Tag Archives: Single Dad

My 9-Year-Old Accidentally Explained Why His Mom Divorced Me

Oh the Places You'll Go Dr. Seuss book cover art

(Image/Dr. Seuss – drseussart.com)

“What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow?”

My wife asked me that a lot and I didn’t like it.

I didn’t like it on two levels:

Level 1 No-Likey: I have enough to worry about. Whether I have serious things to do, or perhaps am simply unwinding from a day at work, there are SEVERAL things competing for my time and energy, and what we’re doing for dinner TOMORROW was extremely low on my priority list. Maybe I’ll want pizza. Maybe I’ll want tacos. Maybe I’ll want seafood. I don’t know. Also, I’m not hungry, so almost nothing sounds appealing. This doesn’t matter right now. Can’t this wait until it does?

Level 2 No-Likey: This conversation often didn’t go my way. I don’t want to invest time doing something I don’t want to do, only to be told why it’s a bad idea or why it can’t or shouldn’t be done. I don’t want to say something that will require either of us to have to stop at the grocery store when we previously weren’t planning on it. As a general rule, I am against decisions that create more work when an alternative is available that doesn’t.

I’m sure she agreed to ordering a pizza a bunch of times when she probably didn’t want to. I bet she even went to the grocery store a bunch of times just to accommodate whatever dinner idea I’d suggested.

But my natural state of being—generally—is to worry about things when it seems like I need to. You know—“cross that bridge when we get to it.”

I wasn’t shy during my marriage about saying or behaving in ways that communicated how insignificant I considered the Future Dinner Conversation to be.

“What do you want to have for dinner tomorrow?” she said.

“I truly don’t have an opinion, babe. I kind-of don’t care. Whatever you want will be fine with me,” I said.

I thought I was being cool and accommodating my wife’s preferences.

It took me several years to realize just how incorrect I was.

The Little Things That “Don’t Matter” in Marriage

I don’t remember it being a big deal in our first few years together, but somewhere along the way, it evolved into a full-fledged “marriage problem.”

I eventually came around on the dinner thing.

I was certainly imperfect, because I don’t default naturally to Person Who Thinks About Future Meals, but I improved quite a bit through the years at being helpful with dinner. I’m a competent cook who seriously considered culinary school before choosing a writing career. My wife never seemed to figure it out, but I totally cared about her opinion of me. Me getting better at meal planning, volunteering for the grocery buying, and cooking most of the time seemed like a way for me to contribute positively and be a “good husband.”

It was easy for me to do it when I thought it was something she valued that I could take care of.

But it was hard for me when viewed through the “Do I seriously think this is important?” prism.

Five years post-divorce, I almost never plan meals for my son and I, and even less often for nights when it’s just me.

I don’t value planning future meals unless I’m going to be cooking for other people, like friends or a date. Otherwise, I just don’t think it matters. There are many important things in Life. Many. Planning meals for three days from now doesn’t crack the high-priority section of my list.

My wife seemed to get irrationally upset about this lack of concern for tomorrow’s meal. In my mind, she was “overreacting.” In my mind, she was blowing things out of proportion. This was another example of my wife having mixed-up priorities in our marriage.

Our marriage = Important.

Tomorrow’s dinner = Not Important.

According to my math, my wife was willing to damage our marriage by “starting a fight” over something that didn’t matter.

I thought there was something fundamentally wrong with her emotional calibration.

I thought she was irrational, which I thought made her wrong.

But because I would never let something silly like that outrank our marriage, I loved her anyway.

This “selfless” act showed that I took my marriage vows seriously. I was a “good husband” because I had my priorities straight.

If I can move past my wife’s crazy and irrational responses to little things that don’t matter, why can’t she chill about silly stuff like me not wanting to plan for tomorrow’s dinner, or me leaving my drinking glass next to the sink to use again later?

Kids Say the Darndest Things

I was feeling a little frustrated with my 4th-grade son this morning.

First, I had to remind him to hang up his bath towel the way that I’ve showed him at least a dozen times.

Then, I had to take away his iPad that he’d inexplicably started playing with in the middle of breakfast, which was slowing him down.

He was intentionally making noises to annoy me while I was trying to hear a conversation on talk radio, even after I’d asked him not to a couple of times.

