Tag Archives: divorced dad

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

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

My Little Rocket Ship of Hope and Love

WHOLE-rocketship

I am hilariously ashamed, and… Laughing at my situation, because if I didn’t laugh at it, I’m sure I’d be freaking out, depressed, or drinking. Something to escape my current grounded state. Ready to laugh? Me too.

What I’m going to let you know is this: you can lose everything. And I mean everything. And still wake up on the bright side of the day each morning.

Just to set the stage, a woman I was talking to on the phone a few days ago, about my current living situation, said, “That’s amazing. You should write a book or something. That’s hilarious.”

She was talking about the fact that at 52 years old, I am living in my mom’s garage. Damn! Sorry. I even crack up now at the absurdity of the situation. But so it is. And here I am. Like a twenty-something regrouping. Except I’m past middle age, I’ve got two kids in middle school and a nice child support payment to go with it. And I’ve had some serious setbacks. And again, I’m not going to bitch about it. I’m not going to tell you how the world economy has done me wrong. I’m not even going to tell you how my ex-wife done me wrong. I could, but I’m not. (I’ve done that elsewhere, anyway.)

What I’m going to let you know is this: you can lose everything. And I mean everything. And still wake up on the bright side of the day each morning. Excited about your first and second cup of coffee and all the dreams ahead. Even after great setbacks, like divorce, or job loss, or whatever, with the “bright side” outlook, you can find hope. That’s all we need. A tiny bit of hope.

We do have to back track, just for a second, for me to set up the situation.

  1. Economy – yadda yadda.
  2. Divorce/Depression/Job loss – yadda yadda.
  3. Parent with boatloads of money decides what would be best, and it ain’t keeping the house.
  4. Even my storage unit of things, everything, is sold unlawfully.
  5. A fantastic new job, several months ago, hires me with great fanfare and fires me on the second day for my contributions to the Huffington Post.

START. AGAIN.

When the woman said how funny it was, my situation, I laughed with her. What I’ve gotten out of this morass is a deep appreciation for one thing: me.

FINE. I GET IT. Something in the universe, in my karma, in the “future plans” for me, was not working correctly. And for the second time in my life I got a full reset. The first time was when my then-wife decided she no longer wanted to be my wife. Okay, RE-SET. Start over. And if you blow it, start over again.

When the woman said how funny it was, my situation, I laughed with her. What I’ve gotten out of this morass is a deep appreciation for one thing: me. I’m not ashamed of what’s happened. And while I’m not proud of it either, I am aware of a new internal strength that has come from restarting from ground zero. And, even in the middle of it, taking the serenity now approach to my life, at this moment, I AM the happiest I’ve ever been. Hard to imagine.

And there are moments when I wonder if my positive attitude is some sort of hypnotic delusion that I feed myself, like some NLP self-regulating ritual. But I shake off those thoughts too. I’m just happy.

In my core DNA, I enter the world each day as a positive force. I have plans and dreams and I’m up-and-at-‘m with vigor and caffeine. And that’s what gets me the job, and also what gets me in trouble. Sometimes, the jetpack runs out of fuel. Sometimes, I run out of mojo, fuel, energy, optimism, hope. I’m sure we all do. But when you’re a hard-charger, the dramatic switch from extrovert to introvert is jarring to most people, and absolutely terrifying to some. You might try to label this drop bi-polar, or some other diagnosis, but I’m thinking it’s more about jet-fueled optimism and dreams, and the momentary sputtering of the rocket itself inside me.

So I’m a little rocket ship. And when I’m well-fueled, well-balanced, and have a good map in front of me, all systems are go, green lights across the board, look out, cause here we go. When the map gets torn in half and the fuel supply is momentarily shut off, I do tend to flounder. Well, I actually gained strength and insight this time. So what’s changed?

I’ve learned to keep a reserve tank of optimism. I’ve packed a secondary map, a meta-map, for where I’m going. And once I established my larger goal, the goal beyond what I wanted, I was able to see the setbacks as mere interruptions rather than disasters.

This is a fairly recent addition to my rocket ship design. And the disasters of these last six months have given me a chance to test all of my backup systems.

