infidelity. Or that her actions were an obvious exit from the relationship. And years later she chose to ask for the actual exit. I’m grateful we didn’t split back then, when our kids were 1 and 3. And while we had some wonderful times between then and when we finally split up, the patterns (hidden lunches with another man) were part of her DNA from before we met.

It always surprised me when the secret lunches would come up on random conversations. A comment on her Facebook page from her ex-husband for example. Maybe I should’ve been more diligent. Or more laid back. But the lunches when we started getting reacquainted were quite special and less-than-innocent. If I had known she was living with a man, I probably would’ve cut them off all together. But I didn’t and we continued until she asked me to a Dear John lunch. She said she needed to complete or commit to her relationship with another man before we went any further in our dates.

I might have made a different decision at that point had I been given the truth.

I always thanked her for that. It seemed honest and clean at the time. But what I didn’t know, was that she was living with him while she was lunching with me. I’m sorry, but that’s an infidelity any way you look at it. Unless she was willing to tell both of us, she was not being honest or giving us the ability to make our own decisions about the nature of our relationship.

The emotional infidelity is probably what signaled the demise of my marriage, but the behavior was evident at the beginning of the relationship. I just didn’t have the sense to ask more questions or probe into the depth of this “other man” relationship she mentioned as she was cutting things off with me. We’d had some lunches and one evening date where we kissed quite a bit.

I might have made a different decision at that point had I been given the truth.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written in 2014

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The Evolving Single Dad: Failure to Hopefulness Again

OFF-dadfeet-gmp

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 forever. 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.

When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure, what you learn is how to get back up.

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. 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 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 recommitting to tennis and fitness. I’m starting to sing songs again.

I have been able to not only show them, but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope.

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 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 with 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.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*post was written in 2014

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What Are the Big Relationship Questions After Divorce?

dating a single dad

dating a single dad

What’s sex about?

How do I make a living in this world?

Are intimate relationships worth it?

Lena Dunham is the 25 yo powerhouse who’s show, GIRLS is a hit on HBO. Are she and her cast voicing millennial ennui of our time? The show tries to be shocking. Its stars are quirky, damaged, and beautiful in many different facets. At least we’ve graduated beyond the vapid (shoes, sex, power, self-obsession) view of Sex and the City. And we’ve come a long way from Carrie Bradshaw to the lead in GIRLS played by Ms. Dunham.

So sex is a loaded gun.  We’re all carrying it around in our pocket.

And the questions, I now realize are the same ones I am asking myself. The questions that divorce and recovery have pressed firmly in my face as said, “Get your shit together, or don’t.”

And we know what not getting our shit together looks like. It looks nothing like writing and staring in your own TV series.

So the voice of this younger generation… The same questions. No wonder it’s doing great. Well done, Ms. Dunham and Co. Now let’s see these three biggie questions are pretty important.

What’s sex about?

Is it possible we (I am) are still trying to answer this question? In fact, as Thomas Moore would lead us to believe, the sex in our lives is one of the last un-illuminated mysteries of our lives. It’s still the primary place that can generate elation, ecstasy, horror, passion, obsession. Not all good, not all bad, but mysterious, yes. And taken one step further, Mr. Moore suggests that there is a spiritual component to sex, even if we don’t want to look at it. God is there, in the mystery. God is there in beauty and unexplained fantasies. Not all good. And not all bad.

So sex is a loaded gun. (pun sort of intended) We’re all carrying it around in our pocket. Sometimes we have concealed permits and we keep our deadly weapons hidden. Other times, sometimes with shocking results, we wear our weapons on our sleeve. I think of the 50+ woman in the local grocery store in her yoga pants and perfect hair and perfect teeth. I’m guessing her car is quite new and clean as well. It takes money to be dressed like that, to look like that, mid-day on a work day. For most of us, yoga, midday on a Tuesday is not an option.

If I’m clear and in-tune with my inner dialogue and self-directed goals, it’s easier to enter a relationship and stay true to what’s important to you and YOUR goals.

There she is. A loaded weapon. Sharing every good piece of herself that she can. She may or may not have been to yoga, just now, but she’s looking like she just stepped out of the Yoga Journal, or some “special issue” of Playboy, “The Yogini Babes of the West Coast.”

I don’t think she’s putting out “come hither” vibes. But she is putting out the best that she’s got in a very sexual way. And all the other loaded weapons in the store, men and women, are taking notice. And that gives her some additional lift. Her brightly colored tennis shoes springing just a tad more as she heads for gluten-free.

So *what* is SEX all about?

Hell if I know.

Today I have a few touch points. But of course, tomorrow they will be different.

  1. Sex is essential. In fact is on the base level of Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs. It’s connected with survival. Instincts. Primal, animal, procreative sex. When you don’t have it, you either NOTICE or you don’t. We’re all animals with different wiring.
  2. Sex is fun.
  3. Sex can be messy. (Complications, miscommunications, obsessions, loss, lack of…)
  4. Sex… well it’s somewhere between Miranda in Sex in the City and XXX in Girls. Where you fall on the spectrum, has more to do with your family of origin and how you feel about the loaded weapon you are packing.

How do I make a living in this world?

I guess until you hit the ball out of the stadium, or inherit the unlimited wealth, making a living is going to form a large part of your existence. And your relationship to this task is critical to your self-worth, self-expression, and even your ability to thrive. And the rules and conditions change all the time. You think you have it figured out, and you get laid off. You imagine a big project is coming, and someone dies leaving the signed contract in limbo. There is always change in the world of work.  Learning to take the “change” with balance and integrity, forms a good portion of how you walk in your life. There is nothing abstract about paying bills. And there is nothing casual about missing mortgage payments.

Are intimate relationships worth it?

We deserve to burn brightly. We crave that other flame that will bring additional heat and passion and beauty to our lives.

I think so. But I also know the “relationship” to myself comes before my ability to relate to another person.

“To find someone to love, you’ve got to be someone you love.” — nada surf, concrete bed

When I don’t have my own shit together, so to speak, it gets messy pretty quick. However, if I’m clear and in-tune with my inner dialogue and self-directed goals, it’s easier to enter a relationship (whatever the form: lover, inspiration, ex-wife) and stay true to what’s important to you and YOUR goals.

If you don’t have a clear link with your plans, if you don’t have a PLAN, you are likely to be misdirected by relationships.

There are three kinds of relationships that are most important in my life.

  1. Relationship to self and god. (*my* spiritual program and self-care regimen)
  2. Relationship to my children. (a life-long lesson in humility and blessings)
  3. Relationship to another person.

In my failing marriage, my therapist said to me,”It seems like she’s cut her flame off from you. She is protecting her flame for some reason.”

The metaphor worked for me.

“You should probably let her go. You deserve someone who can stand unshielded with you. Next to your flame. Someone who can burn brightly WITH and BESIDE you.”

Yes. We deserve to burn brightly. We crave that other flame that will bring additional heat and passion and beauty to our lives.

However, without our own flame, we are more likely to be looking for a light. That’s the wrong way to enter into a relationship.

So there you have it. Are relationships where it’s at? YES. And there are THREE of them. We have 100% responsibility for the first one. Relationship to self and god. (Please put whatever *concept* for god in there that fits with your belief.)

We have a lot of control over the initial trust and love of the second one: Relationship to my children. At some point, they will fly under their own power, but at this critical juncture, they need all the guidance and inspiration they can handle.

And on the final one: Relationship to another person. The loaded gun is in our hands. Either we have a clear understanding of our goals and purpose in holding it or we don’t. Either way, the gun is still in our hands. And the gun is always loaded.

Sincerely,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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*this post was written in 2019

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

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ready to be away (a poem)

coffee at the plaza 2021

coffee at the plaza 2021

what are we all trying to escape
this pain
boredom
regrets
sadness
loneliness
loss
why are we always looking for a way out
rather than in?

