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

separation

The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage

OFF-lunching

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

+++

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

+++

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written in 2014

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


An Ending Signals a New Beginning

hippy chick vs woman with a clue

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

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

Dear ____,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m so happy I could burst.

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

It’s about time.”

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written in 2013

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girl in waves (a poem)

girl in waves

girl in waves

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

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

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

12-30-21


winter berry (a poem)

winter berry (a poem)

winter berry (a poem)

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

12-29-21


The Evolving Single Dad: Failure to Hopefulness Again

OFF-dadfeet-gmp

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*post was written in 2014

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


open window (a poem)

the open window

the open window

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

12-14-21


i want to live (a poem)

i want to live

i want to live

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

11-29-21


ready to be away (a poem)

coffee at the plaza 2021

coffee at the plaza 2021

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

11-27-21


always arriving (a poem)

father daughter in nyc, nov 2021

father daughter in nyc, nov 2021

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

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

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


rainy in ny (a poem)

rainy in ny (a poem)

rainy in ny (a poem)

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

11-26-21

++

 


like lemonade (a poem)

like lemonade - a poem by john mcelhenney

like lemonade - a poem by john mcelhenney

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

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

11-12-21


girl i once knew (a poem)

girl i once knew (a poem)

girl i once knew (a poem)

i talk about them too much
my current girl says
and asks
are you still in love with her
no
my dear
i am trying to find my way with you
informed by
them
of beds and kisses
as my roadmap for what is ahead
is unfamiliar
her hair still comes to mind
from time to time
the feel of her back
and place on her neck

it is no longer her i seek
intentions have changed

sleeping next to someone else
loving again
revisiting memories
and tastes
the sound of your voice
still in my head
loving me
closer
in
some
broken past embrace
i cannot return home again
i had to move
my place had become
deprioritized
my best friends all said
that is no place to be
lonely
and in love
unreflected or unresolved

11-10-21


walk me through the changes (a poem)

walk me through the changes

walk me through the changes

walk me through the changes
take me down the road
until the pain and crying ends
where waves and smiles rule
hear comes the fear again
welcomed and unwelcome
loved and unspoken
the underneath anger
underbelly of our history
are we so fragile
and prone to repeat
that we can’t find release
within caresses and chest pillows
that love no longer feels
like a joy
but more like a risk
an angle of repose
we strike
together
alone
take me with you
as you leave this place
of misunderstanding
and misguided attempts
at healing ourselves
within the flame and passion
of a lover

11-6-21


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

woman through the window - geddes

woman through the window - geddes

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

yes there is more… always more…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Are you having sex?

+++

How I Can Help

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

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

Namasté,

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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

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

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

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

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

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

I really wanted to disappear. I didn’t directly want to kill myself, but I could see the appeal of not waking up in the morning.

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

I wanted to disappear. I didn’t directly want to kill myself, but I could see the appeal of not waking up in the morning. BUT… I had so much to stop me, from suicide, that is. There was nothing that could stop me from hitting the dark days, but my reaction and ability to just fucking show up, was my superpower. I could do that. I could keep breathing, keep crossing the bridge over the river without looking down, I could keep showing up for breakfast and dinner at my house, with my kids.

And my rally cry became:

… I will continue tomorrow …

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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What I’m Missing Today as a Divorced Dad

OFF-2016-sleeping

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Who Is The Off Parent

I am The Off Parent

He is learning to be a single dad.

He is trying to be a better man.

He is happy and mad all at once.

He is divorced and recovering himself from the wreckage that was created.

He is depressed but working on it.

He is overweight and under appreciated.

He is trying again.

He is not to be fucked with.

He is looking out for the best interest of his kids, sometimes even before himself.

He is sad about how things went down.

He is hiding out from time to time when things get hard.

He is a gift.

He is telling his story to the furthest depth he can.

He is openly admitting he is wrong and makes mistakes.

He is taking a fearless moral inventory.

He is alive and well.

He is the best dad he can be.

He is never giving up on having a cordial and sane relationship with his ex-wife, even when she frequently makes it difficult.

He is starving for more time with his kids.

He is an engaged father to an incredible son.

He is a dad who believes father-daughter relationships set the tone for his daughter’s future relationships.

He is not afraid to dance or make mistakes.

He is laughing.

He is here now, writing these words, hoping that you take away some ideas and moments of hope.

