Category Archives: single-dad

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

I am alone.

I don’t like being alone. I like sleeping next to someone, loving someone each morning, finding new things to love each day. I crave this connection a little too much and I know that’s a bad thing. I think I’m too susceptible right now to my own addiction. I think I might be addicted to women. In a slightly unhealthy way, that has led me to trouble in the past. So let’s slow things down a bit and look at how “the waiting” can be the best part.

At the moment I am in a perfect relationship. I wake up , go to sleep, nap, walk, play tennis, write… all that, I do all those things without considering another soul. I am in love with myself. Okay, that’s a bit extreme, but I’m learning to like my own company again. For awhile there, after my last breakup I was not sure I would survive to see another relationship. Today, I know I will, I’m just not sure how or when. It’s that unknowing that I’m also beginning to understand. I can’t say I enjoy it yet, but I get it. I’m not ready.

While there are not a whole lot of things going tremendously right in my life right now, I am comfortable in my rebuilding. As I went on a “hello date” yesterday I was happy with the me I presented. While there was zero chemistry and thus zero follow-up, it was an opportunity to tell my story again. To hear how it sounds to talk about my divorce and my kids, and what I’m doing with my life. Of course, I leave out some of that life stuff, but I was honest in all that I chose to share.

What I learned yesterday, at some point during our 45 minute conversation, is I am confident and comfortable with who and where I am. I talked about the i-ching for a minute in reference to both of our current situations. (See, when you’re going on a first date it’s likely the other person is alone and waiting for what’s next as well.) That she had never heard of the i-ching was surprising, but hey… Here’s a paraphrase of what I said.

Back when I was into the tao and zen, I used to throw the i-ching for guidance. It’s really just a reflecting pool that you can bounce your current situation off of, a philosophy. What was interesting was out of the 64 hexagrams of the i-ching, three times I threw the exact same one.

5. WAITING

Actively Waiting.

And what I learned was the great general does not rest during the down times of war. He is actively rebuilding, strategizing, readying his plans. In our case, we are in a down time, but rather than be lazy or discouraged, we must take advantage of this time and explore, learn, study, plan, everything we can think of, so that when the waiting is over we are well-prepared for the journey ahead.

Am I ready for a new relationship right now? Nope. How do I know? I’m too into it. I’m too ambitious. I’m too eager. There is very little peace in my approach right now. I’m learning and slowing that down over the past few weeks, but I still feel the lingering energy that would swoop in at the first opportunity for a relationship and create an unrealistic fantasy about the woman just so I could have a relationship.

In the waiting I’m working on a few things.

  • Continuing my exercise and good eating habits. (Helps me stay fit.)
  • Reading and writing. (Helps me plan and imagine the future.)
  • Exploring online dating. (Gives me glimpses of possibility. None that I have connected with, but it’s sort of like training school.)
  • Working a shift-job while I continue to seek my next big job. (Keeps me engaged. Gives my kids some child support.)
  • Honoring and visiting with my mom. (She’s 85 and has plenty of worldly-wise and unwise experience to share with me.)
  • Requesting opportunities to be with my kids and build our relationship. (Teenagers are usually too busy for mom or dad, I get it.)
  • Listening and respecting the pace of life. (Mindfulness is an ongoing practice.)

I am confident that each of the activities gives me more strength and passion for what’s next. That could be a new job. A new relationship. Or it could be more of the actively waiting. As long as I am not wasting this time, I am building a better me. I believe that.

When I think about myself at this moment I would say, I’m as happy as I’ve ever been.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: meditation, creative commons usage

All of the White Horses Have Already Been Taken

Today is my son’s 17th birthday.

I am not my son’s hero.

My son needs a hero.

Several days ago my son experienced an existential crisis of some magnitude. Things could’ve gone much worse. I was not there.

When my daughter called it was to let me know him mom was going in the ambulance to the hospital and would I come take her and my son’s girlfriend there. I was now in the loop. We all waited in the hospital together. My son’s girlfriend, my ex-wife, her husband, and my daughter. There was nothing any of us could do but be present, and pray. We shared as much information as we had. We worried about my son’s surgery and mental state. And we waited four hours before we could visit him.

