Tag Archives: Single Parenting

Making Sense of Your Emotions After Divorce and Beyond

guy hiding under desk - the great courses daily

It wasn’t quite this dramatic. ;) (Image/The Great Courses Daily)

I walked into my ex-wife’s house following a quick knock as I do a few times every week to pick up my son after work.

I had a bag of our son’s clothes with me full of specific items I’d promised I’d return, and when I walked into the kitchen to set the bag of clothes on the counter, I saw the red envelope leaning up against the bottle of whatever liquor she had bought her boyfriend for Valentine’s Day. This is their third or fourth Valentine’s Day together.

You feel something when you see something like that. Even six years removed from marriage. You feel something.

Sometimes, I have these conversations with myself when I feel that something. Because, what does it mean?

Does it mean that I love my ex-wife and miss her desperately and wish we were still together?

No. She’s a fine human being and the best co-parenting partner and mother to my son that I could ever hope to have. But, I don’t sit around my house (the one she and I used to share) wishing that she still lived there.

There’s no evidence that she and I could have a good marriage—even now that I understand so much more about my failed marriage than I did back when I assumed all of our problems were her fault.

I DON’T WANT a shitty relationship full of uncomfortable conversations and conflict INFINITELY more than I want to be in another permanent romantic relationship that might be a stepping stone to another marriage. Regardless of who that other person is.

“Given all of the changes and strides you have made in your own growth and understanding of how things went sideways, is there the potential for reconciliation with your ex-wife?” a reader asked me in a recent blog comment.

I’ve received that question many times over the past five years.

There’s a faction of people out there invested in the story—my story. The almost-redemption story.

The shitty husband who is just like their spouse.

And if I can figure it out, maybe they can figure it out.

And if I can figure it out AND want to reconcile with my wife and maybe have a great marriage on the second try, maybe the dream is still alive for them too.

I hope they know their dream can remain alive regardless of what happens with me.

Because a beautiful marriage might be in my future, but there’s virtually no chance my ex-wife will have any part to play other than hopefully having a positive, peaceful relationship with whoever I would invite into our co-parenting inner circle. And that’s more than okay.

I think what I felt when I saw that Valentine’s Day card was shame.

Do I—in a spiritual sense—regret that I was a shitty husband and now we’re not married, and I have to drop my son off in the morning to be cared for by the guy sleeping with his mother? Absolutely.

Am I jealous? No.

It’s more nuanced than that.

It’s not pain. But it is discomfort.

I’m ashamed at who I was.

And just maybe, ashamed at who I am.

What’s wrong with me that all these years later, my ex-wife is in this super-stable relationship, and I’m still ordering takeout with my fifth-grader?

Trigger City Looks Nice Until You Hit That One Part of Town

The next morning my son didn’t have school, so I dropped him off back at his mom’s house before driving to the office. Her boyfriend was the only person who was going to be home with him for the first couple of hours that morning.

I neither hesitated nor thought twice about leaving my favorite little human in his care. I can trust him unequivocally to be good to my son and his mother.

If you don’t know how much that’s worth, you’ve never shared a child with someone who doesn’t live in the same house.

I have what I consider to be a mature, well-thought-out and healthy mental and emotional position RE: my ex-wife.

Married people with children have never thought about what it feels like to wrestle with the stress, fear, and anxiety that you encounter the first time you realize that your ex who you share children with are now in total control of what happens to them whenever they’re not with you.

They can date, live with, marry ANYONE and there’s not one damn thing in the world you can do about it.

When the divorce first happened, I couldn’t breathe.

Not the way normal people breathe.

I couldn’t sit still or sleep or think or talk or in any way behave however I perceive ‘normal’ to be.

Someone at work asked me about it. About the time I was adjusting to a new world where I felt like I had Iost half of my son’s already going-too-fast childhood, and where I felt like I’d lost ALL control over his safety and wellbeing.

If I can’t influence who she sees, how can I protect my son from the bad ones?

A huge percentage of the panic I felt back then was being stripped of that sense of control.

That slice of the Pain & Horror pie chart got tossed into a cauldron with all of the other stuff—rejection, embarrassment, fear, a sense of failure, emotional brokenness, and surely some other bad-tasting things I’m forgetting.

Holy shit, is this really happening? I quietly thought to myself while I recounted that story from six years ago. Because I started to feel it.

I’d just sit at my desk sometimes staring straight ahead on the verge of tears, trying to draw long breaths and hoping no one would notice or ask me any work questions.

