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

separation

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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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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image: the bella twins, creative commons usage

 


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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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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image: the author and his dog before the separation, creative common usage

king-scrambles-497


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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image: dancing thai poosam, peverus, creative commons usage


Everyone Loses In Divorce – What We Can Never Get Back

OFF-my-kids

A few gaps in my kids education are due to my divorce. A few are due to my bout with depression, while struggling to recover from job loss and mid-life disorientation following 9-11.

And tonight, for no reason, I’m wishing I could just tussle their hair and tell them that I love them.

One of the sad symbols of my loss was my old toolbox. And what leaving it behind meant for both me and my son, who should’ve been building forts and projects with me by his side. And as we’ve gone along in the fractured mode, there are huge gaps in my knowledge and relationship with my kids. It’s something you don’t really understand until you’re well into the process. Or maybe you do understand, and that’s part of the huge sadness of divorce.

When I pick up my kids from school on Thursday it will have been seven days since I saw them, hugged the, really got to check-in with them. There are so many moments that are missing. So much information and growth they experience in the custodial home, and they return to me as slightly different, slightly more mature individuals. I too am changing. We all do the best we can.

But the gaps… the gaps are maddening.

My ex-wife gave me a handful of photos last week. All scenes that I had no recollection of, of course, because I was not at the beach trip. I was not a part of that biographical memory of theirs. Even when you try to show up for every event, and give them all the attention they can stand, after divorce there are still the maddening gaps.

Like my son learning to shave is mustache shadow with a women’s razor. What? A cat my daughter is holding, that I’d never met.

I have a lot of gaps in my relationship with my dad. After the divorce he chose to exit the scene, for the most part. He curled up into his alcoholic choice and married another drinker. I never wanted to go over to his house with his new wife. I learned not to get in the car with him. Ever.

We’ve got texting. We used to have Facetime. But things are busier. And the routine check-in is about all I can expect.

Of course, my kids have nothing like that, with me. And my ex-wife and I have done everything we could to keep any disagreements between us not color the relationships with our kids. And that’s fine. We’re doing a good job of it. And still… Still I am not getting enough time with my kids. And I am sure they are not getting enough time with me. We’re all fine. Everything is wonderful, except for the gaps.

And now they are both in middle school. 4.5 more years and my son is off. The gaps are beginning to add up. I am certain they don’t know much about me. I try to share everything I’m doing, but they don’t really have the time. They’ve got homework, music, sports, friends. It’s fine. It’s my problem. I get it. I’m riffing here, a bit, but I’m ever more aware of the missed days. And tonight, for no reason, I’m wishing I could just tussle their hair and tell them that I love them.

We’ve got texting. We used to have Facetime. But things are busier.  And the routine check-in is about all I can expect.

And the gaps… I’m sorry for the gaps.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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image: kids away, the author, 2014 all rights reserved


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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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


Divorce is Not About What’s Fair, Let’s Get That Straight

OFF-mermaid

Let’s get something straight right off the bat. Divorce is not about being fair. It’s about following the law, and hopefully, doing what’s “in the best interest of the children.” But that’s not really the intent of the law either. The laws surrounding divorce and custody in Texas are in place to streamline the average divorce, and provide the mother with some support once the father is gone. Staying in a bad marriage just because of the money is a bad idea. But again, that doesn’t mean the law is fair.

Early on, when we I was finally convinced that divorce was the only option, I agreed to seeing a counselor who would help us build the perfect parenting plan for our kids. The idea was, that in cooperation, we could lessen the impact on the kids, be civil to each other in a difficult process, and go through the process of divorce as simply as possible. We were “kids first” in our approach to splitting up. All that was good.

Building the parenting plan, and the agreements we would abide by as parents was the most important part of the divorce for both of us. And the “impartial” therapist was there to help us work it out. So we paid a lot of money to her, rather than lawyers, to advise us in setting our kids up for success in the post-family world.

And then, somewhere along the way, during the process this statement came out of our counselor’s mouth.

“This is what the mom would get if this went to court. So we can start here.”

What about me? Well, that’s where the fairness ends. Because if I can’t make the full payment, at any time, my ex can file against me at the Attorney General’s office and wreak all kinds of havoc on my credit and career.

I had been heading towards 50/50 parenting or bust. I had made my case for how much care I had provided in the past, and how much care I was willing to provide as a single dad. Still the words from the therapist’s mouth were hard to swallow. She was saying, if we went to court, my ex-wife would get primary custody and the SPO, as they always did. Oh, and, “this is what’s in the best interest of the children.”

What?

I didn’t really know what all that meant, but I trusted the counselor and listened to her. It was not fair. But that’s what my ex would get if I fought her in the courts. I was confused, that’s why we were paying her all the money, because we were not going to go to court. We were using her to avoid court, and to come to an equitable arrangement as civil adults and caring parents, without fighting about it.

We were meeting weekly with her to determine what was best for our children in our case, not to abide by what the State of Texas generally did in the case of divorce. I was pissed, but I didn’t really have much support for my view. I had bought a few books about cooperative parenting, and suggested a 50/50 schedule that was recommended in one of them. This was the offer that was being shut down by our cooperative therapist with the approval and appreciation of my soon-to-be ex-wife.

Here’s what I am slowly learning.

  • 85% of divorces in Texas end up with the mom as the primary custodian. Dad’s are considered non-custodial parents as a default.
  • And most of those dads are then given the SPO, as what’s “in the best interest of the kids.” The SPO (Standard Possession Order) is the governing calendar for your time with your kids.
  • The SPO is not near 50/50, and the “month” in the summer is a joke to offset some of the inequity. But show me a dad who can take a month off in the summer to make up for time lost with his kids, and … Well, it’s just not realistic.
  • With the non-custodial role comes a big fine. In Texas someone is going to pay. And the non-custodial parent is saddled with a set fee, based on estimated income, that is defined by the state and enforced by the state. If you’re the non-custodial parent get ready to pay.

While 50/50 parenting is not uncommon, it is not the norm. And if that’s what you want (as I did) you should fight for it. In our case, I should not have had to FIGHT for it, that was why we were mediating and paying a counselor to help us determine what was best for our kids. What we got was a good parenting plan, with “if you go to court this is what she’s going to get.”

So using some abstract numbers for a second, let’s see what that non-custodial assumed fee (called child support) looks like.

Let’s say you have two kids. And for simplicity’s sake let’s say your mortgage on your house together is $2,000. When you divorce, you’re going to 1. give her the house for “the kids;” 2. pay her a monthly support fee for “the kids;” 3. pay for the kids health insurance; and then, if you can afford it, 4. figure out how to put a roof over your head too.

