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

depression

Strengthening Your Core Happiness Becomes More Important After a Breakup

OFF-openheart

The first “girlfriend” I had after divorce asked me early on in our dating experience, “What do you look like when you are happy?” She saw me struggling a bit with depression and sadness around my divorce and she genuinely wanted to know what my joy looked like. Perhaps so she could recognize it if it showed up, or to make sure she would still be in the mix when my happiness kicked off.

We’ve got a lot of programs to help strengthen your core abdominals, and therapy and philosophy to help us lift our hearts out of depression, but we are just learning about happiness. What makes people happy versus miserable. Guess what? It’s INSIDE YOU. It is not the other person. It’s not even your circumstances.

I know this sounds all woo woo, and looks a bit like a bumper sticker, but let me share a moment from an amazing book I’m reading. In this book, a woman has recently been told by her husband that he no longer loves her. It throws her world into a tailspin, BUT… She decides, has decided before it happens, NOT to let other’s or circumstances dictate her inner joy. She has just come back from a vacation retracing her college year abroad in Italy, where this moment happened for her. (She traveled with her daughter. Her husband and son stayed back in Montana.)

I was lying in bed that last day in Florence, looking at my daughter sleeping with her mouth open, listening to a dog bark on a balcony above the streets of Florence–the Vespas whizzing by, the polite exchanges of Buongiorno, the smell of coffee, and yes, exhaust, and something very old.

But I didn’t feel the panic I’d thought I would, knowing I had to leave all of it behind. The desperate need to go out in that world beyond the thick wooden shutters and our own tiny balcony just one more time alone–to feel twenty and charged. The frenzy to contact my old footprints, in a state of ravenous adventure. I didn’t need to be anywhere other than in my bed watching my daughter sleep.

In not quite a twenty-year-old’s voice, but not quite a forty-year-old’s either, I hear, quiet and with morning breath, It’s all here. It always was. — Laura Munson

Wow. For me, what that meant, that epiphany she had, was letting go of the need to jump up and accomplish, or jump up and adventure ahead into the world of the exciting, and instead to merely BE PRESENT. BE AWARE OF THE JOY. LISTEN. BREATHE.

I know it sounds kind of simple and zen, but the reality is quite simple. And I too have been studying how to get there, to achieve inner peace, even under extenuating and challenging circumstances. And while I am often NOT there, on occasion, when I can take the time to notice the simple joy of things, I CAN BE HAPPY. And it’s not about anyone else. Or the money in my bank account, or if my king-size bed is filled with two cats and a dog rather than a lover. MY INNER PEACE comes from stopping the rush to be/do/accomplish.

When you have kids, one of the most magical experiences is watching them sleep. There, just out of reach is your flesh and blood set off on a new mystical trajectory. And if things seemed hard or frightening, you could return to that quiet, that calm of their secure and loved slumber, and imagine the same nurturing for yourself. By loving them deeply, you learn to love yourself.

I want to give the ex this book. But why? Do I hope to fix her? To help her? Do I still wish her happiness? Or do I want to show her what an actualized woman did in the face of her husband’s struggles?

I won’t. I’ve learned that extending energy to others, when it has not been invited, is simply a waste of energy. I gave her a CD a year ago. (Dawes – Nothing Is Wrong) I had hoped to speak to her through some of the words of this music. Three weeks later, the CD was right where she had put it on the kitchen counter. I took it back. I could use it in my car.

She was not interested in hearing or feeling into what happened between us. What failed. She’s moved on, a bit too quickly, in my opinion, but that’s her struggle and her happiness that I can no longer take any part in.

The song, Time Spent In Los Angeles, talks about seeing “that special kind of sadness, that tragic set of charms.” And the moment that I was trying to capture and share was something about when I left my rock star dreams (during a pop-rock festival in Los Angeles) behind to become a more realistic husband.

But in my CORE HAPPINESS, I am playing music. And the man she met was fully actualized. I was playing in a band, playing live, and writing music. That’s the man she fell in love with. And then something changed. Kids. Money. Work. 9-11. But it changed in her, not in me.

I remained, remain, a musician and happy artist. And I am MOST happy when I’m creating music and poetry. Maybe music and poetry can bring on happiness, I don’t know. But I have not lost my joy at playing and writing, even if it’s for my kids and me alone.

And I won’t pass judgment on her at this point. Her core happiness is up to her to discover. And maybe it’s found with another relationship. Maybe there’s someone out there who “always” completes us. But I don’t think that’s where it’s found.

My joy is up to me. My core happiness comes from my own commitment to dig into it. And more importantly to give up on the outcome of the product and simply enjoy the process. Sure, I’d like everyone to enjoy one of my songs, someday. But the joy I experience at catching a moment just right (in song, poem, or even her in this confession) is mine alone. No amount of praise, fame, or money, or lack of those things can affect my inner satisfaction.

This is not an easy place to find in yourself. And from time to time we lose sight of what makes us most happy. But we must keep listening. We must keep stopping in the moment, when the happiness is strongest, and firming it in. Affirming, as Laura Munson did in Italy.

  • THIS RIGHT HERE.
  • THIS IS MY JOY.
  • BREATHE.
  • AND REMEMBER THIS, no matter what.
  • REMEMBER YOUR INNER JOY IS YOURS ALONE.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written on July, 2013.

