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

hardstuff

Strengthening Your Core Happiness Becomes More Important After a Breakup

OFF-openheart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written on July, 2013.

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image: open heart, sebastian schrimpf, creative commons usage


The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage

OFF-lunching

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

+++

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

+++

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written in 2014

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image: budapest dinner cruise, top budapest, creative commons usage


An Ending Signals a New Beginning

hippy chick vs woman with a clue

hippy chick vs woman with a clueThe first “woman with potential” goes back to planning stages. “thanks, but…”

Again, yesterday was a big day. Wrote the “back off bioche” post to my ex. This was a summary to the overthinking woman with potential, in response to an email from her about why I was giving her the silent treatment.

Dear ____,

I’m not trying to be silent. I spent most of yesterday securing my replacement computer. Today I will most likely be transferring and setting it up.

I’m happy to see you in person and talk. I’m not that interested in the phone right now.

My condensed version of the disconnection for me: (nothing communicates clearer than a few bullet points)

  • I find you wonderfully attractive and intellectually euphoric.
  • What I arrived at the morning at breakfast was my theory of progression (spend time with someone, grow closer, share affection) was missing the last component between us.
  • Time. You said something after I made my pitch that I found illuminating. “If things did develop into a relationship, then you’d want to (desire) spend even more time with me.”

I had to let that sink in for a few days before I got it. My assumption is that this IS the desired result of getting closer. What I heard you saying about yourself is, that’s where some of the hesitations are.

  • Touch. In my own path to wholeness after divorce, I discovered a book called the 5 love languages. It seems to me that my love language is physical touch. My ex-wife’s language was something else. I won’t project what yours might be. Mine looks like: holding hands, snuggling, random strokes of affection and greeting. In my marriage, I was often required to go without affectionate touch for long stretches of time. I am seeking someone who connects with physical closeness, even in the early stages of relating.

I hope this provides some closure. I do not want to shy away from sharing with integrity. And maybe I got it wrong. I’m happy to hear your take.

+++

She was none to happy. She responded with some slap shot about how I had stood her up and how she wanted someone who was reliable. I was confused. I asked for clarification.

She responded, “I told you I was interested in friendship but not if you’re going to be unreliable. Let’s give each other some space and see how we feel after I’m back in mid-June.”

Turns out she was expecting we would’ve gotten together, not that I had actually stood her up. I’m not sure where the unreliable thing came from. In several subsequent messages, I got more clarification and more confusion.

She said, “I love physical affection but not with someone I don’t know well. I don’t feel up for getting together right now.”

Umm. Okay, that’s what I was saying. I closed with this, “Apologies for it not working out yesterday. I was satisfied with your written answer. Safe travels.”

I wish her well in trying to get to know someone well. I guess this is what sort of happened 15 years ago when we first began hanging out together. There was all this talk, and then nothing. I don’t know what it takes for her to get to know someone, but if you’re not kissing after 5 dates when all things are a go, you might not be kissing ever.

Obviously, all things were not GO for her. I know I didn’t fit, nor did I want to fit, into her scheduled box. I wanted to break out of both of our boxes with unexpected joy. That never happened. Time to move on.

So with some clarity and simplification, I move back into scanning mode. Woman with potential #2 is still in the constellation, but she’s finding it hard to return my phone calls again. Or follow through with a message that says, “Call you on the phone later,” when she doesn’t. It’s okay. She’s SO PRIME, I’ll wait forever. BUT I won’t be waiting around with my hands in my pockets. That’s called bad farming.

So back to OKC. I have two potential conversations on the line. I’m interested to see how things move forward. I’m a bit more conscious of my time, and time off. I’m a bit more reluctant to spend even an hour with someone who’s not close. I’m learning how to focus on myself and my own growth and needs. And when the relationship arrives, IT WILL BE EASY.

I am certain I will not have to manufacture love, in order for it to happen. I’ve tried that. I don’t have to woo too hard. I’m often a bit overwhelming to women when I turn on the charm or my typical oversharing.

And I’ve shared snippets of the poetry that has come from being with a woman with potential #2. But I’ve not asked for feedback or tried in any way to accelerate the pace. We held hands and snuggled last time. She is very touchable. She is also very busy and very private. I seem to have been pursuing her across two marriages and many lifetimes. And she is responding. So let’s breathe. Take it slow. And keep working on MYSELF and MY ISSUES.

When SHE decides to reveal herself I am ever more prepared to articulate my vision and desires. I’m waiting to hear hers.

UPDATE: As I’m typing this message. The remaining woman with potential hits me up on Facebook. She’s sort of explaining why she didn’t call when she said she would. I posted back to her with this love note.

I’m so happy I could burst.

I’m ‘ultra-casual’ as I said the other night. That concept kinda suits me well at the moment. No pacing or intention, just intentionality and time.”

It’s about time.”

All I can say is, “God moves in mysterious ways.”

