Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Many More Miles Down the Road

Four years have gone by. At earlier stages of my life, so much happened in a similar amount of time. In four years I went from taking my first steps to starting Kindergarten. In four years I went from being a scrawny 115-pound high school freshman to being a graduate. My entire college experience in the Midwest? Four years. It took exactly four years from me to go from young, single professional living in DC to being the father of a newborn son in Maine. Hell, four years ago, Donald Trump was just another washed up reality TV star.

I used to feel that four years was a very long time span. Entire stages of my life took place in four-year chunks. And now? I feel like I have spent the past four years living in an alternate reality, where I have been so squarely focused on survival and trying to be the best dad possible, that I have neglected many (most?) of the things that used to give me meaning, including writing. It has gone by way too quickly. My youngest daughter was born in December 2014. She will turn 4 in two weeks. I'm not sure how I let myself go so long without translating my thoughts into words.

I started keeping a journal 20 years ago--the first entry was on my 25th birthday. I remember feeling like I had speedskated through my young adult years, and that I had let many of my thoughts and memories fade away. Having gone through that stage of life in the time before smartphones and social media, I have very few photos of my 18-25 years. (It's amazing how, not too long ago, people had to ration their taking of photos, because there was a fairly substantial cost involved in buying film and paying for prints--now my kids snap 100 frames in 5 minutes with no qualms whatsoever!) 
Anyhow, I kept a fairly regular journal over the next few years, writing every couple of weeks. This peaked during my trip to Israel at the end of 1999, when I wrote nearly every day on the tour bus. This was the height of my attempt to document and preserve my experiences. 

Back in 2001, the year my life burned down, the purpose of my writing shifted. I spent most of my time that year writing notes to my parents and other family members to try to stop their assault on me. When I moved to Maine at the beginning of 2002, it shifted again, and I spent the next two years writing a novel that was a (lightly) fictionalized version of my life--this more or less replaced my journal. From 2004 to 2009 I continued to write fiction. During this time I produced several short stories and started working on two more novels. Then, in 2010, after my life burned down again, I turned to blogging about my experiences as a long-distance dad. That lasted through 2014, when I gained custody of my kids. In the last paragraph of the last entry I wrote in November 2014, I mused: "I am not sure if I will continue to write about my parenting experiences from here on out, as they really aren't going to be that much different from anyone else's."

That statement has proven to be both completely true and completely false. It is completely true that I have not continued to write about my parenting experiences (or anything else, which I'll get back to). It is, however, completely false that my parenting experiences haven't been different from the norm. On that point, being the custodial parent of two kids who have a long-distance mom presents a very different set of challenges. I intend to focus at least some of my future writing on this topic. For now, I'll just say that I now know that I should have attempted to get custody of them several years earlier than I did. The longer I let them stay in a toxic situation, the more damage it did to them. They are in Maine right now, visiting their mom for Thanksgiving. I will never be OK with them visiting her, even though I know that they love her and they cherish their time with her. Oh, their drunk stepdad is still in the picture, but that's definitely a story for another day.

Back to the true part of my prediction, I have allowed the day-to-day reality of my life over the past four years swallow me whole. I have left behind nearly all of the life that I used to live. I have cut myself off from most of the people, places, and things that meant so much to me. I have narrowed the scope of my existence to little more than work, parenting, keeping a home, and sleeping. I have grown very depressed and hopeless and have lost the urge to express myself in any meaningful way. I have occasionally had moments when I thought that I would love to sit down and write again, but I have never mustered the motivation to actually do it. I have continually held on to the idea that I love to write and, moreover, that I need to write. 

For 16 years, as I progressed through multiple stages of my life, writing was the through-line that connected all of those times and places. I started writing as a 25-year old living in a high-rise apartment in DC. Over then next 16 years, I wrote in a multitude of places: my guest room, my office, coffee shops, hotel rooms, airports and even once on a ferry boat. My last entry, four years ago, was written in my basement "man cave" in Virginia. We sold that house in 2016 and moved back to Georgia, to a larger, nicer home that lacks a similar space. In my mental and emotional state, I have not been able to find it within myself to fight for having a space for myself and my thoughts. It has taken until right now, when I am sitting alone in my office on the day before Thanksgiving when everyone else has gone home to finally start writing again. 

It feels wonderful. My thoughts are flowing. My pulse rate is up, though that could just be the coffee. I am going to figure out a way sometime in the next few days to block out a place for myself where I can get back to work. I am a writer. This is what I need to do. I will be back.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

100,000 Miles: every new beginning comes from some other beginning's end

We have reached the end of the road. After nearly five years and precisely 100,000 miles, my days as the Frequent Father are done. My beloved children are now living with me, in my home, 500 miles away from their mother's little insane asylum. One might think that this would be the best news imaginable, that I finally got what I wanted, that I've reached my desired destination. But it turns out that there was another road laying beyond the end of the previous road, and the new road is steeper and more treacherous than I could have imagined.

