Tag Archives: kids

Don’t Overthink It: To Live Better and Feel Happy, Have More Fun

happy face

“Fun is good,” Dr. Seuss is quoted as saying on the internet, so I can’t be entirely sure it’s true.
But even if it’s not, I could just quote myself saying it right now: “Fun is good.” – Matt
Because honestly, we need to be having more of it. Yes, even you. (Image/download-wallpaper.net)

Do you ever find yourself in situations where you’re supposed to be having fun and feeling good, but you’re not and you don’t?

Not only is what you’re doing NOT fun, but there’s the bonus element of suckage resulting from your unmet expectations and ensuing disappointment.

There are countless reasons why something we expected to be good turned out to be bad. Maybe we’re having a fight with our spouse or partner and now the party we attended with them isn’t fun. Maybe we have a chronic injury and the pain we feel on long runs or bike rides sucks the joy out of a previously positive experience. Maybe we’re doing something alone, but we discover that we only feel good or happy when we’re doing it with other people. (Giggity.)

How much I like or don’t like something tends to be influenced heavily by my expectations leading into it. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to not hype things up in my head so much, and have discovered many more pleasant surprises along the way as a result. I like pleasant surprises.

But something else has also happened as I’ve gotten older—I’ve had less fun.

I don’t think people want to admit that.

I think we feel guilty and ashamed when we take an honest, no-bullshit assessment of our lives and conclude: I don’t enjoy life as much as I used to.

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we’re married or in committed relationships and we don’t understand why the most important relationship in our adult lives doesn’t deliver more personal happiness. Maybe we’re afraid to admit to ourselves or anyone else how much of our lives we sacrificed to promise forever to someone else, only to feel much more disappointed than we ever acknowledge.

Shouldn’t my relationship deliver more joy and satisfaction than it does?

Maybe we think it sounds shitty to admit that since we have kids and we love them so intensely. Shouldn’t I feel happier and have more fun as a parent than I do?

Maybe we’re embarrassed that no matter how much wealth, real estate, or career advancements we earn, we still sometimes feel a yearning when we’re laying still in the dark with nothing to drown out our most honest inner thoughts.

I’ve achieved and acquired so many things I believed would make me happy, but the truth is, back when I was just a poor kid playing backyard football in a small town no one’s ever heard of, I felt HAPPIER and had MORE FUN than I do now.

And once again, our unmet expectations take a poke at our insides, making the corners of our mouths just a little bit heavier. It’s harder to find our smiles when we find ourselves once again asking: WTF happened to my life? Why do I feel so unfulfilled?

Maybe it’s Just Me

I don’t mean to sound as if I assume your life sucks and that you feel depressed all the time.

I don’t feel depressed all the time.

My life doesn’t suck.

BUT. There’s no question that I don’t have as much fun as I used to.

And that dear friends—I believe—is the answer to the riddle.

Everyone’s Fun Looks Different, So Trust Yourself, Not What Others Say

I can sit for five or six hours in a poker tournament folding 90 percent of my hands and have fun.

My ex-wife thought that sounded dreadful. Even some of my fellow poker enthusiasts can’t stand the idea of folding so many hands. (Bonus Life Tip: That’s how you win poker tournaments—folding the vast majority of the time.)

Some people love crocheting. Or bowling. Or gardening. Or painting tin soldiers. Or reading biographies. Or watercolor painting.

No one can tell you what feels fun. It’s our job to try things and then evaluate as fairly and honestly as possible how pleasurable of an experience each thing was.

In a life where more and more demands are being placed on us from family and career responsibilities, and an increasingly more-connected world also means more distractions, the FIRST things most of us sacrifice to make room for these demands are the things that bring us pleasure.

We are continually being forced to cut out more and more of the things we do simply because we like them. And normally, productivity and accomplishment provides a sense of satisfaction. But almost inevitably, mandatory tasks always start to feel burdensome.

Nothing but divorce has ever depressed me more than the day I realized that I wake up every weekday, drive to work, and do something I wouldn’t necessarily be doing if I didn’t need the income, before going home only to wake up and do the same thing again the following day.

It’s still true right now.

I exchange the vast majority of my (non-sleeping) life for a paycheck.

Why?

(This is the depressing part.)

So I can have enough money to stay alive (food, water, clothing, health care), have shelter (mortgage), and afford transportation (car payment).

In a life with a finite amount of time, I question the wisdom in exchanging the majority of my life experiences simply to have a house to sleep in, stuff to store there, and a vehicle to drive me back and forth to the job.

To deal with this, I pursue several other things (including the writing I do here, and the speaking I hope to do in the future) in my limited spare time to have hope that I can wake up every day feeling more fulfilled and as if how I’m spending my time has more purpose and value.

But that’s a personal problem.

What all of us are ultimately pursuing is CONTENTMENT. And some people, who are either super-fortunate to have been born that way, or are models of practicing intentional gratitude, DO actually feel content to live in their homes and their towns and go to work every day.

They are rich in home life. In friends and family (or super-content to be mostly alone and reclusive—and for those wired for that—that’s great too). They are thankful for what they have and aren’t slaves to The Disease of More.

But we don’t have time for platitudes.

We’re not going to tell depressed people to “chin up.”

We’re not going to tell happy people how lucky they are that they don’t suffer as others do.

We’re not going to tell people that they’re wrong because of their likes and dislikes.

In the interest of self-care and supporting those we care about most, it’s critical that we make time to engage in activities that give us life and energy.

It makes us better romantic partners.

It makes us better parents.

It makes us better friends.

It makes us better members of the workforce.

It makes us better human beings.

The Importance of Discovering Our Happy Places

Kids instinctively do their favorite things in whatever moments and environments they’re in, given whatever resources are available.

Children don’t know all of their favorite things because they spend a lifetime discovering them. Some are given a narrow view of the world and limited opportunities because of whatever circumstances they’re born into, and others are introduced to unlimited possibility and have rich life experiences that are the result of substantial financial resources, or resourceful and supportive parents and adult role models.

Some kids are told that they can’t do certain things. Over and over again. Because their parents or siblings or friends or teachers roll their eyes at these childhood dreams and say very adult things like “Well, young lady. That sounds great, but how are you going to make money doing that?”, or “Well, young man. I’m sure you’d make a fine [insert dream-big idea here] but you don’t have the skills, knowledge, money, talent, geography, etc. Maybe you should think of something more realistic like being an assistant restaurant manager, or a third-shift foreman at the local factory.”

Even if you were supported as children, you can still hear and feel all of the naysayers every time you’re vulnerable enough to share an idea that makes you feel alive on the inside.

And then those closest to us tell us we’re silly and impractical, or otherwise leave the impression that we’re not good enough.

Husbands and wives have divorced, and children have gone years without speaking to their parents, for less.

The most fortunate of us can make a sustainable living doing things we love. (I am paid decently, mostly to write things. It’s a miracle, and I STILL complain because I don’t like bosses and rules, and occasionally demonstrate a gratitude problem.)

But often we invest time in activities that don’t pay us back with money. Social clubs. Hobbies. Parties. Travel. Volunteerism. Sports. Art. Whatever.

We do these things because we feel pleasure when we do them.