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written in 2013

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girl in waves (a poem)

girl in waves

girl in waves

she said my presence in her life
was no longer a priority
as she left for three weeks in hawaii
i stayed calm
as I stayed in her place
awaiting

her return
did bring a moment
of clarity
as i volunteered to give her more space
it was as if
we had been living to two separate worlds
me still loving as hard as i could manage
her establishing a different plan
that didn’t include me

i
showed myself out
still howling at the loss
and dancing alone
in the moonlit waves
closer to home
lone wolf
again

12-30-21


The Evolving Single Dad: Failure to Hopefulness Again

OFF-dadfeet-gmp

After divorce, struggling with identity and depression is common. This single dad has found strength by focusing on hopefulness and cultivating a joyfulness within himself.

It’s been over five years since I walked out of my family home and changed everyone’s life forever. Sounds dramatic now, but when I was going through it, I was not sure what the rest of my life held. There were moments I could not tell you one good thing that was ahead for me. And I cratered for a bit, taking refuge at my sister’s house while I decided what I was going to do.

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

Now, looking back on it, the worst event I can recall in my personal history, I have somehow grown more resilient after having survived it. And I suppose my kids have also gained a bit of survival-in-the-face-of-the-storm strength. And today, even though I’m in a similar start over place, I am not afraid or unhappy. I have taken a tumble as the result of my own actions, my own over-optimism, and the hostile ex. I have landed here. Starting over again. And there is hope here. The horizon is bright.

And the evolution of The Off Parent has followed a similar trajectory. I have come from angry and vindictive to forgiveness and now letting go. And reaching this point offers some new opportunities. Rather than dealing with divorce, I am thinking more about Dating and what another relationship might look like. Rather than writing vitriolic screed, I’m leaning into love poems.

And I have learned a lot on this path. And even today, with a chest cold a fever, I can say I am happy. I have learned to take, even the catastrophic failure and flip it around into opportunity. And then somehow continue to see the hope in that opportunity. There really is a wide range of paths out of this moment of pause. And there is no reason to thrash. I will reemerge when the next job provides the means to support both myself and my kids. And until then I’m going to enjoy this moment to the fullest. I’m recommitting to tennis and fitness. I’m starting to sing songs again.

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

When you’re flat on your back in depression and failure what you learn is how to get back up. And inside that how is the hope that is self-generated and self-sustaining. Hope is the key. Without it the daily grind is brutal and even the smiling pictures of your children don’t lift you. But if you can imagine a single hopeful idea, cling to it, set it on fire and tend the hopefulness. You can find the energy again to reach out for what you need by building and nurturing hopefulness in yourself.

In the five years, I’ve shown my children a lot of emotional sides of myself. I’ve remained true to my promise of keeping all money issues and anger out of my relationship with them. The adult stuff needs to be handled outside their sphere. And I’ve shown them how to rebound with hope and energy time and again. In recent years, as my life has stabilized quite a bit, I have been able to not only show them but instill in them this tendency towards optimism and hope. That’s my gift. Seeing them dealing with setbacks in their young lives with similar resilience has been a fine reward for both their mom and me.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*post was written in 2014

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image: father and daughter support, cc 2015 the author, creative commons usage


open window (a poem)

the open window

the open window

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

12-14-21


she takes her shirt off (a poem)

she takes her shirt off (a poem)

she takes her shirt off (a poem)

there is a moment
things are not going well
and
she takes her shirt off
it was a ninja move
catching me off guard
unbalancing my argument
with other urges
desires
that required far less discussion

this time
i didn’t indulge her
the elephant was making noise
it was time to get clear
about our rapt attention
and sustainability
so
there she was
looking confused
her beautiful naked magic fairy dust move
proved ineffective
this was a deeper conversation

and our last

12-08-21


for the trees (a poem)

forest for the trees

forest for the trees

there was the forest
and the trees
her
and me
the road ahead looked cold
strait
narrow
tightly controlled
and her lack of smile
said all i needed to know
she was the one leaving
not arriving
she needed me to know
why

i smiled
she didn’t expect that
it was her idea
this breakup
she was telling me why
i was pleasantly surprised
by her reasoning
the objections were quite sound
as she droned on
about what wasn’t working
what she needed
how i was the issue
not us
me

that might have been the problem right there
this amazingly beautiful woman
giving me the letdown
to go down in history
was not responsible
for her own meltdowns
somehow i was not playing
by the rules
as she understood them

just a few days before
in the middle of a crisis
she took off all of her clothes
and cried
i sat nearby on the bed
consoled as best i could
but the issue was not apparent
her sadness
from some distant pain
overwhelmed her thin white body
pale in the romantic lighting
the song
do you realize
seemed to be in some reloop
or perhaps it was time that was looping

i am not sure what to do here i said
but i can be here with you
beside you
i can hold you
she seemed more confused
additional tears poured
this appears to be something a bit bigger
than our erotic liaison gone amiss
i can leave if you’d rather be alone

a bit later
the conversation moved towards
a curious exploration
between us
she was still undressed
and looking as delightful as ever
it’s like your naked fairy dust isn’t working
i said
she stopped cold
what?
it’s as if your hot body would solve any issues
without any work
we’d just blow over the upset
and blow on each other
to quell the glaring heat
of something unpleasant
fill the void
with the passion
see if that gives us/you
some relief

that’s not me
that’s not what happened
i waited to find her again
but she had retreated
again
into an angry silence
she put her pajamas on
i kissed her forehead
and left

maybe that’s the answer
to my ease
as i see it
as she will never see it
as beautiful as she is
smart
happy
and
broken

