Tag Archives: Forgiveness

The Search for Beauty in Divorce

(Image/Shutterstock)

Six short years ago, my wife was selfishly choosing her emotions over the wellbeing of our family. She was breaking her promise to love me and to honor our marriage in good times and in bad. She was failing me, and our son, and I blamed her—angrily—for quitting on me. For quitting on us.

Her leaving, resulting in an empty home, the loss of half my son’s childhood, and genuine fear of my unknown future, was the most painful and life-disrupting thing I’ve ever been through.

First, my parents divorced when I was too young to object, making my life harder than all of my friends’. A long-time source of pain and sadness, and my wife knew it.

Divorce wasn’t on the table. We’d said it a hundred times.

But there she goes. Choosing another life over ours. She was running toward something she wanted and felt good about. Her life was IMPROVING, while I was crying in the kitchen, dry heaving into the sink, and feeling certain no one would ever want to kiss me again.

It was almost like I wanted to die, and the shame and feelings of failure that brought are indescribable. I was officially NOT ME anymore. I was some pathetic, sobbing, broken imposter.

She did this to me, I thought and felt.

Not felt, like a purple bruise or a hard slap.

I felt gutted. Betrayed.

I felt rage.

I didn’t want anyone physically hurt—that’s not my way—but I wanted to burn something to the ground. I had a couple of places in mind.

When you hurt that much, you stop caring about things you previously used to. Self-preservation matters less because dying would at least solve the pain problem. When it seems like the worst thing just happened to you, it can make you feel as if nothing else can be taken from you. You’re not afraid of new pain, because nothing could hurt worse than what you’re feeling now.

The worst thing I have ever known—bringing a pain I couldn’t have survived too much longer than it lasted, and forcing me to adjust uncomfortably to an entirely new life I’d never wanted or asked for—was divorce.

Divorce—in and of itself—was the enemy, and an evil thing.

And my ex-wife—the betrayer; the quitter—was the one who forced me to endure it.

The anxiety would make me puke sometimes. Tears would stream down my face.

“That fucking bitch,” I’d choke out.

And then I’d vomit again.

The Road Back to Life

I was dead.

My heartbeat remained. I could move around and talk a little. But I’d lost several months, maybe even a year. What I was doing wasn’t living.

I had ONE ultra-focused mission: To make sure I protected myself and my son from ever experiencing a pain like that again.

My new top priority was to NEVER feel dead again. I’m not sure I could survive it twice.

Divorce hurt me as a little kid.

Divorce hurt me as an adult.

Divorce hurt me as a friend, as several of my social relationships faded away.

Divorce hurt me as a professional, as I couldn’t focus at all on anything being said in meetings, nor could I care about work projects.

Divorce hurt me as a father, as I saw my son half as much as I had before, and I no longer had any control over who he was around, how safe he was; and that I now had to wear the Scarlet Letter of divorced dad in a million life situations where I assumed everyone—friend and stranger, alike—thought I was a shitty father.

Divorce was my new enemy. And I needed to understand it. NEEDED to.

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle,” Sun Tzu wrote in “The Art of War.”

It was an idea I’d already accepted. So I went to work on understanding divorce.

I did that right here.

I wrote stories. I wrote stories about my marriage. Little moments that stood out to me, and then I wrote about what I was thinking and feeling about them at the time, versus how I thought and felt about them today.

I read books.

I asked questions. I asked so many questions. Sometimes, just to myself while I stared at the ceiling waiting for the pain to stop.

And I just kept writing as I discovered new ideas. I was uncovering so much about myself, about people, about love and relationships and marriage, and it was empowering to find that new knowledge.

If I UNDERSTAND what happened to me, then I don’t need to be afraid of it happening again, I thought.

I became addicted.

I needed answers.

It was the only way to save myself.

How I Saved Myself

I used to creepily stare at myself in the bathroom mirror for longer than I imagine most sane people do. Like a cliché movie scene you don’t want to watch.

I didn’t recognize myself, because I felt like an entirely different person, and I think that made me see an entirely different person.

I actively sought UNCOMFORTABLE ideas—things I didn’t necessarily want to hear; things that opposed ideas I’d accepted as gospel truth my entire life; things I didn’t WANT to be true—because I’d spent my entire life swimming exclusively in comfort and familiarity, and all that had done was deliver the worst thing that had ever happened to me.

I had to try something else.

Why did my wife choose to end our marriage and leave? Is she evil? Crazy? Out to get me?

Is she stupid? Is she a con artist? Is she a monster?

Is she a bad mother?

Is she a bad person?

All that mattered was the truth because the truth is what I needed to understand to protect my future self from divorce, or from hurting like this ever again. I wasn’t afraid of any answers as long as they were true.

My wife wasn’t evil.

She wasn’t crazy.

She wasn’t intentionally trying to hurt me. There was no credible evidence of any of those things.

She wasn’t stupid, nor a con artist, nor a monster.

We still interacted all of the time, because our son was going back and forth between us every two or three days. We HAD to cooperate so that he always had school clothes, and lunch money, and whatever he needed to feel safe and loved.

Not only was she NOT trying to make any of that extra-hard on me, she—just as she had in our marriage—took on the responsibility of leading the way in knowing what he needed, and taking steps to make sure he had whatever that was. Doctor appointments. Meetings at school. Clothes. Supplies. Birthday and Christmas presents.

She did everything possible to include me in anything meaningful going on with our son.

She was the furthest thing from being a bad mother.

I met her when I was 18—a freshman in college. I’d known her for 16 years—more than half of my life that I could actually remember. My son’s mother was NOT a bad person.

So how could this be? How could this happen?

I’d just stare into that bathroom mirror. Until I finally recognized my true enemy.

It wasn’t my ex-wife.

It wasn’t divorce.

It wasn’t God, or the Universe, or Life.

It was me.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me didn’t happen to me because my wife quit on me and tried to hurt me. My son wasn’t gone and growing up a child of divorce because of my wife’s selfishness.

The worst thing that had ever happened to me happened because of me.

