Tag Archives: dads in divorce

Hold On! The Information You’ve Been Given About Divorce is Wrong

See if you can spot the lie:

  • The woman is the primary care giver.
  • The mom always gets primary custody.
  • Dads usually make the most money and spend more time at work, this situation is important for the continuity of the family after divorce.
  • The kids should be supported in a lifestyle they’ve grown accustomed to.
  • Women are usually the emotional ones in a relationship. They are the emotional center of the nuclear family unit before the divorce and should be given consideration as such after the divorce.
  • Dads are often distant, unengaged, and aloof in relationship to parenting.
  • Girls really need their mom’s more than their father.
  • Boys need their moms when they are young and their fathers later in life.

They are all wrong. Or at least misperceptions about how it is. Every case, every family, is different.

In my case, I’d go as a far as saying every one of these statements was actually the opposite of what our family was like. But as we headed towards negotiating our co-parenting relationship, I started being fed these outdated ideas as truth. Though they didn’t fit in our case, I was assured that the courts had done enough research and the experience to say “what’s best for the children.”

For your kids, divorce is the biggest trauma they’ve experienced in their young lives. The dad is often given the boot as the little group attempts to maintain some semblance of routine without him.

In our case, as in 90% of divorces in Texas, the split was divided along 1970’s traditional divorce wisdom. Moms are the primary caregivers, dads are the primary breadwinners, and keeping this balance is what protects the children from the harshness of divorce. That’s the party line.

The truth is, there is no protection from the harshness of divorce. However, not giving 50/50 consideration to the father in the family does everyone a disservice. Kids need both parents equally. If you can’t stay together for them, at least split up in the way that serves everyone’s need.

Can the father’s needs be tossed out at a court’s whim? Sure. It happens daily. But it’s not “in the best interest of the children.”

Divorce is hard business. And for your kids, divorce is the biggest trauma they’ve experienced in their lives. The dad is often given the boot as the little group attempts to maintain some semblance of routine without him. This is what you will be told is best for everyone. Well, everyone except the dad.

We’ve come to view the stereotypical male as detached and unfeeling. And that preconceived idea no longer holds water. Today the lopsided divorce, while all to common, is coming being challenged more frequently.

The situation: someone in the relationship has decided to break up the family, why shouldn’t it start with the assumption that the split is going to be a 50/50 on all counts?

If you are about to enter into divorce negotiations or a divorce war, please consider the needs of both parents in addition to the children. If, for some reason, it is determined the balance should be less than 50/50 make sure you understand the reason.

My dad was an aloof man. He was also the only breadwinner in the house. And my mom was, in fact, the emotional center in the house. That’s typical of that period in time. But the working mom revolution came along and changed everything. We’re more aspirational with our parenting, and in my case, we voted to split the details of parenting as closely down the middle as possible.

While I don’t blame my then-wife for “going for it” and asking for everything she wanted: the money, the house, the custody, I don’t think she was thinking beyond her interests. And we can all cite studies about mothering and nurturing, but today, just as many modern studies show the dad is of equal importance in bringing up healthy kids. The situation: someone in the relationship has decided to break up the family, why shouldn’t it start with the assumption that the split is going to be a 50/50 on all counts?

In my marriage, that’s how we agreed to have kids, as equal partners. What leads the woman to think she’s entitled to more? Why does more time with the kids also equate with more money to be paid by the father? It’s flawed math. Worse, it’s really flawed psychology.

As I was preparing to leave the house, she wanted to make sure I got a pet to be with me. She understood where her emotional bonds were.

I didn’t have the option to fight for 50/50 parenting once the divorce was in motion. By agreeing to a collaborative divorce, I was waving my right to sue my then-wife for terms. And while this also precluded her from suing me, somehow we started the negotiations with the old imbalanced split.

There’s no going back for us. The decisions that were made have run their course. My son is now 15, he was 9 when his mom asked for a divorce.  My daughter, who was 7 at the time, is the one I still feel the most pain about. She didn’t understand. As I was preparing to leave the house, she wanted to make sure I got a pet to be with me. She understood where her emotional bonds were.

