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

marriage

What Are the Big Relationship Questions After Divorce?

dating a single dad

dating a single dad

What’s sex about?

How do I make a living in this world?

Are intimate relationships worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s sex about?

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

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

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

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

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

So *what* is SEX all about?

Hell if I know.

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

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

How do I make a living in this world?

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

Are intimate relationships worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The metaphor worked for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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


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

woman through the window - geddes

woman through the window - geddes

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

yes there is more… always more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you having sex?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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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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Beyond the Rush of Love, Is the Test of Time

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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image: Anastasia Fursova, creative commons usage


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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A Thin Line Between Love and Hate: Marriage to Divorce

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How did I get in this position? How did my ex-wife get so entitled that she turned my ass over to the Attorney General of the great state of Texas for “enforcement.” How did I get assigned to the Special Collections Unit? How do I still have to look my ex in the eyes and smile at our children’s school and sporting events? When did it all switch from love-and-working-on-it to divorced-and-where’s-my-money?

She wanted me to take the kids to some of their doctor’s appointments. She wanted to balance things out more. Um, wait, that’s what you argued against when we were dividing up our parenting duties.

We’d have to roll the video tape way back to catch the first moments of contempt. It was easy over email for her to be a total bitch. She too was a writer. She prided herself on her pretzel logic and how she could write a scathing email and argue both sides of the issue and leave me utterly confused about what she was saying. Face-to-face we usually did pretty good. But give her some room, the ability to focus on some imaginary image of me as the dead beat dad, and she could tear me to shreds.

I saw this first-hand only once since we’ve been divorced. We had chosen to see our kid’s therapist for a counseling session on keeping our parenting schedule amicable. She was beginning to sag a bit under the strain of the standard possession order (SPO) that she had argued for and won. She wanted me to take the kids to some of their doctor’s appointments. She wanted to balance things out more. Um, wait, that’s what you argued against when we were dividing up our parenting duties. You seemed to think you were the responsible one, that you were the nurturing one, that you should get the kids 65% of the time.

And again just this week she sent me an email about some detail of one of our kids and lobbed this love bomb over the transom at the end of it. “Also, J needs his vaccine.”

When I responded to the initial reason for the email but did not volunteer to take my son to the doctor, she responded, after thanking me for the first portion of the acceptable response, “I don’t know how to take your silence on the doctor’s appointment.”

Perhaps I should’ve let her have a touch of my anger, but I didn’t. Maybe silence was more passive aggressive. Or was it aggressive aggressive? Either way, I did not take the bait nor the action item to get our son to the doctor. 1. She didn’t ask, she just lobbed it into the previous conversation. 2. She didn’t ask the second time she just showed a bitch sign for her disapproval. 3. She still didn’t ask.

But it shouldn’t be like an invoice that I owe. It should be a cooperative arrangement between two people that still love their children, just not each other.

But let’s put another chess piece out on the table between us. Two and a half years ago she turned our decree over to the AG’s office for enforcement. Now I’m a dead beat dad on paper, and the lien on my credit report means I can’t get a used car loan for less than 19% and a home rental company denied me without even talking to me about the issue. Yeah, it’s a big issue. And yeah, I owe her some money at this point. But even without the AG’s office I would’ve owed her the money. And I will pay it all to her. But I can’t pay her any money if I have no money coming in. When I lost an anchor client in my small business, I begged her to be patient and to listen to my voice, “I will get you the money. I’m talking to new potential clients everyday.”

And today you’d hear her say, “He didn’t pay me anything for the entire summer and he was threatening to not pay me at all.”

She knows this is not true. I am obligated by law to pay her every penny on the decree, regardless of my employment status or ability to pay. But it shouldn’t be like an invoice that I owe. It should be a cooperative arrangement between two people who still love their children, just not each other. But somewhere along the way her anger turned towards me as the root of her problems. Somehow my job, or lack of job, was making her uncomfortable. And that made her furious while we were married, and doubly so after we were divorced.

So in I went to Mr. McK****’s Special Collections Unit. Dead beat dad. Credit score below 450. Fucked, essentially.

Today I’m working a job that pays for the child support and the health care for the kids and little else. If I didn’t have a fiancé who had a good job I’d still be living at my mom’s house. Do you think she had sympathy for my situation? Do you think she was aware of the impact of losing my house had on the kids? No. I took it all in a very Ferris Bueller way: I smiled and sang danke schoen while she refused to accept any of my offers to secure the debt I owed to her. But I was doing that for the kids. They didn’t need to get in the middle of their mom’s contempt for me.

In the AG’s eyes I am paying the maximum amount they are allowed to take from my paycheck. That’s the best I can do. Sure, I’d love to help my ex-wife and my kids, but I’m afraid my hands are tied.

My kids will know when they are older, that their mom did these things to me. I’m too nice a man to reveal the heart of the matter to them while they are still in high school. They need both parents right now. But at some point, they will want to read my divorce book.

There’s one last tidbit that came up last week that brings a small smile to my face. In January my daughter suffered a major migraine headache and had to be hospitalized. Even though I have great insurance for them, the deductible was quite high. My ex-wife asked me to split the bill with her. Um…

In the AG’s eyes I am paying the maximum amount they are allowed to take from my paycheck. That’s the best I can do. Sure, I’d love to help my ex-wife and my kids, but I’m afraid my hands are tied. I suppose she can sue me. She works for a law firm. It wouldn’t surprise me any more than I was surprised when she told me she consulted an attorney after we’d been in couples therapy for a few months.

Nothing surprises me about her adverse actions. Striking at me was moving against the best interests of the kids. Now she can have her AG-sanctioned income, tax-free, and howl until she passes out before I give her an extra dime. No, honey, you blew through cooperation two and a half years ago. Dig it?

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Co-parenting with an Angry Ex: My co-parenting Failure Story

co-parenting failure

co-parenting failure

I need a little anger right now.

Things have been too cordial between the exy and me.

WAIT A MINUTE. Be careful what you ask for…

Let me take that back.

I could use the energy that I get from being really angry about something. Often that target has been the divorce and damage done. Recently, my anger has been pointed in at myself. And I’m still struggling a little with that. Like what did I do with all that OFF time when I wasn’t writing or publishing? Yeah, I lost some weight, but wasn’t it mainly due to my suppressed appetite?

What if a good portion of life is really fairly mundane? And we seek out anger, excitement, even depression when things get to smooth. I’m not saying that’s what happened in October when I “took a digger,” but there’s something to be said for my initial sentence there at the top of this post.

I don’t do mundane very well. I am usually engaged in some creative project that has the potential to break me free from the constraints of the steady job, child support and insurance payments, to liberate me as an ARTIST once and for all. But is that how it works?

I’d like some anger because it makes for a better, more impassioned story. I’d like some anger because it fuels attention outside myself rather that AT myself. I’d like some anger because the mundane is boring.

I know that I have always put my sails to the wind in search of a big win. Writing and music, those have been my inspirations. And neither of those paths offer quick or simple wins. There’s really not that many slots on American Idol, and I’m a bit old for the camera anyway.

But I go on. I keep working.

I’m in a lull. Not a deep lull, that’s what I’m coming out of. But I’m not firing on all cylinders yet, and this makes me sad, scared, a bit bored, and mostly just restless for the burning inspiration that comes from the white-hot heat.

I’m not asking for an incident. I’m not asking for a movie deal. I’m really asking my inner creative to get back to the task at hand. Writing. The blog is a great start, but it’s not going to earn me any royalties. Meanwhile, I continue to have very little money in my pocket, because in the divorce I agreed to pay child support AND healthcare for both kids. That’s good when you have a job that provides for a good portion of that expense, but when you’re paying it all or paying through COBRA, it’s a lot to swallow.

There’s my anger. Why am I working a job to give 98% of it to my ex-wife and kids? The kids don’t care. They don’t even know. They are teenagers and in many ways so is my ex-wife. Shopping, shopping, shopping. That’s the mantra in that household. It’s not a way to establish a relationship or orient a life. But I’m not privy to the 65% of their “family” time. I’m only able to provide my parenting around alternating weekends. And in some ways, I’m afraid I’m becoming my father.

Does my son even know me? Am I just the next dress shirt that I can buy for him? Does my daughter think of things other than Lululemon? And I’m complicit to a certain extent, I let them squirrel away into their rooms most of the time. They are 13 and 15. Tough times to be sure, but I’ve got to do a better job of setting some examples of “things we can do together, besides shopping.”

It’s a challenge.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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A Quick-Start Guide for the Divorcing Dad: The Off Times

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When you go down the path of divorce, however you got there, a few realities are going to rush up and greet you rather quickly if you are a man. There are two important issues that it is critical for you to understand. Time and Money are the only negotiating points you have. Let’s jump straight into the story, shall we…

When my time with them dropped so significantly, I began to crater on the days and weeks that I had zero access to their smiling faces.

The legal system is set up to support single moms and to force dads to make their child support payments, regardless of changing situations or dad’s ability to pay. That’s not their problem. And the typical support package includes the Standard Possession Order and some percentage of your income, depending on the number of children you have. Let’s get real clear on both of these new realities in your life, as a dad.

SPO (Standard Possession Order) is the parenting schedule you will most likely be offered. The reasons behind this 70/30 parenting split were established by the state over years of divorce and custody battles and negotiations. The rationale behind it sounds like it made sense 30 years ago.

The mother as the primary care giver will be given the majority of the time with the kids. This allows the continuity of their primary relationship in this trying time. This leadership role will be called the custodial parent. The Attorney General’s office, should they ever be needed, will treat the custodial parent like a client. The non-custodial parent, on the other had, is a bit of a second class citizen. This morning when I was confirming some of the details about my current arrangement, I noticed this contact list on the AG’s website.

Screen Shot 2015-09-18 at 8.07.29 AM

The custodial parent get’s their own line. As do employers and people not so certain of their paternity obligations. All others please call the general number and get put on hold and endless transfers through voice activated systems. “If you are the custodial parent, press one. If you are the non-custodial parent [the only reason you are calling us is because of a problem, and you’re probably a dead beat dad] press two.