I gave him three tasks after breakfast: Brush his teeth, put his packed lunch inside of his backpack, and put his shoes on.

I don’t remember which incident of non-compliance finally made me snap, but my response made it clear that he’d finally succeeded at pissing me off.

To which he responded: “Dad, why do you get mad about dumb stuff?”

Zoose, the ironic god of sky and thunder, had just face-blasted me with a bolt of ironic lightning.

I wasn’t pissed anymore, even though he was totally being a dickhole again. (Sorry, lupushope.)

I wasn’t pissed anymore because this was funny.

My son doesn’t know enough to know WHY it was funny, and I wasn’t going to get into it with him right then, but I did try to teach him something important that he clearly hadn’t learned yet.

(I’m probably not quoting myself with 100% accuracy. Sorry.)

“Listen, kiddo. I understand why you think I’m getting mad about dumb stuff that doesn’t matter. I really do,” I said. “I’m giving you a hard time about how quickly you’re putting on shoes or eating. I’m angry because you’re making silly noises, or not hanging up your bath towels in the way I’ve asked you to. I get why that seems stupid. Those are all things that don’t seem very important.

“But I’m not really upset because you did a less-than-stellar job hanging up your towel, or because you’re making weird mouth noises for no apparent reason, or because you don’t have your shoes on yet.

“I’m upset because I’m your dad, and I’ve asked you to do a few easy and simple things this morning, and then you didn’t do them. You chose to not help me. Not only did you not help me, you kind of sabotaged my efforts to get us ready so you can get to school on time. Towels and school shoes and you making noise are NOT important. But you obeying your mom and dad IS important. I’m not upset about dumb stuff. I’m upset because you’re not listening to your parents.”

Flashing Neon Sign: I Was a Child Throughout My Entire Marriage

The irony wasn’t lost on me, and anyone who has read anything I’ve written probably knows that I figured out much of this long ago.

But this still felt like a breakthrough moment with my son.

I get comments from people who read She Divorced Me Because I Left Dishes By The Sink and then accuse my son’s mother of being a control-freak nag because she was making a big deal out of a dish.

I get comments from people who read An Open Letter to Shitty Husbands, Vol. 1 and tell me that I’m better off without my wife, because at least now I can watch The Masters golf tournament on a Sunday without anyone giving me crap for doing so. “All you wanted to do was watch a little golf from a tournament that only happens once a year! What’s wrong with that?”, they ask rhetorically, believing they see the world as clearly and correctly as I used to believe I did.

I just wanted to watch golf and football instead of work on some home-improvement project or go to an event at the in-laws. What’s the big deal?

I just wanted to let my wife choose what to have for dinner, because I didn’t have a preference. Why is that a problem?

I just wanted to leave my jeans that I wore one time on that little bedroom stand because it seemed more efficient than hanging them up again, or putting them in the laundry before they actually needed washed. Why is she acting upset about this silly crap?

Our marriage was effectively over long before I was capable of behavioral change in this arena, and was logistically and legally over long before I could see the WHY underneath all of the frustration and sadness my wife had expressed during these disagreements that seemed so insignificant to me at the time.

I spent my marriage kind-of acting like my 4th-grader: Why is she always getting mad about dumb stuff?

The truth was always hovering just a little over my head.

Just a little out of reach, kind of like I wasn’t tall enough.

Some people grow until they’re tall enough to see and understand.

Others find a way to climb up, sometimes because they’re crawling out of the darkness after hitting the floor.

I love my son so much, but if I can’t find a way to effectively communicate and help him understand the WHY underneath my requests or expressed frustrations over “dumb stuff,” he may spend the majority of his life believing that his father treats him like he’s never good enough, or that his dad is always looking for reasons to criticize him.

Can you imagine a son carrying that with him his entire life? As if his father doesn’t think he’s good enough? All because of a little nuanced misunderstanding?

But what if he learns all the things I didn’t know?

Oh, the places he’ll go.

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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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A Failed Marriage, a Beautiful Son, and Tomorrow

father son hands

(Image/ashscrapyard.wordpress.com)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s there in your office meetings at work.

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

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

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

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

And you feel like you just helped destroy his family.

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

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

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

Maybe he does.

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

“What’s wrong, sweetheart?” I said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why is she always finding something new to complain about?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have we infected him somehow?, I wonder.