Because my wife HURT—just as I was hurting right then—for years and years. And not only was I the source of that pain, but instead of listening to her and trying to help her NOT HURT anymore, I used pretty much every opportunity she took to try to talk to me about our marriage as some kind of personal affront, and accused her of always finding new things to complain about.

I was the source of her pain. Thus, I was the only one who could stop the hurt, and help her heal. As her husband, I must have seemed to her like a reasonable person to seek help from RE: the biggest source of pain and fear that SHE had ever known—again, just as I was feeling right then.

She came to me for help, and I told her that her concerns were a figment of her imagination.

She asked me to help her stop hurting, and I told her that the things she was telling me were painful were NOT things that actually hurt people, so something must be wrong with her. I told her to get help. I told her to stop blaming me for her own weaknesses and poorly thought-out arguments.

Without even trying to be an asshole, I transformed all of the pain and relationship-killing behaviors I caused into something my wife was responsible for.

I BELIEVED the story I had told myself about her selfishness and mismanaged emotions.

I BELIEVED I was the good guy. The victim.

I BELIEVED divorce was evil and a plague on society.

I BELIEVED women everywhere were growing dissatisfied in their relationships for superficial reasons, and then abandoning their husbands and breaking families because life didn’t deliver them the Cinderella fairytale ending they’d hoped for.

It felt true. All of it. Because from the inside of my life, that’s how I experienced it.

But what really happened?

She persevered through 12 years of the person who had promised to love, serve, honor and protect her for the rest of her life, ignoring most requests for help.

She remained hopeful that she’d eventually find the right words to break through. The ones that would help me see what she already knew to be true. The ones that would effectively communicate how much she hurt on the inside—how afraid she was—just as I felt right then, staring into the bathroom mirror taking stock of all that I’d done.

I believed a story about myself that wasn’t true. That—because I tried to be a good person who loved others and didn’t hurt people—I was by default a good husband.

I believed a story about my wife that wasn’t true. That—because years and years and years and years of pain piled up in moments big and small where the ONE person she had let into her life to be with forever, and had trusted to love her deeply, turned his back on her, or ran away any time she talked about feeling sad or hurt or unhappy. She didn’t QUIT. She reluctantly submitted after THOUSANDS of moments where her partner demonstrated both a lack of competence and/or desire to help protect her from the kind of pain that turns you into an entirely different person.

The kind of person you no longer recognize in the mirror.

I believed a story about divorce that wasn’t true. That—because I felt so hurt by it and saw so many other people hurt by it—it was evil.

Divorce isn’t evil. It’s just bad. Like cancer.

Divorce isn’t a plague. Broken people accidentally hurting each other in their most important relationships is. THAT’s the plague.

Divorce—as ugly as it feels to me, and as uncomfortable as it makes me philosophically after a lifetime of believing Marriage is Forever—is a tool for people who are otherwise out of options.

It’s a lifeline.

An emergency escape hatch.

It’s inconvenient. Because the thing I want most in the world is to help people avoid accidentally harming their relationships, which I believe will lead to fewer divorces and more forever-marriages.

It’s inconvenient. Because divorce has caused me more pain than anything else I’ve ever known.

And as I’ve railed against divorce, and lifted up marriage as virtuous and sacred, I’ve accidentally piled on even more.

Because divorce is bad, but some things are worse.

What causes more pain than divorce?

I never recognized it because it was never happening to me.

But just maybe, the trappings of a faux-happy marriage—the kind that look good to everyone else, but are silently killing one or both members of it—wreaks more havoc. Maybe that causes even more damage, and more pain.

Everyone and everything is a little bit damaged.

Perfection isn’t part of the human experience.

But when we know we are a little bit damaged and love ourselves anyway; and when we acknowledge our imperfections, but still courageously step up to light up the darkness—I think that’s about as close as we get to perfect.

In the uncomfortable, gritty, raw, unfiltered muck of real life, both the beauty and the pain often keeps out of sight.

I was lost.

And I found my way back by learning how to find both the beauty and the pain that isn’t obvious to anyone not looking for it.

You must find the pain. If you don’t see it, you’ll feed it, and accidentally hurt the people you love—and yourself.

I see you, people suffering silently. You’re brave and amazing.

And you must find the beauty. Covered up by all the rage and fear and anxiety and vomit and tears.

If you don’t see it, you’ll lose hope.

I see you, people committed to being a force for good when it seems like you’re constantly being shit on for doing so. You inspire me to carry on. You fuel me to give more. Thank you.

The most beautiful things are those that persist despite all of the horrors happening around them and all of the ugliness trying to cover them up.

The most beautiful things ARE NOT those things unmarred by nicks and scratches.

The most beautiful things are those that radiate so much good, that whatever imperfections inevitably exist, we never even notice.

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BREAKING: Someone Called Me ‘Jesus-Like,’ My Mother’s Head Explodes

humility

Humility is worth striving for. I hope I don’t come across as lacking it, because that will be a major failure on my part. (Image/blog.adw.org)

“I’ve got nothing against God. It’s his fan club I can’t stand.” 

— Unknown athiest

I was having a nice time with a small group of friends gathered for my 37th birthday before everything went sideways.

It’s one of those speakeasy-styled places with super-legit handcrafted cocktails. Good company. Good drinks. Good everything.

And then one of my newest friends (who was promptly downgraded to ‘acquaintance’ status after this) stopped in with two of her girlfriends from work, one of whom my friendquaintance was trying to set me up with.

God.

An Interlude

“When you live what you preach, you don’t have to say much.”

— Abdul Nasir Jangda

Something you might not know about me since most of you only read things here and it’s sometimes difficult to convey tone with the written word: I am an animated person.

I’m gregarious. A tad loud sometimes. And I have a reputation with some people as having really strong opinions about seemingly inconsequential things, which is well deserved, but ONLY within the context of trusting that I mostly have my priorities in order.

For example:

Maybe I have strong opinions about some facet of religion or about a particular politician or divisive political issue. No matter what someone believes and no matter how much my opinions might diverge from theirs, it’s generally “safe” to discuss sensitive things with me without any risk of fighting or offending one another.