My ex-wife and I stood by his bed. He was scared. He was disoriented and rambling. He reached out and grabbed her hand. “I’m sorry,” he said. He repeated this mantra several times over the next 20 minutes as we stood vigil over our confused and recovering son. For that minute we were a unit of love, of healing, of caring, and hopeful prayers about the future. And then I went home around 10pm. His mom would stay with him through the night as he continued to come back to lucidity.

I didn’t get to see my son again until several days later when I was bringing him dinner, his favorite dinner, provided by my mom. He’d already eaten but he sat with me and his girlfriend while I ate some of the fried fish. He seemed okay. He felt slightly humbled. But his old cynical self seemed to have re emerged intact.

I will not be the hero in this story. I am playing a bit part. My ex-wife stayed with my son on-and-off for the 72 hours he was in the hospital. I had to work. I was not invited. In fact, for part of that time his visitation was shut down and only she could be there. She kept us, his family, informed via a few hopeful texts. She was always hopeful and positive. And she stayed by his side. There is no substitute for the mother-son bond. I am so grateful for their close relationship.

He and I, while not estranged, don’t have a lot to talk about these days. We share a love of music and occasionally turn each other on to new bands. We’re both into technology, so he will occasionally tell me about some programming project he is working on in a language I don’t know. But it’s great to hear him excited about something. In general, however, he seems kind of pissed off. Not at me. Pissed off at life. Like he got a rotten deal. Oh, and we go to action movies together from time to time. It’s hard to forge a relationship with a 17-year-old boy who has his own car and a girlfriend. There’s nothing that can rival that freedom, and I’ve found my place as a supporter in his life play. That’s okay. That’s how it’s supposed to be.

Still, I was most connected during those hours in the hospital and the twenty minutes his mom and I spend at his bedside in the ICU.

My future role is to be supportive, available, and as loving as possible. Even when he’s not returning my texts. Even when he’s having trouble. Even when he’s in crisis.

As we move forward as a fractured family, the lion’s share of his time will be spent at school and in his mother’s house. I will have a bit part to play. I will continue reaching out as often as I can think of something to say, as often as I can find an activity we might do together, as often as I can offer to take him to lunch, or breakfast, or dinner. He does like to eat steak and eggs.

While I have not been able to be by his side as much as I would’ve liked in his 17 years of life, I have been consistently available and actively present. I have made sure he knows, and I continue to make sure he knows, that he is loved unconditionally. Of course, I struggle with my own demons. I hope that I am not the cold and distant father that I had. I hope that I have done a better job of staying close even under trying circumstances.

Divorced and playing the single dad is not an easy role. Often decisions are made without my input. And most of their time as a family, the real work of being a family, doesn’t include me. I understand and accept my place. And I work to maintain my own positive attitude so I can continue to be a supremely supportive, if absent, dad.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: gifted hero, creative commons usage

There’s Something Missing

Moods are a swirl of chemicals in the brain set awash by events and triggers in our lives. The fall is beginning to poke up cooler mornings here in my city and earlier in the week I was energized and excited to be walking around the nearby lake. It was as if the fall signaled to my brain, happy times, burning leaves, football games, and warm blankets. But yesterday, with the same cool weather, my walk around the lake was a struggle. I don’t know exactly what happened, but my chemicals were a bit on the sad/tired side rather than the up/excited side I’ve been grooving on for several months.

I’m not depressed. I am a bit less enthusiastic. I’m wondering why.

It was as if yesterday morning I woke up with less hope. I have to say that projecting confidence and joy in the period of my life, must be tiring. I experience it as joy, but I know somewhere, underneath, in the chemical machine of my body, I am working to maintain my happy attitude in spite of all the downers in my current situation. I know this period is challenging all of my preconceived ideas of who I would be at 54, where I would be at 54, who I would be with at 54, and what I would be doing at 54. And October is the beginning of the fall and that will put me at 55, in November. I’m more than halfway through my lifespan and things haven’t gone so great for me.

