Category Archives: divorce

Know What Your Problem Is? Mom and Dad.

Family of origin events and habits form a good part of what makes us who we are as adults. For example my dad never expressed his anger until he literally exploded and scared the crap out of all of us. I have that same repressed anger, except I never get to the explosion part. Of course, for my dad it took a drink or two to loosen his vitriolic tongue. And my mom taught me how to suffer in silence and worry, worry, worry about everything. She also showed me my first example of depression, after her divorce when I was 7.

Those several facts have given me a blueprint of my emotional DNA.

  1. I have trouble expressing anger.
  2. I have trouble with people who drink too much.
  3. I’m scared to death of someone raging at me.
  4. I worry a lot about things that never happen, wrecking a good bit of my here-and-now present moment.
  5. I have a depression symptom that looks a lot like simply giving up.

And all of these factors weigh into my adulthood personality and personality disorders. I am conflict adverse. I’d rather lie to you than fight you, about anything. (Kinda wimpy, right?) Well, these parts of me also caused me to lose the three primary relationships in my life in some form or fashion.

In both my marriage and my recent relationship my depression was really the crushing factor that caused the other person to opt-out. And I get it. I don’t blame either of them for their instincts towards their own personal preservation. I was a wreck. And I had no idea when or how I was going to get out of it. I was hopeless and it made them hopeless too. And two hopeless people can only be together so long before something breaks. It’s terrifying and heartbreaking at the same time. And both times I was asked to leave. I get it. I honor both of them for taking care of themselves. That’s all we can do in life, take care of ourselves. Even if it means ending a loving relationship.

This same DNA will form the future of my relationships as well. And the clearer I get on the issues and the solutions, the easier it will be to keep a relationship. It’s not 100% up to me. But my actions will determine my own course of action, even if that means getting fired and losing my shit and falling into depression. I hope that doesn’t happen, but I know the depression will rear its ugly head again in the next 50 years. It’s not if, it’s when. And the rest is up to me and my care team. Gross. It’s a disability that is part of loving me. And it’s one I have a hard time loving about myself. But I get over it.

And the drugs, in my case, do work when they work. They also poop out and leaving me a shivering fearful wreck. And really, we know that pharmapsychiatry is a dark art. They have no idea what they’re doing. The simply rotate the same handful of drugs until they find one that seems to make things better. serotonin, Dopamine, norepinephrine, the chemicals in my head, are simply concepts about what’s really going on. But most of the time even my psychiatrist is scratching his head, discussing with me options when things aren’t working. He doesn’t know anything. And all we have is my 10 year history together, and a lot of trust.

Depression aside, the most powerful work we can do on ourselves is to get straight with our family of origin. It may take a lifetime, and you may not be able to fully rid yourself of the unhealthy influence, but you’ve got to keep trying. So ask yourself, “What did mom give me?” and “What did I learn from dad?” And listen to what comes back. You might need someone else to talk to in order to gain some objective feedback.

If there’s anything I can do to help you on your journey, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  unhappy family, creative commons usage allowed

The WholeParent Mission: Positive Single Parenting Year Four

Here’s the starting mission statement written back in Sept. 2013.

My unwavering and immutable mission:

1. 100% positive
2. Kids first
3. Honest feelings

I thought I would give pause and reflect, update, muse, on what’s been going on here and in my single-parenting life.

One way I’ve wavered from the original missions, is the 100% positive part. I realised that not letting any of the anger, conflict, and struggles out was not painting a very accurate picture of being a single dad. So, while I try to keep the focus on myself and not others, I am sure I have let a zinger or two fly here. I think it’s more important to be real.

I do believe that my kids come first. The marriage is over, but my parenting never ends. If I can stay focused on their wellbeing I can get over any frustrations I have with their mom. I am committed to being the best dad I can be, in spite of troubles, depression, anger, flights of fancy.

And the final mission, “honest feelings” is the glue that makes this entire adventure work. I think that’s what keeps this blog going even when I’m not contributing to it. I went on a year or more hiatus from writing here and the blog was still getting 100 – 200 reads per day. That’s pretty exciting. So, it seems like my voice is resonating with some folks. I’ll do my best to continue, even in the hard times, even in the blissful times when I don’t feel like writing. Most of all I will continue to be the best single dad I can be. And if I can give you a glimpse of what my life is like, struggles and all, then I have done my best for you as well.

