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.
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
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.
Sunday’s message at church was about letting God show up in our weakness. We were challenged to own up to our weaknesses and let God take them and make them something incredible. So here goes.
There are so many times throughout this whole alienation process where I have been willing to let things go to avoid a scene or a blow up that would certainly result. Much like during the actual marriage, I sacrificed what I believed in and what I valued for the sake of peace. It is weakness. It is unwillingness to stand up for what I believe in because I’m afraid. Or because I don’t know what to say or do, so I don’t do anything.
Case in point — today at a soccer game, my daughter was walking past the snack bar where I was working (let’s just say it’s easier to have a job in the snack bar than to sit by myself in the stands…). She was talking to a friend on her cell phone explaining her accident. Apparently she was rear-ended by someone, from what I overheard. Interestingly, she stood close enough and spoke loud enough that I heard almost the entire conversation. I think that was purposeful on her part. She wanted to make sure I heard the lines like, “Yeah, I called mom like 6 times and couldn’t reach her and I didn’t know what to do so I called you (about her friend).” She walked directly past me, like two feet in front of the snack bar window on her way back to the bleachers and I asked her, “So, you got in an accident?” She acted like I didn’t exist. No response at all, just a firm scowl and a deliberate walk.
She’d left a very angry voicemail on my phone on Friday. I had responded via email, explaining to her that I would love to have a relationship with her, but that it can’t be a yelling relationship. That when she was ready to have a non-yelling relationship, I would love to see her. That had been our last “communication.”
So today when she gave me the cold shoulder, I honestly just stood there not knowing how to handle it. Feeling weak. Feeling impotent. Feeling like whatever I did would be hated, create anger and make things worse. So I did nothing. It’s two hours later, and I’m still not sure what I should have or could have done. Writing helps me explore my true thoughts and feelings, so lets go through the options.
1) Speak louder. Say her name and ask louder what happened so she’s embarrassed in front of others if she doesn’t respond. PROBABLE RESULT: ignoring me or turning around and yelling at me to leave her alone.
2) Send an email to her mom, mentioning that this is “life-change” event and by judges ruling is required to let me know about them. PROBABLE RESULT: “You heard her talking, you see she’s okay. You know.” From her mom.
3) Walk over to her and make sure she’s okay. PROBABLE RESULT: see number one above.
4) Write her a nice email reminding her that her dad is still here and available and would love to help her in moments like that in her life. Tell her I’m glad she’s okay and that I hope she can get her truck fixed without too much trouble. PROBABLE RESULT: no response.
So, I think I’m going with #4, mainly because it’s the only option left at this point and it is more in character with how I’ve treated the relationship for the last year: Return hate and anger with love. Firm boundaries, and love.
But in all of this, I think I get the message from Church — I am weak. I need God to intervene. In my weakness. To make me strong and make this relationship strong again.
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.
Had my first pre-father’s day episode this morning. It came in the wake of Randy Atkin’s song “Watching You” where he talks
about his son repeating his cuss-words and later, his prayers as he models himself after his dad. It’s a tear-jerker, especially if you’re an alienated parent.
Several things I took from this. First of all, I can’t just ignore father’s day because I probably won’t see my kids. The wedding anniversary hit a couple of weeks ago and I honestly didn’t struggle much with it. The marriage is over and should have ended many years prior, so I feel like I’m okay with that end of it. Father’s day is a completely different story. It will always have meaning and be an important day in the year, regardless of what the kids think of me. I am a daddy. I will always be a daddy. I grieve deeply for the wounded relationship with my children. I would do just about anything to help rekindle that relationship. I need to allow the grief and the sadness to be felt, and write about it and pray about it and then work through it. I can’t choke it back or completely avoid it by filling the day with stuff to do.
That said. I don’t think it helps to cry for a week in the fetal position on the couch either. Interestingly enough, I’ve found that the less I fight the grief and the more I actually feel the pain and work through it, the quicker I’m able to emerge and be a productive member of society again. The lows are less low and less drawn out when I’m actually allowing myself to feel the pain and not covering it up, ignoring it or allowing busyness to crowd it out. I think in the past I was in an almost perpetual depressed state because I wasn’t allowing myself to actually feel.
Another thing that I’ve dealt with in preparation for Father’s Day is genuine anger at the ex-wife. In a 1000 years, I would never consider not demanding that the kids do something for Mother’s day… Not asking her to “force” anything. That’s her constant mantra. Just telling the kids that it is hugely inappropriate not to do something for father’s day. That they will regret it later if they don’t. That they need a dad in their life. That she went through not having a father in her life for 10 years and wishes she could redo that period in her life. Stuff like that. But, I’m coming to grips with the fact that she is not me and that she doesn’t think through things this way and that it is what it is. Still hard not to get frustrated and angry about it, though.