Is he secretly sad and angry?

Has he forgiven us?

Will he ever?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We grow together, that boy and I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I felt like a dick.

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

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

He nodded, so I hugged him again.

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

I meant it.

He nodded that he understood.

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

“I love you, dad,” he said.

He meant it.

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

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

The keys to the forever kind-of families.

The keys to healing the broken.

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

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A Blog Vacation

(Image/fpchiro.com)

(Image/fpchiro.com)

I try to explain how it works in my head but most people don’t or can’t understand.

It’s probably really hard for a working mother to empathize. After all, she’s a superhero. Raising children. Managing calendars and balancing them against the scheduling needs and wants of the family. She is often working harder around the house than the rest of us, doing the things I spent the first 34 years of my life taking for granted. Keeping bathroom mirrors and porcelain shiny and spotless. Keeping floors swept and vacuumed. Keeping caught up on laundry. Keeping countertops and home offices uncluttered. Keeping the pantry and refrigerator appropriately stocked. They do all that AFTER working 40- to 50-hour weeks.

I sometimes come off undisciplined. Forgetful. Irresponsible. Unreliable.

I’m not proud of it. I’m even a little ashamed. Unless other people are relying on me, I am unlikely to meet a self-imposed deadline. Unless someone (probably a girl) is going to come over and pass judgment on the way I keep my home, I am unlikely to keep it as clean and organized as I’d prefer.

To be sure, I DO like the feeling of a clean and orderly home. I DO like the feeling of accomplishment following completion of a job well done.

But if there are competing interests? Even ones that matter less? I have an amazing capacity for procrastination. And despite my self-awareness, I’ve never found a way to overcome it.

I was diagnosed with ADHD. If I’m remembering the data correctly, about 5% of people’s brains work like mine. It has its advantages. It does. But the effective management of too many things suffers when I don’t have help.

My young son keeps me busy, even though I only have him at home half the time.

Me and two partners launched our start-up company in recent months. We even have clients now. It means that all of the extra professional work I do, errands I run, and housework I (sometimes) complete, is squeezed into nights when my son is with his mom. I try to stay socially active, too, because it’s really important. But that’s usually the first to suffer when life beckons.

I spend 40-plus hours per week at my full-time office job.

I’m trying (somewhat poorly) to write a book.

I’m trying to maintain good exercise and eating habits.

And I’m trying to keep this blog active, and God-willing, interesting to a few people.

Because I’m me, EVERYTHING suffers when the task list gets long. I do good work when I channel all of my focus and energy into one thing. I can do that, one project at a time.

But I’m kind of a disaster when life demands more than one thing from me at once. And in the real world, being an adult—especially a parent—requires that I be on top of more than just one thing at any given time.

In addition to the emotional, spiritual and physical (giggity) balance having a partner provides, I’ve really learned the value of having someone who helps and supports you each day (and whose mere existence motivates me to provide return help and support).

I was an emotional disaster in the aftermath of my marital separation and divorce two years ago. And that—BY FAR—is the worst part of divorce. Feeling dead inside.

But once you get back on your feet and find the internal balance, peace, confidence, hopefulness that had been missing, what you’re left with is this realization about—for lack of a better phrase—the logistics of being an adult. Especially one with parental and professional responsibilities.

Two years later, that’s the hardest part now. No question. If I could fire myself as manager of my life, I totally would.

I’ve been feeling—I don’t know—overwhelmed?—for a while now.

I’m doing a bad job staying in touch with people. My kitchen counter is an emergency of the cluttered variety. I have a bunch of projects that need finished for our growing small business. The book isn’t progressing as I’d like. My email inbox is piling up. And I have to leave town this weekend.

Again, to virtually any mom, or probably any woman (okay, or responsible guy), I probably sound like a dumb, whiny loser. I don’t care. I don’t know whether all the chaos I feel is real. It’s probably something I just manifest in my head. But my brain can’t tell the difference.

I’m not saying I won’t write. I’m not saying I’m going to intentionally post less often.

I’m just saying, I need to slow down in certain areas so I can put more energy into others, just to make sure I don’t totally lose it.

Maybe I’ll post again soon. Or maybe I’ll post again in three weeks. I don’t know.

I just know I need to reset, and I won’t know when it has happened until I feel it.

