Tag Archives: Post-Divorce

The In-Laws

The holidays are coming. As does the all-too-literal winter of my discontent.

The holidays are looming. As is the all-too-literal winter of my discontent.

The losses in divorce are great.

There’s a huge pile of them. And a lot of collateral damage.

With the holidays approaching, the one I’ve thought about most is the loss of my ex-wife’s family.

You see, I live here—in northeast Ohio—in large part because of her.

I willingly came here and was happy to be here.

But taking my wife out of the equation? I don’t really want to live here anymore.

Today, I live here because of my son. Because I would never, under any circumstances, choose to relocate somewhere where I saw him less, or made him feel like his father was abandoning him.

There’s just no way. There is no person. No amount of money. No anything that could pull off that magic trick.

I’m here.

My choice.

Own your shit.

My ex-wife’s family is amazing.

Her mother is precious and kind. Always so steady. Even in the worst of times. A steady presence for her children and grandchildren. A steady presence for her now-estranged son-in-law.

My ex-wife’s only sibling is the best brother-in-law imaginable. Kind. Generous. Hard-working. An incredible uncle. He’s the perfect blend of his steady mother and his kind, generous, hard-working father who he lost two years ago. He and his wife have a beautiful little girl who’s life is rapidly passing me by, and will continue to.

Her immediate family took me in right away despite recognizing I wasn’t like them. I can’t pinpoint exactly all the differences. I’m maybe less country. A little softer. A little more selfish and self-centered.

They all have siblings. While I do have two stepsisters—good ones—and a half-sister 14 years younger than me, my upbringing was predominantly that of an only child. And I have those traits. The good and bad ones.

But they took me in just the same.

I think the one thing they always recognized despite my many flaws is that I always had my ex-wife’s best interests at heart.

From Big Families to Small Ones

My mom is the oldest of eight children.

Family gatherings—even the impromptu ones on random Saturdays and Sundays growing up—were pretty big events. The holidays, weddings and other family reunion-ish events were almost epic in scope.

I have a million and a half cousins. The youngest ones are still in high school.

So, even though I grew up an only child, I was always immersed in a big-family environment.

It was wonderful. I am so fortunate I was able to grow up as I did, where I did, and with the people I did, family and otherwise.

It was a rude awakening when my ex-wife and I moved to Florida—1,200 miles away from everything and everybody we knew and loved—upon graduating college.

Down there, everything was different.

No big family.

No huge social network.

No nothing.

Just my ex-wife’s aunt, uncle and adult cousin who lived more than an hour’s drive away. And the few friends we were lucky to make in a community dominated by retirement-aged people.

One Thanksgiving, it was just a half dozen of us eating turkey and ham in our apartment. A bunch of kids far away from their families and unable to afford the airfare home, or unable to get away because most of us were on-call newspaper reporters.

One Christmas I made lasagna for a few of us. We drank a little beer. We watched a basketball game no one cared about. We played a little basketball ourselves because it was 80 degrees outside.

Everything was strange.

We made the best of it.

But it was strange.

Home beckoned. And Ohio—all the good, bad and in-between—is home.

New Family Traditions

And so they began, almost immediately, as my wife and I relocated from Florida to Ohio in the fall of 2005, just before Halloween.

It took me a little while to get to know her large family. While I’m an Ohio native, this new, faraway region of the state was foreign to me. New faces, new places.

But here we were.

You could see on her face how happy she was. Celebrating Christmas with her parents. With her brother, who had also returned to Ohio after several years living in southern California.

Living a three-hour drive from my family and hometown was like living next door after those years in Florida.

It was wonderful.

Very kind, decent people on both sides of her family.

Her mother’s family. And her father’s family.

I was, and remain, particularly fond of her father’s side of the family.

There are aunts. Aunts who hugged me like their own every time I saw them.

There are uncles. Uncles who helped repair our cars and complete home-improvement projects.

There are cousins. Reflections of their parents, and in a lot of ways, reflections of my own family and my own memories, as I observed everyone come together during life’s best and worst moments.

They are beautiful.

And I love them.

And every time I flip the calendar, I get a little sicker as it represents more time disconnected from them, and the realization that the holidays are five minutes from now, and they can never, and will never, be the same without them.

