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

spirituality

The Self-Regulation of Poetry and Longing

No time to slay the dragon - the off parent

OFF-songwriter

I understood something tonight for the first time. It came about after I wrote a post on depression and the artistic temperament for one of my other blogs. As I was explaining how my art is often a form of self-soothing, I cracked open a tiny window into my own current situation. I’m not depressed, but I am highly activated and in an artistic spurt. Tonight as yet another love poem (or poem of #desire, as I’ve come to call them) surfaced I caught a glimpse of myself, doing my thing. And I noticed the effect. The poem of longing seemed to relieve some of my sufferings. It gave me a lift even as I was expressing my dismay.

In touching the sadness in words I can begin to unlock and feel them in life.

By telling my story, even in poetry, I am giving voice and awareness to my inner voice, my inner pain. I don’t admit my sadness or loneliness much these days. I’m too busy, too creative, too “happy.” But tonight, something in the back story of the love poem signaled from my subconscious creative brain to my rational and self-assessing brain that there was a problem.

Again, it’s a poem. But as I look back on the two books of poems that have come out of this period of my life, I began to understand, tonight, that these were as much a narrative as my prose. When read in sequence, you can see the arc and trajectory of my heart out of darkness and into hopefulness. I even achieved several moments of “love.” Even when the relationship couldn’t hold the feeling, in the poems I captured a tiny sliver of the potential.

Women of potential. My muse.

And tonight, as I was writing this poem, about something as simple as noticing a woman’s dark shiny hair, I was also able to hear a bit of the ache that I long to medicate with a relationship. And barring that, a love poem.

In the act of desiring, in the writing of a romantic epistle, I am releasing some of the tension I feel. In touching the sadness in words I can begin to unlock and feel them in life. Again, I’m not sad, but I’m lonely. As creative and inspired as I am, my seeking is consistent and unanswered. I have learned patience. I have learned the language of love. I have taught myself to compose songs. And yet… I’m alone.

Another moment occurred this weekend that opens up a bit more of my thinking about relationships, and “what’s next” for me. I had taken a long Saturday afternoon to drive my daughter and two of her friends to the local outlet mall for her birthday. That afternoon, when I got home, alone, I was exhausted. After a quick nap, I arose and felt inspiration hit as I was trying to put down a song idea with my guitar and computer. An hour later I was one song richer, and again, slightly exhausted.

And at that very moment what I wanted was someone to share my song with.

It’s sort of romantic, and productive, all this being alone. But it’s not a condition I aspire to, it’s merely where I find myself at this moment.

I contemplated going out. There was a local band playing, and I knew the woman who books the club was newly single… But I was tired. Fulfilled somewhat with my creation. And still, aching for connection. So some of what I am longing for is simply being seen. Having someone to share my new book of poetry with. Or even a new poem. Sure, I’d like someone to come along who can trigger some of the “loving” sides of my poetry and songwriting, but I’ll settle for a confidant. Well, perhaps a cuddling confidant.

I know that I don’t want to become addicted to this state of longing. It’s sort of romantic, and productive, all this being alone. But it’s not a condition I aspire to, it’s merely where I find myself at this moment. And clearly, for a few moments more.

All is well. A new poem is written. A song released inspires yet another. My creative heart flows and flies.

And. Longs. For. Connection.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written in December, 2014

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image: the author, kristy duff wallace, creative commons usage


The Crushing Impact of Emotional Infidelity on My Marriage

OFF-lunching

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

+++

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

+++

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

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

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

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

+++

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written in 2014

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


she is aspiration (a poem)

she is

she is

she is stronger than i know
more beautiful than i’ve had a chance to discover
reaching for her lover
with grace and a smile
to light 1,001 nights
beyond where i’ve ever been
and she knows
i am beside her
every step of the way
even as the course corrections may be numerous
this flight plan
is one we’ve both been drawing on our own
praying for a copilot
for the heavy weather
as well as ice cream sundaes
rainbow fkn unicorns
we are
she is

1-1-22


Becoming the Frog Prince Rather Than Kissing Frogs

modern dating: kissing frogs

modern dating: kissing frogs

 

Ah, just another pretty face to confuse and delight me.