So let’s see. If together we were paying $2,000 for our house. And separate she’s going to pay $2,000 for the same house. But I’m then going to pay her $1,000 for child support, and $500 for health care for the kids, then in theory she’s paying $1,000 for the house, and if I can find a 3-bed-room apartment nearby for $2,000, then I’m paying $3,000 plus $500 just for living expenses. I mean, I do what what’s best for my kids, and I do want them to be able to keep the house, but…

What about me? Well, that’s where the fairness ends. Because if I can’t make the full payment, at any time, my ex can file against me at the Attorney General’s office and wreak all kinds of havoc on my credit and career. So to start, I’ve got to make $3,500 a month before I get to think about electricity, food, water, clothes for myself. Um, that’s not such a good deal.

So how could we have made this more fair? Well, to start we could have negotiated in good faith, rather than this “what she’s going to get” BS. That was a low blow, and I’m still a bit angry with the otherwise, stellar, counsellor.

As it turns out, I agreed to the non-custodial deal, and the SPO and the payments to my ex-wife. And as it turns out, the economy has beat my income stream into ever-changing levels. And when I began to get behind, even as I was explaining to my ex exactly what was happening, and that I was not trying to get out of paying 100% of what she was owed, even with all that good will, and “what’s in the best interest for the children” talk, my ex-wife filed on me for being two months behind on my child support.

The cascade of my financial collapse was pretty swift after that. While I had been able to buy a house (shelter for my kids) I was falling behind on my mortgage too. And since my great job evaporated, I had not been able to replace it. I was working as a consultant, but I wasn’t making enough to cover all my expenses (survival expenses, not travel, or new things, or extravagance) and make the $1,500 support and health care payments. I was confident I would get caught up, I was expressing that to my ex-wife, and for some reason she filed anyway. Not fair, I thought. But that’s not what it’s about.

The point is not that I owe her the money, or if she is entitled to the money. She is entitled to every dollar awarded to her through our agreement.

I had to sell the house to get caught back up on my debt to Wells Fargo. I had to hire a lawyer to protect me from my wife’s actions with the AG. And I’ve been struggling to find a new full-time gig, at a much higher salary, so I could pay for all of this AND a place for me to live, preferably with three bedrooms so we all have our own space.

But in the SPO world, there really isn’t much consideration for what I will do, how the dad will do if he struggles a bit. It’s good for the moms to be taken care of. And most of all it’s good for the kids to be provided for, without a lot of drama or fighting between the co-parents. But I was unceremoniously tossed out of my house, which I agreed to give her, and told to pay a whopping $1,500 fee to her, and THEN look for somewhere I could live. In an expensive city, with kids in an expensive school district, it was not a pretty story. And while I nearly made it, my few months of struggles were enough for my “friendly” ex-wife to basically use the State of Texas to sue me for her back child support.

I’m waiting today for the expected good news that I will be starting a new full-time gig shortly. One that should provide for my child support and even a place for me to live. If I can afford a three bedroom place to live, is yet to be seen. I’ve got my fingers crossed, and am still putting in applications elsewhere every day. And other than how it would affect my kids if I were homeless, I’m guessing my ex-wife could care less, unless it means the full child-support payments will resume immediately.

That’s the plan. I’m not sure it’s a fair plan, but that’s the plan.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

[Please note: This post is likely to draw a lot of heat from the single mom’s. The point is not that I owe her the money, or if she is entitled to the money. She is entitled to every dollar awarded to her through our agreement. And she will get every single dollar awarded to her, as I promised/promise her. The point is, had I known all my options, I might have fought for the 50/50 parenting plan I wanted.]

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Easier To Be Quiet: But Harder When Your Unspoken Desires Are Crushed

the off parent - being quiet

I know it would be easier for everyone if I would just shut up about my divorce. We’ve rehashed all the problems, all my perceived injustices, all the ways I’ve been wronged. I know I keep telling the same story, over and over. I know, I hear you.

And I won’t shut up. Sorry.

In my marriage, I learned to cope. I learned to nurture myself in the absence of love. I self-regulated and made do with less and less affection. But the education, the pattern that I learned about what love looked like didn’t begin with my ex. Nope, I learned how to be disinterested and disconnected from my parents, just as you probably did. I mean, they were the only examples we had. And boy did I learn how not to do a marriage. But of course, my images and imaginings were done by the time I was 8. It was all over by then, for my mom and dad. And everything else I thought I knew, I made up.

We are not ready for the changes of marriage. And we are certainly in no way prepared for parenting. It changes everything.

In my marriage, the changes were too much. We lost touch with one another and learned to be quiet even when we should be shouting at the top of our lungs, “This is hurting me.”

Anger was a form of control in my family of origin. My father would rule his house with rage and yelling. And we would hide, tremble, and obey. But this is no way to behave. But what it did to our range of acceptable emotions, was to limit our own access to anger. What it did for me was teach me to be agreeable, at all cost. To even lie if it meant I could avoid a fight.

But in a healthy relationship, we need to fight. We need to have access to our full range of emotion. And when I started getting angry about what wasn’t working, I learned that it was okay. Of course, my ex would’ve loved me to stay in the submissive mode, I started to draw boundaries for the first time in my marriage. I started expressing what wasn’t working. I started to express my anger at being ignored emotionally and physically. And I demanded a change.

Of course, the change I was hoping for would’ve come in the form of realigning our marriage, and what I got was an exit request. But I was no longer willing to just be quiet.

So sure, I could shut up about the divorce, the depression, and the anger. And it would be a whole lot easier on all of us. But the beautiful thing about anger, that I did not know until I had unleashed some of it… Anger is healing and powerful.

Anger does not have to be abusive or rageful. Anger can be a consistent request for love and affection. Anger can be a demand for the other partner in a relationship to wake up and relearn how to express joy. Anger gave me back my balls, so I could express what I really needed in my marriage.

Try as I might, I was not able to call my ex back into love with me. Perhaps things had gone to far by the time I started fighting for my rights as a lover and husband. Perhaps my attempts to ravage my beautiful wife were no longer welcome. But I did not give up. I did not back down. I was no longer willing to masturbate alone all the time and wonder why she never had a sexual impulse. There I said it. I wanted to have sex and for some reason, she didn’t.

And it wasn’t the typical dude grabbing at his woman daily for gratification. It was not rutting sex I was after. I genuinely needed to feel skin-on-skin contact. I needed to affirm my warmth and closeness with my lover. I needed to be a lover and to reignite the lover in her.

