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

divorce

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,

The Off Parent

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image: man and woman on a date, creative commons usage


Asking Her, “Are You Having Sex? Because I’m Not.”

woman through the window - geddes

woman through the window - geddes

i am mad at you… i’m trying to get through it… forgive my slowness…
i say we’re doing well, you say we’re bouncing checks
i say, i’m making 100k, you say you’re making 2k per month
i say I recognize my accelerated mode, yellow flagging myself
you say, yes but… there’s more…

yes there is more… always more…

Bottom line: my love is never-ending for you, you are more beautiful to me today than at any time in the past, I can see you with a vibrancy as I am buzzing over here at P o L. but, I am tired of always being the one to hold the overview perspective, always the one to suggest parties, beach trips, cars, whatever… and have you… say, and I know you will agree that you are tired of this role as well, so this is what we are working on… no, we’re not safe, the house is not clean enough, we don’t have the money for that, we have other priorities. I am tired of holding the line when I am angry or in disagreement, when you seemingly let them fly when and where you see them, without regard for where I’m at or what impact it might have.

What I realized standing next to you in the closet this morning, i don’t like you very much. I am holding some shit, and for that I am sorry. So rather than speaking my mind, I mozy on to the office and work. Rather than complaining when you say you are going to come out of the kids’ room and watch a movie, I blow it off, throw it in the canyon for a later day.

I guess the later day has come. I am negative. I am not happy. I am not giving you the wrapper that I would like to. You suggest the beach via email a few days ago and my first thought is, “yeah right.” Glad it was your suggestion and not mine.

Well, that signals to me that I am off. What I am off about is something that feels like an imbalance. I am enthusiastic about Rich’s and what we began to hit on this week. (Sorry the date didn’t hit my work calendar.)

I don’t feel like I’m better than you or that I am doing it right and you are wrong. I don’t.

But I feel like you have some critical eye that is telling me what I am doing wrong, how I am not meeting YOUR expectations on several levels, and even when I come up and self-proclaim my own warning, card, rather than join, you say, but wait… there’s more. Well, that’s what we’re doing, I guess. The more part.

I am sorry for my negativity. I am focusing in on the kids. I am irritable when you talk out loud because I think you are telling me something to do. I am short with you. And I’m happy in {Daughter’s} room. (I guess you know that one, eh?)

I hope you can see that this is a love letter and not a bitch session. AS I WRITE THIS I AM FEELING VERY SAD.

I do not want to be on the receiving end of so many “you shoulds.”

Here’s the most telling example I can come up with. The other night as I was reading in bed, hoping that you would be returning from the snake room, you patted my head. The hard part was how good it felt. I don’t think our outward expression of genuine amazement and love of the other is very balanced. I am certain you are expressing that with Jason and Claire in spades. Me… well, it’s complicated.

And wrapping up, so I can come home. SEX. (I can see your expression changing in my mind…)

I add sex to your list of chores for the weekend. You feel like I am taking a pot shot at you. So you add, Looking for the when, where, how… Okay, so do ever have the thought… “horny”

You have expressed in the past that you do in fact have these thoughts.

So do you ever wonder when, where, how… or is that my department, like taking out the trash or switching lightbulbs? (that came across more harsh than I wanted) Nonetheless, I am harsh right now. I could care less about architecting the clean house, no kids, right mood, structure that it often requires to have sex together. So you know what, I’m having sex alone. Bummer.

Are you having sex?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

Note: This was the turning point for me… I was writing this as an email to my wife, trying to understand what was happening between us. My thought was I was working to expose myself, and illuminate the gap so that we could work on it. What ended up happening, I began to express my dissatisfaction in the marriage. And while she was the one who asked for the divorce, I was demanding a change in the status quo. Somehow I had NOT made my satisfaction a priority. But with the release of this email, I was declaring that I would NOT. SHUT. UP. About what was hurting me.

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image: a perfect vacuum, jeremy geddis, creative commons usage


The Nap Was a Source of Great Conflict In My Marriage. Why?

Yes, Virginia, there are always going to be more chores to do.
More things that need fixin.
More honey-dos than any man could ever do.

There needs to be a release point in any relationship or marriage, a moment when you can relax and let go of the shoulds coulds and wouldn’t it be nices. However, that ability became rarer and rarer in my ex-wife. I’m not sure if she’s ever satisfied that enough clothes are washed, that enough money is in the back, or that there isn’t some other pile of stuff that needed going through and decluttering.

Perhaps it was a defense mechanism that she used as she began to pull away from me. But she generally seemed unhappy, most of the time. It wasn’t me. I was pretty sure of that. In any relationship, you can have complaints, mistakes, anger, and frustration, but her CONSTANT GRUMPINESS probably had more to do with her internal workings than whether I cleaned the litter box before I went to bed.

I can recall a number of conversations that sounded like this.