Learning About Attraction and Sexual Chemistry

I am learning that it’s a lot more than a beautiful body and pretty face that gets my motor running. In fact, all of that, absent some higher connection, still causes me to look elsewhere. Certainly, it’s the initial attraction, like shopping, that perks my interest, but it takes a lot more for me to want to continue the conversation.

I know how easily open and unstructured time becomes a requirement of satisfaction. That can prove difficult if you are looking to find the time to be *in relationship.* So I breathe and I know patience.

I am learning that my time alone is my most valuable resource. When I’m depressed this resource is a horror and not a benefit. But when my creative juices are firing on all cylinders, there is nothing better than finding my work completed by lunch and the yaw of the afternoon staring at me.

So I’ve taken my “dating” process to that same high level of assessment. If it’s just a “huh,” and not a “wow” there’s no real reason to continue the conversation.

I’ve been lonely before. And that’s a bitch. Then the absence of touch becomes like a painful skin condition. The ache for connection is so high, I believe, our standards of judgment go way down. This is the mode where people revert to porn, craigslist, or going out to get laid. I’ve never been in the market for the second two.

Froggy Went a’Courtin

In courting the “woman with potential” I am reminded how long it has been since she has been in a relationship. I know how easily open and unstructured time becomes a requirement of satisfaction. That can prove difficult if you are looking to find the time to be *in relationship.* So I breathe and I know patience.

Reflecting back, it’s been a year and a half since my first outing on OKCupid. And I’d have to say, that my ONE relationship since the divorce was due to OKC. Two of my additional liaisons happened via Facebook. But nothing has satisfied my search. And that’s okay.

I was sitting in this same organic grocery store awaiting the arrival of my first OKC date, and I was observing my own likes and dislikes as I watched the throng of women coming in. I didn’t know much about this woman I was meeting, it was one of the early accelerated meetings where the moment outweighs the thinking. I was noticing about 25% of the women entering the store were within my range of acceptable beauty. I was actually kind of happy about that number, noticing that I had a wide range of preferences.

How Can I Retain My Happines *In* a Relationship

Today, I wondered out loud, “Maybe my most creative and happy state is in this revved-up energy of pursuit. Maybe I’m the best version of myself when I am alone!”

The longing and heartbreak and open-ended afternoons, lend themselves quite well to my artistic production. At this moment I am writing songs, poems, stories and feeling more rested and energized than at any time in my life. I am actualized, right now. And still, I am alone.

I’m hoping that the untethered state is not a condition of my happiness and poetic prowess. Certainly, I am in the wooing mode. I am trying to become more attractive. I am trying hard to become a frog prince.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent

*this post was written in 2013

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wishing forward (a poem)

heart rock finger

heart rock finger

this valentine’s day
wishing forward
i don’t want safe
ready
available
good enough

i want
to be
YES
and
YES
and
YES AGAIN
over and over
YES
you
YES
and
ONLY YOU

12-17-21


What Are the Big Relationship Questions After Divorce?

dating a single dad

dating a single dad

What’s sex about?

How do I make a living in this world?

Are intimate relationships worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

What’s sex about?

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

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

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

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

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

So *what* is SEX all about?

Hell if I know.

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

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

How do I make a living in this world?

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

Are intimate relationships worth it?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The metaphor worked for me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

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

*this post was written in 2019

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

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


she takes her shirt off (a poem)

she takes her shirt off (a poem)

she takes her shirt off (a poem)