Time and Money. Those are the two negotiations you will have to settle in order to get divorced. I was the uber-cooperative divorcé. I agreed to everything. I was told it would be in the best interest of the children for the mom to get the house, the child support, and the lion’s share of the time with the kids. I had a naive idea at the outset that we would divorce 50/50 just like we had parented. I was wrong. And the state’s attorneys have given us a lot of precedents that show this role for the dad is the best one.

Non-Custodial Parent. Standard Possession Order. Child Support. Those three little phrases are about to become very important in your life. And your understanding, navigation, and negotiation in setting them up, might save you a lot of the heartache and drama that I’ve been through.

TIME

The 70-30 split sounds a bit abstract until you are in middle of your “off” week and you are trying to imagine surviving the next 4 days until you see your kids. Here’s how the typical schedule breaks out. Dad gets the kids every other weekend. During dad’s ON week he gets two additional nights. Thursday and Friday. If your kids are already in school, that’s really after school time, and getting them up for school on Friday morning and Monday morning, if that’s your schedule. (All schedules can vary and still be basically the SPO.) On the OFF week, you may or may not get a single night sleep over. Again if your kids are in school, that’s really one cycle of feeding, homework, and back to school the next morning. Those single night stays were hard. The loss when taking them to school on the off Fridays was brutal.

I struggled to stay brave while I was with them, and suffer greatly when they were gone.

Time with my kids was the most important aspect of my life after they were born. Everything I did, I did in consideration of my then-wife and my kids. I centered my hopes and dreams around being a great dad, and being there for them every night, every volleyball game, every time they needed advice. And when they were younger, say after 3rd and 5th grades, they really did need a lot of interaction and caring. When my time with them dropped so significantly, I began to crater on the days and weeks that I had zero access to their smiling faces. I might have done better to fight and receive a more equitable divorce. Maybe Joint-Custody and a real 50/50 schedule would’ve provided more connections between us. Maybe I’d have been able to get my son into tennis or bike riding. Maybe I wouldn’t have crashed so hard into depression.

When I was thinking about the math last night, I was surprised to understand that she had the kids more than twice as much as I did. The 70/30 split is very abstract until you are losing so many nights and weekends with your kids. I still think a 50/50 schedule would’ve been better for my kids. And today, I have some ideas that might make that possible. But today my kids are teenagers. Today they have their own independent lives. Today, my interactions with them, even when they are here, is fleeing, abstract, and often superficial. I dig being with them, and I try and make myself open for their questions. But at this stage the lead in the relationship is up to them. Asking your kid, “What happened in school today,” will never get more than a “not much.” When your kids want to chat they will seek you out. By being available, still only 8 days out of a 30 day month, those opportunities have smaller windows.

So my ex-wife gets more than twice the time with the kids. Wow. It’s a lot. But until you’re IN DIVORCE and have kids, you can’t really understand what the loss means. It took the breath out of me for over two years as I struggled to stay brave while I was with them, and suffer greatly when they were gone. The OFF parent has a lonely road ahead.

MONEY

This is where the rubber meets the road in divorce. In general the dad will have the child support obligation. The idea is that he is often the primary bread-winner, or at least as a man, employable at a higher wage. And as the story goes, the kids and their mom should be able to continue with the lifestyle that they have grown used to. (No mention of what’s about to happen to dad’s lifestyle.) And while that language sounds okay, the execution of these documents are often brutal and pugilistic.

Here’s an abbreviated version of what my “deal” looks like.

29% of my take home pay will be paid to the ex-wife for the children’s care and feeding. That money is tax-free to her, since the taxes were taken out of my wages prior to the withholding. Wow, that’s a pretty good deal. Seems like it should be a deduction for me and the taxes should be taken out equally. But that’s not how it goes.

When you are considering divorce, as a man, consider the two most important issues as a parent: Time and Money.

And if you have or hope to have a high-paying job, that’s the mark you will use in the negotiations for the decree. In my case the rough number was set at 1,200. Okay. But wait, that’s not all. In most cases the dad is also responsible to pay for health insurance. Again, this might be more fair if it was split 50/50 but that’s not usually the way it’s done. Again, I think this was set up when dad had the big job, and this would prevent him from tanking that job and losing the good insurance as a way of punishing his now ex-wife. Either way, this additional obligation is tacked on to the sum of $650 – $1,100 depending on your plan, and depending on your employment status.

So, just to sum things up for you. At this very moment, since I am employed by a contractor who does not offer health insurance benefits. My monthly total in child support obligation is $2,300. Wow. That’s a chunk of change. It puts a significant squeeze on my opportunities for employment, since I have to make that before I can begin to think about rent, food, car insurance, phones, for myself. If you start every month with a $2,300 bill, that’s a real demotivational blow. It has felt insurmountable from time to time.

And when I lost my job, as a result of the tanking economy, the child support obligations or payments didn’t change. I could’ve hired an attorney and asked for a reduced child support payment, but I didn’t have the time or the money to do that. I was trying to figure out how I was going to keep my house. The house that I’d managed to buy, in spite of the large child support payment, when I landed a great new job, post divorce. Only the great job didn’t last. The startup changed their business model and eliminated my director-level position.

The killing blow, the unforgivable transgression that I’ve had to forgive, came when my ex-wife decided the proper course of action would be to turn my late support payments over to the AG’s office for “enforcement.” This one act of anger, has cost me and my family thousands of dollars and has actually gotten less money into my kids pockets. And the debt, as seen by the state, is a huge lien on my credit. This one act caused me to lose the house. And for one year, I actually had to live with my mom again. Fortunately, she and the kids and I had a humorous attitude about the whole thing.

“It’s better than living under a bridge,” my mom would joke. And she had a garage that we converted into a place for my bed. The kids each had rooms. So in my mom’s house, at least I was able to accommodate my weekends. By filing with the AG’s office, while I was trying to restructure my debt so I could keep the house, was the last act of anger and aggression that she could take. She took it. I lost everything.

From those ashes however, and even under the $2,300 monthly payment, and now a big fat lien on my credit, that prevented me from qualifying for a used car loan when my car was destroyed in a hail storm, despite all of that, I’m still surviving. I wouldn’t say thriving yet, but I’m getting by.

When you are considering divorce, as a man, consider the two most important issues as a parent.

  1. TIME: If you parented 50/50 and would like to continue to maintain your relationship with your children at the highest level, you should go to the court and ask for 50/50.
  2. MONEY: When you negotiate child support you can do two things very differently than I did. Ask for joint-custody. You can then be assured you will have equal rights if things ever get to the AG’s office. And make sure the amount you agree to in the decree, the amount that will determine your child support payments, is either conservative, or real. In my case the amount was set on historical data and on the hope of a promising job interview, that didn’t pan out.

Finally, if you’re going to agree to a cooperative divorce, make sure you add in a clause about NEVER INVOLVING THE ATTORNEY GENERAL’S OFFICE. EVER. My ex and I were in an argument about the timing of my child support payments and how I was planning on catching up, when I lost my job. She waited a few months. At this time she began to get very belligerent. She refused to meet with me in person about parenting or school issues. Her response to my email requests were simple “when can I expect my money.” That shut down all opportunities for co-parenting that summer.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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This early negotiation breakdown is chronicled short summary.

The big AG breakdown in chronological order and how my life fell through the cracks.


Beautiful Women and Two Cups of Coffee: How This All Got Started

OFF-titcups
This is how it all started, my marriage to the exy: Easter Sunday, a number of years ago, we ran into each other in the parking lot of a local coffee shop. It’d been 15 years since I’d seen her. She looked good, but then after what I’d been through, almost any woman looked good. But she looked exceptionally good.

I reached out my hand to say, “Hi.”

She reached out her arms for a hug.

Turns out we were both recently through our first marriages. Mine of 7 years, hers of 7 months. Maybe that should’ve been a warning flag, but it wasn’t.

She left a scent of perfume on my neck.

From then on, if the person didn’t have something extraordinary going on, some really amazing trait, or some smashingly witty banter in her messaging, I wasn’t interested.

I wasn’t aware of it’s affect on me until an hour or so later when I could still smell her. (To be honest, I’m not a huge perfume fan, but something else was at work here.) It was as if the hug, the smiles, the quick conversation, her easy laugh, “Yes, divorced here too.” The moment and the perfume had drugged me. I was in a daze.

What I realize, now, having had the perfuming experience more recently with old ladies, my mom, even my daughter, was that the sense of smell is a powerful trigger for me. And what it triggered so deeply that Easter morning so many years ago was the loss of that womanly smell in my life.

When my first divorce was final and I finally got back into my condo, there were still remnants of my first wife on the walls, in the drawers. But the part that I really missed, the place that I really noticed the lack, was in the bathroom. I no longer walked into steamy, sweet-smelling rooms with a uber sexy little basque woman in them. And just the smell, the loss of that smell, was huge. I did not know this when my old high school friend hugged me that Easter morning.

I had no idea that my synapses and hormones had taken over from the olfactory triggers. I wanted her throughout the entire day, like I had never wanted anyone before. Of course the hole in my heart and soul was huge, I also didn’t know this. And the newly triggered trance-like desire would blind me to so many of the signs that could’ve avoided the ultimate train wreck of style differences.

That, of course, would’ve been a different life. I would not have the amazing kids I now have. And UG, I would not be who I am at this very moment.

BEAUTIFUL is GREAT. BUT BEAUTIFUL lasts for a limited amount of time.

A little tip I now understand. Small scented candles (the organic kind for me, thanks) and other scented things like groovy Method foaming hand soaps, and great Aveda shampoos, can go a long way towards elevating my sense of erotic smell. And when I accidentally get the scent of a woman on me, and I notice it’s starting to have the drowsing effect on me, I can retreat to my OWN shower, and get my OWN clove shampoo, and take off the infected shirt.

On Easter 14+ years ago, that wonderful woman had a spell on me. She cast it without knowing, and I was pierced in my own loss and pain without being aware of anything but the electric connection between me and this old flame. Sure, when she told me later, over lunch, that she’d had a crush on me in high school I was touched. But the virus of her touch, her scent, that one morning, did more to alter the course of my life then I could’ve ever imagined.