“If you’ll do the dishes, I’ll put the kids in bed and we can meet in our room in fifteen minutes.”

Trying to make things even easier, I’d suggest, “How about I put the kids to bed, you go get ready for bed and I will do the dishes in the morning before you guys get up?

And it always struck a nerve. And in the last couple of years (amazing how long misery and complaint can go on) she woke up with an inflamed sense of “what are you doing now to disappoint me?” It seemed she was ALWAYS MAD about something.

She generally seemed unhappy, most of the time. It wasn’t me. I was pretty sure of that. Her constant grumpiness must have had more to do with her internal workings than whether I cleaned the litter box before I laid down on the bed in the middle of a Sunday afternoon.

I saw the world as pretty positive. And it was as if she was expressing the opposite viewpoint, just to counter my happiness. Of course, this is an oversimplification. But in the last weeks of my attempts to show her she was making a mistake, as I was still living in the house with her, I said, “Do you really think that I’m going to walk out that door and you are suddenly going to become a happy person?” It was a rhetorical question.

So how did our holidays and weekends become such divergent opportunities?

We would be coming up on Spring Break and she would ask, “So what are your goals for the weekend?” Fair question, if that’s really what she was asking.

“Um, I don’t know. Play some tennis, relax, maybe catch a nap or two.”

“Hmmm,” she’d say. Not in response, but in a sort of disapproval. So I would inevitably ask, “And you, sweet wife, what do you have in mind for this coming holiday?”

And out would come the projects, the plans, the ideas for WORK. Homework, yes, but not R&R. And somehow, my GOAL of a nap seemed to infuriate her.

Of course, at this point, she was still working part-time and managing the home front. [Nice job if you can afford to have someone do it.] And while I was commuting back and forth to a large technology company, she had very little sympathy for my weekend decompression requests.

Today, I think the shoe is on the other foot for the first time since before we were married.

She changed jobs recently to a “butts in seats, you earn 1.5 vacation days a month” kinda job. And while I’m sorry for my kids, I’m a bit self-satisfied that she’s dealing with the rigid authority and ownership of the corporate job that I’d been navigating our entire relationship.

Oh, what goes around… I’d be her napping requests have gone up a bit. And since any time she doesn’t have the kids she’s camped out at her boyfriend’s house, well, I’d bet she’s not all that focused on HIS chores. Meanwhile, the porch, her boyfriend and her started to replace in November, is still less than half-finished four months later. I guess her honey-do on that one is either expired or so inflamed she can’t stand being at her own house. Probably something altogether different, but I chuckle when I see the whole front half of the old house torn off and looking like crap.

Ultimately, it’s her choice, her honey-do, and her boyfriend that she’s signed up for a long series of weekend working sessions. I just want a nap when I look at it. I would have paid the $3k and had it done in a week. But we do things differently. Always have.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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


Tilting the Planet In My Favor

Talking to the women during several online dates, it is easy to imagine how woman are hit on much more than men. A pretty woman, well, if you’re trying to get on her calendar, forget about it. I had a woman chat with me online for months, and NEVER accept a coffee date. She was booked. And another woman, more recently, keeps chatting with me online, on OKCupid, and telling me how full her calendar is.

On this side of the fence, things are a lot slower. I get contacted by a woman about once a week. And most of them make me wonder why and how I’m still trying online dating. But we soldier on. All of us in the Online Dating world hoping to make it to the Offline Dating world.

And early on, post-divorce, a friend told me it’s like farming, you plant a lot of seeds and see if any of them come up. This week and a wonderful springtime crop poked up their heads and, at least for this moment, I have three “potentials” on a growth path. At least we’re talking.

Here’s the thing that feels kinda cool about it. There’s potential. Most of the time, my online dating adventures have been less than connective. And what I realize, now, at this moment, is I am truly beginning to crave closeness. Not sex closeness, I’ve had a bit of that lately, no, intimacy closeness.

In an odd moment, I was reviewing some old videotapes of my kids from years ago, and there was the ex in several shots. It was hard to look at her. To look at what we had. And the funny thing was, she kept leaving the camera on with the lens cap on, and I could hear the dialogue between her and a 5 yo boy and 3 yo girl. The way she talked to them was so different from me.

So she was prone to leaving the camera running after she thought it was off. And in one shot it was clear she was doing yoga-like we used to do together, but of course, in the time of the video, I would’ve been at work. So she’s in the warm down phase of the yoga exercise and I hear her guiding the kids, “Mommy will get that for you in just a few minutes when she’s done.”

And the lens cap was off this time, the camera was lying on the floor next to her, and it was pointed right at her hips. For an excruciating amount of time, there was her familiar and almost palpable mons breathing in and out, a place of near worship for me. Now gone and put away.

It wasn’t the sex I was interested in, it was the closeness that came from sharing that much pleasure. Giving that much pleasure. A familiar motion and taste and rhythm that I fell in love with and continued to love and crave.

