Category Archives: Parenting

The 7 Life-Changing Benefits of Treating My Ex-Wife Well After Divorce

olive branch

(Image/Challies.com)

The worst day of my life wasn’t the day the divorce was finalized.

It wasn’t even the day she packed a suitcase and drove away with our little boy in the backseat while I watched from the kitchen wondering whether I might die, right then, just because I didn’t know if the human body could withstand what I was feeling.

The worst day of my life came later, when I learned that she was in a new relationship.

It wasn’t bad because I was sad.

It was bad because I was angry. Very. I think “rage” is the most precise word for what I was feeling. I didn’t understand how I could be feeling so horribly broken and miserable, and she could be investing emotionally in another person.

My pride was wounded. It seemed unfair that she could be enjoying life while I felt like dying. I was still coming to terms with my loss of parental control, and not knowing anything about this guy was making it worse. For all I knew, he was a serial child-abuser, and I was too pissed to rationally conclude that my son’s mother would not subject him to obvious harm, and I was still too shell-shocked to know what was real and what wasn’t.

I was so angry that I actually imagined something bad happening to her—this person I loved above all things—and felt nothing. No sadness. No guilt. Nothing. I was still blaming her, even though we now know how immature and foolish that was.

I still didn’t “get it” yet.

It’s hard to be angry and rational at the same time. It’s difficult to feel ragey and then make wise choices.

I now understand how crimes of passion can happen. For anyone comfortable with, or previously exposed to violence, and no children to worry about, I can conceptually grasp why that kind of person might lash out in anger, and how easy it would be for people to die in those confrontations.

But because I’ve been immensely blessed in life, I haven’t witnessed nor experienced much violence nor am I prone to behave violently. Because the adults in my life treated me with intense love and care, I’ve never had any trouble treating my young son with that same care.

Even IF I was capable of something as heinous as intentionally harming another person—let alone the mother of my son—I simply don’t do things (mindfully) that will make my son’s life worse.

That is a baseline non-negotiable core value.

And the conclusion is simple: The positive value of my son having his mother in his life—independent of my emotional state—cannot be measured.

And as time marched on, it didn’t take long for me to recognize the next logical conclusion: If my son’s mother provides him immeasurable value, doesn’t my ex-wife living her best-possible life benefit him the most?

And finally: As his father and her parenting partner, doesn’t me supporting her life as best I can—even in divorce—lend itself to me being the best father and parenting partner I can be?

Because I’m a single parent, most of the people I’ve met in a dating capacity over the past four years have also been single parents. I’ve been SHOCKED to see what massive dicks some of these guys are, and—full disclosure—it’s usually the first or only “bad” thing I learn about someone I’m dating. Fair or not, marrying and conceiving children with someone capable of THAT much assholery reflects poorly.

If you’re shitty to your former spouse and you don’t have children, I have to ask why you’re even in contact with them. If my wife and I had not been parents, I think I’d have moved far away shortly after the divorce was final and never speak to her again.

Maybe then I would have spent the rest of my life believing a false narrative I’d told myself to try to make sense of what—to me—seemed purely nonsensical.

Maybe I never would have grown, because I wouldn’t have had to.

And maybe I’d never achieve anything resembling a healthy or happy relationship, because I’d keep waiting for someone to “fit” into my life instead of knowing I must one day choose to create an entirely new life that won’t be mine, but “ours.”

If you’re shitty to your former spouse and you DO share children, then I’m forced to question who and what you are as a parent.

To have your kids suffer in order to scratch a sadistic itch to mistreat the person to whom you were once married strikes me as some of the worst kind of selfishness.

It’s fundamentally and undeniably bad for your kids to intentionally tear down their OTHER hero, and perhaps the only other person that grounds them and provides the necessary sense of safety they need just to function in life.

The benefits of, not just avoiding obvious acts of dickheadedness toward our exes, but actually treating them well, seem obvious to me. I understand that all individuals, their personal relationship experiences, and their current relationship dynamics, will vary.

I know there may be things about me or my ex-wife that gives us get-along advantages not available to everyone. And I know that if we didn’t share a child, things might be much different. But the following are very real and tangible benefits I experience regularly as a result of being good to my ex-wife.

How Being Cool to Our Exes Makes Our Lives Better

1. Reciprocated Cooperation is Very Helpful

Because my ex-wife and I treat each other kindly and respectfully, we both experience a steady dose of mutual cooperation.

Maybe one of your best friends is getting married in Mexico and asks you to be a groomsman and you have to leave the country for six days to be there, and it’s going to throw a major wrench in the pre-existing parenting schedule.

Maybe tomorrow is your child’s gym class at school or team practice afterward and you’re missing the shoes or specialty equipment they need to participate.

Maybe the holidays or a birthday or a life event is approaching where coordinating schedules and pooling financial resources makes the situation better.

That my ex-wife and I can hop on the phone or exchange texts asking one another about schedules or splitting costs or whether the other person can drop something off that our son needs for school activities changes the entire world.

If we acted possessive about who bought what for him, or blatantly refused to budge on the parenting schedule, it would mean that both me AND our son would suffer any time something unexpected happened.

Despite no longer being married, if my ex-wife and I couldn’t fundamentally count on one another, our lives would be immeasurably shittier and more-stressful than they are currently.

Communicate. Cooperate. Be helpful.

It matters.

2. I Get to Know Things I Wouldn’t and Freak Less

I care about what happens to my son. I care about his life, his whereabouts, and knowing that he’s safe. If his mother and I didn’t communicate about where he was, who he was with, and what he was doing, we’d be left to wonder and fear the worst.

As it is, when my son goes on vacation for a week, I know where he is, what he’s doing, who he’s with, and I can talk to him as much as I want.

The same, of course, is true when I take my 9-year-old out of town. His mom, always and forever, has unlimited I-Want-to-Talk-to-My-Son requests that I’ll honor. That was true even when we first separated and secretly wanted to stab each other in the face with rusty spears.

I know more about my son’s friends. More about his friends’ families.

And since I’m terrible with calendar management, I get a ton of support from my ex to get special events for school or sports on my calendar to keep me involved even on nights my son isn’t home with me.

3. Being Together Isn’t the Worst Time Ever

When we were first separated and I was harboring powerfully angry and pained emotions which probably simulated the physical sensation of hate, I DREADED being anywhere she was, or even just talking on the phone with her.

It was horrible.

Had we never made efforts to treat one another with kindness and mutual respect, every single event I’d attend as a parent might involve me feeling super-shitty. Maybe I’d even skip things my little boy wished I’d attend to avoid dealing with it.

Instead, we are often in the same place at the same time to support our son. There are likely still parents among the sports teams and extracurricular activities we’re all involved with that don’t realize we’re not married.

If our son is involved in something, most of the time, we’re both there to support him.

I think this has been HUGE for him as he’s adapted to the lifestyle change, and how he feels in any situation involving the families of him and his friends.

Which leads nicely into…

4. Our Son is Happy and Healthy

This is subjective. And I have no way of knowing how another kid with a different personality might react in an identical situation.

But I feel really confident saying that if you speak or behave in any way that is hostile or otherwise shitty to your ex-spouse, your perceptive children WILL know it and feel stressed and generally uncomfortable any time you’re all together, or even just in phone-call situations.