I guard against some of that now with my own scented regimen. I’m not going to be drugged and dragged down into the cougar’s lair just yet. And when I do want to be devoured, I can inhale and relax into the fall with intention. I am ready to be drugged again, but this time, after we’ve gone through a few cycles of the relationship first. Intoxication is great. But then you have to get on with the mundane of living shortly there after.

It’s kind of like the beautiful woman I was sitting across from a few months ago. We’d exchanged some message via OK Cupid. And there was no question this was a woman in charge and in radiant glow. She was breath-taking from the moment she walked in Panera Bread.

And she smelled great.

Please come at me with a real imagination and things you are excited about besides cardio and American Idol.

Almost as quickly as she opened her mouth and spoke, the spell was broken. There were exactly 3 things this woman was ready to converse about. Working out. TV. And her job as an executive assistant.

As I jumped from topic to topic to try and find something more relevant to my life, I found nothing. She had made it kind of difficult to set up the first face-2-face with the declaration, “I work out every evening after work.”

I thought, “Um, okay, good for you. Do you want to find a time that DOES work?”

I walked away from that coffee with a new understanding of myself, online dating, and what I was interested in. From then on, if the person didn’t have something extraordinary going on, some really amazing trait, or some smashingly witty banter in her messaging, I wasn’t interested. BEAUTIFUL is GREAT. BUT BEAUTIFUL lasts for a limited amount of time. Work out all you want, you’re going to grow older and older. I think you are beautiful in all your forms, woman. And in some of your scents as well.

But please come at me with a real imagination and things you are excited about besides cardio and American Idol. And for me personally, if you’re wearing a lot of perfume, lean towards the essential oil types and away from the ones at Nordstrom. Thanks.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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walking in nyc

off-ringhands

[from the collection nyc m]

and in the million faces passing
there are beautiful women
and how different
how joyous i am to see them
not for hunger
but for confirmation
that my love
the very love
holding my hands
is the love of my life
there is such a difference
when a man is hungry
vs
satiated
satisfied
and humbled by the love
that transcends beautiful faces
and the calm
in my heart
now
relaxing in the warmth
afterglow
that never ends

6-23-15


Back to the Beginning: Serenity with Your Coparent

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Co-parenting is about accepting the other person for who they are, exactly as they are, and holding them in the best light you can.

As we walk through our individual lives we necessarily come in contact with a lot of other people. And the primary relationship with our significant other, is going to be the deepest journey of our life. Yes, we’ve got to figure out our own B.S. so we can self-regulate and learn to mind our own business. But in our primary, one-2-one, relationship we’ve also got to learn to love another person even when they are dealing with their own personal struggles.

The dark thoughts multiply and begin the pull downward even as the poor depressed person is acutely aware of what’s happening.

It’s hard not to tell others what you think. It’s double-hard not to tell your partner what you think, especially when you imagine you can see a better approach for them. But even in that deepest of emotional and physical relationships, you cannot really know, really see, what’s happening in the other person’s mind. You might think you know. But the right answer you imagine, the minor tweak you see that could make their lives so much easier, is a figment of your imagination.

It’s more than minding your own business. That’s an idealistic goal that is easier to imagine than to put into practice. The act of allowing your lover, partner, co-parent, to flounder and fall and struggle, is actually the deeper gift.

In my life I have struggled with periods of depression.

The first appearance of the black dog came while I was a freshman in high school, fourteen going on fifteen. I was “away” at prep school in New England, and while I should have been having the time of my life, I began to unravel a bit as the Winter came on with a vengeance and my natural exuberance began to falter under the dark days and extreme conditions. As November and my 15th birthday arrived, I was concerned that something was wrong with me.

I remember a few of the moments quite vividly. I was struggling with my first foreign language, Spanish. And something about my brain just felt off. I tried to study each night during the enforced study period from 7 – 9 pm, but I found myself staring at the pages rather than reading them. I sought advice from my advisor. She was even more clueless than I was about why a young seemingly normal teenage boy would struggle so much. Her advice was more like a form of scolding. Even though I had sought her out she used the opportunity to recant the rules and policies of study period, and maybe I was just goofing off more than I should. “Maybe you shouldn’t play music in the room when you’re trying to study.” That was her highest thought. It was a disastrous year.

Over the course of the next 15 years or so, I struggled a bit with the black dog, but for the most part I got better help, used various therapeutic remedies both chemical and verbal. It was a bit of a jagged line, but I’d say my line graph trended in the upward direction overall, between the collapses.

It turns out, depression is part physical and part mental. And according to Peter Kramer in Against Depression, the body begins adapting and changing physically as a result of the swings down into the pits of darkness. As a person experiences depression several times, the body begins to identify the early symptoms and essentially leans into the chemical pathways that cause the depression to strengthen and deepen. Depression becomes a learned coping mechanism in response to periods of great stress. And after those neural pathways are connected by the initial bouts of uber-sadness, they become more likely to get fired up and activated with stressful events.

And the dark thoughts multiply and begin the pull downward even as the poor depressed person is acutely aware of what’s happening. It’s a bit like a Hitchcock scene from Vertigo. You see the dark ground below, you begin to tremble and swoon with dizzying panic, and in an act of escape you actually jump towards the blackness.

The Black Dog Stops By Again

In my second major moment of fear and despair, the darkest moment of my life, I can remember the taste of the fear as it leached in and sucked the joy out of my heart. I was married with one son and another child in-the-oven, and I cannot begin to imagine the frightening experience my descent must’ve caused for my then-wife. And she’d had some experience of deep sadness in her life and in her family of origin, just like me. It’s part of what bound us together, this recognition and acceptance of our moodiness. It’s part of who I am.

In periods of great drama and stress you either split apart or you deepen your connection to your significant other.

This time, as an “adult,” the onset was more noticeable and pronounced. I never tried to hide what was happening even as I was trying to cling to the joy in my life as a metaphorical cliff edge. I sought out medical help. I sought out spiritual and mental help. I sought out my own inner work. I tried running as therapy. I tried focusing on the good in my life, the beautiful pregnant wife, and the amazing baby boy, but nothing could lift the filter of fear that had started forming between me and my experience of life.

It was in this time, as we struggled as a little family in crisis, that I became dependent on my wife for my own survival. I know this was an unfair burden to place on another individual, but I was unable to see the way forward without some form of counsel and daily encouragement. It was a dark time indeed.

We survived. I survived. The marriage survived. And over the next few years, filled with diapers and tears, I began to get my footing in the world of work and the optimism of life continued to grow in all of us. And just at this time, my wife experienced her own moment with the black dog. I was back, ready for bear, and again we persevered. We didn’t exactly thrive, but the joyful days outweighed the mournful ones, and we gave our kids the optimism-in-spite-of-the-moment, that they still rely on today.

Adaptation, Survival, and Change

In periods of great drama and stress you either split apart or you deepen your connection to your significant other. And maybe the deeper story in our case, was a little of both. In my “video camera” retelling of the story I would color things with a slightly rose-colored lens. I might say, “We went through it, we survived, we’re stronger than ever and ready for what’s next.”

I can say that I had no idea what my then-wife struggled with during my dark times or her dark times. What I knew was that I had another person in the storm with me, holding my hand.

My then-wife’s retelling would vary in one significant way. “We went through it, it was hard, we’re stronger now as individuals, and I think my happiness will return outside the marriage rather than continuing in this way.” And in this moment, even 6+ years after the statement came out of her mouth, I cannot begin to imagine what was going on inside her during those final months of our marriage.

I had learned that I could only rely on my own best thinking, and take care of my own actions. And even as my then-wife was making choices that I didn’t agree with, I was ultimately accepting of her decision. I saw things and experienced things very differently. I imagined our future together *with* this additional strength. She saw our future ahead with this additional liability.

The darkness we had suffered and recovered from together had changed us in different ways. I wanted to return to the relationship with her as a the start of the next chapter. She wanted to set out and find a new partner for that next chapter. It would be absurd of me to characterize of attempt an understanding of her experience and her decisions.

We passed through several dark nights of the soul together. And as we go forward in our kid-connected lives we will still have moments where we think we know what would work better for the other person. It’s pretty clear, from this side of the divorce, that I had no clue what was happening in her mind during all of those ups and downs. Her actions for part of the experience were connective and supportive. At some point, after she grasped that she could not change me back into someone she loved, she decided to make plans to seek a different relationship.

I’d like to put a bow around this difficult story with some sort of statement of silver lining. Something like, “We’re better for it, we’re stronger because of it, we all have a more realistic view of life and dealing with setbacks and disappointments.” And while I can’t really say that, I can say that I had no idea what my then-wife struggled with during my dark times or her dark times. What I knew was that I had another person in the storm with me, holding my hand.

Even today, nearly 5 years after the divorce, I can’t project thoughts into her mind. I can imagine that I understand idea behind some of her actions, but it’s only my projection. I have no idea what goes on in her mind.  That’s okay, that’s not the idea. Co-parenting is about accepting the other person for who they are, exactly as they are, and holding them in the best light you can.

Occasionally I get mad and I don’t see my own part in the dynamic, but for the most part I have learned to mind *my* business, to pay attention to *my*actions and *my* words. That’s the best I can do, always. That’s all I can do.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

reference: Against Depression – Peter Kramer, M. D.

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The Serenity Prayer

God, grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference.


This Is Going To Hurt – Divorce With Children

Take a deep breath and count to ten. Relax. Divorce may feel like the end of the world, but it’s not. It’s bad, it requires a lot of strength and self-reflection, but you can make it. This is going to hurt, but you’re going to be stronger and more resilient as you emerge as a strong single parent.

One of us wanted to fight for the marriage.
The other wanted to fight her way out the marriage.

There is nothing in your life that prepares you for becoming a parent. The amazing mystery of life brought into your home and bringing your “family” together for the first time. The transition into a parent, for me, was one of the most welcome changes in my life. I wanted kids. I had a strong and beautiful partner who also wanted kids. We did the kid thing. And now I’m a proud parent of two bright children, one boy, and one girl. Just perfect.

And we grew as parents as they grew as kids. And so the story goes. Things got a bit more difficult as adults. The economic meltdown of 2009 really took its toll on my job and my then-wife’s job as well. Suddenly, the shine had worn off, the mystery while still available and magnificent was undercut by survival necessities. It was no longer enough for me to be a good man and a good father and a good husband.

