Tuesday, July 15, 2014

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 over 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 3 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


Sunday, March 9, 2014

It's a Bird! It's a Plane! No, it's Superdad!

I recently had a conversation with a friend who's a family law attorney. He spoke at our inaugural Upbeat Dad Community Forum that we had last month. As we spoke, as I often do, I took out my Blackberry to write down a potential topic for a blog post. The subject matter of our conversation was such that I thought I should share it with our readers. So here's that post.

He told me of the "Superdad" phenomenon in family law. "Superdad? What's that?" you might say? Well, here's what it's about.

In comic books and the movies, Superman is one of the more popular fictional characters. In everyday life, he's just a regular guy named Clark Kent. But when a heroic feat needs to be accomplished, the regular guy wearing regular clothes disappears for a moment and out comes as Superman, decked in a special outfit and cape for flying. He comes to save the day! Whether there's a person in a difficult situation or a natural disaster, Superman can do all things for all men when needed.

Now here's the relevance of all this to The Upbeat Dad. What the attorney told me was that all the time dads who are faced with the reality of divorce come into his office. As they begin the consultation to set the strategy for how they will seek to be successful in court, he asks the dads about their role in the marriage and in the household in general.

Many of the fathers present themselves as "Superdad". They take the kids to daycare and school. They take them to ball games, to the doctor and just about everywhere. In the household, they're attentive to the kids' every need. They cook, clean, help with homework and are just about everything a kid could hope for. They're Superdad!

Then come the attorney's questions:

Q: What's the name of the kids' doctor?
A: I don't know.

Q: What's the name of the kids' school teacher.
A: I don't remember.

Q: When was the last time you were at a conference with the kids' teacher?
A: Errrr, I don't remember - some time last year, I think.

Q: What are the names of your kids' friends!
A: Hmmm, let's see.

You kinda get the idea, right? In everyday life, these dads are Clark Kent. They go to work. They live their life. They hang out with the guys. They go to Happy Hour. Their wives are the backbone of the household - keeping things together while they do "guy things."

Then comes the reality of divorce - the legal ending of a relationship. Regular conversations are now less about fun and games and more about real serious issues - like division of assets, child support, alimony, custody, visitation/time-sharing. It's time to exchange the Clark Kent persona for Superdad. For a moment, in order to "save the day" he has to be what he really is not in everyday life.

You kinda see where I'm going with this? Clark Kent is the normal person. Superdad only becomes a reality for a time and season - long enough to get what he wants from a legal standpoint. Then it's back to the norm.

My challenge to fathers with this post is twofold. First, I'd like fathers to realize the very important role that they ought to play in their kid's lives. Superdad should be the norm - being involved in the daily responsibility of raising children. Second, when the reality of divorce is at hand, it may often be too late to save a marriage. But the role of parenthood is perpetual. One might be able to put on the Superdad persona and be successful in convincing those in the legal system that he is a great dad. But as the expression goes, the proof is in the pudding.

Our kids are precious. We should be their everyday heroes - Superdads, if you will. We cannot expect to put on an act for the purpose of getting what we want legally and then go back to being uninvolved in the things that mean the most to our kids. I often say that you express your love to your kids with a 4 letter word: T-I-M-E.

If you're a dad and this post has spoken to your heart and you know you need to make it right with your kids, I hope you'd make the necessary changes. If you really haven't been as involved in their lives as you should be, then regardless of how things may be in your relationship with your wife or the mother of your children, starting today, do make the conscious effort to do better as a dad. Forget what you haven't done in the past - that can't be erased. Turn over a new page and be for your kids what you ought to be.

I try to be positive in all things. This post is not meant to make anyone feel bad. I hope that it's a wake up call for those who need the message. The role of fatherhood is so important that each of us needs to be a permanent Superdad, not Clark Kent who becomes a hero for a moment and then goes back to life as usual.

Let's be the heroes that our kids can look up to. We can make a long-lasting, life-changing impact on them if we commit to being the best fathers possible.

Enjoy your day Superdad!

The Upbeat Dad

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Post-Divorce Parenting: Visitation vs Time-Sharing

Well, well, well, it seems that things and times are changing afterall. And it’s a change for the better, I believe. What am I talking about? Well, today’s post is about the concept of visitation versus time-sharing. It’s a concept that I’ve long thought about based on my own experience and I’m so glad to know that the courts – at least here in Florida – are finally coming around to the concept that I’ve spoken about for such a long time.

