Postscript to Bitterness

Got a text today from the Exwife saying that my 18 year old had once again gone into the ER with stomach pains and was admitted.  This happened nine months ago right as the divorce proceedings were starting.  She was in for two nights and they couldn’t find anything wrong.

I don’t believe she’s a hypochondriac or making any of the pains up.  I’m sure they are excruciating.  Last I heard she was on morphine.  I do think they are what most doctors would call “stress-induced.”  I would call them “direct result of swallowing bitterness whole continually for years.”  I don’t believe that humans can live a lifestyle where they are continually denigrating and belittling and hating another human without having a resulting medical condition.

When people say “That left a bad taste in my mouth.”  It’s usually about something they are angry or bitter about .  It is an often used statement, literally because it is physically true.  We do literally get a bad taste in our mouth from swallowing and speaking bitterness.  I don’t know what chemical make up is behind that bad taste (maybe a good thesis for your budding scientists out there), but I do know that if you live in that world too long, you will sow what you reap.  Call it Kharma, call it fate, call it irony, whatever — the solution is not medical.  The solution is psychological and spiritual.

So many of you alienated moms and dads are bitter.  I get that.  It’s only human nature.  A friend of mine asked me today this question:  When I get a negative text/response from one of the kids, does that give me a reason to be bitter toward their mom.  The answer was “sure it does.”  It’s a linear truth.  She spouts negative about me to the kids, and then in turn, don’t want anything to do with me.  It would be easy to get extremely bitter about her.

So let me ask you a simple question about that:  What good does that do?  Seriously — if bitterness only hurts the one feeling bitter, why waste the time?  It doesn’t build up relationship, it only can hurt them.  So for that reason alone, I have to control bitterness or it will rise up and kill.

Note to kids: Bitterness hurts you, not who you are bitter at…

My daughter’s 18th birthday today.  As with most alienated parents, I did not get to see her on her birthday.  I was hoping her present would arrive today.  It did, but Fedex didn’t leave it because they delivered it after I left for my son’s soccer game — 5:15 PM).  So I wasn’t able to bring it by her mom’s house for her yet.  I had already left one gift at the house the week before and was told in no uncertain terms by her mom that I was not welcome on their property.  Her reasoning was she “can’t trust what will happen.”  Interesting choice of words — as if I had ever done anything in the last year or so to make her not be able to trust what I would do.  Maybe she was more concerned about how she would react?

So tonight I elected to call around 9 PM to just leave her a voicemail

Happy Birthday
Happy Birthday (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

wishing her a happy birthday.  My son answered the phone and spent the next 20 minutes or so railing on me for everything from the clothes I wore to his soccer game to the fact that I was on a conference call.  Mind you, I was off to the side, away from everyone else — because it’s 4th quarter at my work and i literally had to leave a conference call to go to the game and needed to be on two others during the game.  No one heard me talking and I was behind and away from the rest of the crowd, but could see the game easily.  I was also chastised for my parents not sending a present to his sister, for him having to be the grown up in the house and for abandoning the family in the divorce and not giving them any money and the fact that I had gone to some concerts this summer and (this was strange to hear) he was upset because he said I didn’t want a relationship with him…

It was very hard to get in a  word edge-wise throughout the conversation.  Most of it was yelling from his side.  However, I worked very hard to interject when he would pause to take a breath.  Stuff like — “Do you even know how much money I gave your mother every month?” and things like  “There’s very few things in the world I want more than a relationship with you and your sister.”  I decided early in the conversation that he could rant and rave all he wanted, but when he told I lie I was going to call him on it.

I also agreed with him when he said that I’d never gone through a divorce as a kid and had no idea what he was dealing with.  “I would love to know what you’re dealing with — in fact, I’d love to help you through it. You’re right I have no idea what you’re dealing with. I can’t imagine how hard it is for you.  But I want to be there with you all the way through it…”

I told my Dad later (who had a similar conversation with my son — he’d called his grandpa just to rant at him — first time he’d ever called him…) that I actually felt at one point that he was re-thinking some things — seeing things in a different view for the first time.  He eventually hung up on me, I’m fairly certain that this was something that he felt he had to do for his mom and sister.  He texted me afterward and said, “I am just so frustrated cuz at 15 it’s hard to raise a household all by myself.”

