single dad seeks - john oakley mcelhenney

I’m Still the Little Kid Who Wants to be Loved

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I wrote down a list of my “drivers” in life.

  1. I want to be loved by everyone.
  2. I want to be seen by the world.
  3. I want the love of a single woman for life.
  4. I want the time and permission to pursue creative impulses.

I know I left off God, country, and family. Hmm. Of course, I want my kids to thrive. And my country, well, I believe in government for the greater good, not self-enrichment. I can only control my own actions in relation to my list as well as my county’s current crisis. I can hold my boundary. I can be kind in every situation. Even with a co-worker who is actively clipping my wings. I hope they find happiness in their lives so they can pay more attention to their hurtful and selfish actions. Again, I can only control things within my hula hoop.

I can train my mind and learn to be non-reactive to negative actions from the people around me. I turn my own focus inward to first, understand what’s upsetting me, and second to label it (anger at Texas for corruption of our congress). I’m mad. Then, PIVOT from FEELING into NEXT RIGHT ACTION. What is the next “right” thing I can do?

Knowing Your Place and Having a Plan

In life, having your plan is the thing. When I was struggling six years ago, I could not imagine my plan. I had no plan. I asked my therapist for a plan. No plan. I asked my business mentor for a plan. No plan. Turns out, the plan I needed had to come from me. My self-worth had to be validated: to me. There might have been a tad of depression in there as well. Whatever was going on in my life (career, relationship, depression) I was unable to formulate a plan. My plans looked like: 1. gratitude list; 2. al-anon meeting; 3. job hunting; 4. walk around the lake; 5. nap; 6. go to therapy.

When I’m in one of my dark places I usually lose the energy or motivation to write. But, I know, writing is one of my weapons against depression and loss of energy. I have learned to manage several of the heavy elements in my life.

  1. alcohol – less than zero
  2. exercise with cardio lift – daily
  3. community – therapist, al-anon meetings, friends
  4. drugs – none (or only prescribed)
  5. food – higher quality, less quantity
  6. work – if employed focus on satisfactory performance
  7. work – if unemployed maintain aspirational goals, take the available job
  8. relationships – reset priorities and boundaries with any new relationship
  9. prayer/gratitude/hope – daily prayer and affirmations can rebuild hope
  10. god – just talk to him

And I have been building a new plan as well.

  1. Craft my writing around new topics, new genres, new formats, new publications
  2. Activate my dad-for-dads plan with local and national Father’s Rights lobby groups.
  3. Work as needed to pass the requirements, take nothing personally
  4. Write my heart out
  5. Intentionally choose the focus of my creative energy (music, poetry, sci-fi book, great american novel, short stories)
  6. Keep moving my chess pieces forward on the board toward the BIG GOAL

It was my lack of that overarching BIG GOAL that was missing in my life.

Reigniting Your Fire

When I get out of balance in life, I usually struggle with one of these EPIC issues:

  • money

  • kids

  • love

These three areas are pressure points when things get stressful. If you’re going to break it will most likely be in one of the above categories. The first post-divorce girlfriend I had would ask me at the beginning of one of my random *reconnect* phone calls, “Is it kids, money, or love?” She was right. It was always one of the big three. I would reach out to say “hello” but I wanted some connection on the universal struggle we all face. We want to have a community. A friend who understands. A minister who goes beyond church. A god who reaches out through people and good acts.

I have suffered through a lot of drama and depression. When I’m in the depression, writing like this would not be possible. I can’t get out of my catastrophic thinking. The good news is, I am writing this today because I survived all those previous times. Perseverance!

Money & Kids

When my first girlfriend and I broke up she became a confidant. I could call her up and ask her about anything. She was funny, super friendly, and often wielding witty advice and ideas about parenting, dating, and what’s next. She would ask, “So, it is job, kids, or love?” She was usually spot on. We want to talk to someone when things are going poorly. In my lonely periods, I could find an Al-Anon meeting at morning, noon, and night in this city. A warm gathering of people working on bettering themselves and letting go of the people we think are “our problem.”

We are our only problem.

Well, that’s not completely true. What I mean is this: I can *only* be responsible for my actions and my words. I cannot fix an0ther person’s sadness, I can’t make someone pull out of a toxic slide into addiction. I can only work on myself, and my response to the choices that others are making. In terms of our children, we take a small piece of the responsibility for how they turned out. But, I can tell you, it’s not how you think they’re going to turn out. My genius son is the one struggling to finish college. My good girl, younger, daughter, is beginning her two-year journey to become a highly-employable Registered Nurse.

While they came out only two years apart, the world was vastly different when 9-11 happened in between our two children. The world my daughter was born into was uncertain. Our marriage was starting to show signs of stress and isolation. My wife’s restrictions on our lifestyle, our fun, our “responsibility” became overwhelming. She had turned into an OCD control freak. Perhaps the failure of all we knew (freedom, money, job, and future opportunities) had caused a snap of some sort inside her. Triggered by her stoic dad and bat-shit-crazy mom. Whatever it was, after 9-11 when our daughter was born under much medical duress, the happy mom was not going to return. Of course, I didn’t know this. And the kids had no idea of the “happy mom” we lost.