It all happened on September 11, thirteen years to the day that shattered so many worlds and reshaped my own. I was awoken at 5:00 by my wife, who was six months pregnant and complaining of acute abdominal pain. We feared she may be going into (very) premature labor, so I got dressed and spirited her to the ER. It turned out to be a minor issue resulting from her fibroids, and all was OK. We got home by 9:00 AM and I was able to get some work done, but had to leave at 10:30 for an appointment. Soon after I left the house my wife, still woozy from not sleeping, slipped on our front walk and hit her head on the sidewalk. Fortunately she was OK and didn't have to go back to the ER, but the day was certainly not going well.

Around noontime I was having lunch with a business associate when my phone rang. The caller ID said it was my wife and, given the sort of day she'd been having, I excused myself to answer the phone and prepared for more bad news. It was quite the opposite: my attorney had received the judge's decision, and the children were awarded to me, effective immediately. And...BOOM...that was the moment when everything changed forever. I raced home after lunch, booked a flight to Boston and a rental car, and readied to leave for Maine early the next morning to retrieve my children. Everything was on track.

Unfortunately--and predictably--my ex-wife was not about to take this lying down. She obviously received the news around the same time and thus had several hours of a head start on breaking the news to the children. I had made a commitment to not say anything to the kids during the court case, as I didn't want them to be anxious about it, and their mother was certainly not ever going to give them the impression that they might have to move away, so they were blindsided. I will never know exactly what she said to them, but it's clear that she communicated at least the following: 1) Daddy lied to the judge, 2) Daddy is stealing you away from Mommy, and 3) Mommy is going to get you back very soon.

I got a taste of all of this well-poisoning that evening. I called my ex-wife's house to talk to her about the pickup arrangements the next day. I intended to keep everything perfectly civil and focus on the business at hand, but that was not to be. Instead my son answered the phone and he refused to give it to his mother. He then unleashed a stream of anger and hate at me, full of words and emotions that should never come out of the mouth of a 10-year old. He hung up on me. I called two more times, with the same result. My elation at the news instantly crumbled into guilt. While I knew that I was doing the right thing by getting my kids out of a toxic environment, I realized at that moment just how difficult this change would be for everyone.

The next day was fraught with fear and stupidity. My ex would not answer her phone, and I was unable to confirm with her exactly how and when the exchange would occur. I had to have my attorney communicate with her attorney and, even then, it wasn't clear how things would go. I worried about a violent scene, so I visited the police department when I got to town to explain the situation to them. An officer told me that he was sympathetic, but that he couldn't show up to escort the kids out--the best he could do was to wait around the corner in case of trouble, which he was kind enough to do.

The scene was set. I drove up to the house at 2:00 PM on a Friday afternoon. The kids had not been sent to school that day, so their mother had all day to get them riled up with sadness and hatred. My attorney pulled up 100 feet behind me, close enough to the corner that she could see the police officer and signal him if there was any trouble. The kids' bags were sitting on the sidewalk, but there was nobody in sight, and the shades in the house were pulled shut. I didn't quite know what to do. I then caught a glimpse of my beloved children hiding behind a bush and wasn't sure what to make of it. Were they hoping that I wouldn't see them and would drive away without them? Did their mother put them up to this? Were they just being silly?

I got out of the car and, making sure to not set foot on the property, I called out to them. My daughter peeked out her head and gave a little smile. She trudged over to the car and got in without any objection. My son remained behind the bush and refused to come out. I told him that he needed to come with me, but that he could take a minute if he needed it. After 10 minutes of waiting I was ready to go bang on the door but he eventually came out on his own and got in the car. He remained very angry and wouldn't talk at all during the ride to Boston. My daughter, meanwhile, was as sunny and happy as could be. I had always figured that, if this day ever came, she would be the one who would be crying and screaming. It was a fitting omen for just how unpredictable things have been since that day.

*    *    *

We are now seven weeks into our new reality. The fact that it has taken me this long to have the time and energy to sit down and write about it is a strong indicator of just how difficult the transition has been. The fact that the judge's order came down a week into the school year was a major contributor to the chaos. I had assumed all along that the decision would be made before Labor Day, so the kids could at least have a fresh start to the school year. Instead, they had the last two weeks of August and the first two weeks of September to start their Fall activities in Maine and start getting into the flow of the school year. And then, suddenly, they were ripped away from their lives and given two days to prepare to start from zero. It was totally unfair to them, and I will always be upset at the judge for dragging his feet for nearly a month before making a decision.