When divorce interrupted my interstellar travel plans over five years ago, I did not have any backup plans. I had put my entire dream and fuel source in the family unit we had been working on for 11+ years. When my mission control center went black, I was literally lost in space. I not only lost mission control, but at the moment I agreed to try a space walk out of the capsule, I began a free fall without precedent. Everything I knew and counted on in my life was suddenly out of view for long periods of time. And at times I did not thrive alone in deep space.

But it was during this long period of holding my breath, conserving resources, trying alternative fuel sources, that I started learning to focus on survival and perseverance rather than the immediate crisis. I learned to be sad about my situation, but not pity myself. I learned that my actions were more important than how I felt on any given day. I took a Radiohead lyric deep into my DNA during that time. “Just because you feel it. Doesn’t mean it’s real.”

Even beyond my own self preservation, I put all of my remaining energy into being a good dad.

And while the divorce and the separation of me from my kids and my house and my primary relationship was real, those losses didn’t actually pose any threat to my life. (Depression might have, if I had not found a way back to hopefulness.) If I could learn to breathe easily, even under major duress, I could learn to bring calm and hopeful rationale to focus on the situation. The road ahead in those first months seemed insurmountable. No house. No job. A new monthly child support payment that was supposed to come first, before shelter, food, or clothing for me. And a few times it was easier to give up. It seemed appropriate to sink into depression for a bit. It seemed like an acceptable response. I could hear myself, saying, “Sure, I just got divorced, I’m depressed. That’s okay.”

But I needed to transform that sadness and hopelessness into something else. Even as I was homeless and loveless I remained focused on one priority alone. Even beyond my own self preservation, I put all of my remaining energy into being a good dad. Sure, my kids could tell their rocket ride was not in service. And I’m sure the loss inside the home I left was also quite tangible and painful to everyone involved. But when they were with me, I simply focused on being dad. Everything else became unimportant when my kids were with me.

And the kid-first approach worked quite well when they were with me. When the rocket ship had kid cargo I was all-systems go, even if I couldn’t tell them when I would have a house for us, I couldn’t tell them, when we might take another vacation together, I couldn’t tell them, when they’d get their own rooms again, in MY house. I simply didn’t have any answers. And we learned to live together in our alternative rocket ship, the one where they had to pack bags each week, and learned to love each other anyway. Even without a map, fuel, or a plan, I stayed with my ability to connect and be emotionally available for my kids. I could fall apart, take on maintenance and repair tasks when they were planet side, at their mom’s house.

And we survived. And in that surviving we all got stronger. And when we were together we kept the joy and humor flowing. I began to chase and wrestle them again. I began to remember what life was about. I rediscovered the deeper mission within about being a great dad. And yet, that wasn’t enough. When they were not around I could fall back into deep despair. I could spend “off” weekends in bed, not tending to repairs, not moving my plans forward, not seeing any happiness in my future, but when my kids arrived again. This is not a sustainable model. As happy as I was (outside) when they were with me, I was just as dark and hurt when they were away. I needed some deeper fuel source. I needed some way to get out of the self-pity mantras that haunted me during the “off” times.

I put what was left of my things in storage and moved into my mom’s garage. And again, I went back to the drawing board in search of a better map.

Even stumbling along in the dark I had a few successes. I was recruited and hired by a startup to drive their digital marketing program. And within months I was purchasing a home and giving my little crew a new command module for the next leg of our journey. Things were exciting. Good. Stressful. And my orbit was still quite wobbly when the kids were away for the long 5-6 day stretches. But at least we had liftoff again and were headed in some direction. The maps might have still been unclear, but we were in motion. Until the company decided they weren’t going to be in the “consumer” business anymore and killed my position along with the line of business.

Then I had a shiny new six-month old ship that was leaking fuel, money, and hope. I thrashed a bit. The economy was still rough and my job prospects were challenging. I interviewed, I consulted, I did freelance, I sold a lot of my things, all in the spirit of keeping the rocket heading forward. But it wasn’t enough. A lot of things did not work out. Still, our little crew kept our sense of humor and adventure. My ex-wife wasn’t so understanding. Even my mom and sister, began to point out the weaknesses and obvious problems they had warned me about when I first made plans to get my own ship again. Lots of people were unhappy. But inside the failing rocket, our little trio, laughed, celebrated, jumped on the trampoline, sailed through a few more years of school and weekends together.