I will never get back my kid’s youngest days. I will not be able to make up for the 65% lost time with them. What I can do is tell others about my experience. I can encourage, even moms, to consider the 50/50 route in compassion for the kids and also for the other member of the equation, the dad.

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Rebuilding Myself Into the Person I Was Before We Married

WHOLE-dinnerforone

It’s been a long road back from the divorce. And I’m not done, I know, but I think I’m out of the woods.

“You have no possible idea what life is going to be like the moment you walk out the front door of your house and declare it is no longer your house but “their mom’s house.”

Everything changes when you get married. And again when you have kids. As you adapt your life to the life of being a parent a number of hobbies and habits fall away. For me those things were playing music in a band and getting enough exercise. Now, I’m not blaming my ex-wife for those things, a lot of changes come with the territory and the new responsibilities of being a grown up. A grown up with kids, even.

THEN you lose everything. Divorce.

Dad’s sort of take divorce on the chin and we’re expected to roll with the death-blow and come back up swinging, or not swinging as it were. Once the decision is made between you and your spouse, and the divorce is in progress, a number of dramatic changes happen immediately.

  • You stop being compassionate towards your soon-to-be ex.
  • You start looking for signs of life beyond the world as you’ve know it.
  • You have to start thinking about where you might like to live as a single man.
  • You really have to start thinking about where you can afford to live, that’s not too far from your old neighborhood and your kid’s school. (Because 80% of dads will wind up with a hefty child support payment and no house.)
  • You have to address the rapidly approaching chasm of alone time and what you’re going to do with yourself.

The only part of the process of evolution that I can tell you for sure about is this: “You have no possible idea what life is going to be like the moment you walk out the front door of your house and declare it is no longer your house but “their mom’s house.” For me the shock and disorientation was extreme. My neighborhood with running trails and nearby friends, my tennis club with summer swimming pool, my music studio in the garage… All vaporized as I left the house behind.

It’s not all bad, this divorce thing, take heart. There are a number of things you get back as well.

  • Time to do whatever the hell you want.
  • An extremely reduced “getting the kids ready for school” mornings.
  • Dropping the little favors and chores you use to do for your then-wife.
  • Doing laundry whenever you feel like it. (Like when you’re out of clean shirts, for example.)
  • A limitless supply of new eligible women and willing women. (Well, at least that’s one of the things that might pass through you mind, what with all this talk of hot cougars these days.)
  • You can eat whatever you want. (No need to consider the kids diets all the time.)
  • You can drink whatever and whenever you want. (Though this could be a problem.)
  • You get to sleep all the way across the bed diagonally if you want. (This is much less fun when you are “borrowing” a twin bed at a friend’s house while you catch your bearings.
  • The entertainment agenda is up to you every single night when you’re solo. (Want to go to a movie at 10pm on a weekend, go for it.)

That’s a fairly good list of how things balance out, somewhat. Emotionally, for me, however, things didn’t go as imagined. First off, my recent employment loss took a lot longer to replace. Needless to say, I wasn’t in top form on interviews for a several months. Second, my fantasy about online dating was about as far from the reality as porn is from real life. Um, sure, there are a ton of women on Match.com right now, but they’ve ALL got issues. That’s why they’re on an online dating site in the first place.

Then comes the bigger problem: 6-nights of alone time in a row is a killer if you’re not happy or busy. When it’s “not a kids weekend” things can get pretty rough quickly, if you’re not careful. I wasn’t careful nor was I prepared for the emotional fallout of being alone.

I believe this aspect of divorce, the loneliness and longing to be with my kids, has been the hardest part of the transition for me.

Immediately upon leaving the house and starting the customary SPO (standard possession order) the dads of the world are going to get a lot less than 50% of the time with their kids. Accounting for the laughable “month in the summer” clause that tries to make up for the time imbalance, dads in general see their kids about 30% as much as the moms. It’s not fair, but that’s how the old laws were written. The phrase, “In the best interests of the children” will become very familiar, over time.