By the time the video was being taken she had already ventured down other paths. She was perhaps at that very time having the intimate lunches with her colleague. I could only watch the breathing and sounds of the kids meandering around for a few minutes. I fast-forwarded to a part when my son is showing my daughter how to get on the swing in the back yard.

I know I won’t settle for anything less than that deep appreciation and trust that comes from being inside and alongside someone for years and years. It was a shared life I was looking for, even as she was veering off course, afraid of depression, afraid of emotional expression, afraid to breakdown or feel deeply into the craziness that had overwhelmed our lives after 911.

So in finding my crop of “potentials” overflowing for the first time, it’s not about the women at the top of this post. It’s no longer about the woman in the video with the beautiful belly that held and released our children so many years ago. It’s about what deep fullness lies ahead.

I can be casual about these dates because I am not wrapped up in the immediate outcome. One of the things I’m really good at is delayed gratification. I know SHE is coming. I know I will find that Love with a capital “L” again. I can’t imagine it, right now, sitting here, even contemplating the three women I’m talking to, but I can feel the ache for it.

The ache for sex is something very different and can be soothed both alone and with another person. But this longing, was actually present while I was married. I didn’t know why. I didn’t have words for it, though I put it in a few songs. I just called it “the longing.”

Now I understand it’s a longing for something deep and pure. We can make it through anything if we have honesty and love, I used to think. And I believed I was still in that movie up until my ex convinced me that she was DONE.

At that point, I had no other option but to collapse my dream and take it on the road. The road back to love and peace and breathing alongside a lover for the thousandth time. I will get there again.

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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image: Love, Juliana Coutinho, creative commons usage


Beyond the Rush of Love, Is the Test of Time

We seek a connection, a rush, a hit of passion. We search for our next relationship, sometimes in a wounded state, sometimes strong and confident. The process is the same. In starts and fits we meet people, we check out the chemistry, the attraction, and then we evaluate their potential as a partner. And as we spend time together we lean into the connections we find, the affinities we try to cultivate and highlight. And the red flags we try to evaluate and either dispel or bring up for discussion. A few too many red flags and they are out.

And if we’re lucky we continue down the courting road towards whatever is next. And depending on our desire and openness we progress on to the big R, relationship. And sometimes we find ourselves afraid to explore that road for long without fear kicking in. What’s that fear about?

It can’t all be euphoria and bright stars. If there is zero conflict and only bliss, there is something amis.

Part of the fear for me, is the knowledge that my desire and romantic goggles will cloud my clear thinking and I will be blind-sided by some fatal flaw in the relationship or the other person, or even our fractured match.

A flip-side to that fear is the one that says, Oh my, what if it continues to grow and build and feel great? What if it’s mutual? And that too has a fear base. Going too far and too fast into a relationship that ultimately has the power to destroy your hard-won recovery.

So we balance our feelings between the two extremes, walking together down the old road of becoming familiar with each other’s habits, quirks, and even their fears. And if we’re lucky, if we’ve done our self-care homework and are coming from a healthy and stable place within ourselves, we can parse the various emotions that come flooding up from the highs and lows of this journey.

It can’t all be euphoria and bright stars. If there is zero conflict and only bliss, there is something amis. And you can be assured that the opium of your bliss will give way to the hangover at some point and the real “other” person will show up. And it’s hard to remember that the courting phase also puts each of us on our best behavior, whereas when we become more and more close we start to let a few of our skeletons out. On accident, for example, if we snore or something. And unconsciously as we project past hurts and memories onto this new relationship. Either way, if you have zero conflict you’d better dig into that, because a healthy fight, or healthy disagreement is essential to success for the long haul. You’ve got to be able to disagree and not freak out when you find things that don’t gel.

Okay, so let’s say all of this is working. And let’s imagine you’re several months down the treacherous road, you’ve weathered an argument or two, maybe even seen and worked through a few red flags. And it’s still feeling good. What then?

Then comes the biggest fear, in my opinion. What if you do everything right and explore all skeletons and mismatches and something still starts to go off. Maybe in a year, maybe in 5 years. How do you keep a relationship healthy? How do you still develop passion for a person you’ve been exploring with for years? What’s the key to sustained and loving relationships?

The breakdown of my marriage and thus family was the hardest moment I have yet to experience in my life.

Because, after all this work to get where you are, to even come close to finding a compatible partner, the worst thing imaginable is the death of that passion or compassion for the other person. How did it happen in your previous relationships? What was the fracture that started the breakdown in the relationship? Was it a specific event?

In my experience so far, part of the hesitation and “go slow” impulses comes from a healthy respect for this potential let down. I don’t want to get deep with someone if I’m likely to get hurt. And in the early months of the relationship, I can assure you there is still enough novelty and newness, the excitement for discovery, that fuels a distorted view of reality. It’s okay to go slow. The main goal being communication and understanding how you and your partner cope under pressure. It can’t all be paradise and nectar.