I think being intentionally shitty to your ex is—in many ways—being intentionally shitty to your children.

5. You Preserve Important Friendships

Divorce breaks things and severs relationships. Has always been true. Will always be true.

Friends will pick sides.

Others will try their best to maintain healthy friendships with both of you with varying success.

If you want to make sure you lose even more people in your inner circle, go ahead and be overtly evil and shitty to your ex just because you’re angry with them.

The good friends will keep their distance.

Anyone encouraging you to be an asshole to someone they once called a friend is probably not the caliber of human being you really want in your inner circle.

6. You’re Not a Messy, Walking Contradiction

Don’t act like you didn’t love—or don’t still currently love—your ex-spouse. It’s a lie and you can’t trick yourself no matter how much we’d all like to.

If you want to live a balanced, healthy life where things aren’t constantly shitty and dysfunctional, it’s important that your actions reflect your true values and feelings. When you dislike someone but act like you like them, it becomes this gross, slimy, fake and all-around inauthentic display that most healthy people can identify right away (and if you’re the kind of person who can trick people effectively, you might have bigger problems than trying to get along with an ex.)

You’re always going to feel, just, off, if you spend your life doing things that don’t reflect your true feelings and intentions.

So. Just own it. You loved, and to some extent, still love the person you chose to marry and have children with.

And every time you speak or behave in ways that don’t align with these true, honest, authentic thoughts and feelings inside you, you’re going to continue to feel a little listless and unhinged.

Identify truth. Whatever is real. Then honor that with the things we think, do and say.

Life’s never fun when you’re constantly struggling to find steady ground or sure footing.

Find balance by being the REAL YOU.

7. You Get to be You Again by Healing Much Faster

If you want to know what a depressed, almost-suicidal and totally fucked-up human being looks like, just go check out this blog’s 2013-2014 archived content.

They say time heals all wounds. And maybe it does. But my divorce could easily be a lifelong prison sentence if I chose to be super-involved in my son’s life AND a massive d-hole to his mother at the same time.

Every day might not suck, but ALMOST every day would if we hadn’t let go of all that pent-up anger.

I can’t speak for her, but I was broken. I say that a lot so maybe it’s lost its meaning. But I hope not, because it’s real and it matters.

I was broken.

My insides died and I wasn’t even the same person anymore. For a long time.

It was agonizing and miserable and I wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.

Life can be so much harder than I’d ever known. And now I do know. During the dark days, the ones where I didn’t know whether I’d survive or whether I wanted to, I realized that no amount of money, no career success, no material possession—no nothing—could have saved me from that darkness.

It follows you around to tuck you into bed at night, and greet you when you wake. It’s in the shower, in the car, keeping you company at parties and at holiday gatherings. It distracts you while you try to work and taunts you when you can’t.

That was when I figured out that I’d spent more than 30 years prioritizing the wrong things, and that moving forward, my life needed to be about never feeling that way again, and helping my son and others avoid a similar fate.

The fear and anger and self-pity fed the darkness.

The accountability and introspection and self-reflection drowned it in light.

And in that light I found some truths. About me. About life. About the woman I’ll remain tied to for life despite our marriage ending.

And now I get to be me again.

Stronger. Smarter. Wiser.

More confident. More courageous. Less afraid.

Happy and hopeful.

In the truth, I found meaning. In the meaning, I found forgiveness. And in the forgiveness, I found love.

It looks nothing like the love we’d promised each other standing on that alter, young and ignorant.

But I’m pretty sure it can be enough.

In fact, I think it already is.

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Who is Worthy of Your Love?

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

(Image/loveisrespect.tumblr.com)

monthemoon asked (read the full comment here): “Hi Matt! I’ve been reading your blog for a few months now, just before my partner and I split up. We are still living together due to circumstances, but from summer we will be living separately, and I am kind of looking forward to it. But I am also afraid.

“Apart from developing his empathy, can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, specially after separation?”

I might be a bad father.

I don’t know. I don’t know who gets to decide. I don’t think his mom would call me one. I don’t think anyone close to me would call me one. And I’m certain my son wouldn’t call me one.

But that doesn’t mean it isn’t so.

The list documenting my failings as a father is long and distinguished. That might not make me “bad.” That might just make me typical. Who can say?

When we fail our families, sentencing our innocent children to lives without both parents at home, I think it’s reasonable to conclude that we’ve fallen short as parents.

When we force our spouses to choose between keeping the family together and suffering in masked silence for years, or ending the marriage risking judgment from family and friends, and emotionally damaged children because THAT somehow feels like the better choice, we have failed our children.

There’s nothing inherently gender-specific about this, but I have no qualms about calling out men as the primary culprits here. It’s because — no matter how much we’ll deny it — there are many things men love more than their wives and children.

It’s all psychological, of course. Most husbands and fathers are GOOD MEN. And they think and feel “I love my wife,” and they think and feel “I love my family.” But when it comes time to choose between getting down on the floor to play LEGOs or to cook pretend-dinner in the play kitchen or have a dinosaur battle, and whatever else feels EASIER or MORE CONVENIENT, we often choose the latter.

“Sorry, kid. That sounds like so much fun, but dad is really tired after a long day. You just play alone while I do this thing by myself that I’m prioritizing over you. I’ll engage you in bond-forming one-on-one activities some other time, because I’ll probably have a lot more energy then. We have all the time in the world to build life-long parent-child bonds. We have all the time in the world to make you feel loved and safe.”

If what you do matters more than what you say, then I was divorced for about a year before I actually started putting my son first in my life.

From the moment I learned about the positive pregnancy test, I always said — and actually believed — that I was putting my child first.

I’ll do anything for my family, we think. Because we’re dads and husbands, we take that job seriously. But then we choose other things over dad and husband things because it’s easier or seemingly more fun in the moment. Sacrificing the later for the now. Like the kids whose lives turned out worse after choosing immediate gratification in the Stanford marshmallow experiment.

Sure, we feel blindsided when our wives leave us and file papers.

Sure, we feel surprised when our children question our love for them during future disagreements.

Our brains automatically search for any explanation that will take away our responsibility. We’ll concoct any story that makes something the fault of someone else, and not ours.

Maybe that’s all people. Maybe that’s just mehhhhhhhh fathers who think they’re great parents. Or maybe it’s just me.

But today I know better, and apologize for the finger pointing. We’re NEVER the only one doing, thinking, believing, or feeling anything. There are always others in the boat with you. Knowing that helps me feel better sometimes.

You’re Probably Forgetting About the Hourglass

Don’t be afraid. Everyone is in this global boat large enough to hold every living thing from the beginning of time ‘til the end.

But, it’s true. You have an invisible hourglass attached to your life.

Just like that person standing over there.

Just like your friends and enemies and family and co-workers and the strangers you pass on the street and the people you scream at when they cut you off in traffic.

Just like your children.

We all have an hourglass that is ALWAYS dropping sand from the top to the bottom, and when that last granule falls, we will take our final breath.

Then, gone.

Our hourglasses live in a dimension beyond sight. So we don’t usually know when the sand is going to run out.

As I’m writing this sentence, someone young and who was thought to be healthy is dying unexpectedly. It’s a statistical certainty.

Living fearfully is no way to live. That’s why it helps to be mindful of the boat. How we’re all in it. This isn’t A way. It’s THE way.

