How I stopped feeling like a failure as a dad

 

 Any divorced father will tell you how hard it can be to live away from their kids. The feelings of failure, inadequacy and isolation can be suffocating. Trust me, I know from experience. So how do we overcome these feelings and be the best dads possible? 

I wrote about these feelings before and had quite a few guys in similar situations contact me to let me know how much they resonated with what I wrote. In my effort to let others know they were not alone, my own struggles were eased because I finally knew I wasn’t alone either. And boy did I need that brotherhood! The Uncle Dad post came during a time when I was struggling with my situation as a divorced dad that isn’t a part of his children’s daily lives. The support was good, but I was stuck in the hopeless feeling of the situation. 

One particular day, I began searching articles on the internet that could speak into my situation, but I was not prepared for what I would find.

An article on AllProDad.com titled A Committed, Divorced Father Story caught my attention, so I clicked on it. It was an inspirational story of a father of 7 kids, some of which were from his first marriage. He describes having to work through a long distance relationship with his kids and the impact that made on them. It reaffirmed the things I’ve committed myself to over the years, but the thing that really changed my perspective was a comment on the article. This particular comment was from a 51 year old divorced dad who was also the product of a broken home as a kid. He described how his dad’s shame in the shadow of divorce was so overwhelming, he wasn’t around much. The commenter began to punch me repeatedly in the kidneys with his tough love approach. In a nutshell, he said that kids need their dad to be active in their lives no matter how the living arrangements are and that they didn’t ask for this situation but they still want their dad’s attention. So suck it up and stop feeling sorry for yourself! It was the exact thing I needed to hear and feel. 

What I’ve learned through this process is that the situation doesn’t have to control me, and the label doesn’t have to own me. Two specifics thing have helped me stop feeling like an Uncle Dad:

  1. I learned to share my struggles with other people that can relate. The moment I started receiving feedback from other divorced dads, I stopped feeling alone. Finally, someone else could put into words what no one else around me could understand. Those feelings of failure that I was wrestling with were a normal part of the situation and others felt it to. It’s not a brotherhood anyone wants or seeks out, but it’s been healing for me to know I’m not the only one. 
  2. I learned that I needed to stop focusing on what I didn’t have and concentrate on what I do have. Perspective is a major part of the battle. Tell me your perspective on almost any trial or struggle and I could come pretty close to predicting the outcome. Our thoughts and feelings lead us astray so much. For me, the punch in the face was that I was focusing on what I didn’t have and wanted rather than on what I do have. I have a great relationship with my four kids and I’m not going to let my lack of perceived lack of time with them screw that up!

The emotions will still be a roller coaster at times for me, but I’ve learned two important action steps I can take to combat them. Community and perspective. I’m so glad I did! I’m their dad and nothing will ever change that.

What have you learned to help you combat the roller coaster emotions of being a divorced dad?

Ex Communication

Divorce can be a nasty thing. The word wars and legal battles will wear just about anyone down. No matter who is at fault, in the end, it sucks for everyone involved. But if you have kids together, your ex-spouse will be a part of your life for a long time. So whether you can tolerate them or not, you need to learn how to communicate in as healthy a manner as possible for the sake of your kids, as well as your sanity. My ex-wife and I have not always seen eye to eye on things, but we have managed to focus on what really matters through it all…our four kids. So here are some lessons I have learned along the way that I’d like to pass on.

1. Remember that your kids didn’t ask for, want or deserve this situation. Divorce happens due to a variety of reasons, but kids are the greatest victims of it because they didn’t get a say in the decision. They love mom and dad and just want the family to be together. And now, they are forced to deal with this new reality thrust upon them. It is a good idea to keep this fact at the forefront of your mind.

2. Filter everything through how it will affect your kids. There have been so many times that I’ve wanted to respond in a situation based on how I feel, but I always come back to how my words and actions will affect the kids. The best thing possible in this situation is for the parents to be civil and polite in front of the kids. Another way to put it is to learn to swallow your pride. That will provide them security and will help them adjust to this new reality.

3. Understand that your ex-spouse now has different priorities. My ex-wife has remarried and she and her husband have different priorities than I do. Some of these directly affect the kids (sports, extracurricular activities, vacations) and some indirectly. And that’s ok. As long as the kids are being taken care of and are not being harmed in any way, you really have no say in what the other parent does with the kids a majority of the time. Maintaining this perspective can be difficult, but it will make your life a lot easier.