I hope I see you whenever that happens.

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The Holidays One Year Later

happy-christmas

When you’re co-dependent and have never truly been on your own and you haven’t had sex in more than a year and then your wife leaves you, it feels like your life is over because you’re 34 and every second it’s: Now what?

You cry a lot and feel shitty and lack confidence and no women in the history of the universe have ever been attracted to that.

So much of your identity was wrapped up in your marriage and essentially all of your purpose was.

And when that identity and purpose go away, you don’t even know who you are anymore or what you’re supposed to do and it’s terrifying.

You have a lot of choices to make.

About who you want to be. And about how to get there.

But you’re still having trouble breathing. You’re still having trouble moving. You still don’t recognize the reflection in the mirror.

Being an adult is hard. And life is not always fair. And the choices we make are predominantly responsible for wherever we are in life.

If we can accept those three facts and make peace with them, we have a chance to move forward.

Especially that last one.

Because the choices we make moving forward will be predominantly responsible for wherever we are five years from now.

Something important happens during all that suffering. You get tougher.

And you figure out what really matters.

So instead of trying to win a pointless fight with your future girlfriend or spouse for no reason, you’ll act like an adult and exercise patience and kindness and sensibility.

Think of the last really awful fight you had with your spouse or partner. You probably wanted to punch them in their stupid face, because: Ugh—they’re so dumb and stubborn and mean and unfair sometimes!!!

I get it.

Now imagine a drunk driver runs a red light and crashes into their driver’s-side door at 50 miles per hour and now they’re not with us anymore. And the last thing you wanted to do was punch their face.

And you cry because you loved them more than you’ve ever loved anything. And you cry because you feel guilt and shame for feeling that way.

Perspective is a beautiful thing.

Figure out what matters. Fight for it. The stuff that doesn’t? Maybe let it go because car accidents happen and we’re not guaranteed anything because life isn’t fair, and being an adult is hard, but we should still be adults, even when it’s inconvenient.

Something else important happens.

Time passes.

You stop crying.

You stop feeling broken.

You stop feeling sorry for yourself.

Maybe you start making better lifestyle choices.

Maybe you start working out and taking care of yourself again.

Maybe you start laughing again. Laughing is important. Kids do it constantly and they’re happy and healthy. Adults rarely do and they’re sad and miserable.

And maybe you smile and laugh and are attractive again, and people like you because everyone likes smiles more than scowls and then you get some confidence back because all isn’t lost.

A year ago, I played “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on repeat while decorating the house for the holidays because it’s my favorite Christmas song, and I got sad over and over and over again as I kept pulling Christmas décor and ornaments out of boxes that belonged to my ex-wife, all with a different story attached.

I was obsessed with the idea that I would never find a girl to like me because I was mid-thirties and had a little boy and who could possibly want some loser castaway who probably deserved everything he got?

I spent the vast majority of Christmas Day alone, eating Chinese food and watching TV. It felt exactly how it sounded.

But then another year passed.

And I’m so far beyond the brokenness of yesteryear that I sometimes forget to be amazed by it all. To feel the gratitude the miracle deserves.

I felt like dying because the whole world ended.

But I just kept waking up anyway.

Just kept smiling at the people who lifted me up.

Just kept my sense of humor which has always kept me younger than my chronological age.

And now we’ve circled the sun another time. That was fast.

I’m going to break out the Christmas tree tonight and set it up for my little son who is the most-precious thing I have ever known.

I might still listen to “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” on repeat because it kicks ass, but I won’t be sad over and over and over again and cry like a wimp.

I’ll be hopeful. Maybe I’ll even watch Elf or Christmas Vacation and laugh some more. I’ll probably smile, even if I’m alone.

Because I don’t want to die. Because some girls will like me. Because I’m actually alive again.

Because it’s just about Christmastime and sometimes magic happens.

Because 2015 could change everything even though we don’t have all the cool stuff Back to the Future 2 promised us.

Because I recognize the guy in the mirror.

And despite all the flaws and immaturity and bad decisions?

He’s really not so bad.

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The Seaworthy Vessel

ship-moon-sea-night-calm-3d-1600x2560

Uh-oh.

I could feel it rising in my chest. It makes your heart pound a little harder. It reminds you you’re alive, but also how fragile it all is.

Not now.