I don’t look back with any regrets. (Well, that’s not true, there are several.) Let me try again. I don’t look back with much regret about how I’ve lived my life post-divorce. I have struggled with depression, yes. I have struggled with my work, yes. And I have struggled as a single dad, yes. But I have kept my attitude aimed at higher states even when I was in the lowest states. I have never given up hope of returning to my victorious self, the self I celebrate and praise. I’m not there yet, but I’m still putting up a good fight.

So, yesterday my chemistry was off. Nothing else changed. I got plenty of sleep, exercise, and good food. I’ve been getting some 2nd round interviews. My writing has been going well. So, what’s off? I’d like to think it’s the WOMAN that is missing, but that’s not it either. I do write a lot about dating and wanting a relationship, but I’m pretty clear that it’s too soon for me. I’m okay with being alone until I get a bit more of my equation figured out. What would I tell a date, “I’m living with my mom and working at a grocery store.” How’s that going to work out? Or I could lie. That’s no better. So, I’m alone. That’s not it.

I have to think it’s a combination of all of these things. Of course, it’s tiring to be unhappy with your current environment and employment status. There is no doubt that I’m struggling with my lifeway and the path is not yet clear to me. But it’s also clear to me that my current living situation is not painful. If I don’t thrash against the situation, I can see how my life is very easy right now. I get plenty of sleep. I take naps. I work part-time. I have time to play tennis, bike, and walk around the lake. I mean, my life does not suck.

Still, the moods roll in and out as if on tides. There is no controlling the bio-rhythm of our energy overall, it’s really just how we respond to the varying levels of energy. And over the past several months a low-energy day was just passing through. Yesterday, the low-energy had the feeling of maybe sticking around for a bit. That got me a bit worried.

I’m not worried today. While I’m not 100%, I’m also on the incline headed back up. Yesterday, however, even after my walk, continued to be challenging. And perhaps in response to the low-energy mode I had a hard time staying positive in the face of all that is happening or not happening in my life.

I had a job interview in the afternoon that could not have gone worse. It’s not that I did poorly. It was more that became terrified during the interview that I might actually get this job that the woman was describing and it was awful. Just the kind of work I’m hoping to not return to. And I was going along with the interview as if… “Yes, I am good at that…” But I wanted to say, “But I don’t ever want to do it again.” The interview lasted about 30 minutes. When it was done I was exhausted. I was not feeling positive. In fact, I was feeling scared. I had the sinking feeling, while interviewing, that I get when I’m headed for a fall. I was powerless in that interview, in my mind, and I was heading towards a cliff.

The rest of my day didn’t go all that great. I self-regulated by taking a nap and that helped. But I never did quite shake the feeling of fear that creeped in while I was talking to this young woman on the phone. I learned something: I will not take the kind of job that is going to eat me alive. It’s not worth it, and today, I don’t have to take it. I went to bed after reading for a bit, and woke up today in a more-normal, not-down, state.

Something is missing.

I am ready to have a good job that appreciates me and doesn’t drive me into the ground. I’m ready to afford my own place again, even if that doesn’t mean buying a house. And I’m ready to be constructing a relationship again, I think. It’s this last one that’s unclear for me. I have been super happy in my natural state over the last few months, alone. I’m okay with having nothing to do on a Friday night. I’m learning again to enjoy my own company. What complications would a new relationship bring into the picture? Tons.

What I’m coming to is this: we are where we are for a reason. I am in this place to heal. I am alone to learn to be alone again. I am unemployed because I need to learn to value my work in a way that doesn’t compromise or destroy my personal life. I’m going to do all of these things better as I move forward from this place. But this place, this quiet time, is also a blessed time. A time for reconfiguring. A time for being sensitive to my moods and learning new ways to moderate or understand them.

This month leading up to my 55th birthday is a time of great power for me. I will spend this time alone and seeking my own company and counsel. When the next job, woman, or house come by I will be able to consciously make the better decision. I’m okay with that. I’m okay with being still, right where I am, in this uncomfortable ego-less state. I am rebuilding, brighter and better. And until then, I actively wait, pray, and write.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: joy, creative commons usage

In Search of the Ideal Woman: to Rescue, Restore, and Ravish

I might accidentally be looking for the ideal woman. Putting my power into some image of beauty, fitness, and compassion that doesn’t exist except in my mind. That’s not a problem, the imagining, it’s the seeking of the actual idea that might be more problematic.