Finally, the song was helpful to hear that my son and my daughter have picked up my characteristics and my approach to life at some point. It’s not all from my ex-wife. Half of their DNA and a good portion of their nurture was under my tutelage. That is bound to affect them at some point and come back to them someday. I just have to keep being their dad and keep reaching out and at some point they will realize their need for a dad and their need for a relationship, however small that might be.
Back to the long-term waiting, praying, loving, writing, patience plan of action. With a heavy sigh. Happy Father’s day to all of you alienated dads. Hang in there. Feel. Then move on…
I heard a message one time that compared Holiness to a long walk of obedience in the same direction. The implication was that there might be slight detours on the way or pauses in the journey or stops and starts or even back tracking, but that the journey to live like Jesus lived is a long journey.
I was reminded of this as I was telling a friend recently about a soccer game experience with my kids this last week. Both kids had games at different locations, about 60 miles apart, so I knew the ex would be at the youngest child’s game because she had to drive him. My oldest had told me in a text message earlier in the week that she wasn’t going to go to the game. I suspected (turns out rightly) that she was telling me this so I wouldn’t go and she’d planned all along to play — after all it was her last game of the season.
So I went to her game, thinking if she wasn’t there I’d just drive up to the son’s game and be a bit late. When I saw her vehicle, I got out my chair and made my way to the field to watch and met some of the other parents near me and got settled in. As the scoring started, I texted the ex to keep her update on the progress. My daughter got hit by another player in the head near the goal and I relayed that information (she was fine and popped right back up). Later at the end of the game, she tweaked her knee or something so I communicated that as well. There was a lot of scoring, so there were probably ten texts that I sent to the ex. Very short ones. I think it took almost to midway through the 2nd half to get a text response about the scoring in my son’s game. I asked how he was doing and didn’t get a response to that.
As I’m telling my friend this, she says to me, “Why are you doing this? You’re not going to get positive responses.” I said I had figured as much, but I thought it was the right thing to do. I would want to know how the other game was going, so I was sure she would as well. It’s the Golden Rule, right? Do unto others as you would have done unto you.
My friend was a bit incredulous. “But it’s like you know you’re going to get rejected and you do it anyway.” I hadn’t thought of it like that, but I just replied that this is who I am. I am who I am regardless of the negative reactions from the family. I’m not going to be a different man because of the negativity and anger coming from that side. As I have done all year, I texted my daughter after the game and congratulated her on a well-played, hard-fought game. About 2 hours later (true to normal form), I got a text back from her saying she doesn’t want me at her games or my texts. I did not respond. Again, I’m not doing that to get a good response from her today. I know that won’t happen. I’m going to her games and texting her because that’s who I am. It’s what I do. I’m not going to stop doing good things for her just because she is frustrated with it. At some point in her life, I hope and pray she can look back and see that in spite of the anger she showed to her Dad, her Dad loved her in word and action continually. I never stopped.
But even if that day doesn’t happen, I will still be the man that God has made me to be. I will still write her notes, go to her games, be there for her important days, love her as only a Daddy can.
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.
“Leave me alone. I don’t want you in my life, I don’t need you, you are note my father. I know the truth about you — you are a scumbag (this is a PG blog..). Goodbye!” Often they will call you by your first name. They will cuss, they will find anything and everything that you are ashamed of from your past (mostly stuff that your spouse has told them about you — maybe 30% of it true) and use that as a sharp axe in an attempt to extricate your head from your shoulders verbally.
“I’m not saying goodbye. You are my son and I will always love you and want a relationship with you. If you already know it is the truth, why are you scared to discuss it?
I suspect that you really know there are two sides to every story and there are many things that don’t make sense to you about your family situation, but it is too painful to even think about these thoughts right now. It is just easier to make me the evil enemy and then you don’t have to deal with anything, you can just be angry and that covers a lot of pain.
I love you.”
So maybe that wasn’t as good a response as I’d hoped. Because I got a return email calling me a hole. Not sure what a hole is, but I suspect it is not good. But the dad response is still the right one. Nothing that they can say or do will make me stop loving them. They have to be told that — along with some truth as well.
“Love those who hate you.” Jesus says. You never thought that would be your kids, did you? Maybe that’s why Jesus had to make it clear that this is our task. He goes into detail about loving those who love us back and what’s the great difficult in that? The difficulty is in loving someone unconditionally — as we do our kids — and thus deeply feeling those words and the wounds they inflict, yet still shaking that pain off and loving back. No matter what. Men — we can do this. It’s a challenge we can rise to.