11-27-21


always arriving (a poem)

father daughter in nyc, nov 2021

father daughter in nyc, nov 2021

leaving and arriving
nyc
at the prettiest time of year
alone
remembering other moments
other lovers
adventures that led me here
as if
this city is a gateway
to next adventures
“oh shit, i’m in ny, what’s about to happen?”
yet, here i am again
technically not alone
but …
wait, i am here to learn a new lesson this time

love is love is love is love
the love you make
that’s all there is
and this love
this companionship
contains everything necessary
for a lifetime of joy and connection
of course
parenting forms an unbreakable bond
where distance and time
bring a deeper affection
easy appreciations
are somehow affirming
our own good hearts
an lessons in learning to love
another person without limits
there is no risk in loving your kids too much
only in missing moments when your attention
could’ve been more supportive
more joyful
in our lives we need that one person
i want to be that one person
who always loves
who invites more love
and gives freely
without expectations
or rewards
this is the reward
this live
love
moment
this then
is
heaven
on
earth

11-27-21 (beginning my 60th year on the planet)


Maybe I Needed An Angry Ex-wife to Push Me: To Feel Anger

my angry ex-wife

my angry ex-wife

She’s got a way of making me mad. Just knowing how she slit the throat of both my marriage and my entire financial life in one selfish move… Fk. Yeah, today, it is easy for me to get in touch with anger and resentment.

How My Ex-wife Did Us Wrong

Divorce is a two-way street. The decision to get a divorce, however, can be made unilaterally by one partner. If you have kids, that decision is going to affect all of you for the rest of your lives. Please take care with your decisions. Don’t just GO FOR IT, because you think you might WIN. (SEE: 7 Strategies for Winning Divorce)  Don’t listen to the lawyer who is selling the “package” divorce to you. It’s not what’s best for the kids. Even if you think you can’t go on, PLEASE, talk to your co-parent BEFORE talking to a lawyer. And if you’re in couples’ therapy, please use that time to bring up your issues BEFORE divorce becomes your escape hatch.

She was just so tired all the time. And mad.

For the last year of my marriage, my then-wife was angry. And it wasn’t passive-aggressive anger. It was a “fuck you” anger that she was unable to control. She couldn’t really be honest in therapy about what was causing her to be so furious. But she obviously got the message to the attorney who advised her to take the deal.

Here’s what the typical divorce package looks like:

  • Mom gets the majority of the kids’ time
  • Dad gets the majority of the kids’ bills
  • Mom gets the house and car
  • If you don’t have kids, the divorce should be easy

The Imbalanced Divorce Laws Are Bad for Everyone

Yes, I lament my single dad getting the shaft deal, but it wasn’t all bad. There was an aspect of the freedom, once the divorce went through, that was refreshing. I recall buying a $100 pair of Oakley sunglasses without having to beg anyone. I didn’t have to negotiate every single purchase I wanted to make. I was free.

I was also burdened with a mortgage-sized child support obligation. (1,600+ per month, plus medical coverage for both kids.) Yes, but… I was free.

What I lost was 70% of my time with my son and daughter. And what my mad ex-wife gained was a weapon she would use against me time and again over the course of the next eleven years. (My daughter turned 18 a year ago, but I paid child support up until June of this year, the end of the school year.) There was a significant imbalance of time and power when she was decreed the Custodial Parent.

She suddenly had an entitlement to the money each month. She kept saying it was “for the kids” as she bought expensive shoes for herself, took trips without the kids, and hired babysitters so she could date during the week. She pawned my kids off on babysitters, rather than give me equal time. If she wanted time off, she should’ve followed through on the 50/50 parenting discussion we began at the onset of the divorce process.

What I Lost in the Divorce

I lost my kids. That was the biggest setback I’ve had in my life. Losing so much time with them, losing even more touch with them as they became driving teenagers. But, primarily, my kids lived with their mom and they visited me. My house was never able to be a home. It was more like a hotel on the weekends my ex-wife had off.

That was really what it felt like to my kids. Their lives continued in the same house, the same school, the same routines, except I was just on an extended (forever) business trip. While their lives went somewhat unmolested, everything about my life was turned to ashes.

I lost my house, my best friend, my neighborhood and friends, my tennis leagues that were a block from the house, my kids. Mainly my kids. But, the reality is, the parent who leaves the kids and house behind has to ACTUALLY START OVER. I still don’t have a proper toolbox. I left that at the house. And it’s taken me 11 full years to have the financial balance sheet to afford even a modest home.

I’m Mad About the Way I Was Treated

Yes, I’m mad. I’m furious. And I’ve been furious since my wife changed the game a month before we filed all of our papers with the family courts. When we had negotiated 50/50 shared parenting, I was unhappy but cooperative. At the end, after the finances had been negotiated, and the holidays, and “joint custody” was the plan, after all that, she decided to go for the divorce package. Fk the dad. Let’s go for the best deal we can get. His problems are no longer mine.

And that would’ve been enough, I suppose. She could’ve celebrated her victory and left me at peace, but that was not what happened. Several years after we were divorced, my employer lost a key client and let me know they would need to catch up on my paychecks over the coming months, as we moved to replace the business. I let my ex-wife know as soon as I got this news. I asked her to be patient as I worked to get caught up. I was not yet behind on my child support, but I imagined the $1,600 payments were going to be a problem very soon after my employer couldnt’ make payroll.

When I was ONE WEEK LATE, my ex-wife filed her case to the Enforcement Division of the Attorney General’s Office with the state of Texas. And boom, my credit was crushed. I was unable to refinance my meager house. I was shit out of luck.

I’m Mad She Would Hurt Her Co-Parent

You can’t swing a heavy bat at your ex-partner without hitting the kids. While my ex-wife must’ve imagined she was hurting me alone, she was also hurting our two children. This is a pattern that would be repeated over the next several years as she also decided to stop including me in any family decisions, even though this was agreed to in our divorce decree. She simply stopped co-parenting. What were my options? Sue her? For what?

My ex-wife crippled my earning power, my buying power, and my livelihood for the last 9 years. In this action she was hurting my ability to buy Christmas presents for my kids, to afford a place big enough to have them over on my weekends. She didn’t care. She was pressing the matter at every opportunity. She, sort of, still does. But, I’ve learned to never ask her for anything. That’s the way she must’ve wanted it. And that’s what she got. But she will understand at some point, the damage she did to her children when she was hoping to crush me.

The dreams of my parenting (during marriage and after divorce) were cast aside by a series of decisions and actions my then-wife and ultimately ex-wife chose. She did this. I’ve got my freedom, yes, and the love of my children. Someday, I hope she gets the recoil of the weapon she fired at her former partner and father of her children.

Namasté,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce

At the time of my divorce my ex wanted primary custody. I wanted joint custody. She wanted the majority of the children’s time. I wanted 50/50. In my understanding of parenting and what my kids needed, I was certain that our roles were equally important. For some reason, probably financial, she did not agree. And in our fair state of Texas, she was awarded the custody just as she knew she would be.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent.

So, for the last seven years from the time my daughter was six and my son was eight, she’s had the responsibility and pleasure of parenting my kids two hours for every one hour I get. Back in the early months and years of the divorce, this was devastating. I never got enough time with my kids. I longed for them twice as often and twice as long as she did. And in those tender years, our kids really needed both of us. My son needed his dad more than he was getting him. My daughter craved my hugs and happy lifestyle. But that’s the way the divorce went down.

It’s interesting today, that my now-ex is much more interested in arranging a 50/50 schedule. She complains how exhausted she is from running the kids to all their activities as a single parent. Well, she is engaged, but it’s a separate house, separate living quarters kid of engagement. And I imagine she is not lying when she says it’s hard.

And there is a part of me that still misses my kids during the 2-for-1 hours they are with her. But today, as teenagers, the quality and type of relationship with your kids is very different. Back then I wanted to teach my son to ride a bike, I wanted to take my daughter fishing more, I wanted to expand their horizons and let them see and be with their happy father. I didn’t get as much of an opportunity to do that. But back then it was a different type of parenting.

Today, as teenagers, my kids are even more interesting and self-driven, but they are also a lot more work. Most of the parenting activity in the teen years is driving them from place to place, waiting for them and their friends to get ready, and feeding and clothing them. It’s not as rewarding. It’s still engaging and important, but the “kid years” are really the golden age of parenting and attachment parenting specifically.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent.