11-29-21


i want to live (a poem)

i want to live

i want to live

i want to live in the mountains
among the pines and snow
where eagles streak the sky
and white smothers all sound
and despair is blanketed
in god’s fairy dust
i can feel the high
in a photo
i can recall the sound of your laugh
your strong pace
and winning leap
into my arms
i hope it is lovely up there
i am not coming soon
but i hold you always
in my heart
as my first
big
love

11-29-21


rainy in ny (a poem)

rainy in ny (a poem)

rainy in ny (a poem)

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

11-26-21

++

 


like lemonade (a poem)

like lemonade - a poem by john mcelhenney

like lemonade - a poem by john mcelhenney

i could not hold on to her
sharp edges
my hand strength
was no longer
sufficient
my heart
no longer
capable
of holding the space
for her
and
me

at some point
you have to let go
of the weight
and the gift
to continue
up the side of the waterfall
alone
enlightened
and
lightened
by sadness
and loss
returning to the peak
alone
but triumphant
or defiant
definitions and words
do little
to explain
this moment

11-12-21


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

my angry ex-wife

my angry ex-wife

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

How My Ex-wife Did Us Wrong

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

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

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

Here’s what the typical divorce package looks like:

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

The Imbalanced Divorce Laws Are Bad for Everyone

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

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

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

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

What I Lost in the Divorce

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

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

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

I’m Mad About the Way I Was Treated

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

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

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

I’m Mad She Would Hurt Her Co-Parent

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

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

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

Namasté,

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

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i am a room full of chairs (a poem)

in this place

in this place

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

but no place for
cats
bad attitudes
enemies

i have graduated
to independence
from negativity
shame
anger
longing
unrest

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

letting go of her
was the easiest thing

11-09-21


The Data Set of My Divorce: Adding Things Up

OFF-dataset

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

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

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

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Asking My Partner, “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 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 harsher 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?

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How I Can Help

I am a relationship coach and a dating coach. I coach women in 1 x 1 zoom or facetime calls. I work in monthly blocks (4 sessions). We establish a relationship. I become your wingman in navigating and sorting through the bullshit of dating and relationships. If you are here, you’ve probably already read some of my opinions. If we’re a fit, we will both know on our first call. For SEPT-OCT I’m offering a 1 HR introductory call rather than my usual 30-minutes.

I am also launching two coaching groups about dating and relationships in the coming weeks. One for women and one for women, facilitated with a dear friend and wellness/aging coach. Both groups will be limited to 8 participants. So join the FB groups and watch for the opening announcements. THANK YOU.

Namasté,

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

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

OFF-stones

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Rationalizing Your Divorce

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

FK That.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peace and CoParenting,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

understanding the end of a relationship

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

There Is a Time and a Place to Say Goodbye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Real Answer is This Sucks

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

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

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

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Dear Ex-Wife, You’re Missing the Point

Screen Shot 2016-09-06 at 8.18.40 PM

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

Even though:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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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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What I Can’t Get Over or Forgive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

@theoffparent

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Why My Ex-Wife Can Never Say She’s Sorry

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The first reason is she thinks she’s been right the entire time. She was right about investigating the divorce before ever mentioning it to me or our couple’s therapist. She was right about the divorce. She was right when she filed against me with the AG’s office. She’s always been right.

Perhaps she’s right to be mad at me still, six years later.

But one thing is for sure, I will die of starvation if I ever want to hear a kind word, or a word of thanks from my ex-wife. I’ve stopped looking for her approval on anything.

Here’s an example.

She and her husband have been talking to me about the AG’s office. One of the concerns we all share has to do with paying for college for two kids. Her husband has one kid in college, so he’s familiar with the costs. So we’re all very concerned about the expenses that we know are heading our way.

So as part of my due diligence I agreed to discuss the topic with my mother. She has made it known that she is leaving trust funds for the kids when she dies, specifically to pay for their college educations. I said that I would ask about the specifics to see if we could get some relief from the additional information.

My mom is leaving a trust fund to each of my kids large enough to pay for college, graduate school, and then some. And what did I hear back from my ex-wife? Nada.

What was I expecting? At least a “Great. Glad to hear it.”

I’ve learned to expect nothing but piss and vinegar from her. She’s bitter and full of bile. And I suppose some of that has rubbed off on my kids. I have a very angry and cynical son. Where did he get that from? How does he have a view that the world somehow is doing him wrong?

My ex-wife could never say she’s sorry for the way she’s treated me. Even after learning our kids are going to be well taken care of, well beyond what my child support or her entire legacy is going to be worth. She might have to admit she was an asshole the entire time. And that, my friends and followers, is never going to happen. So I’d best get over expecting it.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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