So the kids did start school here in Virginia on the following Monday, and I moved quickly to get my son on a football team and my daughter in a dance class. They needed to have at least some semblance of continuity to ease the transition, and those activities have definitely kept them occupied. Everything else has not been so easy. My son has continued to express anger at being here, though his resistance has waned in the past couple of weeks. His confusion is being fueled by his mother, who used her phone calls in the first few days to reiterate the three lies she told him before letting him go. This, of course, further upset him and led to oppositional behavior from him that I had never before experienced.

The bigger issue with my son is the fact that he is 10 years old, has Asperger's Syndrome, and has never received any support or counseling to help him with his special needs, as his mother is opposed to the mental health profession. Not a day has gone by since he's been here that he didn't have at least one angry--if not violent--outburst directed at me, my wife, my daughter, my stepsister, or another neighborhood kid. The outbursts are almost never justified: they are typically over being told to eat something, over someone not sharing with him, or over some perceived "unfairness" that is usually unfounded. I don't blame him for this, as he was made this way, but I am deeply concerned that it is too late to help him, as his bad habits and fatalism have been encouraged for so long. More troubling is that, like his mother, he is so far incapable of admitting that he has made a mistake or a bad decision. There have been times when multiple kids saw him do something wrong and, instead of admitting it, he claimed that they were all lying. We are trying to get extra services for him to help with his Asperger's issues, but that's not likely to begin for another month or two.

The end result is that the entire household has become captive to my son's explosiveness. My wife and I are always on edge with him. My daughter, who is used to his behaviors, often goes silent and withdraws. This behavior concerns me a great deal, as I behaved the same way as a child when my older brother went off the handle (he was a lot like my son is now). My stepdaughter, who had been an only child for nine years, had gotten resentful and moody, and keeps saying that nobody ever gives her any attention--I don't blame her for feeling that way. We started working with a family counselor soon after my kids arrived, but it will obviously take time for those efforts to bear fruit.

Meanwhile, my wife isn't getting any less pregnant, and the baby will be born in less than five weeks. We are already struggling to keep up with the practical and emotional aspects of having three kids in the house, and I am flipping out over the prospects of adding a newborn baby to this already volatile mix. We have figured out that we simply cannot have both of us working full-time with four kids, but we also can't afford to lose either person's income. I am actively looking for a higher-paying job, and will hopefully find one before my wife would have to go back to work in March, but there is no guarantee of this happening.

In brief, life is rough for everyone in our home these days. I try to comfort myself with the thought that, however things may be here, at least my children's lives are not endangered by living with a raging alcoholic stepfather and a delusional mother.

Things in Maine have actually gotten even worse since my kids left. My ex-mother-in-law's house caught on fire under mysterious circumstances a couple of weeks ago, and I strongly suspect that my ex-wife and her husband orchestrated the fire with the hope of collecting on an insurance settlement. I am thus very happy that my kids aren't living in that environment, but they aren't totally free of it. My ex is actually here in Virginia this weekend (she's a long distance parent now!) and I'm sure she is filling their heads with terrible things. Worse, the kids will be traveling to Maine for both Thanksgiving and Christmas, giving her (and her drunk husband) plenty of time to do their damage. It is terrible for me to say this, but I think the best thing that could happen for my kids would be for their mother to be convicted of arson and insurance fraud and go to jail for a while. They would be free of her influence, and they would learn an important lesson about the consequences of bad behavior.

*    *    *
The Frequent Father is dead. There will be no more nightly phone calls behind the Iron Curtain. There will be no more sleepless nights wondering what the screaming in the background of my phone call was about. There will be no more expensive travel itineraries booked for the sole purpose of watching my children grow up. There will be no more overnight bus rides, nights spent sleeping in rental cars, or long winter days holed up at the Howard Johnson's. There will be no more stares from people wondering why I lugging a car seat through the airport with no child in tow. If all goes as planned, I will never again set foot in the State of Maine. I know the scenery is beautiful and the lobster is delicious, but I do not need to be reminded of all of the years of pain and sadness that I endured in that place. I think I'll vacation elsewhere from now on.
Now I'm just plain Daddy, having to do all of the things that any other parent has to do every day to raise children. It isn't exactly normal, as I now have to deal with the long distance parent on the other end of the phone. But, assuming she doesn't go to jail, I have to believe that she will eventually accept reality and move here. When I first met her, she lived 15 minutes away from where I now live, so it's not exactly foreign territory, and she would have no trouble finding a good job here--that's something I never could do in Maine.
Seven weeks into this new reality it is very hard to imagine things ever settling down. But I feel a lot better knowing that we've all survived the hardest part. The initial shock has worn off, and each passing day makes things a little less strange for everyone. I am not sure if I will continue to write about my parenting experiences from here on out, as they really aren't going to be that much different from anyone else's. It has been a long journey to this point, and I am frankly amazed to have actually gotten to this point in one piece. The road ahead will not be easy, but it will be different. That alone is worth celebrating.
Long live The Frequent Father.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