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The Yoga Girl Next Door; What Is An Erotic Ideal, And What Is Real?

What would you talk about with a yoga girl?

What would you talk about with a yoga girl?

 

There I was leaning into her new red Prius, talking about PR and yoga and her plans. It was as if I had put my head into a spaceship and was looking at some Penthouse forum photo of “the yoga girl next door.” But there was nothing going on. She was a next-door neighbor, and I was asking her about her work and her Prius.

I’m guessing she’s in the 20-years-younger range. Blonde. Stunning body in black tights. Raybans. Biggest smile you’ve ever seen. And what would I have done with her if she had been asking about coming over later? (She was not.)

I’ve been dating.

As I walked the long distance back to my car after the kiss, I was erect as a bar of iron, and wondering how — in my fkd up state — someone else could be attracted to me.

This is the first “relationship” I’ve been in since my divorce. The other two were both in the neighborhood of one week, and that’s not a relationship, that’s a fly-by. The first one was the woman who slept with pit bulls. The second one had the prettiest smile you have ever seen, but she lived 80 miles away.

So I wouldn’t say I’m experienced. In fact, I would say I’m a newbie in the department of dating. And dating as an adult who’s about to cross into my 50’s, I have to say, things are very different than when I was last on the market. I’m different. The women are different. I have two kids and a schedule that imposes some initial absence regardless of how fast I want to go in terms of hanging out together.

Sure, I’ve got an OK Cupid profile. (Tried Match and eHarmony.) But I haven’t been working it. And from the depths of my aloneness, I wasn’t in any mood to be imagining or looking for companionship. In fact, I was flat out deluded about how far fked up I was.

Enter attractive 54 year-old woman on OKC that says, “Hey, why didn’t you respond to my last email?”

If warning bells are going off it’s only because she is into ME too much. Or more than I have ever experienced. She was telling me I was “much more attractive” than my profile over our first drink together. And in the parking lot, as I walked her to her new convertible Mini, she held up before opening the car and half-kissed me. We still joke about who kissed who, but she HAD been dating a lot. And she was prone to “trying out the kiss” in the parking lot, even on the first date. I had not kissed any of my “dates.” You tell me…

And as I walked the long distance back to my car after the kiss, I was erect as a bar of iron, and wondering how — in my fkd up state — someone else could be attracted to me. Was that in itself a huge red flag?

OR… Did she see something in me that was solid and cute and funny, regardless of how I was feeling?

Three days later, we were kissing on my couch as a prelude to the trip upstairs, where she said as she was unbuttoning my pants, “You don’t know how long it’s been!”

Two months later… Well, I’ve driven the Mini quite a bit.

Am I looking for some erotic ideal that is more about masturbatory fantasy and trophy wives that parade around the nearby HEB in their yoga pants.

But there is something that I am not feeling, that I think I should. As we continue and she confirms repeatedly how much I fit her picture of a prime fit, I am not sure. I did not have the euphoria associated with passion. I don’t crave her. Her beautiful blue eyes and easy laugh are wonderful, but for some animal reason, I would not pick her out at a party as someone I wanted to get to know. She is attractive. She is a bit older than any of my previous relationships. She is completely crazy about me.

Am I out of my element? Am I looking for some erotic ideal that is more about masturbatory fantasy and trophy wives that parade around the nearby HEB in their yoga pants? (Don’t they have to work? Um… No, they don’t.)

So I have a woman who craves sex and time with me. She does not play games. She has told me from the beginning how delicious she thinks I am. She even told me, after a lengthy discussion about my previous relationship history, that she wanted to learn how to give me the best blow job ever. (WHAT?)

The yoga girl next door represents a college-age fantasy. I am not of college-age. She is thin, beautiful, and I would assume, somewhat spiritual, being a yoga instructor and all. But she and I have nothing in common. Would I find things about her that fascinate me? Would she cook me a meal, come over to my house, and leave me with leftovers?

My experience, thus far in my life, says no. My experience, thus far in my life has never had someone so crazy about me. I feel almost guilty about not being able to return the level of excitement about her. I am trying. I am stretching. I am exploring everything with her, to see if the animal hotness grows. I mean, the truth is, I was depressed beyond measure. And NOTHING sounded good. I didn’t crave anything, not even ice cream. So how could I expect my senses to crave this available woman?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*This post was written on Nov 2012.

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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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winter berry (a poem)

winter berry (a poem)

winter berry (a poem)

cold races in
whispers your absence
bed empty and disheveled
pillow tightly held
a wet winter day
beckoning to me
retreat
relapse
rest
release

12-29-21


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
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @theoffparent

*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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open window (a poem)

the open window

the open window

there was a moment
as she turned away
breeze was billowing
with an afternoon coolness
the bedsheets felt rough
our attempt missed
i returned to the window
looking down
at the frigid mediterranean sea
crashing on the rocks below
all night
the window called us
to swim
or jump
or leave
just get up
get out of this horror
that should’ve been a honeymoon
but was something else
a dying gasp
and non-refundable tickets
to some paradise
we had spoken of many times
while i was still hopeful

