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What Makes a Great Dad? 5 Things I Learned From My Divorce

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I was the happiest and proudest dad I knew. My friends and family watched my total transformation into an uber-dad. From the moment my son was born, in 2000, I never left his side in the hospital for the first 24 hours. Mom had to stay in the room, but I was able to travel with my son to his heel prick appointment, to the warming room, and back to his mom’s breast. My hand rested on his tiny back the entire time.

As I assisted the doctor in delivering my son, as the catcher of his crimson and pink body, my purpose in life was redefined. (I know this sounds hokey, or woo-woo, perhaps to those without children, but my life from that moment forward was forever changed. My connection with God or my higher power became tangible and warm with the coming of my first child.

What changes took place when I became a dad?

  • I lost most of my interest in becoming a workaholic
  • I wanted to be a stay-at-home parent too
  • I felt the loss every time I had to leave the new “family” for work
  • I redirected a lot of my energy and joy towards dad-tasks
  • I basked in the miracle of life and believed my marriage was a forever home
  • I put my kid’s needs and my wife’s needs ahead of my own
  • I believed in the sacredness of my role as the father of this tiny boy

What things stayed the same when I became a dad?

  • There were still chores and housework (just more of them)
  • There were still money challenges (now, I had more of the load)
  • I still experienced loneliness (even as I was the happiest I’d ever been)

How did things change when I became a fractional dad?

  • I didn’t have a home
  • I didn’t see my kids 70% of the time
  • I had a large child support payment that kept me tied to large corporate employment
  • The loneliness of non-kid-time rocked my world
  • I did the best I could
  • I had to learn to let go of my anger at my ex-wife
  • I physically hurt every other Monday morning when I dropped the kids off for school and dropped their bags off at my old house, now “mom’s house”

What did I learn from my divorce?

1. My Health Comes First

The first thing I needed to get straight as I was reeling from the divorce and living at my sister’s house: my happiness is 100% up to me. I missed the kids and my house and my neighborhood, but those were not things I could change. I learned to take charge of the things I could change and let go of the things that I could not change. (Al-anon meetings became a free form of community and support.) And what this new understanding demanded of me: I had to learn to put myself and my health first. I could not be a great dad if I was debilitated by depression. I could not be a great dad if I was angry at the kids’ mom all the time.

2. My Relationship with My Kids Takes Priority

I took my time after the divorce before contemplating dating again. I made my health and my kids’ wellbeing my number one priority. And I started to look for ways to enrich their lives both while they were with me and while they were with their mom. I kept their lives at the center of mine. I made sure they knew I was interested in them and was always available and ready to give them 100% of my attention.

3. My Ex-wife Would Never Be My Friend

Even at the start of the “we’re getting a divorce” discussion it was clear my soon-to-be-ex was going to take whatever steps necessary to secure the divorce she wanted. She asked for a collaborative divorce, but when we got down to the “deal” she would not collaborate at all. She wanted everything and was willing to tell a story about being “the better parent” when it came to discussing parenting plans and custody. Once the divorce was final her compassion for my journey ended rather quickly. She was in charge and had the paperwork and ultimately the state of Texas (once she filed against me with the attorney general’s office) on her side. Even as I agreed to flexible arrangements, giving her the ability to schedule weekends with her new boyfriend, and giving up my 5th weekend, she was hard and cold when I made any request.

4. Creating Happy Moments and Lifetime Memories for My kids

After you get the first issues straight, the final frontier of learning to be a great single dad, is to give time and attention to building great moments with your kids. Meet your kids where they are happiest. Join them in their favorite video game. If they SnapChat with friends, get an account and snap at them too. If they need a ride, don’t complain, just give them the love and support you would if you were still living in the house with their.

5. Being Their Dad After Divorce is Not About Me

I lost the majority of my time with my kids after the divorce. And while I don’t have much time with my teenaged kids these days, I have always mapped my priorities and schedules to meet their needs. There are plenty of times when it’s difficult not being with my kids. But what I can give them is 110% dad when they are with me. I have the rest of the time, when they are not with me, to heal and focus on myself and my goals.

Always Love,

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

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