And as things began to get tough, the shine wore off in my relationship as well. As newly minted parents we knew we had our work cut out for us, but the reality of money and insurance and late mortgage payments began to crush the camaraderie. Something else began to raise its ugly head. Money. And who’s going to earn enough of it to keep us in this nice house and this excellent school district. How are we going to survive?

The answer wasn’t as easy as it was during the mystery years. When both of you are focused on the magic of your kids you will do *anything* to provide for them. You will sacrifice time and sleep and health in order to make your family home a happy one. Except that is not a sustainable model for very long. And when you’ve been heading down that road for a few years you may wake up and find yourself fat, stressed out, and tired 95% of the time. Now, what are you going to do? What are the options?

The painful realization came for me a few weeks after my big, fat, corporate job had given me the first golden parachute I’d ever earned. I was exhausted. I was about 25 lbs. overweight. And I was tired of the grind of the corporate cube farm. I had been willing to do it, to get us set up, to provide the best insurance we’d ever had, to make the happy home/stay at home mom/dream come true. Except I couldn’t maintain it. I was on the heart attack track. My blood pressure was beginning to register borderline hypertension. I was ready for something to change, but I didn’t know what.

What I thought was that the six-month severance with benefits would provide me a window of time to reexamine and restructure the next career path for me. I needed a change.

Something else happened at the same time. As I got a glimpse of life outside the corporate walls again, I remembered that I had owned my own consulting practice for 8 years before having kids. And while the economic climate was against any start-up ideas, I began it imagine what it would look like to be working for myself again. I kept up the hyper-focused job search for yet another corporate job, but my imagination began plotting alternative career and lifestyle choices.

One of the questions that got asked during this moment of reconsideration was about my then-wife’s work/career plans. We had been a bit vague about what the strategy was once the kids were in elementary school. We had organized so much of our lives around the kids we hadn’t planned too far into our future as a family. And under the pressure of our economic faltering, we both went into a bit of “survival panic.” Everything was about money. Every decision was based on a line in an excel spreadsheet. And any discussions outside of the “get a job” box for me were met with major resistance.

The problem was, I knew I wanted something different from what I had been struggling through job-wise for the last 5 – 7 years. And I also knew that while I was looking for a corporate replacement job I was also seeing that as a temporary option, not a life path. I needed more time with the kids and less time working to keep our heads above water. WE needed a plan. But the discussions were amazingly dysfunctional and heated every time we got into money.

In my typical fashion as a conflict-adverse male, I backed off the hard topic of what was she going to do for money. But the hard question had been breached and neither of us was happy with the initial negotiations. We entered couples therapy for the third and final time.

When your kids arrive all of your priorities shift and they become your focus. Nothing is too hard, nothing is too tiring, no goal is to hard to strive for when you are talking about your kids. And as a dad in this newly minted family, I did all the right things. I did everything I could to provide a nice house, a nice neighborhood, a nice housekeeper and nanny, and for this role, as dad, breadwinner, and head-of-household, I was on the hook for the bulk of the money. In the early years, this was an easier agreement. But as our kids became a bit more autonomous and the time opened up a bit more as they began going to school, I started imagining some other options for myself as well as my then-wife.

What I didn’t expect was for her to begin fighting with me during the second week of my paid layoff. And I further didn’t expect that she would also lose her part-time job and create a double burn on my six-month paycheck. But that’s what happened. At this time another feature showed up in the relationship between me and my then-wife. She started getting angry a lot. She told me a few times that she didn’t love me anymore. She began to yell “fuck you” from time to time. I was confused. Something was changing for her too, I suppose.

In therapy, we worked on crisis issues. Money, jobs, trust. And I suppose the expectation was that we would get our individual issues worked out in our individual therapy sessions. But the therapy was not to fix our marriage, our therapist was not a marriage counselor. We were working with a therapist who was trained in helping people communicate clearly with each other. And one other aspect that was front and center in his work was the parsing of what was the reality and what was fantasy or fear, but not real. We got very real.

What came out, in the weeks that progressed, was the vast difference in our perspectives on the future of our family.

Me: Yes, things are rough, but we’re big enough to get through it. We love each other enough to work through anything. I’m optimistic that we’re on the right track to reorganizing our family about more rational objectives.

Her: Things are not getting better, in fact, they are getting worse. Nothing is going to change or get better.

And we worked on how each of us was operating on internal projections of reality rather than the actual NOW we were in. And we struggled along. And she was always mad and I was always off-balance as I tried to do the right thing, say the right thing, and keep the peace.

But fundamentally, I was saying something different. “I will find the big corporate job again, that’s the critical path at the moment, but I’m not agreeing to that as our long-term plan. We both need to figure out how we’re going to divide up the financial obligations of the choices we’re making for our family.”

That’s the request that broke my marriage.

Over the next year, I worked as a consultant while looking for the big corporate job and continued to bring in just enough money to keep us afloat. Painfully afloat, but shelter and food were not being threatened.

Over the next year, however, she did not earn any money to contribute to the family. She went through a couple “what am I going to do next in my life and career moments” which I peacefully allowed. And when the taxes were being organized for the year behind us, she had actually lost $5,000 on the year. Wait, what?

I think that was more telling than any conversation or argument we had. She was pressing me hard with survival and crisis demands and yet she was unable to contribute anything. Something was wrong with the picture. Something was not honest.

As she continued to express anger, frustration, and unrelenting demands for me to become “responsible,” she was going in the opposite direction. And somewhere along that path, she went to see an attorney to understand her options. What she would get if she divorced rather than partnered with me. And that’s essentially what happened. She decided to bet against me. Somewhere in her stressed-out and angry mind, she determined that the best course of action for her and our family (because as a parent you know this decision affects everyone) was to ask for a divorce.

And as we expressed our final summaries to our counselor on our final meeting, we said essentially the same thing. It was clear. One of us wanted to fight for the marriage. The other wanted to fight her way out the marriage.

I’m not much of a fighter, but I’m getting better.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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“Another In a Long Series of Disappointments,” she joked.

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It was a joke. Right? Except the more it came up for “laugh” the more I was learning that she was actually disappointed by a lot of things. And if you listen to the wisdom about disappointment and anger being the result of expectations not met, you begin to hear how disappointed your mate might be.

I’ve talked a little bit about how I used “pseudo buddhism” to escape the disappointments I was feeling. Okay, so we were both disappointed. That is common. It’s what you do with your disappointments and how you work through them that defines the quality of your relationship. Perhaps this holds true with self-worth too.

In disappointment we learn to look away from the desire and seek it in some other way. If we don’t confront the frustration at the source we may prolong the suffering and thus intensify the disappointment. My ex-y and I learned to look for fulfillment in other ways. We had grown weary of trying to satisfy those  expectations with the other person.

I did not speak up enough. She spoke up all the time. And as we cohabited, we became more roommates than lovers.

I made light of the situation. I joked. I tried to be funny when asking for intimacy. I began feeling more defeated and less desired, but I didn’t raise the issue to the point of crisis. I was trying to meditate my way out of the conflict all together. I would seek my pleasure in the production of art, writing, expression of my spirit in ways that didn’t involve her.

And she turned to something else as well. She must have. I don’t pretend to know what that might have been. But her anger and expressed frustration became a constant in our routine. It was as if two of the three strikes was against me when we woke up in the morning. And suddenly any issue could become a crisis with the triggering of some unfortunate pain from her past. (That’s how I rationalize it, anyway.)

But I don’t have to understand or make excuses for her. She did what she did. And she certainly did a better job of expressing her disappointment. But at some point you have to move on. You have to move on to “What DO we have and what DO we like to do together.”

Before kids those answers are easier. Work, sleep, eat, make love, talk, repeat.

Once kids have been added to the equation the complexities of the routine and sequence of events that must take place to make room for unbridled love-making… Well, those complexities become ripe for disappointment, OR ripe for – and renegotiating the unspoken rules you may have settled into.

I did not speak up enough. She spoke up all the time. And as we cohabited, we became more roommates than lovers. We stretched towards each other less and less. And our relationship yoga became more focused on our solo practices rather than joined/co-created movements.

It is critical that we listen to the complaints and disappointments, both of our partners and of our inner voices. We have the power to reset and renegotiate our expectations.

In disappointment I withdrew into my buddha-like head, and perhaps developed a buddha-like belly at the same time. She withdrew into more anger and disappointment, and perhaps into an escalating spiral she could not see a way beyond.

Now when I think of the phrase, “a long series of disappointments” I have to take sole responsibility for getting out of that self-centered loop. Disappointment is because my expectations were not met. So I need to either express more clearly what it IS that I want. And I am free to make changes to get more of my needs met in different ways. Today alone. Tomorrow in the exploration of a new relationship.

It is critical that we listen to the complaints and disappointments, both of our partners and of our inner voices. We have the power to reset and renegotiate our expectations. And we do have the ability to create and ask for what we need and want. We may not get it, but not asking and being disappointed about the results is pure self-sabotage.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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My Funny Man Divorce: A Little Bill Murray a Touch of Robin Williams Mixed w/ Ferris Bueller

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If anyone can explain why he hasn’t been able to find the love of his life it’s Bill Murray. And I’ve often been likened to a younger Bill, so I read this Vanity Fair article with a bit of self-interest.

“Not to diminish a relationship with a woman but I can’t take care of another relationship if I can’t take care of the things I really need to take care of the most. It’s not a selfish thing . . . it’s just sort of an obligation.” – Bill Murray

What Mr. Murray latches onto as his reason for not being in a relationship is his own lack of attention and self-examination. He mentions his children from his previous two marriages, but it’s clear Bill hasn’t found what he’s seeking in a woman.

Murray did admit that he wonders why, at 64-years-old, he still hasn’t found the great love of his life.

“I do think about that. I’m not sure what I am getting done here. I do have kids. I have children that I am responsible for and I enjoy that very much. And that wouldn’t have happened without women.” – ibid

>He knows he need to so the self-examination work, but he doesn’t really want to do it. He’d rather show up as a comedian extraordinaire and find his love in the public embrace. One of my favorite movies with Bill is Lost in Translation. It seems to capture the loss and ennui of Mr. Murray’s self-reveal in this article. Fascinated and crushing on the young Scarlett Johansen, Mr. Murray tells much of his life story. I’m guessing that this film captured a bit of what it must be like to be Bill Murray. Detached and disoriented by the “jobs” that send him all over the world. Drawn to youth and beauty. But in this touching film, the father-figure chooses not to take advantage of the young woman. It’s an amazing moment. And it’s a huge win for both characters and the film.