Sometimes my hands would shake a little in conference room meetings. Every guy at the table had a wedding band on but me, and they were all super-interested in the work conversations just like I used to be before the world ended.

I didn’t speak. I didn’t make eye contact. I didn’t do anything except hide my jittery hands under the table and concentrate really hard on pretending to be tough and stoic so that I wouldn’t cry in front of my friends and coworkers.

Those were the hardest days I’ve ever known.

Those were the days where I used vodka as a crutch and started smoking again after having kicked the habit. Those were the days were I felt so dark and shitty and uncomfortable down deep where no medicine can reach, I FINALLY understood why some people give up. After a lifetime of not getting it, I finally “got it.”

If every second of your life HURTS—excruciatingly—and you lose hope that you can find your way back to where it doesn’t hurt (or tragically have never known a life without pain), then it makes sense to be more afraid of living than dying.

I wasn’t suicidal. That never happened. But I remember thinking that if some semi coming the other direction crossed over center and pulverized me that it would feel merciful.

That’s when I knew I was damn close to rock bottom.

After a lifetime of being afraid of lots of things, I wasn’t afraid of much.

It’s the super-power of grief. It’s the ONE cool thing about it. Everything sucks. Things can’t get worse. So—boom. A liberating taste of fearless living.

When we have things to lose (the best things in life) it makes sense that we’re afraid of losing it.

When we’re out of things to lose, it’s not super-neat that we suffered a great loss, but you are gifted a healthy dose of perspective that I think most of us need.

There were all of these things in life that I had wanted. That I’d made a goal. A certain amount of money. A certain kind of house. A certain kind of job. Etc. Material-ish things, in many cases, as a measure of having “a good life.”

But then I felt like dying, and it occurred to me that even if I had my dream home and the largest bank account I could think of, I STILL would have felt empty and broken in that moment.

There’s nothing we can buy or acquire to protect us from that feeling down deep inside where the medicine can’t reach. Once I discovered that important truth, I developed a healthier, more appropriate perspective on finances and material possessions.

I felt that feeling return.

The bullshit one that nothing but time can fix.

And all it took was me retelling the story to a couple of friends at work. It all came rushing back. The nausea. The anxiety. That feeling of tears welling in my eyes that I hope no one noticed.

I went for a walk, just like I did six years ago. Just a bunch of quiet deep breaths and the music in my headphones. Maybe no one will know.

The problem though is that I knew.

WTF is happening right now?

Our Scars and Stories

I was fine by the time night rolled around. I didn’t think about it over the weekend.

I’m only thinking about it now because I wanted to write this.

We have all of these souvenirs from our past lives. Maybe they’re tangible objects. Maybe they’re foggy memories. Maybe they’re razor-sharp feelings triggered by things we see or hear or smell or think about.

These souvenirs are comprised of both our scars and stories.

Our scars are proof that they happened. That we’re still alive.

Your ex-husband is seeing someone new, and you don’t like it, even though you left him AND would never choose to be with him again? It hurts somehow but you can’t explain why?

You don’t have to. Scars. Stories. Yours.

Your ex-wife is seeing someone new and it’s totally fine, but the memory of your wife leaving you, and losing control of your son, and all of those nights thinking about how much she was loving being with that other piece of shit while you sobbed at home alone on the couch makes you FEEL that all over again? Several years later? And you can’t explain it?

You don’t have to.

I don’t have to.

Scars. Stories.

Yours.

Mine.

Everything’s going to be okay.

Really, it already is.

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Don’t Invite Me to Your Divorce Party

happy divorce

Because a bunch of people have been encouraging me to write for Huff Post Divorce, I’ve been spending more time reading it.

There are thoughtful pieces I like and agree with, such as “An Open Letter to My Ex-Husband’s New Girlfriend.”

There are thoughtful pieces I hate and disagree with, such as “Here’s Why My Affair Will Turn Into A Healthy, Long-Term Relationship.”

There are very practical Things You Should Know pieces. About legality. About emotional turmoil. About child-custody issues. About moving on.

But there is one type of story that’s prevalent and bothering me.

The Fuck-Yeah-I’m-Divorced-Let’s-Party story.

My ex-wife was in a relationship after our separation. Never met the guy. And that’s more than okay.

When something bad happens to you—something really bad—it cuts you on the inside in ways you didn’t know was possible. It’s shocking.

You’re reeling from the horrible thing that happened. And all the sudden your body and mind are experiencing things you were totally unaware were even possible, making healing seem impossible.