Keep the faith, and if you need someone to talk to, check out my coaching page.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  recent pic of me, creative commons usage allowed

The Single Dad and His Teenaged Kids

Well, it’s official. My kids are both in the separation phase of growing up. My son, 16, is driving, has a girlfriend and it not responding to my texts about 75% of the time. Get used to it. It’s not about you. My daughter, 14, is a true social butterfly and stays over at friend’s houses every night in the summer, and on the weekends during the school year. She’s better at responding to texts. And always responds to SnapChats.

The kids I once knew as “kids” are gone. The easy planning has become a stretch for me. If I don’t put plans together (not my strong suit) then plans don’t happen. I’m asking them for more interactive feedback these days, and I’m getting mixed results. At least we’re trying. Well, I’m trying and they are trying to figure out what kind of relationship they want with their dad.

I miss the little kids. I miss the years that I’ve missed by being a single dad. They are much closer to the 75% parent. MUCH. And that’s okay, she’s done a terrific job a parenting them. And she’s been solo up until a year ago. I keep thanking her for the job she’s doing.

You can see it in your kids when they are thriving. They have ideas of their own. They do respond when the offers are made, and they often respond in the “Yes, I will be there on Saturday.” And I’m learning, again, to be alone in a new way. The primary relationship I’m working on at the moment, given recent events, is my relationship with myself.

And to get the elephant out of the room, my kids are very aware and sensitive to my depressive episodes. I’m sure their mom has had numerous chats with them about “What’s happening with your dad.” That kind of makes me sad to think about, but when I’m in a DOWN I’m in no position to try to explain what’s going on. When I’m doing well, like right now, I’m happy to update them with more information. But they’ve learned, from experience, not to fully trust my moods. Heck, even I’m not fully trusting of my own emotions.

I’m getting better at that too.

When you lose your kids to divorce and then to teenagehood, you really have to begin letting them go. It’s only two years before my son will be heading out on his big adventure. What can I do with him in the next two years? How can I show up for both of them?

Those are the challenges ahead for this single dad. I’m up for it. And I’m in a good place to pick up the pieces, again. And fortunately they are resilient. We all are. May you spend as much time as you can with your kids, and find ways to connect in real-time non-phone ways. It’s a journey.

How are you keeping in tune with your kids? Let me know in the comments.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: happy family, creative commons usage allowed

Never the One to Quit

In my last two relationships, heck in most of my relationships that lasted more than a few weeks, I was not the dumper I was the dumpee. I have been left or asked to leave. Even when I was confident we still had a chance, that things would get better (but I’m an overly optimistic child), I was shown the door. Both times, in my marriage and in my last engagement, I was on the receiving end of a dear John letter. And now, looking back, both women were right in kicking me to the curb. Sure we might have done things a different way, but… I was also so unhappy, but also so conflict adverse that I stayed loyal in the face of huge betrayals and huge red flags that should’ve been grounds for ME breaking off the relationship. But I stayed.

One thing this did for me, in my mind, was give me the higher ground. I still catch myself saying, “But it wasn’t my idea,” still. UG. Victimhood feels so crappy. And I’m not a victim. But still, “It wasn’t my idea.”

I wonder about both women if they sometimes wonder, “Did I do the right thing?” And I get some sick satisfaction imagining that their answer is “No, I want him back.” But I’m dreaming silly thoughts. And thoughts that are not helpful in getting on with my healing. In answer to that question, to both women, I would say, “Yes, honey, you did what you needed to do. And I was just to scared to do it myself. So, thank you.”

But there’s no need to have that conversation. I am not on the higher ground. I to am 100% responsible for my part in the failing. That’s the part that I’ve got to accept and own. Avoidance is never a winning strategy, in business, life, or relationships. But I avoid like hell because I want everyone to be happy and to like me. I’ve always been this way. Seems to me, this has to do with the chaos in my early childhood where I was trying to soothe everyone while our home and family was going to hell.

I’m still learning. And while I’ve partially recovered from the grief of my last loss, I know I’ve still got work to do. We all do.

