Posts Tagged custody

Fathers Are Caregivers Too
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For those of you who know me, or have spoken to me when my son was younger and would be sick, you may recall my frustrations from interactions with my son’s mother during those times. It had been a struggle for me to spend time with him and provide him care during his times of need (although that’s not so much the case now).  At first I thought it was perhaps from my own selfishness of wanting to be there for my son, or the confidence that I could care for him just as well as his mother, which drove that frustration.  I’m sure each parent has been there when his or her child may be sick.  You know your child is not feeling well, you can hear the pain in their voice, and you want to do whatever you can to make it better.  It’s more difficult when they’re very young, because they’re unable to communicate the source of the pain, so all you’re able to derive is the discomfort they are in.  I mean, sure, there are easy tells (such as a fever); but you’re not always lucky enough to have an easily identifiable symptom to help isolate a probable source of their pain.  As they get older, and they can speak well enough to communicate a tummy ache or headache, it’s still not always clear to what extent they have an issue. Is he going to vomit, or is he just constipated?  Did he bonk his head or is he having some sort of symptomatic migraine?

My son is almost four now.  And these days (sometimes to my amusement) I get more descriptive answers from him when he’s communicating pain:  My tummy is full, I ate too much.  My tummy hurts, I have to go poopies.  My noggin hurts, the dresser bonked it. But it was the earlier period (between two and three) where one could not rely on his communication skills to diagnose pain, which was a point of contention between his mother and I.  Whenever my days for custody would arrive and Iain was sick, the immediate stance of his mother was that since he was sick, I was more than welcome to come visit him that evening, but that he was staying home with her that night.  Not an option, not a possibility for discussion, just:  these are the terms.  Now I didn’t always question whether or not he was sick, but I definitely questioned her ability to determine if it was to an extent that he shouldn’t spend time with me at my home.  I mean, I’m his Father.  I’m just as capable of taking care of him too.  I can check his temperature, read him stories, and keep him hydrated.  And who’s to say that it isn’t some mild 24-hour bug, or something less severe (like constipation).  I’m capable of administering medicine, or feeding him roughage.  What’s worse was during that year it seemed as though he was always sick.  Whether it be from a lack of a normal shot schedule, his exposure to other kids during the church day-care on Sundays, or something his mother brought home from her internship at the hospital… every time I was scheduled to have Iain, I’d get a call at the 11th hour that he’s not coming over, but I can come see him if I like. Um, hello, we have a custody schedule. I’m not so insensitive or selfish that I would expect him to always be with me when he was sick.  One would have to be heartless to take a doubled over kid with a fever, who had vomited earlier, out of the comfort of his current home just to stay a night or two with his dad.

Sure, when he was an infant, and even in the early toddler stages, I conceded to his mother’s demands that he stays home when sick so that she could provide him the necessary care.  But as he got older, and I was more capable and confident, I found myself always upset and questioning this arrangement.  First off, who really wants to spend time in their former wife’s home, even if it is to see your sick son?  Factor in the constant scrutiny you feel you’re under, because they’re obviously watching everything you’re doing and judging you… or at least it seems that way.  And I had the added benefit that my former wife moved in with her parents.  So I felt the additional weight of two more sets of eyes watching me.  Then there is the inconvenience that I was obviously coming straight from work (yes I’m making this part about me), would typically have dinner with my son at my own home, but now I had to rush to someone else’s house.  There were many times that I would come in and everyone there would have just eaten, yet another missed opportunity with my son.  Plus it’s not like they offered me anything (perhaps that was expecting too much), but you can kind of see my point (I did finally get offered some left-overs once; maybe twice).  Then there was the obstacle of wanting to do things for my son, which I typically would do at my home when I had him, that his mother or grandparents felt obliged to address in their home (ex:  setting the bath schedule, changing diapers, putting on a T.V. show, etc.).  I mean, this was supposed to be my time, and essentially I was subjected to endure a form of torture because his mommy wanted to care for a sick child, who (might I add) many times appeared completely normal while I was there (I’m not going to go into the excuses I received of how he was feeling/acting earlier in the day which warranted her decision, because I’m sure they could probably be substantiated, but that’s not the point here).