Is it any wonder that the 35 yo women on Match.com look better to me than the ones my age? Is a 45 yo beauty going to be interested in me? And why do the women my age, well, look older than my age? Do women age differently? Do we have different standards by which we rate men and women? Should I even be rating women, rather than trying to get to know them?

Attraction is the juice, though, that keeps me going. I’m actually kind of bored with online dating. I know the women I’m trying to reach out to have hundreds of emails just like mine every week. So I’m slowing my roll way down.

  1. I don’t really enjoy browsing women;
  2. There are not many new women, so it’s the same faces over and over;
  3. I’m enjoying my alone time immensely;
  4. My life situation is not really conducive to having a girlfriend.

Still, I’m drawn by the possibility of my ideal. I see her in fleeting glimpses on the dating sites. She’s young, fit, smiling, and doesn’t have time for me. We’re not a fit, even if I think I could do wonders for her.

So, is it healthy for me to keep looking? I think so. I think building and rebuilding my idea of my next mate is a good exercise, even if she’s months, years off. I know a lot more now than I did in entering into my last relationship, and those lessons are also keeping me a bit tentative about rushing into a new dating situation. I say I’m in no hurry. I say I’m keeping my sights realistic, but it’s SO BORING.

Focusing on an ideal woman is a bit of an issue, don’t you think? I messaged a woman the other day, 47, and even her online name was an issue: something about MissTexasEx, as if she were a former beauty star. I can see it. I can imagine her winning. And I can imagine her falling in love with me and all my hot mess creative maelstrom. (Um, yeah, right.) And actually, I can’t. I didn’t expect her to respond. She didn’t. I was playing around. She was/is out of my league, or really out of my range. I’m not that interested in a 47 yo fitness guru. I don’t think we’d have much to talk about. So why did I message her?

While it’s hard to let go of an ideal, it’s also fun to play around with “what ifs.” And given the preference, wouldn’t we all really rather be with someone super attractive? Now, the answer to that question is the most troubling for me. I’m not sure I want a beauty queen for a mate. I think uber-beauty comes with its own problems. I’ve met some beautiful women who were actually a bit neurotic about their looks. One women offered, “My looks are all I have,” when I met her for the first time. Sure, she’d been drinking, but you could tell this sentiment bothered her. I tried to reassure her. There was nothing to be done. And there was no connection, no matter how gorgeous she was.

Did the great beauties have too easy a ride in the early years? Did daddy spoil them to the point of dependence? Have their looks allows them to coast about in the being-nice-and-compassionate-to-others department? I remember a woman I was infatuated with in my 20’s who I invited to go waterskiing with me in the early mornings before work. She accepted and I was overjoyed just to have her around. But after a while, I was a little disillusioned. She never once offered to help pay for gas or clean up the boat after a run. She just waved and went on to work. “Hm,” I thought. “I guess that’s who she is.”

So, I have to admit I have a bit of a hangup about beautiful women. I think I would have to do my own soul searching to be with someone approaching the “model” look. Would they be tempted by the limitless offers they received from limitless other men with limitless resources? Would they deal with growing old in a confident and rational manner? Would their workout and beauty routines eventually drive me bonkers? Or am I reading too much into this?

Again, what is beauty? I know we are being fed “beautiful” images by the media. Often thin, tanned, with some radiant happiness that is captured through lighting, or the camera, or the clothes, or the makeup. But that beauty is magic. It’s not real. When you see the celebrities without their makeup, a bit of the illusion comes falling down. But still, I strive to catch a glimpse of these women. I imagine being given the opportunity to make love to one of them. And then I think how insecure I would probably feel around them. I’m not sure I’m up for it.

Yet, MissTexasEx still got a very nice romantic invitation to chat. And I’m sure that thread will never be picked up. I’m okay with that. For a moment, while I was writing her and admiring her yoga poses, I was in relationship with her. As close as I’m going to get, anyway. And I walked away feeling complete. I had woven my micro fantasy of us getting coffee, her finding me irresistible, and on we go. And sometime, today, I’ll probably open one of the two dating sites I’m still on, just to browse. And yes, it’s fun to look at the younger women. And yes, I realise I’m looking for a needle in a haystack: attractive to me, finds me attractive, available, emotionally intelligent, and we spark together. But without venturing out there, I’m going to continue sitting here looking at pictures of what might be, could be, but won’t be.