In my real marriage (my first marriage was a  trial run) I was still madly in love with my partner who had begun to look elsewhere for that connection. There was no physical infidelity, but a few big slips of the emotional variety. And through it all we both struggled to recapture, reframe, and reform our relationship. And ultimately, even as I was optimistic and willing for repair, the other person decided divorce would be the better course of action for us.

That was the real death of my relationship, learning that my then-wife had been to see an attorney to see what divorce looked like, to explore options.

I hope never to experience that free fall drop again in my life. I’d rather stay alone, or at least casual and superficial. The breakdown of my marriage and thus family was the hardest moment I have yet to experience in my life. As I rebuild my life, and rebuild my trust for another person, the fall is one of those skeletons that I have to keep expressing and being honest about. And if we stay in the present moment, and keep our connection, we’re on the way towards building a bridge over past hurts and fears and towards what each of us is ultimately looking for: a lifelong cheerleader and partner. Someone who can see the hurts, and quirks and still love you through them.

It’s a long road just to find a person who’s willing to even venture down the relationship journey at all. So how do we build a new connection without allowing the fear or euphoria blind us to the real relationship? Again, it’s about staying in the present moment. You don’t have to plan or fear commitment when you are just getting to know someone. You don’t have to protect yourself if you stay in the “now” and just enjoy the process and the high of a new relationship.

Look for ways to see through the haze of lust, or the fog of fear, to recognize when things are working, or things are really not working. It takes time. There is no hurry.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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

OFF-stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Data Set of My Divorce: Adding Things Up

OFF-dataset

We were married 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 work place, 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,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Wait. I’m the Father of Your Children, Remember?

OFF-header-beewitch

When my business hit the skids about three years ago I had to fight to keep my house. My ex-wife grew impatient with my excuses. “I’ve got bills to pay, too,” she said. “Kids come before our needs,” she said. I pleaded with her to be patient. “My setback is temporary, I will get caught up as soon as we replace the anchor client.” I lost the fight and I lost my house. She didn’t care. She wanted her money. The kids money. She was mad and mad about it.

It seems to me, women go into divorce knowing they have the advantage. That’s why my then-wife went and “checked on her options” with an attorney, before she ever told me.

Then when I tried to schedule a team meeting about the kids, she would defer with this type of statement. “When can I expect the money?” And she would refuse to give me the time of day unless I could answer that question. The problem was, I couldn’t answer. So rather than lie and fail, I said, “I’m not sure.”

What is it that made her so mad? How did the money become MY problem and not a shared problem? Didn’t she get the house? Didn’t she get custody? Didn’t she get the money she wanted? Didn’t I have to pay for the kid’s insurance as well? What did she have to be impatient about? Impatient enough to throw the AG’s office at me?

It seems to me, women go into divorce knowing they have the advantage. That’s why my then-wife went and “checked on her options” with an attorney, before she ever told me. Even though we were in couple’s therapy, she kept that critical little detail from me. Why? So when she did get her ducks in a row, she could spring it on me, creating a tactical advantage.

The summer I left my house I was disoriented, homeless, and missing my kids with an empty feeling. And missing my kids about 70% of the time. She literally got everything. She got the package deal. Why is it we think this is still “in the best interest of the kids?” It’s not. It’s in the best interest of their mom, but against the good will and good fortune of the father.

Dad’s asked to leave the house, leave a hefty part of his paycheck, and most of his parenting schedule. There’s no science behind this equation. It’s just “old school” divorce.

Today she still has the sweet end of the deal. She’s still got the house, that has tripled in value. She still gets a hefty paycheck from me, tax-free. She gets the child tax credit.

Today, you can fight this bad deal. And even if you vow to do a collaborative divorce, you need to know that around the money issues, things will get tough. It’s as if she was threatened by the money. Like she was fighting for her survival. I can understand this while the initial negotiations were going on, but three years into the deal, her deal, she should’ve been able to lighten up and realize she got the sweet end of the deal.

Today she still has the sweet end of the deal. She’s still got the house, that has tripled in value. She still gets a hefty paycheck from me, tax-free. She gets the child tax credit. And she’s still asking me for more money for stuff. Nope. Done. She’s had her fun. There are at least 5 more years until my second child is 18. And that’s a lot of money.

I feel like the expenses should be shared not just thrust on the dad. And when he loses his house, the financial burden becomes even more difficult. How could my wife then file our divorce with the AG’s office? It was as if she were turning me in for collections.

  1. I never said I was trying not to pay her.
  2. I begged her to pause and consider her actions and the damage it would cause me AND the kids
  3. I showed her my income statements.
  4. I told her I was trying to save my house from foreclosure.

She still filed against me with the AG’s office, effectively listing me as a dead beat dad. I had never been doing anything but trying to accommodate her demands. Today she would tell you that I was saying I wasn’t going to pay her. Today she would tell you that she was protecting the interests of the kids. Really? What about the interest of the breadwinner of the family?