My life is also very different. A bit over a year ago I started dating a woman who quickly captured my heart and imagination for the future. Today we are happily engaged and living together in a modest house that has two rooms in the back for my kids. And I relish every hour I have with them. But I don’t necessarily want more carpool and cafeteria shifts. That’s the hard work, low return, parenting duty that makes up the majority of parenting teenagers.

What I am able to give my kids now, in the reduced-dad role I was given, is a happy, energetic and always positive parent. I am more than happy to carpool them. I thrive and excel at making them breakfast before school and getting them to their appointments on-time. It’s not a chore, it’s a pleasure. I’m guessing, my overwhelmed ex is asking for 50/50 parenting now because the mundane teen years are harder and less interactive than before.

I lost the golden years of parenting. My son is a bit less masculine at times and he still doesn’t know how to ride a bike. He doesn’t want to learn, either. That’s okay. We have the relationship we have as a result of those years of absence. All those years where their mom tried to fill in the dad blanks. But I was not there. And I was given that share of the parenting duties by her selfishness and greed.

I’d love more time with my kids. But… I am okay with the time I have with my teenagers. In the time I do have with them I know I am the best dad they could ever have. And they are not begging to go 50/50 or anything. Why would they want things any different? It’s my ex that wants the change and today, unfortunately for her, she’s got the Standard Possession Order (SPO) she argued for and won. She’s got the kids about 2 hours for every 1 of mine.

Today, in the long tail days of parenting, it makes me smile. I’m still missing my kids just as much as I was as a newly divorced dad, but I’m missing a different role. I can’t get back that early dad role. They are grown and growing now and have different needs. There are different ways I can be an influence on their lives. And one of my greatest gifts is showing them how to live a happy and fulfilling life.

Now, I need to go wake one of my teenagers up so we can have breakfast together and talk about the world.

Respectfully,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women find fulfilling relationships. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.

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image: my crew, nyc, spring break, the author, creative commons usage


Divorce Recovery: Loving Yourself Better, So You Can Eventually Love Again

maybe the lover IS the goal

OFF-lovehandles

Getting right with yourself after divorce is the biggest challenge you’re going to face. All the mechanics of divorce, will eventually take care of themselves. But the emotional fallout might be a bit tougher. I often rely on the language and support of the 12-steps to recover my balance when I’m under the rock of depression or sadness.

And for me, the biggest part of that recovery was regaining some self-confidence and self-love. I felt defeated and broken when I walked out of my marital home and into the world of single dads everywhere. I knew the loss that was coming, now and for the rest of my life I would not have unlimited access to my kids and their hopes and dreams. That loss is still the hardest part for me. I used to love going in late at night and appreciate (give thanks) for their beating and healthy little hearts. Now I can’t to that on most of the nights.

But the areas in me that needed healing were much more personal.

  • I didn’t feel sexy or desirable
  • My extra weight felt like a fat-sumo-wrestling-suit
  • The sadness made it hard to exercise at all
  • My initial attempts at dating felt desperate and disconnected
  • Loss of all touch and closeness (except for friends and my kids)
  • Loss of the hope that I would ever be with another woman
  • My mental processes were so wrapped up in ruminating the past, that I felt slow and unintelligent most of the time

And at the deepest core of my pain, I wasn’t sure my body, my soul, was worth all the effort it was going to take to resurface and regain my position as a strong father. A strong single father. At a few dark moments, it just didn’t seem worth it. But then I remembered my dad, and what the loss of him in my early twenties did to me, and I soldiered on.

I go from moments of feeling fit and healthy to feeling fat and uninspired, often in the course of one day. And it’s not that I’m fat one day and not-fat the next. It’s more about how I see and talk to myself.

Today, four-ish years after I walked out on my kids and married life (not my idea) there are still points of pain and sadness, but overall I’d have to say I’ve recovered most of my energy and enthusiasm. I still miss my kids on the nights they are not here with me, but we’re managing. All of us are managing.

Today I read a piece about how the human body ages over time, written from a very healthy and zen perspective. And while I don’t do all these things, I wanted to share them, and the source article, in hopes that you might find some inspiration for your own journey. You are worth it. Whatever you have to go through to get back on top of your game, whatever it is, DO IT.

Here are the  8 Things I Learned from 50 Naked People – published in The Elephant Journal.

breath in - the off parent

So let’s spend a brief moment together, breathing *that* in. I could spend a long time trying to absorb these wonderful affirmations into my own self-image.

The physical body needs love: Your body doesn’t lie.

What are the things that need healing around your body image? I’ll share mine.

The thing you’re the most embarrassed about: my size. Notice I didn’t say weight. I go from moments of feeling fit and healthy to feeling fat and uninspired, often in the course of one day. And it’s not that I’m fat one day and not fat the next. It’s more about how I see and talk to myself. And I’m working on it, on just loving whatever I am at the moment. Today those emotions are more tripped up by something I ate or bloating, rather than some massive increase in my girth.

And what I can do about it:

  1. A better diet (not dieting)
  2. Fewer rich indulgences (they tend to breed next indulgences: frappucinos, ice creams)
  3. More activity (doing what I love)
  4. More energy from healthy activities; 4
  5. Emotional boost and joy from being in a relationship (when that happens).

I’ve got a gentler way of talking to my 50-year-old self. I’m still easily influenced and sometimes angered by fat obsession. And I’ve never really felt fit enough since I left high school hyper athletics: I lettered in three sports and was always driving myself to win.

Now, of course, the matches are less important, and it’s the game that makes me happy. Even losing, I can appreciate the skill and performance of the other players. (Tennis is my passion.) But I love playing. I love seeing a player who has it all and disassembles my game with several well-placed shots at critical moments during the match. It’s a chance to watch my own emotions and my own reaction to winning (when I win) and losing (when I get creamed). And that too is about balance.

So I lost at marriage. And here on out I have to learn to be a single dad to my two kids. So what. Sometimes the game doesn’t go the way you want it to, so you move on, try something different, and give up only after the last point is played.

So my embarrassment about my fatness is really leftover shit. I’m not *that* fat. I’ve been much fatter. And healthy, for me, is not obsessing about fit or fat, but focusing on eating better and playing more tennis. And knowing that we’re not getting any younger when I look back at some college photos of me when I was (at that time) feeling quite fat, and noticing how great I looked.

I’m guessing if we could look back on our “now” selves from our “much older” selves, we’d admire our energy and vigor. We would probably not say how fat we were. We might, but those are the tapes I am eliminating from my vocabulary, both inner and outer. So much of what we say to ourselves is mean. If you say it out loud, you might hear how to be more supportive of your process, as you would be supportive of a friend.

I’m not trying to become a model. I’m not really trying to call in some much younger women who are super-fit and perhaps more focused on super-fit guys. I’m not going to be that guy. But I am aware of things more tangible, like my energy, my optimism, and creativity, my blood pressure. All those signs are GREAT. What more can I ask for?

Perhaps a partner who’s on the same trajectory of self-love and healing from fat-shaming. We’re not fat. We’re where we are. And we’re here to love ourselves, and with luck, others.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: love handles are whorey handles, laura g, creative commons usage


Negotiating Love and Desire: Dating as a Healing Journey

Learning about Love

There’s a great moment in the first season of HBO’s House of Cards, where the young female reporter is talking to a date as they get out of a taxi. “Oh, you thought you were going to get laid?” she said to the young man. “I’m sorry, but if I was going to fuck you, you’d already know.”

Crushing.

Women, do you know? And if you know, could you let us men know?

It seems like navigating sex is a huge disconnect between men and women. Men are like hunters, we’re trained to track, approach, and go for the close. We are hunting for sex, in some form or another, even if we’re just out for a date. At some level, we are negotiating for sex. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it, but there it is.

The Off Parent: Dear ladies

Women, it is said, are negotiating for love. But it has been revealed lately, that women desire sex with the same hunger as men. However, the social morals look down upon aggressive and libidinous women. And as the idea goes, rather than going to a bar to pick up a man, they go across the street to get batteries.

“So where are we?” It’s kind of embarrassing to ask. It makes us both feel like youngsters. And if it’s a miss, it really makes us men feel small when we put it out there and get shot down. So can we come to an understanding on this? Can you let us know sooner? Can you telegraph the signals more clearly? I’m doing my best, as a representative of my male counterparts, to be clear.