Almost like losing grip on reality. And maybe that’s exactly what happens.

I spent countless hours and nights alone on the couch or in bed. I’d watch TV sometimes, but it was so hard to focus on anything that I would often have to rewind whatever I was watching over and over again because I’d get lost in thought and not pay attention.

I was almost obsessed with them. Another man with my wife. And I spent unhealthy amounts of time picturing them together. At the dinner table. Maybe curled up on the couch together. Maybe driving around in cars. Maybe on vacation to places I could never afford to take her. And, of course, in bed.

In about 35 years, I had never felt anything more excruciating.

You can’t feel more rejected than that.

You can’t feel smaller than that.

You can’t feel more humiliated than that.

You don’t just lose your partner. You lose all your memories of your partner because she ceases to be the person you know, because the person you know would not be doing this right now.

And then you lose yourself. And you can’t recognize yourself in the mirror because you’ve never felt or behaved like this before.

It’s all very scary.

My marriage broke. Much of it was my fault. But that didn’t stop the hurt.

My parents divorced when I was 4, and you might think that life experience would help prepare you for the realities of divorce in your own marriage.

It didn’t.

Divorce was the most brutal thing I have ever experienced. I know some people have experienced more-challenging things and that I’m blessed to have not.

But make no mistake: Divorce (if the love was real) is very hard. Worse, I believe, than most people give it credit for. It’s the second-most-stressful thing that ever happens to you, according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale. Marital separation is No. 3 on the list. It is only behind the death of your spouse, and ranked ahead of things like going to prison and the death of a close family member or friend. When it happened to me, I freaked.

What that means is, when I see your Fuck-Yeah-I’m-Divorced-Let’s Party stories it makes my skin crawl.

It means I want to punch you in your face, even though I would never, and even though you might not deserve it. (Everyone’s divorce story is different.)

On behalf of the institution of marriage—an important union designed to bring enormous stability to our world—I’m insulted.

On behalf of every scorned spouse who has fallen asleep alone in the dark sobbing and thinking about the person they loved being with that other person—I’m offended.

On behalf of every child that cries and suffers financially and socially and academically and spiritually because his or her mommy and daddy don’t love each other anymore…

I wanted to write it. And almost did. It’s perhaps the most unkind two-word phrase we have in the English language.

But I don’t really mean it.

Because there are some marital horror stories out there. And the women and men who feel liberation, who feel peace, who now have an opportunity to pursue real love in a post-divorce world DESERVE to feel good.

And it makes sense that people with those stories would want to use them to empower other divorced people and encourage them to find peace and contentment in this new life.

But I want so badly to live in a world where love and families are viewed with more reverence than our throwaway-marriage culture calls for.

Where we empathize with people in pain, and the blameless children caught in the middle.

Where divorce is frowned upon and strenuously avoided.

Fuck Yeah, We’re Divorced, Let’s Party?

Have a good time.

I won’t be there.

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Pottymouth Training

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

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

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

But I know what I heard.

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

What the… !?!?

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

He didn’t answer.

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

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

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

2012-07-13_6307_Gilligan
Nope.

The Troublemaker

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

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

I like to goof off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I can’t stop.

Won’t stop.

You’re welcome.

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

A hypocrite.

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

Because he’s my little man. 

You Stupid Bastard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I don’t know,” I said.

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

“No.”

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

My aunt chimed in.

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

“No.”

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

“No.”

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

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

Dammit, the Delivery is Perfect

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

But here’s the thing.

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

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

Owen: “Hey Dad! Watch me yo-yo!”

Me: “Okay!”

Owen: *flubs it* “Dammit!”

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

Me: “Okay!”

Owen: *knocks it over* “Dammit!”

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

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

Owen: “Dammit!”

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

I laugh every time he does it. Bad dad!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

fresh prince aint even mad

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The Penis Talk: A Conversation With My Five-Year-Old Son

simba and mufasa

Earlier this week, my son, who is in his third week of kindergarten, exposed his penis to other boys in the bathroom during school.

Everybody lost their collective shit. And by everybody, I mean his teacher, principal, day care lady, and mother. In that order.

There was a special parent-teacher conference this morning between my son’s teacher and mother to talk about behavioral expectations.

I take it seriously only insofar as I want my son to follow directions in school. To listen to his teacher. To be respectful and well mannered. To be well behaved and learn everything he can.

