the other dad, by john oakley mcelhenney

The Other Dad

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I’m the other dad. Sure, they are my biological kids, but at 7 (daughter) and 9 (son), they were unceremoniously separated from me for 70% of the rest of their developmental lives. And, several years into the process, my ex-wife remarried. Yay.

He’s Had More Time With *My* Kids

So, this new dad is a bit atypical. The kids love to tell tales of his OCD freakouts. But, underneath, I know they are not laughing. Again, I don’t have any say about this. I keep my mouth shut. I laugh with them. I do my best not to slander him or my ex-wife.

Now that my kids are both in college and out from under the direct influence of us parents, things are beginning to change. As they see these two people, their mom and their *step* dad interacting in bizaar and unhealthy ways, it might be dawning on them that the lies they’ve been fed, about the divorce, about child support, about everything, may be suspect.

The rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.

In this story, I am the OTHER dad. This man has been their male leader for most of their impressionable lives. And with the vindictive mom added in, I’m confident I was not painted positively. It’s been ridiculous. As the stories come out, I am part horrified and part vindicated.

I want to shout, “See, I’m not a bad parent. I never was.” I don’t, but I want to.

When Co-Parenting Is Refused

I’ve made it clear that I did not want the divorce. I’ve also documented my own efforts to co-parent and stay involved in my kids’ lives. Once they could both drive, the switching houses every other weekend stopped. I accepted my own empty nest experience to be at 100% rather than just 70%.

How did this man, enter the picture and give me the “other dad” role? I guess it was a collaborative effort between my angry ex-wife and him. Now, he’s the person my son goes to for advice. I’m left in the dark. He’s the one my son thinks of to help with a speculative business plan. “He’s started a lot of really successful businesses,” my son says. Yes, that’s true. I think I have as well, but that’s not part of the thinking.

When a father is shut out of his kids life for 70% of the time it’s hard. That’s called divorce and the unbalanced Standard Possession Order, which is favored in so many states. When an ex-wife refuses to co-parent there is little a father can do. The law is structured to support the custodial parent (85% of the time, the mom). The non-custodial parent is treated like a second-class participant. When you call the AG’s office (Oh, right my ex-wife threw our decree at the AG’s office to hurt me.) the first question on the voicetree is “If you are the custodial parent, press 1. If you are the non-custodial parent, press 2.”

I’ve been on hold on the non-custodial side for more than an hour. I’m guessing since the custodial parent is really their client, that those calls are answered more quickly and with a more friendly demeanor.

Here’s the thing about the Attorney General’s Office: they make 60% of their budget from “child support enforcement.” So the non-custodial parent, calling the AG’s office, is already a deadbeat dad, and he’s calling because there’s a problem. The problem is always with the non-custodial parent. Right?

As the Other Dad

I lost all of my rights to see my kids and was forced to sign a decree giving my ex-wife all of the authority. She gets 70% of the time with the kids. She keeps the marital home. She gets a hefty child support payment. And the AG’s office is there as her collections arm should a dad turn into a deadbeat.

I was never a deadbeat dad. I wasn’t ever at risk of bolting on my responsibilities financially, or most importantly, emotionally. I have stayed a connected father. It has been hard. I have been treated poorly by both my ex-wife, the AG’s office, and the new dad. We are not fans of each other. My son’s summer crisis is due to the parenting that happened when my access and influence were being restricted and countermanded by the *parents* they lived with.

But what if both of those parents suck? Does a non-custodial parent have any right to make rules and discipline the kids? Not really. As they get into middle school the present parent has the authority. My kids were with me 7 – 8 days a month, depending on the schedule. They were rarely with me. They were guided, influenced, and disciplined by my ex-wife and the other dad.

Things have been difficult. Talking to either of the *parents* is contraindicated in almost every circumstance. There’s nothing there for me but fire and complaints. She’s still angry about the divorce? Um, really? Or, more likely, she’s unhappy with how things turned out.

One big advantage I have now, is as my kids are out of their house, and a bit more accessible I have more available energy for their *bs.* Yes, the *bs* continues after college. I guess not having to deal with the other parents at all is a blessing. It’s also a big miss for both of my kids. If we could/would cooperate we could support them so much better. As things exist, I’m more of an influencer on my kids. I don’t have authority. What I do have is




joy at being with them.

My daughter and I exchange a phrase when talking about doing things together. “Time with you is priceless.” She’s often asking for money or some support. But there is no price on being a good father. She sometimes says the phrase back to me. We are happy. We are conscious we are making up for the lost years of time.


John McElhenney – life coach austin texas
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