Tag Archives: the hero’s journey

The Hero’s Journey of a Divorced Dad

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A lot of hardships come at a man in the throes of a divorce. There are plenty of opportunities to get mad, get vindictive, get even, especially if the divorce was not your idea. But the higher road is to rise above the blame and anger of the divorce, and to think about your kids. First and foremost, think about them and the love that created them. That transformation that took place the moment you became a parent is still the most important focus of your life.

In most cases, like mine, you are going to have to come up with an additional $1,200 a month, even before you get to pay for a new apartment or try to afford a new mortgage.

First order of business: finding a place to live. In most states the dad is the parent typically asked to leave the family home. Even if you’re planning on selling, the dad is often the parent asked to move out. The idea is that moms are more nurturing and that young kids need their mommy more than their daddy. While for very young kids (breastfeeding for example) this might be the case, but in most other situations this is just the status quo, and not the reality of the relationship or parenting roles.

Second order of business: finding additional income. Again, in general, if you’re getting divorced and you’re the dad you will be asked to pay child support. In some states if you argue and win 50/50 custody the child support can be based on a percentage of income, but that’s an ideal outcome. In most cases, like mine, you are going to have to come up with an additional $1,200 a month, even before you get to pay for a new apartment or try to afford a new mortgage. Starting over, financially, after divorce is one of the biggest hardships facing a dad.

In spite of the anger and resentment, you’ve got to drop your psychological work elsewhere. Your kids don’t have any skills for dealing with your sadness or anger, and your ex has got better things to do.

Third order of business: taking care of yourself in the “off” times. Typical parenting splits give the mom twice as much time with the kids. That means for most of the week nights and every other weekend, you’re going to be newly alone. At first this might seem like a great thing as you attempt to jump back into the dating pool. But eventually, the loneliness begins to become an issue. The joy and playfulness that was your life as a parent, now has a hard boundary, and most of your hours you will not have access to your kids. You’ve got to decide what else you’re going to do with your life.

Forth order of business: reconnecting with your kids when they are back with you. If you get your life together fairly quickly and find a place to live where you can have your kids over for the weekend, you can begin the process of reconnecting. It’s hard. Kids want to be close, but they don’t know how to talk about what they’ve been doing at school or at home. You’ve got to work it out of them. Or just be satisfied at being with them and not so concerned about what you do or talk about. If you can establish some outdoor activities (we got a trampoline) that you all like to do, that’s a great way to drawing them back into your life.

Final order of business: how you negotiate and deal with your ex-partner. In spite of the anger and resentment, you’ve got to drop your psychological work elsewhere. Your kids don’t have any skills for dealing with your sadness or anger, and your ex has got better things to do. So it was important for me to seek out professional counseling while I was going through my divorce. I talked to this person as much about me and my life as I did about the divorce. It helps to have someone to rant to, cry to, laugh to, and who will challenge your old destructive patterns.

Even when she’s being harsh and unreasonable, I can choose to response with the love and kindness I have for my children. She is irrelevant at this point.

The journey is hard and long. But in the end, if you keep your head above the fray, you can make a better life for your kids. Regardless of whose idea the divorce was, and regardless of who wins the custody or house battles, your kids are the most important and most critical part of being a divorced parent. Anytime you think of being mean to your ex, just think of how it might hurt your kids and don’t do it. It’s never worth it.

I had anger issues. I liked to trade sharp barbs via text occasionally, just to let her know she was being mean. But as I got more clear on my own issues I could see that it didn’t do me any good. In fact, by engaging in pointed banter I was giving my anger and resentment more fuel.

One day, just before I started this blog, I decided I was done with the negative responses. Even when she’s being harsh and unreasonable, I can choose to response with the love and kindness I have for my children. She is irrelevant at this point. My relationship and responsibility lies with my kids alone. What issues I have with my ex-wife can usually be handled via email, and that’s an easy format to keep clean and balanced.

Anger breeds anger. Resentment and sharp jabs only builds more need for retaliation. If you can focus on the love and support of your children you can forgive and forget your ex-partner all together. As they fade into the back ground you can give your attention and energy to the loving support of your kids as the path ahead for your hero’s journey.

Always Love,

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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Nothing Is As Exciting As New Love, Right?

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The first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.

Preamble: When the animal intoxication of chemical romance hits, our brains go on stun. We are no longer thinking like a human, we’re more like a dog.

I’m not a greener pastures guy. I loved my wife. I loved my last girlfriend. Those relationships are over, in the romantic sense, so I prop my hopes backup and set off again on the epic quest. The chivalrous knight’s journey. ARGGGH. I’m a bit exhausted from all the questing and leaping off after any romantic potential. I’m most tired of my optimistic fool’s trait that keeps my heart engaged long after the true colors have been shown.

All we have is hope. When things go wrong, when disappointments happen, when “bad things happen to good people,” all we have is our ability to imagine a better place, a new hope, a delayed gratification dream. Thank goodness for that, but good grief for all the times we have to fail to find another human to grow and evolve with. We keep trying.

Today I will try again. I will hope that “love” with the little “l” is out there, and perhaps nearby. The last quest led to a brilliant woman, who dialed in my number physically and sexually, for some unknown reason. We don’t really understand chemistry. We try to rationalize the “opposites attract” theme, but it doesn’t make rational sense when we look at our preferences. I use a dog metaphor sometimes to illustrate, even to myself, the simple mystery of physical attraction.