My new family.

My new family that isn’t.

Living in the Now

I don’t have a choice.

None of us do.

We live in the present. We play the cards we’re dealt.

We can piss and moan and whine, and God knows I do that all the time. But the cards don’t change.

We play with them. Maybe win a hand. Maybe lose a hand. Maybe fold them altogether.

But there’s always a new hand coming. Always an opportunity for that next win.

And that’s what keeps me going now.

It’s been a decade now since a bunch of random young adults gathered in our apartment to celebrate the holidays the best we could even though everything was weird and wrong.

And that’s what I must do now. Be resourceful. Be grateful. Identify the good and celebrate it. Because there is always good to focus on.

But that doesn’t mean I can just forget everything that’s now missing.

When you lose a spouse, sometimes you lose more than a spouse.

Sometimes you lose a family. A big one. A wonderful one.

I haven’t spoken to any of them since the separation. I don’t know whether it was supposed to be my job to reach out. I never really know what to do in these awkward human situations. So I tend to err on the side of withdrawing.

I’m sure some of them think I just moved on and don’t care. I wish there was some simple way to let them know that’s not the case. To let them know how much they matter. To let them know how grateful I am for all they’ve done for me.

They turned a strange land into home. They turned strangers into family.

Like miracle workers.

And someday, I think, they’ll probably have to do that again. There will be some new guy. Some stranger they’ll need to turn into family.

My son’s stepfather, whoever that may be.

Once in a while, I pray for that guy. Whoever and wherever he is. That he be blessed with the strength and wisdom and kindness and ability to love required to care for my son’s mother, as she will deserve once she learns to love and forgive again.

That he be able to love my son as my stepfather loved me.

That he be everything I’m not.

That he be a much better man than I ever have been or will be.

I want that so much for my son.

I want that for my ex-wife.

I want that for that beautiful extended family who has treated me like gold all these years.

And I pray they will treat him the same and that he’ll deserve it.

But deep down?

I hope they always miss me and like me better.

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Pottymouth Training

This is not my son. I'm exploiting someone else's son in addition to mine.

This is not my son. I’m exploiting someone else’s child in addition to my own.

It must have been between songs, because I tend to play music loudly, even with my five-year-old son in the Jeep.

But I know what I heard.

“Dammit,” muttered my little kindergartner while playing a handheld video game.

What the… !?!?

“Hey! What’d you just say?” I asked him over my shoulder.

He didn’t answer.

Maybe I was just hearing things. He’s only five. He doesn’t know what he’s saying half the time. And where would he learn to talk like that anyway?

Suddenly, a driver switched lanes in front of me without using a turn signal, forcing me to tap my brakes, move my steering wheel maybe an inch, and go insane for three seconds. I involuntarily screamed: “WHAT’S YOUR FUCKING PROBLEM, DIPSHIT!?!?”

I cringed and braved a glance toward the backseat to make sure my kindergartner was still blissfully wrapped up in his video game.

2012-07-13_6307_Gilligan
Nope.

The Troublemaker

I’ve worked my current job for two and a half years.

In that short time, I’ve been called into my boss’ office at least four times and asked to watch my language and to refrain from using large, inanimate objects as huge, fake penises. (For the record, he swears every bit as much as I do. He’s just more discerning in his timing. Or as I like to say, less honest.)

I like to goof off.

I don’t care what you think about it. I’m going to die someday. Maybe tomorrow. Maybe in three minutes.

And a bunch of terrible shit is always happening to me, you and everyone else.

Adrian Peterson’s little two-year-old son was beaten to death by one of the world’s worst human beings last week. Our federal government is shut down and it barely matters to the average American because we’re too busy playing on our iPhones OR trying to cope with whatever horrible thing is happening in our personal lives.

I’m just not going to sit around being serious all the time. I’m not.

If that makes me immature, then fine. I’m immature.

If that makes me irresponsible, then fine. I’m irresponsible.

If that makes me an inadequate, asshole father, then fine. Tell me something I don’t know.

I’ve written this once before, and it was super-true, so I’m going to again: I’ve never been particularly bad. But I’ve always been pretty mischievous.