I lost that negotiation. And ultimately I lost my marriage and the full-access to my kids. Bummer. But I was not willing to just be quiet and bear the coldness and aloneness that my marriage had become. And while she ultimately was the person who asked for a divorce, I was the one who had finally begun speaking up. And even in the face of her divorce request, I was certain I was fighting for my marriage. I wasn’t. I was fighting for what I wanted my marriage to return to, or what I’d hoped my marriage would become.

It’s not easier to be quiet, actually. It’s devastating not to speak your truth and be embraced. It’s debilitating to ask again and again for affection and be given all number of reasons that it’s not the right moment, or that I didn’t ask in the right way. I was starving to death while lying next to the one person who could nourish me.

Well, fortunately, I learned my lesson. And I am still embracing my ability to ask for what I need, to seek truth and connectedness, and to find another person who expresses themselves easily through physical affection. It’s simple when you both crave the same Love Language. It’s a stretch and a negotiation if you don’t. But it’s never easier, in the long run, to be quiet.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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+++ for a moment of comic relief


The Divorce Whisperer

the divorce whisperer

the divorce whisperer

“Am I happier now?
Am I better off?”

Does the divorce of someone near us cause us to consider divorce as a viable option? Did my divorce encourage my ex’s best friend to leave her husband too? The green grass thing… Yeah. Not so much!

Here’s what I want you to know about divorce, especially when you have kids: IT SUCKS.

All this positivism I preach here. All this self-improvement, dating, love poem bullshit is really just my new part-time job since I have all this time on my hands. It might have been harder to write a love poem to my ex when we were still married, but I was trying. Love songs? Check. Love letters? Check. Love advances, requests, seductions, pleadings? Check.

There was a survey I found before our divorce process was in full swing, that showed a majority of divorced couples reported 3 and 5 years later, that they WERE NOT HAPPIER after their divorce. Hmm. Something is out of whack here.

Top Reasons Not To Get A Divorce

  1. The kids, the kids, the kids.
  2. Money gets even crazier. And even harder to talk about.
  3. Your best friend is still there, they are just scared and angry. Work through that and…
  4. The shared history is hard to come by and impossible to erase.
  5. Finding true-connected love is a long shot.

Maybe things have gotten hard. I mean really hard. Maybe sex happens once or twice a year. Maybe the loving feeling was lost and now you’ve got more of the tolerant roommate vibe going. Maybe you’re craving something to liven up your life, to wake your ass up.

All that shit is workable. You, waking your own ass up is all that is required.

Oh, wait… There is the other person too.

Top Reasons To Get A Divorce

  1. You are waiting, have been waiting, continue to wait, for the other person to change.
  2. Things have gotten abusive.
  3. The kids are suffering under the lack of joy and love in the house.
  4. Infidelity.

I remember having a friend come over for dinner with the ex and me, while we were deep in the discontentment part. And this loving guy, who’d just recently split from his live-together relationship of 17 years, was going on and on about this new younger woman he was dating. And the amazing chemistry (mostly about sex) that he was getting from being with someone “so new” and “so fresh” and “amazingly creative.”

I felt like a cuckold. My then-wife was in some sort of freeze-out period going on two months, and I sat at the table listening to my friend’s joy and enthusiasm, thinking, “I am in hell. This is what hell must feel like.”

See I still adored my wife at that time. But her attention, her passions, and her vibrancy had moved elsewhere. I could understand at that moment, why someone might choose to leave a marriage in search of greener bushes. But, even then and there, I knew in my heart that my friend’s joy was not where I wanted to go. I was still determined to work it out with my then-wife. I adored her. I needed her. I ached with the raw absence of affection that my friend’s descriptions pointed out, so clearly.

So, at that time, I dug in deeper. I began to express my dissatisfaction with our relationship. I started telling my then-wife that I needed things to change. “I need to be let out of the box of isolation.”

I’m not sure how differently men and women are wired, but I learned about Love Languages pretty late in the game. And my language (touch) was not the same as the ex-y’s (do something for me). And to be starved of touch, even the little touches, was unbearable. And I got more clear on that miss in my life, and I wanted to reinvent my relationship with my wife.

The problem was, I guess, she didn’t want to change. While I was feeling solid in my marriage enough to question the relationship, she was already thinking about leaving. She was seeing the answer outside the marriage. I was still trying to create and revive the marriage I wanted from the sad house we had created.

What I know from Al-anon, you cannot be waiting for the other person to change. The only change you can affect is your own. I had to work on myself and my commitment. I had to invest time in my happiness and not count on the other person to make me happy.

But without cuddling, hugging, and simple touch, I was starving to death, right there in bed, next to a woman I still considered my “match.”

Over the course of the next several months, I began to get more and more vocal about my dissatisfaction. And what I learned as we entered the end-game of our marriage: both partners have to want to continue. My ex-y’s heart had already been packed away for the next opportunity at love. There was very little I could do to get her to unpack and reinvest in loving me and keeping our marriage alive. I was no longer a priority for her. The priority was figuring out her options and making a decision about when and how to leave the marriage.

In my mind, I was coming from a place of confidence and commitment. I wanted this marriage. I wanted my family. I loved my house, my life, my wife. And I was confident that my joy and hard work would re-warm her heart, and we would see bright days again. I was wrong.

Today, looking back, three years later, I ask myself, “Am I happier now? Am I better off?”

Two hard questions. I’ll take the easy one first. Am I better off? HELL NO. The financial hell is partially a result of our divorce. Now we’re trying to afford two houses, cause we’re certainly not going to live together, and the economics are hurting us both. We are floundering. We will find higher ground, but at the moment, I haven’t been in a lower place financially. And still…

Am I happier now? This one is much harder to parse.

Emotionally, I am much happier than I had been in the last two years of my marriage. What changed that turned the whole enterprise sour, I don’t know exactly, but it had a lot to do with money. And when you are tossed into the void of alone time following divorce, you’ve either got to figure out that relationship with yourself again or rush to try and fill that void with another relationship, as my ex did. I have been thriving in the alone time. UM… After I got over being terribly depressed. But today, I’d say, in spite of the financial crisis that is looming, I am happier than I remember being for a long time. Ever? No. But I’m happy.

Happier as a parent? Sure. Now, my kids get a fully-focused dad. When they are with me, it’s a bit like vacation-dad, but that’s more about the imbalance of time, rather than my approach to being a dad. I am back to my joyous-self. And my kids see this. They tell me how happy I am, how they notice my joy, all the time. And I am rubbing off on them. I think their balance is pretty good. They are both a bit freaked out by any type of conflict (the ex and I didn’t really fight, so they don’t have very good examples) but good and smart kids, making their way in this new two-house reality.