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

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

and our last

12-08-21


i want to live (a poem)

i want to live

i want to live

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

11-29-21


imagine an ending (a poem)

more dead roses

more dead roses

flying home
november again
towards myself
limitless
unbound
ready for more
skipping over the painful bits
with abandon
and vigor
this is not the time
for regrets
or fear
or compromise
today
this year
i claim my independence
and self-care
self-love
selfishness
it is only on lonely nights
that i compose
love songs
heartbroken poems
and aspirational lists
of my *next* partner

it always ends like this
alone
logging into bumble
like a boss
opening new horizons
new opportunities
for more
for less
for smashing good sex
and less than joyful
collisions
my degree is in romance
not chemistry
i throw caution to the wind
for a pretty face
a smile that ignites
nightlights in my mind
and flutters in my belly
“she is the one”
i like to write
“she might be the one”
i write after a few months
“she’s got issues”
i muse
trying to repair the landing gear
mid-flight
adjusting the airspeed
and frictional drag
as we feel the tips of the trees
frozen and fragile
from the winter freeze
the power outage
that puts a point on everything
we’re lacking
that’s broken
in our energy grid
in our cooperative contracts
spoken and hidden
i write what i will miss
i write about being alone again
i write
more than i cry
about the loss
of one more missed embrace
moon shot at happiness
more dead roses
and a lifelong romance
imagined and constructed
and negotiated
until the path forward
became overgrown with brambles
and dangerous snares
set out for predators past
and triggered
at odd times
without rhymes
without reasonable doubt
merely set off
severing limbs
setting off alarms
breaking down lines of communication
until an exit
is the natural
result
and this poem
the obvious
motion
of my crushed
optimism

11-28-21


ready to be away (a poem)

coffee at the plaza 2021

coffee at the plaza 2021

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

11-27-21


spirit dancer (a poem)

spirit dancer (a poem)

spirit dancer (a poem)

it is not her that i am in love with
it is merely the idea of her
all the lace
perfect smells and smiles
the way she holds my head between her hands
and kisses me on the forehead
in her warm leotard
still breathing hard from the performance
and the grace
as she moves away from me
aches in yet a new deeper way
this ghost
mystery
woman
haunting my feeds and speeds
at warp speed
warping my mind
and expectations
of who i am
who i’d like to be
and how we would fit together nicely
if i could dance
and throw her in the air
the way she is used to
and then do something
even more amazing
that one thing
that would blur the lines
of age
righteousness
imbalance
and how our joy
multiplies our joy
when we’re thinking about each other
and even more
when we’re together
that’s what i’m thinking about, anyway
this morning
going meta in nyc

11-27-21


always arriving (a poem)

father daughter in nyc, nov 2021

father daughter in nyc, nov 2021

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

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

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


rainy in ny (a poem)

rainy in ny (a poem)

rainy in ny (a poem)

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

11-26-21

++

 


morning, back to bed (a poem)

back to bed

back to bed

if the coffee tastes
as bad as i feel
maybe it is more rest
or better dreams
that i need

today

11-19-21


like lemonade (a poem)

like lemonade - a poem by john mcelhenney

like lemonade - a poem by john mcelhenney

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

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

11-12-21


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

my angry ex-wife

my angry ex-wife

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

How My Ex-wife Did Us Wrong

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

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

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

Here’s what the typical divorce package looks like:

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

The Imbalanced Divorce Laws Are Bad for Everyone

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

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

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

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

What I Lost in the Divorce

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

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

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

I’m Mad About the Way I Was Treated

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

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

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

I’m Mad She Would Hurt Her Co-Parent

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

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

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

Namasté,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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i am a room full of chairs (a poem)

in this place

in this place

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

but no place for
cats
bad attitudes
enemies

i have graduated
to independence
from negativity
shame
anger
longing
unrest

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

letting go of her
was the easiest thing

11-09-21


slipping into something more comfortable (a poem)

flowers by the bed

flowers by the bed

i am still uncertain of my steps
one move forward
one blistering explosion of distress
a kiss with intention
may lead to a lifetime of promise
adventure
holding the firm confident hand of my lover
or
something completely different
how do we know
how does “i love you” come into frame
when is it okay to hope for future plans
when does “staying in the present moment”
become an avoidance
an escape from the heady work
of declaring your love BIG
deleting all the apps and passwords
leading to the options and rabbit holes
of other potential partners

we are here now
there is nothing more than your breath
on my neck
your timid words of assurance
and the ask
the pressure
the holding of space
for