I was in my regular Monday morning meeting surrounded by bosses and colleagues at the conference table.

Just breathe. In. Then out. Maybe they won’t notice.

It’s the feeling I’d never experienced prior to turning 30 before losing my job with a wife and baby at home. It’s the feeling I’d only ever heard about for 30 years and sort of rolled my eyes when I heard it mentioned.

Fear.

I’ve never drank enough or smoked enough (and that’s saying something) to feel less in control than I do when this monster rears its head.

Just breathe. In. Then out.

People were telling jokes. I was supposed to be laughing. But nothing felt funny.

I wanted to leave.

Don’t lose it. Just breathe.

We’re Afraid Because We’re Weak

I’ve never been alone.

Because I was an only child, I’ve developed unique skills. I can hop an airplane to a strange city to attend events with no familiar faces and get along just fine. I can dine alone, sleep alone and figure out how to get where I need to be.

I’m good at meeting people, making friends and having a good time.

That’s the small stuff. I’m good at small stuff.

Despite being an only child, I always had a safety net. Until I was 18, I lived with my parents. Throughout college, I lived with my college roommate who is one of my childhood best friends. After that, I had my girlfriend who became my fiancée who became my wife.

We got a house. We got cars. We got a kid.

And then seemingly overnight: Poof. Gone.

The first thing I noticed was the silence. A lively home turned silent and cold. So I began to fear silence.

The second thing I noticed was how your insides get poisoned when the person you trust the most rejects you. If SHE won’t have me, who will? If I can’t keep the mother of my son, how will I find someone to want this dumpee with a kid? So I began to fear rejection.

The third thing I noticed was the loss of security.

There are four pillars of humanity. Mental. Physical. Spiritual. Emotional. And you need to keep all four balanced like legs on a table, otherwise you start to wobble.

You lose balance.

Because I read and write and think more than I ever have, my mind is sharper than it has ever been. I’ve always been good at honing in on one thing and excelling at it.

But I’ve taken hits elsewhere.

My motivation for physical health lied in wanting my wife to want me. Oops.

My motivation for spiritual health was rooted in my desire to be a positive influence on her and my son.

My emotional health was predominantly okay so long as the people I loved were okay. Emotional health seems to be a byproduct of getting the other three pillars balanced.

I’ve always had a net to catch me when I fell, allowing me to live courageously. To face challenges bravely.

And now the net is gone.

And now I’m afraid.

So I’ve begun to fear the fear as well.

We’re Ashamed Because We’re Afraid

Women tend to be afraid of abandonment because of how their hearts work.

Men tend to be afraid of abandonment because of how our minds work.

I am afraid.

And I am ashamed because of my failings AND because I’m afraid.

I’m not sure there are two emotions more caustic to humanity than fear and shame.

I’m afraid of failing my son.

I’m afraid of failing my parents.

I’m afraid of failing my friends.

I’m afraid of failing my co-workers.

I’m afraid of failing my God.

I’m afraid of failing myself.

In one way or another, I am failing all.

And I am ashamed.

I feel ill-equipped to keep my life afloat as it is currently structured.

Frozen in place on the tightrope, out of balance and terrified of the impact should I fall.

It’s all so fragile, this life.

Just breathe.

I looked around the conference room table.

At the other end of the table was a co-worker whose marriage will legally end tomorrow.

Next to her, a guy who has been struck by lightning.

Then a guy with a second baby due in the next few weeks.

Then next to him, a guy who is going through something so horrific that I wouldn’t dream of trading my problems for his.

Perspective.

My heart rate steadied.

Remember to breathe.

My smile—weak, perhaps—returned.

One way or another, my ailments are unlikely to matter five years from now. And if they won’t matter then, they shouldn’t matter now.

Everything’s going to be okay.

The lady getting divorced tomorrow wheeled her office chair over to my desk, forcing me to minimize this post you’re reading.

“I’m sorry to interrupt you, but I’m kind of having a day.”

“I can tell. It’s okay. I am too.”

“When does it go away? The anger?”

She was looking for answers I don’t have. A tangible timeline. Something to look forward to.

I looked at my desk calendar.

“It’s been 14 months and I’m not there yet.”

Other people are afraid, too. I’m not the only one. She wants my help.

And then you get a little stronger because it’s easier to be strong for others.

