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

spirituality

The Off Parent – Series: love, kids, divorce, humor, release, sex

when you lose everything, love comes into focus

when you lose everything, love comes into focusLet’s take a new approach. Let’s go after local resident and legend Adrian Grenier and see if we can give him another successful show. Let’s feature Austin, SXSW, ACL, Barton Springs, and Formula 1, all as part of what gives this show gravitas. It’s going to be a must-see on HBO (our first choice), because the heart behind the show is writer and single dad advocate, John McElhenney. (Me.)

How would a tv show bring about real change in the family law that gives dads the old 70/30 shaft and asks us to accept that moms should be given the house, the money, and the kids? That’s the way it was in the ’50s. But the states don’t want to give up the gravy train of child support collections. That’s what makes up 80% of most Attorney General’s budgets. And it’s paid for by the government. The states are incentivized to assign child support to one of the parents and then they make their money based on the “money” they have under management.

If you would like to be an early script reviewer or a pilot test group member, please reach out to me via email here: john.mcelhenney (at) gmail (dot) com.

Enjoy. Blessings.

 


a swarm of letters (a poem)

a swarm of letters
rustles in my head
pulls me up and out
coffee
dogs
kisses
symphony of birds
whistling their hearts out
in choruses that bring harmony to the world
and chaos of of stars
hiding just behind the dawn sky
summoning aspirational dreams
into sounds lining up in my head
and soft clicking of the keys
brushing up against your synapses
in an attempt at communication
love
mystery
desire
and the infinite feeling
of
home

6-26-22


she’s got ghosts (a poem)

she's got ghosts

she's got ghosts

more to her than meets the eye
an entire world spinning just out of view
a gyroscope of whirling moments
she hasn’t quite recovered from

5-13-22


and she was (a poem)

and she was (a poem)

and she was (a poem)

and she was in front of me
today
like every other day
and today
i stopped
to praise her beauty
i forget sometimes
and her smile
transformed my being
into something more light
her warm embrace
even as I could not see her eyes
summer’s warming zepher
as the sweat drips
she is with me
lifting me
from the inside
a mood of unusual size
blowing through my body
as we dance
on the beach
in the snowy woods above Taos
in the warm waters
of Oho Caliente
and she is always here
somedays
i forget to see

5/12/22


Your Contempt for Me After the Divorce is Hurting All of Us

OFF-maidamerica

There were two minor events that happened in the first weeks of my relationship to the woman who became my wife and mother of my two outstanding kids.

About two years into the divorce, and a year after the full payments are in force, I hit a rough patch in my employment.

ONE: After we had begun our committed relationship, she got in the car one afternoon and said, “I’ve just gotten a new prescription for birth control pills.” EXCITEMENT PLUS. Woot!

TWO: She got in the car a few weeks later and asked me why I was upset. I told her that I had left $150 cash in the glove box of the rental car. I had called and, duh, they didn’t have the money. Her response was immediate. “Well, at least you are rich enough that you don’t need the money.” BOOM.

It not only hurt, but it also stung me quite deeply. I recoiled and had to ask her what she meant. She didn’t do a very good job of explaining how $150 to her would’ve been a huge deal, but to me, it was little more than an inconvenience.

That’s how she saw me. MONEY. Even early on in our relationship. MONEY. I’m just now getting clear on this. As she is still grilling, hammering, and looking for “enforcement” from the Attorney General’s Office about MONEY.

We got over the early yelp I gave out at her contempt for my slightly more affluent upbringing. And we moved along down the relationship road until she moved in with me. Into the house I owned. She never mentioned the money again, but now I can see, with 20/20 eyes, that it was much more important to her than I realized.

When she got pregnant, we made plans to move into a house, rather than my condo. So the kids would have a yard. So we could begin building our nest. The money for the down payment came from my family. And we bought a nice little house in a nice middle-class neighborhood. We probably bought about 3 years too early, because a tiny baby doesn’t really need his own room. But we were young, in love, and ambitious.

Fast forward the tape 10 years into the future and we’re getting a divorce. Suddenly my money is her money, the house that was made possible by my inheritance, and my owned condo was all we really had between us. And the breakdown of the finances left us on unequal footing. She got the house, I got some relief from the $2,400 a month child support and insurance payments.