He believes in you and your struggle to be a parent, both men and women.

He loves moms.

He supports dads.

He holds his children as long as they will stand still.

He knows the children will leave the nest, and there are not enough hours between now and then to satisfy his expressions of love.

He loves a new woman.

He is hopeful for whatever comes next.

He believes his ex-wife is a loving and strong mother. She’s 50% of the reason the kids are cool.

He believes he was the better half in the divorce.

He believes child support should be mutual and 50/50.

He believes the court system is stacked against dads from the beginning. He also believes this rigid rule is changing.

He supports your healing and wellbeing.

He is doing this for you.

He is writing this because he can’t stop.

He professes deep and unending love to others all the time.

He says, “I love you” all the time.

He is the best dad on the planet.

He is becoming a better parent every day.

He is a believer in dreams and true love.

He is a poet.

He requires no permission or appreciation.

He loves himself.

He knows how to show happiness.

He can tell you what love tastes like.

He is here.

He is you.

He is all of us.

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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What a Farty Old Dog Taught Me About Parenting, Divorce, and My Codependency

jmac-scrambles-2012-3He’s completely deaf and mostly blind. He was driving my ex crazy to the point of her suggesting end-of-life strategies. But he’s just an old farty, blind, deaf, dog that I love. I love him anyway. I carry him up the stairs every night to put him in the warmer bathroom for safe keeping. He’s frail and a bit disoriented, but I have high hopes that his bounding spirit will return.

I lost my animals almost a year ago when I had to sell my house under duress. And my ex-wife was thankfully, willing to take back the old farty dog and my new addition, a cat. She wasn’t all that happy about it. And she put some conditions around their boarding, but she did me a great service by letting me keep them in the family. And today I will recover the cat as well.

Even as I complained inside about all the chores and kid runs I had to make, I was outwardly and spiritually happy to be of-service.

However, this morning, watching my old family dog wander aimlessly and blind around the back yard, I was struck by some of my emotional reactions to his presence. He’s not doing all that well. I think the year with the big-young dog was hard on him. And as my ex became more irritated and irritable about the situation, this little guy was seen as a chore and not a gift. I don’t care how many times I have to clean poop and pee off the floor of my house, he’s still family. Thankfully, he made it through the transition and has been relaxing in his new back yard, sans competitors, for almost a week.

He seems to be thriving, even as his frail condition becomes more obvious. But I am also noticing my reaction towards care taking. I would do almost anything to support and love this dog. And as I watch him wandering the back yard I often go out and pick him up, talk to him, and give him some hugs. His milky eyes turn towards me and back away, almost as if he’s ashamed of his blindness. And even if he can’t hear me, or see me very well, I know he recalls our loving relationship. Whatever it takes.

That was my approach to marriage as well. When I was farting and shitting a bit too much, my then-wife took up the lion’s share of parenting and household management. And we knew it would swing back around. And there were plenty of periods where I was the hyper-parent and responsible partner. And even as I grew weary of the duties from time to time, there was never any push back from me.

The year my son broke his leg was a good example. Or the year my then-wife broke her wrist requiring major reconstructive surgery… She couldn’t do anything for herself. And the months of early recovery were hellacious. And somehow strengthening at the same time. Even as I complained inside about all the chores and kid runs I had to make, I was outwardly and spiritually happy to be of-service. And it didn’t wear me out or diminish my love overall. All of these trials seemed to strengthen the bond, for me.

“We made it through the Winter,” we used to say, as the spring months broke the metaphorical grip on our warm hearts.

As the marriage wore on, my then-wife, somehow grew weary of the constant negotiation and navigation of parenting. She decided at some point, that going it alone was a better option for her and the kids.

As I watch my dog in the back yard today, I remember wishing back then that I had some way of protecting my kids and my then-wife from all the harmful things the might happen. I was struck occasionally with a sad moment when dropping the kids at the fantastic daycare in the mornings on the way to work. I wanted to stay there with them. I wanted to push my daughter on the swing all afternoon. I wanted to have the same kid time my then-wife had. But I moved along after a few pushes on the swing, “Come on, Daddy, one more!”

Today I see how my desire to go out and cuddle my old ailing pup is the same emotional response. We want to comfort all of our tribe members when they are hurting. Even if we don’t have any idea what’s going on in their hearts, we still project our own stuff on to them, and want to comfort OUR discomfort by comforting them. That’s called codependency.