You’ve gotta get out there to get over yourself. It’s in the relating to a real woman in a real setting that things might become interesting. I’m not sure MissTexasEx and I would have much to talk about.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: blade runner promo image, creative commons usage

The Positive Single Dad: Year Four in Review

It was Sept. 2013 when I got the idea to write a blog about single parenting with the focus being 100% positive. How can I be a better single dad? I’ve had many ups and downs during these last four years, but for the most part, this blog has helped me keep things on the upside. If I can frame a perspective in a positive light even about things that aren’t so positive, I can feel better about them myself. And that was part of my mission: change the way I was thinking about my divorce and my life as a single dad.

This year I had a very tough time struggling with some relationship issues and a serious bout of depression. And I remember looking at the blog several times and seeing this post. It wasn’t so positive, but I simply could not figure out anything to write about to displace this sad post from the front page.

I was wounded. And things were not going well in my own relationship at the moment. And for a long period I was mute. Waiting. Searching for the strength to write again and the courage to write about what was happening, that wasn’t so positive.

Then it broke.

And I found myself back in the dating and seeking game.

And as I felt stronger in my own purpose I began to uncover more of what had gone wrong in my seemingly perfect relationship.

I started looking at some of the deeper issues of dating again. And what I wanted in my *next* relationship.

And I kept returning to my single parent role as something that defines me and defines my future desires.

After four years I am more positive and more prepared for what comes next. I am working to be closer to my teenaged kids. And I am preparing for the next great relationship of my life. I have my eyes a bit more open and my heart a bit more clear on what I’m looking for.

Most of all, I’m happy. Really, core-happy. Alone, yes, but happy and optimistic about the future.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

Relationship Timing and the Fragility of a True Connection

Two different women in the last few weeks have lit up my chemistry match. Both of them mentioned their boyfriend.

I might get bummed out, but I wasn’t. I was actually happy for both of them. Not so happy for me, but hey, I can wait. I’m in no hurry.

I said this to the last woman over breakfast tacos, “Relationships are fragile. If you’ve got one and it works out, congratulations. They are hard. I am really happy for you. If it doesn’t work out, then I’m still here. Either way I’m happy for you.”

And while I have that tongue in cheek desire to ask, “So how’s Brad?” I don’t. That would be shitty and passive aggressive. What I can do is let them go. Stay connected via chit-chat, but not make any suggestive comments. The relationship will either take care of itself or it won’t. And as far as I’m concerned, my relationship is coming.

What I’m building during this alone time is a new familiarity with my goals and desires, outside of any relationship. If I stay single forever, THESE are the things I want.

  • A stronger more committed relationship with both of my teenaged children. (This is 100% up to me.)
  • The creative drive and time to stay with my process.
  • Time to workout and time to rest.
  • Healthy meals.
  • Some inner source of self-love (must be in place before starting a new relationship)

Alone I am able to focus on these thing without distraction. I have no other pulls on my time and energy. Alone my general state is happy. But I long for a lover and companion. What I learned last time, however, was that even if you have all that you think you want, you may be missing some unknown ingredient. I think for me, that ingredient was the ability to love and forgive myself for my mistakes and ongoing flaws. I’m constantly working on them, but there they are.

We’ve all got our issues to discover and work on. The better I understand my own issues the better I can be in relationship to someone else and theirs. So as long as these other women are in relationships that are working for them, I am happy to continue down my own path of discovery. I wouldn’t want to be a backup or a rebound relationship anyway. They allowed me to catch a glimpse of what is possible for me, next time.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image:  coffee date, creative commons usage

Divorced with Children: It Does Get Better

I’m pretty sure I thought I was going to die when I found out my wife had been to see a divorce attorney. The worst possible outcome for my life was coming at me like a freight train down a one-lane tunnel. I was afraid, I was sad, I was angry. But most of all I was scared to death of what my life would look like alone. Truly alone again, for the first time in 13 years.