A year ago, at Christmas time it was clear the only way to survive was to abandon the spaceship. In a few short months of hand-wringing and furious activity, I got rid of about 50% of my things, and sold the spaceship and returned to the “captain without a ship” state that I find myself in right now. I put what was left of my things in storage and moved into my mom’s garage. And again, I went back to the drawing board in search of a better map.

Have you read the entire series? Click below for more excited episodes.

deepspacedivorcesaga

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: 1947 Rocketship Galileo, tom voter, creative commons usage

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Loss of the Proximity Effect as a Divorced Dad

WHOLE-repoop

My children bring such joy in to my life when they are around. Their absence doesn’t make my heart grow fonder, it just reminds me of how much of their lives I’m missing as a divorced dad.

I’m watching my kids grow up from a distance, and it’s painful. Sure, I have the standard possession order, the simple divorce equation for 80% of dads. But we’re getting the raw end of the deal. Actually, divorce is the rawest end of the deal, but once that’s determined, the only thing you can do is hope for maximizing your time with your kids. Still, it’s not enough.

Divorce is like an empty nest trial run that happens every week. My kids are here, we’re laughing, chatting, I’m fixing them food and taking them all over the city to friend’s houses, appointments, movies… It’s a parent’s life. Joy is the theme. Togetherness is the melody. And on the days when my kids are with me I perk up like a… well, like the dad I have always been, the dad I want to be, and the dad I lost in my parent’s divorce when I was 9.

There’s no accounting for the loss in a parent’s life when their kids are gone. Sure, a lot of people are dealing with divorce (and worse PAS) but just because it’s a new normal, does not make it acceptable. But accept it we must. What are the options?

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 6.07.18 PMIn my divorce I went for low-conflict, easy negotiation, and shared responsibility. I also went to the divorce counselor’s office asking for 50/50 time with my kids.  That’s not what I got. Even through we were both paying for our parenting planning, the therapist quickly shut down my 50/50 notions. “If you go to court she’s going to get the SPO.” While I argued that we were seeing her to prevent us from ever having to go to court, I eventually gave in and became a team player. We built our kid’s futures and my limited-fathering contract around the “court’s traditional decision.” I listened to the therapist when she talked about what was “in the best interest of the children.”

Listen very carefully when you hear that phrase. It’s a signal that you are about to be force-fed some wisdom or legal precedent that you’d just as soon accept. And that’s just what I did. The rest of the divorce planning went pretty smoothly after I gave up my dream of being a 50/50 parent.

But it’s how we shared the parenting duties when we were together. Even when I was the primary breadwinner, shipping off to a nearby town for the big bucks, I was holding up more than 50% of the parenting duties. I shopped, cleaned, ran errands, and tried to provide the evolved male version of cooperative parenting. However, the minute we were in the counselor’s office my wife’s intentions became loud and clear. She was always big on the planning and I was usually the one who followed her budgets and plans. Both my wife and the counselor smiled when I showed them my 50/50 parenting calendar. I had been studying the options, reading the psychology, gearing up for the discussion.

Even as I miss them when they are gone, I am learning to celebrate and appreciate them more deeply when I am with them.

I still wonder if they’d had a sidebar and set up their “plan” before we ever started negotiating in her office. They both smiled and politely told me why the kids needed their mother more than their father in the early and young years of divorce. That’s not what my books and research were telling me, but that seemed to be the consensus of our “divorce team” and the typical will of the courts. Mom’s get the time, the house, and dad’s get the time to stay focused on work, because they are now going to be responsible for their ex-wife’s house and whatever shelter they can afford for themselves. That’s just how it was in Texas in 2010.

Today, in 2014 I hear things are beginning to balance out a bit, thanks to the men’s rights movement. And while some of these organizations seem rabid and furious, my attorney said if we wanted to go for 50/50 now, he imagined the court would hear my case and we had a pretty good chance of winning. Hmm.