But living mindfully of it? I think that might be important.

Two years ago, I learned about a beautiful little girl named Abby with a disease that has no known cure. I was blogging about some personal things with an ungrateful attitude. And then Life saw fit to introduce me to the story of two parents who lose a little bit of their daughter every day.

I called it a Godsmack. That’s what it felt like.

Maybe no matter how long and hard my day was, playing with my son is the best use of my time because of all the parents whose top wish would be to do what I’m taking for granted.

Maybe if I knew the world was about to explode, all I would want is to hold him tight to try and demonstrate my love one last time.

And maybe the things we should spend the most energy on in life are the things we would do during the final countdown. (No. You’re not the only one who just sang the Europe song.)

This is a Parent’s Most Important Job

With the exception of parents with deeply held spiritual beliefs about salvation and an afterlife whose life mission centers around helping their children achieve it, our earthly life-focused parenting has ONE job beyond meeting basic life needs that seems more important than any other.

The thing we must do for our children is help them KNOW they are worthy of love and belonging.

That’s it.

That’s our most important job.

Most of life’s negative experiences are rooted in us doubting our value or worthiness. Because of a million little things that happen to us as children at home and school, and all we observe as others around us succeed, achieve and acquire things we want but don’t have, and all of the rejection and failure we experience in our relationships, and social circles, and academic pursuits, and work lives.

We don’t celebrate failure as the interesting and valuable mistake it really is — another opportunity to grow and change and improve on our pursuit of mastery. We’re terrified of it and what it will make others believe about us. We fall short all the time. And then we assume everyone thinks we’re huge stupid losers because of failures, big or small. And then we tell ourselves stories about those failures and our self-narrative becomes one of failure, and self-doubt.

We’re not good enough to be happy.

We’re not good enough to be accepted.

We’re not good enough to be loved.

Sorry, kid. You’re just not tall enough. And you never will be.

That narrative is believed by a frightening amount of people. The majority, I believe.

Poverty. Crime. Abuse. Infidelity. Addiction. Suicide. Divorce.

These things often happen because someone doesn’t believe they matter. Because they don’t think they are worthy of love. Because they don’t think they belong on any of the boats.

But we are worthy. And we do belong. And that realization eludes many of us for many different reasons.

As parents, we mustn’t let that reason be because we failed our children in a moment that seemed inconsequential to us while not realizing it means the world to them.

She asked: “Can you think of any other way to make him realize he has to put his son first, ‘specially after separation?”

It took me losing my family.

My wife.

And half of my son’s childhood. I estimate AT LEAST seven years, since he was not quite 5 when the marriage ended.

Whatever must happen to ensure he and I stay connected once he leaves the nest? That window is closing fast.

Once this father realizes it, he’ll either care enough to do something about it, or he won’t.

Or maybe he simply doesn’t feel worthy of his son’s love. Maybe he doesn’t feel he deserves that.

Because like so many of us stopped by the Must Be This Tall To Ride gatekeepers, he simply never got the memo: That sign is bullshit.

He’s always been tall enough.

And now his life’s most important work is about teaching his son that too.

Just like you.

Just like me.

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A Failed Marriage, a Beautiful Son, and Tomorrow

father son hands

(Image/ashscrapyard.wordpress.com)

“Fine. I’ll just stay with mom all the time and you won’t see me anymore!” he said about seven years sooner than expected.

I can’t remember why he was upset with me. It’s usually because I denied him something he wanted.

He was 6 when he said that during a father-son fight more than a year ago. An occasionally angry little boy adjusting to a brand-new school and a brand-new life where mom and dad live in different houses. An occasionally angry father adjusting to the same.

I try to remember how I felt at age 5 when my parents split, but everything’s hazy. I remember bits and pieces. The moments. But I can’t remember me then. How I felt. But that’s no surprise. I can’t remember me five years ago.

I haven’t talked to any therapists about it, but my amateur self-evaluation is that my traumatic experience with divorce two and a half years ago is largely due to hypersensitivity related to also going through it as a child. I think some things I’d buried might have clawed their way up to the surface.

I was the only kid I knew whose dad lived hundreds of miles away.

I don’t know what parts of me—good or bad—are byproducts of that upbringing. I wonder whether living near, and coexisting well with his mother, might make his life better than mine.

I cried a lot in the weeks leading up to, and following, my marriage imploding. Everything hurts. And it scares the shit out of you when you figure out you can’t run away from it.

It’s there in your office meetings at work.

It’s there when you’re having drinks with friends.

It’s there when you visit family for the first time without your spouse and you’re totally drenched in failure.

It’s there in the house you shared with her for more than seven years.

It’s there when you look into your child’s eyes. The most beautiful, pure, innocent, precious thing you have ever known. And it’s your job, your mission, your solemn duty to provide him with the safety, resources, education and love required for him to have a chance at a life better than your own.

And you feel like you just helped destroy his family.

You’re afraid of everything and you’re carrying a mountain of shame.

You wonder how you can ever take care of him if you can’t even take care of yourself.

Maybe he deserves a better father than this, you think.

Maybe he does.

I was in his mom’s driveway helping him buckle his seatbelt—something he does now on his own—the last time I remember crying. Every child has a patented little frown that no other kid can make. All parents recognize it because it’s the one that makes your heart bleed. The corners of his mouth turned down. Tears fell.

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I said.

“I just want you and mommy to live in the same house again,” he said.

And then you hold your breath and wonder whether your heart will keep beating. I knew he wished for that. He just hadn’t said it until then.

He’d been so strong and brave. Wearing his little mask every day like his parents used to while hiding a marriage on life support from family and friends.

You hold his little face in your hands and apologize harder than you ever have before. You pray your ex isn’t watching you from the window. You mutter silent Why me, God?s before remembering that you brought this on yourself.

When you neglect a garden, the plants stop producing. And the flowers wither and die.

I have a massive capacity for forgiveness. This doesn’t make me a good or virtuous person. I didn’t work hard to grow into a person who forgives easily. It’s a gift I didn’t earn.

It caused a lot of problems in my marriage. Because my wife and I would fight, and it was ALWAYS the same fight. I think maybe every couple has it.

Something I did or didn’t do would upset her, and she’d tell me about it. And instead of acknowledging something I had done hurt my wife’s feelings, I would get defensive and justify it. I didn’t apologize. Since I didn’t do anything intentionally, I didn’t owe it, I reasoned, and I’d go to great lengths to justify that, too.

Why is she always finding something new to complain about?

I think most husbands and boyfriends get annoyed about things their wives or girlfriends do, but because they don’t like to have “talks,” they avoid saying anything. Having a beer, or watching football, or playing video games, or going to work, or literally any other thing in the entire universe including taxes and dental work are less painful than “talks.”

I always viewed it as loving my wife enough to overlook her “shortcomings,” and was always perturbed I didn’t get that same courtesy in return. I didn’t have empathy for my wife’s feelings because I didn’t know she felt things in profoundly different ways than me. I didn’t have perspective because I ignorantly took my marriage for granted and thought winning battles was more important than actionable love.

She didn’t like that after a good night’s sleep I felt good and was ready to move on because she was still pissed about the unresolved thing.