But he’s his father’s son. So goofing off in the bathroom with his friends makes total sense. I tend not to involve penises, but who knows what I was doing when I was five. Could have been super-penisy. Don’t remember.

I have had a couple talks with my son during bath time about what is and is not acceptable regarding his privates. Those talks had apparently fallen on deaf ears.

Because of the incident at school this week, I was forced to try again.

This is what that looked like.

The Penis Talk

Me: “Do you know what a penis is?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “What do you call your privates?”

Five-year-old: “Privates.”

Me: “What else do you call it?”

Five-year-old: “My peep.”

Me: “Yeah. Mommy always called it that. You know how we ask you to call farts ‘toots?’”

Five-year-old: “Yes.”

Me: “That’s because ‘toot’ is a nicer word. It’s the same thing with ‘penis.’ The real word for peep is penis. Adults just ask you to call it other names because the word ‘penis’ makes us uncomfortable. Can you say ‘penis?’”

Five-year-old: “Pee-nis.”

Me: “Good job. Do you remember getting in trouble at school this week?”

Five-year-old: “Yes.”

Me: “What happened?”

Five-year-old: “I didn’t follow directions.”

Me: “Right. What did you do to get in trouble?”

Five-year-old: “I don’t know.”

Me: “Yes you do. Mommy was really upset. Listen, you’re not in trouble. But when bad things happen you have to talk to mom and dad about it. Now tell me why you got in trouble, please.”

Five-year-old: “I did unpublic things. In public.”

Me: “Did you just say ‘unpublic?’”

Five-year-old: “Yeah.”

Me: “I guess that makes sense. What ‘unpublic’ thing did you do?”

Five-year-old: “I showed my privates.”

Me: “Why?”

Five-year-old: “Because everybody was goofing around.”

Me: “Were other kids showing their privates?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “Just you, then. Great. When you showed other kids your penis, did you dance and sing?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “Good. Buddy, I need you to tell me when it’s okay to take your penis out of your pants.”

Five-year-old: “I don’t know.”

Me: “You can figure it out. You’re smart. When is it okay to be naked? You do it every day.”

Five-year-old: “When I go potty.”

Me: “Yes! When you go potty. Very good. When else is it okay to take your penis out of your pants?”

Five-year-old: “When I’m taking a bath.”

Me: “Yes! Excellent. When you’re taking a bath. There is one other time when it’s okay to be naked. Do you know when that is?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “This one is tricky.”

Five-year-old: “You say it, dad.”

Me: “When you’re changing your clothes.”

Five-year-old: “Okay.”

Me: “What’s the big boy name for your peep?”

Five-year-old: “Penis.”

Me: “When is it okay to take your penis out?”

Five-year-old: “Going potty, taking a bath and getting dressed.”

Me: “Good job, dude. That’s exactly right. Do you know why it’s not okay to show your penis to people?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “I guess that’s good. It’s because it’s really private. Our penises are just for us. They’re not for other people. (I wasn’t ready to have THAT talk.) Do you know what would happen to daddy if he went outside right now and showed his penis to a bunch of people?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “I’d go to jail. It’s really, really bad, man. Do you want to go to jail?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “What kind of people go to jail?”

Five-year-old: “Policemen.”

Me: “Sometimes. They work there. But I mean the bad guys. What kind of people have to go live in jail?”

Five-year-old: “Robbers.”

Me: “Yes. Sometimes robbers. Do you know any other ways to go to jail?”

Five-year-old: “No.”

Me: “Good. Who is it okay to show your penis to?”

Five-year-old: “Just me. Do you know why ears are special?”

Me: “Why?”

Five-year-old: “So you can listen to stuff. That’s why they’re attached. You have ears too, daddy.”

Me: “Yes. Yes, I do. What if a kid at school asks you to show them your penis?”

Five-year-old: “Don’t do it.”

Me: “What if an adult asks you? A stranger?”

Five-year-old: “Don’t do it.”

Me: “Very good. What if your teacher asks you?”

Five-year-old: “Don’t do it.”

Me: “Exactly. What if someone tries to show you their penis?”

Five-year-old: “I’ll tell them to hide it. I’ll say no, no, no, no! Or maybe I’ll growl.”

Me: “You’ll growl? What will that sound like?”

Five-year-old: *growls*

Me: “Whoa. Scary.”

Five-year-old: “That’s a Tyrannosaurus Rex. That’s what I will do.”

Me: “Cool. When is it okay to take out your penis?”

Five-year-old: “Going potty. Taking a bath. Getting dressed.”