4. Practice the 24-rule. Because you and your ex have differing priorities, you are bound to disagree or get frustrated with a decision or action that they make. Years ago, my friend Mike encouraged me to implement a 24-rule for handling conflict whenever possible. Basically, you wait a day to respond so that your emotions calm and you think about the situation rationally. Sometimes you don’t have this luxury, but the point is to step away from the situation long enough to clear your head and calm your emotions.

5. When in doubt, ask. There have been many times that one of my kids has said something that their mom did or said that didn’t sit right with me. As I would process what they told me, my initial reaction would be to assume the worst. But experience has taught me that I have to be careful to take what my kids pass on to me as the complete truth because 1) they are kids and 2) there is typically important information that has been left out. So I started making the practice of asking her at some point down the road, usually a day or two afterward. Oftentimes, it was a misunderstanding of how my kids viewed the situation and then relayed it to me. And sometimes it was something that needed to be addressed and we would work it out diplomatically. This has happened with both of us. I’ve received calls from my ex-wife about something the kids told her that happened when they were with me and I was able to clear it up in a few minutes. The point is, you should pick up the phone and ask. Don’t assume because we all know what assuming does. Instead, do your due diligence to find out the truth. That’s a win for everyone.

6. Be involved in your child’s life. Sporting events and school functions are a great way to show your child (and your ex) that they are important to you, and it can be a great way to build healthy “ex communication”. You don’t have to be buddy-buddy with your ex and their spouse or significant other, but you can be cordial and friendly. This demonstrates to your ex that you aren’t enemies and provides the security your kids need because they see mom and dad getting along.

These are a few things I’ve learned along the way that have helped me have good communication with my ex-wife. I haven’t figured it all out and still have a lot to learn. But I believe what I’ve learned can assist others in making the most out of a difficult situation, particularly for the sake of the kids. As I encounter an increasing number of divorcees with kids, I feel this information needs to be shared.

What about you? What have you learned about “ex-communication” that needs to be shared?

Note: I have to give credit for this “ex communication” idea to Denira Williams, otherwise she will punch me in the throat.

Effective Leadership: Care

I remember when I would pass Tom, my former division manager, in the hallway. No matter how busy or stressed he was, Tom would always greet me by name and smile big as he approached me and would take the time to ask me how I was doing. He made it a point to walk around the floor, visit people in their cubicles just to see how things were going. He did all of those things because he cared. The way he interacted with people demonstrated that he wasn’t just concerned with getting the job done, but he was also concerned with the well-being of those actually doing the work.

I contrast that with the manager that filled that role before Tom. Whenever I would pass him in the hall, he pretended that I wasn’t there. He either looked past me or stared at his coffee cup. I never doubted that he was good at his job, but I also never questioned that his coffee was more important to him than I was.

Theodore Roosevelt said that “people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.” The difference in the two managers I mention here is that one is tremendously respected, and the other feared. The one made the choice to be disconnected, which communicates apathy.
I equate it to parenting. My parents were connected to my life because they cared about me. They wanted to see me become the best person I could possibly be. I have seen other parents that are detached (apathy) and the tragedy that communicates is that the kids aren’t important and that they don’t matter to their parents as much as, say, a cup of coffee.

Finally, parents that are feared are typically abusive in some form or fashion. As a leader, choose to challenge yourself and take an honest look at how you appear to those you lead. It might not be pretty, but it’s better to know and have time to restore what’s broken than to remain ignorant and continue breaking things.

Blogger Tim Peters offers ten practical ways a leader can become more caring. I would like to share them with you as they have greatly impacted me:
• Notice others
• Acknowledge others
• Maintain eye contact during conversations
• Ask questions and listen
• Encourage others with honest feedback
• Ask for feedback and opinions
• Be consistently consistent in leadership approach
• Regularly compliment people both publicly and privately
• Express genuine interest in the personal life of followers

All of these are excellent ways to improve your “caring quotient” as a leader. Each one communicates to those that follow you that they are valuable. In a world where many struggle with self-worth, a leader that genuinely cares will not only be refreshing but potentially life-altering. May you be the life altering leader your followers desperately need.

RESOLE Basics & the Fifth Element

I was asked the other day on Twitter to elaborate more on the RESOLE process. Instead of rewriting it all, I thought it would be good to provide links to past posts that discuss each element in more detail. Here is a list of each:

Today, I’d like to explore a potential fifth element to the RESOLE process: REPENT. A simple definition is in order first. To repent is to (1) recognize the wrong in something you have done and be sorry about it and (2) feel regret about a sin or past actions and change your ways or habits. The essence of repentance is humility. Pride is the enemy of true repentance because it says “I have done nothing wrong” while digging its heels. Humility respectfully accepts personal error while seeking forgiveness with open hands. Two very different images. Ultimately, the true essence of repentance is turning from sin and turning to the place where Jesus accomplished the work that allows us to repent: the cross. Martin Luther said “all of life is repentance”. (Thanks Bobby for the thought and quote!)