That’s because I work hard at NOT, A. Judging, B. Trying to convert someone to my way of thinking, C. Being impolite, offensive or unkind, and D. Assuming of every mathematically possible answer that exists in Life, that little old me somehow has all of the correct ones. It’s all part of my master plan to be less of an asshole.

HOWEVER, to the uninitiated, listening to me go off on the relative inadequacies of Mounds or Three Musketeers candy bars, or debating the merits of crunchy versus creamy peanut butter, or some other random personal-preference thing, can seem like I’m going off the rails about something inconsequential.

It’s because I foolishly believe that no rational human could ever think I’m ACTUALLY that passionate about something stupid like peanut butter, just like I foolishly believed that no rational wife could ever ACTUALLY believe that I didn’t love her based on my well-documented Shitty Husband behavior.

When someone dangerously cuts you off in traffic, and you’re pissed about it, the difference between whether they were recklessly cutting you off “just because!” or because they were rushing their deathly ill child to the hospital is likely to influence how we feel about it.

Context matters.

Back to the Birthday Thing

“An ounce of practice is worth more than tons of preaching.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

The three women walked in, we shook hands while they wished me a happy birthday, then they ordered drinks, before somehow, some way, religion and church attendance became the topic of conversation.

Among the churchgoers, I think everyone attended Christian services of various denominations.

As a Catholic (not a very good one), I counted myself among them.

But I was quickly derided by the girl my friendquaintance wanted to hook me up with. She didn’t attempt to conceal her disgust with my personal choices, informing one of her coworkers that “Catholics aren’t real Christians because they don’t believe in love and forgiveness.”

Attempts to politely correct her were met with assurances that she knew better. As a baptized Catholic, I firmly rejected the concepts of love and forgiveness. That was her take. She looked me in the eye and said so.

I have zero problems with people not believing what I believe. Because in the context of their individual life experiences, it almost ALWAYS makes sense that they believe what they believe.

But there’s a point where that stops being true. And that’s when an ignoramus opines on a subject she knows nothing about, is politely corrected by someone with more than 30 years of personal knowledge on the subject, and STILL insists she knows before repeating something ridiculous.

This was an opportunity for me to behave with patience, with kindness, with humility, with perspective in a way someone might consider Christ-like.

But instead, I did the Matt thing where I get a little pompous and outraged—NOT about the religious aspect of the conversation nearly as much as how irrational and bitchy the Birthday Ruinator was.

Out of context, it probably looked and felt like I was being super-non-Jesusy in a moment that probably called for walking a higher path.

I don’t know.

Maybe it was super-Jesusy that I didn’t call her a big, fat stupid face who sucks at all things, which is reasonably close to how I felt about her in the moment.

The Last Thing I Want to be is Preachy

“It is no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching.”

—St. Francis of Assisi

In a comment, a reader asked whether I was a practicing Christian, but I unintentionally never answered it. In response to that comment, another reader wrote this, which could legitimately cause my mother to have an aneurysm or actually explode when she reads it. (I hope not, mom. Please let me know you’re okay!)

In agreement with a previous comment, Catherine wrote:

“I was thinking this. Matt, you are very Jesus-like in the way you preach. Perhaps you should start a Church for Husbands! They do not want to go with us, maybe you could start one on TV? HeHeHe…”

I can’t emphasize this strongly enough: I don’t KNOW anything. I lack the knowledge of those with more education, the experience of those who actually have healthy relationships, and the wisdom of the people with the requisite education and experience.

I never want to come off (even though I have many times failed at this in real life and on this blog) as if I think I KNOW things.

I just THINK things.

And I like to tell the stories of my life and marriage as a cautionary tale to others because I perceive (correctly or otherwise) my life and marriage story to be fairly average.

I think most people accidentally break their marriages, and I think I mostly see how.

But none of that means I’m capable of walking the walk in a future relationship. That remains to be seen. There’s certainly no reason to assume I will.

And regardless of what you might believe about Jesus, there’s EVERY reason to believe I have little in common with him.

I believe Catherine meant well and was mostly being playful.

But my alarm went off when I read the word “preach.” Because I can’t think of a more off-putting way to be than to PREACH. As if I—some divorced jerkoff on the internet—is in any position to PREACH to any one of you.

I apologize for any time you felt as if I thought I was some super-smart and wise person who you should listen to. (About things that matter. You should TOTALLY listen to me on things that don’t matter, like food, music, movies and all of the other things about which I have exquisite tastes.)

I only hope that if you ever recognize yourself in the stories that you ask yourself whether there are better choices to be made or better ways to live, so that good and beautiful things happen for you and your children.

Because they don’t make tequila strong enough to salvage the kind of sideways birthday parties I had. And even if I start walking on water or turning said water into wine, you can be damn sure no one will confuse my behavior with Jesus’.

Even if I do believe in love and forgiveness.

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The Truth About Love You Might Not Accept

"The Vagabond/Prodigal Son" by Hieronymus Bosch

“The Vagabond/Prodigal Son” by Hieronymus Bosch

There was a wealthy farmer with two sons.

The younger son, dissatisfied with his boring life, went to his dad and asked for his inheritance early. The request was demanding and entitled. It would have been interpreted at the time a little bit like he wished his father was already dead.

Then the young man, armed with a lot of money, left home, abandoned his family and their business, traveled far and wide, and lived lavishly.

Fancy clothes. Expensive meals. Wild parties. Lots of sex.

He did that every day until he ran out of money right around the time the economy tanked and weather patterns decimated regional crop farming. Widespread famine took hold.

The rich, entitled kid had nothing left. No real friends. No viable job prospects. And now there was a food-shortage crisis, so he couldn’t find food.

With no other options, he would have to return home, tail tucked between his legs, and beg his father to let him come back. He didn’t expect a warm welcome. He was going to ask his dad to hire him as a farmhand to work the land, and sleep in one of the barns with the farm animals.

But to the young man’s surprise, that’s not how it went down. When his father heard word that his wayward son had come home, he dropped everything and sprinted to him.

Instead of admonishing him for being so selfish, foolish and irresponsible, he hugged him tight with tears of joy, expressing his love and gratitude for his safe return.