I endured this hell because I love my son, and felt it was for his benefit.  But, if we’re going to be honest with one another, having Daddy come over to play with his son and then put him to sleep essentially was unnecessary and a selfish act on his mother’s part.  If he’s well enough to play with Daddy, then why can’t he travel 20-30 minutes to be with his Dad as he was supposed to be; who is capable of giving him a similar level of loving care; and where that child is still comfortable and at home; at his Father’s home.  It seems we’ve forgotten a simple fact:  a child of divorce parents has two homes… because when mommy isn’t around and our little one has a boo-boo, whom does he ask to kiss it:  Daddy.  And when he’s with his Father and he suddenly doesn’t feel good, who is going to take care of him:  Daddy.  It is the inevitable role that any single parent must play when they have sole custody of their child for some percentage of time.  Perhaps it isn’t engrained in all males, or an inherent trait.  But whether it need be learned or not, a parent must provide for their child.  Fathers are caregivers too!

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What is right, and who is wrong?
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As a young boy, I grew up as part of a large Greek family, my father being one of six siblings.  Like most people, I imprinted from my surroundings.  I noticed that all the members of my extended family married around the age of eighteen.  Each appeared genuinely happy and, to me, it seemed like the appropriate thing to do:  make it to high school, meet a young lady, fall in love, and start your life together.

The story of how my parents met didn’t help either.  They knew each other since elementary school—my father would shoot spit balls into my mother’s hair.  He pined for her in ninth-grade, though she was uninterested and took retribution by causing him to fail French (story for another time).   Junior year of high school, she’s walking home with a friend who happens to like my father, when he pulls up in his car, offering a ride.  Naturally the friend wants to accept and convinces my mom to do so as well.  Funny enough, my dad goes out of his way to drop the friend off first so he can ask my mom out… and the rest, as they say, is history.

In high school, I never considered myself a “looker”, and by no means was I popular.  Being a bit of a loner, I focused on academics and did some sports in the latter years.  There was no high school sweetheart, although I pined after my fair share of ladies.  No girlfriends, no prom dates… in fact, it wasn’t until my early twenties that I brought my first girlfriend around family, to which my grandmother exclaimed, “Thank God, we thought you were gay.” 

I guess you could say I was a late bloomer, or at least I felt like one.  When I looked at my relatives and heard everyone’s “story”, I just didn’t fit the mold… but I wanted to, and felt like I should.  The only solace I took was in my Uncle Dave.  More of an older brother than an Uncle (we’re seven years apart), he didn’t marry until his thirties.  But, then again, he was something of a ladies’ man; so it wasn’t from a lack of prospects.

The Blink 182 song “What’s My Age Again?” came out as I was turning twenty-three and it became my theme.  As I struck out on love in the work-place (high school for your twenties), I kept repeating to myself its lyrics:  nobody likes you when you’re twenty-three.  So it was probably natural, being relatively new to intimacy with women, that I found it rewarding to sleep with those few who actually were interested in me, even though I lacked much interest in them as a person.  But the trap I laid for myself was not to be that guy—the one-night-stand.  So many relationships would drag along as I deceived myself that there was some sort of emotional attachment when, in fact, it was purely physical.

Like most men, I loved the sex.  But, more importantly, I loved the intimacy; and the way it made me feel.  Somehow I felt that, by being with someone, I was that much closer to being married, and therefore closer to being like the rest of my family.  Then along came my first wife (never thought I’d hear myself say those words).

I always knew I wanted to be married.  And I felt like I missed the mark considerably when eighteen came, then went, and I wasn’t… not even close.  I know many women think about their age, when they’ll be married, and having kids (Sex in the City has to be accurate, right?).  I mean sure, their biological clock is ticking, there is an expiration date on their eggs, and they only have so many.  But here I am, a man, and I’m worried about similar things.  I wanted to be married, I wanted kids, and I didn’t want to be too old to enjoy their grand-kids.  And, for the record, let me say that I always thought I’d marry once, and would never be divorced; I believed in commitment.  But let’s face it, my track record with women leading up to this point has sucked.  I was a nice, well-meaning guy who (at the time; and probably still to a degree) was also a bit naïve.

My first wife (referred to from here on out as “the ex”) started working at my job.  The girl there who I was actually pining after, being uninterested, finally left work (or was she fired?), so my friends and coworkers thought it would be cute to try and set me up with “the ex”.  I was told the new-hire liked me (so juvenile).  When she was pointed out, I truthfully didn’t mind much of what I saw, but there was no “moment”… you know, where time slows, music plays, and everything else melts away letting you know that she’s the one (I mentioned I was naïve, right?).  What can I say, I was a hopeless romantic, had my fair share of crushes, and so I thought I knew what love was.  So how did we end up together you ask?  Essentially, I’m a glutton for punishment; that, and I later realized my perspective on love was kind of adolescent, and I convinced myself that being happy was being in love.

