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Single Dad Sends Hope from the Other Side of His Divorce

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I understand that happiness is an inside job.

This morning I walked the beach alone and watch the sunrise. I could feel the history of all the years I have spent here in Corpus Christy, at the beach. My son, now 18 and in college, learned to walk at this same beach. He began to run long before I was ready to let him. And this year, he is now running under his own power. The divorce experience, in some aspects, is over for him. And it is my hope, that in the coming years, my son and I deepen our respect and love for each other.

Back to the beach. I am here to celebrate myself. I sing my own song. I fall in love again, with my burly and bearded face. And I ask the waves and the sunrise to bless my life for another 50 years. I have been lucky. I have remained optimistic when the tides were definitely against me. And that’s my story. Even in the darkest moments, if you can find one thing to hope for, you are on your way to getting there.

The Divorce Burned Away All Distractions

When I left my young family for the last time, I knew that I would never be able to return in the same way to life before the divorce. I felt the magnitude of what was happening in a different way than my kids or my still-wife. I knew I would be alone most of the time. I knew that I would miss most of the major events in my kids’ lives. And I knew my experience of loss and hopefulness in the face of loss, would be a story I needed to tell. I started writing about it even as I was still fighting to convince my wife that things were not as bad as she perceived them to be.

Of course, I learned that I could not make her happy by my sheer force of will or impassioned and logical arguments. When one partner has made a decision to leave the marriage, the game is up. When they have been to consult an attorney, they have also made a decision to “go for it.” Rather than work on the relationship, my then-wife skipped the topic in couple’s therapy and went straight to the hungry divorce attorney. The divorce brochure was presented and our marriage was doomed.

And in those final moments, before I walked out the door, I was losing my mind. I had not been sleeping well. I was waking at 3 in the morning trying to gather up my strength for another day of despair. I had to give up on the marriage too. I had to let my kids and my wife go. I had to release the safety rail on the bridge and jump into the blackness below. I had to put my faith in something higher than myself, my plans, or my family’s love. I had to turn to God.

Broken and Failing at Life

Divorce and the loss of your children is the biggest blow a man can suffer. Society assumes that it was something you (the dad) did to cause the divorce. The elementary school doesn’t know what to do with you, a divorced dad. Your married friends are afraid to be with you, for fear of catching the divorce bug. Your single friends are supportive but don’t want to hear about your sadness and loss. A man in the middle of a divorce, is a man alone with himself.

No man is an island, said Thomas Merton, but in divorce, there is no deeper loneliness than I could imagine. As I collapsed into my sister’s spare bedroom on that first afternoon of isolation, I was convinced that my life was over. I would never regain the full love of my kids. I was no longer in a partnership with my companion of the last 12 years. I was alone. I had two kids that I was going to get to see every other weekend. THAT’S NOT ENOUGH. And, it’s the best I could do.

And even as I curled up in a ball in the downstairs bedroom, I found some reason to keep breathing. It took me a few months, but I got up from that bed, started a new job, started Akido classes, and started going to a divorce recovery group. From those ashes of despair, I decided to rebuild myself. I knew I would need help. I knew that prayer and meditation would not be enough. In AA words, I needed “massive action.” Incremental steps were not going to pull my life back together. I needed one huge push that leveraged all of my energy and hope into a plan of action.

No Idea Where I’m Going, But I’m Going

As the summer wore on, the details of the divorce were settled. I would be given the standard divorce package in Texas. (80% of Texas divorces follow this out-dated family law precedent.) I got something called the Standard Possession Order (SPO) which amounted to every other weekend, with one additional night thrown in on the off week. It works out to about 70/30. And what it does, is effectively make dad’s house a “hotel” and mom’s house the “home.” It’s exhausting to pack and unpack your kids. And if your ex is uncooperative, it can be hell for everyone involved. My ex was agreeable to her victory of time and money and provided ample support for the kids to continue their visitations through the middle of high school.

And then came the money arrangement. I would pay my ex-wife $1,500 per month, AND I would provide them with health insurance. This was great when I was employed by a large tech company, as I had been the year before we got divorced. But this spells disaster for any father who runs into any employment challenges. Yeah, you know, most of us. And this arrangement was accepted by me in an effort to get beyond the divorce process and get on with my life. I was not going to sue the mother of my children to change the agreements.

And the problem was, I have never made the same amount of money. I agreed on the idea that I would find the next big job. I never did. I’ve tried. I’ve started some “big jobs” but they seem to fall apart at some point within 6 – 10 months. Jobs are hard. Jobs in the interactive marketing space are hard and unreliable. I’ve struggled. I’m still optimistic. And I’m still heading upward. But the burden of my child support was unfair and was not recalculated based on my actual income. (I’ve already covered this in many posts, so I’m going to move on.)

Heading Towards the Finish Line

My first child has started college and my child support payments are now only $900 per month. Just 15 more months, and my cash flow requirements will change significantly. And while I’m still not sure my ex-wife needs the money (But, John, that’s not the point!) I’ll be happy to complete the bad financial transaction I agreed to nine years ago. And I’ll be even more relieved to get the Attorney General’s Office off my credit report. (More drama and trauma that didn’t need to happen.)

And yet, I can’t help feeling a tiny bit of regret about my ex-wife’s animosity and entitlement. As it stands, we don’t communicate anymore. She’s made it clear that she’s not co-parenting with me. And anytime I ask a question (via text or email) I get so much distortion and anger that I’ve just stopped asking. I had in mind, a few weeks ago, to ask her about paying the rest of my daughter’s child support in one payment, and the response was so verbose and confusing that I’m not sure if she wanted to discuss it, or simply wanted to blow me off. What she said, effectively, was “I can’t even talk about this until October.” Ah, yes, the old “talk to the hand” response. I know this one well.

So the finish line for me is when my daughter escapes the dark halls of her mom’s house. As they escape her toxic rage at me, they can begin to form new, more balanced, relationships with me. I’ve been here the entire time, but their mom has had 70% and now 100% of their time. Ho-hum.

I’ve maintained a positive outlook this entire time. It’s been hard when I was struggling. Just last year, I suffered a tremendous let down when I returned from a three-day weekend with my two kids. (SEE: Total System Failure: Rebooting My Life, Again) And today, I’m even more positive about my own situation. In the end, all that matters is how well you treat and support your children. To my ex-wife: If you isolate and marginalize your co-parent, you are hurting yourself and your children.

A Moment of Thanksgiving

I have a deep appreciation for my ex-wife and her own personal struggles in the divorce. I do hope you find happiness. And as our last child exits your house, I hope you are able to enter a new chapter of your life, where I am not the bad guy.

[Note: I realized this as I read this post to someone else last night: I wanted this to be a post of hope and greetings for any single parents stumbling on The Whole Parent. What this post turned into was a bit of a trashing of my ex-wife. It’s odd how things can twist in a relationship when you go from partners to enemies.

Yes, you still have kids together, but the way the family law is written, the battle begins the minute “divorce” is mentioned by any party. What was once power struggles in a marriage become actual battles about your time with your kids, money that will be available to either parent throughout the adolescent life of your children, and ultimately who will control most of the kid’s lives. It’s a conversation that SHOULD begin at 50/50.

Laws in most states in the US, however, place a higher value on the parenting skills of the mother. Dad is left to fend for himself to find a new home he can afford while making child support payments and a lot of new activities to fill his non-kid time. My apologies to those who were looking for the lift I intended when I started this post. I will try again for the happy greetings from the other side of divorce.

Here is the post I meant to write: 10 Positive Thoughts for You About Your Upcoming Divorce

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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