Me: “I’m proud of you, kid. Are you going to show anyone your penis anymore?”

Five-year-old: “I’m never going to take it out again. I’m never going to do it again, daddy. I promise.”

And there you have it. My son will never take his penis out in front of anyone again.

Just like his old man.

…..

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Grade School Shenanigans

These kids are going to grow up and work in cubicles and pay taxes have bad things happen to them. Go nuts, boys and girls! It's your time!

These kids are going to grow up and work in cubicles and pay taxes and have bad things happen to them. Go nuts, boys and girls! This is your time! Just don’t tell your teachers I said so!

I kept my head down.

My first-grade teacher was really letting me have it in front of the entire class.

Our assignment was simple enough: Punch holes all around the periphery of two pieces of construction paper. Then, we were to sew the two pieces of paper together by weaving a strand of yarn in and out of the punched holes.

What a bunch of stupid bullshit, six-year-old me thought, though it was probably closer to: Golly gee, all this sure seems silly!

So, I started to skip a hole here and there.

This is so much faster!

Once I figured out how much more efficient the shortcuts were, I went nuts and started skipping entire corners.

All the other kids’ yarn was perfectly sewn in and out of each hole like they were supposed to.

Mine was a hot freaking mess vying to be among the shittiest child artwork anyone had ever seen.

The teacher was PISSED. Excessively so, I think. And she was making an example of me—the newest kid in the class.

I braved a glance away from the floor. There, peering through a window into the classroom, were two girls watching me get scolded.

I made eye contact with one of them. We held each other’s gaze for a moment.

Then I grinned at her.

Hi, Girl I Don’t Know. We can’t be good all the time!

We’ve been friends ever since.

Oh, Shit. Now I’m the Parent

My five-year-old son started kindergarten less than two weeks ago.

The first week, he was “caught being good”—something that awarded him praise in front of his classmates and a special trip to the principal’s office for recognition and a small prize.

I thought it was adorable. I was really proud of him and told a handful of people about it.

Then this week happened.

He’s had not one, but TWO, notes sent home this week by his teacher because of poor behavior.

“I’m writing to let you know that your child has been making poor choices this week. He talks excessively to other kids and sometimes has trouble keeping his hands to himself,” the note said.

I bought him a new toy after picking him up Tuesday. He had told me he’d been good all day.

A fib, it turns out.

So, I had to take his new toy away. He was pretty upset. Which is the desired effect when you want to teach your children there are consequences to being little shitbags in school and then lying about it.

He earned his toy back by being good in school yesterday.

I enjoy positive reinforcement much more than making him sad.

I wrote his teacher back Tuesday night, so she knew where I stood:

I made it clear that both my ex-wife and I were on the same page as far as reinforcing following directions and respecting the rules of the classroom, and that we would do everything we could to support her efforts. But I did mention that our son is still trying to adjust to a new life without both of his parents at the same place at the same time, which I don’t think she knew about.

I don’t want to make excuses for him. But I also think this has adversely affected him—even more than I’d originally feared. And it’s still pretty fresh.

He has some anger now. Anger previously unseen. Which is why I spend as much time laughing with him as I possibly can.

She ‘Nose’

My friends and I liked to laugh. We liked to have fun. And I don’t regret even one second of that.

There was this one kid who came to our school in fifth grade and moved after eighth grade. But during those four years he was at our school, he was one of my best friends.

He had a massive crush on the girl who was universally considered the most attractive in our class.

One day, we heard a rumor that she knew about his crush on her.

“She KNOWS,” we’d say dramatically, before laughing hysterically.

If we couldn’t speak because class was in session, we’d just mouth the words: “She knows,” while pointing to our noses for effect.

For almost an entire semester, he or I would write the word “NOSE” on the blackboard before class started every day. Sometimes our teacher would erase it. Sometimes he wouldn’t.

That always made me laugh.

I don’t think that I’ve ever been bad.

But I’ve always been mischievous. And I don’t intend to stop.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do?

I try to set a decent example for my son. I do.

But I don’t know how to shut myself off sometimes. I’m kind of a clown. My ability to display maturity as a 34-year-old has been questioned on several occasions—both at home and at work.

Here’s what I tell my son:

  1. Listen to your teachers. They’re in charge. Use your ears. Following directions is important.
  2. Be nice to other kids. You can’t have too many friends.
  3. It’s important to learn. That’s how you make money so you can buy food and toys.

I expect him to have good manners, treat people kindly and respect his teachers.

