Friday, July 15, 2011

Forgiveness: The Key to Healing After Divorce

Divorce is one of the great epidemics of our society. It’s an experience that tears families apart. Family members walk away wounded from its immediate effects when a marriage ends. And for many, it takes years to recover. Some actually never even get over it and move on. It’s a gut-wrenching, traumatic experience that can really make or break people.

If you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you probably know that I went through a divorce almost 10 years ago. I look back now with very little emotion about it. But at the time, every waking moment was like being tortured. That’s why I preferred to sleep during that time – my escape mechanism, if you will. I’d get up, go to work, come home and sleep. Not the healthiest approach, I know, but it was my way of coping.

Dealing with the legal system, custody issues and all that came with the entire ordeal took so much out of me that I was of very little use elsewhere in my life. My work productivity declined. My appetite disappeared, resulting in my losing 30 pounds in the first month after the process started. What I’m saying here is that it was simply the worst experience of my entire life. And believe me, I’ve dealt with some difficult issues – including the death of close loved ones. Nothing quite compares to the experience of divorce, in my view.

Today, I’m happily remarried to a really special and wonderful woman. My daughter, who was 3 at the time of the divorce, is now a well-adjusted pre-teen who lives with us. And the icing on the cake is that we have a handsome little bundle of joy – an 11 month old son. Things may not be 100% perfect but I can tell you that true love has turned our house into a home.

How did this all happen? How did a nightmare become a beautiful dream? In this post, if you learn nothing else, please learn this: forgiveness is the key to a healthy recovery from divorce. It might sound like a cliché but really, that’s what it is. There’s no magical formula – just simply learning about the act of forgiveness and acting upon it.

Shortly after my divorce, I was in such turmoil that I didn’t know what to do. I felt hurt and disappointed in the way things turned out. I lost everything – I mean everything. Well, I did get to keep my car, my clothes and college textbooks. But the entire house and all its effects were all gone. In addition, my credit was ruined. And seeing how the family court operated was a big eye opener. Through it all, I just remember thinking that, at least my daughter is ok because all else from that marriage was gone.

In the midst of the turmoil, I reached out to a gentleman who had been through a similar experience. He shared with me that, in order for me to move on effectively, I needed to choose to become better instead of remaining bitter. That simple concept has guided my life since then. I even wrote two blog posts about it: To Become Bitter or Better? The Choice is Yours and Bitter vs. Better Part 2: How to Become Better.

He told me that I needed to forgive my former wife and myself if I wanted to make a full recovery. And looking back at that conversation now, I can tell you that it was that brief chat the started me on the path that I’ve been on since then. It’s an inflection point to which I can trace the origins of the Upbeat Dad organization.

After that brief conversation, I knew there was some work to be done and I was determined to do it. I had lunch with my former wife shortly thereafter. Believe me, it wasn’t easy to initiate that contact but it was necessary. I told her that despite the fact that it was a messy divorce, we needed to come together for our daughter’s best interest and for our mutual benefit. Then I said, “For the wrong that I did during the marriage and throughout the divorce process, I’m asking you to forgive me.” It wasn’t easy for me to do so but I did.

I won’t even tell you her response but suffice it to say, it was less than favorable. But guess what? That was ok. I was trying to move on and, in my view, that was a necessary step. The next thing I did was forgive her for ways in which I felt I was wronged. I won’t even get into the discussion of “who did what” during the marriage and divorce. 

The fact is that we were married and the marriage ended. No matter how right either of us may have felt, no one was 100% innocent and no one was 100% at fault. The demise of the marriage was a shared responsibility.

I had to acknowledge wrong-doing on my part and that’s what I did. I forgave her and asked that she forgive me. Regardless of her response, I was no longer held captive to the emotions of that chapter in our lives. I was now free to move on from the experience. The only remaining obligation I had from that relationship was to continue being a loving father to our daughter.

It was so long ago, in hindsight, but I cannot emphasize to you enough how much healing took place after that conversation with her. I cried privately because I was so overcome with emotion. There was nothing that changed in an outward, tangible way after talking with her but I felt my heart becoming whole again. The sun was starting to shine in my life and I just had a new attitude.

