Tag Archives: parenting teenagers

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