And I can’t stop.

Won’t stop.

You’re welcome.

And you know what else I’m not (part of the time)?

A hypocrite.

So, when my son is mischievous once in a while, what am I supposed to do? Give him the old “Do as I say, not as I do” speech? That speech is bullshit. And I have a feeling he’s already smart enough to know that.

Because he’s my little man. 

You Stupid Bastard

Because my son is me and I am my father and my father was a troublemaker, he let me watch movies he probably shouldn’t have when I was young.

Not like hardcore pornography and serial killer documentaries or anything, but PG-13 stuff where they said bad words here and there. Like Teen Wolf and Back to the Future when I was only six or seven years old. Actually, they were PG. But it was PG-13, by today’s standards.

It was watching those movies where I learned every bad word except “Fuck,” the black mamba of swear words, and one I wish I used much less than I do.

One time, when I was six or seven, I was riding in the backseat of my dad’s white early 80s Chevy Caprice Classic, probably listening to REO Speedwagon or Prince. My aunt was in the front passenger seat.

My dad said something that prompted me to bust out some of my newly learned vocab words.

“You stupid bastard!” I verbally jabbed from the backseat.

My dad and aunt looked at one another, pausing for a beat, then burst out laughing.

“Where did you learn the word ‘bastard’?” Dad asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.

“Did you know that was a bad word?” he asked.

“No.”

“It’s a bad word, son. And one children should not say or hear,” he said.

My aunt chimed in.

“Do you know what a bastard is, Matt?”

“No.”

“It’s a mean name for someone you don’t like,” she said. “Do you want to call your dad mean things?”

“No.”

“Good. It’s not nice to call people bastards,” she said.

And I never did that again until I was old enough to mean it.

Dammit, the Delivery is Perfect

Since that day in the Jeep, I’ve heard Owen say “Dammit” three separate times.

But here’s the thing.

He kills it. He’s five! I’m proud of him when he does big-boy stuff.

And busting a perfectly timed “Dammit” IS a big-boy thing.

Owen: “Hey Dad! Watch me yo-yo!”

Me: “Okay!”

Owen: *flubs it* “Dammit!”

Owen: “Hey Dad! Check out this cool tower I built!”

Me: “Okay!”

Owen: *knocks it over* “Dammit!”

Owen: “Hey Dad! Can I watch a show after my bath?”

Me: “Sorry, babe. It’s too close to bedtime. Just books tonight.”

Owen: “Dammit!”

And when I say, it’s perfect, I mean it. It’s perfect. Just the right tone. Not angry. Just sort of mock disappointment.

I laugh every time he does it. Bad dad!

But I always calmly explain why we don’t say that word in terms he can understand. How it’s only for adults. Like beer and caffeine and heroin. (I’m kidding about the caffeine.)

I remind him that if he ever says it at school, he’ll immediately have a “red day.” They have color-coded behavior charts. He’s been doing REALLY well lately. Lots and lots of green days. The day he took out his penis and showed it to other kids was a red day.

I don’t want my five-year-old son to use swear words. I don’t condone it. And I don’t celebrate it. And I wish I used nicer words myself.

But I’m also not going to lie to you about this.

I ONLY care because society cares. I sort of don’t. I get morally outraged about all kinds of things. I want to protect my son from all of the horrors in this world.

But a well-timed “Dammit”? Totally not one of them.

I’m not even kidding. The kid kills it.

I mean, it’s almost as if he learned it from someone.

fresh prince aint even mad

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My Son’s Other House

Sometimes, the unexpected makes me happy.

Sometimes, the unexpected makes me happy.

The drive took one and a half songs.

My five-year-old sang along with both because he has good taste like me.

From my door to hers.

I didn’t check the mileage.

I didn’t check the time.

Which are two things I would have done four or five months ago. I would have paid attention to those little details.

My ex-wife texted me the address about 20 minutes before I left the house. She had asked me if I could bring over the lawnmower and a rake.

This is who we are now.

People who swap lawn tools.

I didn’t have any trouble finding the place. It’s a cute little house in a quaint little neighborhood not much different than mine. I suppose some people might say we live in the same neighborhood.

I pulled in the driveway. I was more curious than I was nervous about walking in there.