With kids, it’s a given. They are dependent on you. And without healthy codependency they would probably starve and go feral. So we interconnect, we interrelate.  And as parents we commingle our happiness with theirs. Even as I watched the kids rush off to greet their “daily” friends I was saddened to be left behind. And even though my daughter complained every morning as I left, “One more, please,” I knew the responsible thing, the adult thing, was to do the work that made the money that provided the food and shelter part of our family living.

My dog is probably not feeling any pain in the back yard. Sure he looks around as if he’s surveying the landscape. And yes, he would like a continuous stream of wet dog food to magically appear. But for the most part, his life now consists of wandering, eating, pooping, and sleeping.  He does all of them just fine. And it is my emotional need that fuels my compassionate response to him. I’m guessing he’s a bit confused when I pick him up these days. It’s been a while since we had this much contact. And for him, this has meant very little contact over all, since he was one of three pets in a house of busy kids and an overstressed single mom.

I guess, somehow, I’m an old farty dog to my kids, and they love me anyway.

As the marriage wore on, my then-wife, somehow grew weary of the constant negotiation and navigation of parenting. She decided at some point, that going it alone was a better option for her and the kids. I think maybe she had the same overall compassion for me that she had for the farty old dog. As his maintenance grew into a chore, she was ready to put him to sleep rather than deal with it. The real story behind the dog’s issues was more about winter weather and freezing rain that kept him from going outside to do his business.

Today he has the same problems but he’s got me again, to nurture and provide comfortable transportation and living quarters. And yes, he needs some fattening up. And while I’m hopeful at his recovery back to a bouncy and hype old blind dog, I’m also aware that his current life is happier than it was a week ago. And next week, who knows.

For the last years of his life, my buddy will do whatever he does as an old dog. I will watch him zigzagging around the back yard and try to remain happy for him rather than sad for him. I will love on him as much as I can. And I’ll be aware of how my emotional attachments and complaints are mine alone. He’s a dog.

As a parent I know separation has to happen. My kids are now 12 and 14 and the process has begun. I am no longer the most awesome dad of all time. I’m ignored, complained at, and teased. It’s okay. It’s part of the plan. My old dog is still reminding me of how the process works.

I guess, somehow, I’m an old farty dog to my kids, and they love me anyway. (grin)

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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king-scrambles-497


The Blurry Lines Between Divorced Parents: Entitlement & Narcissism

OFF-sharing

Entitlement is a hard word. It’s a bit harsh. It carries a lot of judgement, so I’m going to try to take this one apart and examine it from all angles. If I can stay objective, perhaps I can learn something as we go along together in this post.

Let’s start with a definition.

entitlement

Okay, so now we’ve got a few starting points. First let’s start with me, that’s usually the best place to begin a self-examination.

My Family of Origin

I do have certain rights. And I do believe I am deserving of good things, but not necessarily special treatment. The fact is, my father was a successful physician and made a ton of money before his death at 56 years old. I wouldn’t say his success made him happy.  But a lot of his path was colored by alcohol, so his happiness is not a very good touch point for my sense of entitlement. I do have something though, that rubs up close to that last, less flattering, definition.

I was raised to believe that I too would have financial success. But even with this auspicious beginning, at some level I equated financial success with devastating dysfunction, both emotional and physical.

I lived my formative years in two very nice houses. But by the time I was progressing through 4th grade my mom and dad had begun a knockdown drag-out divorce. See, my dad was also an angry drunk, and he was determined to ruin my mom, rather than see her enjoy any life after divorce. He used a scorched earth mindset to attack, sue, and humiliate my mom. And some of it worked. My mom has always been frightened about money. And some of it backfired. Seeing my sometimes raging and sometimes despondent father made it clear to me at an early age, that I would never go live with him. No matter how awesome his mansion became, no matter how inviting the views and the swimming pools, he and I were mortal enemies. As he tried to destroy my mom, in some elementary school Oedipal complex, I became her champion. I became a shining defense against my father’s hate. And in many of those years the hate spewed out directly at me, for siding with her. But that wasn’t the story. I was hiding from him and his unbridled fury as much as I was trying to support and survive with my mom.