And it was hard. It may have been the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but I survived. And on the other side of that loneliness was me. Learning again that I am happy when I’m by myself. I don’t need someone to complete me. Sure, I love being in a relationship, but I don’t need one. Well, I kinda do, but you get what I’m saying. I learned, again, that I can be perfectly happy by myself.

I have my own time schedule. I can go out with friends at any hour for lunch, drinks, or breakfast tacos. I don’t have to check-in with anyone. I just go. And for sure, that’s something I’ve been doing is getting together with lots of friends. Friends I might have neglected a bit in my last relationship.

Well, I’m back to being single again. And I’m discovering a new angle as well. My kids are more important to me than any other relationship. I let that one get away from me in the last 3 years. I was putting my desire and devotion to this new woman, above time with my kids. And it wasn’t really a conscious decision. But I kept opting towards my girlfriend and away from being dad. Of course, as teenagers, mostly what your kids want is transportation. And they are busy making friends and being teenagers, so they “need” us a lot less. But I was not actively showing up, not actively asking for “dates” with them.

I’ve changed that since this last break up. I now have regular tennis dates with my daughter. I call her for lunch randomly. And while we haven’t made it yet, I’ve been talking to her about going to my favorite church on Sunday. As I am alone again, I have a lot of time to reprioritize my life. And my kids come first. I forgot that idea for a while, that was my fault. But I won’t forget it again.

A year ago I exchanged this text with my daughter while she was at her mom’s. house.


screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-6-13-29-am

She was letting me know she saw my activity on her Netflix account. I was sharing with her until my ex-wife found out. Oops.screen-shot-2016-09-26-at-6-12-38-amAnd as we begin to exchange more notes and texts she is reaching out for rides and coffees. I’m happier now than I have been since the divorce. My current living situation is not ideal, but my mental, physical, and spiritual programs are running in high gear.

So, what I’ve learned in the last seven years since my divorce, is that yes, things get better. My last relationship really showed me what authentic, non-judgemental love felt like. And while it didn’t work out, she gave me a new benchmark for what a good relationship looks like.

I am blessed with two great kids. It’s up to me to make dates, set boundaries, and show up as a fully empowered dad. I’m working my program, and life is about as good as it gets.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: dad with kids, creative commons usage

Teenaged Kids? Hard to Reach or Open to New Opportunities?

My daughter is 14 and entering high school today. My son is 16 and has his own car. Trying to get them to a sit down dinner once every two weeks can be tough. They’ve got so many things going on, and things, that to them, are more important than seeing me. But it’s my opportunity to let them know there is nothing more important to me than them. And I’m forced to do a better job of expressing this as we all grow older and more independent.

Today they are going back to school. And I’m taking them Starbucks to mom’s house for the launch. It’s a fun and big event. And they roll their eyes. But they will appreciate the photos later in life.

But as teenagers, they are going through a very specific development staged: separation. They don’t need to be with me. They don’t really need me for much, my money flows through their mom into their wallets. They don’t need my home-cooked meals every other week. They are in the process of individuation. They are becoming their own little humans, with agendas and circles that don’t involve me. It’s okay. I hear they come back to you as the grow a bit older.

I’m not waiting around for them to get it. I’m making dates with both of them to do engaging things. With my daughter it’s easy, we’re playing tennis. My son is a bit more of a challenge. His girlfriend is older and is going to a local college this year. So he’s always got something he’d rather be doing. And that’s the way it should be. Dear old dad is second priority. And still I miss them.

In fact, I’ve missed more of them since they were 4 and 6 when my then wife decided for all of us that a separate future would be better for us all around. The unfortunate thing is, in divorce only one partner has to make the decision to leave and there’s not much that can be done to stop it. I’m sure we both lost a lot. But she only lost two weekends a month. She got them 100% of the rest of the time. And their relationship with their mom is much closer. It’s more complete. She’s done everything for them. I’m a little sad about this abscense. But there’s not much I could’ve done about it. I got what I got in the settlement even though I asked and fought for 50/50 parenting. She knew what she would get if we went to court, so she asked for that.