Instead of punishing him for abandoning the family and his responsibilities to waste a small fortune on excessive living, he threw a massive party to celebrate his child’s return.

The older brother was pissed. While his idiot brother was out burning money on wine and prostitutes, he had stayed home and dutifully tended to the family business and was an all-around respectful and obedient son.

No one ever threw me a party for doing the right thing!, he thought.

He went up to his dad and said what most of us would: “Umm. Dad. This is total bullshit. I’ve been right here doing all the right things all these years while that douchebag was off wasting his entire fortune on drunken orgasms. Then he comes home, and we treat him like the conquering hero? Where’s my party, dad? Where’s my ‘Atta Boy?”

The father understood his elder son’s frustration, but said simply: “Celebrating your brother’s return is the right thing to do. We thought he was dead. But here he is, alive. He was lost. And now he’s been found.”

Anyone even loosely familiar with the bible knows that story. It’s the parable of the Prodigal Son—a story about redemption. My favorite kind. It’s supposed to symbolize the endless mercy of God, personified biblically as a loving father.

But it’s also the best story I know which addresses the thing we need to talk about, because I think maybe a lot of people don’t know what it really means. And I think maybe that lack of understanding is ruining their marriages; their relationships with children and parents, with siblings, with friends, with neighbors, with co-workers, and everyone else:

Unconditional love.

Because We Care What Others Think, We Do Stuff

It’s uncomfortable to admit. We all want to believe we’re so courageous and unique and authentic. We all want to believe the decisions we make are for us because we’re genuinely pursuing whatever it is our hearts and minds compel us to chase in life.

But that’s bullshit, and we all know it.

We do things to win the approval of our parents. You didn’t go to medical school at Dartmouth because you wanted to go to Dartmouth or become a doctor. You did it because your grandfather did that, and then your dad did it, and if you don’t do it, you’ll always be the person who tarnished the family legacy, and you were afraid of the shame and possible rejection.

We do things so that other kids in school will accept us. You dated Lauren because she was hot and you wanted to look cool to the other guys, not because there was some legitimate emotional connection. You avoided playing in the band, not because you didn’t love music, but because you didn’t want your football teammates calling you a “band nerd.”

You didn’t drink beer because you actually liked it. Cherry Coke and Dr. Pepper always tasted better. You did it because you wanted to fit in.

We still do this as adults. All the time.

It affects our choices about the houses we live in and the cars we drive. It influences the clothes we wear. Who we hang out with. How we treat our friends.

We worry about our children’s behavior sometimes, not because we’re ACTUALLY worried about the long-term impact on our children’s lives (most of the dumb stuff they do will have almost no bearing on how their lives turn out, and are in fact necessary experiences from which to learn important life lessons), but because we worry about what other parents might think about us as that kid’s parents.

We do and feel many things for no other reason than we invest in other people’s perception of us. The most interesting part of that is, we don’t really know what another person thinks of us. So we project our personal feelings on others, and essentially guess what they think will make us look attractive or smart or funny or successful or whatever. And then we try to display that ideal image as much as possible. We do so in an attempt to win favor with those around us for whatever conscious or subconscious reasons we have. So we ultimately end up living a huge percentage of our lives in the service of others who probably don’t care, and even if they do, we don’t know what they actually believe anyway unless we take off the masks and build legitimately authentic relationships with them.

We’re always pretending a little.

I don’t think that makes us phonies. I think it just makes us humans who haven’t yet asked ourselves the right questions, nor answered them correctly.

If we had, we wouldn’t be driven by fear.

Learning to Enjoy Dating After Divorce

Okay. “Enjoy” is an overstatement. Dating after divorce generally blows.

But there’s one aspect of it I’ve learned to love: I don’t give one iota of a shit what the girl I’m meeting thinks of me.

Let me clarify: Of course I want to be liked. I prefer the feeling of someone liking and desiring me MUCH more than the feeling of non-interest or rejection.

But because dysfunctional relationships, emotionally inconvenient breakups, nor God forbid, another divorce, aren’t thing I want; and because I learned the hard way that wearing masks and shutting out partners from our innermost thoughts and feelings we’re too scared and insecure to share for fear of rejection is a proven path to relationship failure; I’ve developed a taste for courageous honesty. Frankly, it isn’t all that courageous anymore because I’m no longer afraid to share it.

If I tell the girl on the other side of the dinner table something honest about myself and she doesn’t want me because of that honest thing, how was a relationship ever going to work out in the first place? Why would I WANT to be with someone who only liked the fake version of me?

Men have been lying to women to get them into bed for as long as people have had the ability to communicate. (I can’t prove that. I’m just certain it’s true. Cro-Magnon Man was totally grunt-lying to cave chicks about the size of that last bear he killed.)

But if the goal is something with staying power and long-term sustainability, doing the thing most guys do in high school and college to look cool or high-status to girls we meet, is pointless. It amounts to little more than trying to impress them and win their superficial approval. Even if we succeed, it provides no value to our future selves or our current or future children.

Dishonesty—even in the form of not disclosing those two or three things you don’t like sharing with others because you’re afraid they’ll run away or think less of you—WILL break your relationship. And the longer the relationship goes, the greater the pain will be.

So, we choose honesty.

I’m divorced, and largely responsible for it.

I have a young son.

I have ADHD and it sometimes strains my relationships and can affect other parts of my life, professionally and financially.

I’m a child of divorce.

I’m totally middle class but genuinely work hard to be more.

I’m not the kind of dude who can fix your overheated engine on the side of the road, or build you a shelter with my imaginary knife I always carry with me if we get lost in the jungle before I go kill our dinner.

This, this, and this is wrong with me.

I believe X, Y and Z even though it might make you uncomfortable and not want me.

After you take off the mask and share THE REAL YOU with someone? Those who want you, admire you, crave your companionship, enjoy your company; and want to be friends with you, invite you to parties, introduce you to their family and professional network, and think you’re the kind of person who could positively influence their children…

THOSE are the people with whom you build long-lasting, meaningful relationships in whatever capacity you choose.

THOSE are the people who love you, not because of what you do for them, or how you make them look to the people in their lives whose approval they seek, but because they really, just, love YOU.