But just between you and me? Do I really care that he’s inclined to share private jokes with friends and build those social bonds—some of which may last a lifetime—even when the teacher wishes he wouldn’t?

Not particularly.

In fact, I kind of like it.

Because that note from his teacher? That could have been written about me.

And, while I have plenty of things wrong with me, I’m not unhappy with the person I am today.

As his father, I can’t stand by silently if he’s blatantly disrespectful and insubordinate.

But if this life has taught me anything, it’s that there may be no resource more precious than friends.

I’d be nothing without them. As an only child, my friends WERE my family.

And now I’m looking at my young son. A little me. A child of divorce. And at exactly the same age. He’s also an only child.

I have a better sense today of what’s important than I’ve ever had.

And while my son will never hear me encourage him to goof off or be disruptive in class, it is my belief that the most-important life skills we learn in grade school are socialization and how to make friends.

And near as I can tell, he is off to a pretty good start.

Go get ’em, little man.

We can’t be good all the time.

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The Top 10 List

top-10

In junior high, most of the kids made Top 10 lists ranking the girls or boys they liked in our class.

We’d write them during study hall. We’d write them during lunch. We’d write them on recess if the weather kept us inside. We’d write them during class.

It was always nice to find out you ranked No. 4 on the hot girls’ lists.

“Well Matt, if she strikes out with Jason, Chad and Andy, you totally have a shot with her.”

So, you’re telling me there’s a chance!

Relationships in junior high tended to be measured in weeks, not months. If a couple was “going together” for three months, they were well on their way toward marriage, comparatively speaking.

So, you could go from being someone’s Plan D to Plan B or A virtually overnight.

My memory is total shit sometimes. But let’s see if I can reconstruct a viable 8th grade Top 10 list.

The Top 10 List, circa. 1992

1. Erin – She was the token hot girl. And I don’t mean that as an insult to her. I can’t recall her mistreating me or anyone else even once. But it is still shallow and cliché to put the hot blonde up top.

2. Sarah – I usually kept her at No. 2, no matter what, even though she was secretly my No. 1 most of the time. We were good friends and had access to one another’s lists, so I had to play coy. I wrote a post called The Other One That Got Away in July. I have never written The One That Got Away, and probably never will. It’s reserved for this girl.

3. Kelly – There wasn’t a lot of sexy (I’m using that as a noun) prancing around the halls of our small-town Catholic school. But if anyone pulled it off, this girl did. I almost feel dirty even thinking about this. I’m trying to channel 13-year-old me here, okay? We have a lot in common. Neither of us get any!

4. Jill – We had a pretty good platonic friendship back then. Meaningful relationships go a long way with me. That was true in junior high as well. We were in band together. Yeah, that’s right, dicks. I played in concert band in 7th and 8th grade. The trumpet. I was, like, the third-best one. One time, we had a concert band show out at the high school. I was wearing a short sleeve button-up with a clip-on tie. And I dripped ketchup on my shirt before the concert. Somewhere in this world there’s a photo of me wearing that terrible, stained outfit. Clip-on tie. Hahahahahaha. That’s probably my mom’s fault.

5. Lisa – Kind. Pretty. Smart. Athletic. She was a Top 10 staple on every guy’s list. I ran for vice president of my 7th grade class and lost to her.

6. Abby – This is the first girl I ever had a legit crush on. Third grade. Sparks flew. She didn’t feel them, though. She got in some legal trouble as an adult with my cousin. They took things that didn’t belong to them, or tried to. My cousin is now married with children and doing well. He’s a very good guy. I hope she’s well, too. Always a sweetheart.

7. Chris – She might have been the tallest girl in our class. Definitely taller than me. And I’m a little sensitive about being short. But—and this is an important point—I WASN’T short in 8th grade. In fact, I was in the upper tier of height back then. Basically, as tall as I am now. I broke my ankle in 8th grade during a pick-up basketball game. Because of that injury, I had a podiatrist take a lot of X-rays of the bone break. That podiatrist—I swear to God—told me and my mother that I could expect to be about 6’0” or 6’1” tall based on the remaining space between my growth plates. I was so excited. But everyone kept growing. And I kept not growing. Maybe smoking and drinking coffee really does stunt your growth. The Old Wives need to get their freaking stories straight so I know what to believe and what to ignore.