It’s like the end of the first date, the “hello” date, when you are wrapping up… If you have to ask, perhaps the signals have been mixed. When the YES is big enough, you don’t have to ask. There’s a feeling between the two of you, that says, “What’s next?” At least that’s what you hope for.

I’m less experienced at the YES.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: Love, Juliana Coutinho, creative commons usage


Trusting Your Unreliable Ex: As a Single Dad I Had No Other Option

OFF-stones

The course of divorce is long and winding. You have good weeks, good days, maybe even good periods, but something is bound to come up. At some point during my 5.5 years of being a divorced dad and co-parent to two great kids, my ex-wife decided that rather than negotiate and work with me on the money part of our contract, she would file everything with Attorney General’s office with the state of Texas. I’m sure, somewhere, she thought she was doing the right and responsible thing.

That action has caused repercussions in my life, chronicled here in this blog and thought the time since being listed as a dead beat dad. Not because I was refusing to pay, but because I had lost my job and was unable to pay child support and keep a roof over my head. But at that time, she was not concerned or even considerate of me, the father of her children. She wanted her money. And some part of her afraid mind made her feel threatened enough to turn me over to the state to deal with.

The consequences of that action now carry a weight in our relationship that is hard for me to ignore. I should forgive and forget, right? I mean, “in the best interest of the children” I should always strive to be positive and accepting of my ex-wife and her requests. But there’s this sword that’s kind of over my head. I suppose if she got mad she could get the police to arrest me and put me in jail for back child support. It’s not that I’m hiding the money. It’s not that I diverted any of my income to extravagant luxuries, or that I squandered away money that should’ve gone to her. No, she’s simply entitled to the money, due to the contract we agreed to when we got a divorce, and she wants the fucking money.

I tried, and am trying to work out the details yet again with her. But now we don’t have any way of negotiating between us. If we wanted to change anything it would require lawyers and more money. And yet we have to continue parenting together. We have to put the loving parent face on for our kids. And we have always agreed to keep money disagreements out of the parenting work and out of our kid’s lives.

And yet, there it is. I have a huge black mark on my credit that hinders me in getting a car, a job, a rental house. And I won’t get that mark off my name and credit score until I have paid her in full, all the child support she is owed, past, present, and future. But here’s the rub. That was ALWAYS my intention. I have never attempted to hide or keep secrets from her regarding my work or my commitment to pay. Yet, in spite of my pleadings with her, and in spite of my promises and agreement to be more transparent about my financial plans, she brought in the state to account for my delinquency.

Maybe it was a punishment and she was mad. But today it gives us no room to discuss other options for payment, or delays or transfers to other things that the kids need money for, like summer camp. Nope, the state knows the divorce decree and any changes will require legal fees. So I’m a little stuck. When she said something like, “And we can talk about reducing the child support accordingly,” as it relates to the story below, I have to wonder… Does she get it? Does she register it was a mistake and now limits us and severely limits me for the next 6 – 7 years?

I don’t know. But it puts a bad taste in my mouth when she asks for changes and hints that we could offset some of the money I owed. Because we BOTH KNOW that THAT IS NOT GOING TO HAPPEN. She’s happy to let the clock roll and her money clicks along, rain or shine, regardless of what job I have or if I am able to have a place to live. Again, I understand her priority to protect and provide for the kids, but their OUR kids. And my health and welfare are also in the equation when measuring out the relationship between the four of us. She obviously doesn’t see it this way.

+++

My ex asks for things, and she’s good at it. She’s always asked for what she wanted, regardless of the cost, regardless of the consequence. I think the divorce happened a lot along with those patterns as well. And were at it again.

So, it’s easy to ask for an adjustment in the schedule. And two years ago when she was dating a new man I agreed to alter the parenting plan to her alternating weekends so they matched up with his weekends. I didn’t need to do it. I actually lost my occasional double weekend in the bargain. But there was no reason I could think of to deny her request, except to be mean.

And more recently, she’s been asking to switch up the parenting schedule in a big way. To go on a more “week-on-week-off” schedule. The reason, she says, is to alleviate the multiple house changes each week for the kids. And yes, there is some frustration about the constant moving, but I don’t think that’s the real reason she’s asking for the change. It could be. But I’ve come to be skeptical of her good faith requests, they usually pack something underneath.

Now, I don’t think she’s suggesting this new schedule to be mean, or to upset the growing relationship in my life. But I also, don’t fully trust WHAT she is asking for.

Here’s my take. She’s tired of having the majority of the school morning parenting. It’s hard. I get it. She’d like a break. She’d like me to take more school mornings. Just as she’d like me to be more attentive, more responsible, and better at helping out. “Wait, that sounds like when we were married.”

In the bargain, that I cut in the closing days of my marriage, I agreed to the standard possession order (SPO) and non-custodial parent role. I was asking for 50/50 parenting back then. But that would’ve been a very different outcome. As it stands, I am obligated to pay her 1,150 per month in child support for the remainder of my kids pre-18 years.  And for that hefty stipend, I get less time with my kids. I guess so I can go earn the extra money.

Okay, that’s the way it is. And then she felt it necessary to file with the Attorney General’s Office to enforce the child support, even though I was talking to her and never trying to withhold any money that I had. So that’s put us in a difficult (correction) that’s put me in a difficult situation. She’s owed the money if I have a job or not. She’s owed that money, AND I’m responsible for the kids’ insurance as well.

She even hinted that we might consider a reduction in payments if we went to this new schedule. (Something she’s never mentioned before. Even as she’s hiding behind the AG’s enforcement.)

It’s hard to trust your ex-partner when they have done so many things to hurt you. When they have put the state’s attorney on you that allows for zero flexibility and zero negotiation. So as far as that money is concerned, it’s hers and the state will extract it from me and tack credit crushing levy against me until I’m caught up again.

So in that light, she’s asking to get fewer mornings as the custodial parent. She wants the money, the 50/50 schedule, and it’s really because of the kids.

I’m not so sure and I’m even considering giving back the off Fridays. If it’s about the kids switching, we can reduce that. But if it’s about the school day hardships, well, she’s already taken most of that early school years from me, so she can deal with more of the teenage years as well. I mean, as long as I’m paying for her to handle more of the kid care, at least I should get that benefit.

Yes, it is because of the kids. Yes, I would like to make my kids happier about transferring from our two houses less. But there are ways to do this that don’t involve me taking on more days in some vague promise of reducing my child support payments. And I’m standing firm that this request is about the kids and her. And my response will be most appropriately focused on the kids’ request rather than hers.

It’s hard to keep up the positive attitude with so much sludge under the bridge, but that’s the only choice I have. But when she is requesting a major schedule change, this time I’m going to remember MY requirements, and also what’s best for me.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Ties That Bind: My Father’s Day Wish for My Son

OFF-suiting

My son has really started getting into dressing formal. He’s considering a career in fashion now, as an alternative to his math and engineering mad-skills. As he graduates middle school and begins 9th grade next year, I am excited that he has a clearly defined personality. Distinctly different from me. (grin)

Often when we go out these days I am in my casual shorts and knit golf shirt while he is sporting a suit jacket and long pants and some sort of formal shoe that would’ve set him back $300 if not for the Nordstrom’s sale. People comment on his style, “Wow, you’re quite a dresser.” And they turn to me, “Looks like you taught him well.”

We both smile. “Um… I didn’t teach him anything. He’s teaching me.”

To all fathers and sons, enjoy the time you have with one another, celebrate your differences, and recognize any and all shared enthusiasms.

A few months age he discovered my box of ties. I haven’t worn a tie for work in a long time. (Mother’s day and Easter are often the only holidays which cause me to wear a choak collar.) My son, on the other hand, is stoked about ties and three-piece suits and Italian designers I’ve never heard of. All of the men working Nordstrom’s men’s section know him by name. He loves that. I’m a bit proud, if only a bit confused about where he got his flare for dressing up.