12-14-21


imagine an ending (a poem)

more dead roses

more dead roses

flying home
november again
towards myself
limitless
unbound
ready for more
skipping over the painful bits
with abandon
and vigor
this is not the time
for regrets
or fear
or compromise
today
this year
i claim my independence
and self-care
self-love
selfishness
it is only on lonely nights
that i compose
love songs
heartbroken poems
and aspirational lists
of my *next* partner

it always ends like this
alone
logging into bumble
like a boss
opening new horizons
new opportunities
for more
for less
for smashing good sex
and less than joyful
collisions
my degree is in romance
not chemistry
i throw caution to the wind
for a pretty face
a smile that ignites
nightlights in my mind
and flutters in my belly
“she is the one”
i like to write
“she might be the one”
i write after a few months
“she’s got issues”
i muse
trying to repair the landing gear
mid-flight
adjusting the airspeed
and frictional drag
as we feel the tips of the trees
frozen and fragile
from the winter freeze
the power outage
that puts a point on everything
we’re lacking
that’s broken
in our energy grid
in our cooperative contracts
spoken and hidden
i write what i will miss
i write about being alone again
i write
more than i cry
about the loss
of one more missed embrace
moon shot at happiness
more dead roses
and a lifelong romance
imagined and constructed
and negotiated
until the path forward
became overgrown with brambles
and dangerous snares
set out for predators past
and triggered
at odd times
without rhymes
without reasonable doubt
merely set off
severing limbs
setting off alarms
breaking down lines of communication
until an exit
is the natural
result
and this poem
the obvious
motion
of my crushed
optimism

11-28-21


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


rainy in ny (a poem)

rainy in ny (a poem)

rainy in ny (a poem)

she wasn’t here anymore
as the sky loomed heavy
and low
cold wind buffeting around the corners
of the financial district
just blocks from the national disaster
and shame
of thousands of errors
since then
pushing into the November morning
for coffee and
something to make me feel better
to fill my empty pockets
and moments
with a smile
or kiss
even the touch of a finger
against my leg
but there is no way home
from here
there is no chance of return
to love and light
dreams of aspirational
connections
lovers past
pass by in taxis and empty buildings
i can feel them
but cannot see
beyond my own reflection
and these poor words
reaching to catch
meaning
where there is only
rain
and
an absence

11-26-21

++

 


never saw that coming (a poem)

ufo girl

ufo girl

she landed the ufo
wrecked the entire backyard
left after she had devoured me
i am texting this
from within her purple stomach
how did you know she was a she?
you ask
the sex was amazing
still…?
it was pretty hetero
how is that?
hmmm…
right!

11-19-21


morning, back to bed (a poem)

back to bed

back to bed

if the coffee tastes
as bad as i feel
maybe it is more rest
or better dreams
that i need

today

11-19-21


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
Facebook  | Instagram | Pinterest |  @wholeparent

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The Divorce Recovery Path: My Journey Back to Joy (part 1)

the divorce recovery path (tm) 2014

divorce-recovery-path-mcel

My divorce has been finalized for four years now. This is how my journey back from depression, loss, and hopelessness looked. And this blog has taken me through all of these steps in a way that I can now look back and see how the building blocks were necessary. Here is my divorce recovery path in posts from this blog.

Divorce Year 1 – Anger, Depression

Like Elizabeth Kubler-Ross’ I believe someone going through a divorce goes through stages of grief. And for me the emotions that I struggled with directly after leaving my house for the last time were anger and depression. Often I vacillated from one to the other. And my talky therapist used to tell me, “It’s better to feel homicidal than suicidal.” (It’s a metaphor.)

Anger turned inward and unexpressed was clearly for me one of the ways I would sink myself into sadness and depression. While I was mad at my ex-wife, and mad a the decision she made and I had to go along with it, I kept pointing the sharp stick back at myself. Somehow I had failed. Something about me was unlovable, or the reason she decided to opt out of our marriage, and effectively opt me out of 60% of my kids’ lives.

I left the house at the beginning of June after the kids had finished 3rd and 5th grade. Here are a few of my early posts. I was acting out a bit. And I even maintained a tiny bit of hopefulness that my ex would realize how much she really wanted me back. That was imaginary thinking. She was done. And I tried to imagine the wonderful opportunities of dating new women, but of course, I was in no condition to date. Fortunately, my initial run at online dating was unsuccessful.

August 2010

The first year and the shock of the loss was definitely the hardest period of my recovery. I was scrambling to find a place to live, a way to make a living that would support myself and my child support payments. And the loss of my kids was an emotional hardship that still hits me from time to time.

By January of that first year, I was hitting the first skids of depression.

And the first poem appeared as an expression of my loss.

And while I had started a few dating tries I was more focused on transforming my anger and energy into something positive. Or in the face of Ferris Bueller, something funny and light. That’s how I tried to imagine myself, as Ferris dealing with the impossible situations with joy and grace. I was only partially successful.

A number of other issues hammered me as I crossed into the second year of divorce.  The pressure of the financial obligation I had agreed to began to force me out of my idea of comfort and “doing enough.” Of course I had agreed to pay child support on a much higher income than I’d been able to achieve again. I was basing my future on the hopeful high-level gainful employment, and when my next big corporate job folded my position after six months I fell into a very tough spot. (A spot I’m still trying to pull myself out of today.)

