embracing my apartment life

Nine Years Into My Divorce: Finding My Single Parenting Superpower

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It has not been an easy divorce for me.

In August of this year, my divorce will have been final for nine years. Nine amazing years. Painful. Beautiful. Loving. Depressed. Soaring. Raging. Falling down. Getting back up again. Always hopeful, always trying my best, always giving my kids and my ex-wife the benefit of the doubt.

As a father, my starring role began with the emergence of my son over 18 years ago. His mother and I planned a long and loving journey ahead as a successful upper-middle-class family. And in the 18 years that have ensued, we’ve taken a lot of unplanned detours. We lost the magic somewhere along the way. My ex-wife was strong enough, mad enough, sad enough, and unhappy enough to call it quits. I might have hung in there until we were both fat and depressed.

When I Walked Out of the House for the Last Time

What I walked away from, as I left our family home, eight-plus years go, was 70% of my time with my growing children. (Then 6 and 8 years old.) I had no idea the heartache this loss was going to cause me. I had no idea how far down I could go while still remaining fiercely connected and supportive to their mom and their young lives. I had no idea the wheels would come off almost immediately and I would struggle for the next eight years to reestablish my identity as a single dad, as a dad, and as a successful man.

I’ve lamented the divorce brochure a lot in the last six months, so there’s no need to rehash it here, but the reality is this: because of the financial deal I agreed to (as a way to support my departing wife and my two children) I have struggled to maintain living quarters of my own. Not counting my ex-wife’s dickish move of filing against me with the AG’s office, the $1,500+ per month after taxes, AND child support for both kids was a huge monthly payment that was foisted on me in the name of “doing what’s best for the kids.”

Doing What’s Best for Everyone, Not Just the Mothers and Children

Dads are part of the family too. Dads provide more than just financial support and strong discipline. But the family law in my state, Texas, believes the mom is more important to the children, and that dads should pay for the majority of the bills associated with having children. Yes, I’ve heard the women rage at me and my complaints about “child support.” But here’s the real truth: we should’ve BOTH been financially responsible for the care and feeding of our children. When the burden is placed squarely on the father’s back the mom might begin to feel emboldened, and even entitled to the money.

In my ex-wife’s case, she was clear in her non-negotiations for the divorce that she was getting the monthly child support. And most actions she has taken since we signed the papers were motivated by the money she was entitled to. Yes, I agreed to the divorce after fighting her about it for two months. And, yes, I was making great money when she began her divorce planning and strategy. The sad truth is, I have never made as much money as we based our divorce on. It was not for lack of trying. I would LOVE to make a ton of money and pay my ex-wife triple what I agreed to pay her in the divorce. BUT, if I’m not able to put a roof over my head and she’s complaining about having to dip into her retirement savings (savings that I funded while she was a stay-at-home-mom) then we’ve got a problem of perspective and respect.

I don’t think my ex-wife has ever thanked me for providing the house (we paid the down payment from my pre-marriage funds) or the child support. Of course, she didn’t, why should she. The money was “for the kids.” It wasn’t about her and me. It wasn’t personal, it was just business. Except she made it personal. All the time, she made it personal. And in her fantastic coup de grace she unleashed the AG’s office as the enforcer of the decree, in order to punish and harm me. She was not at risk of losing the money. I was not planning to flee or hiding money outside of her view. She filed with the AG’s office just as I was trying to refinance my first post-divorce house. She knew it would kill my opportunities for keeping the house. And it did. I had to sell my house 3 months later.

It Might Be About the Money

So, she met with an attorney and got the plan. She filed and received the “deal” she knew she would get. Then rather than be collaborative and cooperative, she turned against me at almost every step of the journey. And for all this, she’s maintained the same anger at me she had for the last year of our marriage. She’s still mad at me. What?

We’ve been divorced nearly nine years and my ex-wife is still a complete and utter ass to me. She has a new husband and new money and somehow this has failed to make her happy. She got all that she wanted in the divorce, and she’s still getting the money “for the kids.” And she’s still not happy. Maybe her happiness has nothing to do with me.

Happiness Right Where I Am, As a Divorced Single Father

I always imagined, as an adult, that I would be a homeowner. I bought my first property while I was still in college. Yesterday, at 56, I moved into my first apartment since college. I finally succumbed to the apartment life that is so common for 90% of fathers who are handed a hefty child support payment after divorce. And my ex-wife has done things to harm me, repeatedly, before and after filing with the AG’s office.

So where is my part in all this?

My part is choosing how I want to respond to my circumstances. How do I want to view this new leg of my journey as a single dad? I can thrash and feel sorry for myself. I can piss and moan about how she did me wrong. OR…

I can embrace this new freedom from debt and the coming financial emancipation I will experience in 1.5 years when my daughter turns 18. I can enjoy my first adult apartment as a rite of passage. Sure, I got a divorce. Sure, the ex-wife got the house, the car, the money, and the kids. Sure, I could choose to be bitter or I could choose to write about it and help future divorcing dads the wisdom of my experience.

What Am I Doing Here?

I have struggled since my divorce. I have survived and worked through major depression major financial setbacks. And I have come to this moment in my life, today, where I can embrace the divorced dad experience fully. This is an apartment. This also feels a lot like a mid-tier hotel. I’ve got two nice pools. I’ve got a tennis court. I’m 5 minutes from work. I am on my own.

I am also here to help you if you are struggling with your divorce, your co-parenting relationship, or your parenting skills. You can do this! I can help you navigate the difficult waters of divorce. I work with men and women to strategize and work through a healthier divorce and a healthier co-parenting plan. While my co-parenting efforts have been shunned by my ex-wife, I have never failed to ask to be included in all parenting decisions. It’s in our parenting plan, the one we both signed when we agreed to our divorce documents. Even when my co-parent refuses to co-parent, I can be a great co-parent. My kids deserve it. My ex is frustrated by it. And I am at peace with it. Let’s talk about how I can help you make a more successful journey into your single parenting superpower.

Always Love,

John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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a good dad's guide to divorce

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