When my father died I was 21 years old. I remember the idea that I would be inheriting my watch collection and some of his shirts and person things. I’m sure his pants and shoes would not have fit. I had the idea that it would be cool to wear my dad’s monogrammed button downs from time to time. His new wife, had other plans, and my brother and I never saw any of my father’s personal belongings. The Oyster Perpetual was given to a boyfriend days after my father passed. “Your dad gave it to Bob,” wicked step-mom said. “Before he died.” Um, yeah…

So when my son co-opted several of my ties the other day, I was sort of proud. And I have a lot of very cool designer ties that I’m sure he will appreciate later. Today they are too radical. Taste’s change.

I suppose I collected them when I was the new business lead for an interactive advertising agency. I had several ties known as “fuck you ties.” They were so loud that only a “creative” in the agency could get away with them. The account guys had to be much more in alignment with our potential customer. As a creative I had leeway to show some flair.

Today my son is more along the lines of Alex from Family Ties. Who knows where his politics will eventually land.

The other day he told me he was getting into “fuck you socks.” We smiled.

My daughter’s friends, two years younger, are quite taken with him. Sometimes when they come over to our house I hear them squeal, “You’re brother is the suit guy?” And they erupt in a cackle of laughter.

I wondered if he was going to get picked on by the jocks or uber-popular kids in his class. But it turns out he has mapped out his own niche within 8th grade and he is given wide allowance for his eccentricity. He’s very smart in Latin, Math, and orchestral violin. So he’s got a quiver full of skills and interests. His suiting is just another proud brand he has developed. Sort of the snappy geek.

I am honored to have such a cool son and to be able to explore our relationship and masculine ideas as he continues to grow up. My dad’s influence really ended when I was about seven as he left the family house in divorce and began his alcoholic descent with a vengeance.

My son is a dapper dresser. And while I was recently planning for a vacation trip to NYC I took him with me as a fashion consultant. He really wanted a sweater we saw ($45) he settled for some fuck-you socks for $8.

I would’ve liked to have worn some of my father’s ties or dress shirts. For my son to have the same privilege he’s going to need to work on his chest and shoulder size quite a bit.

To all fathers and sons, enjoy the time you have with one another, celebrate your differences, and recognize any and all shared enthusiasms.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Dear Ex-Wife, You’re Missing the Point

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 8.18.40 PM

Three years ago when my ex-wife tossed our child support issue to the Attorney General’s office I had no idea the world of hurt I was about to get slapped around with. She was doing “what she thought was best for the kids” by making me into a dead beat dad in the eyes of the state of Texas.

Even though:

  • I told her I had lost my income due to a client loss (I was working for a small business at the time and the one client was 90% of my income)
  • I told her I would get caught up as soon as I could, and that I was not looking to reduce the amount owed
  • She agreed that I was not hiding income from her
  • She didn’t need the money, she had a nice job and the house was nearly paid for

But that wasn’t reason enough for her to delay her bomb drop for more than a month. Somehow she thought that filing with the AG’s office was like adding an accountant to the equation, so THEY could keep track of what I owed vs. what I paid. Of course, my ex was an excel wiz so she was doing models and spreadsheets herself, but maybe the state’s attorneys would help.

A week before Wells Fargo refused my restructuring offer, she said, “Sorry about the timing, but I just filed with the AG’s office.”

She thought that she would get me back in line sooner if the law was involved. Well, in theory I guess that would’ve happened if I had disappeared or was trying to not pay her at all. That’s what the Attorney General’s office is for. Dead beat dads skip out on their kids, refuse to pay, demand paternity testing, and basically try to not pay for anything for their kids.

In our case, upper middle-class white folks with 99 problems… But my commitment and stated plan was 100% in compliance with the law. But, and it’s a big but, I had lost my client and income for an unknown length of time. I worked daily on new business, on getting a job (It was going to take me about 100k a year to pay the child support and live in an apartment.) and told her she would get a percentage of everything I made. It wasn’t good enough for her.

Today, three years later, I can’t get a used car loan on my own. Unless I’m willing to pay 19% interest. I’ve been turned down on two job offers once they ran my credit as part of the background check. And while I didn’t get foreclosed on, I had to sell my only, my post-divorce house, in a hurry. I did make $5,000 on the deal. And, of course, she wanted her cut of that as well.

Did she think what it would do to me? No. Did she think it was going to get my checks coming regularly even when I didn’t have a job? I don’t know. Did she think of the best interest of her children when she threw the father of her children to the debt collectors know as the OAG? (Office of the Attorney General) Absolutely not.

Today I ask her if she’d consider getting the AG’s office out of our pants. She says, “I’m not there yet.” I say, “Did you know they take a 10% fee out of the child support payments I make?” She says, “Are you sure of that?” I say, “You only get money when I make money, I don’t have any assets. You’re living in the only asset we had.” She said, “Help me understand why I only started getting paid after the AG’s office was in the picture?”

It’s because I didn’t have a job. When I got a job I started paying you 45% of every dollar I made. For the care and feeding of my kids. Excuse me, our kids.

I ask, “How do I know what the money is going to?” She says, “It’s none of your business.”

When your ex throws you to the wolves, what sympathy does she deserve? How do you maintain a civil relationship “for the kids?” I don’t know the answer, but you just do. I have never mentioned to my kids that their mom was the reason we lost the house and had to move in with grandma for 9 months. I never told the kids that the reason my bank account was frozen twice was due to their mom’s actions, and the AG’s aggressive actions to recover “her money.”

I could be mad about it. I could do things to get even. But I won’t. I have to rise above the blame and “imagine” that she’s doing the best she can. That keeping me in the dog house does something for them. Perhaps it makes her feel better. Demonstrates how childish I was. How I was irresponsible.

All I think it does is fuck me on a daily basis when I go looking for a job, try to rent an apartment, or rent a car. All I think it does is give her a stiff spike stiletto heel on my neck.

Oh well, in 5 years this will all be over. I’ll still owe her the money, but I’ll be paying her back as fast as I can. Cause, “it’s the kids money.” Um, yeah, right.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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I’m Sorry for All the Things I’ve Done and Said…

screen-shot-2016-10-19-at-7-01-41-am

…but you’re out of hand these days.

I’ve tried negotiating with my ex-wife. I get delays, abusive emails, and a lot of bs. I’ve tried offering ideas about coparenting with my ex-wife. I get rejection, reasons why it won’t work, or ignored. I’ve asked for facetime where we could work some of our “issues” out and I get excuses, I get her new husband instead, I get a lot of nothing.

My ex-wife treats me like a misbehaving child. I’m in time out.

So I rail. And I feel good about it. And I feel bad about it. I mean, she’s the mother of my children, how can I be talking (writing) so disparagingly about her?

Well, for the first part, she’s a royal b****. Second, she’s decided not to deal with me but to let the state of Texas deal with me. (She turned our relationship over to the AG’s office a few years ago, to enforce her decree.) I guess she forgets I agreed to the terms of our divorce. I guess she forgets that only death can separate me from my debt to her. I guess she forgets that if we’d gone 50/50 like I wanted, there would be no child support, we’d have had to pay our own way. I guess she forgets.

But I don’t think she forgets, that’s a cop-out. She hates. She seethes. And she’d rather not see me for fear for lightening up on the angry legal approach she takes to everything I ask about. I’m not asking for much. I’d like the lien on my credit report to be lifted, so I don’t show up to potential employers as a deadbeat dad. I’d like her to acknowledge that the AG’s office was a bad idea and to make the single phone call that could end their intrusion into our lives. But she won’t.

She’s convinced, and she tells me from time to time, that they provide a service to us. They provide the accounting that we’d eventually have to come up with. They provide an easy way to pay her the child support. She’s convinced that having them in our lives is a good idea. Still. She still wants the arm of the law and the lawyers of the state on her side. I don’t know how to respond. So I learn not to respond. I learn to respond here. I learn to let it out in a healthy way (anonymously) that won’t damage her or my kids in any way.

Am I right? I don’t know. Does it feel right? Sometimes. Do I need an outlet for this rage that comes up when she pulls one of her dickish moves? Absolutely.

I’ve developed a term for what she is. The term was brought into use when referring to a new girlfriend’s mean ex. The dickish ex. That’s what I’ve got: a dickish ex.

