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Loss, Sadness, and Indifference: Struggles of a Single Dad

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My kids and their mom are on a summer vacation.

My kids are away on a beach vacation with their mom. They forgot to mention they were going out of town. My daughter took two friends. My son, who leaves for college in a few weeks took his girlfriend. And how happy they must be at the beach. I have been trying to make a beach vacation happen myself, but it’s harder to coordinate with your teens when they don’t live with you.

As I thought about them having a great time at the beach together, I also thought about how little I know about them these days. For the last two years, my ex-wife has gotten 100% of them. They decided it would be easier to stay at mom’s house, rather than switching every weekend. They are teenagers, they can make these kinds of decisions. But the loss is not trivial. My ex-wife sees my kids every morning and every evening. It’s as if she WON the divorce. I get to see my kids on the occasion they accept my offer for lunch, a movie, or to buy them something. It’s not a fair balance, but we’re way beyond fair when it comes to divorce in Texas.

In my state, as in many states, the assumption is the “kids should be with the mother and dad should earn more money to provide for his kids and ex-wife and then anything left over for himself and his new solo life.” I got my kids 30% of the time after the divorce. And when my ex-wife got a new boyfriend, I even gave up my occasional 5th weekend so they could sync custody schedules with his ex-wife and kid. What a nice guy I am, giving up my time so my ex-wife can be happy.

I’m a bit bitter at this moment. I’m sorry. I am also sad. I don’t know my son’s girlfriend at all. They have been together for six months and I’ve met her twice. Meanwhile, my ex-wife sees her and them 3 – 4 times a week. And again, my ex still gets to see our kids every single night, before they go to bed, and every morning when they wake up. My ex-wife sort of did win the divorce, didn’t she? She got the house that my pre-marriage money had paid the down payment, she got the kids 70% of the time, and she got me to pay the mortgage so she and the kids could live in the lifestyle they had come to expect.

What About Dads in Divorce?

On my side of the equation, I was asked to leave the house and find shelter elsewhere. I struggled to find a new job that could pay for both my $1,500 per month child support payment and $300 – $600 a month for healthcare, depending on where I was working at the time. I was needing over $2k per month before I could rent an apartment or buy food. And somehow, it was my wife who was angry when I announced I was going to be late on one month of the child support.

This was about two years in, my job had lost a major client and my salary was going to be reduced until a new client was landed. At this time I had managed to put a down payment on a meager two-bedroom house out in the sticks, where my kids shared a room. (They were 7 and 9 at the time.) I told my ex-wife about the interruption of my income and asked that she have patience with me while I tried to replace the income while waiting for my job to be able to pay me my full salary again.

She did not have patience. In an email that I still have, she said, “I’m sorry about the timing, but this is about the kids.” She filed our decree with the Attorney General’s office and asked them to enforce my child support payments. And from that moment on, in year-two of my divorce, the state of Texas saw me as a deadbeat dad and reported me as such to the credit bureaus. Of course, my negotiations with Wells Fargo to refinance my mortgage was killed by her actions. And SHE KNEW this was going to be the result of her actions. SHE KNEW she would be taking my kid’s house (when they were with me) out from under them. And she filed anyway with some pretense about it being “about the kids.”

For 7 years so far, my ex-wife has kept the AG’s office on my ass. And from time to time, whenever I am out of work for more than 30-days, I am sent nastygrams from the state calling me a deadbeat dad.

Should moms get 70% of their kids’ future?

What About the Moms in Divorce?

In my opinion, my ex-wife is a deadbeat mom. She’s gotten all of her (the kids’) money. And yet, she still keeps the AG’s office on my ass. In the past, when I’ve asked her to reconsider keeping the AG up my ass, she’s said, “What’s in it for me?” She is thinking only of herself. She has the kids 100% of the time. She has been paid 100% of the child support money. She’s still living in the house I afforded us when we were married. She’s even remarried.

It’s a bit hard for me not to see her summer vacation with our kids as something my $910 monthly payment gave her. But of course, that money is for my kids. Yes, I get it. I can take a higher perspective, the money is for the kids.

