Tuesday, August 26, 2008

House on the sand...

I have been going through some difficult days. Things I won't discuss here but suffice it to say maybe one of the very hardest times of my entire life.
I've learned a lot in the last few weeks and this morning, as I was sitting here pondering it all, I came to a few very difficult conclusions.
I suppose I could file this under the "Things You Lose in Divorce" series, and I might just do that. But this morning I am just too tired to organize it. I am just going to write and let things land where they land.
It's been very very hard watching my life disintegrate and the fragments dissipate into the wind. There isn't anything left of any plans or dreams I had two years ago. It's been whittled away like a pencil for 8 years now when I think about it. The dreams I had as a married man were stripped from me when I got divorced. The dreams I had as a father were cut in half when I got divorced. That left me to dream dreams just for me and some new ones for Morgan. Now almost all of those are gone too. My career has vanished, as it has for virtually every other mortgage banker I know. I have been so beaten up by this last defeat that I am, for the first time, afraid to dream anything else. I have no vision for the first time in my life. I am afraid to have one. I've lost plenty in the past. I've had failures and defeats. I have never before been one to shy away from picking up and starting over. I've always been an optimist and a believer. But for the last ten years I invested myself in this career, watched it blossom in spite of hard blows, and actually had built a nice plan with this vocation as a lynch pin. All that is gone now. I can't really remember feeling this alone in my life. These are the days when I feel the most divorced. This morning I was listening to Steven Curtis Chapman on Focus on the Family and he was talking about the strength he and his wife are finding in the middle of the tragedy of losing their youngest daughter. It's that bond that I so desperately sought while I was married. It's that bond I sought when I was looking for a wife in the first place. You can have all the money, power, fame, material things, whatever. Give me one person who cares about me more than I care about myself and I can make it through any storm. When the wind whips, and the rains beat down, and the boards come flying off the house, the only thing that stands is the foundation you built it on. Mine has been gone for a long time now. and when such a large chunk of your foundation is damaged and broken, the storm can make some serious inroads into the destruction of the home. Marriage is the last best stronghold of hope and strength in your life. When it's gone...what do you really have? My Christian friends would tell me that I have Christ and my faith should be all I need. well...so why did God make Eve? Nobody was closer and more intimately friendly with God than Adam, and yet the Bible says God saw that Adam needed a soul mate. He didn't impose it on him, it wasn't a novelty or an experiment. God said "it is not good for the man to be alone" and He created him a best friend. There are all sorts of examples in the bible of God doing this but there is not ONE archetype for Him ever doing the opposite.
When the chips are down everyone takes care of their own agenda first. I'm not even upset about that...it's human nature. But divorce has stripped away my life raft. There is a depth to which your spouse cares that no one else ever will. And right now when I need it most, it isn't there.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Just Get on With It

Once again I heard those words. I received an email from a well-meaning friend who was advising me about a recent incident with my ex wife. He gave me a full page of his views on what my next step should be, including advice on seeing less of my daughter for a brief period to facilitate some other changes. Then he inserted the ubiquitous "your marriage is over, move on from the hurt".
Really? My marriage is over??? You don't say! I hardly noticed! In the 8 plus years I've been divorced, I have learned that this is what people say when they really weren't listening. I AM over the dissolution of my marriage. My ex wife is married and I sincerely wish her the best. I pray for her marriage and her husband and their success and happiness. And I mean it when I pray it. However, the divorce still has long ranging effects and I still feel them. I wanted to write back to this well meaning friend and ask him to pick one of his kids and choose to not see them except for one day a week. I wanted to ask him to select 80% of his daughters life and just miss it. For the life of me I will never understand why people think they could possibly understand what this feels like. This is pain like few have ever known, I promise you. If you've had a spouse or a child DIE, that is closer to what divorced people go through. Except there is no closure because they keep coming back to life every week when you see them again, and in many ways that makes it hurt all the more.
My well-meaning friend just doesn't understand that, as members of my family didn't, other friends didn't, co workers, customers, etc. In fact, I've become increasingly suspicious of people who seem so able to compartmentalize the pain of divorce and just live as if nothing ever happened. Let me recap for those of you not getting it...I lost my wife, I see my daughter, the pride of my life, once a week and every other weekend. The very thing that defined me as a man, husband ship and fatherhood has been removed or limited. The reason I got out of bed every morning and dragged myself to a job I never really liked is no longer a part of my life. I had everything I needed to be happy and it's now gone or at least severely restricted.
You're right...what's not to move on from?? I shouldn't have ever missed a beat!
Now just shut up!

