Personal, Stories Told

Adjusting to the changes as court-ordered parenting time ends

Meet my youngest son, Garrett, who turned 18 yesterday. It’s a big milestone for any kid. But it’s also a different milestone, a sad one, for me.

Garrett

It’s the end of “parenting time.” That’s what they call it here in Indiana, the court-ordered time a noncustodial parent spends with his children. It ends at 18.

The parenting time guidelines grant every Wednesday evening and every other weekend during the school year, plus holidays on alternating years, half of winter break, all of every other spring break, and half of every summer. We were fortunate: our judge also ordered parenting time every Monday night and an overnight stay every Wednesday when school was in session.

I have not needed to be compelled by court order to spend time with my sons. I always wanted to live with them every day of their childhoods. Parenting time limited me, constrained me, bound me. I always ached to be present with my sons more often.

Obviously, I could have had every day with my sons had their mom and I worked out a healthy, happy marriage. We were not capable of it. Our destructive relationship was ruining us all. We are all healthier and happier since it ended.

I reminded myself of this each time I pushed through the worst rush-hour traffic in Indiana en route to my sons. Each time we left for their suburb at 5:30 am so they wouldn’t miss their school bus. Each time my sons went home at the end of our time together, leaving me alone in my empty house. Each time they had an especially good, or an especially bad, day and if we could talk about it at all it was over the phone or via text. Each time I did alone a thing that would normally be done as a family.

Yet this yin met its yang when I put to good use the time I wasn’t actively being my sons’ dad. Half of my days I could behave like a childless man, directing my energy to my own interests. Photography and blogging. Deep involvement at church. Founding and running a nonprofit. Doubling down on my career, which really took off.

I’ve felt guilty that I did these things rather than being home with my sons. Yet I’ve also reveled in these things. Fortunately, I processed those conflicting feelings years ago and have found contentment in this life.

What I have not processed yet, what I have experienced as looming for months, what is now irrevocably here, is loss. The loss of my decade-long routine with my sons, a routine to which I clung, around which I organized my life. And anew, the loss of what I never could have but desperately wanted for me and my sons: the ability to be a present parent every day. It was never going to happen,

Now it’s up to my sons and I to figure out how and when to see each other. My older son, Damion, has been very good about making time for his old dad. Will Garrett do likewise? I hope so.

There are no state guidelines for mapping adult relationships with your children. No court can compel it. And I have no personal experience to use as a guide. My parents are still married, more than 50 years now. When I was college-aged their home was always open to me. It was where I returned on break, and our normal family life largely resumed as if never interrupted.

That’s what I wanted for my sons. More than that, it’s what I wanted for me. But it’s not what we got.

We will make the best of this, too.

I’m sharing two bonus posts later today, reruns of stories that involved Garrett. If you’ve read my blog for a long time, perhaps you will enjoy now seeing Garrett’s face as you revisit those stories.

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Faith

Getting the love we always wanted from the perfect parent we never had

When we were small, our parents were godlike to us. They had all power over us. We probably thought they had all power in the world.

This experience imprinted on us, and subconsciously we assume that God is like our parents. Better said, we project our parents onto God, and so expect God to treat us and the world like they did.

Love

But nobody’s parents are perfect. Most lose their tempers or criticize their children unfairly from time to time. Many sometimes place unreasonable demands on their children, or punish them harshly, or control them with shame. Some parents abuse or neglect their children.

And so we may believe God watches over us with a critical eye and is never satisfied with anything we do. Or we may assume God is just waiting to turn his back on us when we screw up. Or we may think we need to work hard to earn God’s favor and love. Or we may figure that no matter what we do God’s not going to care about us anyway, and so we give up trying.

But God’s more like the perfect parent none of us ever had. He wants to see us grow up well. He never loses his temper or patience with us. He knows there is sometimes pain and difficulty in our lives, and he wants us to turn to him for comfort and encouragement through it so he can help us become stronger and more loving. He knows we make mistakes and sometimes even deliberately do the wrong thing, but he won’t turn his back on us, or shame us, or punish us no matter how bad it was.

At our cores, we all want to be loved. God wants to love us. Our fears that God will let us down in the way our parents did gets in the way of us simply accepting that love. We have to keep working on our relationship with God and over time come to see him as he truly is before we can simply accept the love he has for us.