These things piled up with each passing argument, and instead of acknowledging them, I’d stay defensive and complain that she was keeping track of all these supposed crimes and unloading them on me every time she was upset. I would never be so petty as to do that to her, I’d say like a smug prick.

I didn’t know that her way would have saved our marriage, and that my way was why half of all marriages fail, and why many that don’t are broken and miserable.

Maybe my son will get angry all over again when he’s old enough to recognize that. Or maybe because he’s a boy, he’ll empathize with me by default.

His mom is a grudge holder and is still angry with me about how our lives turned out. I sometimes feel it in those (now rare) moments when she gets upset with me about something I did or didn’t do as her co-parenting partner.

I don’t know how to stay angry. It goes away like magic even if I don’t work at it. But I think it’s opposite for other people. I think they don’t know how to not be angry. A burden they didn’t earn or deserve.

Maybe it’s just nine years of feeling unheard and invalidated all piled up into a mountain of shit too heavy and painful to always keep hidden.

Since there’s no such thing as time travel, our son is all that matters now.

Have we infected him somehow?, I wonder.

Is he secretly sad and angry?

Has he forgiven us?

Will he ever?

“Dad,” he says into my ear. “You’re the best dad in the whole world. If I could choose any dad out of every dad there is, I would choose you.”

He tells mom the same thing about her. And we believe him. He really would choose us.

Some combination of love and resilient childhood magic stirs inside him.

My handsome little second grader, rapidly approaching the day when I’ll no longer be able to call him little.

We crafted a small boat for him to race at a Cub Scouts function this past weekend. Win or lose, he showed maturity and graciousness in congratulating opponents. Losses left other kids in tears. My little man shrugged them off, knowing we did all we could.

One year ago, he was desperate for acceptance from the first graders in his new school. His mom and I worried privately about him being a social outcast because we’re not ingrained in the community the way most of the other families are.

Last year, kids didn’t chant our son’s name in support when it was his turn to race. This year, many did.

Last year, we worried about his social life. This year, every Cub Scout in his class came to our table at the event to sit with and talk to him.

We grow together, that boy and I.

Him—socially and academically. Me—emotionally and professionally.

He rifled through a deck of nerd cards during breakfast this morning. “Nerd cards,” being the little role-playing trading cards popular with kids (and some adults), but which I was too “cool” to play with when I was younger. Things like Pokemon, Yu-Gi-Oh!, and Gormiti cards. The particular nerd cards this morning were Gormiti cards given to him by an older boy he looks up to. Gormiti, to me, feels like Wyler’s Flavor Aid to Pokemon’s Kool-Aid®.

You know—even lamer than the regular amount of lame.

I started teasing him: “Hi, I’m Tony Romo and I play Pokemon. And I’m arts-and-craftsy Tony Romo, and I play Gormiti.”

He half-smiled because he likes the DirecTV commercial I was spoofing.

And then I made up another Pokemon-is-better-than-Gormiti joke, and I saw his sweet little face do the patented frown thing, and he started to cry.

I felt like a dick.

I walked around the counter scooped him up, sat him on the counter and hugged him tight, because I’m not the guy I used to be.

“I’m so sorry, bud. Did dad just hurt your feelings?”

He nodded, so I hugged him again.

“Kiddo, you are allowed to like whatever you like, and I am so sorry if I made you feel like I thought your Gormiti cards were stupid. I think it’s awesome that your friend gave you those and I want you to have so much fun with them today, okay?”

I meant it.

He nodded that he understood.

Hands on my shoulders, he sort of pushed me back a few inches so we could look each other in the eye.

“I love you, dad,” he said.

He meant it.

Because he has a massive capacity for forgiveness, too. And God-willing, maybe now he has a role model for how to deal with hurt feelings in ways that can heal rather than divide. That soften hearts rather than harden them.

That, at the risk of oversimplifying humanity, might be the keys to making romantic love last.

The keys to the forever kind-of families.

The keys to healing the broken.

So that we can unlock tomorrow without fear of the unknown. Because we’re ready now.

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Divorced Parenting Requires a New Kind of Love

Children with divorced parents spend a lot of time waving from windows. It's sad. Put them first. Always. (Image/Time)

Children with divorced parents spend a lot of time waving from windows. It’s sad. Put them first. Always. (Image/Time)

Oreoanonymous asked:

I have been watching the struggle of my mother’s partner from his point of view, with only small comments on his ex to go on. The struggle is for time with their little girl. From the point of view that I have, the ex seems to be the one being the dickhead. Yet part of me thinks that’s an unfair thing to assume. Just because she stops the lass from visiting some weekends and then shows up unexpectedly because she wants a night off on others, that’s maybe… bad communication? Or misunderstanding? I don’t know.

Do you have experience with the custodial thing? Could you write about it?

Fortunately, it was never up for debate.

When my wife and I divorced two years ago, we agreed that an equal-time shared-parenting agreement made the most sense for us and our son who was just about to enter kindergarten.

Even though your heart is broken in a million pieces because of your relationship ending, the hardest part of divorce for most parents inevitably involves the fallout surrounding their children.

There are hurt feelings. Financial concerns. Scheduling headaches. Extra things to remember (which I’m historically bad about). All kinds of fears and sensitivities surrounding your child’s safety and well being when you’re not around. And maybe the biggest—a complete lack of control regarding who your ex might date or marry, and to what extent that might influence your child’s life.

The Right Way to Parent After Divorce

I’m not saying my judgment is always best. I may be totally screwing up my son because of things I do or don’t do. I’m not saying I know the best way to be a divorced father. I’m saying, logistically and behaviorally, my ex and I have found a way that works for us. Our son seems to benefit from it.

I can say with certainty and pride that if there’s an optimum way for divorced parents to cooperate and work together in the interest of a child’s well being, my son’s mother and I are doing it right.

We communicate constantly. Close to daily. If scheduling conflicts are on the horizon, we discuss it ahead of time and reshuffle our schedules accordingly. We back one another up in case of illness. Change our personal schedules for special occasions. Attend school functions and extracurricular activities together. We are constantly doing favors for one another, which I think breeds goodwill and eliminates any and all stress for our child.

That boy comes first. He never doesn’t.

We never call one another to say: “Hey! I want to go out partying this weekend! Will you please keep him???”

We also never squabble over when he is to be with one of us. If there is a special event of some kind—a wedding, or unique opportunity to attend a family event—we always accommodate the other.

Our individual wants don’t come first. Our son comes first.

When my parents divorced when I was 4 and my mom moved us 500 miles away from my dad, my parents battled in court for full-time custody of me. The judge awarded custody to my mother. So, I lived in Ohio throughout the school year, and would visit my dad for 9-10 weeks over summer breaks and 1-2 weeks over winter breaks.

And that’s just how it was for me growing up. Not optimum.

When my wife and I first separated, I assumed we would trade weeks. One week on, one week off. Brutal. But clean and simple. And infinitely better than how I remember it with my dad.

Everything my ex and I heard and read said young children suffer emotionally and psychologically from being away from a parent for that much time. So we had to figure out a better, albeit more complicated, way.

There are MANY different 50-50 parenting schedules out there that work for people because of geography or work schedules or other circumstances.

Here’s what worked for us:

Monday and Tuesday – Child with one parent.

Wednesday and Thursday – Child with other parent.

Friday, Saturday and Sunday – Child back with other parent.