Okay, so that’s the first big hurdle. What are you going to do with yourself? And for me, I have struggled for years trying to answer that requirement with a positive attitude. And when you are recently divorced you might be missing your kids a lot more than you can imagine. Their entire lives you’ve had little playmates, companions, dependents. Suddenly, as a divorced dad, you’ve got nothing and no one to talk to. I believe this aspect of divorce, the loneliness and longing to be with my kids, has been the hardest part of the transition for me.

I’m pretty close now, however, to being the happy person I was before we got together. I’m playing music and tennis regularly. I’m waking up singing and going to be early. Alone… But early.

The main thing to remember as the divorce s-storm is heading your way is to take care of yourself. Like on the airplane when they say to put your mask on first and then your kid’s masks. That’s so you are conscious to be able to help them. Divorce is the same way. Take the time you need before jumping back into a relationship. Enjoy your freedom. Explore your alone time. Take up new hobbies if you didn’t have any before. It’s kind of like dating yourself. Get to know your happy-and-alone self before you start looking for another happily-single mate.

Before I got married and had kids and then got divorced I was a happy and highly creative person. I’m getting that back little by little these days. I’m still a ways off from my goal of getting down the same pants size, but that’s in-progress as well.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Hey Dad, Fancy Meeting You Here 20-years After Your Death

WHOLE-dad

This morning I was on my merry way towards a productive day of business proposals, meetings, and getting things done. (GTD) And just as I was about to turn on my noise-canceling headphones, the crappy sound system here at my remote location brought my dad’s ghost up front and center with his cryin-in-his-whiskey song. The song that characterized my 5th and 6th years of life. I knew the song well, but Shazam confirmed the gristled face that came to represent the look and feel of my dad in divorce, and the sad sounds of Charlie Rich singing The Most Beautiful Girl.

WHOLE-charlie-rich-dad

Boys will always attempt to connect with their dads. It’s a father and son thing. (Daughters too, but I can only speak about my experience.) Even as my dad drifted into some state between depression, anger, and a drunken stupor, I kept returning to his apartment on the appropriate weekends. My dad loved me.

But my dad completely fell apart when he was asked to leave the family home. My mom claims she put the options to him, “The alcohol or me.” My dad chose poorly and suffered for the rest of his life from his decision.

There’s no darker state for a divorced father than the days, months, years immediately following divorce.

A son’s love is strong and persistent, even if undeserved. There is always the hope that your dad will SEE you.

While my dad had all the resources at his disposal, and plenty of money to pay for them, he chose to move away from feeling, away from loving his family, and into some black place that was typified by this song. On weekends that we were together, by ten pm he would be drunk and crying to this song. Singing with tears in his eyes about “The most beautiful girl, who walked out on me…” As terrifying as it was, I tried to be there for him. I tried to say connected even as his rage could strike at any moment and I’d find myself on the receiving end of a tirade.

My dad was a successful physician. He was adored by his office staff and loved by his growing stream of patients. He was an astoundingly successful young doctor by 30.  But by 44 he had blown all of his hard-earned success in a choice away from self-examination and truth. He turned towards the bottle in his divorce. And within a few months of his second excommunication from the family house on the lake he was engaged to be married to a younger and drink-friendly woman with a young daughter.

Today my father showed up in my life in his crying and depressed state and I was able to process the pain and loss of him from my perspective as a divorced dad myself. Had he not been my father, but a friend in my life today, heading into divorce, I would’ve sobered his ass up quickly. “Dude, pull your act together. You’ve got everything. And now your flushing it all to keep the alcohol in your life.”

Throughout the rest of our relationship, as my father remarried, drank, and eventually succumbed to the disease and destruction of his life, I tried to reach out to him. I tried to maintain some attachment to a man who brought me only pain. I stumbled along as an adolescent with troubles at home, attempting not only to understand his destructive power but it’s rather potent effect on my life.

Several scenes come to mind to illustrate my unrequited commitment to my father.

The night he met his future wife I was with him at a local art festival. We stayed until they kicked us out. I had been laying under the stars with the other kids who’s parents were still drinking. The festival and music had been over for an hour, but they had more beer to sell. In the drive home, my father could hardly keep his fancy car on the road. I was terrified. On the last turn into his apartment complex, he missed the turn and drove right up into someone’s front yard. (Later his car would require several thousand dollars of repair costs that he yelled about for months.)