But something else began to show up in my life. I began to remember how happy I was, even alone. Just happy. And this was the beginning of the second year, where I joined a divorce recovery class and began to take charge of my own happiness and recovery from the pits of divorce.

I started to come to terms with the divorce. And take ownership of my depression.

 

Divorce Year 2 – Healing, Recovery, Kids First

And then in June of the second year, I lost all of my progress in one massive loss. The job I had found that allowed me to buy a house and start setting up my life again, decided they didn’t want to continue trying to sell their product to the consumer, and after six months my position was eliminated. And the earlier struggles with money and depression came rushing back. Just as I felt I was getting ahead of it, I suffered a setback.

And it was four months before I was able to confess to my readers what was going on. And amazing as it was, I did already have readers. A lot of people reached out to me after the loneliness post and gave me their support.

And I started to take an inventory of what I was feeling rather than run away from it or wallow in it. I started studying the 12-steps concept of self-pity as a way to get a little perspective on what I was going through. I could up and out of this.

And then in October of year two I met the woman who would become my first girlfriend. And she single-handedly changed my life.

More than anything, what I learned from my first girlfriend was how it felt to be adored. She had also been through the same divorce recovery class I had, and we had the same Love Language: touch. I was blown away by how affectionate someone could be. I always thought it was only me who had such outpourings.  But she was beside me 100%. In the end our relationship evolved into a friendship, but out love for each other has continued to grow. And I learned what a post-divorce relationship might look like. And how dating after divorce *can* be drama free. We never screwed each other over, we simply decided that we needed to pull our romantic relationship back from our friendship.

END OF YEARS ONE AND TWO – stay tuned for Divorce Year 3 and Divorce Year 4.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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i am a room full of chairs (a poem)

in this place

in this place

and in this place
there are many comfy spots
for reading
kissing
writing

but no place for
cats
bad attitudes
enemies

i have graduated
to independence
from negativity
shame
anger
longing
unrest

out here we is stoned
immaculate
breathing with ease
holding nothing
embracing everything
even the hard stuff
loss
weight
as a gift

letting go of her
was the easiest thing

11-09-21


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


The Data Set of My Divorce: Adding Things Up

OFF-dataset

We were married for over ten years. We spawned two great kids. But I’d have to say there were very few years that weren’t somewhat tumultuous. It seemed like I was always begin accused of some transgression: not doing enough of the chores, asking for sex too often, not being honest, not being responsible enough. And while these weren’t leveraged at me as an excuse for not wanting to make love, it was more often than not one of these complaints that shut her libido completely off. Zero.

What she failed to mention, well into our “lunches” that got progressively more flirty, is that she was living with a man.

But there has been a lot of time since then, and you think I’d let go of it, but some parts of the divorce and thus marriage still have big question marks for me. Could I have done more? Was I at fault? Was I a child? In trying to examine these things about my role in the relationship, I’ve come to discover there were a lot of things in her story that didn’t add up. There were some key pieces of information that were being left out at various points along the way, that have me wondering. Was it her fault? Was she dishonest from the beginning? When she told me, in couples therapy, that she’d already seen a lawyer, was it couple’s therapy or divorce counseling we’d been doing?

The first big X was when we were just getting re-acquainted with each other. We’d known each other in high school and had started “doing lunch” on a semi-weekly basis. What she failed to mention, well into our “lunches” that got progressively more flirty, is that she was living with a man. Not just dating him, but living in his house.

The second big X came during one of our hardest moments. As 9-11 had torn everyone’s financial stability to the ground and I was struggling with how I wanted to reenter the workplace, she began a series of lunches with a young man she worked with. It wasn’t that she was having lunch with him, it’s that she wasn’t telling me about him. And the day I stumbled onto an email about “his depression” and “my loneliness” I knew I was discovering what emotional infidelity felt like. We weathered this one, she admitted her mistake and vowed to never do it again. But a deep fundamental trust had been broken.

So three strikes of dishonesty and deceit. And I was the one always being accused of being untrustworthy.

The final X came when she confessed to consulting with an attorney while we were in couple’s therapy. She didn’t let on that things were that bad IN therapy, and only admitted her “discovery phase” because I asked her. She was not being honest. She was not opening up in couple’s therapy. She was planning her options. She wanted to know what she was going to get if we divorced. It’s a fear she had expressed to me earlier, in some moment of wine-induced honesty. “If you leave me, I’ll have nothing.” It was a false statement, but it was an indication of just how deep her fear went.

So three strikes of dishonesty and deceit. And I was the one always being accused of being untrustworthy. Sometimes it is projection that shows up. If she was feeling unfaithful, untrustworthy, perhaps projecting those fears on to me help her deal with her own guilt.

In the dataset I see, she was withholding and misrepresenting herself all along. This is a hard nut to swallow at this point. But it’s easier than trying to figure out what I did wrong. Because I was the partner who was still ALL-IN at the end. She’d made a decision to leave, made plans to cover her needs, and then with the backing of the State of Texas, she ripped my world in two.

I was given a 1/3 – 2/3 parenting schedule. (Called the Standard Possession Order). I was given the non-custodial parent role, that comes with a large child support payment. And I was asked to leave the house I funded. Because it was “in the best interest of the kids.”