When she didn’t get her money after two months and 27 days, she filed the whole thing with the Attorney General’s office.

About two years into the divorce, and a year after the full payments are in force, I hit a rough patch in my employment. We lose a client. I lose 50% of my income. I tell her immediately that I’m going to be a little late on the child support. She throws a fit.

Now, to slow things down a bit, let’s examine the situation.

I was paying $2,400 per month in child support and insurance. She was living in a house (basically covered by my child support payments) and only had utilities, food, and clothing to provide for the kids. She had a steady job. Had we still been together, we would’ve worked together to survive the lean months and made up the slack when I got another job.

As divorced parents, she was furious at me. She wanted her money. She refused to talk to me about the coming school year and parenting stuff. Her response to every request from me was, “When can I expect my money.” Seriously, it was like a bad cartoon.

Well, when she didn’t get her money after two months and 27 days, she filed the whole thing with the Attorney General’s office. If she couldn’t make me pay her what she was entitled to, maybe the lawyers and police could.

Now, even two years after the AG’s office has driven my credit into the dirt, and really gained nothing for her, she still believes there is a benefit to keeping them in the relationship between us.

Why?

I’ll let her tell you. From an email a month ago.

A fact it would be weird for me to ignore is that involvement of the AG corresponds with XX and XY receiving more support than they did for the year /18 months before the AG was involved. It’s our job as parents to represent the interest of J and C and them having more financial support is in their interest. Until  there is an alternate method to oversee the result of XX & XY receiving a percent of your income for their support, I’d be laying down my obligation to XX and XY if I said no thanks to the strategy that has coincided with you more consistently paying support.

And when I shared with her the payments coincided exactly with my employment. I have to have an income to pay you a portion of it.

What is it you are asking me to rely on to assure you voluntarily will pay? This isn’t a sarcastic question. Help me understand what has changed to make it so you’ll contribute a part of your income no matter your financial situation.

So that’s clear, right. The AG’s office means my contribution to my children’s welfare is compulsory rather than voluntary. What I think we’re seeing is her rationalizing the entire affair that has caused me to lose my house and several employment opportunities. She won’t ever say she’s sorry. But maybe she will eventually see the damage the AG’s involvement continues to have on her children’s lives and mine.

But that’s not likely to happen, now is it?

Sincerely,

The Off Parent
@theoffparent

*this post was written April 2015

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image: maid in america, creative commons usage


as the night cools (a poem)

as the night cools (a poem)

as the night cools (a poem)

as the night cools
and the lights swirl in the waves
i imagine your voice
telling me something whispering
about spain
about kisses
about a moment only dreamed
a sad piano song jingles
rays of dying light merging
blue and orange
and stars that we can’t yet see
above people we miss
hearts we’d love to hug again
whoosh whoosh sound of water
as a boat destined for home
slices the glass-like lake
racing into the coming darkness
warmth of the day is done
the grass is cool and damp
under my feet
walking back towards
my solitude
i am amiss
cooler air is pushing day to night
and the dead sleep of the living
well played
ready for reset
on things i didn’t get to
lovers i didn’t call
and prayers
still spilled
as the night cools

4-3-22


Losing Everything in Divorce; Learning to Carry On

OFF-home

Can a man survive without a home? Without a job? Without his family? Divorce often feels like the end of your life. And, of course, it is the end of life as you have known it up to that time. Post-divorce life is very different for everyone. And some of the life-threatening blows, may become less severe as time goes along, as water under the bridge continues to flow.

The first death-blow for me was losing my house. Of course, it was a lot more than a house. The house we created for our family was filled with our hopes and dreams. It was the physical manifestation of our plans as a couple with kids on the way. We bought the house for our future family. And everything we became in the years within the house was our family history BD. (before divorce) As a symbolic loss, a man’s house is very important. The money, the commitment, the work that went into buying and maintaining the house… it was the only home I knew for my family. Walking out, or being asked to leave, was the first life-threatening loss in a long series of future losses.

If I want to have a place to live, it requires a much higher salary base. As long as I have the BIG JOB I can have a place to live and pay my child support.