She doesn’t know yet that there’s no way to know where she’s going.

That the rough waters are vast and difficult to navigate for all of us sailing alone. That getting to calm waters and getting our bearings is the next step. That there’s nothing to do except keep sailing toward whatever destination will one day appear on the horizon.

Your only job is to stay alive.

Memorize the night sky so even if you don’t know where you are, you always know which direction you’re going.

And then when the storms find you, and the waves pick up, and you’re afraid you’re going to die, you can look at the sky, make a wish and just hold on.

Keep breathing.

This trusty ship has carried us this far. A seaworthy vessel. Tough enough for the voyage even when we’re thrashing about.

Overcoming fear is one of life’s most-gratifying feelings. You’d think that would make it easier to embrace the scary moments. It doesn’t.

When do we stop being angry?

When do we stop being afraid?

Maybe never.

But probably someday.

Maybe we’ll find a shoreline tomorrow. Maybe we won’t.

But the waters will calm soon enough.

The stars will reemerge.

And we’ll be back on course for an uncharted destination promising adventure and endless possibility.

Today’s only mission: Stay alive.

Just breathe. In. Then out.

Mission accomplished.

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The Single Dad Writer — A Tipsy Lit Guest Post

whats-best-for-our-children

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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How to Stop Procrastinating Later

procrastination-flowchart-2

A husband I know got into hot water with his wife after letting the family’s insurance coverage lapse several months ago.

“How could he be so irresponsible? How could he let that happen to his family? What if something happened?” my friend said to me.

I just shrugged. Because I do things just like that.

I am a world-class procrastinator. I think I currently rank No. 2 in the world, just behind my five-year-old son. I’ll check the rankings later.

My friend thinks I’m a good person and totally responsible. She thinks I’m a good sounding board for discussing her marital frustrations.

I got a letter in the mail a few weeks ago. There was a huge “URGENT!” stamped on it in super-duper-emergency red.

The exact wording of the letter from my insurance agent escapes me, but it was VERY close to this:

“Dear Matt,

“Because you are an irresponsible degenerate piece of shit who can’t manage bills like an adult, your insurance policy has been cancelled. We sure hope you haven’t been driving around with lapsed auto coverage, and we have our fingers crossed that your house doesn’t catch fire or get swallowed by a sinkhole.

“But if it does, you’ll deserve it. Because you’re an asshole.

“Life tip: You and your son’s health and wellbeing, along with your house and car are the three most-valuable things you possess. So maybe think about growing up one of these days and taking care of your shit.

<Cue Samir from Office Space> You are a very bad person, Matt.

“Sincerely, Your Insurance Agent”

Yeah, tell me something I don’t know, Insurance People. You should see what I can do to a marriage.

One of the best ways for me to overcome procrastination is to create an emergency.

I respond FABULOUSLY with focus, energy and determination when I’m facing an emergency. I had insurance coverage restored within 24 hours of realizing I had a problem.

You may be wondering: “How the hell could something like that happen?”

I have a three- or four-month supply of unopened mail on my home office desk.

I still have unopened birthday cards laying on my dining room table. My birthday was three weeks ago.

THAT’s how.

I am capable of putting things off in ways you haven’t even thought of yet. And maybe I’ll tell you about it someday if I ever get around to it. Start holding your breath… right… now.

AWOLprocrastination

Procrastination is not a good thing. I’m making light of it because I don’t see the point in flailing about all dramatic-like, AND because this offers you a peek into the guy my ex-wife wanted to leave.

I do want you to know who I am.

One wonders why I wouldn’t want to clean up the sins of my past that lead to the single-worst thing that has ever happened to me. Perhaps there’s a psychological explanation for why I am the way I am. And perhaps I’ll look into that one day. You know, when I get around to it.

I am a negligent person.

Some of you may remember the post where I explored the hypothetical ramifications of my grandmother marrying a Liam Neeson movie character. At the end of that post, I disclosed that my grandmother had been in an accident which forced her to have a variety of surgeries. She was in and out of the hospital for several weeks.

My grandmother is the sweetest woman on the planet, and I think about her often, and did pray earnestly for her recovery.

I called her yesterday for the first time since the accident in January. I left her a message because my grandparents weren’t home. When my grandma called me back last night, I ignored the phone call because I felt “too busy” to answer.