At that moment, at 7 years old, I made the decision never to ride in the car with my dad again. From then on my nights and occasional weekends with dad would be chauffeured by mom. A hard boundary for a kid to have to make with a parent. Shouldn’t it be the parents setting boundaries for the kids?

Many years later, a junior in high school, my father had built his ultimate dream palace on a hill overlooking our city. I lived down the street in a condo with my mom. Several times, when it was my night to have dinner with my dad, I would run several miles, virtually all uphill, to his house. I wanted him to see me as strong, healthy, and athletic. I wanted him to SEE me at all.

He quit trying to reach me as his divorce took everything out from under him. And rather than get help he got more rigid and set in his pattern of working hard and drinking harder.

Most of the time he was drunk before I even arrived. And his new wife was fueling the party and partying herself. They often became incoherent before I left. They seemed to be communicated with each other, but I could not understand a word of their drunken language. One of these nights my dad insisted that he would drive me down the hill to my house. I essentially had to run out of the house to prevent that from happening. Of course, the next time we talked he had no memory of the event.

I never forgot it, but I never stopped trying to run up the hill to meet my father at various points in his fatal trajectory. A son’s love is strong and persistent, even if undeserved. There is always the hope that your dad will SEE you. Even as he died at 53 (one year from my age now) he was only able to really recognize me in the final chemo-enforced sobriety months. He couldn’t drink. And as he came to his senses he finally got a snapshot of what he was missing by being so removed from my life.

“We need to do more of this,” he said, as I was leaving one Sunday morning, a month before he died. “Yes, dad, we do.” My dad’s sorrowful memory seeped into my bones from the sad song that he used to sing throughout the divorce process.

Today, in this moment as a divorced father, I know I am not repeating my father’s mistakes. My son and daughter hear from me all the time how much I see and love them. I try to meet them on their level, rather than making them adapt to mine. That’s a depth my father and I never had. He quit trying to reach me as his divorce took everything out from under him. And rather than get help he got more rigid and set in his pattern of working hard and drinking harder.

Love Always,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: the early mcelhenney family, john mcelhenney, cc 2014

Super Judo Warrior Dad in Divorce

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It’s not easy to talk about money. Even when you are married to the other person, often there are disagreements and frustrations about money and how you handle it. When you are in the early stages of divorce negotiations, it gets even more difficult. Even with the help of counselors, accountants and attorneys, often the money issue is a difficult negotiation. Both of you want what you’ve always wanted, a fair decision that supports the children.

But what’s fair?

In the training and philosophy of judo we learn something called the loving respect for your attacker. In this concept you love the attacker by lovingly stopping their attack, while preventing them from hurting you or themselves. It’s this love and respect for the other person, even when they are attacking you, that served me well during the early months of my divorce.

Both my then-wife and I were wanting to make this as easy as possible. Within reason.

In our case, once the decision was made to divorce, we both moved towards cooperative divorce. How could be separate with the least amount of damage to each other, and how could we keep the divorce about the kids and not about anger or frustration or despair.

In our case, we engaged a well-paid divorce counsellor, a Ph.D, who was very gentle in easing us into the ideas of divorce, “in the best interest of the kids,” and the joint development of a parenting plan. Both my then-wife and I were wanting to make this as easy as possible. Within reason.

Early on in the discussions I declared that I wanted 50/50 parenting. I had read a bunch of divorce books and even presented a couple 50/50 schedules that I thought would work for us and our kids.

And here’s where my judo training, had I started it, would have come in handy.

When my then-wife expressed her desire to do the SPO plan, and be the primary custodian, we were at an impasse. Now, in my opinion, this was the heart of the matter that the counselor should’ve worked with us on. Instead she said something to both of us that I will never forget.

What we were paying for was an impartial counselor, to help us through this most difficult time, and to help us facilitate what WE wanted. After all, we were both paying her 50/50.

“If you go to court, she’s going to get primary custody.”

All the previous talk about cooperation, and all the discussions about what was “in the best interest of the children” evaporated in this one statement.