I actually thought that was pretty interesting.  Why would he feel like he is raising the household?  He’s got an older sister and a mother there.  Granted he may feel like he’s the man of the house, but there must be some pretty difficult stuff happening over there for him to feel like he’s running things.

My reply was pretty quick and clear:  “You don’t have to buddy.  You just have to be a 15 year old.  Let the adults take care of the others stuff.”  No reply after that.

So I got some very angry and bitter texts from my daughter after that.  She threatened to call the police and have me arrested for trespassing if I brought her birthday present over.  Then I was called stupid and a dumb butt.  She’s 18 today.

So I wrote her a note back talking about how much love and kindness there used to be within her.  I told her that I know she thinks I’m to blame for all of her unhappiness right now and that at some point she would realize that her bitterness and hate and anger isn’t affecting me all that much, but it is tearing her apart.  I asked her to read back what she’d written and see if she thinks that is what a strong and intelligent woman writes, or is it more like the thrashing anger of a hurt young girl?  I told her that love is the way to find healing from that hurt, not anger.  And that I loved her.

I don’t write all of this to you so you see how good a dad I am.  This is an anonymous blog, I frankly don’t care if you think I’m a good dad or not.  I write this, because I think those of us in an alienated position need to hear this as well.  It’s very very easy to become very bitter as we go through this experience.  I had a friend ask me this past week if I was bitter.  I honestly thought about it and said, no, I was not.  That may be more of just a personal thing from my personality.  I’ve never been a bitter person — always have been quick to forgive (though there are some marked examples that I’ve recently corrected in my life where I haven’t forgiven so quickly).

But what I wrote to my daughter is so true.  How often have you seen divorcees 30 years later still hate their ex?  Meanwhile the ex has gone on to have a pretty strong life.  Ironically, that is exactly what happened to my ex’s mom and dad.  Her mom still hates her dad almost 40 years later and has let that bitterness eat her up.  He’s dealt with his mistakes and moved on and been married for 30 years or so.  I think that is the road that my ex is now on as well and she’s trying to take along my son and daughter for the ride.

It’s sad.  It’s difficult to watch.  It would be very very easy to get bitter.  But who does that hurt?  I think I would so much rather move on with my life and make it extraordinary then live in that world.

My prayer is that all you reading this would also see that in spite of the bitterness I’m receiving from the kids and the ex, there’s strong hope.

There’s hope in the fact that I didn’t get the least bit emotional about this little interaction tonight.  I did feel a bit alone (though my cat helped that a bit).

There’s hope in the fact that both kids actually heard me speak truth to the lies they have believed for months.

There’s hope in the new life I’m creating.  I have plans for moving, investing in rental property, travelling, acting, working, getting promoted, dating, etc.  I’m not sitting back waiting for my kids to lose their bitterness and come back to daddy.  I’m aggressively going forward in my life.  It’s different, it’s new, it’s lonely at times, it can be hard to understand — but there is hope there.

My prayer is that you will look in every one of these situations for a similar hope.

God Bless you all.

Jim

A Daddy Alone

Wrote this today.  Waxing a bit poetic as the month ends and the divorce nears finality…

A Daddy Alone

Living alone; white house
Living alone; white house (Photo credit: jonhoward)

 

Remembering the glorious sound of tiny feet rushing to the door
Seeing their hands go up high and the launching of their bodies
To nestle in close to the stubble on Daddy’s face
Needing a hug to welcome home the man of the hour
Chattering away about the excitement of the pool
Or the trampoline
Or the dogs
Or nothing

Seeing the proud smile on the faces of the other players
And knowing their coach is also their daddy and loves them
In ways he never will for the goalie or the center forward
Knowing he will lead and guide and direct the whole team
And the others will wish their dad was there through the process
But knowing Dad
Is theirs alone
And Smiling

Knowing the man working in the yard amid the heat and sweat
Is capable of doing just about anything he puts his mind to
And wanting to be just like him, working just as hard as he does
Arranging the rock, lifting the shovels, digging the holes
To make the house a home and create something beautiful
Out of dirt
Out of them
With them

Talking with him on the way to practice about little things
Hearing him listen as the days events unfold about him
There is a bit of advice, maybe sometimes too much fixing
But mostly there is listening and concern and the peace
Of knowing someone bigger and stronger than they
Cares a lot
Lives alongside
Loves Forever

These are the memories a Dad alone carries with him
And hopes his kids can someday remember as well.

What do you do when your kids are being lied to?