Sometimes it’s one thing. Sometimes it’s many things. Maybe some people can’t think of ANYTHING (outside of sex, drugs and alcohol) that they do simply for the enjoyment and fulfillment of doing it.

But you must.

And you must encourage your partners and children to do the same.

We place so much value on the acquisition of money and material goods, to the point where adults believe they’re happy when they’ve gotten enough money to buy the thing they’ve spent years believing “When I FINALLY have that magical thing, I’m going to feel successful and happy. THEN, I’ll know I’ve made it,” only to inevitably discover that the feeling is fleeting and then The Disease of More rears its ugly head once again.

I think goals are amazing.

I think wanting things and experiences and money is more than okay. I want them too.

But along the way, we forget to pursue happiness and joy ON the journey.

We forget to have fun. The kind of fun that’s OURS. Maybe other people like it. Maybe they don’t. But we must do things that light that fire of happiness within us.

It’s a feeling.

And the real magic of knowing that feeling is that once we identify it (which is easy as an unfulfilled adult because it feels so radically different from the rest of existence), we can begin to recognize it in other parts of our lives.

With our spouses or romantic partners.

With our children.

With our co-workers.

We begin to recognize the set of conditions that produces that feeling of fun and energy and enthusiasm. The one that makes us feel like the best version of ourselves.

It’s pretty cliché and platitudey for me to offer some bullshit like: “Be the change you wish to see in the world,” or “Before you can love someone else, you must first love yourself.”

So I’ll leave that to the Instagram quote writers.

But in a life where our relationships with our romantic partners are THE #1 FACTOR in the quality of our life and health, and half of all marriages fail, I don’t think we can afford to ignore the importance of injecting fun into our lives.

It’s NOT selfish to pursue fun if that fun gives you the energy you need to be the best romantic partner and parent possible.

It’s UNSELFISH and important to encourage your partner to take some time to do things they need to do to find their happy place (which may or may not involve dwarf cowboys). If we need to step up and take something off of their plate so that they have the time to pursue THEIR passion, I think we’ll discover incalculable dividends.

We’re broken.

Messy.

Imbalanced and unsteady.

Amidst the chaos Life throws our way, one of the ways we can achieve balance and sure footing is to call timeouts for fun.

No agenda.

Just to be in the moment, or be with the people with whom fun spontaneously happens.

We forget to play.

We confuse acquisition, advancement and long-term goals as the happiness-delivering payoff to justify all the miserable drudgery we subject ourselves to while our most important relationships fail, and we feel ourselves slip further and further away from the US we remember from long ago.

When things just felt better.

When we were happy.

When life was fun.

It can’t and won’t look the same as it did back then. But if we invest less in feeling like failures for our lives looking and feeling differently than our little-kid dreams imagined, and more in simply pouring our minds and hearts into the things that fill our souls?

Maybe our children accidentally learn how to live better by watching us live better, and maybe our marriages and personal relationships thrive.

Because we’re no longer living for tomorrow.

But once again, just like when we were kids, we’re alive today.

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The Fastest Way to Stop Feeling Angry: How a Dying Child Changed the World

father hugging children

(Image/penneylaw.com)

“I hate you, dad!” he yelled from his bedroom. “You always want me to do things how you would do them, and I don’t want to! I’ll never be like you! You’re the worst dad ever!”

I was getting a divorce the last time I lost my breath while standing still.

The little person I love most in the world is about to turn 9.

He had refused to follow some simple instructions, said something dickheaded, so I sent my only child to his room to think about it for a while and threatened to cancel his upcoming birthday plans if he didn’t leave the door closed.

I’m sure I did it wrong.

He got angry and yelled a bunch of unkind things from behind his door that I’d never heard him say before.

It feels sometimes like he’s all I have. He’s the only person who gets everything I have to give. My entire life literally revolves around his wellbeing and needs.

I hate you, dad, he’d said.

That left a mark.

I’m pretty sure Maria McNamara never said something like that to her parents. And I’m pretty sure her parents—Ed and Megan—never sent her to her room for being a little shit-machine.

Maybe that would have happened at 17. Maybe after dad told her: “You’re not walking out of this house looking like that, young lady,” or after mom told her: “Don’t tell me what I can and can’t do with your phone, Maria. We love you and if we have to read your texts to understand what’s going on in your life and keep you safe, that’s exactly what we’re going to do.”

Probably not, though.

maria mcnamara - prayers from maria

Maria McNamara (Image/Prayers From Maria)

Look at that cute freaking face. That’s the face of a future class president, or the girl who won’t let others feel left out and who always stands up for the kids getting picked on, and then credits her parents for instilling good values and setting a great example.

Maria McNamara would be 17 today, enjoying her final high school summer break before senior year. She’d be getting her senior photos taken pretty soon. Maybe she’d have a boyfriend.

Maria died when she was 7.

One day, everything was normal and her parents probably felt frustrated with her and maybe occasionally used frustrated-parent tones with her. And then the next day doctors told them their baby girl had a cancerous brain tumor and would die within a year’s time.

“We knew on that day that our lives had changed forever and that we would never be the same again,” Megan McNamara wrote.

[NOTE: If you want to quit reading or are in a hurry, please at least scroll quickly to the bottom of this post to learn about a child killer we can identify AND do something about.]

I often wonder how much I’m getting wrong as father.

He’s my only child.

I wonder how verbalizing my frustration with certain things he does or doesn’t do might harm him. There’s a happy medium somewhere between not sweating the small stuff and providing adequate parental guidance.

I replay moments in my head and wonder to what extent he maybe feels like I’m too critical of him, or somehow disappointed in him.

I write a blog with a name symbolically rooted in the powerful human desire to feel adequate and accepted—to feel like we’re “enough.” If I foster feelings of inadequacy in my little boy, shame on me. He must always know he’s enough. I hope I can figure out how to always make him feel so.

What if I died today?, I wonder sometimes.

Maybe my heart will stop suddenly in my sleep. Maybe I’ll get T-boned at an intersection by a high-speed driver who never saw the light. Maybe I’ll be in the wrong place at the wrong time and get killed in an armed robbery.

What will my son feel and believe about himself because of these moments?

I don’t know.

But I do know that if I knew today was my last day with him, I certainly wouldn’t be wasting time on anger or sending him to his room.

I know that if I knew today was my last day with my son, he would never feel like I’m being hard on him. He would never feel anything except all of the intense and unconditional love I have for him.

In a life where ANYTHING can and does happen, one wonders how we so easily lose perspective on The Things That Matter.

Whoever you would want to see and talk to. Wherever you would want to be. Whatever activity you would want to be doing. In our final hours.

Those are the things that matter.

How easily we forget.

Little Maria had a brain tumor called a glioma. It is the second-deadliest form of cancer in children.

Her dad and mom, Ed and Megan, searched desperately for a way to save Maria. What they discovered was that cancer research focused on glioma prevention or recovery was virtually non-existent.

They then spent the next 14 months feeling unimaginable things—they and their three other children.

“In the course of the 14 months from Maria’s diagnosis, we watched her go from having balance issues, double vision, sleeping excessively and vomiting to bouncing back almost completely to normal after radiation in what is known as the ‘false hope’ stage,” Megan McNamara wrote. “From there the tumor began to grow back and eventually rob her of everything a child loves to do. She endured horrendous debilitating headaches. Eventually eating, swallowing and breathing became difficult. She watched as her body slowly began to shut down. I wasn’t even able to hug her tightly as it caused too much pain. As she saw herself becoming worse, Maria would tell us ‘I think we should go back to St. Jude’s.’ We had to tell her that St. Jude’s could no longer do anything for her anymore.”