Can a man survive without a home? As a single dad with the Standard Possession Order, it is possible to survive for a while without a home. For me, I was able to find shelter at my sister’s house. I was homeless but I had shelter. I was even able to have my kids on my weekends. And we made it work. But it was not easy.

A few of the intangibles you lose when you lose your house goes beyond the material goods. Sure there are a lot of “things” that you lose, that you wouldn’t even know how to ask for, but there is so much more to the loss. For me, I lost my neighborhood, full of green belts and parks, and home to the tennis club where I played three times a week. The dream that we had created was working for me. And now it was lost.

Can a man survive without a job?

The second death blow. This one is tougher. With today’s economy, this struggle for solvency is much more difficult than I remember it ever being in the past. Of course, now I have an additional $1,500 a month in expenses, and that puts even more pressure on my employment. And, if I want to have a place to live, it requires a much higher salary base. As long as I have the BIG JOB I can have a place to live and pay my child support. But when things get even a bit tight, something will suffer.

As things went for me, I was lucky. In a few months of living with my sister, I got another BIG JOB and felt like I was off to the races of picking my life, as a man and father, back up. Of course, I want a home for my kids. And of course, I want my ex-wife to be able to afford the home I left. I want them both. And I am willing to work to support both dreams. So off I went, on my new job and I immediately set out to buy a new home for myself and my kids. It was a right of passage. I needed to establish another home. I needed a place for my things again.

And things were good for a few months. I got my home, I got my kids in my new home. We swam at the nearby lake, we jumped on the new trampoline, we became a family, a single-dad family, once again.

Today, I am without a home. I am without a job. And I am surviving on goodwill, guts, and hopefulness.

But things changed, and my employer changed their business model and eliminated my position altogether. And six months in, on my new mortgage, I was jobless again. And for a while, I was able to make ends meet by cashing in my retirement funds, and my savings. And I landed some contracts and some project work. And I made my payments and my mortgage as best as I could. And for the next year and a half, things lurched along with some sacrifices and some drama, but for the most part I was able to say on top of the money situation.

And things changed again.As my primary contract changed my billable hours, I saw that I would be late paying my ex-wife on the child support. I contacted her to let her know what was going on. And we were okay for the first month. However things did not get better with my work. And the loss of hours was not immediately replaced.

It was in the second month of my delay that my ex-wife began threatening to turn it all over to the Attorney General’s office. I asked her to reconsider. She pressed. We devolved into angry exchanges over email. We were both sure that we were right.

In the end, she did turn all of our financial details over to the AG’s office. She had some reason. She was doing the best she could for her family, I suppose, but it was very hard for me to reconcile her actions while continuing to cooperate on all the parenting tasks. We agreed that the money fight should not affect our parenting. And we did okay with that.

But when I lost my steady income, or it dropped to an amount lower than my survival rate, I did not have any backup funds, I had no safety net.

In the end, I was unable to replace the income loss from my main work contract. And I was unsuccessful at supplementing that income enough to get caught back up on my mortgage or my child support. And now with the AG’s office putting the credit screws on me, I was unable to refi or file for restructuring bankruptcy. I lost my house. Well, I got to sell my house, but it was not what I wanted.

So now, I’m homeless again. And I have this same choice to make. I can go for the BIG JOB and make enough money to have my own place and support their mom in keeping our old house. Or I can fight in the courts, for 50/50 parenting, what I wanted in the first place, and reduce my primary expenses by $1,5oo a month.

Today I am interviewing for the BIG JOB. And I am hopeful to return to full employment in the next few weeks. And I will begin making my child support payments as soon as that is possible. But today, I am without a home. I am without a job. And I am surviving on goodwill, guts, and hopefulness.

Sincerely

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

*written June 2014

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: welcome, glassess eyes, creative commons usage


Seeking, Finding, and Gifting the Spark of Love

desiring my wife

finding the spark in another personIt’s a fragile thing, this spark we are all looking for. But it’s essential for success in relationship, I think.

So this “spark” we are seeking in love, it’s hard to find. And when we do find it, it’s even harder to keep. It’s easy to mistake sex or chemistry for spark. They are not the same thing.