And on and on it goes, constantly flip-flopping (save for the occasional juggling and makeup days we do to help one another).

The positives are that it keeps the weekends even, and cleanly divides the time even though calendar weeks are an inconvenient odd number of days.

The negatives are that it’s REALLY hard to be part of social groups or organized activities that take place at the same time and day each week, because every other week you are unavailable to participate. And it also requires intense THOUGHTFULNESS AND COOPERATION.

For example, when your child participates in sports or other activities, or has special projects or events for school, BOTH parents must communicate and back one another up regarding having the correct clothes or uniform or shoes a child might need, or for completing work on a project, or even just to notify one another about upcoming stuff on the school calendar.

It means you have to swallow your pride and always be available to answer the phone or a text message. It means you have to soften your heart. It means you sometimes have to drop whatever you’re doing because your ex needs an outfit or school document delivered for your kid.

It seems like a lot of people are incapable of doing, or refuse to do this, because they’re angry, selfish, or something else.

I think children suffer for it.

The Wrong Way to Parent After Divorce

I don’t always know what’s right, but it’s generally easy to spot what’s wrong.

Here are the things I see divorced parents do often that gives me the most heartburn:

Selfishness

Sometimes, parents want to do what they want to do more than they want to spend time with their kids, or help maintain the kids’ routines.

I hear about dads scheduling last-minute golf trips or Vegas trips with buddies and not being available for their scheduled time with children.

I hear about moms wanting to go party all night at the bars so “just keep them an extra night, okay??”

A well-coordinated, equally split schedule yields the flexibility to build in all the selfish time you want for you. It just requires a bit of foresight and planning. If you’re bad at that like me, and your kids are scheduled to be with you during that fun thing that’s coming up? Sorry about your luck, I guess? Love your kids. They deserve it.

Dating

Moms and dads all over the place will sometimes start casually dating, and just have their new boyfriend or girlfriend (sometimes, multiple!) around even when the kids are home, just because they like having sex so much.

MAYBE this has no impact on children. I don’t claim to be a child psychologist. But I have to believe it exposes them to shit they’re just not ready to process maturely. Also, little kids often like everyone, so if they attach to the new boyfriends and girlfriends, they often have to deal with loss again when their mom or dad breaks up a month later. Ugh. I just think it’s a total asshole move.

In two years of being single, I have not introduced my son to, or met a child of, someone I dated (minus the mom of one of his friends/classmates who he already knew. Public Service Announcement: Don’t date parents of your kids’ classmates. Just, don’t.)

Please wait until confidence is REALLY high that you’re in a committed, long-term relationship before involving children. Pretty please.

Revenge

I’ve heard a couple stories about parents who straight-up refuse to share and cooperate. One dad told his son’s mother that he will NEVER exchange weekends under any circumstances, and that the clothes he buys for his kid stay with him, and that mom doesn’t get them, ever. (I don’t know what this looks like on transition days! Nudity?)

It’s not because they’re the dumbest, most-unreasonable people to walk the earth.

It’s because they’re angry at their exes, and they’re going to use their children as pawns in their power plays. They want to feel in control of a situation in which no one can have control.

Sure, maybe your ex will suffer a little bit.

In the end, your child (and your relationship with that child) will suffer more. Those are sad stories.

The Post-Marriage Relationship when Children are Involved

A new kind of love is required.

It is a difficult, emotionally painful, pride-swallowing affair.

If you didn’t have kids, you maybe would have never had to see one another or speak to one another again. But you do have kids. And you’re “stuck” with each other for better or worse until your children are independent adults, and probably for long after.

So, love. Just love.

You didn’t get it right in your marriage. You messed up. Here’s your chance to do something right. A little redemption.

Love.

Be kind.

Be helpful.

Be generous.

Give more than you take.

Always put your children first.

This is one tangible way to show your children what love and class and grace and kindness look like.

A tangible way to light up the darkness.

And that always changes everything.

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Staying Together For the Kids is a Good Enough Reason For Me

(Image/bhhook at Deviant Art)

(Image/bhhook at Deviant Art)

It was like I couldn’t catch my breath. I was afraid.

I’d never felt anything like this before. I stood over the bathroom toilet and vomited even though I wasn’t sick or drinking. But I felt seasick. Like a guy in a row boat in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico with no oars and no way to signal for help.

What the hell is happening to me?

It was the first time I’d ever experienced anxiety so badly that I threw up. It’s a feeling I got to know well during the run up to, and the aftermath of, my divorce. I puked a lot.

I still do sometimes.

You might say I’m a little unsteady.

I was 23 the first time she left. It was just for a week to visit her family in Ohio. After spending my entire life in either Ohio or Illinois with my parents, friends and extended family, I was totally alone for the first time ever.

I was in Florida 1,100 miles from the nearest person I knew. And I could really feel it. And I just lost it.

That’s the first time I realized how reliant I was on other people and how much I needed an anchor.

I grew up in this safe little Ohio town with a close group of friends, my mom and stepdad (who I met on my 5th birthday) and a big extended family.

When I wasn’t there, I was with my dad who I only saw a few months out of the year 500 miles away.

I think maybe when your parents split up when you’re 4, and live 500 miles apart, it fucks you up a little no matter how great the rest of your life is.

I used to think I was normal.

But then I broke inside and realized there’s no such thing as normal. Just a bunch of different versions of being human.

Mama, come here
Approach, appear
Daddy, I’m alone
‘Cause this house don’t feel like home

I spent every day of my life feeling safe and loved with my parents until I went away to college. I spent most of college living with one of my dearest friends from grade school and high school having the time of our lives. I spent my last year of college with the girl who would eventually be my wife.

When you get married, you officially leave the nest and build a new one. The most intimate of inner circles in your life (your parents—and siblings if you have them) moves out one rung on your circle, and your partner takes that place in the center.

She’s your new safety net. Your new normal. Your new foundation.

So when she flew back to Ohio for a week, leaving me alone far away from anything familiar for the first time, it was my first taste of isolation. It didn’t take, I realized, staring into a toilet and recognizing just how little control of myself I had.

That’s the part that scares you the most. I’m not in control. What might happen next?

I had always thought I was strong and steady.

But really, I was weak and fragile.

If you love me, don’t let go
If you love me, don’t let go

My mom left my stepdad while my wife was pregnant with our son. Mom called to tell me when I was on my lunch break. She cried. I cried.

Then I vomited some more and called my wife because I needed something steady. She left her office to come hug me. I felt like the biggest pussy imaginable. I was almost 30, for God’s sake. I’m supposed to hold HER. And I’m fucking crying on her shoulder?

I was just smart enough to know shit I’d been carrying around for 25 years was rearing its head.

I didn’t visit my mom for about a year after that.

But I had my wife. She’d always be there.

When we met, I was strong and confident. But now I was something else. I wonder if that scared her. I wonder sometimes if the fear and anxiety that started to build throughout my late 20s and early 30s made her feel unsafe. Like she couldn’t trust me to make everything okay, no matter what.

You can’t know it until you know it: When your insides break, you need more than another person to make it okay.

The only certainty I ever had in life was that I would never get divorced and put my children through what I went through.

That’s it. That’s the one thing I was sure of.

I had plenty of time to get used to the taste of failure while I slept in the guest room for 18 months feeling it all slip away one failed attempt to save it at a time.