How Little Maria Spent Her Final Days

She didn’t feel sorry for herself nor spend time praying for herself.

She spent her final days intent on praying for other children and other families battling cancer.

“Through it all, Maria showed tremendous character and dignity. Her strength, her courage and, most of all, her faith, left marks on our souls that have changed us forever,” her mom wrote. “She never thought of herself. Instead she chose to pray for all children suffering from cancer and their families. She prayed that the doctors would find a way to help them. She is our hero and her fight became our inspiration. Her prayers became our mission.”

Lighting Up the Darkness

People sometimes say “Everything happens for a reason,” and I don’t like it for the very reason that sometimes little kids get cancer, and I’m sorry, but I’m not okay with attaching concepts like Fate or Purpose to Maria’s death and the agony felt by her parents and siblings.

But I also understand that THIS is why people say that.

The suffering endured by Maria and her family provided an opportunity for a tiny person with a giant heart to inspire those around her.

And now we have Prayers From Maria – Children’s Glioma Cancer Foundation, dedicated to funding global research into the causes, prevention, treatments and cure for these childhood brain tumors.

 

Why I’m Writing About This and Why it Matters So Much to Me

I know a guy.

He is easily among the best and most-inspiring people I know. He has become a personally significant mentor and friend. He owns a web-design firm with a few business partners. They are amazing people doing amazing work. Their company’s stated mission and purpose is “to help humans flourish.”

Not to maximize profit (though they run a fine business). But simply to—as a business—lift people up.

Their remarkable team walks that walk on and off the clock. My personal admiration for them knows no bounds.

They are donating a bunch of their time, talents and money to Prayers From Maria.

They didn’t stick their hands out asking my consulting partners and I, or anyone else, to help offset their costs. They said simply that this is an amazing organization doing difference-making work and invited us to be a part of helping people who need and deserve it.

I feel honored to be asked, and would have wanted to help them EVEN IF the cause didn’t matter to me.

But I’m a father. This matters to me.

I think about how fast my son is growing. Too fast.

I think about how I’m not promised tomorrow, or even five minutes from now.

How everything can change at any moment.

How truly, humbly, grateful I feel right now to have a healthy little boy.

How grateful I feel to have another opportunity to hug his precious face and see about mindfully adjusting how I communicate with him. About mindfully adjusting how I choose to think and act today with this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

To be here.

Right now.

Soon it will be time to go hug my son.

Almost 9 years old. Who’s luckier than me?

Maybe you. I hope you feel this too. The thing that replaces hurt and anger when we see things from another perspective.

Thank you for being you, Maria McNamara. For all you gave. And all you continue to.

Do Something Amazing Today

I don’t feel good asking you for things. If I ever get a book finished, I’ll surely be spamming you with pleas to purchase five copies.

I’m trying to save whatever goodwill I’ve earned for that.

But some things are bigger than me and more important than how comfortable I feel.

Right now, there’s a father somewhere who is about my age who has a son about 8 or 9 years old. Like me. But instead of getting ready to celebrate his birthday, he’s saying goodbye. Helpless. Trying to be strong for his wife and family. Trying to keep it together at work.

Right now, there’s a little boy out there around my son’s age who will grow up to be a father himself. And one of his kids is going to be diagnosed with a brain tumor.

Today, that diagnosis would be a death sentence.

But tomorrow, it doesn’t have to be.

Please join me in helping people save the lives of children and give hope to their parents.

There is no amount too small to give.

Thank you so much for reading this and doing something meaningful for other people today.

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The Thing Divorced Parents Fear Most

lost child

After divorce, you’re not always there to hold their hand. (Image/The Coverage)

When people experience divorce, several life changes happen at once, often compounding an already-excruciating time for those involved.

First, your partner is gone. Maybe you feel rejected. Maybe you feel guilt.

The entire ebb and flow of your life turns upside down. Everything feels different. You either live in the place you shared with them which now feels lifeless and empty, or you live in a brand-new place which can be a difficult adjustment under the best circumstances.

Some percentage of life tasks once performed by your partner aren’t getting done. You—literally—have more to do every day, even if you were the one doing most of the heavy lifting. Since I wasn’t, everything from vacuuming, dusting, laundry and bathroom cleaning to kitchen cleaning, opening mail, bill paying and keeping track of Life things on the calendar were added to the These Things Need Done pile. Life got harder.

You often lose in-law family members and friends overnight. Maybe they miss you. Maybe they don’t. Maybe you’ll never know.

Your money situation can be affected. Sometimes majorly. Sometimes it scares you.

Sometimes single adulthood produces life and social challenges in the dating and partnership arenas.

If you’re a parent, the situation with your children tends to emerge as the most-difficult component. It’s hard to lose your time with them. Kids grow so fast anyway. My son was in preschool when my time with him reduced by half.

It didn’t take me long to realize: if he’s a kid for another 14 years, that means I just lost SEVEN years with my son.

What would you trade for seven more years with ANYONE you love? Maybe everything.

There’s a long list of things negatively affected by divorce. But what I perceive to be the worst thing is something I rarely see discussed: The loss of any and all control of what happens to your children—the very people for which you live and breathe—when they’re not with you.

When Life Beats You Into Submission

When James Bond gets captured, we always know he’s going to pull off some rad-007 super-spy escape to get out of whatever situation he’s in.

In more tragic fiction stories, the bad guys sometimes catch up to and overpower our heroes. In some stories, those heroes may die or suffer enormous loss.

It’s often hard to watch or read. When the hero gets taken down from a fight he or she couldn’t have possibly won. Somewhere along the way, the characters realize, as we do: there’s no escape.

I like to say I don’t believe in unsolvable problems. That there’s ALWAYS a solution, or at least a way to make something or a situation substantially better.

But with kids after divorce? [*massive exhale noise*]

It can feel like there’s no escape. Not that you want to. But the reality of divorce and custody law and, I imagine, most of our moral compasses, gives us no obvious solutions.

That’s what makes it hard.

Some people are crappy spouses, but amazing parents. They “deserve” to be divorced because of their substandard efforts or behavior in marriage. And without going too far down the semantics and “Yeah, but” rabbit hole, it can be argued that amazing parents NEVER “deserve” to lose their children, even just sometimes. Certainly, children don’t deserve to lose parents.

As an advocate of personal responsibility, I think married parents should be intellectually capable of understanding that what’s best for their children is to always love the other parent in mind, heart, word and action, but I also know how murky the waters get and how gray the areas get when emotionally damaged humans start doing what emotionally damaged humans do.

Under the very best of divorced circumstances—where two adults communicate frequently, never undermine one another or use their children as pawns to inflict pain, and who truly demonstrate a commitment to putting children first—(which I’m insanely blessed to experience in my life) it’s STILL super-hard.

And there are so many levels to that. You worry about their physical health and safety. You worry about whatever undeserved emotional and psychological baggage they’re taking on from your past or present failings.