Would *that* be in the best interest of the children, today? I don’t know. Would I be striking out to fill my own empty nest time with more kid time? Again, I don’t know the answer, I’m still exploring my feelings around this idea.

There are some benefits to being a single dad with the SPO.

  • I have a lot of time off from parenting. (I’m rested and pursuing my dreams again.)
  • I have time to work overtime if I want to. (Mostly I have to, but that’s a different story.)
  • I could spend time dating and looking for another relationship.
  •  I have a lot less school-wakup-morning duties. (During my On-Week I have two school mornings. On my Off-Week I only have one.)

And there are some painful losses.

  • I’m often not clued into my kids school activities. (I have to be vigilant to say on the parent-teacher mailing lists, and make sure I’m available for all meetings.)
  • I miss whole weeks at a time. (As my kids are getting older, I am noticing how much they change between visits.)
  • My house is more of a “hotel” than a home. (Since they are not with me very often they keep 90% of their stuff at their mom’s.)
  • I miss teaching my son how to shave. (His mom let him use one of her razors. When I asked him about it, he was proud that he already knew how.)
  • I miss a lot of the nuance of growing up. (Even subtle changes seem big when you haven’t seen them in a week.)

Basically, I miss a ton of their life experience. I am not involved in 80% of their week night, school work, family dinner routine. And yesterday we stopped at a cafe for breakfast along the route of taking them back to their mom’s house. As my kids sat across from me, joking, poking and prodding at a each other, I felt a pang of loss. So much of life is sitting around the table “living” with each other. And my involvement in this activity was reduced by much more than 50% in the divorce. I’m guessing, because of the structure of the SPO I miss about 80% of my kids daily lives.

They’ve still got two loving parents, we’re just playing our roles alone on some imbalanced schedule that was worked out without much input from me.

As they get older now, they both have a ton of activities and sleep overs. Even on *my weekends* I often see my social daughter only briefly on the weekends. And observing her and her brother yesterday I was even more aware of my loss. Even as they are accelerating towards launch and college, in many ways, the divorce takes a large portion of their lives from me every week. And on off weeks, I notice the gap by how much they have changed when we’re back together. It’s like getting random and sporadic updates from teenagers about their lives, rather than living their lives with them.

Would I want to still be married? No. But should I have fought for 50% of my time with my children? Maybe. Still, that’s not where we are today. We move forward with the standard parenting plan and we do the best we can. Even as I miss them when they are gone, I am learning to celebrate and appreciate them more deeply when I am with them. They’ve still got two loving parents, we’re just playing our roles alone on some imbalanced schedule that was worked out without much input from me.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: a note I wrote to myself, then added to by my daughter, age 6, while we were still married

Dads, Fathers, & Men: Single Dads Are Pro Family, Too

WHOLE-sunset-daughter

Divorced dads have a harder time staying involved in their kids lives, even when they make every effort, keep every appointment, and ask for extra time.
___

A funny conversation took place a few minutes ago about the popularity of the “Dads & Families” on a website where I happen to be a contributor. See, that section is getting some great writing, some great writers, and some (even more important) great traffic. All good.

Well, except the single dad, is not included anywhere in the section. We’ve got a disconnect somewhere. Because I write all the time about parenting, and family, and … divorce. Well, maybe that’s the buzz killer right there. But here’s the real buzz: dads after divorce are still dads, our families are still families. And the challenges for the single dad are not unlike the same issues for dads, but we often lack the partner to assist in the daily tasks of being a dad.

We’re talking semantics, I get that, but I’m talking about the META-discussion. Dads and Families, INCLUDES single dads of divorced families. Or, extending a bit further, step-dads.

I’m not sure if this was a result of the divorced dad stigma, the absent father stigma, or the uncaring direction of my ex-wife, I have no way to know. I can ask. I did ask.