99,000 Miles, headlights pointed at the dawn

It is astounding to me that I haven't posted anything here for more than five months.  I guess I have been afraid to sit down and confront my deepest thoughts and emotions, and have contented myself to bury them under a veneer of moodiness and depression.  I have avoiding writing because I was fully expecting the next entry I wrote to be the last entry on this blog. The court case was supposed to be done in April. In May. In June. In July. In August.  And still...

It would take several entries to recount all that has happened in the intervening months.  I spent two long weekends in Maine, one in late March for my son's 10th birthday, and one in late May for my daughter's dance recital and my son's debut as a starting pitcher in Little League.  I then got the kids in late June and had them with me for most of the summer--I only returned them to Maine eight days ago.  There were many great times had, and a summer full of angst about what would happen, when it might happen, and what I would even say to my kids to explain things. 

Alas, that is a problem I've still yet to have to face.

The custody trial is over, it happened six days ago.  It was the farce I expected.  I went first and told my story.  My ex-wife then took the stand and claimed that, well, she just didn't understand what alcohol abuse was, had no idea that alcoholics lie and deceive people about their drinking, and now recognizes that she was na├»ve and has learned her lesson.  She went on to say with a straight face that her husband has now been totally sober for eight months, in spite of ample evidence to the contrary.

The guardian ad litem (GAL) took the stand and presented his report, which stated very clearly that the drunk guy was still drinking, that my ex wasn't going to keep him away from the kids, and that the kids should come live with me.  He added that, in 20 years as a GAL, he had never felt so strongly about his recommendation.

Then the drunk stepfather actually took the stand.  He looked lobotomized, or at least heavily sedated.  His hands shook during his testimony.  He was incoherent and kept forgetting what he was saying.  His behavior screamed DRY DRUNK. Finally, my ex-wife's brother took the stand--he is sick about what his sister is doing to my kids, and he offered his services.  He is a drug addict with a checkered past, but he was very convincing in presenting his accounts of the alcohol abuse in her house and her refusal to acknowledge the danger.

And then, it was 3:30 PM and both sides rested.  And the judge said that he wasn't going to render a decision and that he was leaving for a two-week vacation in two days and didn't guarantee that he'd have a decision before he left.  The case was specifically added to the August docket as a back-to-school case that needed to be decided before Labor Day.  It was heard on August 18.  He did not rule before he left for vacation.  If he lets it wait until he returns, school will have started and my kids will return to their school in Maine.  The arrogance and laziness of this man is simply shocking.  How can he just leave us all hanging like this when he knows very well what is at stake?

Well, my question doesn't matter, because that is exactly what is happening.  The judge is on vacation, and won't return until after Labor Day.  I've been told that it's possible he will send in his decision while he's away, but he's given no indication of this.  I have literally been in shock for the past week about this turn of events.  I feel completely confused and empty, and have been scarcely able to go to work, eat a decent meal, or sleep at night since returning from Maine.  There isn't even any guarantee that he will render his decision when he returns.  My attorney has told me that she has another case with the same judge that has been hanging on for more than a month without a decision.  I do not understand how a legal system can exist that allows a judge to avoid doing his job with no repercussions.

So now I am sitting here alone with my thoughts on a Sunday afternoon.  My kids are back in Maine.  My stepdaughter is in Atlanta for two weeks with her father, though he's been an useless as ever and she has been bouncing around amongst other family members.  My wife is out shopping for school clothes, leaving me in complete isolation and feeling desperate and hopeless.  I have been having terrible headaches and stomach problems all day, and feel like just going back to sleep, because consciousness is the worst possible thing for me at this stage.

I am burned out with my job, and seriously contemplating leaving it, either to find something that pays more so my wife can quit or just up and leaving it to have time to be with my kids if and when they come here for good.  I didn't mention that we are expecting a baby in December, which would mean four kids in the house, including an infant.  There is no way we can both go on with full-time jobs like we have now, so something is going to have to give.  I am not exaggerating a bit when I say that I am at my breaking point.  I have used up all my strength just to get this far, and don't feel like I have anything else in reserve for the future.  And this is all assuming that the judge rules in my favor and I get my kids.