Mothers’ hearts break while driving away from screaming, outstretched-armed infants too young to verbally communicate or understand why mommy is leaving them. Mothers who stress over their children eating unhealthy meals, not brushing their teeth before bed, or being left unattended for long periods of time by partying, video-game-playing, or otherwise inattentive, fathers.

Fathers’ hearts break while looking at vacation photos of their children posted on social media while a bunch of people who used to be inner-circle friends and family Like and Favorite and Comment on Facebook and Instagram: “Everyone looks so happy! Love this!” Fathers who stress over their children’s unknown neighbors, or trying to match the level of domestic care their kids might experience at mom’s, or seeing another man experience father-child moments with their kids while attending baseball games or riding bikes and probably other things we’ll never hear about.

That’s when things are optimal.

When they’re not?

The other parent’s girlfriend or boyfriend might present some kind of threat to your child’s wellbeing. Perhaps in some obvious and specifically terrifying ways, or perhaps in more subtle mind- and heart-damaging ways you can only imagine.

I know of one 10-year-old girl and 7-year-old brother who text their dad (a guy I believe to be a decent man and fiercely loving father) every time a strange man emerges from mommy’s bedroom. The last number I heard was 6.

Maybe those new boyfriends or girlfriends are criminals. Abusers. Addicts. Maybe they’re psychotic. Moronic. Cruel.

Maybe they’ll teach your kids that what they’ve been taught about faith, or politics, or personal interests are “wrong” or “stupid” or not as good as some other thing.

Maybe they’ll tell your kids about things you do and spin them in ugly ways in an effort to make them think less of you.

Maybe they’ll make up lies to make them afraid of you or not want to see you at all.

In the United States, we have a legal system that mostly—but not always—helps people navigate these situations, but even then, they’re brutally expensive, emotionally exhausting, and even when things go your way, you STILL end up facing the tragic reality of your child’s other parent being someone you (and maybe even your children) can’t trust to take care of them in ways you perceive to be best for them.

Right or wrong, if your heart’s in the right place, it’s all a bit more than human beings are equipped to handle.

The Thing About Control

Maybe there’s a really wise approach to feeling out of control. Maybe there are obvious choices to make, and when we do, everything gets to be okay afterward.

Even though I feel truly blessed to share parenting with someone who I perceive to do virtually everything “right,” and who loves our son with the same passion and fierce loyalty any parent could want, I STILL experience this loss of control we’d all ideally like to have over the things that mean most to us, and affect us most deeply.

One of my friends texted me about a month ago: “May I request a future post about HOW TO COPE WITH A DOUCHEBAG dating your ex-wife and constantly hanging with your kid?”

My friend is solid people. But while I’m inclined to trust his judgment that his ex-wife’s boyfriend demonstrates legitimate douchebaggery, I can’t be 100-percent sure his feelings aren’t comprised the same as most of us are when we talk and think about our exes.

Regardless, this is an important thing.

It’s profoundly important when children are truly at risk.

It’s pretty damn important when children are being damaged in some ways, even if only accidentally.

And as part of the Macro Divorce Conversation, this needs acknowledgement and its day in the sun.

It’s hard to lose control of anything that impacts our lives.

It’s CRUSHING to lose control of things that directly impact our children’s wellbeing.

Maybe We’re Never Actually In Control

I wish I had an answer for how to cope, JBD.

But I don’t. I just…don’t.

I might die on my drive home today.

We can’t control whether our hearts will beat five seconds from now.

And I think that means we can’t control most things. Some people accept the lack of control as fundamental to the human experience. Others have faith that God’s in control, which helps eliminate fear.

Maybe the best we can do is influence.

We can use brute force and later pay the legal and human consequences.

We can use the legal system and maybe after spending a bunch of money, something gets better somehow.

We can fight back, trying to do things that might affect our exes as much as we feel affected.

Maybe some of that serves the purpose of helping our kids. Probably not.

Or.

Maybe we can accept responsibility for the role we played in creating the situation. Maybe we can accept responsibility for choosing life partnership and/or procreation with someone capable of not putting our child’s welfare above other things.

Or.

Maybe we can work on being the kind of people who make this spinning rock a better place to be. Maybe we can work on being people who light up the darkness.

And.

Maybe we can WANT and actively work for good things to happen to our exes, if for no other reason than to give our children the best lives possible.

Maybe we can pray for their hearts and minds. Maybe we can wish good things for them. Maybe we can say nice things to and about them. Maybe we can support them. Maybe we can help them. Maybe we can work on redeeming ourselves in our shared-parenting relationships by walking a higher path than we did on our marches toward divorce.

And just maybe, when we love that hard, walls come down and connections form.

Just maybe, our children thrive even under less-than-ideal circumstances.

Because life feels extra-difficult when we try to control everything only to discover we’re never really in control.

Maybe when we love hard enough, we won’t feel like we have to.

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They Don’t Love Your Kids, and They Shouldn’t Have To

Dating with kids

The closest thing to a girlfriend I’ve had since getting divorced was someone I met in the first 10 months.

And that might sound like a long time to regular, non-divorced people, but I hope you’ll believe me when I tell you it took two years to stop feeling super-fragile and waking up in the morning without feeling like the universe had just spent the night brain-raping me.

She was throwing a birthday party for her kindergarten-aged son and I attended because my little guy was friends and classmates with the birthday boy. Totally pretty. Totally single. I asked her out. She said yes. We had a four- or five-month thing.

She is a very busy mother of three, working full time and running her kids around constantly to little league games, Girl Scouts, and whatever else. Because the father of her children is a substandard human being, she received ZERO amounts of help from him. Like, couldn’t even count on him to keep their children overnight once in a while. She had also lost her parents, making her the grand prize winner of the Least-Supported Mother I’ve Ever Met contest.

Even though she only lives a few blocks away, we were lucky to get together once a week for a few hours. Her children are her highest priority (as kids are with most parents), and in the end, the math worked against us.

That experience taught me two things:

  1. Dating school moms is a HORRIBLE idea because if it were to somehow end badly you’d be stuck seeing them for several years. (It worked out fine for me, but still. Single dads: Don’t date school moms.)
  2. Dating after divorce with children is very hard and complicated.

The Plight of the Dating Parent

I was afraid it would be hard to find people willing to date a divorced father. And it’s actually much worse and more difficult than I expected. The good news is that I was all emo about it during the initial divorce period. I was worried about it hurting. Divorced people are tired of hurting.

I didn’t know how I was going to feel nearly three years later, where I now sit emotionally steady and sharper mentally than I’ve ever been.

So, it doesn’t hurt. Not now. And that’s key. But it is somewhat frustrating and annoying because I’m good at recognizing data samples and long-term trends, and it’s super easy to see that having one almost-girlfriend for four-ish months two years ago doesn’t extrapolate to anything hope-inspiring looking forward.

If the goal is cheap sex and casual dating, children would only serve as a hindrance in logistical ways (only being available when the children are with the other parent, or making sure there’s a trusted sitter available), though I’ve heard of plenty of parents who don’t insulate their kids from their dating and/or sex activities, which I consider unwise and disgusting, but I don’t pretend to know everything.

Cheap doesn’t appeal to me, which is particularly inconvenient since celibacy also doesn’t.

Children present challenges for people who are dating with an eye on the future—those open to long-term relationships and possible marriage.