The key to spark, however, is more than discovery. The key to spark, and sparking with another person, is how they carry and care for your spark once you’ve revealed it to them. You see, I think we’re hoping to GIVE our spark to someone for safe keeping and nurturing. We want someone else to see, love, and protect our spark. That little thing inside of ourselves we are proud of no matter what.

When you begin to wield your spark, many things happen. The other people interested in fire begin to show up.

In the last few days an amazing thing happened that helped me illuminate, for myself, a bit more about this concept of spark and what it IS and what it IS NOT.

I’ll take them one by one.

What we want is someone who lights up when they see our spark. And then we want to be lit up by their spark as well.

1. Kissing Girl imploded. In the process of telling her, my spark had dimmed in relationship to being with her. She bargained  she negotiated, she got mad. Kinda the stages of letting go, right? Anyway, what I saw in that change was how accurate this spark and spark awareness was for me. The minute I felt the spark was not in the right place, I brought it back home to myself, and the proverbial floodgates of confused communications began. She blew up my phone with texts and calls within 15 minutes of a potential agreed upon contact time. I can’t abide that. Sorry. You and your drama must go.

2. New Girl, of the poetic and aspirational heart, did a bit of a disappearing act. Not in action, but in presence, she became unavailable. A visiting friend, and then a scheduling conflict and then, “Have a great weekend with your kids.” It was only Wednesday. Easy handling here. No worries. No fear. We are still in the very early stages of “what if.” I have not given her any of my spark. I have begun nurturing a spark for her, but that is all. I’m saving the poetry for a future time. At the moment it is a projection of my spark on to something that might not be accurate. So we breathe and relax. “Yes, have a good weekend.”

3. Girl with Potential #2, from the previous post (Tilting the Planet In My Favor) texted and called me last night. It was a nice phone call. She was asking if I was available to join her for an event on Friday. I couldn’t go. But I was happy to express how willing I would be in the future for similar invites. And I was clear that I was happy to hear from her. It was a warm fuzzy. She had reached back to me. After a moment of pause. Again, she’s got spark potential, but it’s still undeveloped.

What we want is someone who lights up when they see our spark. And then we want to be lit up by their spark as well. When we are together our sparks have the potential to become a fire. But the process of bringing them together and being vulnerable and protective at the same time is something new and different for most of us.

I learned in my marriage to ex-y that passion and beauty can blow right over the spark. In the fits of desire, my own need, and my infatuation with her, I forgot, or missed, some core fundamentals that I should not have. No regrets. I have two beautiful children, and we soldier on as co-parents rather than parents. BUT… we could’ve had it all.

When you are aware of your spark, you can bring it to bear on a given relationship in a new way. As I am learning how precious my energy is, I am also aware that people of the fire are drawn to sparks.

In fact, we did have it all. At least, I thought we did. And while she was carrying my spark I didn’t even look at other women with the same eyes. I was DONE. I was HOME. I was COMPLETE. I was also misguided. But that’s a story I’ve already told here.

So in the current moment, I am well aware of my spark and the sparks building with PG#2 and NG. How fun.

And what I hope to learn, before moving too quickly with either of them, is how well our sparks fit together. How well we resonate, even in these very early stages. How easily does change get accepted and how stressful are the resets? We are in this next journey for the big finish. (That’s an idealistic concept, I know, but it’s an intention and not a truth.)

So let’s be sparking together. Let’s see if we like the feel of the other person’s personal flame. How can we support and champion their ideas?

Oh, and I almost forgot. I’ve killed my online dating profiles. Not in response to any of the above changes, but more in an attempt to simplify and be quiet. AND in that process, one final spark, OK-girl and I exchanged contact info. We’d been chatting on OKC for over a month. She was busy. I was easy. We were just being casual friends on OKC. But she was the only remaining spark. So I gave her a final ping with my email and cell number. And guess what? She texted me last night. And we had a funny exchange. And we’ll probably go have a drink in the next week or so.

That’s another learning. Hold on loosely. I learned this in spades with Kissing Girl. When they are TOO ready to engage or schedule, that might be a sign that something is missing in their lives.