If you are a parent, consider what a service to your children it would be if you modeled your parenting after the way God loves. Not only would your children feel your love for them more strongly, but it would make their image of God be so much closer to who he really is. It might help them more readily accept God into their lives.

First published in February, 2011.

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Personal, Stories Told

Monopoly money

I was feeling pretty good about my financial situation as I headed into the summer. I was paying down debt pretty powerfully and had built up some savings. But then August was unexpectedly expensive. I replaced my car’s transmission, rented a car for two weeks, bought a new refrigerator, and had some medical and veterinary bills. Bam! Within a few weeks, my savings was gone and I had even gone a little more into debt.

I know that everything that cost me was just a matter of chance. Cars break down, 20-year-old fridges die, dogs and people get sick. It was better to spend savings on these things than to have borrowed to pay for it all. You might even say that God took care of me, providing for me through these misfortunes. But I’ve been angry about it just the same. It really hurt to get a little bit ahead only to lose it almost all at once.

PICT0733

On Wednesday, the boys and I broke out the Monopoly board. My youngest is starting to understand trading and can now stick with a long game, and so our play is starting to become vigorous. We’d made some trades and we all had monopolies — my older son had the violets, my youngest son had the neighboring oranges, and I was just around the corner with the reds. When we started improving our properties, it became hard to move along that side of the board without somebody collecting.

My youngest son landed on my Kentucky Avenue. With two houses, the rent wasn’t terrible, but having spent all his cash on houses he hocked most of his property to pay me. He weathered that with good humor, but he next landed on Go To Jail and so would make another trip down Death Row. His next roll put him on Community Chest, but then he landed on Indiana Avenue, which by then had four houses and was much more expensive to visit. Cash-strapped and hocked to the hilt, he had no choice but to sell most of houses. He was ticked. And then a few tears ran down his face. And then he buried his face in my shoulder.

The irony did not escape me as I hugged him and told him it’s bound to hurt when you build things up and get a little ahead only to have bad luck take it all away.

When I woke up the next morning, I didn’t feel so bad anymore.

It felt good to retell this story today, which first appeared here in 2008.

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Personal

Fatherhood changes when teenagers are almost ready to launch

I was so happy and proud for my sons on the days they started Kindergarten. I could feel them growing up as they boarded the school bus, their hands on the rail and their superhero backpacks hanging low. I’m sure my grin was plenty goofy as I watched them go.

BoardingBus

My older son was absolutely thrilled to get to ride the bus. He had watched his stepbrother do it for years and was just sure it must be totally awesome and a real sign of being big. When I came home that afternoon, he chattered for a long time about the bus ride, telling me every detail. When I asked him how school was, he said it was okay and told me more stories about the bus ride.

His younger brother was unsure and anxious when his turn came, but he did fine because his bigger brother was there to show him the ropes. When I came home from work that day, he had no stories to tell. When I pried a little, he admitted that he didn’t particularly enjoy the bus ride and wasn’t excited about school. I think that all the new stimulation overwhelmed the poor boy. He slowly adjusted and ended up doing fine.

I was excited to be there for every new adventure, whether happy or challenging, as my boys grew up. I cheered on every rite of passage, unlike their mom who struggled with seeing our sons’ littleness fade and every era end.

My sons are 15 and 17 now, a sophomore and a senior in high school. My older boy has become a little more interested in spending time with his friends than with his family. My younger boy, who is the solitary sort, pursues some deep interests that he has developed.

As a parent, the finish line is finally coming into view for me. My sons are starting to form identities separate from their family and to think about what kinds of lives they want to live on their own. These are natural passages.

But now it’s my turn to struggle. I’m still excited for their adventures to come, but very sad that more and more of them will happen without me in the audience.

During the summer, my sons live one week with their mom and the next with me. They’ve needed less and less direct care over the years, but this year it’s been clear that they are able to stand almost entirely on their own. This was proved by how well they took care of all of us for a couple weeks while I was laid up after surgery. And where in past years they were happy to make day trips with me or just run up to the Dairy Queen for a sundae, this summer what they really wanted to do was play games online with their friends. (Side note: Do kids actually go see their friends anymore? My older boy doesn’t even have his driver’s license yet. He says, “Why do I need it? All my friends are on Skype.”)