I think one of my biggest challenges is trusting myself, my feelings, and my anger. But anger is very scarey for a conflict-avoidant person. I have to own my sadness. I have to expose my anger. And I’ve got to learn to (sounds corny) love myself as much as I love others. I give myself a harder time than I would give anyone in my life. I’m downright mean. And it’s part of my depressive illness. When it gets out of hand I start falling away from reality and falling into some despairing hopelessness, that tends to overwhelm and freeze me. It sucks.

But they say awareness of the problem is the first step. So today, I admit I am powerless over my destructive coping mechanisms. And I’m turning my life over to the care of a higher power. And this takes place first thing in the morning, and many times during the course of the day.

In both of these devastating losses, I was still clinging to the hope that things would get better. And while I thought I was working to make them better, in both cases I was as unhappy as they were, I was just too dependant to admit it. Thank you to both these beautiful women, I loved them when they said it’s over, and I love them still. But I love them for breaking the toxic pattern and letting me go. Letting me fall back onto my own path. It was never their responsibility to take care of me, or make me happy, or do anything but be honest and live their own lives. We’re all on this journey, but it’s a singular journey. We may feel that a relationship gives us protection from loneliness and isolation, but it doesn’t. Everyone is doing the very best they can. We have to remember that at all times. About ourselves and about others in our lives. Nobody is trying to fuck things up. Give them and yourself a break. Take it easy. Take a step back. Then you’ve got to take action to preserve yourself and your journey. No one can do that for you. You’re on your own.

I hope you find your path to healing as well.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: breaking up, creative commons usage allowed

relationships, breakups, divorce, single dad

What My Breakup and Recovery Have Felt Like

4 weeks ago I lost my best friend and lover. I moved out of her house and promptly fell apart. But then again, I didn’t fall apart like I thought I would. I was certain that deep depression was in my near future. I was certain that I would give into the pull of isolation and shut everything down and everyone out. That didn’t happen.

Here’s what I did. I put my mind on the next step. Heal. Grieve. Get my shit back together. And move on. I kept my exercise routine in place, every single day. And I found support in Al Anon. I did not isolate. In fact, I was less isolated than I had been in my partner’s house. I kept my chin up and felt the overwhelming sadness and kept going.

I also shut down 100% of the communication between us. This was advice from a brilliant book Getting Past Your Breakup by Susan J. Elliott. They called it NC, no contact and I believe it was essential to push me into the longing and loss I was feeling. I tried to find things to make me cry and I cried. I tried a new therapist along with my current therapist. I knew it was going to take some time for me to even feel normal again, much less able to consider a new relationship. The NC was key for me. Everything I wanted to tell her I wrote in letters I knew I could never send. I found my anger. I found out how much I missed the little things we did together. I dug into the tears and kept saying, “Goodbye” over and over until I believed she was gone.

I’m not saying I’m over her. I’m not. But at least I’m not thinking about her every single day. In fact, deep relationships you may never get over fully, but they take on less weight as time goes by. So in some ways time does heal all wounds. I wasn’t going to take the passive approach. I went after my grief with a vengeance.

And something good came from all this. I no longer felt constant anxiety about losing her. She was gone. I no longer pined for us to be together again. And I started to think about other women in my life. I contacted some old friends, mainly women, just to be around different women. And yes, I got on the online dating sites, but I’m not really looking for a relationship. Too soon. I’m just looking for some ways to talk to and be near women. And it made me feel hopeful that some women seemed to like my profile and want to talk to me too.

In Susan’s work we say “Do the work. Feel the feelings. Make peace with the peace.” And that’s what I’m still doing. I might always feel the prick of a finger every time something reminds me of her, something we did, something we talked about doing, anything really. But the prick doesn’t have to derail my day. Sometimes it only takes about 30-seconds before I redirect my wandering mind back to something more positive.

I’m not saying I’m over it. I’m not saying I’ve moved on. I’m saying I’m happy by myself for the first time in a long time. And I like it this way. I’m exploring new horizons and new options. From here I can go anywhere.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: https://goo.gl/images/DhYpZh, creative commons usage allowed

My Side of the Mountain – Understanding Depression

I can only talk about myself and my experience. And my experience includes some serious lapses into depression. Hard for me to admit, I’ve got an achilles heel, that scares the hell out of me and everyone near me, including my marriage and my last relationship. The disease is hard on everyone. And if you’ve never experienced it, you have no idea what it’s like, but I’m going to try to give you a glimpse into my dark days.