Mark Manson’s “Maybe You Don’t Know What Love Is” got my wheels turning about this. In it, he writes:

“If you want to remove or repair the conditional relationships in your life and have strong unconditional relationships, you are going to have to piss some people off. What I mean is that you have to stop accepting people’s conditions. And you have to let go of your own.

“This invariably involves telling someone close to you “no” in the exact situation they want to hear it the least. It will cause drama. A shit-storm of drama in many cases. After all, what you are doing is you are taking somebody who has been using parts of you to make themselves feel better and denying their ability to do so. Their reaction will be angry and they will blame you. They will say a lot of mean things about you.

“But don’t become discouraged. This sort of reaction is just further proof of the conditions on the relationship. A real honest love is willing to respect and accept something it doesn’t want to hear. A conditional love will fight back.

“But this drama is necessary. Because one of two things will emerge from it. Either the person will be unable to let go of their conditions and they will therefore remove themselves from your life (which, ultimately, is a good thing in most cases). Or, the person will be forced to appreciate you unconditionally, to love you in spite of the inconveniences you may pose to themselves or their self-esteem.”

Life is difficult. It’s not easy even though we all wonder: Why not?! Relationships are difficult because they require energy and maintenance. Everyone wants love to be a feeling flowing from an eternal spring of easyness like infatuation and lust, two reasonably bullshit feelings exposed as frauds by how short-lived they are.

But not love.

Because love isn’t bullshit. Maybe love “the feeling,” is. But not real love. Not love “the choice.”

It’s the one you wake up and choose to give because you love without expectation of getting something in return. It’s unconditional. You don’t love because of what the person does for you. You don’t love because of how they make you feel about yourself. You don’t love because of the opportunities they provide you.

You just love. Without agenda.

Just because.

Maybe that’s how things come back from the dead.

Maybe that’s how something sacred and lost gets found.

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If I Die Before I Wake

(Image/fbccoverstreet.com)

(Image/fbccoverstreet.com)

I think about dying sometimes.

I think about dying because sometimes people die.

I can’t decide how afraid of it I am. I tend to feel a little afraid of any situation in which I have no prior experience, or am missing a lot of information and don’t know what to expect. So I guess I’m a little bit afraid to die, which I like better than three years ago when being awake hurt so much that staying alive too long feeling that way seemed much scarier.

One of the worst things about being a divorced, single father is that there’s no one around to document life with my son. My little second-grader, thankfully, has several family members on his mom’s side who he sees pretty regularly.

But because we live far from my extended family, and I’ve been single for three years, there’s this huge chunk of my son’s life that only exists in his memory and mine. If I die today, he’ll only have a few pieces of visual evidence documenting our life together.

He curled up next to me on the couch last night. He wanted to look at old photos of him and us. Even though I’m an infrequent Facebook user, it’s still my largest repository of old photos.

It’s a time warp, because there’s close to nothing from the past three years.

If you judged and measured my life in terms of Facebook activity, it’s not hard to see the world turned upside-down in 2010, and stayed that way. My son didn’t recognize some of his friends from today because they were so young in the photos.

We got to Fourth of July photos from 2010.

“Look dad! That’s when mommy still came with us when we go to visit grandpa’s,” he said.

“That’s right, bud. You’ll see mommy in a lot of these photos,” I said. “See? There you both are. Look at that face.”

“That was one of my happiest years.”

“What do you mean?”

“When I was 3, and mommy still lived here.”

That sort of thing used to make me cry. I’m tougher now.

“Do you remember when mommy still lived here?”

“Yeah. I remember.”

We flipped back to Christmas 2009. There was a photo of him standing in the middle of my in-law’s old living room, a place he spent much of his first three years before the whole world changed.

“Where is that, dad?”

“Are you serious? You don’t know where that is?”

“I just don’t really remember,” he said.

I think about his grandfather—my father-in-law—all the time. We lost him unexpectedly one day, and some of us went into an involuntary tailspin afterward.

I don’t presume to know what happens after we die, but if it’s possible for him to peek in on his grandson, I know he is. He was an awesome grandpa.

I wonder what he thinks of me. Maybe he feels like I failed his daughter, and considers me a major disappointment. Maybe he hears me sometimes when I get upset with his grandson, and wishes he could tell me to chill out and maintain perspective.

You know?

Because we’re all going to die one day. And really? Who gives a shit about a few crumbs on the dining room floor?

Sometimes, I think about dying in my sleep.

I hope my son is with his mom if that happens any time soon.

She and I rely on mobile phones to communicate with each other. Sometimes when one of us is particularly busy and distracted, or we have our phones plugged in and away from us, the other worries that something bad might have happened after we don’t get responses to texts, or our calls go unanswered.

If enough hours go by, I start concocting potentially terrifying stories and possible explanations in my head, because that’s what I do sometimes in the absence of facts.

At my son’s age, even though he’d be really upset and afraid, I think he’d be able to use my phone to reach his mom. I think he knows to go to the neighbors for help in an emergency.

I hope he’ll be okay.

I hope my life choices didn’t add up to a freakish moment where a young child has to face the body of his dead father and try to figure out what to do next, and then not even have very many photos of our good times together to look through afterward.

I worry about my parents. I don’t call them enough, so maybe they secretly think I don’t love and appreciate them as much as I do.

I worry about my family, friends, neighbors and co-workers. I hope they know what they mean to me. They probably don’t. It’s probably my fault. But I hope they guess correctly.

I worry about you. Most of you won’t care or notice. But some of you will. If you’re still reading this meandering, self-indulgent post, you’re probably someone who cares. You’re probably someone who might notice when the updates simply stop. Hopefully by design. But maybe not. Maybe one day there just won’t be any more heartbeats. Then, no more posts. And maybe some of you will wonder what happened. Maybe some people will think I quit, or ran out of words.

Maybe some of you will guess correctly that I died, and be frustrated that there may never be a way to know for sure.

I might not die today. I probably won’t, since I’ve never died any of the other days I’ve been alive. But maybe I will. Maybe this is the day the top of the hourglass runs dry. That’s the point, really. We never know.