Two dogs meet in a dog park. Either
1. One tail is wagging
2. Two tails are wagging
3. No tails are wagging

There is also potential for overlooking some egregious problems, some unfinished issues that are as plain as day to anyone standing nearby.

I think it has a lot less to do with our conscious brains and a lot more to do with something subconscious, sub-lingual, and more dog-like. I might think I have a thing for poodles and pitbulls. But when a fancy, just-my-type, boxer enters the park, all my previous ideas of who/why/what I wanted are thrown to the wind. A whimsy of hormones, eye signals, body language, and something else… Magic. That’s the only explanation for it. When magic happens we are up for the pursuit. Our animal instincts kick in, and even across a room, we can spot the “potential” and feel the tiniest rush. If we are open to the signals, we might close in on the deal, attempt a proud display, and engage in courtship.

When both tails are wagging, there is a potential for magic. There is also potential for overlooking some egregious problems, some unfinished issues that are as plain as day to anyone standing nearby, but we’ve fallen into some other state. An altered state, and not always for the better. When the hit of sexual chemistry arrives, we are also vulnerable to euphoria, rushing into things, and premature sexual engagement. Fine. If you feel it, go for it. If you have insatiable lust and passion, go, do the animal thing, rut, pounce, devour. It’s wonderful. But be aware, it’s like an intoxication. And while you’re intoxicated you should not operate heavy machinery nor get pregnant. (A joke and subtle safe-sex hint.)

So, let’s say for illustration, you’ve got the ‘chemistry’ with someone and the rushing blood in your head and heart is an indication that you are getting intoxicated. Notice. Appreciate. And take a long drink of it. BUT… PLEASE… PAUSE…

Sorry. The headlong rush into sex and animal passions is awesome and fun and … Dangerous. I know I sound dramatic. But I am being dramatic on purpose. Let’s see how I can make this more clear, less metaphorical.  I’ll get more personal and tell a little bit about my experience with the drug of love.

I have gone headlong into the night of intoxicated coupling. And with two exceptions (in college, sort of one-night-stand variations) all of these rushed relationships have ended in fiery disasters. Hear me. Nothing is as exciting as new love. YES. I agree. And nothing is as blinding as the animal chemistry that kicks in somewhere below our human intelligence, and that blindness lasts for weeks, months, years if we’re… that “lucky”? or “tragically deceived?”

Let me try again from the beginning. My first marriage was initiated by such flames and synchronicity that I spent the first 45 days of our “relationship” either in her bed or mine. Of course, we were just finishing college, we had time, we had the uncertainty of “what’s next” in our lives. We had time and chemistry to burn. I knew on my honeymoon, however, when the fieriness showed up aimed at me rather than with me, that I had made a huge mistake marrying this woman. STRIKE ONE for hot sex.

When the female of the animal species is showing unhealthy signs they are either ostracized and left behind, or driven from the herd.

My second marriage was a bit more stable, but the chemistry was no less mind-altering. I was still wounded from the flame-out of my first marriage and the wreckage that was left behind after she did her business of “divorcing me.” So I fell effortlessly into romantic reverie when I ran into an old high school friend. And she was/is still beautiful to me. And we attempted to be smart, we attempted to be honest and go slowly. The stars were already in place, and we were negotiating with seriously impaired intellect. Such is the role of the intoxication. We partner and mate for the good of the species.

So my second RUSH went that way. We spawned two beautiful children. Still, I should have never consummated this relationship. There were red flags and issues within the first weeks that should’ve could’ve would’ve made a more sober man say, “no thank you.” I was sober of any artificial intoxicants, but I was as addicted to her beauty and body like a garden variety addict.  I saw the danger. I responded to the warnings. I proceeded onward and inward. We married. Altered everything about our lives. Had kids. And things went off the rails, in part due to the disconnects I was getting warning signals about, in those first few love-addled weeks, even before we’d ever slept together. I was too far gone to pull up from the terminal velocity nose dive. I gave it all. I put it all in. We both did.

The third RUSH ended last night. It should’ve ended months ago, when she calmly and forcefully broke up with me. But I was on the trail of exciting love. I was in the quest mode. I had gotten a taste of hot sex and I was no more sober than a male tomcat around a female in heat. And I’m not making any judgements about her or the warning flares she was firing straight at me. I was well aware of the danger as I moved in for the conquest. I was as hungry as I’ve ever been, maybe still (of course still) wounded. But more lonely and ready and energetic.

If we’re addicted and activated we’re at risk of slipping back into our unhealthy patterns of addiction, intoxication, regret, withdrawal, and repeat.

When the female of the animal species is showing unhealthy signs they are either ostracized and left behind, or driven from the herd. I even had a friend telling me, “She’s in no shape for a relationship.” I had all the information I needed. Heck, when the woman is saying, “No, nope, nada, don’t do it,” while still welcoming you into her arms… well, that’s your problem right there.

New love is a drug, that might be more powerful than heroin. If we’re addicted and activated we’re at risk of slipping back into unhealthy patterns of addiction, intoxication, regret, withdrawal, and repeat. Not a fun or survivable path. Addiction eventually kills us, if we don’t get help.

I’m on my own for this one. I walked in “eyes wide shut” as they say. Knowing, seeing, being told, “This one is not for you,” and going for it anyway. And five or six breakups later, it’s hard to count them now, I’m finally sober enough to admit my problem.

The first step to recovery is admitting there’s a problem.

Yep. (hand raised) I have a problem with love.

Always Love (responsibly),

John McElhenney
@wholeparent

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