Last week I was speaking with a family law attorney who shared with me that in Florida, legally, the term “visitation” is no longer used when speaking of the time that a child spends with a parent after a divorce. The term “time-sharing” is now used. In other words, a child no longer visits his/her parent – instead (s)he spends time. To some readers, this may not seem like much but if you’ve read this blog for any length of time, you’d know that I’m a big advocate for the time-sharing concept.

Like I shared in my post The Story Behind The Upbeat Dad, I went through a divorce in the early 2000s. That legal process awakened me to the reality that many families face each day as husbands and wives fall out of love and into the family law system. It was a big eye opener indeed. There were a series of things that bothered me but the most significant of them was the term visitation. I even wrote the post From Father to Visitor about the process.

When my daughter was conceived, I was as happy as a lark. I knew of the impending responsibility to take care of her so, in a sense, I was scared that a life was going to be entrusted to my former wife and me. I didn’t know if we were really ready for all that it would take to raise a child. But I was still excited nonetheless to think that I was going to be a father. Something about that thought brought  a sense of pride to me.

My former wife and I have shared the responsibility for our daughter’s care – from even before she was born. I never missed a doctor’s appointment throughout the pregnancy. I was in the delivery room when she was born (I joke with her today that I’m the first face she saw when she was born because I was standing right there as she made her first earthly appearance). I was there every step of the way after her birth – taking her to the pediatrician, the day care, to birthday parties and just everything that a loving parent should do. We were both involved - none more than the other.

So when the marriage ended, I really had a problem with the legal term “visitation.” How did I, almost overnight, go from being “daddy” to “visitor”? I think that that term suggested that I was a 2nd tier parent – she lives with her mother and visits me. A typical dad who went through a divorce at that time would be happy to just get the standard “every other weekend” and he’s good to go – no need for anything further. That just didn’t seem right to me, especially considering that I’ve always been close with my daughter.

I could not take on the court system by myself so I was determined to help as many people as possible before they even got to that phase. I was on a campaign to save marriages and other relationships so that people would avoid the harsh realities of the family law system. I feel for kids who really have no voice in the way the process is carried out; they just have to deal with the outcome.
The attorney who I referenced earlier told me that in Florida, time-sharing is now the rule of law – no longer visitation. In addition, the courts now try to work out a 50/50 schedule – no longer one parent being the primary custodial parent while the other gets “visits” from their kids. That’s the point that I have been making all along. I’m just happy to see that the courts came to the conclusion that the time-sharing concept is better. I really believe that kids are better for it.
Today, my daughter lives with my new wife, our son and me. When she is with me, she’s at home. When she’s with her mom, my former wife, she’s also at home. She has two homes where she is loved and cherished. That’s the message that we ought to send our kids.
Several years ago, as I reflected on this entire transitional period that I went through, I wrote the following poem:
By Rodrick Walters

I was there when the doctor told us
That we were having a girl
Our parents were right there to hold us
We were so on top of the world;

I was right there for your christening
I was holding my bundle of joy
The preacher said, “Look, do you see him?
He’s smiling like a little boy;"

I was there when you started the first grade
You made me the proudest of dads
I really thought I had it made
Didn’t know things would turn out so bad;

Now the marriage I lived for is over
We’ve started new lives on our own
Now I struggle as I try to recover
‘Cause you live all the way across town;

I’m your father, not a visitor
This feeling is so new to me
I want to see you grow older
To be what a father should be;

I just don’t know ‘bout this system
Didn’t know it was really this bad
I don’t want you to be a victim
I just want to be your dad;

Yet I still hope for tomorrow
I know better days lie ahead
But for now I mask this sorrow
Some words are better left unsaid

My dear, I will leave you never
So you don’t have to be sad
This tie no one can sever
I’m always, forever, your dad.

Those words were written from the heart back then. Looking at it now, I smile because things have worked out just fine. And my daughter is doing great.

 If you’re a parent and somehow you find yourself in the position that I was in so long ago, just know that your kids are always your kids. I don’t know if the law in your jurisdiction uses the term “visitation” or not. I do know that if you treasure your kids as you should, nothing can change the fact that your kids are yours and you have a great responsibility for them. Visitation, to me, is when they go to visit their grandparents or other relatives. When they are with you, they are at home – even if you and the other parent don't live together.
I hope that this post has been an encouragement to you, particularly if you’re a parent who’s learning how to live without your kids in the home all the time. Just give them your love always and sooner or later, it will all work itself out. You can raise well-adjusted, successful kids even while parenting apart.
Enjoy yourself today.

The Upbeat Dad