Had I known what I know now. Or had I had a good judo move for that moment, I could’ve deflected the disappointment and frustration back at an answer or a negotiation. What happened, instead, was I sadly agreed to proceed from that starting point and I dropped my dream of having the same 50/50 parenting we’d shared as a married couple, except now as a divorced couple.

There might have been several reasons for our counselor’s quick response to our disagreement, but none of them hold water when you remember that we were paying her PRECISELY SO WE WOULD GO TO COURT. What we were paying for was an impartial counselor, to help us through this most difficult time, and to help us facilitate what WE wanted. After all, we were both paying her 50/50.

I did not contain my sadness or disappointment at the time. And over the course of the next few weeks of meetings, I gently raise the idea again, but it was never considered again. We moved quickly to the mechanics of the SPO (standard possession order) and our custodial and non-custodial roles and rights. Overall, in the eye of the law, we did what 80% of Texas divorces do. We gave the woman the primary custody and put the child support burden on me, to support the kids in the house they grew up in, and in a lifestyle they had come to expect. I wanted that for them. I even wanted that for my ex-wife. I was sad, but I didn’t fight. That was the point. We weren’t fighting.

However, things did not go according to plan. We completed our parenting plan and custody schedule for the coming year. We agreed on the financial split of assets. And we divorced at the end of the first summer.

This time she mentioned just “turning the whole thing over the Attorney General’s Office and let them deal with it.”

And as a self-employed digital marketing consultant, I was forced to live with my sister while I looked for more gainful employment. And life went on as best as it could, given the circumstances. And we did okay. The kids kept their house, their mom started working a more full-time schedule and we negotiated the transfers and flexibility pretty well. Clearly we were both trying to make the best of a bad situation.

Then in January of that first year of divorce I got a killer job at a local startup. I moved quickly to establish my credit standing and within a few months of my new gig I purchased a small home. It wasn’t exactly the perfect house for my family, since the kids would share a bedroom, but I was confident that with my new income I could afford to close in the carport at some point, and turn my re-starter home into a family home.

For anyone with a family, reestablishing a home is a critical part of the rebuilding process. So I was proud and hopeful when I moved us all into the little home near the lake. And that first summer we swam and played and compromised on the roommate situation for the kids, with my daughter setting up shop in my bedroom most of the time she was staying with dad.

The business I had joined, however had different plans and by July they had eliminated the entire consumer portion of their business model and thus my position. With two-weeks notice I was unemployed again. Except now I had a mortgage and child support payments. Needless to say, I struggled mightily to keep things afloat. And with some timing flexibility from the ex, and some freelance jobs, I cobbled together the next few months as I reapplied for jobs and looked for consulting work.

Still, most of the negotiations between my ex-partner and I were pretty favorable. We were conscious of our dependance on one another for the care and flexible parenting of our precious children.

Soon, but not soon enough, I got some additional work, and resumed my mortgage payments and my child support payments. And we experienced a good Christmas and spring. And as we headed toward the long summer vacation things began to get difficult again. And that’s when things went south in a hurry.

I’m not proud of the next part of the story. Bear with me for a minute while I cover the details, you’ll have plenty of time to pass judgement in the last part of the story.

In the following summer (Summer #3) my employment was cut in half by the loss of a primary client. The small business I was working for assured me they would make up the loss with some new prospects they had on the books, but… Nothing materialized. By late July I was writing an email to my ex-wife explaining why I had not given her the child support check for July. I was behind. She was not pleased.

It is from this position, flat on my back, on the mat, that I have a number of options before me. As a super judo warrior dad I’m going to do what’s best for my kids.

I understand the frustration. And I felt the impact of my failure even as I scrambled to look for more work and more contracts. And in my applied judo training I assured her that I was not trying to skip out on any of the payments, nor was I trying to stall or hide money from her. She agreed that this was true, as she saw it. So we limped into August.

At this point, the small business was apologizing and the next round of work was not materializing and I was heading up to the first of August, where I would essentially be a full month behind, and with the current situation, I was not going to be able to pay August right away either.

