Monday, March 21, 2011

Final: Hated Father

It is fatherhood which makes childhood possible.

One of the last scenes of the movie Saving Private Ryan really stands out to me. If you recall the scene where, as an old man, Ryan is standing with his wife at the grave of Capt. John Miller surrounded in a field of white crosses. He was the platoon leader who, along with several other men that gave their lives to see that at that time private Ryan safely return to his family who had already lost his multiple brothers in the war.

Ryan seemingly overwhelmed by a number of emotions kneels and as if they were standing face to face tells him he's never forgotten those last words, "Earn it," the captain spoke to him as he slipped away after receiving a fatal wound.

Ryan turns to his wife, catching her by surprise and seeking true affirmation asks her, "Tell me I've led a good life. Tell me I'm a good man." Confused but honest she responds, "You are."

Here Ryan finds himself having lived a long life. He is no longer a private. He is a man well into his old age. He is a family man. He is a husband with his wife standing by his side. He seeks her affirmation and approval. Without skipping a beat she is that support. He is a father. He has been a good father. We see his children and their spouses in the background who have come to support their father.

In spite of the evidence in front of him Ryan questions whether or not he has lived up to Capt. Miller's instructions and that the deaths of those soldiers who sacrificed their lives for his have not been wasted.

Those words, that one instruction, became Ryan's drive in life. Every other motive would be trivial and overshadowed by this one desire to honor those who had handed over their own futures so that he might live his own.

The tables were turned. The ball was in the other court. Now she was on the defense while I in the offense and she needed out quick. She couldn't risk me continuing to pursue full-custody. I was approached with at least three pages of requests for which I had the option to either refuse, accept or modify anyone one of them along with the "proposal" for joint-custody to remain.  A con will even con at settling rather than count their losses and call it quits. The requests were presented as a generous offering on her behalf in hopes they would go in her favor. She failed to conclude I would modify the decree to fit the kids bests interests which did not fit hers or her conveniences. And as mentioned I refused the interest on the arrears, but the judge would not drop them entirely. I did not agree to her proposed visitation schedule. I modified it to what I felt was fair and equal time at best. In the end other than monetary loss, my joint-custody remained, my visitation increased and my various recognitions came about, along with the dissolution of parental alienation with added involvement in my kids should be between a dad and his children.

"So do not be afraid of them. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What I tell you in the dark, speak in the daylight; what is whispered in your ear, proclaim from the roofs." Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.      Matthew 10:26-28

"No Fear." That's what He's saying here. I was terrified the entire time and I knew the truth. I knew who was telling the truth and who was lying. By now, mid 2009, the custody disputes were over and the allegations stopped. Not only did my involvement with my kids resume to normal, but improved. Not surprisingly my ex's attitude and behavior towards me changed dramatically. Somehow I no longer was this "mean dangerous, violent ogre." Doing a one-eighty she was cooperative and informative when it came to the kids. With the help of our family court system, after nearly ruining at least 7 lives she puts on a persona as if nothing had happened.

And the truth was, no child abuse ever took place and that was why she was able to communicate and attempt at a friendly co-parental relationship without any hindrances and without any reservations. In my selfish mind what I wanted was for her lies to be exposed and the truth to come out. For her to have to pay in one way or another. As much as it would have pleased me to see it cost her something, in time I realized this is not what God had in mind.

I would be lying if I was to say I wasn't filled with bitterness and resentment, let alone downright anger by now in spite of how grateful I was that the last two and half years of pure hell was over. This had cost us thousands. It almost cost me my marriage. I made choices I wish I could take back. The emotional tolls. The sleepless nights. The stress. The worry. The anguish. By now the very sound of her voice instantly made me angry. And now she wanted to play nice? Why should I?

Why should I?

See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil...Therefore choose life, that you and your offspring may live.                     Deuteronomy 30:15-19

That's why. Because what I chose I chose for my children leaving them left to carry what I pick up and hand down. Whatever I chose to hold on to and carry around as baggage would be as evident in my daily life as a billboard on the side of the road. And whatever that would be I would teach my children to do the same. Teach them life or death?