I’d like to tell you I spent most of that time thinking about how hard it would be for my young son. How he could end up feeling so many of the same uncertainties and co-dependent tendencies I did if his mom and I divorced.

But I was mostly thinking about me. That I was about to lose the only thing I was sure about. Maybe it’s not the same for everyone, but when I got married, I thought of my wife in the same way I’d always thought of my parents. The person you can count on to love you unconditionally and always be there.

But then you realize it’s not true. I guess I really don’t know anything.

And then you’re back in that oar-less boat in the middle of the ocean, and the storm is kicking you around, and you want to start paddling but you don’t know which way to go because there is no home to go to anyway.

Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady
Hold, hold on, hold onto me
‘Cause I’m a little unsteady
A little unsteady

I hear a lot of people say that staying together for the kids is a bad idea.

If there’s heavy dysfunction like infidelity or physical abuse or addiction problems, I can co-sign with that. Exposing children to those things is not in their best interest.

But what about the rest of us? The ones who just die from a thousand little pinpricks?

The people who are bored. The people who are angry. The people who are scared. The people who are sad. The people who are confused. The people who are lost.

Those people need a good reason to fight for it.

If you won’t do it because it’s the right thing, or because you vowed to do so, I think doing it for the kids is a pretty legit reason.

People always say (including me): “I would do ANYTHING for my kids!”

Fuck you.

And fuck me, too.

Because we won’t love for them.

But maybe it’s because we don’t know how.

Because no one ever showed us.

Because they didn’t know how either.

Mother, I know
That you’re tired of being alone
Dad, I know you’re trying
To fight when you feel like flying
But if you love me, don’t let go
If you love me, don’t let go

Author’s Note:

I was at an X Ambassadors concert Saturday night having an amazing time. They’re incredible and are going to blow up in 2015-’16 and you should buy their albums. The band played this song. It’s rare for a song to grab your soul and squeeze, especially in that surreal environment.

But it did. So I had to write this post.

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Our Souvenirs

(Image/Flickr by toddwendy)

(Image/Flickr by toddwendy)

The little bedroom down the hall from ours was a nice yellow. We didn’t know whether we were having a boy or girl.

I thought we were going to have a daughter. But she always knew. I think sometimes mothers just know.

There was a crib in the corner. A gender-neutral green bumper wrapped around it. A moon-and-stars mobile dangled over the empty space waiting for the most important thing that would ever happen to us.

That mobile was the first baby thing we bought. We used a gift card because we couldn’t afford anything else from Pottery Barn.

She made curtains. There was new carpet. She made a chair cover for this crappy old recliner I’d kept from college which we were going to use as a late-night rocking chair. A changing table was stocked with wipes and diapers and baby things.

I’d just sit in there sometimes in that old chair, looking around. I understood things were going to change, but you can’t ever be ready for it. I’m going to be a father.

In that moment, you have no idea that life is just happening.

That nothing lasts forever.

I live in the only house our little family owned.

After she left, I thought about leaving, but I’m poorly equipped to handle a project of that magnitude alone, and my little son (Surprise, it’s a boy!) said he wanted to stay. In a world spinning with chaos and change, his little five-year-old voice was my anchor.

“I want to keep our house, daddy.”

Okay, son. Okay.

My bedroom was our bedroom. Other than the mess I sometimes leave on the floor, it totally looks like a married couple’s room. No self-respecting bachelor would have used these colors.

I have an extra dresser now. It’s larger than my own. I use one of the drawers for t-shirts.

I have an extra closet now. There are books and luggage in there. I had to walk in it this morning to find a backpack. This little piece of the world that used to be one way and now it’s something else.

I wonder sometimes whether people who grow up in really difficult conditions and find ways to escape to live safe, pleasant, successful lives experience nostalgia much differently than those fortunate enough to grow up in relative safety and comfort.

Maybe when they close their eyes and go back in time, the only thing they feel is pain and sadness so they never feel it because they’re so happy it’s today.

Our triggers aren’t always predictable.

That feeling that I’m not sure words can describe. The one we feel when we rifle though old photo albums. The one we feel when we walk the halls of our old high school. The one we feel when we revisit spots where meaningful life events took place. The one we feel swapping stories at funerals. The one you can sometimes feel standing in an empty closet in your own bedroom.

We are all so young and fearless because few bad things have happened to us. Too ignorant and too innocent to be afraid.

Our grandparents are maybe a little boring because they’re old.

Our parents are a drag because they never let us do what we want.

Our siblings are annoying because they’re always in the way.

School is the worst because 3 p.m. is NEVER going to get here and I’m never going to use this shit anyway!

Our hometowns are prisons.

Our friends are great, but they’ll always be there!

Our relationships are stale because everyone finally stops pretending and no one tells us how hard it is. When the kids come. When your friends start having marriage problems. When you run into financial hardship.

When people die.

Nothing lasts forever.

When my father-in-law died, I was at the house helping out. There’s a deck out back surrounded by woods. That’s where she and I ate dinner the first time I’d ever visited the house. It was the same deck where I drank beer with one of my best friends the night before the wedding having a What does it all mean? conversation. Where my parents met her parents for the first time.

It was the backyard where she and her brother grew up playing their entire lives.

Where I’d watched my little boy be a little boy. Where I imagined him evolving into a big boy.

Then it was gone.

I stood back there crying. She came around the house and caught me. “Are you okay?”

Sure, I’m okay. Just sentimental. Just learning for the first time how unexpected loss feels. Just realizing for the first time how fragile it all is. Just digesting: Things will never be the same after this.

We were so young.

Playing at the playground. Fishing with grandpa. Taking the school trip to Washington D.C. Putting on football pads. Kissing the girl behind the bleachers. Driving just to drive. Partying too much in college. Moving far away. Proposing. Getting married. Having children.

We had no idea that life was just happening.

What is that feeling? Why does it feel good and bad? Our hearts swell when we time travel. Then sink as we mourn the losses of all those great times.

It’s powerful.

It’s why you’re reading this sentence if you made it this far.

It’s why you Share a Coke with Rachael.

It’s why you hope the next high school reunion might feel more like the good old days than that awkward and shitty one you went to five or 10 years ago.

It why we try to recreate fun times from our past and are often disappointed when they fail to measure up.

It’s why tears sometimes fall while watching things that are supposed to be distracting us from real life, instead of evoking it.

I know what that feels like and then we get lumps in our throats and hope no one else notices.

She asked me to get some things out of storage. Baby things we’d kept because maybe there would be another child someday.

There wasn’t. There was a garage sale and it was time to let it go.

I pulled out old toys. I remember these.

Booster seats, and bouncy chairs, all with the teeniest piece of my heart etched in them because a version of the person I love most used to sit right there and play with that thing and fill me with hope.

In one of the bags was the mobile. It had cost about $50 and was the first present we ever bought for our son, making it worth millions.

Someone was probably going to pay $2 for it.

I kind of felt like crying again, but I didn’t. I’m tougher now. I don’t really care about baby stuff I never see and rarely think about stored out of sight in my house. It’s much better that some nice family has them.

You don’t miss the things, really.

You don’t even long for the past.

But you miss something. Some intangible thing you’re always grabbing for like falling water, capturing trace amounts because that’s all we get to keep. Fragments.

