Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Untethered Dad

Life...changes. That's not anything that you, dear reader, don't already know, but it is fascinating to me how it changes and why.

This year, 2016, has been one of the worst of my life. So much has happened that has pushed me down. Over the last few months, the following has happened:

My father is dying
My marriage is ending
My job was cut

As I sit here trying to figure out how to write about this, I feel like I'm drifting away. I have become untethered in space, grasping at anything to keep me. I know, I KNOW, this feeling is wrong. I'm not alone, and I'm not without a safety line, but at first, when it all piles up, it feels that way.

So, let's address each of my issues, shall we?

My job was cut.

In looking at the last few years of my life, this is not anything surprising. I don't talk about it much, but in conversing with a new colleague yesterday, I realized that since 2013, I have had 5 jobs. I left the first because of issues. I mourned that job. I believed it was everything, and it was like a part of me died leaving it. Even harder, I thought the people I worked with would miss me and try to contact me. When they didn't, I took it so personally and let it cut me deep.
The next 3 were all one and done due to budget cuts. I really liked my CIS class at Andover. In my career, those classes may have been the best I ever taught from both my abilities and my students. Yet, as I experience my kids getting older, I realize that my best friend is right: it's a job. It makes money. It is NOT my life. It's part of my life, but it is not the reason I live. When I left my first teaching job, I would have disagreed with her, but now I see she is right.
The current one is just starting, and while I'm nervous, I'm hopeful it will work for a while. However, I'm a teacher with a Master's Degree and now 12 full years of experience. More and more I'm hearing that I am too expensive, so I won't get interviewed. This past summer, from June through August, I applied for around 400 jobs, both in and out of the education field. 400. In that time, I had exactly 10 interviews. That's 2.5%. It's very discouraging.
However, I'm very lucky. I found another job. It might lead to something...or it might not.

My father is dying.

Alzheimer's and old age are a terrible combination. The person does know where he or she is and doesn't understand why he or she is they way they are. This past week was my parents' 52nd wedding anniversary (more on that later). My father couldn't remember the date. Why would he? Growing up, my father was always an absent-minded professor...literally. He couldn't tell you the day's date, but he could tell you who was at the Magna Carta signing and why it was important. Now, there are days he doesn't remember I have kids...or at one point that I had graduated college. Now, my father and I have a very...difficult relationship. However, watching your father go from the most powerful man in the world to a mewling kitten is very hard. His balance is gone. His strength and fire are gone. As he prepares to turn 80, the man who told me stories about surviving the Holocaust has been replaced by the man who tells me how hard it is to walk 20 feet. His color has changed. Slowly, over the last few years, he has stopped being...himself. The shell left is going quickly and will soon be gone. This will be the first major death in my children's lives, and I will have a lot to explain.
I spent years being angry at this man for how he treated me instead of understanding why he treated me the way he did. In taking a step back and seeing how hurt and broken my father is, I learned that he did the best he could. It wasn't honestly great, but he tried, and he taught me how to raise my kids by showing me what not to do.

My marriage is ending.

THIS has been a long time coming. My marriage of 15, almost 16 years, is ending. My wife is moving out soon. It has been...a long time coming. It's very hard to write those words, but it's true. We have two beautiful children, but those children need to see what love and happiness look like, but the last few years of our marriage have not been all. I wish I could say it is all her fault, but that's not how it works. It's both of us. That doesn't make the toxic nature of our end any better, mind you. Without really going into details (as I really can't yet), the major issues were cliche: lack of communication, lack of trust, and lack of trying. I am more upset for my children than myself. If you have been through divorce as a child, then you know how hard it can be. My daughter constantly asks if I am going to stop loving her the way her mom and I have stopped loving each other. No matter how much we tell her we won't, she struggles. My son, on the other hand, has shut his feelings down so he won't be upset. The internal struggle he has breaks my heart, because I am aware that it is partially my fault.
Here's the thing: they will be fine eventually. I will be too...and so will their mother. I think she'll be ok. She has shut down and shut others out, so it's hard to know. I mentioned my parents' anniversary earlier. 52 years. When I got married, I honestly thought that 50 years later, my soon-to-be-ex wife and I would be dancing to our song. I pictured us as that couple who holds hands as one of them dies...only to have the other die a few minutes later out of sadness. It's a beautiful and wonderful dream, but to make it true is a whole different beast.

I will not comment on where my wife failed just yet, however, I know where I failed. I built rules of what love and marriage are and held fast to them too tightly. When she didn't follow those rules, I got angry. I didn't introspect...not until it was too late and the marriage was already dead...we just didn't know it yet. I would expect her to respond in a certain way, and when she didn't, I got mad. I didn't look at why she responded the way she did, I just got mad. So what were these rules?

1. If your partner says I love you, you acknowledge it.
2. You give your partner as much love and time as they give you.
3. You demonstrate your love to your partner.
4. If your partner is struggling, you help them overcome that struggle and you fight for them.
5. You can fight with your partner, but you have to make sure get to a point you can reconcile.
6. Your partner is the number 1 person in your life.

By holding her to these rules, I doomed our relationship. Again, I want to be clear: I am in NO WAY saying all of the breakdown of my marriage is my fault. It is certainly not. I am just saying that I am aware of where *I* went wrong. There are many things that my wife, soon to be ex, did and is still doing wrong.

The key thing is a very big cliche: Relationships only last if both people do the work. I love the Beatles lyric "and in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make." You get back what you put in. To me, that's the truth. If you both work hard on loving each other, it will go well. If one of you falters, the whole machine breaks. One person cannot carry the load of love and marriage alone...and honestly, nor should they.

The thing about divorce, someone dying, losing your job, or any trauma is that it forces you to hold up a mirror and ask why do you feel this way? What are you going to do about it? I look at my reactions, and I see how I contributed. It means I will come out the other side a better person. For me, for the people I love, and for my kids. I hope my kids' mother will eventually introspect and look at who she is and why this marriage failed. She is so closed right now...and it's both sad and maddening.

I also hope that you, dear reader, are able to really look at yourself and understand why you feel the way you do. I believe that better things are coming for me. Right now, life feels hard and there is a part of me that wants to just crawl under the covers and hide the way I did when I thought a monster was in my closet (It was just my sister being a little drunk, but that's a story for another time). I know I can't. I have two amazing children who need their dad to be on the ball, to be a good father. In time, they will come to see that I can love and be loved. They will come to see that I can be more than just their dad, and that was another failing of mine: I spent years being their dad and caring for them more than myself. They are the top of the rope I am grabbing on to pull myself back to Earth. Tether now to add weight and be here now.

So, dear reader, I will be writing more. I will be talking about where I am going next and how I am. You may be interested in my stories...or you may not, but they'll be here. So will I.


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