Modeling is where true influence as dads shows up. The challenge of being a positive role model to my kids is one I will face every day of my earthly existence. They take mental notes. They are watching my every move as a dad. Each day, in thousands of ways, I communicate to my kids, "Follow me." My children will use my life as a reference point, for better or worse, by design or by default. On the plus side, it's an opportunity to be intentional about demonstrating what a responsible, calm, caring self-sacrificing, faith-filled father is like. It's where we come across that choice to make...."life and good, death and evil." It's a daily struggle. A struggle that I graciously accept, but yet feel that I fall too short all too often.

Everything I do is under a microscope. Their microscope. Their eyes are on me. Their ears are on me. They had already been the whole time. And just as well their eyes and ears had been on their mother's. Both my own kids and step-kids closely watch all sets of parents. But the only person I am responsible for is myself personally and myself as a parent. So I chose life and good....and to refuse to teach all of my children hate and bitterness, anger and resentment, un-forgiveness and grudges. I chose to prove to them that unlike the other parental figures in their lives that only used them I would not be like them. I would not put them in the middle. I would lay my anger and bitterness on them for them carry.

In spite of my anger and bitterness towards my ex, my fight was for my kids and not against her. Even though court was over my fight for my kids was not. There were still lies to dispel. The ex's still talked trash in their homes with each set of kids present. They would return to our home repeating what was said. There were still behaviors to correct. Relationships still to mend. Hurts still to heal. Hearts left to mend. Unfortunately that didn't truly take place until I let God take a hold of my own heart (I Was Born A Year Ago Today).  Even though I got along well with my ex after court was over, I carried the resentment and bitterness.

As a dad my actions will form the building blocks of their character and influence their views about life and faith and relationships. These views become their actions and behaviors. The words of John 5:19 aren't limited to Jesus and His heavenly father, "The Son...can do only what he see his Father is doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does." So true do those words ring for us fathers here on this earth and our children.

No matter how my accusers or those who continued to harbor anger and bitterness I had to make the decision to exclude those feelings from heart and my behavior. My children had already been exposed to hypocrisy, anger, bitterness, selfishness, lies, manipulation, grudges, you name it, I could go on. So had my step-kids. They had been poisoned. And I have the opportunity to break that cycle. What true father would choose to have that kind of impact on his children?

Children of divorce have their own hurts and need security and nurturing from. It's truly difficult to provide these necessities for your children when you feel so much in need of them yourself. Having a forgiving nature is godly—and healthy. Contrariwise, holding on to anger over wrongs done to you can become a bitterness that consumes you. 

Getting to the point of walking the talk is easier said than done. It begins with a decision but takes a process. It begins with a taboo. With what is unpopular. Almost unspoken of except for in little prayers in church. And even in those it's just a word barely mumbled, hardly paid attention to. After all, it doesn't apply to today. (The Problems With Forgiveness) It begins with Forgiveness.

When you can’t forgive, you stay angry, and this anger is apparent to your child. If you can learn to forgive your ex, you will become less angry, and both you and your child will benefit. What I didn't want to be like was so many divorced parents, where anger is expressed in front of my children. I don’t want to hurt my children. Sometimes anger is obvious — derogatory statements or arguing with the other parent in front of a child — or more subtle, such as when you tell your daughter that she doesn’t have to listen to her mother. If you haven’t learned to forgive, you may act in ways that are damaging to your child.  We heard far too many repeated derogatory comments repeated. We heard relayed instructions through one of the children.

It's a prayer so common it's lost its meaning. It's really a model for prayer rather than a prayer itself. But we tend to say it ritualistically without meaning and without attention. Unfortunately we rob ourselves of life giving truths. I'm speaking of the "The Lord's Prayer." And in it He directly addresses forgiveness. Forgiveness is powerful. It is the source of healing and I'm living proof. When it is given and experienced, relationships can be transformed. The problem is when it sounds so simple such as when quoting a prayer. Forgiveness is more than mumbling "please forgive me" or "I forgive you." You choose to forgive or not forgive. Surprisingly, most do not realize there are conditions to  God's forgiveness which brings us healing and life:

Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors... but deliver us from the evil one. For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.  Mat 6:12-15I

He couldn't have gotten more straight forward than that. I have to give something in order to receive something. As much as I give something, I receive the same amount. If I don't give forgiveness, I don't receive forgiveness. It's hard stuff but it's the truth. As a process I forgave my ex-wife, her husband, my wife's ex-husband, his wife, the whole legal system and the child protective services. I forgave my wife. Initially it was for my own healing. But as a father I returned to being concerned with my children's healings and teaching them honesty, integrity, responsibility, and respecting others. I had become complacent. When they mess up, I want them to understand and learn from the consequences of their actions. I must purposefully balance modeling fatherly grace and mercy in visible, powerful ways.

A few months after the papers were signed my ex-wife asked me to lunch. Although we had been getting along fine without problems it was to be a meeting to put things behind us and move on. The lunch was an affirmation that it was real, words and feelings that were exchanged face to face. To my surprise three of her words were, "I am sorry," continuing to talk about the past allegations and everything that came along with them. At the time I doubted it was sincere, but don't know for sure.

I received a phone call about 7am sometime ago. Maybe it made her realize some things. Opened her eyes in a sense, but it was my ex in the midst of her own crisis and in tears. But for one reason or another she had come to feel somewhat of the pain I had felt. She felt the sting and betrayal I once felt. The tables truly had turned. Referring to the past she kept asking for forgiveness. She had felt the truth. This just wasn't the truth I thought was going to be revealed. For our kids sake, I could say that I already had. It was that moment when I realized how free I was and that I had truly chosen life and what is good. And hopefully I am not wasting the grace, chances and sacrifice God is giving me.

Whether the divorce is an angry one or a "good divorce," every child is impacted in powerful and generally negative ways. A child needs certainties, simple answers, a sense that there is fairness and logic in the world, in order to feel reasonably safe.

The hard truth, she says, is that while divorce is sometimes necessary, there is no such thing as a good divorce. An cordial divorce is certainly better than a bitter one, but even amicable divorces sow lasting inner turmoil in the lives of children. When a family breaks in two, children who stay in touch with both parents still travel between two worlds, trying alone to reconcile their parents' often strikingly different beliefs, values, and ways of living. Even a "good divorce" restructures childhood itself.

Sadly it seems as if children of divorce seem like old souls. Feeling like they have a different identity in each of their parents' worlds. There's this conflict within between what is secrets and what is allowed for disclosure. Home feels less safe. Then again what actually constitutes as home? And they are far less likely than the children of intact marriages to go to their parents for comfort or emotional support. Some question their parents' morality and choices. 

There are no conflicts between any of the sets of us parents, but the conflicts between our worlds are still alive. I can see our children having a much more difficult time form identities--when they ask themselves, "Who am I?"--they will be confronted with two wholly separate ways of living. Any answer they glean from one world could be undermined by looking at the other. Being too much like dad could threaten the mom, and vice versa.

It was the fear of losing my family that was my wake up call. It was my gift from God and the beginning of my life. My only fear was losing my family. I reached out to God and undeservingly He rescued me. More importantly He took the resentment and bitterness and anger with time. I can't be the husband and father I need to be if I'm filled with afflictions. How can I be there for my son's and daughter's as they grow and need a father if I'm too wrapped up in my own anger and resentments? Better yet, what better ways can I be there for my son's and daughter's when I've allowed God to comfort me in my own afflictions.

The Father of mercies and God of all comfort,...comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.           2 Cor 1:3-4

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A Recycled-Dad with Bipolar & Parkinson's, reflections on fathering and family life and other stuff thrown in'll love my Soap Box Rants

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Why I call myself a Recycled Dad

I call myself a Recycled Dad because of the struggles with remarriage and being a step-parent and weekend dad. This is also about my life living with bipolar and how it affects me personally, my family and my job. It also reflects on the grace God has poured out on me throughout recovery from alcohol and an eating disorder. Recycled Dad is about my reflections on the wisdom God teaches daily on fatherhood and being a better husband in spite of being bipolar.

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