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Never Be The Same...

In April of 1996 my family suffered the loss of my sister Collette. In the years that followed, my mom, Cathy, had a difficult time relaying what she was feeling in her devastated soul.
Someone had signed them up with "Compassionate Friends", which is an international support group for parents who've lost children.
The newsletter that arrived in the mail each month was often filled with poignant stories of survival from parents who'd faced such tragedy. Cathy would occasionally refer us to stories that said the things she carried in her heart but could not verbalize.
One such story applies to this blog, and to this topic of divorce and fatherhood.
The story was a piece of prose by a mom who'd lost a child. She likened the experience to getting lost in the forest. She had entered this forest forcibly, not by choice. She was lost...feeling her way along the dark trees and unfamiliar undergrowth. She was finding her way out, strictly by using her instincts and her Faith. She only knew two things for sure about all this new, uncharted, unfamiliar landscape. She was not going to leave this forest from the same place she entered, and she would not be the same when she left.
Entering that landscape of loneliness and sorrow was not a round trip ticket. The entryway was opened through tragedy...a tragedy so horrible that it defies description and precludes imagination. She never asked to take this journey, it was forced upon her. The only option was not really an option; not taking the trip at all. That would involve shutting down and ceasing to live. (A thought many parents consider when a child dies) She had no real choice but to grope along in this darkness looking for a way out. All she really knew was there was no going out the way she went in. The events that brought her here could not be reversed...that door swung only one way.
So she moved along in the blind darkness knowing one thing for sure...this trip was changing her at her core and she would not be leaving through the same door and therefore would not be the same person she was when she went in. She would gain strength in some places and lose it in others. She wasn't sure what she'd look like when she finally emerged into the sunlight again, but she knew she'd be different. She already was in so many ways.
Cathy photocopied that story and gave it to all of her family members (proudly, I am one of them)and hoped we'd understand. We did, although at first it was tough. I wanted the old Cathy back and she was never going to return. It took time and some maturity to grasp what had happened in her soul.
Today, Bob and Cathy are healed and basically pretty whole. You never get over something as devastating as losing a child, but God is good, and He provides healing in ways we never expect. He has been good to them and they have seen His love and grace.
The analogy of being lost in a dark unfamiliar woods is very appropriate for divorce.
I know this is a "Men's Forum" but this is really a universal truth today. Unless you wanted the divorce and had other plans for life once you were divorced, it is thrust on you...you don't go looking for this kind of pain.
You enter this dark forest not by choice but by decree. "You are now divorced...like it or not", and you have no road map and no light for your path. You grope along in the darkness, feeling for a familiar tree stump or a clearing but all you find is more darkness and nothing familiar to adjust your compass to. There is no sun, no moon, no stars in the pitch black night. The compass spins wildly at first and only serves to confuse you further.
So you grope along at a snails pace, stumbling and falling and bruising your knees on the low hanging branches and scraping your skin against the underbrush. One day a light starts to emerge in the distance and so you head towards it. You don't even know if it's where you want to be, and you know it's not where you entered. But it is a way out so you set off towards that faint glimmer in the pitch black darkness of this terrible forest of sorrow. As you work your way closer to the tiny glimmer and you are finally able to see a little, you notice that you aren't the same anymore. You changed back there in all that darkness and sadness. If you had a mirror you'd probably not recognize your own reflection.
One day you finally break through the treeline and into the sunlight and you find out how right you were. You really have changed and not all for the better. Your friends don't recognize you in a lot of ways and a lot of the things you desired and loved when you went in are changed or gone completely. There is a missing twinkle in your eye and your gait is slower...from banging around in all the darkness.
It's a whole new world on this side of that forest and it takes some adjustment. You find out that those who truly love you and really wanted the best for you were waiting patiently on this side of the forest, calling out to you and hoping you'd find your way. They know you've changed but they are so happy to have you back from the woods that they don't mind or even notice any longer. All that matters is they have you back...even in your changed form.
And the others who couldn't hang on and wait for you...they never really cared to begin with.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

How Does This Stuff Get Started?