LOVE

to enter
in glory and flaming red sparks
to enlighten or ignite
there is no in-between
there is only ON
or BURNED UP

i want you
i pray that it will work out
as I press into your thigh
and ask for permission
to believe
in your smile
in the promise of your kiss
in all the things we both claim to want
if the seeking is over
what will we do next
try not to fk it up
pause at the edge of the unknown

or is it time to jump
in

this time
forever

11-1-21


man under water (a poem)

man under water

man under water

 

the smoky morning rains have arrived
to remind me of the loss and emptiness
of this moment
as i repose in a new venue
rebuilding
resetting myself
my love
my energies and trajectories
towards higher love
higher ground
higher callings
that still respond to the desire
and the aspirational quest
for a partner
a forever home
to rise and celebrate the suns arrival
together
holding hands
knowing
all is right
with the world
and
in
my
life

this very moment is perfect
and imperfect
i know this longing
i live in this loneliness
i celebrate this awareness
and this second
when i can pull words
out of thin and chillier air
to muse about my future lovers
my future homes
my future resting place

now
i
know
i
am
love

10-27-21


limitless (a poem)

an opening is becoming
moments together
that bring limitless joy
both thrilling and comforting
and a breath in each other’s arms
is a lifetime of what has been missing
all this time
all these days and nights
of seeking and resetting expectations
become stillness
a point in time
with you
is

10-16-21


how each new adventure begins (a poem)

 

i’d like to tell you that this is my new girlfriend
i’d be jumping the gun a bit
see, we’ve just met
or at least, i think we’ve met
we are still meeting
still searching for touchpoints
and energies that reach beyond both our arms
she’s reaching for me
with the same intentional desire
arrows pointing directly at our hearts
taking the heady overthinking out of the equation

of course
the math does not add up
the days do not equal the days we’ve been connected
an hour can seem like a lifetime
a kiss can feel like a vortex
pulling deep breaths
releasing and relaxing
letting go of old attachments
and

not
quite
ready
to
say
the
word
the universal
word
of
attachment

beloved

10-14-21


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And my rally cry became:

… I will continue tomorrow …

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Without Blame or Malice: My Unresolved Divorce Anger is Mine Alone

OFF-2016-pinatadown

I say some mean things here about my ex-wife, and I want to be clear about a few things.

  1. It’s not really about her. It’s about the experience that happened. My experience of the events is very different from her’s, I’m sure, but this is MINE.
  2. She’s not a bad person. But she is still (6 years later) making very bad decisions. Decisions against her own best interest. I can’t seem to convince her of this, so I stopped trying to convince her of anything.
  3. She really did do some stupid shit. I’m still uncovering how deep the BS went. I’m still amazed at the amount of lies she told while claiming I was the dishonest partner.
  4. I did everything I could to keep the marriage together. She did not. She made a decision, well in advance of telling me about it, and there was little or nothing I could do to change her mind.
  5. I’m grateful for the release at this point, but back when it was happening I was devastated. I’m still a bit sore about the lost time that I can never make up with my kids. She should’ve agreed to 50/50 parenting.
  6. Even as I’m angry and restimulated by writing about this stuff, I am also released from it. A good rant post is like a good therapy session. And you, my readers, are my therapist. Comments and encouragements are always welcome.
  7. I won’t ever get over the divorce because I won’t ever get over my loss as a parent when my then-wife chose OUT rather than IN. I am not angry about the divorce. I’m not angry at her today. But I can access and release the anger here, and it’s a good thing.
  8. She doesn’t read this blog. She knows about it, but I’m certain she avoids it. And that’s a good thing. These posts aren’t written to her. She’s got her own life. She can suck it, for all I care.
  9. As much as I’d like to leave that “suck it” comment there without comment, I have to recant just a bit. I still love parts of my ex-wife. She’s the mother of my children and I would never wish harm on her. I would never act against her in any word or action. (Other than write this blog, that is.)
  10. As honest and revealing as I am, I’m certain I’m not getting to half of it. There’s always more, triggered by an event, a memory, a phrase I hear passing strangers say. And I take those opportunities to release more of the distress.
  11. My distress today is over being a good parent. I want to be the best parent I can be. I support their mom financially, and emotionally I’m 100% positive. (Except here.)

