Tag Archives: Shared parenting

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

olive branch


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

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

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

It wasn’t bad because I was sad.

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

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

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

I still didn’t “get it” yet.

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

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

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

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

That is a baseline non-negotiable core value.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Being Cool to Our Exes Makes Our Lives Better

1. Reciprocated Cooperation is Very Helpful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Communicate. Cooperate. Be helpful.

It matters.

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Being Together Isn’t the Worst Time Ever

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

It was horrible.

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

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

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

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

Which leads nicely into…

4. Our Son is Happy and Healthy

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

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

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

5. You Preserve Important Friendships

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

Friends will pick sides.

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

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

The good friends will keep their distance.

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

6. You’re Not a Messy, Walking Contradiction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Find balance by being the REAL YOU.

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

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

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

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

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

I was broken.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And now I get to be me again.

Stronger. Smarter. Wiser.

More confident. More courageous. Less afraid.

Happy and hopeful.

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

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

But I’m pretty sure it can be enough.

In fact, I think it already is.

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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:


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.


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.


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.


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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The Single Dad Writer — A Tipsy Lit Guest Post


My son is gone half the time.

But he’s really gone more than that. Because he attends school or daycare during the day while I sit in a cubicle plotting my escape from Corporate America.

Our time, so precious.

He turns six in two weeks. He is beautiful. Both smart and smart-mouthed. Stubborn. Hilarious. Sensitive. Loving. Innocent.

A casualty of the poor choices of his parents.

I am a person who craves rhythm and routine. Not boringness, certainly. But predictability. I have a hard time finding comfort in the unknown.

Logistically—by that, I mean everything unrelated to emotion—this has been the most-challenging aspect of divorce.

Finding the rhythm of life again.

It still eludes me.

My son is here two days, then gone two days. He’s here for a weekend, and not the next.

Many divorced fathers don’t see their children as often as I see mine. I suppose gratitude might be in order. But I don’t feel grateful. I feel cheated. This is not what I wanted.

I focus so much of my thinking and feeling and writing on the loss of my wife and the pain it caused. The pain has at times been unbearable because my marriage ending represented the first time I had ever loved someone more than myself only to have that person ultimately say: “I don’t love you. I don’t want you. You don’t matter. You’re not good enough.”

I write it a lot because it’s true: When this happens to you, some part of you dies. Maybe it comes back to life someday. Fingers, crossed.

Just as painful in a different way is coming home to an empty house, with a couple of my son’s toys scattered in the living room, or his toothbrush and comb laying by the sink—only he’s not there.

There is a semblance of balance when he’s home. There is almost none when he’s not. And all the back and forth, and up and down creates a see-saw experience in which I’ve yet to find sure footing.

Assuming the pain of divorce eventually fades to the background, my young growing son—and his life experiences—will emerge as an even greater focal point.

I want to protect my son from the horrors of this world.

But I also want him to know the truth about the human experience to protect his heart and mind from the shock and awe of adulthood.

I want to shelter my son from the mistakes of his father, as I was sheltered from the failings of my parents.

But I also want him to avoid the colossal disappointment which inevitably comes when your heroes fall unceremoniously from their pedestals.

I want to save him from the pains of being a child of divorced parents—and that includes protecting a more-mature him from whatever emotions he might feel should he ever read his father’s words.

But I also want him—maybe need him—to know who I was. Who I am. Who I will be. Just as I want you to as well.

Some people will care. Most won’t. But this is my “I WAS HERE” scratched into life’s maple tree.

How much do I tell?

I tackle that question today over at Tipsy Lit in a post on the subject of writing about parenting. I hope you’ll visit, follow the fine writers at Tipsy Lit, and join in the conversation there.

Writing and parenting.

It’s a dance. A delicate one. And much like life, I still haven’t got it figured out.

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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.”


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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Parenting Class

In the parenting class' educational video, everyone but Karl Malone looked just like this.

In the parenting class’ educational video, everyone but Karl Malone looked just like this.

I was a half hour early. The police officer manning the security checkpoint at the courthouse had to unlock the door to let me in.

Like I was excited to be there or something.

The State of Ohio requires parents to take a mandatory one-time three-hour parenting class before they will schedule a divorce or dissolution hearing.

I wasn’t feeling 100 percent because I stayed up really late the night before drinking with friends at a local festival, despite having a cut on my face.

I don’t feel like I drank THAT much, but I have evidence to the contrary.

  1. I spent a lot of money last night.
  2. Despite going to bed in my room, I woke up in my son’s bed next to his stuffed animals just prior to 4 a.m. I don’t know how I got there. The TV was still on in my bedroom down the hall.
  3. I felt a little hung over.

I took my seat in the inactive courtroom now used only for these types of educational programs.