Dads do get the short end of the deal most of the time in divorce. Wives get the house, the kids, and the lion’s share of the money. Dad’s… Well, we get a hefty child-support payment and if we’re successful, we can afford a small enough place that can still hold our kids and ourselves. But it’s been a hard 7 years for me. I’m still struggling to get above the debt that has incurred while I’ve been looking for work. And that debt, owed, for sure, is now enforced by the Attorney General’s Office of the State of Texas. Woohoo. Yep, she went there. And unapologetically keeps the boot of their “enforcement” on my neck everyday. And that’s a challenge. I wake up and have to forgive her for being so mean. It’s not like I wasn’t paying her from every paycheck I got. I was, am, and will.

If you can avoid divorce and keep from destroying your life, I would advise to try to work things out. I still think I could love her. Well, not like being in a relationship again, after all that has happened, but in the divorce I did not want out. I was still the hopeful one ready to fight for my family. But you can’t fight alone. She was gone. She’d been gone for over a year.

Today as I bring coffee to my kids at my old house, I’ll have feelings of regret and feelings of pride, side by side. And I’ll see my ex-wife and wish her well. And for a few minutes we’ll be that family we could’ve been. And we’re not. And the kids are not “kids” any more. They’ve moved on. And in many ways, so have I. But in missing them now, as teenagers I have to take action to make sure I’m still a big part of their lives. It’s up to me. No one else is concerned with getting together.

Single parenting is hard. But the good thing is you get to do it 100% your own way.

Take care. If you want to talk to someone about love and single parenting, let me know.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: back to school, creative commons usage

Sitting In Silence with the Grief

I didn’t think I was going to survive the last breakup. Sure I was experiencing a prolonged depression that was kinda scary, but this was darkness multiplied. I was certain I was going to collapse into a depression so deep that I would be unreachable.

I knew even before I moved out that I needed to beef up my support network. I started attending Alanon meetings almost daily. I got a sponsor and about 4 phone numbers of guys I could call just to check in. What a great resource. And what a great lesson the program teaches: you can’t focus on the alcoholic and their recovery, you can only focus on yourself. In fact, you are the only one you can worry about. You are the only one you can change.

Dear God grant me the serenity,
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference

The serenity prayer from AA and Alanon got me through this dark period. But prayer and community were not enough. I was still left with hours, days, nights, of aloneness. And the darkness came and tried to swallow me. The hardest part is the loneliness. Sure the heartbreak is a bitch unlike any other bitch, but the loneliness is the killer. Loneliness keeps you up at night when you’re tired and hopeless. loneliness is the killer. And loneliness is only in your mind. Loneliness is a feeling. An idea. Loneliness is changeable. But getting beyond the loneliness takes time and effort. And for me that meant a lot of praying. Getting spiritually connected again was the gift that keeps on giving.

AA and Alanon are spiritual programs. No matter what you believe in, you come to believe in a “higher power” as you begin to visit the meetings and listen to everyone else’s stories. That higher power can be God, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, nature, or even the collective love and power of the group. You’re relationship to your higher power is up to you. And here’s the real eye-opener, your significant other has a higher power too. And they must surrender and find that relationship for themselves. There is no fixing the other person. And there is no waiting for them to change. Their path is between them and their own spiritual program.

In the darkness, and the days and nights of silence I began to pray again. Simple prayers like, “Help me God.” Not really asking for anything specific but guidance for God’s will for me. Which is really my will and hope for myself powered by prayer and belief that there is some larger force in the universe that I can put my trust in. And there is a force in the universe that I can release the drinker to. Their path involves this transition too. It may take a year, it may take a lifetime, but I believe we call come back to a god of our choosing.

The silence and loneliness and grief brought me back to a deeper connection to my own soul. A deeper connection with myself. And that ever elusive self-love.

May you find your own path back to a higher power. And may you learn how much you are loved and valued in the world. Even if it’s only the love of the group. Attend meetings. Talk to people. Get phone numbers of people you can call when you’re down. And then sit quietly and listen. Your soul and inner voice will begin to tell you stories. Maybe some lies too, that you can examine over time and release.

You have to love yourself before you can love anyone else.

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

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

image: sad child, creative commons usage

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