When you divorce you both want whats best for the kids. But don’t be blinded by that rhetoric. Your ex-wife wants whats best for her.

So my ex-wife filed her grievance with the AG’s office. So she could ENFORCE her judgement against me. Wait, what? It should’ve been our collaborative agreement that outlined the best case scenario for our finances moving forward. Then with honest communications, it should’ve been adjusted as our situations changed. It was not. I still owe my ex-wife $1,200 a month for two kids. AND I’m paying another $1,200 a month for COBRA health insurance. AND she get’s the child tax credit? Something is not right with this situation.

But it takes money to consult with an attorney. It takes money to save money. And somewhere in my sad dad bones I’m being mean. But that’s not really fair, is it?

When you divorce you both want whats best for the kids. But don’t be blinded by that rhetoric. Your ex-wife wants whats best for her. And no matter how collaborative you are, no matter how much of a good dad and good guy you want to be, there may come a time when she’s going to press charges on you and coerce you in to giving her the money. Even when you tell her she’s going to get her money.

I still tell my ex-wife I will catch up with the money. Even when we should’ve been splitting the costs all along. She’s considering letting me buy the kids their cars and forgiving the judgement that she has against me. That debt sits on my credit as a lien to the State of Texas, Child Support Division. You know what this says about me?

I am a deadbeat dad, even if I’ve paid every single month I’ve had an income. Every single month. She doesn’t get it. And she’s paid nothing to me.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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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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Dear Ex-Wife, You’re Missing the Point

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

Even though:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What Every Dad Loses In Divorce

Everyone loses in divorce. But in many ways the dad in the equation typically loses more and much faster than any other member. It doesn’t have to be this way. In my opinion, 50/50 parenting with no child support should be the norm. It’s not what I go, even though I asked for the 50/50 split regardless of the money. That’s not what my then-wife wanted and her lawyer had told her what she’d get if we went to court, so we started negotiations there. It sucked. It was unfair. And as the dad, I lost everything in a single stroke of the pen.

In Texas courts, seven years ago I was handed a divorce I didn’t want with a schedule that was unfair, and a financial burden that continues to make my life very difficult. It’s just the standard deal given to men when divorcing in this state. The mom gets the kids, the house, and the money. Period. You can fight it, and you might win, but that’s going to cost you more money and turn an amicable divorce into a contested divorce.

I took the idea of a collaborative divorce to heart. But in the end there was no collaboration. I lost all my issues. All that “collaborative” meant was that I wasn’t going to sue my soon-to-be-ex during the negotiations of our divorce. That was my mistake. I was trying to be the nice guy, the stand up dad, the conscious one. And I believe we were both trying to do what was best for the kids, in our own minds. But society has this idea that a mom’s love is more valuable than a father’s love. Maybe 25 years ago, when the man typically worked as the sole breadwinner and the wife was a stay at home mom. You can see how that family system might make sense after divorce as well. But that’s not the financial society we live in today.

If I want to rent a small apartment, one bedroom, no space for my kids to sleep over, I’m going to first have to pay the child support, $1,350 after taxes and their healthcare, $550 after taxes. THEN if I have money left over I can eat and pay for cellphones and gas. And then, if I have a really fucking great job, I have the money left over to think about rent. Whereas my ex-wife got a house with mortgage payments that are significantly lower than my child support payments. How is that balanced? It’s not. There’s nothing fair or balanced about divorce. Dad’s prepare to get screwed or fight for your right both to your kids and to the financial arrangement that is equitable.

It can get worse. Once I got a month behind on my child support, because I had lost a large client in my freelance business, my then-ex filed with the Attorney General’s office to begin proceedings to collect the child support she was owed. Less than 45 days in, she put me in a losing battle with the state’s attorneys who behave like collections agents. Their most fun technique is to freeze your bank account. All outstanding checks and charges bounce and you pay those fees. And you pay for the privilege of having a lien put on your account. The first time it happened I was eating dinner at a restaurant with my kids. My card was declined. I was surprised. I pulled up my phone app and saw that I was $43,645 overdrawn. Luckily my daughter had just been given some cash for an upcoming vacation. I had to borrow money from my 10 yo daughter to pay for dinner. That was pretty humiliating. Of course, I couldn’t tell the kids, “Your mom is the reason this happened.” I had to make up some excuse about a bank error.

And today, seven years later, she’s still got the AG’s jackbook on my throat.  Everyday, she wakes up and decides not to call off the AG and resolve the matter between us. Everyday she puts my credit and masculinity up on the wall as a “dead beat father.” And she has made this decision everyday now for over five and a half years. We get close to an agreement and she always backs out. We get close to meeting with the AG’s office to reduce my payment, and there’s always a problem with her schedule. For two years I’ve been trying to get her to meet with me so we can set a more reasonable child support payment based on what I make. And she’s stalled every time. “I’m so sorry, I can’t make it.” And I have to ask the AG’s office for another meeting and it goes back to being scheduled six months later.

