If I can approach the day with hope, openness, and optimism, I’m sure my joy will continue to bring joy to others.
Yesterday I got an email from the person who purchased all of my worldly possessions at a storage unit auction.
And a few days before that, the AG’s office took control of my only bank account by slapping a lien on it for triple the amount owed in late child support payments. I say late, because I have never expressed any intention of skipping the payments, but I have been struggling to replace a job that ended in February.
Finally, I am currently living with my mom.
I know, that’s the one that really stings for me. How can I head out into the world with a brave face? How do I stand proud and tall and tell my kids that better days are on the horizon? They are, but how do I convince them? How do I convince my ex-wife? And most importantly how do I convince myself, that from this low I will reemerge with a new lightness and agility? I can go anywhere from here because I’m down and out.
And yet… I am happy. I know it seems like such a contradiction, but hear me out.
I am not bitter about the divorce or the loss of my house and 95% of everything in it. My kids already know about the bank account (though they have no idea what “error” caused my -$42,000 balance, my son loves to tease me about it, he’s 13) and my daughter and I were going to the storage unit to retrieve my juicer when we discovered an old car parked inside my space. All of my stuff had been auctioned off two days prior to our visit. I have the notices from the storage unit for my late payment status. None of them said anything about the auction.
In the same way, I don’t hold my ex-wife responsible for the divorce, I don’t really hold her responsible for turning our affairs over to the AG’s office, nor the havoc that has brought down on my credit and my life. Nope. It’s an ongoing flow of water under the bridge. And this constant flow of patience and forgiveness is required to continue with the joint task of co-parenting. And while we parent at 50/50, I was given the standard dad deal in Texas of the non-custodial parent with the Standard Possession Order and a hefty child support payment. It’s all okay. That is just how divorce goes in this great state.
And again, I state, clearly and for the record, I am happy.
You might think I’m overstating my happiness to cover up my anger and bitterness, but I’m not very good at anger or holding a grudge. And with my kids, I don’t have any pretense of who I am beyond how I show up in their lives.
I show up in my kids lives at the maximum level I am permitted. And when I went into the divorce negotiations asking for and expecting 50/50 custody, I was not arguing about the child support, I was genuinely certain that we would parent after divorce as we had while married. That’s not what happened, and I was given the script, “if you go to court here is what you’re going to get,” as the reason we took my joint-custody plan off the negotiating table.
I’m not so sure that was the appropriate response from a paid divorce counselor, but it was certainly efficient. We moved through the divorce negotiation process with flying colors and a very small legal bill. Of course, I didn’t get what I wanted, and I am struggling to get back on my feet, even with the additional house payment, that doesn’t include a house for me. But I’m not so sure I got a bad deal. I’ve used my time off to build back areas of my life and passion that were being shut down in my marriage.
Each day I refocus my attention on my kids. Like a mantra in meditation or a prayer. As I am able to focus on my children, I can release my ex-wife from all blame in the transactions of the past. And even as many of those actions continue to have negative consequences, I am able to look at her with compassion and not resentment.
I am not angry with my ex-wife. I have faith that she is doing the best she can, at all times. And I am aware of how stretched she is with the full-time job and single parenting role. And without the court-ordered child support, right now while I’m essentially unemployed, the burden is even more difficult. I care for my kids more than I care for her, but in loving my kids more I can only hope that her life is happy and fulfilled. Any downturn for her is a downturn for the three of them as they sail on in the house that we built.
In some ways, the divorce has been the biggest life challenge I’ve ever hit. At first, it was a wall I had to go over, as I struggled with the loss, depression, and frustration of losing so much of my world. But as I recovered my center, as I began to see the light on this side of the wall, the divorced side, I realized that my next journey was just beginning. She hadn’t kicked me out of our marital bed and house, she had set me back on the path of self-discovery, alone.
I have been through almost all of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief since being relieved of my full-time parenting role. And the hardest part of the entire process is losing so much of my kid’s lives and experience. Daily life connections that I am no longer part of. Summer beach vacations and travels that are emailed to me as pictures rather than experiences.
As I walked away from my house and into my single dad life, I took up the responsibility for my own happiness in a new way. Even with the grief and growth that was necessary to recover from the divorce, I knew that at some point I would be happy again. It was the hope that kept me strong. And today it is the hope that keeps me looking at the path ahead rather than at my shuffling feet, or back at the losses of things, and time, and old dreams.
My dream today is a happy one. I am well-fed, healthy, and heading to a late-round job interview. It has been a long summer of job interviews. And it’s the hope of what’s next that keeps me joyful in this state of nothingness. Other than my kids and the positive and loving relationship I am building with them, I have a simple agenda. Find the next job to support them and their mom, rebuild my credit, don’t worry about “things” and move forward with my own life work.
That’s the final piece of the puzzle, for me. The writing. I have always envisioned myself as a writer. I got my degree from the university with the imagination that I would write the great American novel. And maybe I have, but it’s not ready for publication. I think my second novel is going to be much better.
Since leaving Dell in 2009 with the collapse of the US economy I have been writing a blog about social marketing. And in that process, I developed my voice, my rhythm, my discipline of writing. I can stand proudly at this moment and say, “I am a writer.” Or the even more risky, “I am a poet.”
And somewhere down deep, the divorce process uncorked a different vein of writing that I had not anticipated. As I have struggled to find my center again, I used my writing and journaling to share the process with others. Often hard, often angry and defeated, but occasionally triumphant, I have chronicled the entire process of my divorce. Or more, accurately, the process of becoming an awesome single dad.
And my kids are happy. That’s the greatest gift. They are not worried about me or their mom, they are focused on the challenges of 6th and 8th grade. These are high times. And I have nothing but love for my ex-wife as she soldiers on without me beside her. And anything I can do to make our co-parenting experience better for her and the kids, I will do.
Last summer I was pretty sure I had solved the puzzle. I was living in a small house near a bright lake, and I would walk every day and end my hot journey with a jump into the lake. It was the same lake that I grew up on, that I lived with my parents as their marriage came apart in angry and violent sparks. But as I jumped in every day over the entire summer, I felt like I was being baptized. In some way I was letting go of all the things that were holding me back.
And I was sure that I had solved the work/life/happiness balance thing too. But I was almost to a fork in the road that I had not anticipated. And that massive change has brought me here, to this moment, on the couch at my mother’s house, at 5 am.
I am happy. The life ahead for me is grand. And the new school year has just begun and I will do my best to tune in to my kids as much as they will let me. When they are not here I will text and call and email and show up as often as I am allowed. And beyond that, I will tend to my own happiness, my own daily forgiveness, my own meditation and walk. My journey still has many twists and turns and if I can approach the day with hope, openness, and optimism, I’m sure my joy will continue to bring joy to others.
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image: sunrise from the deck of my house last summer, john mcelhenney, (cc) 2014