Monday, October 3, 2011

The Awful Night 10 Years Ago That Led Me to Start The Upbeat Dad!

This blog post has been literally a decade in the making. Please note the date it was posted: October 3, 2011. The date October 3 is quite significant to me. Why? Well that's the purpose of me writing this today.  

If I had to trace the origins of the Upbeat Dad to a particular date, without doubt, I'd say October 3, 2001. Yes, it was a decade ago today that this organization had its true birth. But, as you'll read shortly, it was not a glamorous birth with fireworks and a big celebration. On the contrary, it was the worst day of my entire life. Now, 10 years later, I look in the rearview mirror and can candidly say to you that that date was a key inflection point in getting me to where I am today as a man but more importantly, as a father.

Ok, so what happened on that date? Well, it was a Wednesday. My marriage was in its 5th year and clearly we were having our challenges. My then wife had traveled out of town with our daughter 2 weeks before. Our daughter's 3rd birthday came and went without me getting to even send her wishes over the telephone.

The night before they left to travel out of town, we were in a marathon counseling session. The thought of divorce and separation was never an option for me. And particularly when I consider that a young child was in the home, I was fully committed to making the relationship work. But I learned the very difficult lesson that it takes 2 parties committed to a relationship to make it work. Otherwise, it becomes an exercise in futility. 

In the 2 weeks that they were away, there were a number of things that appeared strange to me. First, the out of town trip was supposed to be for only 3 days. There was so little communication between my former wife and me that for days, I had no idea where she and my daughter were. When I called her workplace, I was told that she no longer works there. Now, I knew something was terribly awry.

That Wednesday morning I was at work when I got a surprise call from my former wife. We hadn't spoken in days. She told me that she's back in town and wanted to bring our daughter by the office to say hello. The whole thing seemed strange to me - especially when I consider that I learned from a mutual friend of ours that she had come back in town a few days before.

I thought that my daughter seeing me for a few minutes while I was at work after not seeing me for 2 weeks wasn't the best thing for her. So I just asked that they come home that night or at least meet me after work so my daughter and I could bond. There was never a discussion about separation or divorce or anything of the sort. So although that 2 week period was odd, to say the least, in my view, we weren't separated.

Well, I didn't know what my ex's intentions were but I told her where we could meet that evening after work if she didn't want to come to the house. Our brief conversation ended with her telling me that she'd call me back. I never heard from her so that evening I went to the place where I suggested we'd meet. She didn't turn up.

So that night I was at home alone, as I had been for the previous 2 weeks. A cousin of mine was visiting from overseas and late that night he and some other cousins stopped by the home to say hello. We talked and laughed and had a really nice time. Then I got on the piano and started playing while we collectively sang. It was such a wonderful, beautiful family time.

At approximately 11 PM while we were singing, I thought I heard the doorbell ring. I paused. Then I heard the ring again followed by a knock on the door. We stopped singing and then I went to the door to see who it was. When I opened it, there were police officers. "Police officers? Why? What was this about?" I wondered.  

That night I was served with an injunction for protection against domestic violence – a restraining order, if you will. It was filed that morning by my then-wife shortly after she called me at work. I got to read a lengthy document that was filed with the court that day with different allegations of domestic violence. I was not allowed to contact her in any way - by phone or through another person. I couldn't go within 500 yards her. If I did, I'd be immediately arrested. Wow! I was numb.
I took a deep breath and said to the officers, "We have a 3 year old daughter; what does the paperwork say about her?" "No contact either," they replied. I read about how my daughter needed legal protection from me. The thought of the whole thing was just sickening. 

The officers told me, "Your wife got the house." "What does that mean?" I replied. "That means you have to leave NOW! We'll give you 20 minutes." Thankfully my cousins were there with me. We took whatever we could in the time given to us - clothes and some other stuff. We had a court hearing scheduled 2 weeks from that date so I had to figure out where to live and what to do until then.

That night was simply horrible. I went to my cousins' home afterward, trying to figure out what to do. As the reality of what just happened began sinking in, I started to cry. And boy did I cry like a baby – practically all night.