English: Colin Henderson's winning design will...
English: Colin Henderson’s winning design will be displayed on T-shirts and other items at this year’s Domestic Violence Awareness Rally, which is scheduled for Oct. 17. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Just found out this morning that my son had told someone that he didn’t want to talk to me because he was worried he would end up in Juvy (I assume he meant Juvenile Detention).

Not sure how to handle this. Maybe a little background is in order.  I’m not sure how much of this I have communicated here on the site, so let me tell the story now.

I’ve struggled with my teens for several years.  I would try to help guide and direct them through teen questions and issues (yes, you must do homework before playing soccer or going to ride your horse or going on a date, no we will not take you to the summer camp of your choice when your church is already planning a big deal summer camp…)   There have been frequent battles between my ex and I regarding this. It reached its peak very early this year when I tried to speak to my daughter a bit about some issues we had experienced.

She immediately began to yell and I calmly said that we weren’t going to handle problems in our family any more by yelling.  I then explained that she’d lose her iPhone if she kept yelling like this.  She then attacked me and began beating me with her fists in an attempt to get her phone.  I’m not very strong, but I held tight to the phone, kept my hands to my side and got out of her room and went downstairs.  She followed me around for about 20 minutes as I kept trying to get away from her and calmly telling her  that this isn’t the way we handle things.  Her mom and brother joined in the yelling and her mom actually hit me twice as well through this ordeal.  I never raised my arms, just kept them to my side and tried to get into another room to stop this.  At one point my daughter told me she was going to rip my arms off and left a six inch welt on my bicep trying to do this (I have a picture of it).  After about 20 minutes of this I told them that if they kept it up I would have no choice but to call the police.  This is not the way any family should live and if they couldn’t listen to me and stop, I would have to involve someone they would need to listen to.  My ex screamed that she would just tell them I was beating them!  I had the phone in my hand and was dialing 911 and didn’t realize they answer even if you don’t hit send on the phone.  The operator heard my ex say this and asked if everyone was okay.

The police came and I repeatedly told them I didn’t want to press charges.  Apparently in my state once a domestic violence call is made, the onus shifts to the State to press charges and they don’t frankly care what the victim says at that point.

Somehow — the story I get from my ex is that the kids heard me say “I want them to go to jail.”  What I actually said repeatedly was, “I don’t want anyone to go to jail.”  At the conclusion, the police finally said if I left the house that night and went somewhere else that no one would go to jail.  So that was my last night in my home.

Once both my ex and my daughter went to court, the court system decided not to press charges on each of them due to the “first offense” situation for both.  I was asked if I was okay with this and told them yes.

So how my son thinks that he is going to end up in Juvy if he talks with me is very interesting.  Who’s telling him that?  His sister?  His Mom?  His counselor?  For the record, I have never raised a hand to my children and have very rarely even raised my voice especially in the last couple of years.  My son and I have gotten along better than I have with anyone else in the house.  And now he’s scared to talk to me because I will  put him in Juvy.

I’m not sure if you can detect the hopeless feeling that washes over me after writing that.  How do I change that perception?  It’s completely baseless when looking at the facts, but his statement is not about facts, its about emotion and the collective anger that has been nurtured and allowed to fester in the house where he lives.  How can you defend yourself against a lie that has been drilled into someone for so long?  Especially when there is no real way to prove it either way?  I have repeatedly written both of my kids to tell them exactly what happened that night.  IF they write back, it is in anger and telling me that what I have said isn’t what they heard.

A good friend of mine just told me that Only God can change hearts.  That we need to pray and that God is going to intervene here at some point.  If I didn’t believe that, I think I would be overwhelmed with hopelessness for this situation.

Plans for Re-engaging alienated kids

So I read on one of the linked blogs (look to the right)  that when the kids are finally ready to re-engage in a relationship with an alienated parent, it can be a bit of a sticky situation.

I’ve been thinking about this a bit — not because this is imminent for me, but because I want to be ready for it. And maybe this can effect my approach to communicating with the kids today as well.

I had dinner with a friend the other night and she mentioned that her dad and mom divorced when she was a teenager and that she was very upset at her father for a while afterward.  She said that he’d call and she’d basically ignore him and make faces to others in the room when he called like he bugged her.  She didn’t like him calling at the time and wasn’t very encouraging to him during that time.  I don’t think she was alienated from him, though, but it sounded like a difficult time for both.  The good news is that she said he kept calling and never talked about the “situation” or her “rudeness to him” but just talked about her life and his life.