All we get to keep is this feeling. This thing reminding us we’re still alive and to live today because yesterday’s gone.

This feeling—these moments—these are our souvenirs.

So that we know it really happened. And that now, something else will.

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The Control Issues

Control key

It felt like I died.

I was depressed. Not like “oh, I’m feeling a little emo and wish more people liked me.”

I was a version of myself I’d never known and that’s a scary place to be when you didn’t even know it was possible.

When you can’t find a way to be comfortable in your own skin, there is very little pleasantness in the human experience. If you don’t numb it with chemicals or find a way to fall asleep, every part of you just feels… bad.

Not uncomfortable. Fucking bad. Like you kind of want to chop something off you so it stops hurting or maybe die in a fiery explosion because this.is.bad.

That’s when I realized for the first time how little control I really had over my life.

I was out of control.

Life was out of control.

You have a decision to make: Stay afloat until you feel strong enough to start swimming toward where you want to be. Or drown.

The Loss of Control After Divorce

My son was gone. GONE. And there was nothing I could do about it.

Shocks your system. Like the jump into ice-cold water. It’s hard to breathe. You panic a little. Frantically looking for a way out.

Because the world isn’t big enough, I found out where he was and who he was with sometimes when he wasn’t with me.

Someone bad.

Not necessarily dangerous.

Just… bad.

And as that child’s parent, you’re now helpless. Because you no longer get to say what happens to your child 50-percent of his life. You lose control. Even the ability to influence what happens, depending on the other parent’s choices.

Sometimes, I’d get so upset that I would sob and vomit and say bad words in between the heaving.

A New Kind of Prison

Each day. Each new experience. You get a little closer to coming to terms with your new reality.

Your new prison.

Because if you’re a divorced parent, that’s what your new life is. You no longer get to make choices like everyone else, UNLESS you’re willing to abandon your child, and if you’re that kind of person, you have bigger problems to work out than a failed marriage.

When she left, all I wanted to do was run away. Run!

I had these fantasies of getting a copywriting gig in New Orleans or the Pacific Northwest or some other undetermined place to try to find the reset button. To get a fresh start. To get away from everything in my life that represented sadness and anger and my failed life.

To run away for a couple years just to prove I’ve never been free.

It’s not possible.

Until your child is AT LEAST 18, and probably longer than that, they can use all the love and support we as parents can muster during the final stages of their transition from child to adult.

Our most-important job with our children is helping them develop into someone who doesn’t need us anymore.

I couldn’t run.

I was here. Am here. Stuck. No escape.

And your first lesson: Everything’s different now. I have to let some things go.

Including the illusion of control.

Motherfucker, I’ll Be Back From the Dead Soon

The best thing that happens after you get all that crying and puking and swearing out of your system is that you start living again.

You start having new experiences and making new memories with new people.

You can’t know you’re not going to stay dead until you finally stop being dead. It’s liberating when other people can make you smile and laugh and feel good. New people in your new life, proving to you that there is one on the other side.

People who used to have a death grip on your emotions lose that grip.

Not because they let go.

But because you’re strong enough to remove it yourself.

When you’re angry and immature and yelling: “You’re not my fucking mom. No one tells me what to do!” it’s a really ineffective way to establish boundaries and demonstrate that you are in control of your own life.

That’s what I used to do and it should come as little surprise that it was a highly ineffective strategy that probably played a pretty major role in my marriage’s eventual demise or establishing healthy boundaries in other relationships.

Self-reflection and self-awareness helps you recognize all your own bullshit and start owning it. I am a hot-headed, defensive, sarcastic, impulsive, immature sonofabitch when I get really fired up about something. And it has taken me all 36 of these years to get to a place where I could finally learn how to breathe, and pray, and exercise the kind of patience necessary to avoid escalating normal conflict into war.

The Thing About Control

Attempts to control are typically a reaction to the fear of losing control. GoodTherapy.org and virtually every credible source of information on control issues all say the same thing: “The incessant need for control can be overwhelming and exhausting, wreaking havoc on relationships, careers, and overall quality of life.”

People who struggle with control issues fear being at the mercy of others, and the fear typically stems from some past traumatic event that left them feeling helpless and vulnerable.

“As a result, they may crave control in disproportionate and unhealthy ways.”

Empathy and patience is in order when you come across people with control issues. It’s not as if they want to be controlling and domineering. They might not even know they’re doing it. Demonstration of controlling behavior is usually a direct result of traumatic life experiences, a lack of trust, anxiety, fears of abandonment, damaged self-esteem, personal beliefs, perfectionism, or fear of experiencing emotional pain, writes Jeffrey Kaplan, a licensed therapist at GoodTherapy.

It’s a tough pill to swallow when you realize you can’t control what other people do.

It requires simply getting stronger. And demonstrating more courage.

Because that’s the one thing it turns out you can control: How you’re going to react to unpleasantness in this new world where everything feels upside-down.

I know how I’m going to react.

I’m going to clearly state my boundaries and intentions. I’m going to mean exactly what I say.

Because I control me.

No one else does.

Attempts to circumvent my boundaries will be met with unpleasantness.

That’s where freedom lives.

Even when you feel trapped.

You make everything new by changing on the inside.

Because it turns out you’re still alive.

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The Magic of Common Ground

(Image by Harry Evans)

(Image by Harry Evans)

It was the most barbaric, cheap-shot act I had ever witnessed.

Heavyweight boxer Mike Tyson bit off a piece of opponent Evander Holyfield’s ear live on television during a fight in what was, at the time in 1997, the most-watched Pay-Per-View event in history.

I’m a pretty nice guy. But if someone bit off part of my ear, I’m pretty sure I’d stay pissed about it for… I don’t know… forever?

Fast-forward 18-ish years. Tyson and Holyfield now act like old friends. Maybe it’s because Holyfield has millions so the jacked ear isn’t a huge liability. Maybe it’s because Holyfield has a huge heart and capacity for forgiveness.

I like to think it’s mostly because of their common ground.

Fighters. Champions. Aging and somewhat incapable of doing what they did as younger men. Fading celebrity.

How many people can understand that? What it’s like to experience that? Hardly anyone.

People need others to understand them. To connect with people like them.

When I first started writing here, I was mostly just venting. Writing therapy because I didn’t want to pay a professional.

It was a huge revelation to me when I realized there were a bunch of other people out there just like me. People who hurt like I hurt. Felt like I felt. People who wanted what I wanted.

People who understood.

I felt so alone.

But then I didn’t anymore. Because we became a tribe.

The magic of common ground.

I Don’t Get All the Fighting

I was having a conversation earlier about American politics.

I’m interested in politics. I care. But I’m constantly disheartened and disillusioned because the average American politician DOES NOT give a shit about the same things I give a shit about.

Near as I can tell, the vast majority of elected officials are more interested in re-election. And they seem to believe that working with members of another political party cooperatively is political suicide.

So Washington is full of out-of-touch, selfish, power-hungry politicians who want to ascend the ranks of American politics and never actually accomplish anything that serves the greater good.

What if we did Everything Differently?

What if the first thing a President and a new Congress did was get together and write down all the things everyone agreed on?

Everyone is for good schools.

Everyone is for accessible health care and affordable insurance.

Everyone is for reducing crime.