8. Kendra – For about three years in a row, my friends and I would toilet paper this girl’s house on Halloween. I have absolutely no idea why we thought this was a good idea. It must have really pissed off her mom and dad and neighbors. Until you’re a homeowner, you just can’t appreciate how annoying it would be to spend hours picking up bits of toilet paper from your yard. I’m quite pleased that I don’t have any trees in my front yard. Some anonymous cock did shoot an orange paintball at my house once. I’m still angry about it.

9. Stephanie – If we’re getting super-technical, she was my first-ever girlfriend. In 5th grade. We were “together” for about a month. Maybe. Our magical romance consisted of a few phone conversations and no kissing.

10. Rachael – I wasn’t particularly attracted to this girl, and to be honest, I’m quite certain I wouldn’t have included her on my Top 10 lists in 8th grade. However, Rachael was the only known non-virgin in 8th grade. In our entire class. That’s the kind of information that can elevate one’s Q rating in the eyes of young, hormonal teenage boys. Just. Saying.

Author’s Note:  In the off-chance anyone from my past is reading this, I pray this doesn’t offend you. Because of my excessive drinking and pot smoking from about ages 17-28, I don’t remember when certain girls came and went from our school. But I can promise that Adult Me thinks you’re wonderful and wouldn’t dream of including you in any rankings today. Probably.

A Whole New World

Everything’s different now.

I’ve said it before. And it’s true.

Every girl I like is married. Every. One.

I don’t have any single female friends. Perhaps in time, I will.

Meanwhile, it’s hard not to long for the past.

Every girl was single. The girl in the most-serious relationship had been “dating” her boyfriend for two months or so and maybe they’d kissed. Maybe.

I’ve been working on this new strategy where I try not to think too much about this. I’m trying to trust that this is the sort of thing that’s going to work itself out naturally. The old “Ehhh. I don’t care about finding a girlfriend, so maybe I’ll finally find one” double-reverse Jedi mind trick.

But how? When? Where?

If I just keep doing all the stuff I normally do? Going to work. Hanging out with friends here and there. Playing a little golf. Playing a little poker. Watching a little football. And focusing on my son the rest of the time?

I don’t know. I just don’t know. The odds aren’t exactly in my favor on this thing.

Here’s the sequence of events that will have to happen for me to date someone locally:

1. I actually have to meet someone. In five months, I have met TWO girls. One lives in North Carolina and was visiting her family for a wedding the weekend I met her. The other was 10 years younger than me and is best friends with my neighbor Ryan’s fiancée. I’m thinking, no.

2. She has to live nearby and be available. I haven’t met even one person who meets that description.

3. I have to like her and she has to like me, gray hair, five-year-old son, and all. Uh-oh.

4. For it to be anything more than a fling, she has to have stepmom potential. She has to be capable of loving my son. She has to be on a relatively similar wavelength as me as far as God and politics and life philosophies and all of that.

Do you have any idea how far-fetched that sounds to me?

Do you have any idea how tired I am of sitting around by myself half the time?

Do you have any idea how concerned I am about turning into THAT guy—that older single dude you’ve known for so long who shows up alone to parties and family functions that eventually everyone just assumes is a closet homosexual because he never has a girlfriend?

I’m sure I’m over-thinking this. I do that a lot.

But I can’t lie. I wish I could make a Top 10 list right now. I wish I could write on a piece of paper the names of 10 girls that interest me and are available.

Not because I’m dying to date someone. I’m not.

But it would be comforting to know the option was available.

Oh well.

You play the hands you are dealt, I guess. You fold, fold, and fold some more.

Then once in a while, you get dealt a couple aces. You win a huge pot.

Then everything starts to change.

And maybe—just maybe—today’s that day.

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Back to School

It's back-to-school time for my son. And it's back-to-school time for me. The excuses must stop.

It’s back-to-school time for my son. And it’s back-to-school time for me. The excuses must stop.

Today was my first day being a single dad on a school-day morning.

This meant dressing my five-year-old son a little bit nicer.

This meant worrying about whether he can effectively manage the hook fastener and zipper on his shorts to avoid stressful trips to the bathroom.

This meant wondering whether kindergarten teachers assign homework.

This meant revisiting when boys and girls started liking one another.

I want my son to do well in school. Both academically and socially. I worry about how much I’m not doing to foster his development on both fronts.

It all feels a little too big and too scary sometimes. With no one to talk to about this stuff. With no one there to read books to him while I fold laundry. With no one to clean up the kitchen while I give him a bath.

There aren’t enough hours in a day.

But that can’t be an excuse for lazy parenting.

School at Home

I finally feel like I’ve turned a page. Like I have finally arrived at a place where I can begin the process of growing accustomed to my new reality.