What was not in the best interest of anyone was the bad deal I got. Rather than cooperating during tough times, she decided to file on me after three months of being late. I was telling her she would get paid. I was showing her my bank statements and my pursuit of new business. But she was impatient and entitled. So she let the dogs loose on her ex-husband. And while this big X doesn’t show up on the chart, it’s the biggest one. I can never trust her again. Perhaps my biggest mistake was trusting her after she told me she was living with a guy.

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

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

click for larger version

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 your 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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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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Rationalizing Your Divorce

There’s no getting over the fact that a divorce is a failure. And I may never forgive my ex-wife for changing my time with my kids forever. The system is rigged in a mom’s favor, and as a dad I was given my “deal” and told to grin and bear it “for the benefit of the kids.”

FK That.

My kids were 5 and 7 when they lost me. And my ex-wife made the plans to move on, without even letting me know. Sure we were in couple’s therapy, but I thought we were doing it to save our marriage. I think she was doing it to plan for her future. I never understood how cynical she’d become, and I didn’t clue to the fact that her toxic anger was directed 99% of the time at me. I didn’t get it. I was so in love with being a parent and being a good father, that I missed the clues she was putting off.

There were some clues I couldn’t ignore. In the last year, when I was still clueless to my then-wife’s scheming, she would occasionally burst out with a, “Fuck you.”

She had to apologize several times when she shot the verbal FU in-front of friends. She was incapable of keeping her rage contained. “Where,” I wondered aloud, “is her individual therapist in this situation?” How could a good therapist allow their client to seethe month after month?

While divorce is a terrible thing, a worse crime is staying in a marriage “for the kids.” I suppose, if I were to be honest, in the last few months, before she went to see an attorney, we were not very happy. I was definitely “staying for the kids.”

But I was staying out of strength and conviction that our marriage and our love relationship was worth saving. She was occupied with another pursuit. She wanted to know her options. She wanted to build financial models base on our assets. She must have known months in advance, how much money she would need to survive after divorce, even if I gave her the house.

I didn’t fight, once she’d told me she’d consulted a lawyer, “to understand her options.” I should’ve lawyered up at the same time, but I didn’t. I naively thought that our good intentions would serve us. I stupidly imagined that the phrase, “In the best interest of the children,” actually meant we would cooperate to find the resolution of our relationship that would benefit our children the most.

Her idea: Mom gets 70% of the kids time. Mom gets the house. Mom gets a nice monthly stipend so she doesn’t have to work quite so hard at being a breadwinner during this trying time.

My idea: We shouldn’t be getting a divorce at all. If she would get real she’d see that this hard time was the perfect moment to reset, rebuild, and recommit to our marriage. AND if we were going to divorce, I wanted 50/50 parenting, with a 50/50 schedule.

The divorce therapist we met with sold me down the river. Sure it was 2010, but I really didn’t have a chance.

“This is what you would get if you guys went to court,” the therapist said to me in private when the 50/50 idea was being railroaded by both her and my soon-to-be-ex. “So why don’t we start there and work on the things you have some say over.”

Wait, what? I was paying this woman to tell me 50/50 was out of the question. I still wonder if my ex had been talking to her on the side before we got into our parenting plan negotiations. I was almost laughed out of the therapy session when I brought in my 50/50 schedule and my three books that told why co-parenting was better than custodial parenting.

I lost everything. For every night I had my kids, my ex-wife had two nights. I fell into despair. Had I been more susceptible to alcoholism, I know this would’ve done the trick to slip me into the addiction. As it was I dealt with a nasty episode of depression. Ouch. AND I dealt with missing my kids twice as much as my newly divorced ex-wife had to.

The deck is still stacked in the mom’s favor. In Texas, my home state, the man gets the non-custodial role in 80% of all divorces. The mom gets the house and the child support payment. I guess in a wealthy divorce that’s the split that makes everyone happy. Dad gets less time with the kids but more time to make money. Mom get’s to hold on to her matriarch role and get paid well for the privilege of staying home with the kids.

The good news, I don’t ever have to go through that again. More good news, the state is doing 50/50 plans, with ZERO CHILD SUPPORT, about 50% of the time these days. And if the parents agree to joint custody and 50/50 parenting, the AG’s office doesn’t get involved.

That’s not how it worked out for me and my kids. As a result, I will always have a sad place in my heart and memory about that time. But we’ve moved on. My kids are now 13 and 15 and we are entering a new “teen” phase of our relationship. And I have to hand it to my angry ex-wife, we’ve done a good job at being civil and keeping the relationship between us focused on being good parents first, and financial partners second. We’ve never gotten our priorities mixed up. Well, except for my wife’s angry move to involve the AG for enforcement of the decree when I was 60 days behind on child support. She will never be forgiven for that violation of trust and integrity.

It’s water under the bridge they say. And today I focus on my happy and well-adjusted kids. She’s 50% of that parenting team. And while she still holds the loaded gun to my head financially, she’s kept her mom-hat and mom-responsibility in the proper ratio. Our kids are doing great in school, they seem to be thriving in their lives, and as they grow older, I know our relationships will continue to change and prosper. But when we were going through it, it was all I could do to agree to the divorce, much less FIGHT with my soon-to-be-ex about custody, parenting plans, and money.