Depression is different from feeling sad or unmotivated. Depression is not laziness, though some of the symptoms may cause your loved ones to think you are just not trying to get better. I can assure you I was doing everything in my power, using all of my tools, to get well. But sometimes, even when things seem to be going well, the meds poop out and the depression grabs me and jerks me back below the surface of the water. Depression feels kind of like the flu. It’s as if your body has no energy for doing things. And nothing, I mean nothing, sounds good. You don’t want sex, you don’t want ice cream, you don’t want conversation, you just want to isolate and be quiet with your dark thoughts. But that’s a bad idea. That’s always a bad idea.

Depressions are usually triggered by some major emotional event. And my variety of depression comes along before your twenties and colors the rest of your life. My first freak out happened when I was sixteen years old and away at prep school. I’ve been touched ever since, with varying degrees of seriousness and duration. And I learned early on that meds were my friends, that I needed the equivalent of a pharmaceutical vitamin to keep me regulated. Over my life, it has been a real struggle to accept that fact, and several of my falls have happened years after I was off all medications and seemingly doing great. But it’s always there in the back of my mind. What if it comes back. And it just did, and probably will, with variations and if I’m diligent with smaller and less severe cycles. But I know that it will be back. This disease once it has been diagnosed doesn’t ever get cured.

I’m not trying to have a pity party here, or get sympathy. What I am trying to get is some clarity on what just happened to my loving relationship as a result of a prolonged bout of depression. They call it treatment resistant depression. That’s when the meds that used to work, just stop working. My free fall into fear and anxiety happened last December. And by January things were tense and unhappy in my relationship. Not just her. But I was deeply unhappy too.

The thing about my symptoms is I go off on apocalyptic fantasies about the future that I can’t stop worrying about. And I’m not just talking about some vague concerns about money, or career, or the future of my relationship, I’m talking about wild ass fantasies that consumed my consciousness so that I became forgetful and scattered. And this kind of depression makes it very hard to keep a job in the high-tech sector of marketing. But I couldn’t just get over it. I couldn’t just “man up” and keep going. I almost became mute because I didn’t want to share what was going on in my head with anyone. Fortunately I had a loving therapist who consoled me. Unfortunately there was no one consoling or coaching my then fiancé.

Here’s what’s scary. This same pattern caused the failure of my marriage to the mother of my children seven years ago. And I don’t know if this disease is going to continue to show up, freak out my partner, and end up with me alone and more depressed and hopeless. It’s hard for me to imagine it’s not going to happen again in some car wreck of a breakup. And that’s a way to get hopeless pretty fast.

But there is some good news. My story is going to end on an up. For me, meds work when they work. Unfortunately it may take a lot of tries to get it right, but when they kick in I am my old creative and loving self within weeks. And that’s just what happened two weeks ago. After being on a new med for 45 days I suddenly began to have creative thoughts. And this was after I broke up with my fiancé. So even in the depths of what would cause normal people to be sad, my meds allowed me to get a handle on my mind, put things back into perspective and develop the most critical part of recovery: hope.

Today, even alone, I feel hopeful. I know more about what happened. Perhaps I’ll learn how to get my partner to get a support system that will help her through her own doubts and fears. And here’s the plan: when a med works, stay on that med. So I could have years of good results, with ups and downs like everyone, but no crashes. That’s the goal, and that’s what I believe. When I was 16 my brain shut down on me and brought my sophomore year of high school to a screeching halt. And at several points in my life since then, during some major life crisis, I just give up. Well, I don’t give up, I’m fighting like hell, but my brain gives up and focuses on creating pictures of doom so dark I was afraid to tell my therapist what I was thinking sometimes.

So we start again. I’m alone but hopeful the next relationship will get it right. Of course, the relationship I need to work on most is with myself. Forgiving myself for my part in the demise of a seemingly brilliant relationship, with a committed future. And then, letting go of my best friend enough to imagine myself in a new relationship. I’m not there yet, but I have the clarity and energy to work on it.

Oh, and the funny thing for me, is when I’m starting to feel better my creative drive comes back and I start writing. Yesterday, with my blog post, I was showing myself that I was emerging from one of the longest depressions I’ve been in as an adult. For me creativity and brain health go hand in hand. So I’m happy to be back, still working, but on the up swing.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: john mcelhenney, creative commons usage allowed

In Divorce: No We Can’t Be Friends

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Let’s do it differently, please.