If I’m out of time, what is it that needs to be said, and to whom?

Is that really worth feeling upset over?

Shouldn’t the things people think about in their final moments be the things we put most of our focus on?

I think so.

I hope this isn’t the last thing I ever write. That they don’t find the plates I left in the sink. The stack of mail on my desk. The unmade bed. The unfinished Pinewood Derby car on the bench downstairs.

The last father-son project. Unfinished, like this life.

We probably don’t wake up one day feeling ready to die—feeling like we got it all right, and accomplished all we set out to do.

Maybe the best we can do is whatever’s in front of us today.

Offering to help.

Forgiving them.

Forgiving ourselves.

Trying hard.

Loving harder.

Choosing hope.

Choosing courage.

If I knew this was the last thing I would ever write, I would finish with a note to my son (Love you, kid.):

Thinking about dying is only awesome if you use it as motivation to take nothing for granted. I did many bad things. But I always chose hope, and it has never failed me. I hope you will, too.

I don’t spend most of my life thinking about dying. I promise.

I spend most of it thinking about living.

I spend most of it thinking about living because sometimes people really live.

Be one of them.

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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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Marijuana, Bible Studies, and Bridge Construction

(Image courtesy of screen-wallpapers.com)

(Image courtesy of screen-wallpapers.com)

“Shit! I have to go.”

Everything was hazy and surreal in the smoke-filled room. It’s because four of us just burned a massive blunt. I was pretty high. There was nothing particularly weird about that. In college, I was often pretty high.

“Where do you have to go?” my friends asked.

“Bible study,” I said. “I forgot all about it.”

“Bible study!? You can’t go to bible study!” my roommate said. He didn’t say it because he, or anyone else in the room, had a problem with faith or bible studies. He said it because I looked and smelled and was acting exactly like someone who had just smoked a lot of marijuana, and he figured—perhaps correctly—that it wasn’t an appropriate time to study Scripture.

“Gotta do it, man,” I said. And then I ran off on my 10-minute trek to meet a guy whose name I can’t remember to discuss a chapter in the New Testament I can’t remember discussing.

You know, because in college, I was often pretty high.

Can’t Stay Hidden Forever

In January, an exceptional guy about my age died. Everything was fine. His wife was pregnant with their fourth child. He was in excellent physical condition. Then, the doctors told him he had cancer the day after Christmas. And he was gone a month later.

Just like that.

The story hit me hard. I had never met Paul Coakley. But I knew quite a few people who were close to him in college and stayed in touch into our adult years. The story was tragic and touching and I wrote about it.

A random Google search yesterday led one of Paul’s friends to that post. They shared it on social media and now several hundred people have read it, and many of them shared it some more.

Because that happened, more people I know in real life discovered this blog. The world closes in on me every time that happens. More people to judge the adult version of me. A version of me so different from the one they might remember when I was young, confident, always positive and optimistic, strong, brave, and afraid of little.

Now, they’ll find someone else.

A divorced single father who hasn’t lived up to his own expectations. A guy who failed to achieve professionally, socially and spiritually, the life I’d always envisioned.

I’ve been writing here for two years now. I’ve grown accustomed to many people reading the things I write.

But it feels so different when it’s someone you know. People you respect deeply and maybe wish didn’t know about all your skeletons. The skeletons on display here. I used to joke a lot about my mother and grandmother finding this place and freaking out. That will probably happen one day.

I use my first name and I show my face because I feel like a fraudulent coward if I don’t at least do that.

Someday, I’ll have to own all of it. It still scares me, even though I’m actively trying to care less.

You can’t stay hidden forever.

What I’m Doing Here

Relativism (the reality of things being relative to one another—not the philosophical doctrine) is a funny thing.

Some people have seen and done things many of us can barely fathom. Especially some kid from a quiet little Ohio town, like me. Those people read about me smoking pot and all the keg parties and my bouts with conscience regarding sexual desire as a young kid in church, and probably roll their eyes, because to them—Who cares!?

Others living purer, more disciplined lifestyles might be more offended by my casual references to sex or my somewhat cavalier use of bad words. And I still worry about what other people think of me. It’s a weakness. I’m working on it.

Except, here’s the thing: I KNOW everyone feels most of the same things I feel. Because I’ve been alive 36 years and that’s enough time to figure out a few things.

I wasn’t allowed to watch PG-13 movies when I was 13. I grew up in one of those houses.

So it makes total sense that I wanted to party when I got to college and lived on my own. It’s totally human to want to learn and experience things for oneself.

The sex stuff? Everyone who claims to not understand is a dirty liar. Most people just don’t talk about it.

Everyone has a different definition of good and bad.

Behaviorally, I’ve long been a I’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints kind-of guy.

Philosophically, I’ve always wanted to be a good person.

The older I get, the less I understand what it means to be a good person.

I only know that’s what I want to be.

I don’t know if it’s possible to bridge the gap between the righteous and the fallen. Because most of us don’t even know for sure what either of those things mean. But if there is such a thing—a bridge?

That’s who and what I want to be.

I’m probably doing it wrong.

If This is Low, I’m Looking for High

Being stoned during bible study is a metaphor for my life ever since discovering there are emotional consequences to various life choices.

Using the loose definition of these words, I want to be bad and I want to be good. I can’t look you in the eye and honestly say that I don’t occasionally want to do things I loosely define as “bad.”

I don’t know what it means to be a good person, but a good, loose definition might be someone who follows their conscience. Someone who has principles and sticks to them.

I’m certainly guilty of not always doing that.

I got high a lot back in college because I liked having fun with my friends.

I went to bible study because I liked the idea of pursuing a higher path (no pun intended).

And I’m always trying to offset some of the bad with some good. Like maybe if I do a bunch of good things, I can erase some of the bad things, even though I’m pretty sure it doesn’t work like that.

Like I’m trying in vain to scrub away some dirt in a foolish attempt to convince people I’m better than I am.

But I’m not better. I’m just whatever I am.

And if I ever did get to the top, I’m not sure I’d know what to do with myself.

I’m sure the view is nice.

But, in truth?

I dig the climb.

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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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If You Could Only Choose One: Love or Marriage?