I give you my thanks dear exy. And I hope you choke on your own vitriol while keeping our kids happy and well-fed.

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Story I Never Wanted to Write: An Ending Arrives with a Storm

understanding the end of a relationship

understanding the end of a relationshipIt’s a devastating blow when a relationship ends. 9 years or 9 months, the failure and shame feel the same. But the loss is just as unfathomable.

There Is a Time and a Place to Say Goodbye

Let’s say you’ve been in a relationship for a few years, but the misses and misunderstandings keep happening. What if you’ve asked for behavior modifications and nothing has changed over the time you’ve been together? You’ve done some couples counseling, and it’s still status quo. At what point does our individual pain inform us about the obvious fracture in our romantic relationship? Is there one thing that happens to put it all in perspective? Or do the crushing breakdowns simply keep happening, with no regard for the chaos and pain that is being caused for everyone?

Can You Be In and Lose a Great Relationship at the Same Time?

Tonight, I think the answer is yes. As deep as I go, as far as I stretch, there is still some fundamental lack of understanding. Some empathetic pathway that goes to anger rather than compassion. A kneejerk reaction that is both terrifying and debilitating at the same moment. And the moments of disconnect keep coming. And then there are amazing moments in between. And deeper moments on my end. And I believe we’re hitting a new level of mutual understanding and nurture, and boom, in a one-minute transaction the entire castle of trust comes crashing down. I’m the one in pain. My partner is confused, frustrated, and expresses a tad of remorse.

But it’s not about the miss. It’s about the misunderstanding at why I have to be the problem, why I have to be the one in pain all the time. There’s no crisis here. If we could just roll over it. Roll through the next two weeks. Relax. Don’t panic. Breathe. And try again.

At some point, I will become like the frog in the frying pan. As the heat is raised I am warm, warmer, and suddenly I’m cooked. That’s the way my emotional system works. I am uber-flexible. I am demanding. I am forgiving. And I recover well. However, if my partner continues to smash the trust between us, there is no amount of love, affection, and “I’m sorry I upset you” statements, that are going to make it better. Here’s the news flash: It’s not going to get better. If your partner wanted to change, understood the pain they are causing you, there would be movement. There are flashes of connection and like an addict, there is a slip.

As I have been responding to this unstable universe of love I have also been compensating for my pain with food, exercise, and creative work. I’m a bit overweight again. I’m in a creatively driven cycle. I’m not sleeping well. And something about these combined factors can cause me to respond physically in unhealthy ways.

  • I can shut down to try and not feel the disconnections
  • I can overeat (my drug of choice is ice cream) to numb out
  • I can pretend to be happy, I can over-inflate the “greatness” of my relationship
  • I can begin denying my own needs and desires
  • I can feel depressed and begin pointing my rocketship towards isolation rather than connection
  • I can give my partner graceful acceptance (“this is a hard place we’re in”)
  • I can act out in some spasm of anger or mania and go in search of a new high

The Real Answer is This Sucks

As I try to be flexible, adaptable, laid-back, accepting of my partner’s perspective, I begin to turn into back into a frog. I am not a prince, but I am also not just another relationship. I am working my ass off, I am honoring commitments, I am speaking up when it hurts, and I don’t think I’m being matched by my partner.

I don’t want to be alone again. I don’t want to give up the ground we’ve covered together. But as I try and convince myself that “given time” things will get better, I know I’m lying to myself. My inner-child is the one being hurt the most. My sad little boy inside is crying out, and the adults in the room aren’t responding. I am not being cared for by myself. I am losing the self-care struggle as I try and make sense of a situation that will never make sense.

There is no amount of apologies that can repair repeated damage. What happens is my inner-child begins to distrust my partner and as the pain continues begins to distrust my adult-self. The painful events keep happening. They keep happening. Will they stop happening? Or does the adult in me have to step back into the arena and call it a TKO when I am knocked the fk out?

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Recovery and Why the Okay Counselor is Not Enough

First let me say, I mean no disrespect to my former counselor. He worked with me through rough times. And gosh darn it, I survived, so I’ve got that going for me. And, more importantly, I don’t think any version of talk-therapy could’ve brought me out of a depression that was so obviously chemical. And with all that, firing him and getting a new counselor enlightened me to the benefit of having a more engaged and more active counselor.

Let me explain.

At several points over my dark period I was asking my counselor for a “plan,” something I could rally around. And like a normal therapist he reflected that question back to me. “If you had a plan, what would that look like.” Now, I get it, I understand the theme behind what he was doing. But when I asked the third or fourth time, I think it was time to give me some help. I needed hope desperately. I needed to imagine I had a plan, even if I had no plan. I needed him to think ahead of me a bit, and give me some ideas about what I should be hoping for in my recovery. What is the goal? What’s our path? Where are we going?

Now, I imagined him working really hard with me, and thinking about ways to challenge and encourage me along in my deep struggle. But at this point, reflecting back, I don’t think he was doing any “homework” on me or my case. I think he was going along in his tried and true method, and being the encouraging counselor that he was, and asking me to come up with the plan, the goal, the hope. That’s not what I needed. I was broken. After several sessions I complained that no hope, no plan, was forthcoming. I needed some help.