I pleaded with my wife for flexibility. And again she rattle the war sabers at me. This time she mentioned just “turning the whole thing over the Attorney General’s Office and let them deal with it.”

And it’s at this point that I can see her point. I know that she was struggling without the July payment, and that looking at August too was going to put an additional strain on her budgets. And I am certain she was acting with the best of intentions, “in the best interests of the kids” when she continued to mention in the AG’s office. She had her reasons. She had her own fears and issues. And at some point, she decided to pull the trigger and turn me over to the State of Texas for handling.

I was horrified. Ashamed. And nothing I could do would prevent her from taking this action. I had been applying to jobs daily, calling old clients to see if they needed any additional work, I was scrambling at this point to make my mortgage payments as well. And I tried to reason with her. “Don’t you think I deserve to have a place to live as well?”

That’s all water under the bridge at this point. She filed. I ducked and covered and the dialogue had never resumed about what’s fair or what’s best for our kids. She is owed the money. That’s clear. And she is entitled to the money. And here’s where the next round of judo moves comes in.

All the way back to the earliest negotiations about our parenting plan, she got primary custody of our kids because she demanded it, and the counselor sided with her in the discussion and didn’t ever seriously consider my 50/50 proposal. OUCH.

And now, we’re much further down the road, and guess what? I lost the house. At least I was able to sell it rather than get foreclosed on. But I would’ve been able to restructure the debt had my ex-wife not filed with the AG’s office. And when I tried to negotiate an agreement with her, proposing a legal contract for the debt she was owed, she said, “It’s with the AG’s office now. And they specifically told me I could not talk to you about money.”

OUCH #2.

This summer, I am getting up off the mat again, to find compassion and caring for everyone involved.

Moving forward to the present moment, I am on the verge of landing a lucrative full-time corporate gig. And I have assured her that I will resume full child support payments with the first pay check. And of course, she is going to get all the past due amounts too. It’s the law. But it didn’t have to go this way.

And what I had set up, that I thought was comfortable and manageable with my modest house and self-employment, became unmanageable when things got off track. There was never a need to file, in my humble opinion. Just as there was never a need for the counselor in the earliest negotiations to assume that she would get primary custody of the children and I would pay a healthy amount of child support payments to her. There was no reason for us to jump to that conclusion, when we were paying the counselor to help us negotiate both of our goals and desires.

But the side of the law is often with the mother. And in Texas it’s 80% of the time that the mom get’s primary custody and child support orders from the father.

I actually had to hire my first attorney to keep the AG’s office from filing against my credit report. But the damage of the AG action and the inflexibility of my ex-partner led me to lose my modest house, my plan, my sweet little setup. And now I’m back to square one.

It is from this position, flat on my back, on the mat, that I have a number of options before me. As a super judo warrior dad I’m going to do what’s best for my kids. And I’m going to protect my attacker from damaging herself as much as possible. But I had a chat with my attorney again today. I didn’t even remember his name, so that’s good. And we talked over a number of potential solutions. And since I am the only one paying him, he is supposed to take my side and give me options that benefit me AND my kids, but may not be exactly how my ex-wife would like to see things work out.

This summer, I am getting up off the mat again, to find compassion and caring for everyone involved.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: Kim Jaeburn Gold Medal 2012 Olympics – Judo, republic of korea, creative commons usage

Listening to the Little Man Inside, Healing Our Hearts

image courtesy of david jewell

I didn’t notice it in my son’s behavior or anything he said to me. It was a story he wrote, about a summer trip he took with his mom and her boyfriend to Washington, D.C. The story describes him swimming in a lake and feeling something frightening brush up against his leg. I was just printing it out for him.

“I swung my body onto the clearing, panting and asking myself what I was going to tell my parents. I decided nothing, it was enough for me to know, and she was already dealing with a divorce at the time.”

Boom. It struck me. How it was for me dealing, and “being there” for my mom after my parents got divorced. The “Little Man” standing beside his mom, protecting her, hugging her, staying fiercely loyal and loving towards her. In my case, my dad had launched a legal campaign designed to cripple my mom. I guess the idea was, he would make her pay for divorcing him, and then perhaps, would get me back as part of the consequences. It didn’t work. It distanced me from him even further as I stood beside my mom. Any violence he would launch at her was going to come through me. Oedipus be damned.