It’s good to have a place to let off steam. I don’t think I would’ve recovered my center nearly as quickly without this release valve. And I keep it anonymous so that my kids (13 & 15) don’t accidentally google me and find it. This is not for them either.

In divorce there are a lot of moving parts. If you have kids together things are exponentially difficult. Every action you take in support of your ex-partner is in support of your kids. Every action you take against your ex-partner is against your kids as well. When my ex-wife filed our decree with the Attorney General’s office she essentially said, “Fuck you. I’ll let the state sort out your financial problems.”

This is not how we parented together. This is not how you treat a friend and former spouse unless you are still really angry. And it was HER idea! So, I never quite understand what she’s so pissed about. I don’t have to understand her motivations. And I no longer have any responsibility for her happiness. Again, I don’t think I would ever act adversely towards her, even after she sold me off to the collections agency of the state. But again, I’ve moved on in a way that releases me from that anger. I’m not mad at her, unless I think about the fact that TODAY she is still making the decision that the AG’s office is of benefit to her and our children.

NEWSFLASH: I have given my ex-wife a percentage of every dollar I’ve ever made since the divorce. That she didn’t like my job loss a few years ago is unfortunate, but it’s not the AG’s office that got me paying again, it’s the job. She caused me to lose my house. She caused me to not get several jobs that ran my credit report as a last-step and then passed. And today her actions are still obviously motivated out of anger. And today she’s still got the AG’s office on my ass.

I’m sorry she has so much anger. Maybe she needs a blog. Works for me. Thanks for coming along for the ride.

Respectfully,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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Confronting God Alone, After Divorce

OFF-jesus-necklace

We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses.

I’m certain that I prayed to God to save my marriage. More than once or twice. I would’ve done nearly anything to keep my little family unit together. I counseled with my minister, I shouted out loud at the heavens, I wrote prayers that sounded more like love poems. And nothing…

It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams.

Turns out, somewhere, a bigger plan was being put into motion. Praying for the repair of something broken might not have been aligned with the plan. Who’s plan? What plan? And when would I know the rules and routes of the plan? I knew very little about any plan, and I was getting pretty snarky in tone as I pleaded with my higher power to fix things. I wanted them fixed the way I wanted them. I had no idea what was in store, but I had a lot of living and self-discovery ahead before I would catch a glimpse of my bright future.

My then-wife and I got really spiritual about the time we decided to start “trying to have a baby.” That means we ended all birth control and had a brief window of joyful and bountiful sex. It was the opening up to the possibility of a child, or children, that was the big Ah ha moment. We had some woo woo things we did, like talking to the baby in the womb and going to birthing classes. And we prayed and said thanks all the time. Life ahead appeared to be full speed ahead.

In less than a year after being married, we were gifted with the first child, a son. Once again, our lives were transformed as we surrounded him and each other with a warmth that only comes from some kind of spiritual grace. We were aligned, in-tune, and in-communication with God, capital G, for sure.

Through toils and snares we tried again and were given a baby daughter this time, to fulfill our pair, one of each, our unimaginable fortune. For years and years the kids took all of our energy, all of our creativity, all of our focus, and a lot of our time. But we were happy for the transformation in our lives from self-important to parents. It was not a sacrifice to tell friends, “Sorry, I can’t come see the movie, our kids are working on an important Lego fortress and I’ve got to help.”

I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.

It was a time for miracles and togetherness. One shiny family, orbiting God, and giving thanks along with lots of giggles and screams. As it turned out in our case, the bliss didn’t last. And after a series of events, none of them catastrophic, we agreed to get a divorce. In spite of our love for each other, and our love for our kids, the love of our relationship had wained. Perhaps we didn’t focus enough on each other as we were praising and singing to our children. Perhaps we didn’t pay enough attention to our own individual needs. But in the Spring of 2010 we were no longer a family unit, we were two houses and two kids and two single parents.