Marriage matters. But honestly? Not as much as love.

Marriage matters. But honestly? Not as much as love.

I’m pretty good at beating myself up.

If they awarded fighting championship belts for kicking one’s own ass, I’d be a top contender.

And I’m a bruised, bloodied mess after this past week—about 13 months after my marriage detonated.

Because I’ve been having inconvenient feelings about my ex-wife for the past week or so.

It’s because getting over anger is one of the things I’m best at.

It’s because she’s my son’s mother and seeing them together is like watching the sun set into the ocean, or watching a meteor shower from the top of a mountain. Seeing them together combines two of the most beautiful things I know of.

Mega-beauty. Beauty on steroids. And it affects me down deep where almost nothing can reach.

Removing from the conversation the special love a father has for his son which all parents and perhaps many non-parents understand, I can say with absolute certainty that I have never loved anything the way I loved his mother.

Not even my parents, who I adore. You’re sort of born into loving your parents, and if they love you back, you just always have that mutual love. The same is true in reverse of your own children, except you’d quite literally do anything for them.

But your spouse is a different animal entirely. You choose them. You love them the same as your parents and children, except there’s no genetics tying you to them.

The bond is something more powerful than genealogy. Supernatural, really.

The souls melt together in a spiritual cauldron.

I think that’s why you die a little when that bond is forcibly torn apart.

Marriage Matters

It does.

It matters.

I know there are a lot of people who don’t like it and have been destroyed by it and want no part of it.

Maybe I’ll never do it again. I don’t know.

There are a lot of people who believe monogamy is against our very nature as human beings.

I get it. I really do.

The anti-marriage crowd exists because almost everyone gets married, and statistically half crash and burn, and then a bunch of things suck afterward.

It cripples individuals across all four key areas of life: Mental, Physical, Emotional, Spiritual. Families break. Friends are lost. Homes are abandoned. The cost is high. Financially and within the fabric of our lives. On the inside.

People look at marriage and say: “It’s bullshit! It fails HALF the time, and a large percentage of married people are miserable!”

Hard to argue with them.

But marriage does make sense to me. It’s the optimum way to raise well-rounded human beings.

And I don’t think “marriage” is broken. I think people are broken. And I think, viewed through the right prism, the appropriate conclusion is that, yes, marriage sucks—but it doesn’t have to.

Here’s a five-point, scaled-down excerpt from something I wrote in August 2013 on the subject:

In Defense of Marriage

1. A life partner

I don’t really like being alone. I think most people feel that way. I think we inherently crave human connection. There are many ways to achieve it. Marriage is one of those ways. I know what you’re thinking Person Who Hates Marriage. I don’t want some ball and chain tying me down! My friends, my family and my dog keep me company! Yeah, I get it. But, guess what? Someday you’re going to be old. OLD. And I don’t want you dying alone at the local Bingo game reeking of Ben Gay while suffering from gout and fibromyalgia.

2. A sexual partner

Having sex is important. It’s good for you. It keeps you sane. And it chemically and spiritually enhances your relationship with your partner. Sure, you can have sex with a bunch of randoms, if that’s your thing. But if you do that too much, you’ll just end up with bastard children and gonorrhea. And then you’ll die alone. With herpes on your mouth. It’s better to do it with just one person. More boring? Probably. But that’s why you practice often. So you get really good at it. So good that all other people in the world could never do it as well as you guys can.

3. An emotional partner

Everyone has a different childhood experience. But for the most part, we’re raised by parents in some form or fashion. They are the people who love us, and teach us, and provide for us, and care for us, and fill a million different roles as we mature through our youth. And then one day, maybe when you least expect it, they’ll be gone. It’s a hard time. And having a strong, loving, emotional connection with someone—someone you can count on to carry you when you’re too weak to walk, to hold you when you need to cry, to sit patiently when you need to scream—is a valuable thing. We almost all leave the nest. And there is wisdom in building a new nest. Otherwise, you might just end up flying from one tree to the next, shitting on freshly washed cars and singing for a mate who never comes.

4. A spiritual partner

I understand not everyone makes faith or spirituality part of their lives. But I do aspire to Christian principles, which I’d break down into a super-basic philosophy: Love people. Give more than you take. Don’t be a dick. I’m almost decent at two out of three. No matter what faith or philosophy you practice, some days are harder than others. Life gets in the way. We question things. We have doubts. We search for meaning. Having someone around to help you walk your walk is a helpful life tool. More importantly, if there are children, having mom and dad on the same page really helps establish whatever foundation you want your kids to have.

5. A parenting partner

Science supports the notion that having both a mother and father at home is a wonderful thing. Children are better off when they receive the daily benefits of both. And it’s invaluable for them to have their male and female role models show them what unconditional love in a family is supposed to look and feel like. Ever notice how kids who grow up with mothers or fathers who do something great, seem to make following in their footsteps look so easy? Happens in sports all the time. Great football player has kid that goes on to be a great football player. Successful attorney has kid that goes on to be a successful attorney. Famous politician has kid that goes on to succeed in politics. The list goes on and on. Genetics have a little to do with it. But mostly, it’s the example. The football player’s son knows nothing but how to succeed in athletics. The attorney’s daughter never dreams of doing anything but going to law school. The politician’s child never considers any career but public service. They have the blueprint. They follow it. Because they don’t know how to fail at those things. The same can be true of marriage. The same SHOULD be true of marriage.

Love Never Fails

But when the enchanting and delightful Jennie Saia (she’s married; calm down) asked me the following question in the comments of my last post, something inside me changed.

“If you had to get just one right – say the universe wouldn’t let you have two, no matter what – would you choose love or marriage?”

I’m not sure why it even took 10 seconds to decide. I guess I was just being careful.

You choose love every time.

Jennie’s question doesn’t alter any facts about my life. The truth is the truth.

I failed my wife. I was a subpar husband. And she eventually fell out of love with me and moved on.

I didn’t take it well. (You’re allowed to laugh at that.)

In the final analysis, I was bad at marriage. And I have the self-flagellation cuts and scars to prove it.

But I’ve never been bad at love. In fact, I’m kind of awesome at it.