Last night I was introduced to a guy who had gone through a divorce in May. Like virtually every guy I've met recently, he was saddled with this thing and wasn't dealing with it well.
I don't know when the shift occurred and it was suddenly fashionable for women to call all the shots but somewhere in the last few years it has. We live in a world of stereotypes. We are defined by them and in some ways, governed by them. Years ago, the man left, because he was cheating, and the woman left because the man was cheating or abusive. People didn't get divorced simply because "you aren't meeting my needs..." or "you work too much..." or "we've grown apart...". Now all those things are vital to a marriage but for God's sake, you don't DIVORCE over it! It's like Manny Ramirez' ridiculous whining about how Boston "is tired of me and I'm tired of them". Really Manny? Tired enough to count your 168 Million dollar salary and those two World series rings as a loss?
Meeting needs and working less and placing family first and growing together not apart are all crucial to a healthy relationship, but so crucial that you divorce if you don't get them? Last night I met a guy who was divorced in may. We got talking about our kids and as soon as I mentioned how much I miss Morgan, he welled up. The same stabbing pain I feel when I miss her he was feeling then. He had issues for sure, but at least from his version of the story, I saw nothing that counseling and work couldn't fix. Why does everyone leave? Why is marriage so disposable? And why does the mom get to call the shots? Why can she determine where the kids will live and how often they will see their dad? Because of stereotypes is my guess.
We are paying for the sins of every cheating, wife abusing, drunk, heartless bastard who went before us. Lifetime has built an entire cable TV following on the backs of bad ex husbands, But the facts are that most of us aren't anything like that. Most men love their kids and miss them terribly. Most men would crawl through hell on gasoline knees pads to reconcile and have our family back. Most men live with a lifetime of regret because most men are painted with the same broad brush as the crappy losers who went before us. And somehow many women find it perfectly acceptable to point to those bad examples as reason for never considering reconciliation. The stereotype gives them an excuse to "move on" to the next guy and the next situation who may very well be just another victim of the stereotypes one day...if not the reason for the stereotypes himself.
Divorce needs to be harder to acquire. Plain and simple. It's harder to beak a real estate contract than a marriage. That's just stupid. And I'm tired of it and tired of seeing another hurting man missing his kids.

Monday, August 4, 2008

"...You Can't Hide from the Emptiness Inside"

Today is Monday August 4. Morgan went home to her mom's yesterday after church. So today is traditionally my unhappiest day of the year. I met her mom's husband at McDonald's and she got in his car and they went home. I went riding around and avoided going to my house for a long time. My place always echoes in silence when she leaves. This summer has been the worst one we've shared in our ten years together, at least from a standpoint of what we did. We only got home once, we didn't travel much. There was an undercurrent of stress and concern about my financial situation. Perhaps the hardest thing we faced this summer was accepting the fact that she wasn't going to go to the private school she got accepted to. Her heart was set on attending this school and it's the best school in the area and she is perfect for it. We decided to pray every day, morning and night, for God to provide a miracle, but He has not. She accepted it and I made sure she understood that if God was saying "No", He had something better in mind. But the crap hole she will be attending is not my idea of "something better" and I don't understand God right now. But I have learned that He always has a plan and He is always in control. So I will trust him and show Morgan that she can trust Him too.
Last night when I finally went home, I laid down on the couch and cried. I always do when she goes home after my summer with her. Summer is over now...bring on the winter. I love summer. It is my favorite time of year and always has been. But when she is gone so is my fun. I missed her so much last night. I hear her voice and I see her sweet smile and I laugh at her jokes and I read her stories in amazement that my little girl is capable of such immense greatness. Bruce once wrote "well if the world was mine to do with what I want to do sir...I'd wrap it up in a ball and give it all to her" Ditto. She is the sum total of everything I have ever done right. She represents the completion of every dream I have. She is my everything. I adore her. I miss her today and I can't wait to see her again next week. I am thankful for the time I do have with her and for the wonder she brings me.
I Love You Morgan.