When you view dating through that prism, your children become the ultimate filter, with the parent asking: Would this person be a positive influence on my child? Would they make me a better or worse parent? And if the answers to those questions aren’t the right ones, the potential relationship is dead on arrival.

The other person (who may also have kids) asks: Am I willing to take on a stepparent role to this person’s children and love them as my own? Can I be unselfish enough to respect the existing parent-child relationship as well as understand that I can never replace the children’s biological father (or mother)?

I’m terrified any time I meet women with several children (which I define as three or more). When I imagine a life with them, I imagine never having any money, ever, and even less time, and it gives me anxiety and makes me feel even more selfish than I usually do. I’m not saying I won’t do it. I have no idea what tomorrow will bring. I just know it scares me.

Which is the perfect segue to…

People Want What They Want, and It’s Often Not Others’ Children, and That Needs to be Okay

I didn’t think it was fair. Don’t they want the best possible partner? Isn’t that the most important thing?

Not dating me because I’m a father seemed shortsighted to me because they were never going to meet my son anyway unless it got to full-fledged boyfriend-girlfriend status at which time I assumed they’d lovingly accept my charming son as a valued addition to their life.

But really, I was the one being shortsighted. They weren’t making a choice for right now. They were making a personal choice about forever, and I wasn’t respecting it.

 

From a human value standpoint, I am not better than anyone. But in the context of the dating pool (of the non-cheap-sex variety)? I’m not better than the best men. But I like my chances of ranking in the top half, making me “better” than most men.

So, what the shit!? Why does it feel like I never meet anyone?

For the same reason most thirtysomething divorced parents feel that way.

Last time we were all single, we were high school or college-aged, and for the most part, we were almost exclusively surrounded by A. Single people, B. People our age, and C. People like us. I mean that culturally and demographically, which allows people to more easily discover common interests, participate in the same activities and feel comfortable with each other.

Fast forward 5-15 years to being divorced with children.

Now, we live somewhere else, or most of our friends have either married or moved out of town. We are not typically in social situations surrounded by single people, and while diversity is a great thing in the work place and in our friendships, the reality is too much cultural diversity in an intimate relationship–especially with kids (and philosophical disagreements on how to raise them)–can cause a ton of problems in marriage.

I swiped the previous three paragraphs from an obscenely long comment I left yesterday on Lisa Arends’ excellent and enlightening post “Dating After Divorce: What About the Kids?” at Lessons From the End of a Marriage.

Lisa’s explanation of her choice to avoid dating single dads following her divorce helped me better see things through the prism of women who choose to not be mothers.

I used to believe it was practical to meet people the old-fashioned way. I’ve never been shy about saying online dating is horrible and unnatural and that I hate it more than cabbage which is subpar raw, and shitty and indefensible when cooked.

I also used to believe it was possible I’d end up dating someone younger than me who had never been married and didn’t have kids.

I’m not saying I prefer someone like that. That’s not how I think about dating.

I simply look for someone I feel drawn to, which tends to begin with physical attraction, after which interest grows or recedes relative to all of our conscious and subconscious filters and biases: Ugh. She’s not very interesting. Or. Wow. We have nothing in common. Or. Damn. She’s intolerably bitchy. Or. Whoa. This woman has a brilliant and sexy mind. Or. Sigh. She has the kind of heart I want pushing me to be a better man. Or. Uh-oh. This girl is amazing and it’s going to hurt if she doesn’t like me back.

But dating after divorce got scarier still when I realized the never-married/no-kids crowd wasn’t the option I thought it was. It’s a numbers game. The largest percentage of single people fall into that category, so when you take them off the board, things start to feel even more bleak.

I’ve never set out to meet someone of a certain age nor particularly cared whether someone had been married or had children prior to me meeting them. Of course, that’s really easy for me to think and feel as a now-divorced parent.

Parents with four kids don’t think having four kids is scary. They can’t imagine NOT having four kids. Yet, I can be scared of it.

Similarly, it’s not scary to have my 7-year-old at home half the time. In fact it’s logistically about as easy as single parenting gets. Yet, single women are often scared of it. Or more importantly, per Lisa Arends’ post, may deliberately choose not to get involved.

And it’s not because they’re busy or judgy or shallow or selfish.

In some cases, it’s because they respect us enough to not mess with our hearts and minds, and they’re thoughtful enough to not subject our children who we love above all things to any more loss or potential feelings of abandonment by that partner.

No matter how much we love our children, or how much it doesn’t feel like a difficult choice to put them first because it’s our default position as parents once they enter our lives, we still sacrifice an insane amount of time, resources, and personal interests on their behalf.

Imagine purposefully volunteering for all those same sacrifices when you have baggage-free options available to you. That would be akin to getting two job offers from different companies to perform the same job, only to learn that one of the jobs has a 90-minute-longer commute, more stressful hours, more complex problems, a crappy vacation policy and 30-percent less pay, and then choosing it over the other.

Both my parents remarried when I was young, so I grew up seeing and experiencing what stable, loving stepparents accepting and loving a child they didn’t produce looks like. It’s probably as easy for me to imagine loving another’s kids as it would be for anyone.

Not everyone had that experience. Hopefully because their parents stayed together.

But maybe because their parents didn’t, and then they had a bunch of negative or traumatic experiences with the strange men and women forced into their lives.

I can’t imagine how hard that might have been and how much worse my life might have gotten had that been my experience.

And maybe now they’re going to trust their instincts and do all they can to give themselves the best chance for a life of happiness and contentment.

I’ve never been able to see it that way until now. But then I read something that challenged my assumptions and made me grow up a little more.

That always feels good.

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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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Your Kids Are Going to Get Divorced Unless We Fix This

(Image courtesy of Bridal Banter.)

(Image courtesy of Bridal Banter.)

I’ve written and published more than 400 posts here.

Many of them are about divorce and marriage because divorce was the hardest thing I ever did. I don’t mean “hardest thing” like: Oh man! Running a marathon was really hard! Or. Oh man! Installing that patio was really hard!

I mean: I can’t breathe. I cry and puke and panic all the time. I think I might die. And that doesn’t even scare me anymore because this is so horrible that dying might be better.

Maybe not everyone freaks out like me when they get divorced and they don’t see their kids all the time.

But I know some do. And maybe more importantly? I know some WILL. Because until people figure out how to be better at marriage, the divorce rate is going to continue to wreak havoc on families and society.

Kids are going to get angry and develop emotional and psychological issues.

Money is going to be tighter.

Families and old friendships will fracture. New ones will be formed and then those will fracture, too, because not enough people are learning lessons.

Fewer people smoke than they did in the 1970s because now we know there’s an infinitely greater chance of you getting cancer and dying if you do.

More people exercise and eat healthy than they did in the 1970s because now we know all of these great benefits of healthy living versus unhealthy living.

More people wear seat belts. Fewer people drink and drive.

We do a better job as a society with public safety measures of all stripes.

It’s because we DO get better at things. It’s because we CAN change things.

Why Aren’t People Doing Anything About Divorce?

I feel like so many of us just shrug our shoulders and think: Ehh! Nothing we can do about it! It’s just the way it is!

Because we don’t want to “legislate morality?” Because we don’t want to “tell people what to do?” Because we can’t “force people to be nice to one another?”