Only from a place of inner-wisdom and self-knowledge can you hope to regain your balance in life and open your heart back up to the possibility of love again.

And Mr. Murray plays his role in a number of Wes Anderson movies as well. Perhaps it is easier for him to act out the scripts that others put in his mouth rather that examine or work through his own troubles.

Robin Williams is another character and body type I’ve been associated with. I share the bear-ish shape with these two rock stars as well as some of their demons. Whatever depression Robin was dealing with, he killed himself while his adoring wife slept in the next room. How terrifying. How dark his night must’ve been to extinguish even his bright star of hope.

AS a bit of a frenetic funny man, myself (I’m not putting myself in the same league with these greats, please.) I am also prone to flights of fantasy and falls of desperation. And it’s wonderful to hear that someone as buoyant as Bill Murray can come out and share his own difficulties, much like he does in Translation. I can take a different path from either of these body doubles. (I wrote myself in as Ferris Bueller in divorce, as well.

I am committed to self-examination and taking care of as much of my sh*t as possible. In the same spirit I can do what it takes to keep my dark thoughts at bay. Often it is the self-examination and self-revelations that come from doing deep work, that keeps me above water. Bill speaks of the difficulties of stripping off the mask and looking at the ugly truth.

Asked what has stopped him from committing to himself, Murray continued, “What stops [any of] us is we’re kinda really ugly if we look really hard. We’re not who we think we are. We’re not as wonderful as we think we are. It’s a little bit of a shock . . . it’s hard.” – ibid

As men, we are often not encouraged to dig deep and feel what’s going one. The man’s role in the world is to be strong, to be stoic, and to be a good provider. I don’t see either of these men being described as feeling fathers. Perhaps Mr. Murray has had to distance himself a little from his role as a father. (Of course, I have no idea.)

What it takes, as a man, to deal with divorce is the courage to strip away the facade and let the feelings and frustrations out. You can do this in therapy, on a blog, or with friends. You cannot do this with your kids or your ex-wife. But most of all, you have to do it. You have to strip back down underneath Bill’s Caddyshack character and understand what’s hurting inside. Only from that place of inner-wisdom and self-knowledge can you hope to regain your balance in life and open your heart back up to the possibility of love again. Because with the risk of love comes the risk of failure, again.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

Note: My brush with greatness involves Bill Murray. I was on the set of Ghostbusters, my sister worked for Warner Bros. at the time. During a break Bill came around the corner and saw a teenage boy standing there in red painter pants. “Whoooooo’s the madman!” he shouted, as he reached out and shoot my hand.

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

divorce-recovery-path-mcel

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

Year 1 – Anger, Depression, Divorce

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

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

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

August 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Year 2 – Healing, Recovery, Kids First

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

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

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

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

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

END OF YEARS ONE AND TWO – stay tuned.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Divorce Statistics 2014 – the infographic

First a bit of historical perspective on divorce from edivorcepapers.com.

divorce-statistics-longview

We can see the alarming trend away from marriage and the uptick in divorce. But let’s get straight to the infographic.

 

divorce-infographic_comp

Well, those are some fairly staggering numbers. Over 50% of you folks rushing to the alter… Maybe we should all pause and discuss the pros and cons of getting married. And if divorced, discuss the pros and cons of getting married again. It appears the odds actually get worse.

Two other great sources for data are

And of course, thanks to the Law Offices of Colgan and Associates for providing the infographic.

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Fall of the House of Dad

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I’ve written about this before. I’d like to recap and bring some structure and organization to the story of my house struggles and my depression surrounding the crushing effects of the divorce on my personal and financial stability.

In divorce the man often is the parent who is asked to leave the house, and leave the rest of the family as undisturbed as possible. I get it. We are trying to lessen the impact of the divorce on the kids. But… What about the dad? As they continued on in some sort of “daddy’s on a business trip” mode, I was immediately homeless and alone. Um, it is quite different.

And one of the first challenges, if money is an issue, is establishing a new home, a place where you can begin being a dad again. How long it takes to reestablish this residence depends a lot on your mental state of mind and your employment situation. In my case both were significantly damaged. I moved into my sister’s spare bedroom. And this might have been a saving grace. I was not ready to be alone alone. When I was “off” I had my sister and her two kids to keep me company. My story became, “And I didn’t need to be alone. I was so lucky.”

But I tried to keep my joy and wits about me as well.

My divorce was finalized in August of 2010 and my next full-time job came along in December of that year. I appeared to land on my feet at a fairly high-profile and well-paying gig. Immediately I started looking for a place to live. I knew with the way credit works that I needed to establish myself as a home owner as quickly as possible. And in February I found a smallish house in a neighborhood a lot less expensive that our family home, but within my kid’s school district. And in March we launched the “gnome house” chapter of our lives. My kids were in 4th and 6th grade at this time, and my house was actually closer to my son’s middle school than their mom’s home. It was a short-lived victory.

In July of that first year, my employer changed their entire business model and eliminated my position after six months. Now, I could give into my mom and sister’s evaluation that I jumped to early, but I knew that my options for buying were going to be much harder without the big job. I was glad I had a home, but I collapsed into a summer of hardship as I struggled to find work again. At the same time, my kids and I had a great summer. We swam in the nearby lake, we played basketball and soccer in the twilight of the summer evenings, when the Texas heat gave way. We had an adventure together. And for all intents and purposes we were happy in our little house. On the days (most of them) when they were not with me I thrashed and struggled with my life and the impending loss of my newly established home.

When school started up again, things began to fall apart for me.

And the strains of money began to show up in discussions with my ex-wife.

We struggled on, I continued to profess my intention of getting caught back up with the child support that was set during the divorce at my “big corporate job” rate. She started feeling the pressure of the cash call as well, and there is no blame here. She was a very responsible money manager. In her mind she was doing what she felt was necessary. I was doing what I thought was necessary as well. I remember an email exchange between us where she said, “You seem to think that your mortgage and expenses are more important that your responsibility to your children. I don’t understand that.”

Um… My response was this, “I think we knew this was going to be hard. And I think dad deserves a place to live and a food and electricity to provide a place for himself and his kids, when he has them. I will get caught up on the child support, and I assure you I am not spending any discretionary money. I have no discretionary money. I am working to find a job so I can keep my house and resume full payments to you.”

At this point I was just irregular. When things got really bad is when I actually missed a full payment. Her emails became more hostile. And our “conversations” devolved into sometime resembling this exchange. ME: “I think we should talk about the kids summer plans.” HER: “When will you have the next payment?” ME: “Um… I don’t know. I have some prospects, but nothing has come through.” HER: Silence. And that’s how the communications between us, that had been positive and kid-focused, got off track. And things went down hill fast after she started refusing to discuss anything with me that didn’t involve a payment date and plan from me.

And then things were forever changed. She filed her cause with the Attorney General’s office. And we were suddenly in a legal battle again and I went from struggling and working and not making enough money to a “deadbeat dad.”  But that wasn’t enough. I was also now nearing default on my mortgage. I again pleaded with her to give me some options. She began her new response, “I signed an agreement with the AG’s office not to negotiate about money with you.” END OF DISCUSSION.

As the last year began to close it became clear that she was blocking my attempts to file restructuring bankruptcy to try and keep the Gnome House. I looked to my mom for some financial support, but she really hadn’t like the house from the beginning. Fuck. I was out of options and in newly threatening weekly letters from the AG’s office. It was time to sell. And without a full-time big corporate job I didn’t have the income to even look for a place to “move to.” And so at 51 years old I was heading back under the roof of my mom. The shame was palpable, but what were my options?

So in March of this year, 2014, I sold my home and moved in to my mom’s house. OUCH. My mom and I laughed through the situation with a phrase, “Well, it beats living under a bridge.” Yes, it does. But it didn’t have to go this way.

Some where in the divorce she had lost all compassion for me. When my house was being threatened by foreclosure she pressed the entire issue, her issue, to the AG’s office, thus obstructing any potential remedy I might seek. And in the loss, my kids and my mom and I have gotten very close. And it’s funny, they have better rooms and better meals than they ever had at my house. In my haste to reestablish a homestead and a place for me to be dad, I had chosen a house that has some fundamental issues. (No dishwasher, a septic system, and only one kid bedroom.)

At this moment I’m in a converted single-car garage in the middle of a rich neighborhood. It’s not bad. I’m not thrashing. But it’s hard. I have no privacy, no place to even think of establishing a relationship. And what’s the first warning sign anyway? Someone with money troubles, or god-forbid, no home.

In the divorce I am certain we were both doing the best we could. In the blindingly sad negotiations I agreed to giving up my request for 50/50 parenting, and I accepted the financial responsibility that would lock me into the big corporate track for the duration of the agreement. (Until my last child reached 18.) But what I didn’t know is that in all this “good will” negotiations that my soon-to-be-ex-wife would press the entire thing onto the state’s attorneys.

She did it with little more than a reference to “looking after the children’s interests.” Um, sure, maybe, if I was doing something that demonstrated I was trying to skip out on my child support payments. That’s when you go to the AG’s office! Not as a normal course of business. And when my home was threatened is the moment, I think, that you get real about the situation, you show some compassion for your co-parent, and you pause.

In divorce, you are still in a financial coupling. When I lost my job we all suffered. But that’s not the moment to file against your former partner. I do think she’s still mad at me, the same anger that infected our marriage. I’m not sure how that happens, or how someone dissipates it on their own. It takes work. And in a recent kid-focused therapy session her rage surfaced again, and I was again seeing the woman who I gladly release. I don’t need to be in any kind of relationship with someone who harbors such vitriol. And so we drop down into a logistics-and-money relationship. Sad. But maybe that’s more accurate. That’s kind of how the marriage had become as well.