Over a period of a year or so she continually made her intentions known while I tried not to be rude and inevitably led her on… as she said (years later), “I look back at our courtship and I see where I forced myself into your life.”  To be honest though, I too had my fair share of blame.  Knowing my own past, I let things get physical and, although I tried to break it off a couple times, I never completely severed ties (men are horn-dogs).   After a couple years, I felt I owed it to both of us to give the relationship serious consideration.  And there was a point that I was happy, and felt that I could continue to be happy, seeing a future together.  Let me clarify, you can be in love and therefore be happy; but being happy does not necessarily mean you are in love.  I know that now, but not then since I didn’t have any personal experience I could base it off of.

To make a long story short (and not steal any thunder from my other writings), we were married for four years, had a son during the last year, and she must have realized what I’ve now learned, because she took our six-month-old son and left me.  We divorced almost a year later.

But what is right, and who is wrong in that kind of situation?  I mean, I was blind to the fact that there were issues in our relationship.  I missed the signs.  I guess I should’ve known when she wanted to take Dr. Phil surveys to inspect our relationship.  I figured he was a “quack” who couldn’t make it as a proper therapist and used his connections to get a daytime show—another Jerry Springer.  Now he’s a household name.  It took her getting verbally abusive and antagonistic, trying to provoke me physically, and then finally the “D” word (Divorce) before I realized we had problems.  We practically separated around our third year of marriage and were seeing a Licensed Mental Health Counselor.  The writing should’ve been on the wall, and yet we stayed together and decided to bring a child into the mix.  I felt the issue with our relationship was in our dynamic.  She came from a previous marriage that ended due to her man’s multiple indiscretions, so she naturally had trust issues and became insecure.  When I couldn’t comprehend her concerns, it was as though she needed to become independent and therefore leave or force me to.  I, being inexperienced with marriage, felt I couldn’t live up to her extreme expectations of me and would shutdown when she exploded.  When we were apart, I would be confident and in control, and she would come to trust me again.  In this way we lulled ourselves into a false sense of security, thinking the relationship was salvageable.

Now I believe it is always the best approach to stay the course and work at being together as a family unit; but not just because you hope it’ll benefit the children.  It must also take into consideration the parents and their interaction.  A healthy relationship is a healthy environment for the children.  In my opinion, an unhealthy relationship can many times do more damage to our children in the long run.  And sometimes it requires work to make a relationship healthy again.  Could we have tried more to make it work and stay together?  Possibly.  Would we have been happy, and would it have been a healthy environment?  I think not.  We teach our children by example, which includes our relationships.  That also means in the way that a relationship is dissolved.   There is a “right way” and a “wrong way” for a relationship to end.  I’ll go even further by saying that my circumstance would probably lend more towards a “right way”.  We went through mediation and sought the expertise of a Licensed Psychologist who specialized in divorces with children.  We tried not to involve our own lawyers; but I believe, although costly, we both could have benefited more from their involvement towards the end.  In contrast, I believe that deliberately destructing one’s relationship by being physically abusive, emotionally abusive, viciously attacking one another through lawyers, cheating on one’s spouse, or worse; are prime examples of the “wrong way” to end a relationship.  There were definitely minor “wrong way” elements in the dissolution of my previous marriage.  And some tend to still occur through interactions I have with “the ex”.  But those are stories for another time.

So I have since remarried and have been with my current wife for almost three years.  We have a beautiful three-month-old baby girl.  I am truly in love, and therefore very happy.  I do have joint custody of my son, Iain, from my previous marriage to “the ex”.   And when we finally did separate, I tried to reconcile and do whatever it took, but by that time it had become too late; which was for the better in the end.  Although, I must say, I didn’t think so at the time.  She had already determined to be apart, and knew that to be the best course of action for our son.   It has been a difficult situation, but I honestly think it has been for the best and therefore the healthiest approach for Iain.

So what is right, and who is wrong?  Well I’m right in the end, for doing everything I could to try and save my marriage.  And, then again, so is she for knowing we would never really be happy.  So who is wrong?

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Extended Days: Daddy time
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Just a quick update on: recent changes coming with the shared-custody arrangements/scheduling between my son’s mother and I. For some time, I’ve been a proponent of increasing the number of days my son stays with me during the week. It’s a logical progression towards the full 50/50 shared-custody that will take place once he starts school (pre-k or kindergarten).

Soon after the divorce was finalized (almost a year in the making) I ran into some resistance whenever the topic of increasing my son’s time with me was broached. I was certain that the outcomes were due to residual enmity resulting from the circumstances which lead to our divorce (as I imagine is normal with most divorces). Only time could prove whether that was an appropriate assumption. So, here I am—a little over two years from the day she left with my son—and finding that perhaps time does heal some wounds, proving that my hopes at the time were well based.