Hopefully, I’ll be disciplined enough to return her call today. Start holding your breath!

I only recently discovered PsyBlog. It’s awesome.

Last month, PsyBlog author Dr. Jeremy Dean wrote a nice post titled 10 Foolproof Tips for Overcoming Procrastination.

If you’re interested, please give it a read.

I’ll list the 10 here, but you’ll need to read his post to get the full context for a few of them.

1. Start easy

2. Start anywhere

3. Beware excuses

4. Up the value

5. Procrastination personality

6. Turn up

7. Think concrete

8. Don’t rely on memory

9. Avoid over-thinking

10. Forgive yourself

There’s a lot of good stuff here that very much applies to my life.

Because I do make excuses. To others and myself.

Because when I “Up the value” (an emergency!) I get shit done.

Because I do have a procrastination personality.

Because I have a subpar memory for task management and short-term things.

Because I over-think EVERYTHING.

And because I have a lot of trouble forgiving myself for… gee, let me think… pretty much every bad thing I’ve ever done.

I bet if I stopped procrastinating, I would feel less stressed.

I bet if I stopped procrastinating, I could get in great shape again.

I bet if I stopped procrastinating, I could make a good book.

I bet if I stopped procrastinating, I would feel spiritually balanced.

I bet if I stopped procrastinating, every facet of my life would improve.

This is great! I have something to focus on! An identifiable shortcoming I can do something about!

It’s going to be so gratifying to work on this stuff and grow and evolve into the person I want to be!

But when to start!?!?

Eh.

Maybe later.

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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 Art of Dating Discrimination

Image courtesy of nana-eddy.blogspot.com

Image courtesy of nana-eddy.blogspot.com

I’ve only had three girlfriends ever make it past the get-to-know-you phase.

It’s because both my mom and dad had gone through divorce, and both preached “playing the field” and to not be in a hurry to get married.

Spend time with lots of different girls, they said. Figure out what you like. Figure out why.

Not every girl approved of my way of thinking, but I didn’t particularly care. The thinking was: As soon as you know there’s no chance of this ending in marriage, why be in a committed relationship with one another?

I didn’t believe in having a girlfriend simply for the sake of having one.

That was an easy choice to make back then. I was young. With a hard stomach. And constantly surrounded by young, single women.

I’m sure I wasn’t as honest as I should have been. But I also wasn’t a lying, sneaky prick.

As far as I know, I didn’t leave very many hurt feelings in my wake as I navigated my youth.

Everything’s Different Now

It’s a much more-difficult choice to make now. Being discriminatory. But I choose it anyway.

I am no longer the most-important person in my life.

The day my son was born changed everything.

From that moment on, my decision making revolved entirely around the fact that I was his father.

Divorce hasn’t changed that.

But that has also come with a cost. It means I spend a great deal of time sleeping alone, dining alone, watching television alone. It means, for the first time in my life, I do most things alone.

I’m still adjusting to that.

It hasn’t been easy.

When my wife left, it was as if someone hit the reset button in the middle of my game.

I was on high alert. I knew it was possible. But the reaction was still: “WHAT THE… !?!?”

Then, after the dust settled, it hit me: A fresh start.

Kind of a do-over.

There are certainly geographic and financial limitations due to the shared custody of my son. But it’s not as if I’d trade him for anything, so I don’t see the point in lamenting his wonderful existence.

Beggars Can’t Be Choosers

My mom always used to say that.

But, guess what?

I’m not begging.

I wrote a post about an encounter with a girl at a bar on Valentine’s Day. It was a nice moment, I thought, and wanted to write about it.

There were more than a few people who told me both online and offline that they thought I was doing it wrong. There are probably several more who agree with them but didn’t bother to tell me about it.

One lady wrote:  “I just happened upon your blog and I sorta agree with elbrookman (who was very disappointed with my choices). I understand not wanting to get involved with someone not geographically close, however, asking for her number is not a marriage proposal!…

“Maybe your inability to connect has more to do with your idea that you don’t measure up vs others thinking that you don’t! And connecting with someone doesn’t mean sleeping with them right out the gate! You have a lot of soul-searching to do my friend!”

She did a pretty good job of summing up my entire life and every word I’ve ever written in one comment.