But happier? As in happy? I don’t think so. I had the belief that the ex and I could regain our initial joy again. I still had glimpses of it. And I still desperately wanted to be with her. (Note: I don’t want to be with her anymore, but this is due mostly to the ongoing damage she continues to hurl in my direction.)

I believed until the day she revealed that she had already consulted a lawyer, that I was fighting to SAVE MY MARRIAGE. I didn’t know the other half of my marriage had already left.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Tell Me Again, Why You Think This Is a Good Idea?

Finally taking the boot - divorce tales

divorce - child support

So you sued me. Um… For the last six months, you won’t talk to me, other than texts and emails. Okay. I think it’s a terrible idea, but okay.

Money has never been easy to talk about for me and the ex. And the awful realization, probably for both of us, is even in divorce we are strapped in the same financial boat together, for the duration of our kids’ young lives. Ack. It doesn’t have to be terrible, or adversarial, and it didn’t start out that way, until this summer.

The economy… Yadda yadda. My primary contract hit a snag in April, and my income was cut in half. And I have been working in a number of ways to replace that gap since even applying for full-time gigs and giving up my on-going business development. Everything is on the table. I’m scrambling.

The reality was that our two household family unit, required even more money than when we were married.

When we defined our agreement I was anticipating a quick-hire, buy a company that was “working up an offer” for approximately 80k per year. (great money if you can get it) The contract didn’t go through, but my divorce did, and I agreed to child support payments in the amount that would be in-line with that income level. The problem is, I have not yet achieved that income level since, at least not for more than 6 months at a time.

Okay, so, as things are getting REALLY tight, I let the ex know that I was going to get behind, but that I was going to keep her informed of my income and potential to pay as soon as I had the information. This did not go over well.

I understand.

She too has bills to pay, and her projections were based on counting on my support. I was apologetic, but I didn’t have an answer to her question. The question she began to hammer home week after week. “When” and “How much?”

So I was sliding, unwillingly, down the slippery slope towards becoming a deadbeat dad. The reality was that our two household family unit, required even more money than when we were married, and she was as dependant on my job as she had been when we were married. The fact that she was still living in the very nice house in the very nice neighborhood was a bit of a sore subject, but I wanted what was best for my kids. And uprooting them during the divorce, three+ years ago, was not an option that either the ex or I considered reasonable.

Today, however, the kids are older, well-adapted to the divorce routine, and she is sitting on a house that is nearly double what mine is worth, in today’s hot market. So she’s got that as an option. But let’s go back to early summer.

As the first month behind wore on my ex-y’s patience also began to fray. Her emails became more accusatory and demanding. I even started taking them into my talky therapist to see if he could help me parse out the anger from the request. With his help, I tried to craft week-after-week reasonable responses to her requests. The demand for payment or an exact payment schedule was not something I could produce. And I kept looking for work.

During the second month (again I am behind, it is my fault) she began to rattle a different saber at me. She started mentioning the Attorney General’s office. As in “maybe it would be best just to turn the whole thing over to the AG’s office and you can sort it out with them.”

My initial reaction was disbelief. I was not hiding anything from her. In fact, my talky therapist and I agreed that giving her a weekly update would alleviate some of her anxiety and stress. We were wrong. She wanted her money and now was prepared to turn me over to the state.

At this point, I took my first defensive posture of the entire process. I told her, “If you do this, I will want to go back and review what our decree said and how much I was agreeing to pay you and reset that amount based on what I actually made.” But I was asking her not to take such an adversarial position, I was trying to give her information and updates, but I could not agree to a timeline and budget that I had no idea how I could project or meet.

She presses on and says she’s going to file. I do a rough (and very conservative) review of what I had actually made in three years and that initial 80k per-year estimate that my child support was calculated on. I sent her my back-of-the-napkin calculations showing I had over-paid her 16k over three years. And again, asked her to reconsider filing against me with the state. I was happy to give her all the information I had.

She took my calculation and plea as a threat. Again, never once, did I dispute the amount she was owed, nor say that I was not going to pay all of it when I had the means. But at this point, I had missed a mortgage payment as well and was taking action to try to prevent losing my house.

In a seminal email in August, one day before my house was to be foreclosed on, she asked, “Any update on your house?” It seemed like a caring question. I reported back that Wells Fargo had given me another 30-days to provide additional proof of income. Five minutes later her reply came.

“I know this is bad timing for you, but I filed with the AG’s office, today.”

The story continues: Can Things Get Worse? Yes, Easy!

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Of Course You’re Not Happy With Me, We’re Divorced

 

And I want to do better, and I want to not enjoy just a smidgen of her troubles… But she can still make me madder than anyone else on the planet. And that’s understandable, she’s my ex. Legends about the evil ex abound. There are even Twitter hashtags devoted to the cult of the ex. Of course, she’s not that bad. (On Twitter see #thatswhyyourmyex)

In fact, in this fourth year since our divorce, I am working to release her from the evil ex moniker. But a little healthy anger can sometimes help if we know how to use it appropriately or dispose of it. Keeping your anger inside is a known stress booster, it shortens your life and lengthens your belt size.

I’ve been framing up something I’m calling The Divorce Recovery Roadmap, and anger plays a very critical role in this growth through and ultimately freedom from anger at your ex. I believe anger is part of the engine that got me out of my depression. When my world was shattered, even if I was complicit in the dismantling, it wasn’t until I found my anger, and began to voice it, that I started to recover my authentic self.

I’ve talked a lot about the self-awareness part of my recovery. And I will state it again as clearly as I can. Divorce has been the most devastating event in my life. And it has transformed me, sometimes by fire, sometimes by tears, back into the happy and creative individual I was before the divorce, maybe even before the marriage.

When I started this blog, even as I was still living under the same roof with my ex-y, I tapped into the vicious anger that was brewing inside. “What? You’re fucking giving up on me?” I wanted to rage. But I wrote it instead of yelling it. And it wasn’t all pretty. In fact, some of it was hurtful and spiteful. As if I wanted to say, “If you’re taking me down, I’m taking everyone down with me.”

But the fight wasn’t with my ex at that point. The fight of your life, the recovery from the wounds of divorce, is with yourself.

In that summer of discontent, when I had lost everything and was living with my sister, basically homeless, I raged. I wrote the FUCK YOU that I couldn’t say. I got a few pats on the back for the blog and pressed on, and eventually found my voice, with The Off Parent.