If you’ll indulge me a Forrest Gump quote: I’m not a smart man. But I know what love is.

A simple question, really. But a profound one.

Love or marriage? If you had to choose.

If we’re ever going to heal. If we’re ever going to love or be loved again. Then we MUST (it’s a legit prerequisite to a functional life) forgive ourselves.

We must.

I’m not very good at it. So much of that hinges on failing my wife and son. Failing my friends and extended family. Failing myself.

I was a bad husband. And a bunch of people paid the price for that. Including my two favorites.

How do we forgive ourselves?

Maybe with some perspective. Maybe it starts right there.

Love or marriage? If you could only have one.

Love is patient.

Love is kind.

It keeps no record of wrongs.

Love always hopes.

Love never fails.

We shouldn’t forget it.

The marriage is gone. A memory. An old ring in my dresser drawer. An old photo album. An empty spot on the wall where a frame once hung.

But the love doesn’t have to be gone.

And we get to sleep at night because we love. We get to hold our heads up high because we love. We get to draw others to us because we love.

We get to forgive ourselves because we love.

And then, I think, we get to find out what we’re made of.

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Guest Post: The Rewritten Life

pen_and_paperNOTE: This is the fourth in a series of guest posts set to run while I’m away. And it’s written by one of my favorite writers who hardly ever writes. But hopefully that will change. What little he has written lives at “Unloaded.” He’s a good writer. A good man. (And in the ultimate display of vanity…) He reminds me of me. I’ve written four posts about this man. You just didn’t know it. He inspires me. And I hope I get to keep reading his work because I think he and his wife have a bunch of lessons for this world. So, DD. Thanks for writing this.

I have been away from my blog for a few months now. I see that a lot in the world of thera-blogging.

New ones pop up, old ones go down. Hearts are broken, hearts heal. Lives take unexpected turns.

You feel like you have a connection, and then poof—gone. At first you miss them. You wonder.

Eventually you forget.

Sad, I suppose. But I get it. Hell, I did it. I consider my blog a new one that went down prematurely. I assume that logic would account for many of the ones out there.

I started my little journey right around the same time as Matt and MBTTTR. For much, if not exactly the same reasons. His wife left, my wife left—on the same day. He drives a Jeep he can sort-of afford, as do I. He upgraded to it from a sweet-as-hell 2005 Pontiac Grand Prix. I know how sweet-as-hell it is because I drove the same car—same year, same color. Black.

The creepy similarities list goes on and on, but what resonates with me most is the personal things we share. The pain. The confusion. The embarrassment. The recovery. The understanding. Half the time I read MBTTTR, I see my life. I picture my dirty taco dishes in the sink. My lame Match profile and short stature.

My fiscally irresponsible bills piling up.

My neglect.

My memories.

My wife.

I get it. All too well, in fact.

It is not something anyone should ever want to “get,” but with it are great lessons to be learned. And I feel fortunate we have been given the chance to learn them. Even considering the cost. We have learned hard truths that have made us better men. Better husband material. Better fathers. Better writers.

At some point our paths diverged, Matt and I’s. I never chose divorce. I chose to see this whole husband/wife/family thing through. Whether she wanted to or not. I pushed along because I love my wife, and all the ifs, ands, and buts we both carry. I love the possibilities. And now I know the bond of marriage is not unbreakable, but rather always under construction.

We were separated for six months. We have been back together in “our” house since October.

Roughly, or rather exactly the same period of time I have neglected my blog. I keep wanting to write but came up with myriad excuses not to. It’s just—different now. I hope to use this as springboard for sharing again. To share my story of reconciliation. Of how to heal. How to build trust again. I can only hope it helps even one person, one family, as I know so many others have helped me and mine.

One MAJOR disclaimer: My marriage is in no way perfect now. But it is better than it ever was. I only intend to share what happens. What really happens. Not a watered down, “Oh, things are peachy,” version. I have learned what that sort of communication gets you. I have learned how to shut out an audience.

So onto my first excuse for not writing.

WoN: My family’s privacy. This one kills me. I have come up with fifty different reasons alone under this excuse not to write. There are some pretty painful and personal indiscretions laid out in some of MBTTTR’s posts about My Digital Doppelganger, i.e., Me. Ones that are not exposed in my personal blog. There are also some personal things in my blog which would identify my family. The two major problems with this argument? No one reads my blog. There is not much content and I could easily just start a new one. But what I have come up with now is to just privatize or edit some of the existing “identifying” posts. Rocket surgery.

ToO: My initial thoughts right after our reconciliation was to write about dealing with the causes of our break-up, and the ramifications of some of the hurtful decisions we made. I was concerned the pain was too fresh to be shared publicly. This one is moot now. I am already getting over that pain.

The memories are there, and there are triggers now and again, but it is no longer my obsession. It sort of just falls under excuse one.

ThREA: I didn’t want it to interfere with our communication. This is just plain retarded. My writing is the best way for me to communicate to my wife. It is part of why we are together today. It is where I can honestly share my thoughts, without my kneejerk mouth getting in the way. Moron.

FoRe: I don’t have time. BUT—I have watched every episode of Dexter in the last two months. Laziness.

FiVe: I may pull traffic away from MBTTTR. No, not really. But I can truthfully say I was a little hesitant due to my new path versus Matt’s. There was a bit of “winner’s guilt” going on. I am that vain. And insecure. Stupidity.

We all write for our own reasons. Mine is pride. I am proud to put myself out there, even if it is anonymous. I am not always happy with the product (this piece, included,) but I like thinking I created something that may resonate with someone.

Something that will someday be missed, wondered about and forgotten.

Here is where I make my expectations clear. ~See that, I have learned something.

I want to thank Matt for giving me this opportunity to share. He has thrown me an exceptionally large bone and I am very, very honored. He is a gentleman and a Google scholar. And he writes good shit.

To whatever extent you may admit, we all want more traffic, whatever our reasons may be. So share MBTTTR with that girl next to you on the train. And that guy you see every morning when you get coffee. And your personal masseuse. And oh, oh, most importantly of all, share it with your shitty husband.

Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

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