She knows she’s being dickish. She knows that sending her new husband to meet with me rather than meet with me herself is a dickish and cowardly move. Well, the AG’s office has a surprise for her. In our child support negotiations it’s only going to be me and her and the AG employee. She’s going to have to tell the case worker why she’s being a dick. (grin)

I’m sorry for the things I say here. I’m also happy I have this outlet so I don’t take my frustrations out in some other way. To my dickish ex I give my middle finger. To the AG’s office I say, “I will comply to the letter of the law, as I always have.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Kids, I Did Not Choose to Leave You Alone In the Divorce

screen-shot-2016-10-03-at-11-03-18-amDear Kids,

I’m writing this because I want you to know the divorce was not my idea. I did not choose to walk out the door to the house for the last time, I was asked to leave. While this may not mean much to you now that you are older, when you were 5 and 7, it was a big deal. And I couldn’t help but feel sad when I could not tell you the truth. It was not “our” idea. The divorce was against my wishes.

Today, it’s fine. We’re all friends. But back then, back when you were such vulnerable little kids, it was heartbreaking. I’m not saying we should’ve stayed together. As you could not have been aware, things were tough, things were unhappy, things were no longer joyful, more we had moved into a survival marriage. I agree, today, that’s no place to be. So in many ways I thank your mom for the divorce, but when it was taking place, I fought her, I fought for you guys, I fought to keep us together.

Of course, I can’t really come out and tell  you this today, either. I mean, I don’t want to damage your relationship with your mom. And, as they say, it’s water under the bridge. So why mention it?

The action of leaving the marriage was devastating to all of us. And one person made that decision and enacted the next path before we had a chance to even understand what was happening. It was May of 2010 and by August of 2010 it would be official, final, signed and delivered. And I would no longer be there to tuck you into bed every night. I would be living with my sister and looking for a new job and a place to live, once I had that new job. You’re mom was only concerned with you guys and your happiness. And as she should’ve been, she was letting me fend for myself. But I have to tell you, it was rough out there. Back then, there were days I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

Of course, you know I suffer from depression from time to time. And the divorce brought this illness up in spades. Perhaps you were given this “illness” as the reason we were no longer together, or the reason I was living with my sister and no longer in the house. But that’s not really the full truth. Depression had been a part of our lives before and was a struggle both parents weathered from time to time. So it was no reason for divorce. It was a symptom of the divorce. And the divorce triggered the biggest bout of depression I’d ever experienced. I was destroyed.

What I want to say to you today, as you are now 13 and 15 years old, is things broke up because your mom decided she needed to do something different. She chose divorce. I was fighting to stay together. Today we are better off for having gotten divorced. You are stronger, less dependant, and more resilient. We’ve gone through some tough times together. But I want you to know, regardless of how it felt, or what you were told, the divorce was NOT “our” idea, it was her idea and I was forced to go along with it. What you’ll learn as you enter into relationships of your own, it takes two people to have a relationship. When one person wants out, that’s it, game over.

This post is on my anonymous divorce blog. I still protect you and your mom from the full brunt of my anger. Why? Because it’s the right thing to do. Nothing would come of giving you this piece of information now. Perhaps when you are older it will be a conversation we can have. But today, I just wanted to record, for the future, that the divorce was not my idea. Ever.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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When You’re Trying to Co-parent with a Narcissist

off-childrunning

The truth is, for a divorce to happen, you both had to do something wrong. While at first, you might feel like the splitting of your marriage is a failure, I’m here to testify that it can also be seen, eventually, as the best thing that ever happened to you.

In my marriage, to the mother of my children, I didn’t know it at the time, but I was married to someone who has a pretty miserable view of the world. THEIR time was always more compromised, more valuable, and more stressful than anyone else around them. Now, divorced from this woman, I can gain some perspective of what I was dealing with while trying to keep our marriage together.

While married there always seemed to be some problem.

  • Not enough money
  • House not clean enough
  • Too busy and too tired for sex
  • Parenting routines were considered chores, to be taken care of rather than enjoyed

I wasn’t this way. I was raised with money as a given. I was always confident in my earning ability, even after being let go from a job. I cleaned house when things bugged me, but often they did not bug me. Sex was important to me and felt like one of the spiritual and emotional ways two people can bond. And the kids were always a gift, a blessing, and the routines, always cherished. I wasn’t one for complaining about how tired I was, or making excuses for any of it because I was soooooo busy. So much busier than you, in fact.

Needless to say, my then-wife and I came from different universes emotionally. I was mostly happy. I woke up each morning with a clean slate and eager anticipation of what the day might bring. She woke up with a chip on her shoulder, and usually, it had something to do with me. I was the cause of her unhappiness.

Today, six years later, she’s remarried to a man with “plenty of money.” And she’s still not happy. She’s got new shoes, new gadgets for her house, and new handbags, but she still has the resting bitch face all the time. All. The. Time. She’s expressing how she’s not happy about life in general, and me specifically.

Take the back to school night at my kid’s 10th-grade year of high school. Sitting in the classes listening to my son’s teachers talk about their program and their expectations for our kids, my ex-wife was opening her bills on the desk in front of her. Opening her mail, in my son’s back to school night? What could be more self-centered? I’m sure she had good reason to be so rude to everyone in the class including the teachers. I’m sure she’d just been too busy to do it at any other time. But why was she even at the back to school night, I wondered, as I shook my head in disbelief.

I’m certain I didn’t understand why she would do such a thing. I’m sure I wondered about her boundaries, and what she felt was appropriate vs. necessary to get HER schedule moved a few squares ahead. I was livid and cordial. And somewhere I was also noting my superior social skills and her lack of a clue or care for all the people surrounding her.

And just this week, she also started the kids on a very expensive regime of Invisalign braces. Now, under the “joint custody” rules she can not make these kinds of decisions without talking to me. If I’m going to be responsible for 50% of extraneous expenses, I need to be consulted BEFORE the expense is incurred. I found out about them because one of my kids was complaining about the braces. He apparently did not know why he was enrolled, and how he might get unenrolled if he objected. She didn’t share the important details with him either. Typical narcissist: doing what matters to them without much attention given to those around them who will be affected by their actions.

Okay, so my wife is still unhappy, though “happily married,” as she claims. She’s got plenty of money (both from my child support payments, but more so from her new wealthy husband) and she’s not happy. And she’s still acting out of spite towards me, and that spite sometimes includes the kids in her range of fire. She’s a piece of work.

Most of all, though, she’s still not happy. Not about anything, that I can tell. All of her correspondence with me about the braces were filled with “I can’t fucking believe you are reacting like this” to “I didn’t think you were interested in things like the kid’s health, or their dental appointments.” See, shes’ still mad that 70% custody means she has 70% of the doctor’s appointments too.

She’s just not happy.

I am happy.

I am happy to have the perspective that now shows me it was not my actions or failures that made her unhappy and destroyed our marriage. She’s just this way. Somehow life is just a little more difficult for her. Somehow her chores and her time are more burdensome than the rest of us. And for that, she’s not happy. Not ever. Sure, she can smile on demand, but generally, her expression and outlook, at least while we were married, was ANGRY. Doesn’t she work with this in therapy?

Glad to be in my own skin, my own environment, and a new relationship with someone who sees life from the “half full” side of life, every single morning that we wake up together. My ex-wife’s continuous displays of contempt for me, and her repeated aggressions in emails and texts, just expose just how self-centered she is. It’s too back for my kids that she is this way. My son is a bit more cynical than I would like. But he’s doing fine in spite of it. And god knows I haven’t been the 100% rockin father that I wanted to be. But they do know and acknowledge that I have always done my best and stayed available and close to them. I can’t say the same for their mom. But maybe that’s just how she is.

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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#dad #divorce #depression * telling my side of the divorce story

missing my kids after divorce

missing my kids after divorce

“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 plain 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 soothe 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 received 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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What I’m Missing Today as a Divorced Dad

OFF-2016-sleeping

It’s been nearly seven years since my divorce and on average that means I’ve missed 2/3 of my kids lives since then. I’m not depressed about it, but the sadness does occasionally creep up on me on the nights they are with their mom. I fought for 50/50 parenting but was shown the law book as an excuse for doing the right thing. If you parent 50/50 both mom and dad should have equal access to the kids after the divorce.