I’d like things to be different between my ex-wife and me. I’d like us to be friends. I’d like us to be cordial and be good parents. But that’s not how it’s gone between us and I’m sad about it. I learned today, there’s enough sadness to go around, and too little happiness. What we are looking for in divorce is finding the joy of parenting, and not just the managed tolerance of one another. I’d like it to be different, but I’m only one voice.

As with the divorce, I would’ve stayed married for the kids. And perhaps that was not the right answer either. But as it fell apart I tried to stay connected. I tried to stay close.

Sure, I did my best as a collaborative divorcing parent, but as things got tough, the tough came between us and created anger. Perhaps I walled up that anger as indifference. I’d rather not know anything about my ex-wife’s life. I’m content to know she’s remarried and that my kids like the other guy.

But it’s not enough. I still want us to be friends. I still have this idea of us being cordial to one another. And, unfortunately, that — again — is not what it’s like.

And yesterday it took a third-party to finally get it through my thick head. I am writing a tv series about divorce and I was meeting with my cowriter. As we talked about our divorces I gave her an example.

“So, I’ve been out of work for a few months and yesterday I notified my ex that I’d gotten a new job and that the AG’s office had been notified. I was at least expecting a response. A ‘Good job,’ or something.”

“Oh,” She said. “You still think you are friends.”

“Well, yes, we try to be friendly.”

“She’s not your friend. And you need to stop expecting anything from her. Any acknowledgement of your good deeds would mean she’s still engaged with you. She’s not. She’s moved on.”

“So I’m just like a paycheck for her, and she doesn’t care about me at all?”

“Basically.”

“That sucks.”

“Welcome to divorce.”

“Okay, so I know and I’ve written that serenity begins and ends with me. But I was expecting us to at least be cordial.”

“Why?”

“Well, we’ve still got kids together.”

“Yes, but she’s focused on them. She doesn’t care about you and your journey. She’s glad you’ve got your new job because it means the steady checks are going to start coming in again. That’s why she turned you over to the AG’s office. She’d rather not deal with you at all.”

I’m not sure I’m fully over the idea of us being friends, but I sure got a lesson in practical divorce yesterday from my cowriter. Sometimes it’s great to be given the view from the other side of divorce.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Coparenting When the Other Person Wants to Fight

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It’s hard to understand where the anger comes from, so I don’t try. Let’s just say she’s still mad at me, six years after the divorce. Hmm. Am I still doing things that hurt her? I don’t think so. Is she remarried to a lovely and loving man? Yes, as far as I know. So how does it work that my requests for clarification come back as rants at my lack of parenting cooperation? How is it that a simple question becomes a war?

This is no way to coparent. The reason we cooperated in the divorce is to lessen the animosity between us. What then has gotten so corrosive in the six years since the divorce was finalized?

  • Things have not turned out as she’d hoped
  • Leaving me did not immediately make her a happier person
  • There are still financial concerns, and some of them are between us
  • The full-time job commitment is exhausting
  • Kids require a lot of food, transportation, and money

In this morass of what is called parenting, somehow, my ex-wife believes I am no cooperating as much as she would like. Sure, she asked for the custodial parent role, she asked to have the 70/30 split rather than 50/50 as I was requesting. So, there is some reason behind the imbalance. But is it okay for her to now be mad about it?

I guess people will be mad. And it’s certainly not my place to take her inventory. But it does impact me, her anger, all the time. I don’t ask for much variance from the schedule, because I don’t want to upset her, or really get involved in a conversation with her about anything. I avoid her as I’m dropping off the kids bags after a dad-weekend. Again, less is more concerning our interactions.

I guess the good news is she’s getting her new husband to intervene and negotiate on  her behalf. And I have to say he’s less angry. Of course, he’s parroting a lot of the same things she says. He’s asking odd questions that she’s asking him to ask. He doesn’t come across as angry as much as confused. He would probably handle things differently. And as we began discussing how to get the AG out of our relationship, at first he was receptive. But then the message came back, her message, the AG is staying, it’s for the best.

Somehow she believes I’m going to try to skip out on my responsibility to my kids. In six years I have gotten behind in child support.  But I was never unavailable to her or my kids, I was never uncooperative when she was asking for a variance from the schedule, I was never withholding money when I had it. But she felt she should use the state’s attorney’s to enforce the divorce decree.