I see that he misses me. I see that for most of his life now, I will be a fraction of a father to him.

But in my son’s case I was confused. We had orchestrated the divorce so favorably towards them and their mom. Keep the house. Keep most of the kid-time. I wasn’t sure how to interpret the sentence from my 13 yo son.

Sure they, we, are all “dealing with a divorce at the time” but for me, I figured we had mostly moved through the tangible suffering. Perhaps not.

And then I started noticing the Little Men all around me. Several of the women I was interested in had small boys, single children. I saw one of them peeking around a door occasionally, but mostly these young boys existed in photos their mom’s had taken. I could almost feel the missing dad in some of the pictures. It was sad chord that struck something inside of me. I wanted to step in and be a great role model for them. All of them. I longed to heal their little pains, their brave hearts, and their fierce manliness.

The boy alone with his mom is a hard road. Both working so hard to support the other’s independence and growth. Yet, each so enmeshed in the romantic-archetype that is hard to escape.

I am not the healer. But I can see the need for that masculine energy in their lives. Even in my own son’s life. I see that he misses me. I see that for most of his life now, I will be a fraction of a father to him. And even as he loves me deeply, he has the awareness of his mother’s “divorce.”

All the times after the divorce when I strove to get my father’s attention, to show him what a success I was. And all the times he was missing.

As I grew into a man, and my father died, I had to again confront this sadness at never really being able to confirm my father’s love for me.

I try to show up for my son in every way I know how. I am never far from his phone. I commune with him in his computer gaming and online Skyping. We have a bond around computers. And even when he is away, I can ping him on Skype. And mostly, I get a response. He does occasionally ignore my chat requests. (I’m sure this is going to be more obvious in the coming years.)

And even with all this, there is so much of his life that I am simply missing. The routine around school and homework is largely dependant on his mother’s support and encouragement. Even his new sport, cross-country, is a gift from his mom, the runner. I am happy for their bond.

I was pained to understand from his story that he still feels he needs to protect her from some of the difficulties he’s encountering, because of the hardships of the divorce. Even with everything we do, there is still the hardship of divorce. There is no way around the scaring.

In positive divorce, we know it is critical to keep both parents involved. And yet several of the women that I’ve met recently are happy to have the dad out of the picture all together. Of course, I can’t take inventory or know what’s going on in their situations, but for me, the pain of losing my dad could never be replaced by the grand mothering that my mom attempted. She did the best she could. But there was simply a huge hole in my life.

As I grew into a man, and my father died, I had to again confront this sadness at never really being able to confirm my father’s love for me. I never really knew that he saw me, or understood what I was about. And until he was dying of cancer and could no longer drink, our relationship seemed like one big argument. I got a few months with my sober father before he died. We made up for lost time, but it wasn’t enough. I still feel the wound of the Little Man inside, who didn’t quite get his you’re-a-man papers from his father.

And if we (dads) aren’t invited in, we all might miss an opportunity for connecting.

And maybe that’s something I can consciously give to my son. I can’t be there for him on all occasions, as I might have if I was still married to his mom. But I can do everything I can to show up for him in real-time with real feedback and real attention. And I do my best. We share a lot of symmetries and likes. And, though he is still very young, we’re pretty good buds.

And I’m not trying to make the case for fathering these other boys I see. I can only really take care of my own. But I do see them, and wish them well. And if I could give their single moms some advice, I’d say, keep it light. Keep it positive. And take any negativity outside the family and get help releasing it elsewhere. And if possible, keep the dad involved in the parenting decisions. We care. We’re here. And if we (dads) aren’t invited in, we all might miss an opportunity for connecting.

It’s true my ex-wife is “dealing with a divorce” and so is everyone in our family. What I can do as a dad is heal my own Little Man inside and give a place for my son’s Little Man to get expressed and released. That will come later. But I know that I am doing everything to show up for MY little man as he grows into a young man and on.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: courtesy of David Jewell