We carry on. We do better. We keep going.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent – still in transition
@theoffparent

image: the gnome house, march 2011, the author, cc


She’s Still Mad at Me

OFF-madgirl

It’s been almost four years since my divorce was finalized. Today marks the anniversary of my leaving my house, our house, for the last time. And I’m not exactly sure how or when it happened, but my then girlfriend-to-wife-to-parent was not so unhappy when we met. I would’ve run the other way had she shown the vitriol she is capable of maintaining and even increasing over time. What happened?

I hear the story all the time: responsible mom, lazy dad, equals unhappy family. But that’s not the way it was in our house, in my eyes. But that’s the problem right there, “in my eyes.” I have no way of knowing what happened in her eyes. I cannot pull out the thoughts in her head and thus I am left with only my side of the story.

We had some great times and some hard times. And we rallied along together for a long part of our marriage. Through financial difficulties, through a major medical scare with the pregnancy of our second child, and even through some emotional infidelity on her part. I forgave. We grew bigger as a couple. And we continued with our married life. Everybody has ups and downs.

It’s impossible for me to know what her thought processes were. Other than fighting with me, she didn’t share to many of her dreams of where she was going, or what she wanted.

And just as we were beginning to find some footing again, my stable job at a huge corporate tech company, the kids doing well in school and thriving, and her retooling her career and reimagining where she wanted to go from here. Well, something in her eventual vision began to exclude me from those visions.

It happened just as the 2009 economic downturn forced my big corp employer to layoff all of my innovative team. Since we were not directly tied to an ROI we were let go, but in the most generous way possible. Essentially I was given a small golden parachute, that said, “Thanks for your effort, here’s a little something to send you on your way.”

But this was the beginning of the end of my marriage. In this moment of repose, refactoring what I wanted to be doing next, I saw this moment as a great opportunity for both of us, for our whole family, to reestablish priorities around our work/life balance. And the parachute gave us nearly 8 months of running room, in my mind.

Not in my then wife’s mind.

We had lunch one day, soon after my sabbatical began. I had started a blog (which I still write) about digital marketing and I was enjoying a little extra rest and flexibility. We were talking about the future over tacos.

“So, I think we’ve got a little breathing room to decide what we want to do next,” I said.

“It’s not that much money.”

“What?”

“What’s going to happen when the money runs out?”

We argued. She too was looking for work at this moment, but she was trying on several different paths and not having much success establishing a new career. I was applying for jobs and playing tennis in the afternoons, and getting a bit of time to myself.

She really didn’t want to work full-time and she was pressuring me, in more than one way, to get the next job that would make all of our lives easier.

At this point, looking back, I can only guess at her mindset. Either we were both going to start working in some full-time capacity, or I was going to find another big corp high-paying job, and she could continue to seek her bliss. I was imagining a few months to regroup and reset our priorities together. She was already done with that and really just wanted me to go back to work, and quickly, before there was a gap in our income stream.

Um… We had a disconnect. And this is about the time the “fuck you” outbursts started showing up in her vocabulary. I can only guess that things would’ve been easier for her if I had merely complied and taken the first corp job that came along and we could return to status quo.

But I was unhappy with the arrangement, as I shipped off to work everyday to a 45 minute commute each way, and arrived home in time for dinner, or in time to bring dinner home. She wasn’t really doing the happy housewife has dinner ready thing, not that I expected that. I was stressed and tired a lot of the time. The culture at this corp gig was notoriously bad and it had become more hellish once a re-org took away my manager and replaced it with an arch-enemy. My last year at the corp gig was pure antagonism.

Unfortunately, the next year of marriage would be pretty antagonistic as well. I was unclear what was going on at the time, and today I can merely guess at the worries in her head that led her down the divorce path rather than the joining-in-a-new-dream path.

The stereotype is of the man who does nothing around the house. He goes to work and says, “Well, I’ve brought home the money, you do the rest.” But that wasn’t our arrangement at all. If anything we were 50/50 parents. I was the early riser who made lunches and breakfasts and got everyone out the door, including my then-wife when she was working. I was actively trying to do better and better at noticing chores and doing them without being asked. But honestly (and this is a common refrain as well) I didn’t see a lot of the issues she saw. The dishes in the sink overnight were worth the opportunity to wrestle with my kids for a few more minutes before they went to bed.

She didn’t see it that way. But something about her attitude about the differences between us began to change. Some how the situation, or her anxiety about the situation, was my fault. Even though it was pretty obvious that dell had laid-off about 5,000 people, somehow I wasn’t fulfilling the required breadwinner role at the moment. I was fine with that. She was not.

But here’s the part that I still have difficulty understanding. It was during this year, as we were trying to negotiate our new financial order, that she made -$5,000 for the year. I didn’t see this number until we were doing our taxes the next February. And I was happy to support her in looking for something she wanted to do for a living, but she was NOT finding any work. Okay. So the pressure grew on our financial planning, and eventually my severance came to an end, and while I had done a bit of consulting work, I was nowhere near making our full nut with my consulting business. But the big corp job had not presented itself even though I was applying all the time.

And this is when things really began to break down. The only thing I can come up with, as I try and project myself into her mind (which I can’t do, but we always try) is that she really didn’t want to work full-time and she was pressuring me, in more than one way, to get the next job that would make all of our lives easier. Um… No.

In the end, I would’ve stayed in the marriage despite the unhappiness, so in many ways she did us both a favor.

And in December of that last year of our marriage I did get the next big corp gig. And while it was thrilling, there was very little celebration on my family side. Rather than be excited about my new income stream, she was fighting with me on my first week on the job about “when does the insurance kick in?” I was excited and fighting about money at the same time. It was an awful feeling. I had WON the big job but LOST my happy wife.

The happy wife never returned. And perhaps when she landed the full-time job in February, she was already mapping plans for her departure. Again it’s impossible for me to know what her thought processes were. Other than fighting with me, she didn’t share to many of her dreams of where she was going, or what she wanted. Well, beyond me getting the next big job and us all living happily ever after.

And in March, just as her job was starting, my big corp gig took an unexpected turn and they let me go in somewhat of a coup, but we don’t need to go into that right now. And my marriage quickly unraveled after that. There was some crack that had been widening between my then-wife and me at that point.

And the loss of the job that was going to save us was the breaking point for her. Of course, if she had already consulted with a lawyer at that point, her intentions were already in motion. I’m not sure of the timing on those events, but the loss of this new job broke the thread hope for her. Somehow the struggles we had been through would lessen if we were no longer together.

In the end, I would’ve stayed in the marriage despite the unhappiness, so in many ways she did us both a favor. I can say that now. But it still hurts to have your primary mate and confidant decide to bet against you. And I understand it wasn’t me she was betting against, it was somehow preferable, in her mind, to break up the family and go it alone. And it’s true, the happiness equation would’ve taken a complete 180 in her attitude and approach to our life together. She would’ve had to return to the woman I married. And that wasn’t going to happen.

So she’s mad. Today we met about the school year schedule and I almost forgot how mad she could get. Everything went without a hitch, but I was glad to have the therapist there, just in case. I no longer need to be exposed or responsible for someone else’s rage. And today she wasn’t mad. But I know better than to count on compassion and patience, though that is what I attempt to give back. We move along, now on different paths without joint progeny, and we are okay. That’s enough.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage

OFF-lunching

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

+++

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

+++

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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When Did Our Halos Lose Their Sparkle? A Marriage Comes Apart

OFF-couple-ocean

When you met your partner you were wearing your halo. That’s the little glow that allows us to overlook faults, blemishes, and even malfunctions. The good news is the halo is what attracted you both enough to get married. And maybe the glow lasted long enough for you to have kids. That’s awesome. That’s how it was for me and the mother of my two kids as well. But something changed over time. It’s a common story. Almost cliché, but perhaps more like a historical myth. It’s a myth because it’s such a universal truth that they wrote a bunch of stories about it.

This is the story of how my girlfriend and I went from lovers, to parents, to ex-partners.

When we met I was damaged from my previous disastrous marriage, and a business opportunity that was collapsing out from under me. But I was also displaying my superpowers: music, writing, and poetry. In fact, I re-introduced myself to my future wife with a poem. We’d known each other in high school, and the Easter morning we met I ran back up the hill to my house and scratched out a love poem. She had inspired everything. She had blown the fear and dust off my halo and allowed me to bring it back into the light.

When your lover’s ecstasies and artistic celebrations are no longer musical to your ears, it’s time to move on.

And we were living together six months later and talking about kids. We were older, we needed to decide pretty soon or be childless. So we were a bit rushed, but it didn’t feel that way. It felt like magic. AND it felt like we were being responsible adults. We measured each other against our ideals and goals. And somehow the halos kept showing up as valid, shiny, and inviting. We had hooked each other deeply, and within two years we had our first child, a smashing baby boy. All was right with the world.

Well, not exactly perfect, but the halos (and glow provided by them) were still in place.

And if I count back to the days of our courtship, and look at my actions and passions I see an artist, singing with a band, playing at local clubs a few nights a month, writing poetry and short stories, and refactoring my career due to the collapse of my employer from the UK. I was still shining, and I was in flux, working to figure out this business of money and creativity. It’s the typical artist’s life struggle.

She was also an artist. She was a painter. She was a writer and singer. And she was shining in all her mysterious ways. And I danced beside her as a cheerleader and sponsor. Before we had kids, we often parted on Saturday and Sunday after breakfast, to head to our studios. “I’ll call you when I’m winding down,” she’d say. And we went off in our respected and revered directions to create. And it was part of what made us tick. We had each other and we had the commitment to the craft. We were artists in love.

And then our son shattered all previous illusions and re-mapped our lives to a new beat. His beat. His house. His rules and wants and needs. And our dreams melded with his dreams. And we stuttered on in our creative pursuits, but we were changed. Our son had become our favorite song to sing. Or lives with him were so much more rich than our lives off in our separate studios, alone. We were never alone again.

My musical studio moved from the second bedroom to the third bedroom to give our son his space. And we were a happy unit. And my then-wife was still deeply involved in her art, and the art of mothering. She created paintings and poems in-between feedings and naps and late night insomnias. We were deeply invested in our little ship of fools.

