To say that my ex-wife was unhappy when she found my anonymous blog over 12 years ago would be an understatement.
At this point, our kids were in elementary and middle school. The site was anonymous and there were no links between me and The Off Parent. And this is the way I kept it until my first kid was in college and my second kid was a senior in high school. At this point, I published a book The Fall of the House of Dad that chronicled the infamous bad actions of my ex-wife. She seemed determined to get her pound of flesh. And as I was debating using my name or putting it out under “The Off Parent,” I read it cover to cover and understood again, that it is important to get the entire story out there. Someone can learn from my mistakes, and some ex-wives can reconsider their vindictiveness and how it hurts their children along with their ex.
About five years ago, long after The Whole Parent had been published and gotten syndicated on The Huffington Post and The Good Men Project, I was contacted by a producer on The Today Show. They wanted to do a story on divorced dads and their struggle with depression. Turns out, Chris Martin had published a story in The Guardian where he revealed his post-divorce struggles. When the Today Show team Googled for an expert, they got me.
The cameraman arrived on the same day they contacted me through Twitter. The interviewer was remote. They would fly her parts in for the show. I was high from the idea that I was going to finally get some appreciation for my work. AND, just like that, the Monday morning the piece was going to run, the disco shooting in Germany happened. The entire week was consumed by the news. My grand debut was shelved.
You Can’t Write About Divorce
In my ex-wife’s early approach, she forbid me from writing about the divorce. Then she asked. Then she turned our account over to the AG’s office to see if that choke point would shut me up. It did not. It wrecked my life for about 10 years, but not more than her decision to break up our family because she was depressive. Oh well, water under the bridge now, but I’m going to give you a word of advice about dealing with your divorce. WRITE ABOUT IT.
I had to write about my loss, my confusion, my rebooting attempts, and my failures. I had to write about my efforts to maintain a relationship with my kids, given only two weekends a month to keep our conversations lively and meaningful. Meanwhile, she had 70% of the time with them. She had the house. And she had me paying for the house. It was a shit deal that 85% of all divorced men in Texas are saddled with.
I’m not anti-child support. I’m anti-child support that is put in place to grow revenue for the AG’s office. In our divorce, had things followed our “cooperative divorce” plan, we were going to split everything. Most importantly, we were going to remain 50/50 parents, and share the custody and the kids’ time.
But, my then-wife knew, from her conversations with a divorce attorney, that she could have the “divorce package.” In the state of Texas, in 2010, she was going to get her way, regardless of any agreements she made with me. If it wasn’t in writing, it wasn’t admissible in court. I was fkd. I was given the non-custodial package. No rights except the right to sue your co-parent. No flexibility in payments or schedules.
And when things would go hard between us she loved saying, “Let’s just go back to the decree.”
Taking Everyone Into Consideration
In divorce, please take everyone into consideration. I know my ex-wife was thinking 90% about herself and what she wanted, and 10% about her kids. She was thinking 0% about me or my health and survival. Maybe she was already pissed by The Off Parent and my rantings. Maybe she just wanted what was best for her. Maybe she was telling herself SHE was the emotional heart of the family. Her stoic heart was happy with her choice. The kids got their mother. Dad could fend for himself.
But that was not the compassionate or mindful choice. The kids need BOTH parents equally. (Go see the science if you don’t believe me.) And my ex-wife’s decision to go back on our cooperative agreement was only about her and her time with the kids. I’m sure, she’d like us to believe she was acting “in the best interest of the children,” but that would be a lie.
I was the get up/get dressed/get fed/get to school dad. I was the playful parent. I was the parent that expressed love frequently and joyfully. She was almost the opposite. She was a good mom if a good mom is more like an executive assistant. She was the law. She was the enforcer. She was the buzzkill even when she didn’t need to be. It must’ve been how she was raised. Her dad was 110% stoic, and her mom, well, we’ll leave her out of this completely. (Privacy first on that one.)
Do What You Need to Do
To survive divorce it’s important to get YOUR priorities straight. It took me several years of writing The Off Parent before I came upon the idea of doing a purely positive one. And that’s when things really started opening up for me, both mentally, spiritually, and in my writing. My ex-wife suffered and complained about my writing again, even after I asked her to provide examples of my negative writing on The Whole Parent. She simply did not like being identified as being such a mean person. And I’m certain one of the advantages of getting remarried would be to assume a new name. She could forever escape the threat of exposure.
So I get why my ex-wife didn’t want me to write about the divorce. She didn’t want me to tell any of the batshit crazy stories. She didn’t want to own her side of the breakdown. And she, most importantly, didn’t want to own the ultimate betrayal of changing our agreement and going for the full-custody, full-schedule, full-child support route.
What I needed to do was survive. I needed to process the events and pain that were taking place in my life as I recovered from the near-total loss of my fatherhood roles and responsibilities. And she got another husband who would put his mark the nurture vs. nature part of my kids growing up. Great. Too bad he was so much like her. Too bad for our kids that they’ve BOTH weaponized their approach to not co-parenting, ever.
Too bad dads are often given a big loss in divorce. It should not start that way. I’m working with several organizations that are committed to balancing the family courts in Texas and the rest of the country. Dads are just as important as moms, no matter who tells you differently. And, if you want to write about it, write it out.
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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*image: reading to my kids before the divorce, hop on pop
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I am a relationship coach and a dating coach. I coach women in small groups as well as individual 1 x 1 zoom calls. If you have questions about life coaching I am happy to talk to you. Please schedule a phone call HERE.
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More from The Whole Parent:
- When Things Go Right, I Mean Really Right: Dating a Single Dad
- What if the Love Is Bigger Than Your Pain? Healing w/in a Big Love
- This Feels Like Letting Go: A Moody February with Storms and Sunshine
- That Long-Term Relationship You Are Seeking… It’s With Yourself
- Giving Up the Ghost of Your Love
- Time, The Currency of Modern Relationships: Either You Have It To Give
Here are my books on Amazon:
- Single Dad Seeks: Dating Again After Divorce: Advice and Strategies on Learning How to be Loved Again
- Fall of the House of Dad: My journey through divorce, from loss to joy, again and again
- A Good Dad’s Guide to Divorce: One father’s quest to stay connected with his children
- The Sex Index: Getting Our Love Languages Right in the Bedroom
- Here Comes the Darkness: Surviving and Thriving After a Mental Illness Diagnosis
- The Third Glass: When Drinking Becomes an Issue
- The Storm Before the Divorce: When One Parent Wants Out, That’s the End
Now Available from Amazon