Divorce is a bitch. There is not two ways about it. But it does not have to be a war. My ex-wife puts me on the losing end of the deal everyday. Not because she needs the money. Not because she thinks I won’t pay her. But because it gives her some satisfaction that the AG’s office is running my finances until both kids turn 18. Well, if you’re in this situation and just beginning your divorce journey, lawyer up and ask for 50/50 with no child support. You pay for them when you’ve got them and you split the bills. That’s the only fair way to go. I support you in getting time with your kids and a reasonable financial arrangement that doesn’t cripple your future.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

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Just Be Mad, Don’t Be Passive Aggressive

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Okay, so she’s mad at me. She was mad at me for the last year of my marriage to her. Turns out, she’s just mad.

If my ex-wife could own her madness. When we were married she started letting it out sideways. She wasn’t telling me she was mad, or what she was mad about, she’d just occasionally blurt out, “Fuck You.” And what’s going on six years after our divorce is not much different. She has plenty she could be mad at me about, I guess. I owe her some money. And she could be convinced that her life would be much happier if she just had the money. Well, we all know, it’s not about the money. But if it is, she should be telling me she’s mad at me about the money.

But let’s talk about how it manifests itself in our life. Several years ago, when I started getting behind on my child support payments, my ex-wife filed our “case” with the attorney general’s office. I was telling her I was about to get behind. And two months in she filed. But, you file on dead beat dads. Dads who are trying to cut out on their kids or their obligations. That’s a dead beat dad.

So today, the AG’s office has a lien on my credit. And my ex-wife thinks that having them in our lives is a good idea. Not because she thinks they will get the money any sooner, because they won’t. Not because she thinks I’m going to try to get out of my obligation, because I won’t and I can’t. No, she’s keeping the AG’s office on my ass because she’s mad the AG’s office give her the illusion of power and control over me. If we could get the AG’s office out of our relationship we would both have options beyond what we have today.

Today I am incentivized not to be honest with my wife. What? If she could be real about why she wants the AG in our lives, I suppose she could see that it’s just about her anger. If she could be real about it we could come to some resolutions about how and when I could get caught up. But with the AG’s office in the picture, the options are limited. I shouldn’t tell her anything and just let them deal with the account. She harbors some convoluted thinking that allows her to feel justified and righteous about them.

I have a collections agency on my case 24/7. And somehow, some way, my ex-wife thinks it’s a good idea. But really she’s just mad and extracting her pound of flesh.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

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…but you’re out of hand these days.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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My Ex-Wife Never Was All That Honest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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I May Never Reach Serenity with my Ex-Wife

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Divorce is hard. Coparenting is hard. Being civil to someone who is constantly attacking you is hard. Being solid and positive for my kids, above everything else, above all she throws at me, is not hard.

Sure we do it for the kids. We tried to keep the marriage together “for the kids,” and that didn’t work out so well. After divorce, you’ve got a harder hill to climb. You can NEVER let your angry face show. You’re coparent is golden in the eyes of the kids. There is no other option. Any anger you voice to your kids about your ex comes back to haunt everyone. I can’t say I’m not tempted.

And her best, today, means the AG’s office gives her some reassurance that she will eventually get every dollar she was awarded in the divorce decree. It’s a shame she sees that as an entitlement and not a cooperative agreement.

Just yesterday I was really really tempted to tell my 13 yo daughter, “You know at 15 you can decide who you want to live with.” I’d never say it. But I wanted to. I wanted to reclaim my daughter for the last few years of her attached child role. Once she’s gone to college all things change. And their mom made some decisions that forever changed our trajectory together. And to say I got the short end of the bargain would we an understatement.

I got the typical non-custodial role. I pay child support to the tune of $1,300 per month, and I get the kids about 30% of the time. That’s not fair. But that’s Texas. In fact, that’s still most of the country. The dad is a second class citizen. Oh, and did I mention she got the house and paid-for car too?

Still, there is no time to be angry with your ex. If you spend time fuming at them, you are wasting your own life. If you can channel that energy into something creative (writing a blog for example) then you can make use of the wonderful power that anger brings. I’m angry with my ex-wife. She does things daily that confound me and clearly do not live by the “do unto others” rule. But she has also abided by the no negatives rule. We focus on the parenting of our kids. There may be money issues, and basic courtesy issues that are all out of whack, but we make our best effort to keep our kids out of the fray between us.

The best result is that our kids are happy, productive, and thriving in high school and middle school. You will do almost anything to keep that positive result as the focus of your relationship with the other parent. Yes, I named this blog in an attempt to capture some of the “off” things that my ex does, but it’s also a testament to venting anonymously and keeping the shit-storm out of their lives.