Again, we talked around it. We talked through a lot of stuff. We talked about the things I was having a hard time with. But we never came up with a plan. I’m not sure if he didn’t want to give me a plan, didn’t think it was in my best interest in coming up with a plan for me, or had no idea what a plan would look like, but the result was the same. I did not get a plan. And as a result, I really didn’t find hopefulness either.

One of the targets we agreed on was my need to feel anger. But beyond asking me to get mad at him, or encouraging me to express my disappointment at him, directly at him, we had a hard time accessing my anger. Let me put that more correctly, I had a hard time accessing my anger, and he had a hard time giving me direction that would help me get there. We were at an obvious impasse. But again, as I imagined perhaps he would be consulting his books, his notes, some recent research to come up with ideas, he came up with nada. We cruised along though our twice a week hour-long sessions doing the same old thing. Both being frustrated that I couldn’t seem to muster up my anger.

What if we tried something different?

That would’ve been great, but I don’t think it was in his mindset. And I’m guessing he was not actually “working” on my case outside of our hour. My guess, and this is 100% projection, is that he was just cruising along on with his routine counseling method. And since I fell outside the zone, he was okay with simply repeating the same session over and over, each week.

I was distraught. I was in no position to manage up. He was the therapist, I was the patient. And still, I was constantly asking him for new ideas, and any new ideas he might have for getting to a plan. We didn’t. He didn’t. And we soldiered along. But it was not very productive. There were no insights or forward movements that I could point to when my girlfriend asked, “What did you guys work on today?”

And then my new meds kicked in. And after one more session I fired him. It was too obvious to me at that time that we were not making progress. That he had no new arrows in his quiver.

My new therapist is like night and day. I was mad within 30 minutes of meeting him. No problem triggering my anger. Sure, it was still hard for me to get there, or stay there, but there was no lack of ideas for exposing my unresolved anger. I’ve got a lot of it.

So, in the world of recovery and counseling, make sure you asking for what you need. And when you keep asking for it, and getting the same results, it might be time to change horses, so to speak. Get a therapist that challenges you. One that keeps a few steps ahead of you along some path or plan that HE keeps in mind for both of you. Aimless, feel-good therapy, is not where it’s at for treating depression. And while I survived, I think I would’ve suffered much less with my new therapist.

Keep going to new therapists until you find one who fits. And when they fall in a rut and don’t serve your needs, get rid of them. You are the customer, and you can demand an awesome therapist.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

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What I Can’t Get Over or Forgive

We said we wanted to be together for the rest of our lives. And sure things changed and go weird, toxic even, but I was still in there fighting for my life as well as the relationship. When you made a choice OUT of the relationship, the whole house of cards came down around us. We cried together. But it was still you that had given up. Whatever your reasons, I can’t forget that you asked me to leave the house. Your house, I know, but still… You broke our promise to fight for the relationship.

I can only talk about my experience of the last 6 months of our relationship. It wasn’t pretty. And I own that a lot of the mess was my mess. I was chemically depressed in a way that I had not known since my 20s. And I couldn’t break out of it. My meds were off. Nothing was working. But I was working desperately to keep it together. And of course you couldn’t have known how bad it actually was. So perhaps, to you, I appeared lazy or unmotivated. That was far from the truth. My own internal truth.

When the wedding was called off the idea was it would be rescheduled as things regained a balance between us. But I think you began to leave the relationship in many ways from that point forward. Sure, you were in charge. You had the money and the nice job. And you had a tight grip on my balls too. But I colluded with that. I was gripping tightly to try to keep you even in the midst of my crippling depression. And that clinging was not good for either of us.

But there was another elephant in the room with us, that I was too afraid to bring up. As they say, each partner is 100% responsible for their own participation and failure in a relationship. I was unaware how powerful your drinking had become in weighing me down. Of course my dad was an alcoholic. And I’m not saying you are or you aren’t an alcoholic. I guess that distinction has to be owned by you. But I do know that your drinking affected me. It affected us. It was a problem in the relationship. And it was this reason, in the end that I decided to cut our Summer together short once you gave me the ultimatum.

What I wasn’t expecting was how much relief I experienced after moving out. As much as I loved you and looked forward to you getting home every night, I was also afraid of you as well. When you drank you sometimes got bitter and vindictive. Sure, you said you were better able to speak your mind after a few drinks, but once you were working on drink number three, there was no discussion to have. You were checking out and saying mean shit, and I had no way to respond. Talking to or reasoning with someone who is drunk is a zero sum game. So we isolated, even while we were together. And it made me very sad. But amidst all of my self-absorption, I was unable to see how powerful an effect it had on me. Until I left. When I left I got real clear, real fast, that I was no longer afraid. I had no more anxiety. It was like a miracle cure. I wasn’t even aware of the suppression that your drinking was causing in me.

Still, I was willing to keep working on it. Maybe you could control your consumption. Maybe you’d want to if I got well again.

But one of the first things you learn in Al Anon is you can’t focus on the other person. You can’t cause them to change. The only person you can work on is you. So I have worked tirelessly on myself. I have worked to let you go. I have worked to love you anyway, and walk away from you at the same time. It’s heartbreaking, but I’m healing.