Sure. We can’t make ignorant people not hate. But we CAN—slowly but surely—cure ignorance.

We have done it over and over again as a society. With smoking. And STDs. And social issues related to race and sexual orientation and environmental conservation.

We CAN teach kids about common causes of divorce—things we grow up NOT EVEN KNOWING will destroy a marriage.

We CAN teach kids about the extensive research done on gender studies, and how smart cross-gender communication can improve our romantic, social and professional relationships across the board.

We CAN teach kids about the ramifications of divorce, financially and socially and in all of the ways it can damage our lives.

We teach kids all these things they never use when they grow up.

But pretty much EVERYONE is going to end up in a relationship, sooner or later. We can quibble over marriage rates, and gay couples, and those people who are going to co-habitat but never marry. Whatever. Those people STILL need to understand how to co-exist in those intimate relationships, and I would argue these things are infinitely more important to a person’s quality of life than ANYTHING we teach in school.

We may not be able to save already-horrible marriages, but we can damn sure start arming young people with the knowledge they’re ALL already interested in anyway: How to get and keep significant others and get along with friends.

We can save FUTURE marriages. We can.

I want to start sharing some older posts that I really believe in.

Some of these 400 posts have been read tens of thousands of times. Others? Just a few hundred. And I think some of these ideas are too valuable to live in the shadows.

So I’ve decided I want to start re-sharing some of them.

I’m going to start here:

Why should we all care about divorce as much as I do?

BECAUSE IT AFFECTS 95% OF US.

Other than our mutual interest in Earth continuing to spin around the sun without any major catastrophes, can you think of anything that affects so many people?

Exactly.

Maybe you’ll care like me. I sure hope so.

Please read:

The 95 Percent

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Faith Like a Child

Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, s

Because I was an only child, I often found myself meeting and playing with new kids.

No one cared about how much money your parents made. Or what clothes you were wearing. Or the color of your skin. Or where, or if, you went to church.

You only knew you were both kids and playing is fun. So you both played.

So long as no one was mean, everyone had a good time. You just played and played and played until someone’s parents made them leave.

We all wanted to be older. To not have anyone telling us no. To have our own money to buy things. To stay up as late as we wanted. To watch big-people shows. To sit at the adult table for holiday dinners.

No one at the kids’ table understood that life was never better than it was right then.

We all grow up and wonder why we never appreciated how good we had it.

Why Are Kids So Happy?

Someone smarter than me can probably put this in more academic terms.

But it’s because the kids don’t know about all the shit, right?

Because they are less likely to have lost someone in a tragic accident. They are less likely to know heartache and betrayal. To know poor health. To care about the social implications of poverty or their skin color or sexual orientation.

They’re happy because their shit pile is so light AND their bodies are so full of energy. Almost every kid will just run and run and run and run and laugh the entire time with their friends (maybe someone they just met!) for hours and hours.

Because Play! Fun! Laugh!

Before some grouchy, sad adult drops the hammer and makes them quiet down or stop running or go home and take a bath before bed because we have very important adult things to do tomorrow!

When Do We Lose Hope?

What’s the thing that has to happen for people to do that?

What’s the series of events that turns the child who believes she’s going to fly to Mars, or be elected President, or be a professional athlete turn into a resigned 9-to-5er who believes: “This is just the way it is!”?

More importantly, is there any way to clean that whiteboard and start again? Is there any way to filter out the impurities? Is there any way to recapture the youthful spirit and energy that won’t be held down by gravity?

We get older and we get scared. We’re afraid to move because we got divorced or because we lost a job or because things didn’t turn out the way we thought they would. Because we think we’ve disappointed our parents or our friends. Because we reject grace and forgiveness because we kind of want to carry the pile of shit and guilt and fuckness as some sort of self-imposed punishment.

I deserve this.

People think and feel that. It’s almost like they want to serve the penance. They need to serve the penance.

Atonement.

People feel trapped in their lives and they think they’re ruining it for their children or their family and friends and I’ve already done enough damage! and now it’s just a bunch of self-loathing, disappointment and fear. They’re afraid to cause any more harm.

They’re afraid to take the leap.

They’re paralyzed.

The Thing About Data Samples

We’re not going to debate climate change. Like almost every subject my brain has ever encountered, I.don’t.know and I’m never going to pretend I do. You don’t either. We just have a lot of guesswork. Some of them are probably right.

Anyone interested in intentionally damaging the planet is an asshole. But let’s not pretend we have a particularly good data sample size to make our impassioned political judgments and arguments in either direction.

The planet is 4.5 billion years old.

Humans started recording temperatures in 1850. We didn’t get tropospheric readings (from weather balloons and satellites) until 1950.

Now I want you to think of the entire history of the earth as ONE YEAR. Pretend the Earth was created on Jan. 1, and today in 2015, we’ve now completed one year of the planet’s existence.

The data we have on climate so far is the equivalent of about the first full second between midnight and 12:01 a.m. on that first day. (A good mathematician can come up with a more-accurate analogy, but the point will stand.)

You want to bet everything on your what-will-happen-next prediction based on a second of data?

Even if you’re someone who doesn’t believe in an afterlife, you still believe that energy never goes away (or should because it’s indisputable).

What happens to our consciousness remains up for debate by skeptics and the faithful.

But our energy is immortal and never-ending, no matter what.

And if there’s an afterlife? All this shit and guilt and fuckness we feel here isn’t going to mean a damn thing in a little bit.

How much of our lives have we really lived to know what’s going to happen next year? Next month? Next week?

Or one minute from now?

I hear all these stories from people. Beaten up by life. And now, they’re out of options! There’s absolutely nothing that can be done to change things. This is just the way it is.

This is not just the way it is.

We age and often feel shittier but some things ARE better now. All you need is one young child or the opportunity to spend time with one to feel better about your decision-making capabilities as an adult with a functioning brain.

Two days ago, I watched my son roll around on a dirty floor at his school with a bunch of his little friends and drop two donut holes from a paper plate onto the floor. About 10 seconds later after rolling around in Kids AIDS, he picked them up and ate them. Then he walked over to a table where drinks were set out and tried to mix white grape juice with orange juice. I’m convinced my interference is the only thing that prevented total disaster, and a shitty breakfast drink from being invented.

We have good brains and we should use them.

We’ll look to the kids, not for lessons on beverage mixing, but on how to get along with people and laugh more often.

Why can’t we be more like kids?

What’s stopping us from laughing and playing more? From not evaluating peers based on how much money they have or what their skin color looks like or who they choose to hang out with?

What’s stopping us from reaching for the stars with faith like a child?

We are not who we were yesterday.

Bad things happened to us. We did bad things. And we carry all that with us like luggage strapped to our backs and now we can’t be kids anymore because of the guilt luggage.

But we can get new luggage. Empty things waiting to be filled.

Yesterday does not get to decide who I am today.

Yesterday damn sure gets no say in who I am tomorrow.

You get to wake up every day and decide how you’re going to spend your time.

About whether you’re going to do something fun or productive or helpful or good or uplifting.

About at what table you’re going to sit at holiday gatherings.

About whether you’re going to do something with your life that sets your heart on fire and changes everything.

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“Dad! I Have to Show You Something.”

Growth. It's a process.

Growth. It’s a process.

Uh-oh.