The key to forgiveness is this: the power does not lie with the other person – it lies with you. By that I mean, the other person is free to forgive you or not. They’re also free to ask for forgiveness. But when you’re the one asking for forgiveness or actually forgiving the other person, you’re in total control. So then, you can be your own emancipator, if you will; you can be held captive by the wrong you feel was done against you, or you can choose to forgive and move on.

If you make the choice to forgive, you remove the possible ill-effects of harboring a grudge. Did you know that refusing to forgive and holding on to the hurt can literally make you sick? Ask your doctor. It can lead to high blood pressure, ulcers and all kinds of diseases. It really can.

If you find yourself at a crossroads today, dealing with a divorce or the ending of a relationship, I challenge you to put these words to the test. It doesn’t matter how bad things may be, forgiveness is the key to moving on and letting go of the hurt. If you’re dealing with heartbreaking issues such as domestic violence or infidelity, it doesn’t matter, it really works.

I can’t promise you that you’ll see tangible results overnight. A million dollars won’t necessarily appear in your bank account the next day. But what happens is that you become free of the baggage that comes with the bitterness that results when we don’t forgive. For me, it didn’t happen overnight but one thing that started almost immediately is that I learned to see my former wife in a different light. 

Things got so messy when the divorce became a reality. But I learned to remember the good in her that caused me to want to marry her in the first place. And she was the mother of our beautiful daughter. So without her, our daughter would never have been born. That’s why, to this day, I am glad that we got married – a precious child still remains long after the marriage has faded.

I hope that these words have spoken to your heart. If you need to make that special phone call to make amends, then please do so. If you need to shed some tears, then do so as well. All of these things are normal and dare I say, very necessary, if you are to move on from a past hurt.

Seeking and extending forgiveness and making apologies doesn’t indicate weakness. Rather, it’s a sign of strength. You become empowered by such acts. Now, I have to struggle to recall all that happened during our divorce. If I remained bitter and chose not to forgive my ex, I’d leap at any opportunity to say negative things about her. 

But believe me, it’s much better the way it is now. She’s moved on and I’ve moved on and each of us is much better as a result. And more importantly, our daughter is just fine – a well adjusted, happy pre-teen.

Now I have a wife who loves me unconditionally and I have 2 children that really light up my life. Life isn’t perfect with us but I can tell you honestly that it’s never been better. That didn’t happen overnight. When I made a conscious choice to forgive my ex and forgive myself, the wheels were set in motion for the life I live today.

I look forward to hearing of how things change for the better as you make your own choice to forgive. Believe me, it’s better that way. Don’t rob yourself of the benefits that forgiveness can give. You deserve the best that life has to offer. Please don’t let anyone or any situation ever cause you to become less than you’re capable of being.

Promise yourself that, starting today, you’ll forgive, forget and move on. In doing so, you’ll reap more rewards than you could imagine. And you deserve nothing less.

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad


Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pride and Prejudice: Teaching Your Kids to Embrace Other Races and Cultures

The mission of the Upbeat Dad organization is to spread the message that children need actively-involved fathers in order to be their best. As we share our message, at times, in my view, we need to address some subject matters that may be somewhat sensitive in nature, but still, they convey the essence of our message. The topic of race and culture is one such subject matter.

We started this organization just over 9 months ago and what a journey it's been thus far. We have become established on a global level at a much more rapid pace than originally anticipated. As we share our message, people from every continent – from varying backgrounds – come to our blog for tips and guidance on matters concerning fatherhood. This proves one of the tenets of our organization: the institution of fatherhood transcends all ethnic, socio-economic, religious and other barriers. It’s universal and ought to be recognized as such.

As I write each blog post, I literally picture the entire planet and its citizens. That’s the audience – no one single group. So whether you’re reading this in the North or South America or Australia or Asia or Africa or Europe, there’s something that should make a connection with you. That’s our vision – and that’s how I believe it should be.