What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce.

For me the loss of my kids and being thrust into alone time was the most traumatic part about divorce. We had built a happy (somewhat) home and I was determined to keep it together. And sure, I was keeping it together for the kids, but probably I was holding on to a crumbling marriage because I didn’t want to be alone again. I loved the routines: 1. home from school; 2. homework and play; 3. dinner; 4. bath; 5. bedtime stories. My kids were young when we split. And the harsh interruption of this family dance was almost too much to take. I survived. We all survived. But for the most part, their lives stayed the same and my life was upended and cut off from all I knew.

It’s odd when you leave your house for the last time, all the little things you’re never going to remember to ask for, but you leave behind. In my case, I didn’t have anywhere to move to, so I moved in with my sister while I tried to get my act together again. So 95% of all my stuff stayed in the house. At some point, a few months in, she and one of her girlfriends packed all of my clothes and belonging into boxes and moved my material corpse into the garage. I’m grateful I didn’t have to do it. But it also felt like I was being buried, or put in my place.

I was fortunate to have a sister in town who happened to have a mother-in-law plan that worked out for me and my kids. While I didn’t have any privacy, my room was next to the media/tv/gaming room, I did have a place to sleep. And the room was big enough that over the summer the kids could spend their dad-weekends with me. So, I didn’t have it to bad. Or should I say, it could’ve been a lot worse.

But seeing my kids and ex-wife in the house, with all my stuff, continuing on with life as usual. It was like “daddy was on an extended business trip.” But I would never be back.

A few nights ago, on a typical kid-free Monday (M-T-W nights were always kid-free) I was feeling sad and I tried to examine what was making me ache. Again, this is seven years later. It was easy to identify that I missed my kids. Their laughs and stories about their day at school. Getting to hear what’s going on in their lives. But it was deeper.

In my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about.

What I was missing is the tender years, the developmental years when they are really kids and really attached. That’s what I lost 2/3 of. That’s the pain of divorce. And I’m sure it cut both ways. I’m sure that my ex-wife was sad on the nights when they were with me. Those young-kid nights when everything was about them and their connection to you and the world and each other. Here I was, seven years later, feeling sorry about what I’d lost when they were younger.

It’s different today, being in parenting relationships with teenagers. Most of the time the parenting role is about transportation and food. And with friends and boyfriend/girlfriends they’d mostly like to be somewhere else. We still have the tender moments, but they are sparsely scattered throughout our time together. What I was sad about a few days ago is the loss of that time, the tender time. My kids are still precious, and I am completely devoted to them, but there’s a longing, like wanting a puppy to stay a puppy, for that earlier time. Of course, it’s never coming back, and my sadness is just about me. Perhaps it’s me feeling sorry for myself all these years later, about what I lost back then.

This was the pain of divorce for me. The minute she said she had seen a lawyer I howled. And in my mind I was howling for the pain my kids would go through. But as the time went on I learned it was the pain I had gone through with my parents divorce that I was howling about. When I lost my dad in divorce the loss was absolute. It was as if he fell off the deep end of his isolation and alcoholism. He was gone from my life. What I had after the divorce was a ghost of a dad.

I am not a ghost to my kids. I am a fully alive and empowered father. I was handed a less-than-fair deal and we’ve all learned to deal with it. Today my ex has been mentioning a 50/50 schedule, toying with the idea rather than making an offer. We haven’t reached any agreement, but there are more things in motion. And again, it’s just an “idea” she’s floating.

I’m also considering letting my sadness be my own and not mixing it up with my kids-of-divorce sadness, because, my kids seem extremely happy right where things are. My sadness is my own. It’s more from my little boy than my middle-aged man. I can recognize that and deal with it, on my own. And we’ll see how our relationships evolve over the coming years.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Divorced Dad and the Goodbye Monday Blues

OFF-2016-mud

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Complaining Never Ends, Even After Divorce

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Yesterday my ex-wife texted me about my son’s phone. She’s still got the kids for 4 more days, and I knew the repair was about $80 bucks, so I asked her why she thought it was necessary to give this task to me? I mean, they spend an exorbitant amount of time at the mall, a simple drop-off and pick-up while they were shopping…

I asked, “Why are you giving this to me?”

My ex-wife, even when she was my wife, is rarely happy with how things are. She used to always complain that she was the only one who cared about the house, who paid bills, who took the kids to doctor’s appointments.

Then came the extraordinary reply that went into her health, her schedule, her work, and how if she “ever asked” me for anything it was with great effort. Um, yeah, I don’t think so. She asks for other’s to do her “work” all the time.

Am I enjoying some of my ex-wife’s exhaustion too much? Hmm. Good question. Am I withholding support of my kids in order to punish her? No way. So she’d like me to handle this mundane chore while the kids are with her? What? I just didn’t get it. Then in a conversation with another parent, not divorced, I said, “You could be dealing with the exact same shit as a divorced parent. It doesn’t stop.”

And that’s when it hit me. My ex-wife, even when she was my wife, is rarely happy with how things are. She used to always complain that she was the only one who cared about the house, who paid bills, who took the kids to doctor’s appointments. And this is when she was either not working or working 10 – 15 hours a week. Yeah, she was right. There was an imbalance, but it was never enough, no matter how much I pitched in.

And there is one tiny bit of poetic justice here.

At the beginning of our divorce I was asking for 50/50 parenting. I was thinking about the kids and not the child support. And I was denied my request for a number of reasons.

  1. She was the primary caregiver.
  2. The kids needed their mother more than their father.
  3. She was the more responsible parent (keeping track of doctor’s appointments and kid’s school assignments)
  4. (the big one) If we went to court this is what she would get.

So in the heat of that discussion, I was railroaded into giving up my dreams of being a 50/50 parent. I was told what I was going to get and I accepted their verdict. But I did not agree with 1, 2, or 3 at all. It simply was not true.

What was true is she got the house, a nice child support payment, and 2/3 of the kid’s time. It was a trade-off, I guess. For the money she was given, she would also provide for most of the child care and extracurricular activities. That’s just how it broke down. And this is when our kids were 6 and 8.

Now our kids are 13 and 15 and she’d like A LOT more help with all the parenting duties. That’s understandable. But, it’s not what we agreed to. So perhaps the non-custodial role has some benefit later in the divorce. Perhaps my reward, or my consolation prize (because I would’ve preferred having the kids with me 50% of the time) is that now she also has most of the extracurricular duties as well.

What I can do is be the best dad I can be given the time I have. And I don’t rub the situation in on my ex-wife, though I chuckle a little every time these complaints get filed on me.

Let me be clear. She was not the primary caregiver. We split that down the middle. From diaper changes, to nighttime feedings, to cleaning up around the house. And I do not agree that mom’s are more necessary for the kids. I believe dad’s get the shit end of the deal in traditional divorce. I think if you parented 50/50 you should divorce 50/50. And finally, she was not the most responsible parent, we had divided some of the parenting duties up, and scheduling was one of hers.

My ex-wife complained when we were married. And now that we’ve been divorced over 6 years she’s still complaining. And while I hear her requests, I also hear her asking for a more 50/50 parenting arrangement, something she denied me. Is it bad that I’m holding back on this? I don’t think so.

Today, with teenagers, I’m not so sure I want 50/50 parenting. Had I been given the same consideration when they were younger, I might think differently today. But I’m getting enough of my kids, at the moment. Sure, I miss them when they are away, but I can’t ever get back their early years. I can’t make up for lost time.

What I can do is be the best dad I can be given the time I have. And I don’t rub the situation in on my ex-wife, though I chuckle a little every time these complaints get filed on me. We’re no longer married. You no longer have my undivided attention for such things as “being tired.”

I love my kids and I still love my ex-wife for being such a good mother. But she’s still the custodial parent, and with that comes a salary and additional responsibilities. That’s what she asked for, that’s what she gets, even today.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Without Blame or Malice: My Unresolved Divorce Anger is Mine Alone

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I say some mean things here about my ex-wife, and I want to be clear about a few things.