Anyway, in my early years, I knew what it was like to have a lot of money. Money covered with furious guilt and anger. But nonetheless, I was raised to believe that I too would have financial success. But even with this auspicious beginning, at some level I equated financial success with devastating dysfunction, both emotional and physical.

But my inner-core of  entitlement must look something like this: I can achieve great success if I work hard, stay sober, and keep a positive outlook. So far, things have not always gone to plan, but I do believe I have used that inner belief as part of my resilience. Somewhere deep down inside, I believe I will enjoy the fruits of my labor. And every time I do, even if it’s just having enough money to buy the groceries I need for the week without having to check the bank balance, I am not only relieved but grateful. I have a lot of appreciation for life when things go right. It’s not luck or fate I’m talking about, it’s faith and belief in my own ability to thrive and survive even within horrible circumstances. I’ve always had this inner voice. I believe this is the gift of my entitlement. I will make it. We will make it. Things will be okay, eventually. No time to fret or worry obsessively about, it’s time to get back to work.

Her Family of Origin

Now, without taking too much time, since I really can’t give much insight into her family of origin experience, I will give you a skeleton view of my ex-wife’s family of origin. Dad was a severe disciplinarian and a hard-working engineer. Money and fame were not part of the routine, but hard work, perseverance, and a strict attention to spreadsheets and details and mechanics was always at the center of the plan. Mom, on the other hand was slightly unstable, but very creative and artistic. She was a bit of an Amelia Earhart type: she even raced airplanes, rode a motorcycle, and had a touch of the delicious madness of emotional imbalance. (BTW: I have a good bit of that too.)

I can’t blame her for seeing the money around me and imagining the money and good times to come.

The result of this early training for my ex-wife was that she gravitated to the safer parent. She too became very pragmatic and less emotionally focused. Sometimes in our marriage, and in couples therapy, the lack of emotional energy was really an issue. She too liked to build financial models, built scenarios, and project future trajectories. But she didn’t like things to get too touchy-feely. So in some ways, as polar opposites, we fit together like a circuit. Her logic and financial prudence, matched nicely with my emotional epiphanies and earning potential. But there was more of a business-type fit, rather than an love-type fit. I didn’t know the difference when we started dating. I thought I had met my perfect foil. The perfect woman who could collect and multiply the financial rewards of my genius. (Oops, that’s probably a bit of that grandiose thing I do.)

I can’t blame her for seeing the money around me and imagining the money and good times to come. And I’m sure I was (and still) project great confidence about my potential. But of course, that’s part of the issue between us, always, I’m saying, “Things are looking up, this deal is just about to break, I’m on the cusp of a big breakthrough” and she was saying, “But we need to put another $2,000 in our IRAs to take advantage of the tax breaks.” Oh, that was music to my ears. Well, it was, until things didn’t go so well.

When the financial plans got a bit more complex and more faith-based, after 911, my wife began to drop down into the lower levels of Maslow’s hierarchy. Her focus turned, naturally for her, to spreadsheets and bank balances. And cash flow was a problem for everyone at that time. I did my best to rebound from the total loss of my freelance business, but it was a dark period for us personally over the next 5 years as we weathered the storms of our economic free fall and the emotional separation that began to divide us along our two vastly different senses of entitlement.

So things got messy. I got depressed. She got furious. I held the emotional heart of the family while she managed the spreadsheet and the withdrawals from our next egg, put there courtesy of my dead father. We rallied around the parenting duties and the great love of our children. Between the two of us, however, something was beginning to pull apart. I wasn’t aware of what was going on, but I knew she was more pessimistic and angst-ridden than I ever remembered.

Financial Entitlement

Okay, let’s cut forward to today, to our lives now as two separate but connected households. In many ways she’s still counting on my big paycheck each month. And when the child support checks stopped arriving, when I lost my work, lost my house, lost most of my possessions, she got even more furious. As if her fury and demands were going to motivate me to do more, be more, earn more. Except that wasn’t the problem. But of course, as things got tense between us, as I missed my first child support payment (even with two months notice that I was about to hit an unexpected financial problem), she moved in to hyper-accounting mode. This was her M.O. This was how she dealt with stress, both while we were married, and now almost 5 years after our divorce.

I kept telling her, “I’m going to get caught up. I’d never skip out on my obligation to you and the kids.” But she must have been hearing something completely different.