I hope in your future you take the path of recovery, but I can’t count on it or wait on it. For now, we can’t really be in a relationship. For now, I can only watch you from a distance and pray for your health and wellbeing.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

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My Ex-Wife Never Was All That Honest

screen-shot-2016-10-07-at-1-17-52-pm

She was living with another man when we started having lunches. She started dating me before telling me or him of the other person. Along the way, that summer, she shut down our relationship so she could go “finish up” with him. She called me about six weeks later.

That opening volley should have been a red flag. But I was smitten. She was/is very pretty. I was very lonely. We hooked up soon after she moved out and she moved in with me in a matter of weeks. She made a very sensible move. She let go of the man who was unlikely to ever give her a child, something she had desperately begun to think about, and she found a man of means who was also ready for kids. Bingo.

There were a couple of wrinkles in her fantasy, however. 1. I did not make enough money to support a stay-at-home mom in the neighborhood we were committed to raising our children. 2. I suffered from occasional bouts of depression. She did too, but that’s another story all together.

So there we were, heading towards kids with some drastic changes to make. I was playing in a band, working for myself, and living in a condo that was paid for but not big enough to raise a family. What she needed was for me to get a real job, quit the band, and buy a house that could support our desired 2 kids in the neighborhood with the good schools. I caught the vision to. And so that’s what we did. I quit the band, got a full-time job, and we moved from my condo to a house in the “good schools” neighborhood. Of course we were 5 – 6 years ahead of needing those good schools, but hey, we were kids, we were in love, we were becoming parents.

So time goes along for a bit, we have two kids, a boy and then a girl, and we start having the frictions that married-with-children couples do. And a lot of that trouble had to do with money. I didn’t really think of it at the time, because we had decided to have her stay home with the kids as much as possible, while I continued the “big job” pursuit. While things went okay, the job market after 9-11 was awful. Our boat was taking on water. We spent most of the cash from the sale of the condo, and we were down to bare bones on our mortgage and house repairs.

It was about this time, and for some of those reasons, that I started a major slide into overwhelm, otherwise known as major depression. Not only was I responsible for an entire little family now, and a house payment, I also had lost my self-employment opportunity when the real estate market shut down after 9-11. Everybody had it hard, I get that, but somehow we didn’t join together as a team. Somehow we grew apart and the plan was for me to work, and work harder at finding work, and for her to … Well, we weren’t really sure what she was going to do. She didn’t know what she “wanted” to do, so I was committed to letting her fish around and figure it out. Meanwhile, our finances are swirling down the drain. But I never was one for being a stickler around money.

About the time things got really hard, she began to take lunches with a co-worker from a new group she was consulting with. Of course, I had no idea she was doing lunch with anyone. I stumbled upon a series of emails between them one afternoon while I was de-spamming our communal computer. BOOM. I was punched in the dick. She was revealing her deepest secrets, her concerns for my depression, her loneliness, and even her own inner struggles about being married to someone with depression.

I remember she came home with the kids and tried to talk to me about the evening plans. I was almost incoherent. It might have been easy to chalk that up to my struggles with depression, but this was different. Somewhere along the way she had taken out our personal love story and begun sharing it with another man. She was introducing him to the free coffee at our neighborhood library. She was doing lunches with a younger man just when her actual man needed her the most.

She came clean at this point. Not at doing anything wrong, but in acknowledging how this behavior might hurt me. She agreed to never do it again, and to end the “relationship” with this other man. But the damage had been done. She’d broken our sacred trust. And I am not sure if I ever felt 100% secure in my relationship after that. When sex went on hiatus, I remember wondering if she were seeing another man on the side, this time with physical comforts as well as mental comforts. I don’t think that was ever the case, but I’m not 100% sure.

Once the infidelity happens, even if it’s only emotional, the trust suffers. The odd thing, however, is how she made our “trust” an issue that I was mostly responsible for damaging. The “trust” issues seemed to all be about me. Not us? Our therapy sessions were less than productive as we searched for answers to MY depression and MY trust issues. She was the “okay” one.

Today, it’s easier to see how the entire relationship had been based on half-truths and omissions. I don’t have any regrets, at this point, because I look at our kids and I know we did the best we could. The best we could, however was less than 100% from her. At the moment when your partner is suffering and in need of your comfort, that is not the time to begin a “friendship” with a new person from work. A woman, maybe, but a handsome man?

I have learned a lot about trust and honesty in my life. My first and second marriages have taught me many things. I know that I will not tolerate infidelity, emotional or physical, and that TRUST is an issue that is shared. We had a trust issue in our marriage. While she was actually out doing something untrustworthy, I was the one being attacked. Perhaps the attack was the only defense she could come up with, for the way she was feeling inside.

She knew the moment I spoke of it, that afternoon when I found the email, that she had betrayed me. She never fully apologized for it. She said she wouldn’t do it again. That was as good as it ever got between us. I think that fracture is what led me towards divorce once it was offered. While I fought against the divorce, when I saw what I was up against, I gave in and complied. I guess I did the same thing at the beginning of our relationship when I first heard about the other man she was living with.

Things would be very different in my life had I walked away. I did not.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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