Now then, the subject of race and culture can be one of the more divisive and sensitive areas to address. At the same time, it’s one from which our kids can learn invaluable lessons to help them live productive lives. As I thought of writing this post, I pondered what might be the best title. How can we teach our kids to be proud of who they are, yet encourage them to be open to embrace people who don’t look or speak like them. 

The book Pride and Prejudice came to mind. To be honest, I haven’t read that book since over 20 years ago in high school and don’t remember much of what it’s about. But I like the title. There’s a very thin line between being proud of who you are and being prejudiced against others. So Pride and Prejudice it is.

How do people become racist and biased against others? Why do some believe that simply being born into a particular ethnic group automatically determines ones potential for success? We might not like the answer but I strongly believe that the origins of these views are in our homes.

One of my strongest beliefs is that no child leaves the womb with any level of prejudice towards anyone. Babies are born innocent and come into a world with all kinds of divisions – ethnic, religious, political, economic and the list goes on. But babies are as innocent as they could be.

As these babies become toddlers and then pass through the different phases of development, they learn about the world that they live in. It’s a scientific fact that 90% of brain development occurs during the first three years of life. 

And psychologists can attest to the fact that by the time kids are 5 or 6 years old, even before they start the first grade, their personalities have been so formed that they do not change for the remainder of their lives. Certainly there may be differences in the outward manifestation of these personalities but the essence of who they are does not change. This is referred to in the world of psychology as the life script.

My point in sharing this is that as parents, we hold the key to how our kids grow and develop. You may have heard the expression, “Children live what they learn.” That’s a simple but quite profound thought. We may not realize it but children are like sponges. They absorb all that’s around them in their environment. 

As parents, if we make casually make blanket statements like, “All  (fill in the ethnic group)   are  (fill in the characteristic),” then our kids take these statements to be factual. This is called taping in psychological circles – generalizations that have no room for debate. So if we speak in a negative way about other ethnic groups, our kids begin, from a very early stage, to become biased against them.

What about those who we associate with? Chances are, we associate with those with whom we have the most in common. And nothing is wrong with that. That’s just fine actually – it’s human nature. Our children become friends with the children of our closest associates and that too is fine.

But what can happen is that they can develop prejudices by simply being exposed to the biases of others who aren’t even in our households. And then when they enter school, they become subject to the mindset of all those that they are around. We could do the right thing at home yet when our kids go outside of the home, they are influenced in a negative way by others.

So what do we do? Do we just wrap our kids in a bubble and keep them from associating with others who might have these biases? That’s not realistic, is it? Here’s an approach: be proactive in addressing these topics to children from the earliest stages of their lives. Teach them to love and honor themselves because they are truly wonderful and special. At the same time, teach them to love, honor and respect others – whether they look like them or not.

The fact of the matter is that no matter how much we might try to shield our kids from the negative things in this world, sooner or later they become exposed to them. It’s somewhat similar to having the “say no to drugs” talk with them. If we remain passive and say nothing about the subject, then we might not like the circumstances that can develop as a result of this approach.

Ours is a wonderful world. Throughout history, men and women of every race have contributed greatly to the advancement of the human race. That’s something that ought to be celebrated. The great Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” How profound! It’s really the content of our character that matters in the long run.

If you have not already done so, do consider having an open discussion with your kids about the matter of race and culture. Regardless of where you may live in the world, it’s a lesson that can have a long-lasting, positive impact on them. 

With television, the internet, social media and so many other technological advancements, ours is truly a small world afterall. By helping our kids to embrace others, we will not only help them to become well-adjusted children, but we will also begin to prepare them for becoming effective, responsible citizens who lead their nations into the future.

Let us endeavor, as parents, to empower our kids with lessons such as this. They should be proud of who they are without developing biases against others. Planting such seeds in their minds will yield fruits that will lead and guide them for the rest of their lives. They’ll become the beneficiaries of this great and profound life lesson. And that thought ought to be celebrated.

Enjoy your day.

The Upbeat Dad