With the communication improvements between me and my son’s mother, we’ve been able to discuss and agree upon the extending of an additional day during the time each week my son spends with me. This is being termed, “Daddy time”. At first we’ll introduce a new day every other week. Then that will bleed into an every week arrangement. I’ll have to work out some scheduling changes with work of course. And luckily I’ll be able to depend on my Fiancé and mother to help out during times that I’m at work to facilitate the additional Daddy time I’ll get to spend with my son. I am extremely excited and know I couldn’t have done this alone . . . So thank you to everyone who has been supporting me in these endeavors, and in giving me the opportunity to bond more with my son.

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Thankful for the little things
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It’s a rainy, overcast day. The time is five o’clock; rush hour; cold and unusually dark. It looks and feels like nine o’clock. Small drops still mist onto the windshield, forcing the need to squint through wipers at the red glow of the holiday congestion. Those not coming home from work, drive to a destination for tomorrow—Thanksgiving. The weather is colder than it has been, closing in on the forties; the average being twenty degrees warmer. But it’s always cold come Thanksgiving; from shorts and t-shirts, to pants and jackets; overnight.

The ride home reminds me that, although I have a new family to spend the holiday with, my divorce arrangements leave me without my son . . . every Thanksgiving.

Home at last, the walk up the sidewalk and to the stairs of my condo are marred by overzealous lights decorating the neighbor’s house across the street: dancing icicles along the roof, a wall of bulbs across the garage, glaring lines beside the landscaping, and a twenty foot tree from more conspicuous strands. All but the icicles pulse to the Christmas music blaring from his yard. This spectacle—on display for the past week—continues for another month and screams each night until just after eleven o’clock.

It’s all just another reminder that this time for family is fleeting. A mere blink in the moments we have together; or, in the case of my son, apart. I try to stretch out the time with family and the time to be thankful. I fight off decorating for the next holiday until the current one has passed. But even I’ve succumbed this year.

The jostling of my key in the door causes it to open from my fiancé, eager to greet me. As we hug I see the tree I bought and that we decorated with my son. My compromise to create tradition for a time I normally don’t have him—our family tradition to decorate the day after Thanksgiving.

But this year looks to hold more promise. I jumped the gun with our tree, because improved communication between his mother and I has allowed us to hold true to that tradition. We have him the day after Thanks giving. And as luck would have it, my parents have a tree void of ornaments. It may seem silly or trivial, but I have much to be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

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A glimpse into the other half
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An interesting thing occurred today. I had a bit of an epiphany—a glimpse into how the other half may live. And by other half, I mean my previous wife. I can’t take full credit for it. I was lead there by my future wife. That’s right; I’m engaged now, and planning to marry early next year. I tend to stay guarded about these aspects of my personal life, so this may come as a surprise for some. I’m about to head off on a tangent though, so I’ll have to write about my engagement another time… for now, back to my epiphany.

Being divorced with a child means shared custody. Two households, two different parents, being raised two different ways. Those who may have read previous posts might realize that communication is the key in a circumstance such as this. But it doesn’t always mean there is a united front. Let’s be real, there are two households for a reason.

Of course, there is history, and in many cases harbored animosity (I’m sure I’m alone here *wink*). So that distance allows for misinterpretation. I know I love to speculate how things may be with his mother and her household, especially when I can allow for it to explain the new behavior in my 2 ½ year old. I’d mention this new behavior to his mother and hear her describe how she tries to counteract it, dismayed as it mirrors my own actions. She can’t be doing it right, I tell myself, Certainly she’s done something that caused or warrants this new behavior.

And that’s when my future wife brought something to my attention—the epiphany. I was drained, having just dropped off my son. The last several hours of our time together had been very trying. As we drove home, I pointed out to her how he was acting once he knew we were taking him to his other home. And she simply said, “I’m sure his mom has difficulty disciplining him when he comes home from our house.”

Then it hit me… He is difficult for me during the transitions. But as they get closer, I always receive calls from his mom where he’s been acting up. It was like the curtains were momentarily pulled back so I could actually see into this other household. She does experience the same thing we do. As I marinated in this thought, another one hit me just as hard. These different new behaviors he exhibits as he gets older are just that, new things he’s learning and tries; new to me and new to his mom.

Perhaps this seems simple and obvious, but for many parents in separate households, it becomes easy to blame the other parent for your child’s behavior. It’s important to remember your child is a person too. Look at how to guide your child appropriately and seek the help of the other parent. Remember, they’re seeing this too, and while you may think it came from their house, they may be thinking it came from yours.

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