I guess that’s her right. And, in her mind, common practice when the divorce or child support is contested. But I didn’t contest anything. I even let her have the 70/30 deal she wanted, even as it made me very sad to do so. I’ve relented on all my demands. And as she is now the custodial, primary parent, I am asked to behave a bit like a second-class citizen. Even calling the AG’s office, they give you the old “custodial parent press one, non-custodial parent press two.” Why should they split you before they have even spoken to you? Is it because they are mostly working FOR the custodial parent and AGAINST the non-custodial parent? Or so they can provide better service, or shorter wait times for the custodial parent?

Anyway, today I resolved to live my life, and to support my kid’s lives, in spite of my ex-wife’s anger and uncooperative actions. I’ve placed my demands and frustrations in the same box I placed them in when we were going through the divorce and I was being asked to accept things that I knew were not fair. But, divorce is not fair. Coparenting is not fair. And while cooperation is much easier with two parents that are civil to one another, it can also be done when only one of the parents is committed to the positive side of the street. That’s all it takes.

One positive parent can make 100% of the difference. I’m not perfect, and occasionally I want to lash out when she does something that seems unreasonable. I don’t. I never do. I have learned to put my anger and frustration into a different box, one I can use later to fuel my workout or writing session. She’s still able to get under my skin, but it’s up to me to put that energy to use for positive things. That’s where I live, ever-moving towards the positive in all that I do.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Meet Your Lover at Their Passion

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Today I rode 15 miles with my fiancé. A year ago I could not have ridden half that distance. But she loves cycling. And I learned if I take up cycling it’s time spent doing something she loves, and we’re together. While I would not put cycling in my initial passions, I joined her at the point of her passion.

So she never joined us in our biking adventures, or our tennis “games,” or rough-housing in the pool. She chose to separate from us.

How many times in our lives do we have the opportunity to join another person in doing something they love? Dancing? Biking? Playing tennis? As you long to expand your time and join with this other person you begin to look for ways you can be together. And if that togetherness is bound up in physical fitness activities so much the better.

I remember in the early months of my relationship with the mother of my children, she began taking tennis lessons with one of her best friends. They loved to joke about how they were doing it for the sexy skirts they got to buy and wear. And though I give her an “A” for effort, there at the beginning of our relationship, she didn’t continue beyond the first 6 weeks. I would often ask her to go “hit” with me and the kids, but often she took the time as an opportunity to have some alone time instead.

It seemed that there was always some reason that she wouldn’t join in. Board games. “No thanks.” Swimming. “Not this time.” And tennis. “I’ll just say here.” She often took the opportunity to join as an opportunity to not-join. Odd.

When the kids were riding bikes, I suggested we get her a mountain bike for her birthday one year, so she could join us. “That’s not a great birthday present,” she said. I never quite understood that response. “Um, what is…?” So she never joined us in our biking adventures, or our tennis “games,” or rough-housing in the pool. She chose to separate from us.

In relationships, marriage or dating, we choose what activities we want to join in. And we can either look for ways to connect or we can look for ways to be separate.

As our marriage was winding down, she did try to enter the tennis court again. This time it was just the two of us. And I recall the feeling of sadness as we were entering the court for the first time in 10 years. I thought she looked great in her tennis outfit. And I was encouraged by her openness to “trying tennis again.” But her heart was not in it. She was doing it as a potential bridge between us, one that she chose to shut down years earlier. And the roadblock between us had become too high to pass.

We only played tennis together that one time. It left me feeling empty, as I knew she did not enjoy herself, and would not be suggesting tennis again.

In relationships, marriage or dating, we choose what activities we want to join in. And we can either look for ways to connect or we can look for ways to be separate. I believe my then-wife was aware that she had isolated too much in our marriage and that she was making an effort to come out of her shell and join with me. The effort was appreciated, but the overall effect was lost in the sea of dissatisfaction that was obvious on the tennis court that day. She had never continued her lessons, had never joined the kids and me on the court, and was not very happy being a complete beginner. It was easier not to play tennis.

It’d be easier not to get into bike riding with my fiance. I’ve fallen several times and have the scars to prove it. But we keep getting back on the bike and we keep making dates to ride. Today we’ve got an ongoing Sunday morning ride that we can both look forward to.