The new film Boyhood, does a great job of watching a divorced family over a 12-year period. Sure, it’s all about the boy growing up. But it’s really about the family. The fractured family that over 50% of young families will become if statistics hold up. The divorced family is mainstream. We’re working to make it better, to make the divorce less stigmatized, but we’re still struggling a bit with the parenting piece. It’s hard being a single dad. (I don’t know about a single mom, but I’ve seen my ex-wife go through some serious growing pains as we no longer share all the chores and bills.) It’s rough.

So the meta-category in all blogs and sites about parenting, Dads & Families now needs to include, in my mind, single dads and families, or dads who still support their ex-wives and are trying to win points by being the best dad they can be. Dad’s are critical to families. And single dads are also critical and maybe in a more urgent way. The single dad is not assumed to be supportive, responsible, caring. In fact, the divorced dad might be viewed as something of a threat from time to time.

Last year, at my daughter’s elementary school it was a bit of a struggle to stay informed of parent-teacher decisions. And while I made every single parent teacher conference, I still missed out on some of the big decisions. Those decisions were made by my ex-wife and my daughter’s teacher. Did they think about asking me before moving my daughter to a different math class? I’m sure it crossed both their minds, but they didn’t. My ex, failed to give me the information to even be part of the discussion. Did they have my email address? Yes. Did they just forget? Um… Was I unavailable, or uninvolved? No.

So the Dad & Families who actually still has his family intact does benefit from some of the positive images of wholesomeness, honesty, good dad. A married dad is safe, responsible, and trustworthy. And yes, I’d bet, a good percentage of those married dads let their wives make math class decisions all the time. In fact, I’m sure I would’ve given my had-we-still-been-married wife my proxy to make the decision. But I would’ve heard about. I would’ve had an opportunity to ask, “Why.” As it happened, I was left out of the loop completely.

At the parent-teacher conference where my ex-wife and I met with the teacher the information was presented as, “She’s doing so much better in the new math class.”

Your family never end when you have kids. The marriage may be over, but in the profound words of Erma Bombeck to Arianna Huffington. “Marriages come and go, divorce is forever.”

I was confused, “What new math class?”

I could see it in both their eyes. They had made a critical decision and left me out. I’m not sure if this was a result of the divorced dad stigma, the absent father stigma, or the uncaring direction of my ex-wife, I have no way to know. I can ask. I did ask. The answer, “It  was just a miss.” Um, yeah.

Okay, here’s the wrap: Dads are Dads.

Divorced dads have a lot harder time staying involved in their kids lives, even with they make every effort, keep every appointment, and ask for more time then they are given with them, post-divorce. I am that dad. I’m still a Dad & Families dad, only I don’t have a female partner any more to help me navigate the complexities of elementary school.

We need to keep “dad” connected with +families, +responsible parent, +care provider, +nurturing, +100 present, +supportive of the ex-wife, even when he is a “divorced dad.” That’s a long way from deadbeat dad, or irresponsible dad. What’s it called when the divorced mom and the teacher make decisions without including the dad? Is there a handy label for that?

Your family becomes a lifetime commitment when you have kids. The marriage may be over, but in the profound words of Erma Bombeck to Arianna Huffington. “Marriages come and go, divorce is forever.” This is especially true if you have kids.

Please, let’s keep the conversations crossing boundaries and labels. And lets assume Dads are Dads even if they are no longer married to the Moms.

Love Always,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: girl & dad, james chew, creative commons usage

Fatherhood Wide Open – 10 Questions for John McElhenney

Screen Shot 2014-10-11 at 2.40.52 PMListen to the Fatherhood Wide Open Interview Here

These questions give some insight into where this “whole” idea came from and how I got here.

1. One big idea
The Whole Parent idea was formed when I realized I was going to have to grow back into a whole parent. The things that my former partner did, during a vacation to the beach, for example, are things that I was going to have to put back in my parenting, my WHOLE parenting package.

2. How can men stay positive during divorce?
It’s critical to put your kids needs ahead of your own. In everything. 100% of the time, think of your kids before yourself or you anger/sadness around the divorce. You, as an adult, will heal. The kids do not have the same choices. Make every choice a positive one.