On we rowed, with the newest adventure yet to begin, a second child was readying in the womb and we began to alter our paths for her arrival as well. And the love hurricane number two came in the November directly after 9-11. It was a time of universal unrest, confusion, depression, and economic free fall. Our happy little unit hit a mass of stormy waves. My consulting practice froze completely. And just at this time, our daughter, at her first sonogram demonstrated some signs of a rare medical condition. We began weekly trips to the neonatal surgeon in hopes of keeping her viable until she was big enough to be born.

On she came, amidst the struggle and depression in our lives, and the lives of all of our country. On she travelled, through dooms of love, and sonograms of crisis, and she was born even more healthy than an average baby. She was amazing. We were whole again. Still in the midst of a crisis, personal and economic, but whole as a family again. She had arrived. We sailed and rowed as best we could. All was not well, but all was moving forward out of the darkest storm clouds.

No one can take charge of your energy, your sleep, your emotional balance. That is 100% up to you.

I remember writing a song for her, even before she was born. Transparent Heart. It was about her immanent arrival and our frequent trips to look in at her with hope and fear and sonograms. I was also writing love songs to my wife and son. And poems to try and capture some of the moments. And their mom was still artistically activated too. She was putting up poems and short stories. And that Christmas I bought her an amazing easel that could fit in our bedroom, since the kid’s rooms were now fully utilized. And I moved my music gear into the garage.

Artist’s in love, with kids and jobs and a house. What could be better?

Somewhere along the way, in the midst of all of this struggle, we began to show our stress in unkind ways. We had some difficulties with money and we fought each other rather than the problem. We had chores and payments and kid care that wore on our artistic time. And we began to fray at the seams a bit.

I’m not sure how it shifted for good, but there was a moment, after a particularly stressful period, where my art (music, writing, time in the studio) had somehow become resented by my partner. It wasn’t that she didn’t have access to the same materials and time that I did. It was more about our DNA, and the hopefulness or hopelessness that came up during times of great stress. See, somewhere along the way, she began to see my creative ambitions as a threat. I can only imagine that her fear was that I would have some kind of success and I would abandon my career and my sweet family life to attempt rockstar status. That was never my plan. I never spoke of it. But she somehow started making my music (playing live, rehearsing, even recording in our garage) an enemy of the state. How my music became a threat to her safety I don’t know. But I hear, from other artists that this is a common issue.

What I didn’t understand, however, was how her art began to fall away from her life. Again, this is an individual journey, and if an artist is not fully committed, the “art” can become more of a hobby and not a life path. I cannot stop creating. I cannot silence the music that I hear in my head. And I make sacrifices to be able to keep working on my craft. But these sacrifices were not at the expense of the family. At least I didn’t see it that way. I took my music into the garage and into the night after the kids (and often the wife) were asleep. I worked my songs into the wee hours of the night, even when I had a day job to return to at 8:30 am. And I was the morning champion for the family as well. I was up and making breakfast before anyone else in the house was conscious. It was a chore I gained energy and joy from.

And in my artistic craft I tried to capture some of these moments as well. I was satisfied as an artist, that my ultimate life’s work was not going to be interrupted by my art, but supplemented by my loving family, in life ideas and passions. I would eventually get my appreciations. But it might be when I was in my 80’s. That was not a problem. I labored on, with love and intention.

But somewhere along the way, my art became a source of stress between us. My music was a distraction in her eyes. Maybe I would work more and make more money if I didn’t stay up all night writing songs. I can’t believe that’s what she really believed, but some how she had construed the thing she feel in love with, when we met, into an activity that threatened her livelihood.

So in our life struggle, our path from lovers to parents to ex-partners we lost sight of the things that we fell in love with.

As artists in love, both partners have to keep up their end of the bargain. I wasn’t skipping out on my chores, or my kid duties, or my financial obligations. And I was encouraging her to continue to find the time to paint. “But I’m so tired,” she said, often. Again, this might be a sign that I wasn’t doing enough. But it wasn’t. I was doing everything to the best of my ability. I worked hard. I cleaned the dishes, mowed the lawn, put the kids to bath, bed, and beyond. And still she was tired. Perhaps there was some other cause of this ennui.

As our halos began to tarnish and remain more hidden than shared, she stopped hearing my love songs. She missed the love poems I left around for her. Rather than finding the juice and thrill in my passionate expression of love for her, she would’ve preferred another kitchen pass so she could get to sleep early.

No one can take charge of your energy, your sleep, your emotional balance. That is 100% up to you. You might get help from a partner, or counseling to learn better ways to build your life force back up. But no one can give it to you. And no one can take it away from you either.

So in our life struggle, our path from lovers to parents to ex-partners we lost sight of the things that we fell in love with. The halos were still there. But we had averted our eyes, or complained to the point where it was safer to keep the gifts and epiphanies to ourselves rather than share them with the one person we should be able to share them with. When my best love song was no longer a welcome sound to my lover, my time was limited. There was no way back. No poem, song, or successful financial enterprise was going to bring her back. She was gone. Gone inside somewhere, where she needed (needs) to work more of her life struggle out. Perhaps her artist will re-emerge at some point. Who knows, I’m not part of her circle of friends, perhaps she’s painting and writing up a storm.

When your lover’s ecstasies and artistic celebrations are no longer musical to your ears, it’s time to move on. That’s what she did. And that’s where we are…

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: lovers, thomas berg, creative commons usage

 


I Was a Happily Married Man, and Now I’m Not: Tiny Hints of Doom

OFF-firestarter

I’m still happy, but I’m mostly alone. That’s the hard part. I never really thought I would be alone again once I got married. Well, the second marriage, anyway. The first one was a bust from the honeymoon on. But I’m stoic, and I tried to stay in there even when all signs pointed to “get off the fkin boat.” Oh well, we live and live on.

So I was happily married. I had two kids, a boy and then a girl, and things were moving along swimmingly in my life. Well, I’m not saying there weren’t complications, but I’m saying I was working through them as best I could. We both were, me and my then-wife. But a couple of things happened over the course of the kids first 5 and 7 years respectively, that change the course of all of our lives. I was oblivious to some of the changes, and ignorantly, stubbornly, refusing to deal with a few of the others. We were sailing along, not smoothly, but together.

I began to feel the futility of battling this anger demon that I couldn’t do much to influence or control.

There was a moment when our kids were 1 and 3 that I found my then-wife in the bedroom crying. She was listening to a song, and it was hitting her in some deep sad level. I was a little afraid to ask her what was going on. The song didn’t do anything for me at the time. I couldn’t get into the guy’s voice. But the words and meaning were obvious, even if I glossed over the shock I felt at discovering her in such a tender and broken moment. I was afraid, I’m sure, for what it meant. The song was Goodbye My Lover by James Blunt.

Something in the lyrics talked about saying goodbye to someone forever, while still loving them. I knew it meant something deeper than I was willing to explore. And so I kept my distance from the topic. I did ask a couple of times, over the next year or so, but we never really explored what was happening for her in that moment of loneliness and heartbreak. What I knew at that very moment, was that it was her heartbreak, and she was choosing to not share it with me. She was crying alone, and isolating in it, rather than reaching out for me, to call me back in. She was saying goodbye in some abstract way. Maybe she was realizing the end was coming, and she was afraid to broach the subject when our kids were so young. I couldn’t read her mind, and I didn’t try. And the few times I asked about the song, I was met with a blank stare. As if I was looking at a ghost of my then-wife. It was weird. But we sailed along.

Years later, when things were hitting another stressful period we enlisted the support of a wonderful therapist who was helping us learn to communicate with each other on a different level. He wasn’t a marriage counselor, and thus, we meandered over the crisis of the day and the issues of major importance. There was an interesting moment, when our counselor and friend asked us how we felt our work was going. He asked for one word to describe how we were feeling.

I went first. “Hopeful.”

He thanked me. And we nodded and shared a bit about that. Then she went, “Cynical.”

There is nothing you can do to get the other person to change, heal, recover, stop drinking, whatever. I couldn’t make her be happy.

She wasn’t kidding. The word carried a lot of power. There was something underneath the idea of cynicism that is already defeated. She was saying she was the opposite of hopeful. She was hopeless. I remember even the counselor being a little surprised by the venom in the word. But I would see later, that she was already well into her anger years. The final two years of our marriage when she never really got un-mad at me. I’m not sure I understand the mechanics of it. I’m not sure what she was talking about with her individual therapist, but she appeared to me as if she woke up on the mad side of the bed every morning.

Now, there are resentments and anger issues that can run in any relationship. And as a person matures they begin to take responsibility for their own anger, and their own issues. If they don’t, they may continue to blame others for the injustice in their lives. Either you do the work to resolve your issues or you hold on to them and all the righteousness they provide. But it’s a false protection. And inside the person who is shaming and blaming knows that they are off.

And during the course of the next year after the cynical comment, my then-wife had three very distinct “fuck you” snaps. Again, I can’t put my finger on what she as so mad about, but I *can* tell you that she believed that somehow I was the cause of her unhappiness. The first time we were eating dinner with another couple and we were joking about work, or politics, or something tangential, and in the course of the little banter we were flicking each other some grief, sort of tossing around the teasing comments and she just blew up at me. “FUUUUCK YOU.” She said, in a hot and frustrated tone. The conversation stopped. I was blushing. She apologized to our guests. I’m not sure if she ever said she was sorry to me, until later in therapy.

And two more times, this ripping curse came out of her in the same way. The second and third time, since we had discussed it in therapy, she caught herself afterwards and apologized for her outburst. But something wasn’t right about it. She was so angry, that she could no longer contain it in the course of everyday banter and play. There was no sarcasm in these outbursts, they were pure poison. And I kept feeling, “Wow, this is really something she needs to work on.” And perhaps she was. Perhaps this was the fuel she was using to psyche herself up to go meet with a divorce attorney and see what her options were. I can’t speculate on her timing or internal dialogue, but her actions towards me continued to vacillate between outward hostility and rage and distancing quiet.

I couldn’t do anything to help her work through her anger issues, except be the best man and husband I knew how to be.

And the counselor we were going to see was not really equipped to handle large emotional outbursts.  It just wasn’t the kind of work we were doing with him. We reoriented and reset several times, but even I began to feel the futility of battling this anger demon that I couldn’t do much to influence or control. I did my best at being a loving and caring husband and father. I did my best at playing the happily married man, but the silence between the outbursts did not provide any closeness.