Never in my wildest dreams did I think it possible that such a situation could take place - not in the United States of America. There was never ever a hint of domestic violence in our home at any point. That issue was never brought up or considered in any counseling session. It was never, ever an issue at any point. So how could I have been kicked out of the home late at night for something that never happened without even having a chance to give my side of the story? Was that even possible?

The worst thing is that before I could even answer to any of the awful allegations, I would have been out of the house 2 weeks already. The whole thing was indescribable. I never knew such a thing was possible - yet, it was my reality. I learned the very hard way that what I experienced was just some legal maneuvering that many individuals do in an attempt to gain the upper hand at the beginning of the process to end a marriage.

My sister and her family welcomed me into their home while I adjusted to this new phase of life and tried to work through the legal process. A few days later, I received divorce papers. By that point, I was already so numb I just took it in stride. Two weeks later was the initial court hearing.

I knew the marriage was clearly over. I was only interested in seeing my daughter and remaining as involved in her life as I always was. When I got the legal clearance to see her, when she saw me, after she ran into my open arms and hugged me, she said, "Daddy, I'm sorry I yelled at you; can you come home now?" What a tear jerking moment.

For the next 10 months, at least once a month, I was in court dealing with the formal ending of that marriage. I learned firsthand how biased the family law system can be. I shared my experience in the post How I Could Have Become aDeadbeat Dad. It was really biased and in my view, my daughter would have been the loser if I had not been proactive throughout the process. She needed (and still needs) her dad and mom to become her very best. The judge didn’t appear to see it that way so I had to do what I thought was in her best interest.

My focus when that chapter began was my daughter. And as the legal proceedings went on, she remained my focus. As it turned out, I really went through the wringer, as the expression goes. I lost everything – savings, the house and its effects, etc. I only had my car and my clothes. I lived with my sister and her family for 18 months as I got back on my feet.  

On the night of Wednesday, October 3, 2001, my life got turned upside down. But it set me on a new path. The Upbeat Dad originated with the painful experience that began that night. And as time has transpired, I’ve become more fortified in my stance to be a loving dad regardless of the circumstances.

I now know from firsthand experience why so many families are ripped apart by the family law system. I learned why so many dads end up bitter after dealing with a system that seems to function in an oppressive way. Yet, here we are 10 years later. My daughter lives with me. And I now have a wonderful wife and a new young son.

My story could have turned out so different. Some have gone through less than what I've gone through and ended up worse. I also know that some have gone through worse than I have. The simple fact of the matter is that families all over the world go through their challenges and unfortunately, kids are often the true casualties when the dust settles. 

A year ago this week, I launched the Upbeat Dad blog for the sole purpose of empowering others – men, women and children – with the message that kids need their dads. Our vision goes way beyond the blog. We’ve already launched the next phase with our Upbeat Dad Community Forum. And in the coming weeks and months, we’ll roll out more of what we’ve been working on behind the scenes for much of the past 10 years. It’s all about the family and I believe that dads, moms and kids will benefit immensely.

I hope that this post has been enlightening and encouraging to you. In one of my poems I wrote:

Don’t be fooled by the smile that I wear
For each smile you see has cost me a tear.

I smile a lot these days but the smiles have come after some very real pain. I don’t mind being transparent and sharing because I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s had such a challenging experience. I hope that the story in its entirety – not just the setback but also the comeback – will encourage others.

Do share this with those who you feel would benefit from this testimonial. Life has a way of throwing us lemons. We always have a choice of whether to suck on the lemon and be bitter or figure out a way to become better. I’m glad I made the better choice – my daughter is so much better for it. Now my reward is having her, my wife and my son in my life. Oh, and by the way, another reward is The Upbeat Dad and its mission. How satisfying!

It started out ugly but it’s turned into a beautiful story. I believe that many more such beautiful stories will result when people opt to make the better choice for their kids. That’s the essence of why I share this. 

Do enjoy your day and please always and forever be “upbeat” for your kids.

The Upbeat Dad