Half the time, I’m a dad. Half the time, I’m a middle-aged bachelor.

And I need to figure out how to achieve balance with all of that.

I’ve only cleaned my house twice in five months. Gross, right? I know.

I keep the kitchen tidy. I wipe the dining room table each night. I never let the bathrooms get disgusting. And I certainly spot clean if something is amiss.

But still. Twice in five months? It’s pathetic.

My garage door opener bunked out on me about three months ago. All I have to do is get the model number off the unit and call a local repair shop. Probably won’t cost $50 to fix. I have issues.

I still haven’t established a financial budget for my life.

That’s right. I bought a brand new vehicle without budgeting for it.

I. Make. Bad. Decisions.

I’m still not working out. It might be a figment of my imagination, but I think I look even worse when I get out of the shower than I did two months ago when I was feeling sensitive about it.

Do you know how hard it is to wake up an hour earlier, do a little cardio and lift a few weights?

It’s not. I have all the equipment at home in my basement. I used to be down there every morning.

NOT. THAT. HARD.

Yet, something stops me. Mental exhaustion? Depression?

I think it is simply a lack of discipline. For example, I’m at work almost every day. I do what’s needed. I don’t forget to pick up my son, or pay the day care lady, or to post as often as possible here.

I don’t want to be undisciplined. It’s no way to live. Because when you lack discipline, your responsibilities start falling through the cracks. And the consequences begin to pile up. And the stress emanating from all of those dropped balls is not something any of us need.

Moreover, there is a direct correlation between my reduced waistline and toned arms, and my self-confidence.

If I don’t get better at anything else, I MUST resume regular exercise. I must.

Because I’m a viable male companion when I look how I’m supposed to look. And the trickle-down effects of that could be tremendous.

Routine.

Discipline.

Increased energy.

Heightened mental aptitude.

Better sleep.

Enhanced confidence.

Improved attractiveness.

These are very good things. Things I crave.

What am I waiting for?

I honestly don’t know.

To Be a Man

What does it take?

To be a man?

To be a father?

More than what I’m doing.

I can keep the wool pulled over my son’s eyes for a little bit. He’s five. He’s easy to con.

But it won’t be long before his powers of observation are keener than my ability to justify inaction.

I am that boy’s best chance to follow whatever path leads to success with life management, with health, with friends, with girls, with extracurriculars, and whatever else.

It has never been more important for me to walk the walk than it is now.

One of the things I miss most about marriage is that I genuinely like doing things for others.

I used to enjoy keeping the kitchen spotless or dusting surfaces because it made my ex happy. It lightened her load. I was serving a purpose. I was serving her.

I used to enjoy cooking meals. Large, made-from-scratch meals. I’ve made two meals I’m proud of since she left. Two. Both for guests.

The rest of the time, I’m whipping together quick things like breakfast or tacos or salads or mac and cheese, or something worse.

He deserves better. He deserves more. He deserves a father who never takes the lazy way out.

A father who does things the “right” way—the difficult way—in virtually all situations.

To see me walk the walk. All the time. Every day. In all I do.

What does it take for someone who knows what should be done to actually take action and do it?

What’s worse?

The lazy and ignorant person who doesn’t know better, or the person who’s well-informed, has a blueprint for success, and makes shitty choices anyway?

Me, right? I’m worse.

I think so.

I want to help people. I want to help people very much. But I can’t help anyone if I can’t figure out how to help myself.

People keep telling me I’ll be fine. That I’ve been through a hard time and should cut myself some slack.

Bullshit.

When it gets hard is when character is formed. Perseverance isn’t just about surviving. It’s about thriving despite the odds.

My son couldn’t work that little hook fastener on his shorts this morning. Instead of being cool and just finding him some different shorts, I chose to sort of let him sink or swim when he goes to the bathroom today.

He had trouble working the mechanism. I got frustrated with him because he quit when it got hard. Because he didn’t keep trying. Because he didn’t overcome.

What a hypocrite, I am.

But I feel bad about it. Which is why I know there’s hope.

I won’t quit trying to be better today than I was yesterday.

And I hope that’s an idea everyone can get behind. Just trying to be marginally better today at anything than you were yesterday. Constant improvement. In all areas of life.

Because children need us. Not just ours. All that look to us for guidance.

Not to spout off a bunch of hot air at them.

But to lead by example. To blaze the trail. To be someone they can emulate and be proud of.

Could anything be more important than that?

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