3. The biggest surprise in your four years of divorce?
How much joy has come back into my life. While I am still single at this moment, I have learned that for the most part I wake up happy, and go to be happy. That’s the part of my personality I am showing and giving to my kids.

4. Collaborative parenting – how do you incorporate it into your daily life?
You need to be flexible and friendly with your ex. There is no way around it. On certain days you are going to need their support. And when you can do the favor for them, it comes in handy to have that mutually agreed upon goal. Kids first. The co-parenting will go on for the rest of our kids lives. We never get truly divorced when we have kids. But we are no longer married, we are co-parents.

5. How should we best go about forgiving an ex-spouse. Does infidelity change the approach?
Realize that the breakdown of the marriage was the responsibility of both partners. While I don’t have experience with sexual infidelity, even the breakdown there is a result of a failure on both partners. Forgiveness of your ex is the first step on the path to forgiving yourself for the failure too. You owe it to yourself to let go and get on with the next part of your life.

6. How should single dads handle dating again? Do have any ground rules?
Kids should be left out of the dating mix for a while. When our kids were younger, our divorce decreed had a six month rule. I still think it’s a good one. No introductions of boyfriends and girlfriends until they have been in a relationship for six months. It saves potential confusion. I think it would be much more important for younger kids. Today at 11 and 13, my kids want me to have a new relationship.

7. How should your kids be brought into a new relationship?
I don’t have any experience at this yet, but I do believe that six months is a good bench mark for a relationship. My two relationships have ended at three and four months. So I haven’t had the opportunity to introduce them to my kids, except informally, for a random lunch. But she wasn’t my “girlfriend.”

8. How do we promote healthy relationships for our kids in the face of our marital failure?
In spite of our best efforts, bad things happen. Relationships don’t always work out. But we stay honest, and positive and we move on with our lives. As they have seen their mother and me get divorced they have never heard us disparaging about the other. We’re in this together as parents. And we can show our kids that the respect and friendship goes on even when the marriage does not.

9. Should parents try to stick it out in a bad marriage?
When your kids are young the divorce is an all-consuming nightmare. I am not sure how to answer that question. When we divorced my kids were in 3rd and 5th grade. It was hard. I am glad we gave it our best shot, and I would’ve stayed married for them. But I was unhappy. I am happier now, even single. But I am glad I am no longer in an emotionally frozen relationship. I need more from my love life, and I am hopeful about finding it again.

10. Will you marry again? What one thing would you change?
I am not sure if marriage is my ultimate goal. But if I did, if the woman was really interested in it as well, I would want to keep the communication about sex and touch out in the open. With books like The 5 Love Languages, we know a lot more about what makes people feel loved. I’m hoping to find another “touch” person. And if I do, I am confident that we will both put constant contact as a high priority in our lives.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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The Whole Parent Journey – Year One Retrospective

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It’s been a year since I started this blog. 80 posts later, one firing, and a ton of growth, I am very happy to have set out on this journey. Today I’d like to celebrate the wins and learnings that have transpired over this first year of publishing. Let’s look at how we began, back on Sept. 21, 2013. [see the Full Index of all posts]

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Here is a gallery of all the cover images once I defined the brand style. I’ve covered a lot of territory. Not all of it easy, but hopefully in keeping with my 100% positive mission statement.

My goal has always been to improve my understanding of co-parenting, and how to keep coming back to the issues with a positive approach. It’s kid’s first. Nothing else matters.

As the divorce issues and parenting issues have gotten resolved the next progression along the path of wholeness is returning to the idea of being in a relationship again. And while this blog did not start out with a “dating” agenda, I believe that “wholeness” will come from finding a long-term romantic relationship again. Along that path I have journeyed back into the dating pool, and here I have attempted to capture some of my self-observations and lessons. Again, these are my observations, your milage may vary.

It’s been a great run so far, my traffic today averages 300 – 500 visitors a day, thanks to my affiliation with The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project. And I’ve even been made a contributing editor of the GMP.

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And the monthly growth has been pretty astounding.

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So here’s to the next year. Thank you for joining me on this journey, I hope you stay tuned.

Click here to see the Full Index of all posts.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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image: team dad, john mcelhenney, cc 2010