But I didn’t hurry. I sent our son Owen to the door without me as I pulled the lawnmower out of my Jeep and reattached the upper part of the handle for her, tightening it into place and giving the pull starter a yank to make sure it would turn over easy enough for her.

Old habits, you know.

I rolled it to the corner of her new house, propping one of our old rakes next to it.

Had I given my son a proper goodbye, I might have just left at that point. But I didn’t. So, I knocked on the door. She waved me in.

The place looked nice. Smaller than my house. And far from put together. The telltale signs of moving in were everywhere. Stacks of boxes. Bare walls.

But nice. I was happy for my son.

You enter into the living room. There were my couches.

This might have upset me had I not ordered my new ones yesterday.

One of my flat-screen televisions was sitting atop a cedar chest my grandfather had handcrafted for her as a wedding present a little more than nine years ago.

My ex-wife had painted our son’s new bedroom the day before.

Blue. It’s his favorite.

It was the only room in the house she had painted so far, putting him first. I was happy to see her doing that again.

His bed was made with a cool dinosaur comforter she must have just bought him. He loves dinosaurs.

I wanted to avoid seeing her bedroom, wondering how many men might be in there with her in the coming months. I still don’t like thinking about that.

Old habits, you know.

A mattress had been hastily tossed on the floor with some familiar sheets.

She didn’t have a bedroom set.

Shoe, meet other foot.

I told her the place looked nice and that I was happy for them.

It was sincere.

I was making my way toward the door when she mentioned she was having cable and Internet connectivity issues. The service had just been installed the day before.

Electronic gadgetry and technical troubleshooting was always my job.

“Do you want me to have a look at it?” I asked.

“Yes, please.”

“Do you have the password?”

She handed me a sheet of paper.

I looked down at a long handwritten alphanumeric sequence.

“You have any idea what these little giblet characters are supposed to be?”

There were two strange ones.

“I think the first one’s a lowercase ‘g’ and the second one is a lowercase ‘q.’”

“No way. This first one’s an ‘a.’ The guy just sucks at writing. Do you mind if I plug this into my phone and see if it connects so I can come steal free Wi-Fi?”

“Please. Go ahead.”

She said something lighthearted about the thought of me camped out on the street hacking her wireless signal.

We haven’t shared many laughs since late March. I’m still not sure how to feel about it.

I got the password plugged into my phone, replacing her ‘g’ with the correct, albeit poorly scribbled ‘a.’

It connected instantly.

“Yes. It’s an ‘a.’ If you plug it in using that ‘a,’ you’ll be happy with the results,” I said.

She thanked me.

“My pleasure. You still have my Netflix password so you guys can watch that, too, right?”

“I do.”

“Good.”

I kissed my son. Gave him a fist bump. Told him to be extra good for mom and to do a great job in school tomorrow.

“Have a good night, please. Talk to you soon.”

And out the door I went.

No lump in the throat.

No wishing I could stay.

No dreading coming home to my empty house.

Huh. That’s not what I expected. At all.

Delivered our son.

Brought rake and lawnmower.

Solved her wireless Internet problem.

And did so with kindness, to boot.

Old habits, you know.

But maybe some new ones, too.

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Grade School Shenanigans, Vol. 2: He Did What!?!?

It's important to me that my son not behave like this man. Nor like me.

It’s important to me that my son not behave like this man. Nor like me.

The two most-commonly told jokes in men’s restrooms among both acquaintances and strangers, go like this:

“Oh, so this is where all the dicks hang out.”

And, the one that always makes me laugh…

“Whew! That water is cold!”

The implication being, ladies, that the penises in question are so long that they dangle into the urinals or toilets below.

Penis jokes are at the very heart of who we are as men. They must be told. They must.

But appropriateness matters.

There is a time for decorum. And there is a time for air humping random objects.

The key is knowing the difference.

Everything He Needs to Know, He’ll Learn This Year

Dear Son,

Kindergarten Lesson #1: Do not expose your penis to other children. Because when you do, the teacher freaks out, the principal freaks out, the day care lady freaks out, and your mother freaks out.

And then I have to hear about it. And I have to punish you. And I have to talk about penises with you.