Join with your partner in all the ways you can. Time together doing things you both love is time together IN LOVE. That’s how it works. And that’s what you want from here on out, a way to join in more and more of your life.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Losing Dads in Divorce

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My dad died when I was 21 years old. I was a freshman in college. And the loss nearly took me out too. While our relationship had been tumultuous, losing the opportunity to connect with him, forever, was devastating. The real story is, however, that I lost my dad when I was about six years old. My mom tells the story that she told him he could choose to continue drinking and lose his family, or he could stop drinking. I’m not 100% sure it went down that clearly, but I am sure of the fact that my father was an alcoholic.

He exited my life in a big way when he moved out of the house. Even before his divorce was final he was remarrying another alcoholic and the slide down into darkness was as swift as it was complete. I have no idea what his new wife felt about his kids, but it was clear that neither of them cared about their kids as much as they cared about partying together. I recall this period as one of estrangement. I could no longer get close to my dad. He was either drunk lamenting his divorce, or drunk celebrating his newfound love. But there was not a lot of love to go around. The love was for the bottle. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s more truth than myth.

What my dad missed from my 6’s on was everything. I was a star tennis player (as my dad was a tennis player) but he never hit with me. I was a successful football player but my dad made one game that I can remember, and he brought “her.” I was an awful baseball and basketball player, and today I can see how other kids dads were instrumental in helping them get over the fear and challenge of competitive sports. But my dad was nowhere to be found.

Sure, he was a hard worker. He was a successful doctor. And somehow he kept his schedule and his medical practice even as his vitality was going down the tubes. You’d think after his first heart attack he would start making changes in his life. You’d think. And maybe the second heart attack would really be a wake up call. But, in fact, my dad had three heart attacks before he was forced to quit drinking and smoking due to the chemotherapy that was required for his cancer treatments.

For the first time in my young life, from age 6 on, my dad got sober. It was a glorious and amazingly sad time. As his brain unpickled, he began to speak about “missing so much of your life.” He was dying, and yet he began to understand what he had lost in the 15+ years since the divorce.

I took all the time with him that I could. I spend weekends out at his condo, at the golf course, with him. I even tried to play golf with him, but he was still a tyrant and jerk about losing balls. Well, me losing balls. Him losing balls, no problem. I was satisfied riding in the cart with him and enjoying spending time with him. Even though his body was emaciated, he did his best to enjoy the last year of his life. But the poignancy of the loss was almost too much to bear.

On Sunday as I was about to drive back into town, he said, “I really want to do more of this with you.” We had spent the weekend playing cards, me watching him play golf, and essentially catching up on our lives. The next weekend he was admitted to the hospital for the last time. What glimpse I had of my real dad was short and sweet. He died about three months later, after a protracted withdrawal phase where he couldn’t speak or communicate by more than a squeeze of the hand.

I miss my father. I wish he had been around to see my kids, to know my kids, to enjoy my kids. But not if he had still been drinking. So maybe he did us all a favor, by allowing the alcoholism to cure and then kill him rather than prolong his agony and drunken stupor. I’m pretty pragmatic about drinking these days, I do it some, but more than two beers simply does nothing for me. Why blunt my experience of living.

My father was blunting his experience of loss. In his marriage he made the wrong decision. He chose to leave and lose the best family he could ever have imagined. And even as he tried to grandiosely celebrate his new wife and new adopted daughter, the real love of his original family escaped him. Until he was dying. Then we all came rallying to his bedside. All four kids spent the last few months in town, trying our best to be cheerful and supportive, but quietly crying with each other at what we had already lost and what we were losing.

Today I saw a dad and his kid on the baseball field. I wonder if I would’ve been a better baseball player if my dad had not been an alcoholic. I wonder if I could have played first string basketball if I’d had someone to shoot hoops with. As it was, I was left to playing horse in the driveway by myself. My mom tried, but she wasn’t all that sporty.

Dad’s fulfill a vital role in our lives. When that role is limited or eliminated the children suffer the consequences. Let’s put the balance back in parenting. And when divorce happens, let’s fight to make 50/50 the norm and not the exception. I don’t think it would’ve made any difference in my father’s case, he didn’t want 50/50, he wanted out, in some respect. But the out he was granted was final and absolute. And until he was dying he drank to keep himself from feeling the loss.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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