So for the last year and a half of my marriage, my then-wife was mad at me. How does that work? It’s not like I cheated on her. It’s not like I wasn’t making money, providing for the house, and doing my share of chores, dishes, kid duty, and lawn care. I *was* doing all those things. But I was also getting worn down by the constant unyielding anger. I couldn’t make sense of it. The counselor couldn’t make sense of it. And perhaps even my then-wife was struggling in her individual therapy to understand what was going on, but nothing shifted. Nothing shifted until it broke. And by then she had already met with a lawyer and the deal was half-way to being done in her mind, before she even let me know she was considering a divorce.

In my world, Fuck You was a long way from divorce. But maybe I was being stupid and refusing to see how “off” things were. Maybe. And maybe I could have worked harder at making her happy, each time these little ruptures occurred. Maybe.

But what I do know, is that no one can do the work for you. So I couldn’t do anything to help her work through her anger issues, except be the best man and husband I knew how to be. So that’s what I did. But I was an no-win situation. I didn’t know it, but she was crying about losing her marriage back when our kids were 1 and 3, listening to James Blunt. There wasn’t much that I could have done differently had I understood what she was crying about.

Really, there is nothing you can do to get the other person to change, heal, recover, stop drinking, whatever. I couldn’t make her be happy. And unfortunately she couldn’t, or wasn’t willing to, either.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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reference: Goodbye My Lover – James Blunt

image: 343/365, morgan, creative commons usage

my father moved through dooms of love 
through sames of am through haves of give, 
singing each morning out of each night 
my father moved through depths of height
-- e e cummings - dooms of love

Terms of My Surrender: Our Divorce Papers

OFF-freefall

Under the terms of my surrender, I gave up a good portion of my time with my kids. I was under the impression that this was the path that “was best for the kids.” In fact, it was the path that was best for my ex-wife, the person in the marriage who decided she wanted out. So wait, under the terms of my surrender I am giving her the kids, the house, and a good stipend of my income for the next 11 years? Just a minute, I need to reconsider.

I’m defeated a bit at the moment. But I’ll get back up, I always do.

Of course, reconsideration was not an option. When one person decides they are done, the marriage is done. Sure, you could counsel or work things out, for a bit, but once the door has been smashed open, their exit is always a possibility. And now a threat. And in the case of divorce, just a matter of fact, please sign on the dotted line and be done with this business.

Wait.

We chose an uncontested divorce. I stubbornly agreed to her request for a divorce, because fighting would be expensive, might damage our children, and would echo the hurt still in my young-boy mind from my parents brutal divorce struggle. So I went with the path of least resistance, I bowed my head at the correct time, and allowed the head of my shining promise to be sliced off with little drama or prior bloodshed. That’s the way it was supposed to be, right? That’s what we were after.

But something along the way was not quite explained to me until a few months ago. I was on a date with a woman who had just given up primary custody, she was saying how much better her ex had become once he had to actually do 50% of the parenting rather than complaining about a check and doing nothing. I remember distinctly my reaction, “Wait, what? He doesn’t pay you any child support?”

So if I get this straight, my high-priced divorce counsellor who advised me to just take the deal and get on with the divorce, forgot to mention that the non-custodial parent (man or woman) was the one who pays child support. And why didn’t she listen or fight for my request to go for 50/50? Why didn’t she support the discussion about 50/50 parenting? She didn’t. Why didn’t she?

I guess I ultimately need to ask her. But in reconnecting with my attorney (the one who I contacted re: my wife’s new-found righteousness on turning me over to the Attorney General’s office) he said this.

I wish our counselor would’ve supported both of our requests with the same integrity. I wish my 50/50 parenting plans and 50/50 schedules had been taken seriously while negotiating our peace treaty.

“In 2010 when you guys divorced, she was probably right. Your wife would’ve probably gotten exactly what she wanted. Not that you couldn’t have gone for 50/50.” And he continued, “But today, things are a little different. Even in Texas. The judges today are listening when the parents want 50/50 custody. And more often than not, my dad clients are getting it, if they fight for it.”

Well, that is good news for today’s dads. Not so good for yesterday’s dads, or me.

What are my options today. Reopen the fight, go prove I’m a worthy dad, and ask the judges and the court to readjust my kids custody to 50/50. Is that what I want?

Here are the potential consequences:

  • It will cost us both a lot of money. Money that we tried not to spend in divorce, by consulting a wonderful Ph.D divorce counsellor.
  • It might damage my wife’s ability to continue to afford the house we bought together.
  • My kids might get the impression I am fighting their mom, or saying she’s doing something wrong.
  • It will cause drama and hardship on all sides.

Here are the benefits of doing it:

  • The $150,000+ would still be going to my kids.
  • I would be able to afford housing and perhaps not be forced to work two jobs or give my life back up to the big corporate job.
  • We could parent 50/50 just like we are doing now, but I would also be able to help with some of the clothes and supplies shopping.
  • My kids will know that I wanted them 50/50 from the beginning and was asked to take less.

As of this writing I don’t have the money to pursue the court’s resolution of my 50/50 desires. I wish our counselor would’ve supported both of our requests with the same integrity. I wish my 50/50 parenting plans and 50/50 schedules had been taken seriously while we were negotiating our peace treaty. They were not. I was given the patronizing approval, “that’s nice” but “that’s not how it’s going to work out.” And then I was told to accept what’s “in the best interest of the children.”

Bullshit.

I was sold a bill of goods by my then-wife, who had been consulting with her attorney, and our counselor who was found and selected by my wife. And then I was asked to sign the Terms of Surrender without being given the full story of custody and child support. My bad. I should have paid for my own attorney at this point, rather than stumble along blindly with the hope of good will, good intentions, and honesty.

I got none of the above. What I got was a temporary peace treaty that lasted until I was late on my second child support payment to my ex-wife. Then the courts of the great state of Texas were warmed up against me. And today, according to my attorney, I could be arrested at any time, by the AG’s office. That is certainly part of the Terms of Surrender that I signed, but it’s not in line with the honest and caring approach we took to setting up our peaceful retreat from the marriage.

I’m defeated a bit at the moment. But I’ll get back up, I always do.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: freefall, gabrriela pinto, creative commons usage


My Divorce: A Searching and Fearless Moral Inventory

OFF-flyingchild

Step 4 of AA: Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Today is a day of reflection. I am examining what I’m doing here on The Off Parent. Assessing the damage and progress of my self-observation, self-obsession, self-centered divorce blog. Let’s see if we can get to the heart of the matter.

  1. Strive to cut deep into the pain and healing of divorce recovery.
  2. Express anger and hurt without blaming the other person.
  3. Eliminate cynicism.
  4. Always go for the truth, my truth, the painful truth.
  5. Protect the innocent through anonymity and discretion.
  6. Write for my own personal journey and healing, if there is a reader that’s fine, but I am not writing for anyone but myself.
  7. Lift my psychology out of the hurt and sadness of depression and towards the healing and recovery for all the members of my family.
  8. Do no harm.
  9. Take on no more shame.
  10. Leave this discussion behind in favor of the next love and romance in my life.

Those are my goals. I’m not sure if I hit the mark with 100% of what is left here, but that was (is) my intention. I have progressed from a confused and angry soon-to-be-ex-husband to a hopeful and romantic single father. That’s the ultimate goal, and for that I give thanks.

Writing is therapy.

I hope you find love along your journey through whatever challenges you are facing. We can live through this shit together. And I will continue to light the way along my path so that you might learn from my trespasses and mistakes.

For me, when I write down an experience, I begin to understand it in new ways. I find common threads with other experiences in my life. I hear echoes of past hurts. I recognise the hopeful little boy who survived a crappy divorce and has now grown into a divorce and family of my own. And here on these pages, sometimes, I process the hard stuff, I leave behind puddles of blood and anger that I no longer need. I am discarding these stories as fast as I can write them. Discharging the energy they might still hold on my emotional life, by putting down the bones of truth, as I remember it.

I am not writing for you.

I am glad you are here. I have gotten a lot of support and love through the four years that I have been writing this blog. I have been amazed by some of the comments, troubled by some of the misunderstandings, and encouraged to keep digging for gold. Digging for the heart of joy that is still inside that needs encouragement to hope and dream of loving again.

And I have found the language for that love again. I am writing aspirational love poems. There are still a few divorce poems, but for the most part, this blog has transformed from angry/divorce/rant to relationship/love/discovery. Sure, there will always be flares of anger and sadness when managing the ongoing life of a single parent, but there are also great wins and joys that I am determined to celebrate here, right along side the struggle.

Next Steps

As I continue to change and challenge myself in the coming years, I hope this blog will continue to evolve with me. As I do find that next relationship, I hope that I can write with care and tenderness as “we” this woman and I, journey down the next road of our lives together. Or maybe that will be a different blog. I don’t know. And I’m not trying to get too far ahead of myself, here, or in my relationships.

As I grow and parent this blog will still be the rally point for my emotional triumphs and struggles. And as I struggle with depression, or employment difficulties, I will also try to pull back the armor and release the dragons that still loom ahead for me.

In all cases, I thank you for coming along for the journey thus far. I encourage you to start with the INDEX and read chronologically from the beginning. Or jump to any subject or thread that interests you at this time in your life. And if you have a comment, I value the feedback of my readers more than you can imagine. So tell me.

I hope you find love along your journey through whatever challenges you are facing. We can live through this shit together. And I will continue to light the way along my path so that you might learn from my trespasses and mistakes.

Final note: Why why why write about this painful stuff? My kids were 5 and 7 when my then-wife decided for all of us that she was done with this marriage and wanted to move on to some other configuration. We’re still reeling from the fallout. Not all of it has been bad, but all of it has been transformative. I give thanks that she had the courage to step into the unknown and make the choice she thought was right for her and thus for all of us. Whatever the motivation or past, we are now a family in divorce. We have commitments and connections that will never cease between all of us. And in my attempts to heal myself I hope to continue to be a positive influence in my kids and ex’s lives. We’re in this together. Let’s evolve to a higher discussion.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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references: The 12-Steps of AA – wikipedia

image: practice, fabio bruna, creative commons usage