See, the problem is, when you divorce, and you’re the man who 80% of the time get’s strapped with the child support obligation, it puts a very large additional obligation on your balance sheet. In the divorce, since I didn’t sue to get the 50/50 plan I proposed, I wound up agreeing to a child support payment that was based on the good years of my full-time employment history. And to make it crystal clear, here’s what you’re going to be obligated for, if you get divorced in Texas and are given the standard plan. (I didn’t have this information going into the divorce, or I would’ve understood why she fought so hard to get primary custody.)

And somewhere along this journey, she began to see that obligation, that deal, as her entitlement.

I was asked to pay child support based on prior income, not income that I was currently making. (I had a few good job prospects at the time, and in my optimism and attempt to smooth our way into the conflict-free divorce decree, I agreed.) I was also asked to pay the kids health insurance costs. (Again, since I didn’t have a job at that moment, it would be in the form of cash to my ex-wife, to cover the premiums. Okay, still all good, if I had solid and lucrative employment.) And when you add those two items together, in my case, I came out of the marriage with a 1,200 – 1,600 monthly payment.

Again, it’s not about the deal. That’s a standard deal. Dad pays approximately 20% of his gross income AND the health insurance. And this money allows the mom, theoretically, to be able to afford the lifestyle she has become accustomed to, and more importantly the kids have become accustomed to. I agreed, because I didn’t know what my options were. I agreed because I was optimistic about several job opportunities. I agreed because I wanted to do what was best for my kids and even my ex-wife, before I considered what was best for me. I gave in to the idea that she was the primary caregiver and thus should be paid to maintain that role and to give me additional nights and weekends to work. To work so I could pay the child support payment.

And somewhere along this journey, she began to see that obligation, that deal, as her entitlement. Just yesterday, as she was railing against me about the dog and my obligations and responsibility, she was saying, “The money you owe me.” And somewhere along the path, she saw my financial contribution to the family (even after divorce) as more important than my health and welfare.

She some how, got the idea, that she was entitled to everything and then some.

  • The down payment for the house came from my pre-marriage assets.
  • 60% of the money while we were married came from my employment, while 100% of the cash contributions to her retirement plan came from my pre-marriage assets.
  • Getting to keep and stay in the nice house was a financial deal, made possible by my child support payments
  • We had always agreed and parented 50/50 she was the better and primary care-giver

She believed that the money, the obligation was hers. Not a promise based on actual income. Not a percentage of salary earned. No she believed, still believes, that the child support is her entitlement. This is no longer a relationship it’s just a business contract. I am no longer a person to her, I’m a debtor. I’m the problem. I’m the reason she’s unhappy.

Striking A Blow of Unhappiness

So in the ultimate blow of her financial frustration and power (even as I was pleading with her to remember me as the father of her children, and still the man she married) she sought enforcement of the degree, enforcement of the child support payments, enforcement of her entitlement, buy turning me into the state’s attorney for collections. She was owed the money. And now it would show up as a BAD DEBT on my credit report until she was paid in-full.

Somehow she’d gone from being a partner in parenting to being an angry business partner with deal that had gone south.

Despite the fact that her retirement account was still full, and was built on the proceeds of our life while married. Despite the fact that she was living in the marital home and had never been threatened with even a late mortgage payment. She could see that I was asking for compassion, she could see, and even acknowledged that she believed I WAS working and looking for work. She could see, because I told her, and showed, her, and gave her all the information I had, that I was at risk of losing my house, losing my shelter. She did not see me as a struggling former partner, she saw me as her dead beat husband, who needed to pay his child support.

How we got that disconnected I’ll never understand. How could she imagine that suing me with the State of Texas’s AG’s office was a compassionate idea? Did she understand that she would be making it ever so hard for me to get my next job? Did she know that my housing options would be forever diminished by her vindictive blow? Didn’t she see that the money she was living on, the house, the retirement, was built from joint contributions?

No, somehow she’d gone from being a partner in parenting to being an angry business partner with deal that had gone south. She wants her money. Above all else, she’s owed that money. And I can see now, that the future money (oh, in the neighborhood of $120k) is also already hers. It’s the contract she won. It’s in her spreadsheet and financial models for her future. It’s not about the kids, when you repeatedly shut down your partner’s options. It’s not about the kids when you do things that hurt your coparent.

It’s all about her. Is this the definition of narcissism?

narcissm

Sincerely,

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

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

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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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