Everyone is for efficient transportation and public utility infrastructure.

Everyone is for safety.

Everyone is for beautification and eliminating blight.

Everyone is for jobs.

Everyone is for a robust economy.

And then, one problem at a time, you put the nation and world’s best and brightest minds to work on solutions. In many cases, there are already examples of successfully improving these areas. There is ALWAYS an example of “the best way” to do anything. Someone already thought of it. And it can probably be done even better.

Research a smart, effective way to fix a problem. Then fix that problem. Something on the common ground list.

Why is no one doing this? Why does everyone spend so much of their political currency attacking people who don’t agree with them? I don’t understand why everyone insists on being intolerable assholes all the time.

I don’t want to pretend like cheesy science-fiction films are a reliable predictor of human behavior. But. I do feel confident they are correct in their portrayal of humans from all walks of life banding together to stave off extinction from otherworldly predators.

In other words, if aliens try to eradicate us with big-ass space lasers, I don’t think we’re going to spend a lot of time haggling over whether gay people should be allowed to marry or how to fund Medicare. I think Russia and the Ukraine might be able to set aside their differences. Maybe even North and South Korea.

Maybe terrorists would spend more time beheading menacing extraterrestrials and less time beheading innocent people. I’d like to think so.

My point is that there is ALWAYS a reason to band together. There is always some commonality, even if it’s just—we’re both human.

Why all the conflict?

I get frustrated with all the shittiness. It doesn’t have to be this way.

Because I know I’m an asshole, I’ve gotten infinitely better at slowing down when I hear about people messing up. The mob rallies and rails against the offender. If I had a magic wand, I think maybe I’d put a sin on display from each member of the mob so they can also enjoy the experience of a million stones flying at them.

Almost all of us have committed them.

And redemption is just about the best thing in the world.

Maybe we can practice rigorous forgiveness, like David Brooks writes about in this New York Times column.

Like two warring nations working together to eradicate an alien invasion.

Like politicians with enough balls to get something done by teaming up with someone on the other team.

Like angry ex-spouses who put aside their grievances to love their children.

Like Evander Holyfield.

Who laughs with, smiles at, embraces, and forgives a man who bit off his ear.

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Ask Me Things, Please

Image courtesy of kindnessresources.com

Image courtesy of kindnessresources.com

In an effort to evolve this blog and maybe have a little fun or some great conversation, I launched a page called Ask Me Stuff which you should go read.

I want you to ask me things because it will create some new content opportunities and because maybe I’ll accidentally help someone once or twice.

Let’s call it a social experiment.

For anyone inclined, I appreciate your time and contribution very much.

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The Thing About Stepparents

Maybe that's his father. Maybe that's his stepfather. There's beauty in the fact we can't be sure.

Maybe that’s his father. Maybe that’s his stepfather. There’s beauty in the fact we can’t be sure.

My parents divorced when I was 4, and twice a year all the way through high school, my parents met at a McDonald’s on the eastern edge of Illinois and exchanged me.

I grew up in Ohio with my mom. My dad lived 500 miles away.

Some of my strongest memories include the anticipation of that meet. Seeing my mother and father together. It always felt weird for me. Feeling simultaneously excited to be leaving with my father and sad to say bye to my mother. And feeling absolutely devastated when I’d get into the backseat of my mom’s car at the end of a long, fun summer with dad knowing I wouldn’t see him again until Christmas.

Time goes fast now. But it’s an eternity when you’re little and sobbing in the back of a car watching a McDonald’s disappear behind you at 70 miles per hour.

There is nothing fair about divorce for children. None of it is their fault. They had no say in the matter. And they are perhaps most adversely affected by the drastic and emotionally challenging lifestyle change.

I write about divorce a lot because it has been a dominant theme in my life for more than 30 years.

These are wounds that never fully heal.

But We Do the Best We Can

Life is hard. And no one tells us how hard marriage is, and the ones who try do an inadequate job conveying the gravity of their advice and warnings.

A lot of us marry young, without as much information as we should have. A lot of us have children. And half the time it breaks. And so many people get hurt, and it just keeps happening over and over and over again.

But we do the best we can.

I have a six-year-old son in first grade and he’s my freaking favorite.

He is the first line of defense and litmus test for every woman I meet. Right or wrong, I ask myself immediately: Could she be a potential stepmom for my son? If the answer to that question isn’t yes, then seeing her again is an exercise in futility.

If I ever find an actual girlfriend, it’s going to take a very long time before I introduce my son to her. That’s because I think children of divorced parents have had enough loss and change in their lives and don’t deserve to grow attached to ANOTHER person that could be taken away from them.

There’s no guarantee it won’t happen anyway. But we do the best we can.

I talk to lots of divorced parents and most share my thinking. People they date often don’t meet their children. I agree with the policy.

I know of one mother whose boyfriend has been involved in her only child’s life for months, perhaps years, but she still has reservations about marrying again (despite him appearing to be a very good man) because of her daughter.

And something dawned on me while hearing the story. Her parents are still together. She has never had any experience with stepparents.

Maybe a lot of people are like that.

My Other Father

I met him on my birthday.

I was young. He brought me candy and a board game. Just some guy.

But after a while, he wasn’t just some guy. He was the guy who loved my mom and who did very dad-like things for and with me.

He was a basketball coach and he took me with him to his practices. Taught me how to shoot a decent jump shot.

He was a sports enthusiast who refereed football and basketball, and umpired baseball games. He taught me all about the games I love.

He taught me to read when I was in kindergarten. He taught me to swim and ride a bike, too.

He supported me financially like a father.

Disciplined me like a father.

Loved me like a father.

His parents became my grandparents. His brothers and sisters became my aunts and uncles. His presence became a familiar comfort while I was missing my dad.

It’s hard to imagine how my life might have turned out without that man’s steady hand being part of it.

He taught me about character.

He taught me about teamwork.

He taught me about choosing to love.

My stepfather and his extended family were a very important piece of my childhood. And while divorce and its hardships hurt me as a child, it would be disingenuous to not express enormous gratitude for the many blessings that also came from it.

My father remarried also. My stepmom, too, is an important part of my life, but growing up under my mother’s roof, my stepdad had a much more direct impact on my development.

These are IMPORTANT, life-altering relationships.

And for all the heartache and fear attached to divorce. For all the protective measures we take on behalf of our children, I think it’s critical to never lose sight of the unknown future and the many good things that could be coming for us.

We hurt because our families are broken.

We feel ashamed because we couldn’t hold it together for those little hearts and minds that mean so much to us.

But unless you had a childhood like me, you couldn’t possibly know it.

That if you make good choices. If you find someone with a kind heart, a good soul, a steady hand, and the ability to truly love? You give your child gifts of value impossible to measure.

We feel sad, broken and frightened sometimes. Afraid of the unknown future. Of screwing up our kids even more.

But maybe sometimes we’re just overthinking it.

Maybe if you just find one of the good ones—and they are out there: good, kind, smart, decent people—you create joyful opportunity for yourself and your children.

Maybe it’s not the same as what you’d always imagined, but maybe on balance, it really isn’t so bad for them. And maybe it’s even a little bit good.

Maybe there are fewer tears and more laughs.

Less pain and more hope.

Because that’s the thing about stepparents.

The really good kind, anyway.

The ones like mine.

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