Why REPENT?

Repentance breeds authenticity and willingness to be corrected. It says, “I don’t have all the answers.” “My ways are not always right.” And, “I have screwed things up royally.” The act of repenting is a core element to religion, but I propose that it should be a core element of life. It is as much a mental and emotional act as it is spiritual. There is freedom in owning up and admitting wrong doing, despite the consequence. Imagine our world if repentance were valued and practiced, even encouraged.

In America, we are standing in the midst of potential economic disaster as our selfish, polarized government officials cannot agree how to avert the fiscal calamity known as sequestration. But they are only demonstrating a character deficit that plagues our society as a whole. The selfishness of the pursuit of happiness we value in America today has created the mess we are in. The sins and errors we have made as a nation under the mantra of “pursuit of happiness” is sickening and the only way to combat it is through true repentance. I read a prophecy blogger every day by the name of Bob Thiel. He compares current events with bible prophecy and provides solid analysis of what is happening through a biblical worldview. He has been saying for quite a while now that what our nation needs more than anything else is national repentance. I couldn’t agree more.

I challenge you to honestly consider a few things. 

  • In your personal life, what do you need to fess up to and turn away from? If you deny you have anything to repent of, you’re fooling yourself. We’ve all done wrong and will continue to. It is part of being flawed beings. But there is grace and hope!
  • What about your community? Are there community sins that need to be repented of? Cultural repentance has to start with a few and build from there. In my town of Oak Ridge, TN, there is a cultural sin that has lingered for decades, nearly a century. You see, Oak Ridge was created for the sole purpose of creating the atomic bombs that were dropped on Japan to end World War II. The city was created for death and, in my opinion, has kept it bondage ever since. But that doesn’t have to be the future. Community repentance can break the chains.
  • Business and organizations would also benefit from repentance. Think of the damage so many organizations have caused through their greed, lust for power, and lack of care for those they were supposed to be fighting for. Think about the 2008-2009 recession that could have been avoided had our financial institutions valued ethical practices rather than profitable ones. Or how about countless churches that have damaged the image of Jesus because of their hypocrisy and judgment. Organizational sin must be confronted and corrected.
  • Finally, our nation is on the doorstep of judgment for the countless decisions to turn away from the principles it was founded upon. The leaders in Washington, D.C. are incapable of leading for fear of losing the support of the organizations and individuals that have given them their power. It’s screwed up! But we can begin a movement of national repentance one person at a time.

I am now convinced that REPENT is the adhesive that holds RESOLE together.Without it, the entire process would be meaningless and inconsistent. Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian during the 1800s, said that “Of all acts of man repentance is the most divine. The greatest of all faults is to be conscious of none.”

And, finally, a Chinese proverb. “Forethought is easy, repentance hard.” It truly is

the crippling power of fear

A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing. –George Bernard Shaw

Nothing can cripple a person like fear of failure. When I played basketball in high school, I never lived up to my potential because I was scared of messing up. My thought was that playing it safe and not screwing up would keep me off the bench. Problem is, that way of thinking worked against me as I rarely took risks to do things that would show what I was capable of. So I found myself on the bench more than on the court. Funny thing is that I usually shined in pickup games because I played as if I had nothing to lose…which I didn’t.

Do you live your life like this? Have you caused yourself to be benched in your career, your marriage, or even your spiritual life? Being divorced, I fully admit I am terrified of going through that nightmare again. This fear could lead me to never putting myself out there again, to find love and a lifetime of sharing and enjoying every day with someone I care about. Yet, I choose to put myself out there because the risk of failure is no longer my focus. I choose to trust again, to love again…to live. This doesn’t come from within me, however, but rather from the knowledge and experience that the one and only great God of the universe will make all things work together for my good (Romans 8:28). Let me clarify that I increasingly realize that my idea of “my good” and God’s idea are completely different…and I’m ok with that!

So what is keeping you on the sidelines? What is preventing you from stepping into the plans that God has for you? Jeremiah 29:11 affirms that God is for us. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for wholeness and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” God truly is for you! Draw courage from this. If you seek him first, He’ll lead you and will correct your path when you stray. Just keep fixing your eyes on Him!

George Bernard Shaw’s quote couldn’t ring more true. “A life spent making mistakes is not only more honorable, but more useful than a life spent doing nothing.” Don’t let the crippling power of fear win over you. Step out over the threshold and embrace the brilliant, guiding hand of the Father.