Then she found out about the blog and called me on the phone.

my jackass sequence to recovery

“I found The Off Parent.” she said.

“Okay.”

“And I want you to take it down. It makes it too hard to trust you. And we’re trying to raise these two kids together, and it’s just too hurtful.”

At that moment, I was so distraught at my situation, and my self-pity (we’ll get back to that in a minute) that I simply said, “Okay, I’ll take it down, now.” And I mothballed the blog.

What was not apparent to me at over the next month of so, was how quickly my unvented anger became anger pointed inward. That’s one definition of depression: anger pointed at yourself. And I just about rowed that boat over the waterfall of darkness. I didn’t get suicidal until the following summer, but I lost touch with my anger at her. Healthy anger. Anger that needed an outlet.

I crumbled. And maybe that’s when I hit what alcoholics refer to as rock bottom. Because I started feeling really sorry for myself. I started placing the failure and blame on myself, on the things I did or didn’t do. When, in fact, I made numerous pleas with my ex to stop and reconsider her request for a divorce. I wanted reconciliation, I wanted change. But I didn’t want a divorce.

I had been exposed to the 12-Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous a long time ago, when I started attending ACOA (Adult Children of Alcoholics) meetings, back when that movement was emerging. And some of the principles I learned, still guide me. But in my despair, I grabbed onto two AA principles that lifted me back from the dead, even without this blog.

The first principle was Self Pity. It is one of the core shames we learn when we are raised in broken or breaking homes. As we uncover just how horrible things have been, we begin feeling sorry for ourselves and our plight. (This is magnified 100-fold for folks battling alcohol addiction, so I don’t mean to make light of it.) In my case, as I was in my sister’s house, basically breaking down mentally, was this sorrow at what had become of my beautiful life. My regrets and should’ve-dones became like a mean Greek chorus shouting me down as I tried to find my footing as a single late-forties man. Man In Divorce, it’s a thing.

I started reading some recovering alcoholics notes on the web. I attended a few AA and Alon meetings to remember how miserable I was, and how far from those darknesses I still was. And the idea of getting over my self-pity, my wallowing in my own stew of misery, was a good one. I wanted to comply, to shake it off, and to grow up and grow a pair, but it wasn’t that easy. Those AA slogans are great when you finally believe in them. Initially, they come across as unhelpful platitudes. Still I grabbed on to the life ring of Self Pity and waited for someone to pull me back to safety.

Of course, that’s not really what happens either. Not in real life, anyway. So I slogged on. Read some AA material and tried to apply the maxims to my life. Live and let God. Giving up my pain and process to my Higher Power and all that. But it wasn’t until I hit the next gem of wisdom that I finally got moving.

I was reading a blog about recovery and the phrase that struck a nerve with me was “Take Massive Action.” The idea is, in recovery from addiction it is not enough to go to meetings, say the sayings, read the literature, you could not dabble in your recovery process if you were serious about getting well. In order to flip your life back to ON you needed to commit to Massive Action. You had to commit to doing EVERYTHING all at once to get well. And leave no little pockets of doubt that you could fall back on later.

I needed to build and agree to my own Massive Plan of Attack. Here’s what I did.

  1. I enrolled in an Aikido class that was a few miles from my sister’s house and I agreed to go to class 3 or more times weekly.
  2. I enrolled in a divorce recovery class that started in two weeks, based on the book When Your Relationship Ends.

And two weeks later I was already feeling the changes as I attended the first night of the divorce recovery class. And when I started hearing this masterful gentleman talk about the divorce recovery process I knew I had hit a vein of gold. Here were 20-or-so men and women in various stages of divorce and willing to admit that things sucked and we needed help.

And that first week after the class we were required to call at least two other classmates and check-in on the phone. I remember really hitting it off with the first person I called. And as we chatted she let me know she was a recovering alcoholic. She became one of my champions in my Massive Action campaign.

I called her a few days after our first phone call and said, “I don’t want to go, and you don’t need to call me back, because I’m going to my Aikido class right now. I’m not happy about it, but I wanted to let you know I was going. Fuck.”

(People in that class liked to cuss a lot. And fuck seemed to be one of the best words in use. Maybe because none of us were fucking.)

And so my massive action plan began to take shape and I began reshaping my relationship to the divorce. More importantly, I began reshaping the relationship to myself.

About seven weeks into the class comes Anger Night. Essentially you go through a process of expressing all the “fuck yous” you need to by writing a letter. A letter you never send, of course. And then you share your letter with some of these other people in your class.

I was sad and overweight when I started my massive action plan. And by Anger Night I was at least in motion, but I was still pretty depressed. But the night after the class, when we were given the assignment, to write the real letter, I came uncorked.

That night, in the process of writing out all my fuck yous and complaints to my ex-wife, I reconnected with the healthy part of the anger. The part that I had been stuffing and hurting myself with. The fury, once unleashed, became unmanageable. And I wrote from about midnight to about three in the morning. But I was transformed.

When I accessed my anger that night, it was like a switch had been thrown on inside and the power to my healthy system was restored. The transformation was notable. And four weeks later, when the good doctor was looking for facilitators for his next session, he invited me to be one of the shepherds. What an honor and validation for the work I had done.

By the end of the class, I was on a roll. I was negotiating a new job, I was still hitting the mat in Aikido several times a week, and I was beginning to feel like “life” was possible again. I’ve never looked back at that letter. It’s still here, on this computer, somewhere. But I don’t need to read it. The very real, very visceral, and transformative power of that night of anger, brought me back to life.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Moving Forward and Reassessing In The Moment After a Breakup

No time to slay the dragon - the off parent

san juan and de vaca drive

So, how am I doing? (The photo represents my current location on the path of life. Each day we have an opportunity to travel down the path of GOOD (San Juan = Saint John) or the path of MAD (De Vaca = Cow Path). Each day I make a conscious choice to find the good side is a day that I am happier, my kids are happier, and by extension, even my ex-wife is happier.

I wanted to take a moment of pause to look back over three years of processing my divorce through The Off Parent and see what I can learn about myself, about the changes I’ve made, and the growth I still need to keep aspiring towards. Self-observation has been the most powerful tool I’ve had in my healing and recovery. This blog is a reflection of that process, and thus a good opportunity for illumination.

Intention: I am not here to make you feel better. I am here to get it out. I am here to share my journey. To make me feel better. But mostly to FEEL THROUGH this bitter, enlightening, transformative experience. (from my about statement)

Major Topics Content Mix:

Anger – 44
Dating – 92
Depression – 39
Divorce – 115
Kids – 41
Love – 43
Marriage – 35
Money – 26
Poetry – 41
Self-care – 34
Single Parenting – 30

Stepping back the progression and change seems clear. I can see how this blog afforded me a sort of Divorce Recovery Roadmap.