I remember thinking: There’s going to be a bunch of newly single women in here.

I’m such an asshole sometimes.

I was scanning the room when my eyes honed in on the whiteboard.

“Drugs and alcohol,” someone had written. “Obstacals?”

Spelled just like that.

Because I’m a smartass, I posted it on Facebook with the comment: “So, right away, you know you’re in for some top-quality education.”

Because of that decision, a few more people learned about my pending divorce. That’s always awkward. I always feel sorry for the people I tell. I don’t know why.

My classmates began to trickle in. I was sizing them up.

I wonder how many of them know how to spell the word “obstacle”?

I was surprised at how many not-yet-divorced couples attended together. Five, by my count.

One guy, maybe mid-50s, came in with his wife and was still drunk from the night before, I think.

The wife said: “Don’t sit by me if you’re going to talk.”

And the drunk replied: “I’ll talk if I wanna talk! Ain’t a library!”

They sat right behind me.

A semi-attractive blonde sat down two seats to my right. She smiled at me.

An extremely attractive blonde walked in shortly thereafter. She didn’t smile at me. She sat next to her soon-to-be-ex husband—the only guy who looked like he wanted to be there less than I did.

I feel you, sir. Note to self: Don’t marry any more attractive blondes.

The female magistrate—a former prosecutor—led the class. She seemed smart. I’m not convinced she’s the one who misspelled “obstacle.” But you never know.

She warned everyone to turn off their cell phones. That if they ring or otherwise cause a distraction, you would be excused and you would have to come back and complete the class some other day.

The semi-attractive blonde two seats to my right raised her hand.

“Excuse me. I can’t turn my phone on vibrate and I can’t turn it off either because I’m the emergency contact for my children,” she said.

“Well, let’s just hope there isn’t an emergency,” the magistrate said, coolly.

The blonde left her phone on, gambling. I sort of admired it. And I sort of hoped it would ring just to see what would happen.

The coffee started to wear off as my classmates bombarded the magistrate with legal questions.

“What if my husband refuses to come to parenting class?” one lady asked.

“What if they’re in jail?” the blonde who wouldn’t turn her phone off asked.

Some self-righteous guy in the back wanted to prove he was smarter than the rest of us. He may have had a law degree, or he may have just memorized a bunch of Law & Order episodes, but he asked a bunch of annoying questions in legalese only the magistrate understood.

No one cares that you can talk that way, dude.

The drunk guy behind me took a cue from the smart-sounding guy.

“Is there any deviation to shared parenting?” he slurred. “Joint parenting? Co-parenting? Equal parenting? Is there any deviation to that effect?” he asked.

I have no idea what he just asked her. I wonder if she does.

She responded thoughtfully.

“I kind of feel like you just glossed over my question!” the drunk yelled.

“I’m sorry, sir,” she said.

He asked the EXACT same question again. With the same level of nonsensicalness.

The magistrate set him straight and then started playing a video.

They were still using the old square-tube-TV-on-top-of-rolling-cart-with-VCR setup that I remember from high school. I’m not sure why this surprised me. It was the first time I watched a VHS tape in more than a decade.

Question for future essay: Why are all of these educational videos old and cheesy?

You should have seen the clothes and hair. 1987 dot com. I kept waiting for Whitesnake to start playing.

Is there not a TON of money to be made producing modern videos covering these topics? Someone should get on this.

Halfway through a video encouraging parents to truly listen to their children when they talk about their feelings, Karl Malone made an appearance.

Karl freaking Malone. He was still young and—at the time—the greatest power forward in basketball.

That’s how old the video is.

The Mailman hooked us up with some parenting knowledge. But Whitesnake never played “Here I Go Again,” which was disappointing.

My favorite part of the day was watching all of the wives looking at their husbands every time the magistrate said something about child support or that reinforced their side of the arguments they had obviously been having.

“Shared parenting does NOT mean no child support,” the magistrate said.

Every single woman attending with her husband shot him the EXACT same look, which said: I told you, motherfucker!

I felt bad for everyone in the room, except for the deputy getting paid time and a half and the guy in the back who thought he was smarter than everyone.

I thought back to waking up in my son’s bed.

Why did I go in there?

I was either just really intoxicated and confused, or in some drunken moment of self-reflection, I missed my son and wanted to be in his room.

He woke up in hysterics last week with his mom, sobbing.

“It’s all my fault! Everything’s ruined because of me!” he said, half asleep.

My soon-to-be ex consoled him and assured him that NONE of this was his fault and that he’s loved and safe. Exactly as she should have.

No, son. None of this is your fault. And you are loved. Beyond measure.

And I didn’t need this parenting class, or Karl Malone, to tell me that.

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