Unglaciated view

Can I just admit that it was a little bit of a desperation move on my part when I took vacation the week before school started and booked a couple days away for us? The school year’s grind would soon be upon us, and I wanted a couple of distraction-free days to just hang out with my sons. So we rented a cottage in beautiful Brown County and spent a day exploring the art galleries and shops in Nashville and a day hiking through the state park to take in its stunning views.

I had a good enough time. I think my sons did, too. But both of them were obviously glad to come back home. One of them even told me he especially enjoyed his time at home that week as he could just relax with his friends.

And so it’s time for me to start to let go. I know my sons still value time with me and in my home for the familiarity and security they provide. I know they still need me to guide and coach them. But these things serve more as a launching pad now, a safe place for them to figure themselves out and build their futures. But more and more now I find myself hanging on their every word, even as they chatter on about a video game they just played, wanting to feel like I’m a part of their lives as I was before.

After the divorce, fatherhood brought other unexpected challenges. Read about it here.

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Personal

Reflecting on 20 years in Indianapolis

2014 is turning out to be a year of many anniversaries and passages for me. I’ve been sharing many of them; here’s another.

On the circle

I moved to Indianapolis at the end of August in 1994. My 20 years here can be divided into two 10-year periods: before and after my wife decided not to be married to me anymore.

Terre Haute doesn’t get much positive press, but I liked the small-city vibe and enjoyed living there. It was remarkable that I could find work in software development there, as the city wasn’t exactly a high-tech hub. But when the company I worked for started to fail, I knew it was time to go. I wanted to stay in Indiana, and the jobs in my field were concentrated in Indianapolis. So I got a job and an apartment here. I reflected once before here that I struggled to adapt to the bigger-city life, but I think I’ve finally done it.

A year later my girlfriend moved here and we married. Our marriage was a disaster, and it’s better for everybody that it ended. The last couple years we were together and the couple years it took for our divorce to work through the legal system were deeply destructive. They were the worst years of my life. I came out of it with considerable emotional damage that took me a long time to work through.

I suppose the best response to divorce is to build a better life afterward, and that’s what I’ve done. I’ve accomplished a great deal in my career. I’ve pursued my interests: writing, cameras and photography, and the old roads. I’ve made a comfortable home where I’ve raised my sons, at least on the days our custody agreement places them with me.

I’ve doubled down on parenthood. I’d wanted marriage and children from the time I was a teenager. But my marriage was filled with strife, and I was exhausted and depressed so much of the time that I lacked the energy to be the dad I’d always wanted to be. I still think it’s a shame that my sons didn’t get a whole, healthy, and functioning family. But what they have gotten since the divorce is a whole, healthy, and functioning father who has done his best to raise them into fine men.

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Personal, Photography

Not squandering summer

Mr. Blue Sky

Summer begins when school ends. It’s so in my middle age as it was in my childhood, but only because I have children. Otherwise, I would neither know nor care when school ends. I wonder how I’d know it was summer.

As a boy, I knew how to get the most out of summer. It wasn’t deep instinct or calculated action – summer came, and I got busy in it. But as an adult, sometimes I barely notice summer among the worries and the work. Then the boys go back to school, the leaves start to turn, and I become angry that I didn’t do more with the warm-weather days.

My sons live with me half the summer, alternating weeks between their mom’s and here. Good heavens, do I love the summer schedule. Last week was the first week of summer and I had it to myself. After work, I resisted the pull toward chores and bills. I spent my evenings outside doing things I wanted to do, in shorts and and a t-shirt, my dog always with me. One night I drove around in the country, enjoying a golden sunset, Gracie looking out from the wayback of my wagon. Another night we went to Broad Ripple, a funky, walkable Indianapolis neighborhood. We took pictures with a new old camera and enjoyed the attention a guy gets when his dog is on the leash.

This week my sons are here. After I’m home from work I’m trying to not squander our evenings. There’s more structure and more to do when they’re here – more laundry, more cooking, more cleanup. But we’re making time for a stroll through my little neighborhood after dinner, or we’re driving to the park to hike along the river, or we’re sitting on the deck talking, or we’re going for ice cream.

I’m not letting this summer get by me. No, not this one.

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