Divorce Recovery Roadmap

As I began to ascend from the darkness of depression and anger, the energy also opened up and allowed more hopeful ideas to enter my daily activities. My recovery and my kids’ health became priorities in my life by year two, and more recently, in this last year, I have found myself ever more arching towards a next relationship and the imagining of what that might look like.

So, according to me, I’ve moved from the darker parts of divorce toward the hopefulness of dating again and aspiring towards simpler and healthier relationships with my ex-wife. I don’t think I will leave any of the elements along this path behind. There will be days when I’m angry or sad. But as I can direct my life and thoughts more towards the aspirational parts of the process, the happier I will become.

Without this blog, I don’t know that I would’ve had the outlet for the anger. And for me, that’s one of the issues I struggled with during my marriage. I was “too nice” most of the time. And I sublimated my own needs and desire in the name of being a loving husband and good father. But the anger is power, in some circumstances. And even pushing it somewhere else (overeating, acting out, rage) doesn’t really get rid of it.

There’s a great phrase from Reshad Feild that often helps me remember to deal and open up to the anger.

“There is no time to slay the dragon. The dragon is your friend.”

In fact, during a highly creative and emotional time, about six months ago I went through a “tattoo desire” phase. I was certain that some ink would help establish my new creative promise, and my own promise to myself, never to sublimate my joy, sadness, or any other emotion. Ultimately I purchased a package of temporary tattoos of the design I created from a drawing off the web. Here’s what it would’ve looked like.

No time to slay the dragon - the off parent

The beautiful part is, I can have the tattoo anytime I want. To make the statement. But on days when I’m no longer in that mode, I am just fine with the fade and loss of the tattoo dragon.

To summarize: I have moved from anger and bitter darkness towards dreams of doing it all again. Better, smarter, and with more self-awareness, but getting back out there and giving my heart another chance to connect and soar. That’s what most of the poetry is about. Imagining poetry on the left side of the recovery path would yield a very different voice. I prefer aspirational love poems. And with that, The Off Parent has been transformed into the Poet of #Desire.

So yes, I’d say, this has been an amazing journey. Goal setting for Year 4 is next.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

Reference: Steps to Freedom  by Reshad Feild

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Separating Stories and Seeking Purpose After Divorce with Kids

getting through divorce one step at a time

getting through divorce one step at a time

It’s time to sort this story and pull apart the tasty bits, throw away the vitriol, and find the pure “off parent” story. Like pulling apart the colorful threads that are bound together in a rope, if you begin to separate the various issues you can focus and perhaps solve them independently. As a whole, the strength of the problem is overwhelming and seemingly unsolvable. But taken as smaller parts, with diligence, you can find your way into a solution, or at least resolution.

In looking back at the three years since my divorce, I see how this writing journey became an important part of my recovery of self. As I was able to articulate the pain/joy/struggle of finding myself alone again I gave voice to my own recovery. What started in anger and confusion, has risen through many ups and downs into something of an anthem to self-examination and (in my humble opinion) victory.

And all the parts of this expression have formed who I have become, as I walked, crawled, cried, and sang through my journey back to wholeness. As I reflect on the content now, I see some very distinct threads.

  1. Divorce Process, Mechanics, and Resolution
  2. Kids, Parenting, Single-parenting, Fathering
  3. Pure Anger and Bitterness
  4. Depression, Loss, and Recovery from Depression
  5. Dating, Desire, Sex, Relationship Journey
  6. Poetry of Desire, Loss, and Aspiration

Assessing the strength of this rope, I see one “voice” that needs to go away. (Not be deleted, but not be encouraged either.) The vitriol and black anger that has come out may have felt justified and righteous at the start of my fall from the family as it previously existed, it does nothing but feeds on itself and stir up more of itself. Time to acknowledge it and move on. Turn it over to a higher power, if you’d like a platitude. There is no growth or healing from bitter focus. It is a step you must pass through. The hope is you move through it with great passion and without much damage to yourself or (more importantly) others. Even your ex does not deserve the vile that is likely to come up. But get it up and out, you must. In my case, this blog was started with that bitter voice. Titty dancers, Fuck Yous, and “You really fucked up,” all formed some of the energy that got me started.

Next on the list of “maybe this should go somewhere else” are the aspirational love poems. While they too have given me great hope and insight into my dreams and desires, AND they are part of the divorce/recovery journey, perhaps their song should be published elsewhere. As part of a divorce story, they are tinted by the rest of the rope. But pulled away from the whole, perhaps those prayers, laments, and songs will gain a lightness. I believe they belong here, but I also know that I was probably publishing them here because of the audience that has developed.

And finally, the exciting part for me, the Single-parenting content. (Here’s a prime example: Just Being Dad Is Enough: A Hot Summer and a Ghost Horse) This thread runs brightly through the narrative as it unfolded, but the energy and focus were always mixed with the other “colors” of the writing. How could I be bitching and praising their mom in the same place, much less the same post?

The first vacation (alone) to the beach with my kids was an eye-opening experience. And the joy that emerged on that first journey was one of strength and hopefulness. And the idea for The Whole Father emerged. I wasn’t ready, at that time, to really begin imagining myself as a teacher or model father; I’m still not.

But, the awareness that was so exciting to me was this. In getting divorced we have to regain skills, chores, and parts of our whole selves that we had parsed off to the other parent. My ex was really great at the beach. She loved it. She loved shepherding the kids and giving me some hours to lounge, sleep, read, whatever… But without her, there would be no downtime. I had to up my game. I had to become more whole again and recapture and rework those parts of myself that had been languishing.

This was a wonderful insight. And today, I’m going to begin expanding that concept and giving voice to The Whole Father as a new blog for all the positive and negative aspects of becoming a single-dad and having to learn all over again how to be a parent. I had to fill myself back up enough to become whole again, and while I had the vision early on, it is only now that I feel competent enough to expand on that gift and road to discovery.

So I’m not leaving The Off Parent behind. But I do think there are other places for me to find joy and focus, and perhaps the weight of the “off-ness” is heavier than it needs to be for poetry or joyful single-parenting. That’s where I’m headed.