Yes, but the AG’s office is for the ex-wife. Hitting me with a deadbeat dad status is her way of hurting me. And 9-years later, she still thinks it is “in the best interest of the kids” to keep the AG’s policing agency on top of me.

Her actions with the AG have made things difficult for me, that’s obvious. And her actions with the AG’s office continue, in my mind, every single day when she wakes up and doesn’t call off the state’s dogs. But she doesn’t think of me. She never has. And I suppose, with the 70/30 split that is so common, she didn’t really have to think about what my kids would lose when she caused me to lose my house. She didn’t really think about what my kids would lose by not having as much time with me as they had with her.

She didn’t really think about me or the kids when she met with a divorce attorney to get “her options.”

My kids are less optimistic and positive than they might have been had they had 50% of the time with me. And my kids have lived under the influence of someone who still harbors unhealthy rage at me for some reason. Somehow, I’m still the root of her unhappiness. She shows this contempt in her refusal to co-parent with me. And I imagine that her rage has infected my kids, to some extent, and the way they view the world.

She got what she wanted. And now, she has it all. And she’s still unhappy.

Perhaps It’s Not All About Me

And there’s the rub. My kids are doing okay. My son is alienating himself from me, but it’s his own doing. I’d love to have time with him and his girlfriend. I’d love to have some heart to heart conversations before he leaves for college. But he only accepts 1-out-of-5 offers for lunch. And he bails on half of those, even after he accepts. My son doesn’t want anything from me, at the moment. And because of the way the divorce went down, and he has been living in close proximity to the anger of my ex-wife, I’m guessing there’s some unresolved anger in him as well. He’s detaching from me. That’s fine. And in a few weeks, he finally detaches from my ex-wife too. She will have to finally deal with missing her son. The empty nest is coming for her too. Dads are often forced to deal with the empty next 70% of the time. That’s 7-days-out-of-10 dads are alone, without their kids.

Dads should get 50/50 shared parenting in the state of Texas. Dads should get 50/50 shared parenting as national law. But it’s not a very current political topic. In my work going forward, I am doing all I can to support dads and their struggles to be better parents, even when they are dealing with a vindictive and deadbeat mom.

I Believe In 50/50 Shared Custody

If you have current science that shows moms are more important to their children please share it with me in the comments. If you believe the kids should be with the moms more than the dads, tell me about it. Yes, I know, everyone’s situation is different. But in my case, as a devoted dad, as an involved and committed dad, I was handed over to the sharks, just because my ex-wife was still angry with me. Divorce starts as a war in Texas unless the dads agree to the 70/30 split and the non-custodial parent role. It is bullshit, and I’m working to change it.


I’m happy. I am not bitter as I finish this, though you may beg to differ after my tone of voice got a little hot. I believe I am living my best life. I am sad about missing out on 70% and now 99% of my kids’ lives. But… I do believe they will come around. And I believe the truth will come out. And I believe the work I do in the future can help thousands of dads get the balance they deserve. And more importantly, the balance their kids deserve.

Your kids deserve BOTH parents equally. If we have to start divorce negotiations, let’s at least start on a level playing field and negotiate from there. In my case, I was a loser the minute my then-wife consulted with a divorce attorney and saw the glorious Divorce Brochure and all the great things she was going to get. She got them all, that’s for sure. But in the process, she wounded her kids and me. We will all heal. We will get stronger as time goes on. And my kids will come to know the truth about the divorce and about their mom’s actions against me. In time, when they ask.

Until then, I’m committed to loving them both, even when I can’t get a text back from them in 48 hours. I’m committed to reaching out to them several times a week, even if I’m rejected 95% of the time. I’m committed, as I was when they were born, to supporting them unconditionally with every fiber of my being. I still support them with the same enthusiasm. And I can see their beach vacation as a victory for them, regardless of their mom’s participation.

Love your kids with everything you’ve got. Let go of your ex, as best you can, and focus on the impact your love is having on your kids. Stay true to that value and you will always choose the high road.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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