That hit me a bit.  I was thinking that we’d have to “have the talk” about what we’ve gone through over the last few months in the first meeting.  I guess that is not really the smart way to do it.

So my new approach is to email about what’s going on, text about my life and theirs and not mention the awkwardness, etc.  And I think that’s the plan for the first chat face to face as well.  Just engage them on what’s going on — there’s a lot to catch up on that should provide fodder for the many, many conversations without every having to be awkward or “dealing with all the crap” until they are ready.  I think that’s the key in this first meeting — just to let them dictate when they want to talk through the deeper, more important stuff.

If there are guys out there that have gone through this, I would love their input as well!

Note to my estranged daughter

Several different times during the estrangement that came after my ex-wife and I separated, my daughter has emailed or texted me that she wants absolutely no contact with me.  I can’t write her or text her “or else.”  Not quite sure what the or else would be.  Would she not talk to me less than she is now?  Doesn’t seem like there’s much more she can do than she’s already doing at present.  She doesn’t talk to me and when she emails or texts, it is with the words of her mom in anger and cruel language.  So, I wrote her back and told her that I would honor her request and not write her for a while.  That lasted about a month, then I texted her after a soccer game and she sent me several nasty notes back again.  It looks like this might go on for a while. So I’ve resorted to writing her letters and saving them.  Hopefully, when she decides she wants a relationship with Dad, I can print these out and show her that I was thinking about her and writing her all along.  My brother and his wife had this idea, and I think its a good one.

Here’s a note I wrote in this package the other day.  I’ve edited out her name, but I sprinkled it liberally through the note. It’s about the kind of Dad I am trying to be for her:

To My Daughter:

One of my goals is to be the best Dad I possible can for you.    If you don’t mind, maybe I can explain what I mean by that.  I think for a long time, that you and Mom sort of thought that a dad was much like a mom, only a man.  I think you were frustrated with me because I wasn’t there for you like Mom was.  I think there is some confusion in Mom’s mind and yours and maybe your brother’s mind about what a Dad should and could be.  I think I shared a lot of that confusion.  I think I knew what I was supposed to be and do as a Dad, but didn’t feel like I could for many of the reasons I wrote about before.  I’ve had a lot of time to think over the last 8 months, and I think I understand better what a dad is supposed to be.  I got much of this from my own dad and never really realized how important what he taught me really was.  I think I looked at the way he raised me in a negative way and didn’t really see the value of his wisdom until just recently.

For starters, maybe it would be helpful to explain some of the things that being a great dad doesn’t mean.

  • It doesn’t mean agreeing with you about everything (who needs that?).
  • It doesn’t mean being around you all the time.
  • It doesn’t mean being involved in every aspect of your life.
  • It doesn’t mean that you’ll never be frustrated with me.
  • It doesn’t mean you’ll always understand what I am doing.
  • It doesn’t mean that I’ll always be right.

Here’s what it does mean.

The best possible dad for you is one who:

  • Can hear your heart – your pains, your frustrations, your hurts, your joys – and feel them with you.
  • Cares enough to give advice that you might not agree with – and might not take.
  • Helps you see all the sides of a problem, not just one part.
  • Will tell you the truth even if it makes you mad.
  • Will pray for you
  • Will help you plan and prepare for your future
  • Helps you understand the man in your life
  • Helps you think about the kind of woman you want to be and to work on a plan for how you can get there.
  • Helps you learn how to handle conflict in your life in a healthy way
  • Helps you work on your friendships and relationships, even through disagreements and frustrations
  • Helps you understand the strengths you have and build on them.
  • Helps you see yourself as God sees you.
  • Helps you to find a way to be content in whatever circumstances you are in.
  • And will do all of this with an undying love for you that doesn’t require you to love him back.

I’m committing to be that Dad for you.  I’m already working to do that and have worked at being that dad for you for many months.  I hope some day that we can have that type of relationship.

You see I think that you need someone who can do those things in your life.  I do.  My best friend and my dad and my brothers are helping me by being that person in my life.  I think many of these items that I have listed above are hard to find in a friend or a mom or a boyfriend.  I think these are things that God meant to be done by a Dad.  Even though I know I haven’t done these things very well, I have worked hard at doing some of them.

I look forward to being that kind of Dad for you in the future.

Love, Dad