Here’s the first post: A Return to Wholeness After Divorce | The Whole Parent

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Maybe My Unhappy Ex-Wife Is Simply Unhappy

Last night I attended back-to-school night for my son. And of course, the ex was there. And I had a big realization, as I was looking over at her, she just looked unhappy. At rest, she looked unhappy. Glued to her text messaging phone, she looked unhappy. Any time she wasn’t being engaged by another parent, she looked unhappy. And a lyric from a recent favorite song came to mind

You’ve got that special kind of sadness
You’ve got that tragic set of charms

And it occurred to me, perhaps that’s part of what I was drawn to, back in the day. Not a rescue, per se, but someone who might need me. UG! Let’s update that bad idea and move forward.

This morning she sent a check-in email. And completed it with this sentence. “Any news on your house?” I had been threatened with foreclosure by Wells Fargo and the date for the sale was yesterday.

I replied that I had been given an additional 30-days to complete the paperwork, crisis temporarily averted. And things are looking up.

Her next response was more to the point. “I know it’s terrible timing for you, but I had to go ahead and file with the AG.” Oh, yay. So, the logic goes, he didn’t have to declare bankruptcy, let’s start drilling for child support. There is no question that I owe her the money, I’ve never asked for a reduction or said I wasn’t going to pay. Still…

Okay, so the one good outcome I can see from this. I will not accept or respond to another money email again. We put the AG’s office between us. But I tell ya, unless she’s going to start having me arrested, there is no extra money here. I’m not hiding anything. I’m working and looking for work. And I really don’t mean to be whining, but perhaps I am. Busting ass to get back on the high-level of earning that I’m used to, and I’ll get there. Today, that is not her concern.

Well, let’s see how this progresses from here.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Some stronger lyrics to express my goodbye to the drama.

So break me down, if it makes you feel right
And hate me now if it keeps you all right, so,
You can’t break me down if takes all your might
Cause I’m so much more, than all your lies!


The Light At the End of the Tunnel, It’s Yours

feeling okay after divorceThings are not going to work out the way you think they are. Most of the time, that’s a given. Still, we can aspire towards the next great LOVE with energy and abandon. I do. And yet, I have a new patience. A self-quieted place of peace. I’m not in a hurry. I’m not struggling, even with things that should probably worry me a lot more than they are. I’m at peace.

Tonight when I went for my long walk and ended it with a dip in the lake, I was filled with mixed emotions as the very old and very grey couple arrived with their dog to join me in the lake. The man entered first and was very chatty. He showed me how his bull terrier (Spuds McKenzie type dog) liked to catch buckets of water as he threw them in the air. Both the boy and his dog were satisfied and blissful with their connection. His wife sat nearby pulling off her walking clothes.

As I sat on the bank, getting my shoes on I marveled at how she too entered the water with joy and purpose. Playfully, grabbing the red ball from her husband and tossing it up the bank. I could see the beauty in her 70+-year-old body and the loving light still in her eyes for both her man and their dog. And in that moment of reflection, when the thought occurred to me, “This is what I wanted,” I got a new message.

I’ve got more time between my age and their age then both of my marriages combined. There’s no hurry. I have so many adventures ahead. I have time to fall in love over and over again. While I’d really dream of having the next ONE, I can see that this projection of my future is flawed. It would be great. It would be my fantasy to be retired by a lake with a dog and a loving wife deep into my 70’s, 80’s, and beyond. And if it’s the same woman, even better.

But.

What if this couple just met? What if they have been dating only a few weeks, and this was a date rather than a routine and loving evening swim? Does this make any difference in my observation of their joy and closeness? At that moment it does not. And in my next and next and next relationship, perhaps that is the same joy I will get to feel again. While I would prefer not to suffer the downside of breakups and hurt feelings, those things might happen.

To love and really LOVE we’ve got to find that light within ourselves that is not dependant nor extinguished by another person. I am fueled by the idea of joining my flame with another creatively hot woman, but I am content to renew my focus, again and again, and find ways to continually rekindle my passion.

She is here. I like to say, or imagine. But at the moment she is somewhere else. But I am here. And the couple at the lake, regardless of their relationship status, showed me the joy I have to look forward to. The simple pleasure of a shared swim, a moment together playing with a dog, a lightly applied kiss.

I know, I am burning brighter than I was a year ago. And it’s my task to keep stoking and strengthening myself, regardless of MY relationship status. I am here. And I am actively waiting.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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I Must Be Insane: It’s the End of the World, and I Feel Fine

There’s not much that is going to plan at this moment. YET, I’m happily plugging along on my path and flipping the bird to the ex-wife, bill collectors, family members who think they know exactly what I need to do. Fuck’em.

And as I checked in with my therapist this morning, he said, “Either you’ve gone completely insane, or everyone else has.” I’m gonna stick with our assumption that unhealthy systems don’t like for people to get healthy, or stand up against them.

Let me be clear, I am behind on my child support payments. THIS I KNOW. But I am not avoiding them or trying to hide behind excuses. It’s pretty simple. A client’s business took a hit recently and changed their payment terms with me. I’m not working any less or taking time off, but I’m not getting paid with the same frequency. They will get caught up too. And when they do I will give my ex and my kids all the money they deserve. This is not a choice I am making to stiff them or begin my slip towards becoming a dead beat dad.

Of course, that does not help my ex and her own cash flow problems. I tried to have a discussion with her since she keeps sending messages of some urgency. Here’s how the conversation went.

ME: I’m happy to meet or talk at anytime this week if you’d like to talk about things.
HER: First question: When can you pay me?
ME: Um. I’m not sure.
HER: Next question: How much?
ME: Okay, I see this is how the conversation would go if we were to get together. Maybe that’s not necessary. Let me ask a question. “Is there some extenuating circumstance, or something I’m missing that is causing our kids great suffering? Or is it just cash flow?”
HER: I am incurring debt because of things your are not paying for.

Ah, so… It’s really just a choice, then to pound me for the money, even when I’ve been as clear as possible about my financial situation. Am I going on vacations or spending money on anything other than food and shelter? NO. And I won’t rehash how her financial situation is just fine… Not my business or my concern.

You see, knowing that you owe taxes is not the same as having the money to pay them. Avoiding penalties is great if you have the money. When you dial back to survival mode you have to thicken your skin a bit and take care of what you CAN take care of and ignore the rest of the URGENT MESSAGES that come from everyone looking for their money.

I tried to explain this to my ex. Her urgency didn’t translate for me. In fact, it just made me a bit more frustrated as I tried to give her information (she was asking for information) but no firm dates and amounts. That’s what she wants. How much and when. That’s fine. But it’s not possible for me to answer that question. And there’s a wrinkle, that I’m looking into as well. [Based on actual income vs. estimated income, I’ve overpaid her significantly since we got divorced.]