While I totally want to talk about penises with random people on the Internet and joke about them with friends, I do not really want to talk about them with you. It’s awkward. For both of us. But it looks like that’s going to have to happen, young man.

Which sucks balls.

Love,

Dad

So, yeah. That happened.

Yesterday at school, while some of the boys were in the bathroom, my son called attention to his penis, made a joke about it, and showed it to some kids, probably while dancing around and singing a little made-up song about it.

Unfortunately, I know exactly what that song and dance looks like because I’ve seen it at bath time.

I try to have mature conversations with him about appropriate behavior. Apparently, they didn’t take.

While I’m a huge proponent of adults making immature penis jokes, I do not want to sound like I’m not taking this seriously at school. I really, truly am.

1. He MUST follow rules. All of them. Even the stupid ones. Not playing with his penis in front of other children is NOT a stupid one.

2. While I’m not concerned about my beautiful, sweet, innocent son growing up to be a pervert or sexual deviant or some other horrible thing based on this incident, it’s not lost on me that Charles Manson, and Ted Bundy, and Jeffrey Dahmer all had moms and dads that probably didn’t want them growing up to be plagues on humanity also. So, I must be vigilant. I must be careful. I must use discernment. I must be wise. Some things are awesome. Some things are okay. Some things are horrible. Being a person who—uninvited—exposes their privates to others, is something I frown upon. (Understatement.)

One of my dearest friends assures me this won’t happen again. That this will be a good lesson for him. That it will sink in and correct the behavior.

I hope she’s right.

The Naked Trail Runner

When I was still a newspaper reporter, I became friends with another newspaper reporter.

She invited me out with one of her friends one night for drinks and hot wings.

We ate. We drank beer. We swapped stories.

This guy was great. Very nice. Very funny. Appreciated my brand of humor.

I liked him and was looking forward to being friends with him.

But then I heard a story.

There are many hiking and biking trails peppered throughout the area in which I live. A vast network of interconnected metro park and national park trails. I really like them.

One time, a young woman was running on one of the trails—maybe 10 minutes from my house.

And allegedly, the following happened:

She was running. Like a normal person. On a public trail. When all of the sudden, a tall redheaded guy came out from the woods totally naked and ran after her.

No attempted assault or anything. Just a random naked guy doing his best to expose his naked body to a random runner for as long as possible.

A police report was filed. One thing led to another, and the police ended up at my co-worker’s friend’s house. The guy I just met and totally liked.

He claims to have a good alibi. Computer login records and whatnot, proving it couldn’t have been him.

But a judge nonetheless found him guilty of this very crime. So, there was evidence.

Evidence that he took all of his clothes off and ran after a strange woman in a public place.

Dear God.

I try very hard to be understanding, forgiving, to give people the benefit of the doubt and not be judgy.

But in the end, I wasn’t going to pursue a friendship with a man found guilty of this behavior—even though I didn’t know for sure whether it really happened. I just couldn’t.

Exposing yourself to strangers is a very bad idea.

I don’t do it.

I don’t want my friends doing it.

And I’m going to require that my son not do it.

Just Keep It Put Away, Young Man. Honestly.

I’ll pick him up after work tomorrow.

That’s when we’ll have to have The Penis Talk.

Here are things you may do with your penis, son: Blah, blah, blah, blah.

And here are things you may NOT do with your penis: Blah, blah, showing it to people, blah.

Inevitably, the question will arise: Where, pray tell, did that little boy learn how to expose his penis to other people? Do you think his father taught him that?

Remember that old marijuana-smoking commercial? I learned it from watching you, dad!

Sweet Jesus.

My ex-wife. His school teacher. The day care lady.

They’re probably all sitting around thinking: Do you think he thinks it’s okay to play with his penis and make jokes about it because of his father?

Then, they will all sit there nodding. Nodding and judging.

And I’ll just shake my head.

Because I’ve been known to make a dick joke a time or two. But my son has never heard one. (This is true.)

Come to think of it, I’m pretty sure no evidence exists linking me to childish penis jokes at all. (This is not true.)

Yes. I'd been drinking.

Yes. I’d been drinking.

Lord, please make me a better father. Amen.

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