And final thought. When you are aware of your spark, you can bring it to bear on a given relationship in a new way. As I am learning how precious my energy is, I am also aware that people of the fire are drawn to sparks. And, unfortunately so are the vampires. So as you bring your energy online and put the spark on your sleeve a bit more, beware of the baddies as well as the potential mates.

We’re all learning this together. Today I spark. And viola I have three potential sparkmates again. Like moths to a flame. Let’s see who circles without imploding, getting burned, or lighting up too quickly. And I will be listening for their sparks. What songs are they singing about themselves and their lives? And how does their flame make me feel?

Sincerely,

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

*written April 2013

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.

< back to On Dating Again index

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i want you to know you are loved (a poem)

phone screen matrix

phone screen matrix

i want you to know
you are loved
i want these words
typed not spoken
to resonate in your heart
as you voice them to yourself
i can’t touch you
i can’t see you
yet, here we are
having a short intimate conversation
and while we are here
i’d really like to leave you
with a smile
and a murmur of confidence
that the love in your life
is enough
that your light
brightens may souls
who hover around
even if you can’t see them
as we can’t see each other
yet here I am
still clicking here in my moment
and you following along in yours
blessings
and wordle bliss
pointed at your happiness

3-30-22


just for a second (a poem)

breathe

breathe

walk outside right now
stop stop stop the rush
of this day and moment
and go breathe a cloud in
take a pause to collect
the pieces of your soul
scattered out along the rush
of this work
this adventure
this life

you know
there is no other chance
this is the big show
you should not be waiting
for some sign
if you are
this poem is the sign you were waiting for
don’t wait
go outside
stop driving so hard and fast
open yourself to the softness of an afternoon’s heat
to the smell of the cedar
even as it makes your eyes water
give space for god
or your higher power
to catch up with you
don’t hurry on
don’t interrupt
just listen to a few good deep breaths
IN
and
slowwwwly
OUT
pause
repeat

this break brought to you by war
nearby deaths
tornadoes touching down next door
and all that is sacred in our lives
but ignored
escaped through entertainment
missed with resentments and anger
this break
is the beginning
the opening
for your change to happen
now
right now

in this second
with each word of a poem
you are opening to the pause
the great pause
the slow inhale and exhale
the modern recovery act
i am only here as a friend
a lover
a colleague
in every interaction i hope to encourage
champion
and cheer
for your success
as we both learn to slow it all down
this work/life balance destination
and do it now
do it even if we don’t feel it
do it because it will take effect
more powerfully than any antidepressant
more than sex, or chocolate, or money
the pause
the connection with another person
may be the most two vital practices on the earth

with these words, these strokes of keys on a laptop
i am joining with you
calling for your moment of connection
with your inner voice
your breathing
and your tuning in and dropping out
of the furious pace of your world
please pause
please take the breaks you need
please celebrate those around you
at every moment
and know that i am with you
in this journey to aim our hearts
closer to the beloved
i am here
you are there
we
are
in this most sacred
now

3-23-2022


this little flitter (a poem)

shadow the cat

shadow the cat

tooth rough against my tongue
80’s rock vibrating my earbuds
and decaf coffee
to decrease the stimulation
in this simulation of a life
as art
as a poem
written out one breath at a time
open to the sunshine
and the rain
as it resets my compass
towards soul bleeding expression
of love pain magic sex sugar blood explosions

once inside
my mind
an image fires up
synapses that were gray
and lifeless
now engorged and lifting
each thought moves toward a word or a sound
or is lost in the bustle of work life love loss

i cannot give it to you
there is no word that would awaken your mind
as this thought has blasted mine wide open
a word-jam-orgasm happening at this moment
with this clicking of the keys
toto finds home again
and my mind is flooded with good vibes
and memories of other sunny mornings
and coffee that burned with awakening
and this fuel must give liftoff
towards a well-articulated planet
of love life art held between each inhale
alone or in a crowded coffee shop
each stroke and letter leads to another
i can’t seem to stop or edit this flow
even as i am becoming restless
ready for the next buzz of my amygdala
as the dopamine rewards even this little flitter

3-19-22


The Self-Regulation of Poetry and Longing

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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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

++