As we move along, perhaps the urgency or villainy will be moved from me to someone something else for her. Today I’m her target, but I’m getting ready to punch back. Or not. Just like my divorce recovery class says, “Treat them like a convenience store clerk. Just take care of business and get out.”

When she came by on Saturday to pick up the kids she looked great. She’s still my type. I could see how I would still find her attractive and want to date her. I would hope, today, that my self-awareness would allow me to see some of the fatal flaws before falling in love with her. I noticed her and her attractiveness like I might a pretty waitress, and then we conducted the business of transferring the kids’ stuff.

I wish her well. The better she does the better my kids do when they are with her. And I hope her boyfriend turns out to be more reliable and a better honey-do than I was.

I will get her all of her money. All of the money that belongs to my kids. At this moment, that money is for extracurricular things. And I don’t have a single extracurricular dollar. That’s why the downstairs bathroom is in need of repairs. And why the creditors, including her, will have to wait until things move back into the plus column. They’ve been heading in the right direction all summer, but a few hitches along the way, and I’m still plugging along in survival mode.

The good news is: even under the duress of the financial and familial stress I am still centered in my own happiness. That is the only happiness I can manage.

Sincerely

The Off Parent

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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.


Giving Up On Me, and Why I Still Hate What You Did

The moment you are told your partner wants a divorce is not the beginning of the process. Likely the process has been festering on their side for quite some time, and the EVENT that causes the “divorce” talk is merely the reason given.

In my case, my ex rarely shared her “feelings” with me, unless they were angry and it was about some way that I had done her wrong, by not doing what she expected or wanted. By the time she said, “I’m not sure I still love you,” in couples therapy, the damage had already been done. But it was done by her NOT sharing her “feelings” with me. She chose to complain to another man in a form of emotional infidelity, she had been speaking with her counselor for years and was close to consulting a lawyer, but she still doesn’t turn to me and fight for what she wanted.

Rather she EXITED the relationship in many different ways. Withholding sex is a crucial way of punishing and isolating your mate, and it was not uncommon for my then-wife to go without sex or an expressed sexual desire for months. MONTHS! Of course, she would say anger was not conducive to feeling sexual or close. But her anger would also go on for MONTHS.

After the triggering event [your mate will probably be a trigger to your anger on a number of different issues] the anger should dissipate or be redirected at the core issue that is plaguing the individual who is angry. If her therapist was not working with her on HER anger, well… I didn’t have much respect for her therapist several times we met her together. She seemed too soft. The Rodgers “You are wonderful” kind of therapist. And if her client was so fucking angry, don’t you think they should’ve been working on THAT? Of course, it was ME that she was mad about. (That was sarcasm.)

So, I think back and discover that she had EXITED the relationship YEARS before she asked for the divorce. I tried to comply with low sexual activity, I tried to be a better husband, make more money, do more chores, but it never got better. And she never got UN-MAD.

I don’t harbor much anger towards my ex now, but… Occasionally… I regret not escalating my own dissatisfaction in couples therapy more often. It seemed that most of our sessions were about MY  ISSUES, and how I was constantly disappointing or “lying” to her. [Is not telling your wife about a speeding ticket a major transgression?]

And when I think those thoughts I wonder what things might be like if we’d still been working together at this point. If we were collaboratively trying to figure out this money thing, rather than ME vs HER. Oh well. I contradict that regret when I remember her anger and unwillingness to crack open and share what was going on in her life. It was easy to focus on me. My depression. My employment. My lies. My problems. Rather than understand what was going on for her. So that’s where we devoted a lot of our therapy together. GROSS.

So today, I still remember that YOU EXITED the relationship with another man. And you EXITED by not sharing your feelings with me. And ultimately you EXITED the relationship by deciding NOT to work on the relationship but to consult a lawyer. So today, in this moment of reflection, I say fuck you. And then I let it go.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

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Creative Parenting and the Gifts of Enthusiastic Participation

divorced dad and kids

playing with the kidsI used to get criticized by the ex for how much I liked to play with the kids as opposed to discipline and enforce rules with them. (I think this is a very common husband-wife issue.) She would want the family to do chores and I’d be out back chasing them around the yard, or playing tickle tag on the bed, completely messing the house up.

Maybe men and women have different styles. The dad is the one who’s supposed to rough-house. The mom is the one who’s supposed to offer comfort and tenderness. The dad is the one who’s supposed to play games, incite rule-breaking, and ignore curfews. The mom is the one who has to slog away in the kitchen until the dishes are done and the counters are all spotless.

BUT… I’m here to tell you, it doesn’t have to be this way. And I think my ex could have had a profound effect on the kids had she spent more time in high-energy play rather than angry-energy chore-master.

Let’s see how things have turned out so far.

My kids have never wondered about how much I loved them. I was usually there wrestling and hugging and soothing the bumps that come from falling off the bed the 15th time. We have a physical closeness that still draws them to jump in the “big bed” when they stay over at my house. WIN.

While my musical pursuits have never paid off financially, both my kids love music and they both play an instrument. My son, 12, even got a middle-school award for his orchestra enthusiasm. WIN.

Gaming and other flights of imagination. My son has become the ringleader of a small band of Minecraft kids from his school. Essentially they quest together, with my son playing the narrator role. (Like dungeon master in D n D.)

And while my kitchen sink is still often filled with dishes (how did I buy a house without a dishwasher again?) my kids are clean, happy, and on-time for school and other events. And there is ZERO nagging or complaining about chores or homework. It’s a very different place here at my house than the days when I was parenting with the ex.

And perhaps some of it comes down to core approach to relationships. In an early example, I recall my then-wife demanding of my 2nd-grade daughter, “If you don’t get your homework done, right now, there will be no TV.” My daughter burst into tears. As I joined the scene, I asked, “Hey honey, how’s your homework going? Is there anything I can help you with?”

One approach was authoritarian and matter of fact, but it lacked any compassion or connectivity with the child. My approach was to join with my daughter and see what she needed to get her work done.

My kids are continuing to thrive after the divorce. And I give credit to my ex for working hard to keep our friction out of our kid’s lives. But she treats me in the same way she commanded my daughter, “Where’s the money you owe me? How much can you pay? When can you pay it? Oh, and btw, I’m sorry you’re having trouble.” I guess it’s the way she was raised.

My kids have been raised to expect a warm and joining approach to school work, problems, and aspirations. I’m always on their side. And they have been given an example of a life filled with enthusiastic play and love of playing music. I think those are transferable skills that will continue to serve them throughout their lives. And I couldn’t be happier with that picture.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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