That can mean so many things.

“Daaaad! I have to show you something,” my five-year-old yelled from down the hall.

It can mean something was broken. Ugh.

Or just that he wants to show me a cool scene in whatever show he’s watching.

“Da-da! Daaaddddddd! Daddy! I have to show you something.”

It can mean a huge mess was made. Grrr.

Or that he created something fantastic and imaginative with his toys and craves my approval.

“Dad. Dad. Dad. Hey dadddddddddddddddd! I’m calling you. Can you hear me? I have to show you something.”

It can mean there’s a pukey or poopy mess. Gross.

I can usually tell whether the thing he wants to show me is good or bad based on his tone of voice.

But it was late. I hadn’t been able to sleep. Everything was surreal. Confusing.

I looked over at the clock. “It’s 3:29 a.m., asshole,” the clock said. “It doesn’t matter that you’re tired. It doesn’t matter that you have to get up in less than three hours. It doesn’t matter that you’re alone and there’s no one to help you. Get up. Take care of your child. He needs you.”

Shit. The clock’s right.

In the months leading up to our son being born, I spent a lot of time in our nursery which had previously served as our home office.

I would just sit there, in a comfortable old recliner from college—our baby’s in-room rocking chair.

That was such an exciting time. Such a hopeful time.

The walls were already a soft yellow. Gender-neutral. So we left it alone.

We never learned the baby’s gender during the pregnancy. Surprises have merit.

My crafty wife made some curtains. Our very first baby item was a mobile for the crib. I think we bought it with a gift card at Pottery Barn Kids because it was literally the only thing we could afford there.

I’d glance at the crib, picturing a little person standing inside, waiting for mommy or daddy to pull them out of bed.

For some reason, I thought we were having a girl. But I was guilty of slightly favoring a boy. Because of all of the fond memories I had with my dad and stepdad. I was excited to share in those types of father-son adventures.

Gender didn’t matter, though.

The love was swelling. As I visualized the child. Rocking him or her in that chair. Playing with him or her in the backyard. All of the future games the three of us would play. And maybe four, as at that point, I still hoped there would be one more joining the family, too.

Mom and dad. Hopefully son and daughter.

My little family fantasy.

Babies are Hard

They are.

It’s hard to take care of everything that needs taken care of in a day for yourself AND for another little otherwise-helpless human being. They don’t care that you’re in a hurry. They’ll puke on your shirt.

They don’t care that you just stopped a few minutes ago on your long road trip. They shit in their diapers. Really foul, awful shit, too.

They cry a lot. It’s really the only way they know how to tell you what’s going on.

If they cry, it means they’re hungry. Or they’re tired. Or they’re uncomfortable. It’s always one of the three.

Which is good because it doesn’t take long to solve. Universal problems. Universal solutions.

It’s funny that I wanted another child.

Because I was a bad father. Check that. I wasn’t a bad father. I was a bad husband to a brand-new mother.

Yes. That.

My wife got two children right away. Or at least, that’s how she felt. Because she had to take care of all of us.

When you have a baby, everything changes. And you have to make radical adjustments. Solve problems.

Two loving adults pulling in the same direction can figure out how to solve those problems together.

But when one parent doesn’t give as much as they take?

That’s how you make a new mother feel alone. That’s how you make a woman resent a man. That’s how you lose her respect. And eventually, her love.

She did it all. She really did.

She read all the books. She baby-proofed the house. She created his schedule. She managed all of his medical care. She organized his clothes and baby needs and always had the baby bag packed and ready to go.

She made all of his homemade baby food. It was an awesome system.

She found the daycare family who, to this day, still cares for our son.

I’ve failed many things in my life. Many things.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever failed anyone harder than I did my wife during the first year of our son’s life. I was lost. And so was she.

But she figured it out.

And I didn’t.

Not until later. Not until the day we were both sitting on our deck one afternoon having a beer in the sunshine and I asked the question: “Am I the reason you didn’t want to have more kids?”

“Yes,” she said. “That is a big part of it.”

Growing. Always Growing.

Both of us.

Father and son. Twenty-nine years separating us.

But still. Growing. Every day.

The weather has been terrible. Absolutely frigid temperatures. We got six inches of snow overnight two nights ago. But right now, it’s in the mid-40s. It will be 50 tomorrow.

Those temperature swings make people sick.

My son developed a cough from sinus congestion. He coughed so hard, he vomited right when he got home yesterday.

I cancelled my plans for the evening to focus on him.

We watched a couple shows. Had dinner. Had his nightly bath.

We practiced his “sight” words. Little flash cards. His writing is improving. His ability to figure out what a word is based on the letters is really impressing me. He’s learning so much in kindergarten. I feel immense pride when he shows an ability to problem solve. Hell. I feel immense pride all the time.

And here we are, six years later. Only he’s here now. All those visions dancing in my head turned into a real flesh-and-blood person. A sweet one. A funny one. A smart one. A loving one.

One capable of the stubbornness of his parents. Of the irresponsibility of his father. Of the antics of many small children.

But still.

My son.

Everything I could have hoped for sitting on that recliner late into the night six years ago, daydreaming about fatherhood.

And now it really is fatherhood. It’s not just me leaning on my wife (now ex) for direction, even though she still gets a lot more right than I do.

I’m here. Really doing it. Really being a dad.

“White.”

“Blue.”

“Three.”

He rattled off his sight words as I flipped through the handwritten flash cards.

“Is.”

“The…

“Hey dad! Did you know ‘the’ is the most-important word of all the words? It is. I know it.”

I flipped to another.

“I don’t know this one, dad. You say it.”

“You can figure it out, bud,” I said.

“Wa. Ah. Te. What!”

I love when he figures things out on his own.

“Very good! Yes! That spells ‘what’!”

We read a book. He spotted the word “lion.”

“Hey dad! I know a secret code.”

“You know a secret code?”

“Yes. He pointed to ‘lion.’ If you take out the ‘L’ and the ‘I,’ it spells ‘on.’”

I laughed.

“Yes it does. Very good!”

It’s such a joy seeing their little minds work. Grow. Morph.

Little miracles.

He was coughing really hard. Even after the cough syrup.

He’d rolled off his propped-up sleeping position. Laying flat, the coughing frequency and severity increased.

“Dad! I need more water!”

I still use his last remaining spill-proof sippy cup for his nighttime water cup. I’m not sure whether that’s bad, given his age. I don’t like cleaning up spills.

I had fallen asleep around 9 p.m. and woke up at midnight just in time to catch the second night of the excellent and hilarious Jimmy Fallon rocking The Tonight Show.

I couldn’t get back to sleep.

Tossing. Turning. My son coughing down the hall.

Hot. Cold. Busy mind. More coughing.

“Dad. I need to show you something.”

It was 3:29 a.m.

I walked down the hall. He was sitting up. Wide-awake.

“Hey man. Why aren’t you sleeping? What do you want to show me?”

He climbed out of bed and walked to the hallway closet and opened it.

He pointed inside.

There was a humidifier sitting there.

A device that hadn’t left the closet since the last time my ex-wife used it.

I smiled. I have no idea how he even remembered that was in there.

Smart kid.

“Okay. You get back in bed. I’ll take care of this for you.”

I put the basin in the sink to fill up.