That’s the moment I came face to face with my own relationship to God. It’s not like I went looking for some spiritual revelation. Actually, it was quite the opposite. I began to crumble under the loss. The nights and days without seeing my kids was torture. All the years we had spent as one unit, to be locked out of my own house, outside the circle, and given about 30% of my parenting time back, was akin to being turned into a zombie. Lucky for me, I had family in town who took me in. I had recently lost my job, and had no money for an apartment, and no desire to find one. I was devastated and depressed and God was nowhere to be found.

Except when my kids arrived. Everything changed when they were around. My little girl snuggling and asking me to chase her around the house. My son hard at work on some project or another, rather stoic and aloof. And me, trying my best to put on a brave face. I was anything but brave. I did hold it together, somehow, but there were times when I was actively trying to give up. That’s what depression is: giving up. Of course, when you have kids, there is no such thing. I suppose you could run off and vanish from their lives, start over in Montana or something. But without that option, the future was here, in the same town with my ex-wife and my kids, trying to hold it together at school functions and holiday kid swaps.

Somewhere in that period I went through my dark night of the soul. I had joined a divorce recovery group and we were supposed to write out our “anger letter” to our ex. I started out at about 10pm, with a fairly tame rant. By 3am I was on fire and fuming. This anger was the energy and turning point that expelled the depression from my heart. And even as I was writing the words to her, I was also expressing my anger at God, at “the plan,” or “his plan,” if that’s what you want to call it. I was fuming mad and I was going to get it out in every way I could.

Depression, the saying goes, is anger directed at ourselves. Well, I had un-targeted myself and was shooting sparks at God and my ex-wife and all of her friends and the friends who had abandoned me… I was just plain mad. A bit “mad” actually. But the anger sure got me motivated and un-depressed.

In the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits.

During this period, one of the weekly chores of the divorce group was self-care, or doing something that helps you feel better. I started an Aikido class and began learning how to get thrown down on the mat every afternoon. And I didn’t think much about God except during the quiet times, when the kids were away, and my Aikido hadn’t burned all the fire out of my day. In these moments, staggered between loneliness and the potential of growth and energy I was cultivating that I began to pray again. These prayers were much more like love poems. Like Rumi as he called out to the beloved, I was also seeking a beloved. I still had a long way to go, but I began to hope and dream about being with a woman again, and the possibility of even falling in love again. Hard to imagine, but easier to pray about.

In the quiet moments, I do think my higher power was listening. Maybe it’s just the higher power in me, but the praying, and love poem writing began to soften the anger just a bit. The driving force that got me up off my ass was not very conducive to finding a date. I was pretty far from dating material, but I was at least beginning to think about my quality of life when I was the “off” parent, when the kids were not with me.

Looking back at this time of rebuilding, strife, prayer, Aikido, and living with my sister, I can sort of imagine the roadmap that got me here, to today. I can acknowledge that my marriage to the mother of my children was not serving either one of us, for whatever reason, and in the moving on I was given a new lease on happiness and even love. All of those fractured years, after the divorce, I spent building new ideas about myself, about what was important to me, and keeping the focus on building my now time-limited relationship with my kids.

Today the love poems are arriving en masse for a woman who has arrived to wake up my sense of God once again. “How could I have known?” I ask her, playfully. “That all of that shit would crack open my creative spirit again, and that from these prayers and poems I would find you.”

She still smiles at my pontifications and says, “Those that fired us, brought us here.”

We are the rebound and rebuilding of our past loves and losses. And in the process of this rebuilding, if we listen for spiritual guidance, what we hear is our own hearts, our inner spirits. It is in the listening that I was able to hear what aspects of a relationship were important to me, and what things I would like to avoid in the future. And while there’s not guarantee, the woman of my dreams is sleeping beside me these days, as we flow through the happiest moments of our lifes. Even when my kids are not with us, the joy between us… Well, isn’t that God, in a way.

Love = God.

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

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