But I dabble in the honesty business now. More than I ever have. So, let me just come out and say it:

I was pretty annoyed with everyone who suggested they knew better than I did what the best play was while meeting a strange girl at a bar. I was there. I was having the actual conversation. I was minutes away from picking up my five-year-old son to take him home and get him in pajamas and tuck him into bed.

It was suggested I made a mistake not trying to “romance” her. Perhaps a stroll under the full moon.

I’m not opposed to such things, I guess.

When I don’t have a sleeping five-year-old at home.

When it’s not 10 degrees outside with a shit-ton of ice and snow everywhere.

Whatever. Totally beside the point.

Why didn’t I try harder with the pretty stranger at the bar? Let’s discuss.

I only want to date women who live close to me. That stranger in the bar? She lives 2,380 miles away.

That’s a 34-hour drive, if you don’t stop for gas and food and sleep and bathroom breaks.

I only want to date women who live close for the same reasons I didn’t waste a lot of time in committed relationships in my youth I knew to be doomed for failure.

What’s the point?

I don’t want to date a woman I can’t see.

I don’t want to like a woman who I’m going to miss because she lives far away.

I’m really confused about why people don’t see the wisdom in that.

And I don’t care if this makes it hard for me to find people to date. I’m not going to suddenly change all my criteria, just to increase my odds of finding someone who meets my dating criteria.

My standards are my standards. I put thought into formulating them.

If I end up liking someone enough to be in a relationship with them, I want to be able to see them. You know, so we can have dinner and drinks and go to concerts and the movies and make out on the couch. This can’t seem weird to very many people. Right?

I only want to date women who could theoretically be a potential stepmom to my son. Even if this pretty photographer didn’t live in California, I can assure you—beyond all doubt—she wasn’t looking to spend all her time in the Ohio suburbs with a divorced guy and his kid.

She was awesome. Very funny. Very smart. Enjoyed her company immensely and would have had a great time with her for as long as the night allowed had I not been on parenting duty.

But even if my son hadn’t required my care?

There was still no happy ending to that story, from a “dating” or “relationship” standpoint.

So, I fail to see the wisdom in treating the encounter as anything more than it was. A nice moment that made me smile.

If people care enough about my personal life—and I realize I invite this commentary by publishing stories about my personal life—to offer criticism of my conversations with strangers at bars, I’d love for them to get on board with the idea that I actually think about this stuff (probably too much, actually) and have reasons for the choices I make—even the bad ones.

They are not accidents.

They are thoughtful and deliberate.

So, Yeah. I’m Picky.

Fastidious.

Discriminating.

Particular.

I am.

And I’m not sorry, either. I have all kinds of personal rules about the kind of women I’m willing to hitch my wagon to. And, yes. I’m totally smart enough to realize just how challenging that’s going to make this next chapter of my life from a dating standpoint.

I’ve written about just how frustrating I consider it several times.

But I don’t think the answer to one of the most-important life decisions one can ever make is to all the sudden lower ones standards in the interest of increasing the candidate pool. That’s how the Cleveland Browns hire all of their head coaches, and anyone paying attention to American football can appreciate just how well that works out for them.

I want to meet someone who lives close to me. Period. Because if I like her, I want to see her.

I want to date someone who is mostly on the same philosophical wavelength as me. Because if it were to ever morph into a long-term thing, and she’s going to serve as a part-time parent to my son? I need her to be supportive of the values I want to instill in my child.

I want to date someone in my relative age range.

I want to think she’s beautiful in all the ways I evaluate beauty, both inside and out.

I want her to like me. To want to be here in Ohio where I must live for the next 13 years, minimum, until my son graduates from high school.

And I want the two of us to have lots of common goals and interests. On superficial things, and on all the stuff that really matters in relationships—all the emotional, mental, physical and spiritual components required to make it work.

I do not want to sleep with random strangers in bars.

I would not want to casually hang out with a random stranger in a bar UNLESS I wanted to sleep with her.

I have a million rules. All of them matter. Every single one.

And sure, it makes my life more difficult. More frustrating. More lonely.

But I’m not compromising my values.

And I’m not setting myself up for emotionally devastating long-term failure.

I think back to my first crack at dating. How I would never even start down the path with someone when I knew it couldn’t last.

And in many ways since, everything has changed.

But in some ways?

Nothing has.

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