I ran downstairs to grab salt—the crappy iodized table salt—not my delicious Kosher salt I use for all my food prep.

I salted the water, not bothering to measure.

A couple minutes later, the humidifier was sending hot steam into the air. Relieving my son’s congestion.

My little man.

Thinking for himself.

Solving problems.

Helping himself.

And helping me, too.

Growing.

Always growing.

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The Worst Cat in the World

This is not my cat, as far as I know. But it looks just like him. Just like that very bad cat.

This is not my cat, as far as I know. But it looks just like him. Just like that very bad cat.

I have a very bad cat.

His name is Eli.

He lives in the unfinished half of my basement, and I don’t let him out much.

Because he pees.

He’s a pee-er.

A cat who pees.

All over the house. It’s maddening. And gross. So, he doesn’t get the run of the house anymore.

He’s very naughty.

And I’m the only person he loves in the world. So, I can’t give him to anyone.

Because he’ll just swat at them and hiss.

He is a very, very bad cat.

But he’s my cat. And he’s super cute when he’s not going “Reeeeeeeeeeeeeeaaaaaaaaaarrrrrrrrrrrrrr!”

Eli is not a good boy.

He’s not.

But he’s also not the worst cat in the world.

Disney’s Biggest Mistake, Ever (Including Aladdin 2: Return of Jafar)

Pete.

Sneaky Pete.

Peg-Leg Pete.

He goes by so many names. But I don’t care what you call him, so long as you acknowledge the truth.

Pete is the WORST CAT EVER.

Pete "the cat." Worst. Cat. Ever. Image courtesy of Disney.

Pete “the cat.” Worst. Cat. Ever. Image courtesy of Disney.

He’s terrible.

He’s a big, fat, mean idiot. And in the spirit of Safer Internet Day, which is supposed to help reduce the digital bullying quotient for 24 hours, I guess, this seems like a good time to shed light on what an asshole Pete “the cat” really is.

After some exhaustive research, which primarily (okay, only) involved looking at the Disney character’s Wikipedia page, I discovered that Pete “the cat” is Disney’s oldest character.

So, let’s all give Disney a huge round of applause for becoming the gold standard in creating magic for children, despite such a huge misstep right from the get-go.

Pete “the cat” was created in 1925. People who think he actually looks like a cat *COUGHAUSSACOUGH* will be very surprised to learn (if Wikipedia is correct—and isn’t it ALWAYS!?!?) that Pete “the cat” was originally designed as a bear.

Pete “the bear” makes sense. Because he’s a big, fat, mean idiot.

But after Mickey Mouse was created in 1928, the folks at Disney (perhaps Walt, himself) decided to make Pete a “cat” in order to be a more sensible villain for Mickey.

I noticed just how much Pete sucked a few years ago when my son started watching Disney Junior’s Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.

Only parents of young children will be able to appreciate this total mockery of educational programming.

In every episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, the gang of Disney characters we all know and love (Mickey, Minnie, Donald, Daisy, Goofy, Pluto, etc.) discover a problem.

They have a little friend named Toodles. Toodles is a handy robot toolbox that will show up with four tools to help the gang solve problems. The idea is to help young children troubleshoot when they have a problem to solve.

I get it.

And it’s a good lesson.

Except in Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, they teach the children horrible and dangerous lessons.

I wish I’d been smart enough to write down all the instances of this, because I’m totally going off memory here.

My favorite example is the episode where the group has lost a bunch of sheep. They spend the entire half-hour show hunting for all of them.

Inside a storage facility, one of the lost sheep found its way into a cardboard box on a very high shelf.

Nevermind how it got there. Mickey & Co. need to get it down!

“Oh, Toooooooodles!!!!” everyone yells in unison to summon their little robot friend with the solution to their problem.

Remember—the goal here is to teach pre-school aged kids how to solve problems.

I don’t remember what the tool options were to reach this very high shelf to pull down the box with a sheep that very likely weighed at least 25 pounds.

But I remember what wasn’t there.

Something sensible like a functioning staircase. Or a sturdy ladder.

You know what the right tool was for the job, according to these show creators, who apparently want children and sheep to fall and hurt themselves?

A trampoline.

One of the characters—maybe Donald, who’s just bad-ass enough to pull this off sans pants—jumped eight feet in the air to retrieve a box with a live, heavy sheep in it.

Remember when all those kids were dying on rides at Disney World six or seven years ago?

I’m not one for conspiracy theories. But it’s totally possible that Disney wants to kill children.

But I don’t want to believe it. Because I love Disney. And Disney World.

True story.

Sometimes, during a Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode, Mickey & Co. will be on a journey. Following a path to a place they must get to in order to solve the problem of the day.

And you know what that sick bastard Pete “the cat” does?

He tries to muddle their plans like a big, fat, mean idiot.

Typically, they’ll all be walking along a trail and that’s when they’ll come upon a stand that Pete will have built in the middle of the trail.

And that’s when Pete will hustle them for a toll.

They don’t have money in Mickey’s world.

But they usually have something even more valuable like beans or marbles.

Pete: “Where do you think you’re going Mickey the Mouse?”

Mickey: (Totally good-natured, and not pissed and annoyed like me.) “Hey-ya Pete! We’re on a very important mission to save a cancer patient’s life or get food for a starving child or find Pluto’s lost rubber ball!”

Pete: “Well, that will be six beans.”

I would have told Pete to eat the biggest piece of shit in the forest and walked my group right around him. There is strength in numbers, even when dealing with a gargantuan menace like Pete. But Mickey is a pacifist.

Mickey: “Golly gee, Pete. I’m not sure we have six beans!”

And then all the characters empty their pockets. Inevitably, Goofy has some extra beans in his smelly boot or stored in his hat. And then we all practice counting the beans together for that no-good Pete “the cat.”

“1-2-3-4-5 and 6! We counted six beans! Great job, everybody!” Mickey says.

Then they just hand the beans over to Pete, without even bitching about the totally unfair tax.

The result?

1. The group loses a very important source of protein.

2. Pete gets away with bullying and isn’t in any way punished for slowing down the important mission.

3. Your children don’t learn how to problem-solve OR stand up to bullies.

Teach Your Kids What Pete Really Is

Pretty please.

I asked my five-year-old this morning: “Who is the worst Disney character in the world?”

He didn’t even hesitate.

“Pete,” he said.

I gave him a high-five.

“Yep. Pete. He’s a big, fat, stupid idiot,” I said.

He just looked at me without smiling because he’s not supposed to talk like that or call people names.

Pete “the cat” is a very bad character. Creatively, and in terms of his behavior.

We owe it to our children to protect them from his horribleness.

Fortunately, my son has mostly outgrown Disney Junior shows. Now, we’re watching really responsible shows for older children that involve fighting and behavior much more cruel than Pete hustling for beans.

But at least I’m less pissed.

And you can be, too.

I’m going to go home tonight and pet that very bad cat named Eli.

I’ll scratch his head and he’ll meow, meow, meow.

If I let him out, he’ll probably pee on something.

Because he’s a very bad cat.

Because he pees.

He’s a pee-er.

A cat who pees.

But he doesn’t look like a bear.

He looks like a cat.

A cute one.

And his name’s not Pete.

Ensuring he’s not the worst cat in the world.

But he’s close.

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