I’m sure she does not see it the same way. I’m sure she doesn’t read me anymore, but she knows this blog is out here. And yes I’m cataloging the ills, tribulations, and trials of being a father with a narcissistic ex. My coparenting skills are tested almost weekly. I have to breathe and stop all action. From this calm place, I can remember the faces of my lovely children and take the next right action. It is NEVER to attack my ex. I’d like to. I’d really like to let her have it. I’d like to sue her and get 50/50 custody as I had asked for. But I won’t.

Yes, it’s my kid’s problem, because they have to deal with her attitude and resentment 70% of the time. But when they are with me, I can be 100% positive, no matter what.

I have to admit things are working out for me. I’ve got a new relationship (2 years) that’s heading towards marriage in several months. I’ve got my health. And in the near future I will also be rebuilding my credit.  She says, “I just don’t see it,” when I ask about removing their boot from my ass. But she too is doing her best. I have to believe this. And her best, today, means the AG’s office gives her some reassurance that she will eventually get every dollar she was awarded in the divorce decree. It’s a shame she sees that as an entitlement and not a cooperative agreement. Yes, it’s enforceable. And yes, she’s enforcing it. But she doesn’t need to. I am paying 1/3 of every dollar I make. Every. Single. Dollar. Suing me is not going to change the pace or the improve the volatility of the employment market.

Today I can say I love my ex-wife and hate her at the same time. Yes, yes, “it’s a thin line…” but this is something more. She still carries a lot of contempt and anger towards me. This is exemplified in her need to keep the state’s lawyers in the picture. Heck, she even works for lawyers, so you’d think she’d get some counsel. And today she’s married to a wealthy man. She’s still not happy, but guess what? It’s no longer my problem. Yes, it’s my kid’s problem, because they have to deal with her attitude and resentment 70% of the time. But when they are with me, I can be 100% positive, no matter what.

Get that engraved in your heart. Positive no matter what.

And love on.

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

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

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

While married there always seemed to be some problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She’s just not happy.

I am happy.

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

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

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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#dad #divorce #depression

divorced father and his kids

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

… I will continue tomorrow…

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Showing Up In Spite of the Lizards (Surviving the Depression)

Screen Shot 2016-09-04 at 10.12.42 AMI was seeing lizards everywhere. And not the good kind. The kind of lizards that were whispering to me, telling me lies, breaking my heart, and causing me to break the promises I made to myself.

I had a hard holiday season. I have a history of hard holiday seasons ever since my oldest sister committed suicide by jumping of a nearby bridge into a dry creek bed. So this Christmas was a bitch. But it also taught me a number of things about myself and my resilience.

In the first day of the spiral, I could tell what was happening. It’s sort of like a metallic taste in my mouth.
I’ve had depressive episodes since my teens. I didn’t know what was going on back then. Today I know exactly what’s happening. That’s not to say I can stop the slid into darkness when I feel it happening. (That’s what I’m getting better at, but I know it will happen again.) I feel the tingle in my groin that shares the same sensation with looking over the edge of a tall building. The thrill, the terror, the flight. It’s like that. But in a bad, not exhilarating way.

This holiday season I had a number of factors that brought me down. (And by brought me down, I mean going from upright enthusiastic and hopeful, to ready to follow my sister off the bridge.) I was stressed about my job. I was tired from a long day of traveling home from vacation. AND I had the holidays staring me in the near future. And this summer, different from any summer, I was going to have my teenaged kids in the house with me and my fiancé for 8 straight days. I was worried about everything.

In the first day of the spiral, I could tell what was happening. It’s sort of like a metallic taste in my mouth. And a little bit of electrical current is being applied in my armpits, like torture. It’s subtle at first, but I recognized my old nemesis. And even with all of the awareness and experience I’ve had, I was semi-powerless to mitigate the slip.

I really wanted to disappear. I didn’t directly want to kill myself, but I could see the appeal of not waking up in the morning.
I went from being a productive and happy member of my family to being a stone temple frog. I didn’t speak, because saying anything carried the risk of actually telling you what bad craziness was going on in my head. Like the best/worst Hunter Thompson scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, I was seeing lizards everywhere. And not the good kind. The kind of lizards that were whispering to me, telling me lies, breaking my heart, and breaking the promises I made to myself. I didn’t want to go DOWN, but kicking screaming was not my way. I silently slipped beneath the surface of the dark water, hoping no one would notice my absence.

I really wanted to disappear. I didn’t directly want to kill myself, but I could see the appeal of not waking up in the morning. BUT… I had so much to stop me, from suicide, that is. There was nothing that could stop me from hitting the dark days, but my reaction and ability to just fucking show up, was my superpower in depression.

… I will continue tomorrow …

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What I’m Missing Today as a Divorced Dad

OFF-2016-sleeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Taking Dad for Granted After Divorce

OFF-2016-fight
takeforgranted

I am a paycheck to my ex-wife. Along with being a dad and provider of love, support, and transportation to my kids, I am an income stream. And a few years ago when my ex-wife decided a few late payments were the reason to turn me over the AG’s office, well, things have gotten worse from there. A lot worse.