  1. It’s not really about her. It’s about the experience that happened. My experience of the events is very different from her’s, I’m sure, but this is MINE.
  2. She’s not a bad person. But she is still (6 years later) making very bad decisions. Decisions against her own best interest. I can’t seem to convince her of this, so I stopped trying to convince her of anything.
  3. She really did do some stupid shit. I’m still uncovering how deep the BS went. I’m still amazed at the amount of lies she told while claiming I was the dishonest partner.
  4. I did everything I could to keep the marriage together. She did not. She made a decision, well in advance of telling me about it, and there was little or nothing I could do to change her mind.
  5. I’m grateful for the release at this point, but back when it was happening I was devastated. I’m still a bit sore about the lost time that I can never make up with my kids. She should’ve agreed to 50/50 parenting.
  6. Even as I’m angry and restimulated by writing about this stuff, I am also released from it. A good rant post is like a good therapy session. And you, my readers, are my therapist. Comments and encouragements are always welcome.
  7. I won’t ever get over the divorce because I won’t ever get over my loss as a parent when my then-wife chose OUT rather than IN. I am not angry about the divorce. I’m not angry at her today. But I can access and release the anger here, and it’s a good thing.
  8. She doesn’t read this blog. She knows about it, but I’m certain she avoids it. And that’s a good thing. These posts aren’t written to her. She’s got her own life. She can suck it, for all I care.
  9. As much as I’d like to leave that “suck it” comment there without comment, I have to recant just a bit. I still love parts of my ex-wife. She’s the mother of my children and I would never wish harm on her. I would never act against her in any word or action. (Other than write this blog, that is.)
  10. As honest and revealing as I am, I’m certain I’m not getting to half of it. There’s always more, triggered by an event, a memory, a phrase I hear passing strangers say. And I take those opportunities to release more of the distress.
  11. My distress today is over being a good parent. I want to be the best parent I can be. I support their mom financially, and emotionally I’m 100% positive. (Except here.)

It’s good to have a place to let off steam. I don’t think I would’ve recovered my center nearly as quickly without this release valve. And I keep it anonymous so that my kids (13 & 15) don’t accidentally google me and find it. This is not for them either.

In divorce there are a lot of moving parts. If you have kids together things are exponentially difficult. Every action you take in support of your ex-partner is in support of your kids. Every action you take against your ex-partner is against your kids as well. When my ex-wife filed our decree with the Attorney General’s office she essentially said, “Fuck you. I’ll let the state sort out your financial problems.”

This is not how we parented together. This is not how you treat a friend and former spouse unless you are still really angry. And it was HER idea! So, I never quite understand what she’s so pissed about. I don’t have to understand her motivations. And I no longer have any responsibility for her happiness. Again, I don’t think I would ever act adversely towards her, even after she sold me off to the collections agency of the state. But again, I’ve moved on in a way that releases me from that anger. I’m not mad at her, unless I think about the fact that TODAY she is still making the decision that the AG’s office is of benefit to her and our children.

NEWSFLASH: I have given my ex-wife a percentage of every dollar I’ve ever made since the divorce. That she didn’t like my job loss a few years ago is unfortunate, but it’s not the AG’s office that got me paying again, it’s the job. She caused me to lose my house. She caused me to not get several jobs that ran my credit report as a last-step and then passed. And today her actions are still obviously motivated out of anger. And today she’s still got the AG’s office on my ass.

I’m sorry she has so much anger. Maybe she needs a blog. Works for me. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Edge of Tomorrow with my Ex-wife

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Do you know the premise of the movie, Edge of Tomorrow? In the movie the female protagonist has to shoot and kill the male every single day in order to reset the universe they are trying to do battle in. My life with my ex-wife has a similar story line.

When I lose my job, I have survival needs (as in shelter and food) that trump your comforts.

Every day I have to wake up and shoot myself to forget that my ex-wife still has an AG’s lien on me and my life. She didn’t need to go to the extreme. It’s like filing a restraining order against someone who’s never exhibited violence. Sure, you might think of doing it, you might even be advised to do it by your attorney, but there’s no reason to actually file it, because you know the ex is not a violent person. Somewhere along six-year road (so far) of divorce my ex-wife was concerned that I wasn’t going to pay her the child support she had come to depend on.

Um, yeah, that’s fine, but when I lose my job, I have survival needs (as in shelter and food) that trump your comforts.

During the summer of our discontent she would email me things like, “I can’t believe you are putting your material needs before those of your children.” Um, no, I’m actually not. And towards the end of the summer, regardless of my pleadings (“Don’t you remember who I am?) my ex-wife pleaded her case to the Attorney General’s office of the great state of Texas. And since then my life has been much more difficult. She didn’t need to do it. It hasn’t gotten her “her” money any sooner. If anything, it has slowed the process down. And I hear the AG’s office get’s a 10% fee for their services. What? We’re paying them out of the child support to collect the child support. I pointed this out to the ex just last week. She was unfazed.

Back in the summer of pain she did threaten me with the AG’s office. I had been telling her the exact status of my work and new business prospects. But she grew more frustrated and impatient with me. At one point, after it was clear she was heading towards putting my ass in a sling, I threatened her. I was stupid. My threat was this. “If you file with the AG’s office, I’m going to go back to the child support payments I’ve made, based on an income I’ve never been able to achieve again, and I’m going to go to an attorney to get the amount owed to be based on my actual pay and not on the decree.

Foolish, because it’s wrong. You can’t do it. Can you imagine how many non-custodial parents would file lawsuits to jam up the court system. So what I owe her, I owe her. But I wasn’t really worried about what I owe her, I was just trying to keep her from putting us into the grinding machine that would not treat either of us, more so the dad, with any respect. And really, she was sending my ass to the collections agency.

If she was willing to throw me into this system, taking action to change my dead beat dad status might be an admission of guilt. Like she had done something wrong.

Now think about that for a minute. Can you imagine sending your ex-partner, the parent of your children, to a collections agency? You do that to enemies, maybe, but not someone you care/cared about. Never. AND… That’s what she did.

Two years later, a number of shitty results of that action have taken place. When I got behind on my house payments, again as a result of the loss of my primary business client, her AG action prevented me from being able to renegotiate my mortgage with Wells Fargo and ultimately caused me to sell the house under duress. And three times, so far, the AG’s office has randomly seized my checking account. Charging me $75 for the privilege of bouncing any checks that came in after the freeze.

Today, two years into the AG’s process I am still asking my wife to write the letter that would remove their boot from my ass. I’ve been paying steady now, due to steady employment, for a year. When does she think it will be time? Will I earn my trustworthiness? Probably not. If she was willing to throw me into this system, taking action to change my dead beat dad status might be an admission of guilt. Like she had done something wrong.

Every day I have to wake up and shoot the part of me that’s still feeling violated by her stupid act of power and rage.

I’m certain, from conversations we’ve had, that she still feels she did nothing wrong. “Lots of people have ‘accounts’ with the AG’s office without any problems.” How cute, she calls it an account. It’s a debt collections agency that uses strong-arm tactics to secure her debt. And, mind you, there is no escaping child support payments, if I had wanted to. Even bankruptcy doesn’t affect them. But I have never talked of not paying her every dime. I’ve always paid her from every single dollar I made.

And today she’s got a magic wand that could easily take the lien and bad name off my credit report. And every day she does not take action is a day that I still have to forgive and forget. I can’t walk around with an angry chip on my shoulder, thinking about how she done me wrong. I can’t live my life like that. But somewhere, she still thinks I done her wrong and I owe her a lot of money, money that I should’ve paid her even when I had no ability to pay for my own house and electricity.

Her pound of flesh has cost me a lot. And every day I have to wake up and shoot the part of me that’s still feeling violated by her stupid act of power and rage. Setting the collections agency on someone you love… Well, it takes a very angry and dark person to do such a thing. And she’s doing it every day still.

I want to get mad at my ex-wife. I am reminded almost daily of the consequences of her actions. I want to rage and tell her how I feel. But the time for that type of action is over. Now, I will submit my papers to reduce the amount of child support I owe her on a monthly basis. Based on what I’m making, it might make a significant dint in her tax-free take home child support check. It took me six years to be this mean. And everyday I shoot the part of myself that remembers she did this on purpose and continues to do it every single day.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: february 19, 2016 filing for a reduction, the author, creative commons usage