I was an awesome dad. I gave 110% all the time. Yes, I like to take naps, but that was only because I was working a 60-hour a week job and trying to maintain a creative process (writing and playing music) AND still being an uber-dad. I’m not sure how those naps turned into conflicts (SEE Naps Post) but it was more about her and her unhappiness. And I didn’t understand just how innately happy and awesome I was until the divorce.
When You Lose Everything, You Learn What’s Important
I look back often at the moment I walked out of my house for the last time. The end of my relationship with their mom was marked by that powerful exit. Yes, I was asked to leave. Yes, I was asked to agree to a collaborative divorce. Yes, I was devastated by the request. And Yes, I still leaned into the process and gave my still-wife everything she asked for. She got it all. I got nothing. But, somehow, I got my happiness back.
As I was departing the family system, I was aware that only I could bring back the hope and happiness that I knew was still inside me. I knew, even as I was losing the majority of the time with my kids, that I would rebound a happy man, a happy dad, and eventually, a happy single dad. But something deeper was propelling me. It was no longer about ME. My joy and positive momentum were 100% up to me, but my kids were the beneficiaries of that happiness. I was going to show them resilience. I was going to give them a living example of how to suffer a crushing blow (we all suffered a crushing blow) and remain positive and hopeful.
Your Kids Are Watching How You Respond to Adversity
Brené Browned echoed my sentiment in her book, Daring Greatly, when she talked about parenting by example. Your kids don’t always listen to what you say about how to behave of what’s important in life. But the do WATCH HOW YOU BEHAVE. Your kids are learning their lifeskills from observing you. Are you living your authentic life? Are you showing them how to remain hopeful in the face of setbacks? As I was divorcing, I began to rebuild myself, stronger, happier, and healthier. I did not ask for the divorce. I fought against the divorce. But in the end, the divorce made me a better parent.
My kids are more important to me than my own success. My happiness, however, I learned could no be dependant on them or their happiness. I was going to have to generate my own inner happiness, even in divorce, and share that happiness through my positive interactions with them and their mom, even as I felt like my life was destroyed. My life was not destroyed. My life was beginning again. I cracked open a new level of inner strength and hope as I reconstructed my life from the wreckage a loss.
I Am Here to Heal
All of us have happiness inside. As we go through life our happy selves can get beaten down. Our bright spirits can suffer from depression as our ambitious roadmaps are set aside so we can get by. As parents, we learn to put our kids’ lives and requirements ahead of our own. In divorce, we’re released from that agreement during the time we are the “off” parent. It was in the alone times that I learned my happiness was still shining deep inside me.
I am here to heal from my trauma, rebuild my fully-empowered authentic self, and show my kids how to generate their own hope and happiness, even when things don’t turn out the way we want them to. No one wanted the marriage to fail. My wife did her best until she became overwhelmed by her own struggles with inner happiness. It was not about me. It was not about the kids. It was not about the stress of life.
Happiness is an inside job. And when my then-wife lost her way, she imagined that I was the problem and that she would be happier if I was not around. And, as a healthy marriage requires both partners to be fully committed, I eventually got with the “divorce” program and agreed to all of her terms and conditions. I asked her at one point before I had left the home, “Do you think I’m going to walk out this door and you are suddenly going to be a happy person?”
I don’t believe my ex-wife’s unhappiness was my fault. And I don’t believe her anger, even as it smolders nine years later, is my fault either. My ex-wife’s joy, happiness, depression, or anger are all about her. As adults, we determine our approach to life and life’s adversities. I still have resentments, but I’m not mad at her for asking for the divorce. I work on my own daily affirmations and gratitude lists. And in there, on my list, is the divorce. I am grateful that I was released back into the wild, back into aloneness, back into being a single dad. It was as a single dad that I rediscovered my higher purpose and recaptured my abundant joy.
I Can’t Make You Happy
It’s frustrating when we learn that we cannot make another person happy. We can do things that are pleasing to others. As we can do things that make other people angry as well. But in the end, our happiness is our individual responsibility. In one of my post-divorce relationships, I was with someone who could not reconcile that absolute fact. As I went through a difficult period in my life, she kept saying, “How can you be unhappy. You’ve got me.” What she didn’t understand, perhaps about her own happiness is that my HIGHS and LOWS were not directly related to her. She could do things to try and make me happy (travel, mutual exercise, cuddling), but she could not directly break me out of my own inner consternation.
In the end, I could not make my wife happy. And also, as much as I’d like to try, I cannot make my kids happy either. The only thing I can do, as a parent and a lover, is to be the happiest and most positive person I can be. And here’s the key: I have to do the things that make ME happy and to remain accountable to ME for my happiness. The minute I think someone or something outside of myself (relationship, job, money) is responsible for my happiness, I’m lost.
I am either happy or I am not happy. And there’s a third, middle ground, I can just be content. While I prefer happy, I am also learning to embrace contentment as well. I have high ambitions. I have high expectations about my relationships. I have aspirations about where I am going with the Whole Parent platform and my coaching. AND… I have to learn to be happy or content right now. Even before I have all the right things in place, I have to be HAPPY in the HERE and NOW.
Happy With Things Just As They Are
I learned to be happy in spite of the divorce. I found a way to embrace myself and my joy within the darkness and aloneness that tried to overwhelm me after the divorce. I lost my kids and I knew I’d have to reemerge as a happy and healthy dad, so they could learn from my example. I am showing my kids how to live. I am giving them examples, even now, nine years after the divorce, of how to form healthy relationships. And I am attempting to keep sharing my happiness and hopefulness with them.
I wish I could’ve had more time with my kids. I wish my then-wife had agreed to 50/50 shared parenting. I wish my ex-wife would be a more collaborative parent. But even as I wish about these things, even as I can feel regret about the lost time, I am HAPPIER NOW THAN I HAVE EVER BEEN IN MY LIFE.
That’s the message I want to keep refinding within myself. Even as I pass through trials and tribulations. Even as I go through hardships and sadness in the future, I can find my own inner joy, inner strength, inner peace. I am giving them the best dad I can be, 100% of the time. Just as I did in the marriage, just as I did in the divorce, I am actively participating in their lives as a cheerleader, confidant, and ambitious father. They know I love them. And I continue to show them how they are still a priority in my life, every day.
My kids deserve to see me happy. I am showing them what authentic happiness looks like. That’s next-level parenting, before, during, and after the marriage.
John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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As a certified life coach, I’ve been helping men and women navigate life after divorce for several years. If you’d like to chat for 30-minutes about your dating/relationship challenges, I always give the first 30-session away for free. LEARN ABOUT COACHING WITH JOHN. There are no obligations to continue. But I get excited every time I talk to someone new. I can offer new perspectives and experiences from my post-divorce dating journey. Most of all, I can offer hope.
More articles from The Whole Parent:
- The Four Simple Rules for Dads Getting Divorced
- Men and Divorce with Children: My 9-year Retrospective
- Dad’s Divorce Journey: 9-years Later I Still Feel the Loss of Kid-time
- Letting Go of Dreams Update – Celebrating The Whole Parent Year Six
- Taking the Long Way Home: My Divorce Journey Back to Joy
- Asking for Support is Hard for Most of Us, Especially Men
- Daring Greatly – Brené Brown
- Here to Heal – Rashad Field
- 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 Third Glass: When Drinking Becomes an Issue