Once we were divorced things began to become much clearer for me. I was fighting to stay in the marriage, not because I was in love or even hopeful about who my wife had become, I was fighting to stay married so I would not lose MOST OF THE TIME with my kids. I knew the family law system was unfair. I knew I would not have a chance once she decided she wanted the divorce package: child support, 70% of the kids’ time, the house, and whatever else I couldn’t remember to ask for in the divorce decree. She got THE DEAL. It might have sucked for me and my kids. I believe even more strongly that kids need both parents.

Love Is Home

But, it was usually not money or the kids. It was usually “my heart.” And she was a great optimist. She was hitting hard, and said she could book 6 – 7 dates a week. She was kissing a lot of frogs, she said. “But not the ones I don’t fancy!”

I bumped into a loving and warm partner right out of the gate. I was lucky. My first girlfriend is still a friend. Sure, she’s been engaged for 6 years now. “We don’t want to fk it up,” she said, a few weeks ago.

I understand.

How do we keep love alive? After the kids are out of the house. What will be our purpose? If it’s not money, kids, or love? What in the world are we going to make our lives about?

Today, I’m happy in my own skin. I am happy with my two kids and their adventures in college and becoming their future selves. I WISH I had gotten more time with them. Always. I don’t think I would’ve won 50/50 shared parenting in 2010 unless my then-wife agreed to it. At first she did. We started down a *collaborative* divorce. But, I learned pretty quickly, it was NOT going to be cooperative. She wanted HER RIGHT. She wanted the package. Or course, a mom should get her kids 70% of the time. I mean, she’s *the mom.*

The positive energy and optimism I bring into their lives, I only wish I had been able to be more influential. The bitter ex-wife has not made good choices. She’s more angry than ever. And, even remarried, she’s taking her frustration about her life out on our kids. “WHY?”

Heal Thyself

I am staying in my own hula hoop these days. Sure, I write about the “issues” here, but my ex and my kids do not read, nor care to read my opinions. Some might say, I’m a little obsessed with my divorce. That’s not the right focus.

I am obsessed with my kids. My ex and her challenging husband can anesthetize themselves each night with the substance of their choice. At least one of my kids escaped without a serious addiction. I’m working on the other one. It’s all a matter of support, communication, and honest affection. I’m afraid their mom and her husband don’t measure affection by kind words and kids acts. The balance sheet of their support fits more cleanly in an Excel spreadsheet. It’s easier to micro-manage both kids’ bank accounts and spending habits. They are 21 and 23. I think she should back the fk out of their bank accounts and allow them to grow up.

It’s a process. I can’t expect my ex-wife to turn nice anytime soon. Or anytime at all.

That’s a bit of a bummer. Any ideas of My Big Fat Greek Wedding scenes will remain fantasies. And it’s okay. I don’t really like her much. And her husband, who’s made a sport out of shunning me, is to be ignored with calculated indifference.

I won’t get over my divorce until I get over the loss of my kids. The loss of my hopeful children. They could’ve used a bit more of my attitude and care over the course of the last 13 years. But, we are where we are. Let’s make the most of the rest of our lives together. And let the love start with me. No, I won’t let go of my frustration, but I will continue all attempts to transform a bad divorce and a terrible co-parenting experience into something more optimistic and based on emotional connections.

Just like I learned in the divorce, It’s not about the money. Time is the essence of our relationships. I want more time. I want to make up for the lost time. My ex and her husband, are ready for the kids to be “launched” and out of the house. They don’t even edit their bitterness. “How soon can you move back to school?” asked the idiot savant, when my son was struggling to find housing for his final year at college.

That’s how I feel about things. Dads and Moms are equally important to their children’s lives. I wish my ex-wife could’ve recognized the value of “Dad” beyond her own shallow understanding of her father. If you never had a healthy emotional relationship in your family of origin, how are you supposed to figure it out on your own? I was lucky. I learned about my dad’s drinking and Al-Anon in my late teens. I learned that good people do bad things and make bad choices. Often, my father would take adverse actions that would come back and harm him. He never got the message. He was too busy dying of cancer and being angry with God.

I saw the sadness and fear in my dying father’s eyes. He was 55 years old. Five years younger than I am now. And his entire life had collapsed before him. In his final months, I spent as much time as I could with him. It was not easy.  But we always hugged a lot and expressed our longing for “more time together.”

I don’t want to have the same regret with my kids. I’m not responsible for whatever their mom and her husband have in mind. That’s outside of my influence. I will focus on myself. I will heal my own anger and regret. And I will take action to support my kids at every opportunity. They will often refuse my offers. My job, as Dad, is to keep asking. And then, to not get upset when the answer is no. I just move right along and think up another opportunity.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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