Today I am in the process of having the AG’s office review my income and recalculate my child support payment. It looks like it will be about a 50% reduction. I’m sure my ex is none too pleased about this either. But it was her choice to bring the state’s attorney’s into our lives and now it’s hard to get them back out.

Still, even as we are both dealing with the frustrations of the system, I made a comment via email today about how it would be nice to negotiate this between the two of us, without the state in our business. Her response was as telling as it was swift.

dad

This is her blanket response. And there’s no sense in arguing it. We both feel justified in our positions. But her position is that by having the AG in our lives, I will comply with the divorce decree. Only there’s never been an indication that I wasn’t complying within the full letter of the law. Oh, I got behind and asked for her to be patient, but there was never any wiggling about me being good on my promise, on my debt.

Even as I knew I was going to be late, I tried to offer her some collateral, so she wouldn’t feel so exposed. She refused and forced me to sell my house because there was no option for refi or restructuring once she had put the AG’s vice grip on my credit. So she’s gotten her pound of flesh. And the state has taken a 10% administration fee as well as crippling me from being able to make any financial choices. Before my current girlfriend, I was living in my mom’s house. That’s just fine with my ex-wife.

The only thing that has ever spoken to my ex-wife is money. And if the AG’s office gives her some sense of security about money, specifically money from me, how am I to counter that?

But what she doesn’t understand is her jack boot is no longer effective. In fact, her enforcers are going to start asking me for a lot less money in a month. And still, she feels their presence in our accounts is best for her and the children. I could argue about how long I’ve paid child support and health insurance now that my employment has been steady. I could try to persuade her that she can trust me. But I couldn’t convince her then, what makes me think I can convince her of anything now?

The only thing that has ever spoken to my ex-wife is money. And if the AG’s office gives her some sense of security about money, specifically money from me, how am I to counter that? My collateral is no good. My trust and integrity have been part of her problem all along, I guess.

So in the state of things when a woman decides to divorce a man she is immediately entitled to a paycheck. The amount of that paycheck will be based on the number of children you have and some factor in your salary. If your salary is zero at the time of negotiations they will set it at your last known income. And for me, that was a problem, because I had been making great money at a corporate job prior to the divorce. And while, at the time, I was confident of being able to replace my job at a similar level, it still has not happened. Yeah, I can blame the economy, my skill set, or some other external force, but I don’t really blame anything. I survived.

Some how my ex-wife sees my unemployment as a debt to her. While I wasn’t benefiting from not having an income, I was actually digging a big debt hole at the same time. In a humane relationship, where two caring adults are working together, the former partners work out terms. She was not interested in hearing my ideas. She demanded her money for a few months. Threatened the AG’s enforcement. And then took the necessary action to secure her money. Except, again, that’s not really how things should’ve gone.

As the kids turn 18 we’re going to have to negotiate ourselves without them anyway, why not get back to our co-parenting, cooperative, and honorable relationship. Nope.

Fact: a dad’s child support obligation cannot be erased under any circumstances. There was a 0% chance I wasn’t going to pay her. The timing of those payments was the only issue. And sending me to the creditors did not help my motivation. In fact, the “dead beat dad” status lost me at least one job.

So what did my ex-wife gain by sicking the state’s attorneys on me? Perhaps some sort of vindication of her anger. Some power play to bring me to my proverbial knees and humiliate me. (Yes moving back to my mom’s was the last resort.) And still, two years and lots of damage later, she’s still convinced that the Attorney General’s office serves some purpose in our lives.

The point I was trying to make to her was how we could do this a lot easier without the AG’s office involved. And as the kids turn 18 we’re going to have to negotiate ourselves without them anyway, why not get back to our co-parenting, cooperative, and honorable relationship. Nope. Let’s keep the boot to my neck as long as possible to make sure I don’t squirm out of paying her something.

Just days before she made the decision to turn me in as a dead beat dad I asked her, “Do you think I am hiding money from you? Or do you think I am not looking for work as hard as I can? What’s the point of getting the AG’s office involved?”

She replied that she did not think I was hiding money or that I was not looking for work. What she said as her justification, probably the same one she’s using in her mind now, was that it wasn’t fair for the kids to have to suffer because I was not paying my child support on time.

I laugh right now, thinking about this. My well-to-do middle-class ex-wife and my two healthy and happy kids live in one of the best neighborhoods in one of the best cities in the country and go to the best public school available. There is nothing my kids have missed out on for lack of money. And by enjoining our lives with the administration of the child support division of the attorney general’s office she’s merely giving me the middle finger. There’s nothing to gain, except maybe her still-angry pound of flesh.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Long Tail of Parenting and Custody After Divorce

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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