And if I don't...well, I'm trying not to think about that, but I already know the answer.  We will have no choice but to give up our life in Virginia, such as it is, and go back to Maine.  I have the promise of a steady stream of consulting work from a colleague, so I wouldn't have to be in an office all day, and could be a stay-at-home dad with the new baby and my wife can keep her job, as it's a telecommuting situation.  With the housing cost difference, we could actually get by up there financially.  But I doubt we'd get by in other regards.  We both hate it there--we hate the people, the culture, the weather, the lifestyle, you name it.  The only thing there is my two wonderful children, but I feel that would take precedence over everything else.  I've been away from them for five years, and I am done with this.  No more.

But I have to assume that, in spite of the delay, this ultimately will fall in my direction.  The evidence and the GAL's report are squarely on my side.  To believe my ex-wife requires believing in a whole bunch of fairy tales and coincidences.  My attorney even asked my ex if she knew what Occam's Razor was--she didn't, so it was explained that it is a philosophical principle that, in the absence of a known answer, the simplest explanation should be assumed.  In this case, the simplest explanation for all of the incidents and accidents (and hints and allegations) in my ex-wife's home is the presence of a raging alcoholic.  I think that sums it up very well.

So that's where things stand right now.  My kids are 500 miles away and, as far as they know, they will be going back to their familiar school routine in nine days.  I have every reason to believe that they will be coming here to live very soon, but I have no idea when "very soon" may actually occur.  And when that day does come, I have no idea what I'm going to say to them, nor do I have any faith that I will be able to provide what they need, given my fragile emotional and psychological state.

It is dark right now, so dark that I have a hard time even imagining the dawn coming over the horizon.  But all reason and rationality suggest that the sun will be rising at any moment.  I somehow need to pull myself together before the dawn comes, if it comes.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

95,000 Miles, getting ever closer to the end of the tunnel

This installment covers one more trip to Maine and one major step towards the end of my Frequent Father days.  The trip was my best effort at exercising my visitation rights for my kids' February school break; I technically have the right to have them for the whole week, but due to work, life, and financial constraints, I couldn't retrieve them and bring them home, so it was reduced to me coming to Maine for 3.5 days.

I was fortunate to find a 2-bedroom condo on the beach for the same price as a Hampton Inn (love Airbnb.com!), so we had a cozy "home" for the visit and I saved a lot of money by buying groceries and preparing meals in the unit.  The weather even cooperated well enough--one day in late February was warm enough to go down to the ocean, which afforded the very Maine experience of having a snowball fight on the beach.  It was a good time all around.

The trip would have been just an upbeat footnote in the mostly grim annals of the Frequent Father, but for the semi-miraculous turn of events that began on Thursday afternoon, soon after I arrived in Maine.  I had given up on making any progress in my custody case during the trip, and was resigned to having to wait until late March just to have a (stupid, pointless) mediation session and then wait another week for a court-mandated status conference, meaning that the actual final hearing couldn't even be scheduled for another month.

At the time of my arrival, there was still no word from the guardian ad litem (GAL) as to whether or not he (this GAL is a man, acronym notwithstanding) would be filing a report.  Also, there was no word from my attorney as to whether or not she had succeeded in scheduling a private mediation session for the next morning that would still be stupid and pointless, but would at least move things along.  I was tired of waiting for answers, so I called up the GAL, and he was very forthcoming with me.  I won't specify what he said (I don't know if my ex knows about this blog or not!) but he told me that he wasn't ready to deliver his report just yet, as he was still trying to track down medical information about the drunk stepfather.  Then my attorney called back to tell me that she had succeeded in scheduling a mediation for the next morning.  Things were looking up.

The mediation was just as useless as I expected, and my ex (naturally) refused to sit in the same room with me, so the poor mediator had to shuttle back and forth between rooms at her lawyer's office, which wasted time.  We settled nothing, but we did "check the box," so we could proceed.  Both parties then agreed to file a joint status report, thus allowing us to skip the pre-trial conference and paving the way to getting a trial date and moving forward.  It still may not happen until late April or May, but at least we're making progress.

It's been a long road to get to where I am now, and I'm feeling very optimistic about all this.  I'm not thrilled about the upheaval that my kids will need to undergo if they come to live with me, but it's far, far better than the dangerous and toxic environment where they now live.  I am certain that someday, when they are grown, they will thank me for getting them out of that environment.  Their lives are going to be so much better and happier, and so will mine.

There will be at least two more trips to Maine: the annual March birthday trip in two weeks and the final hearing.  And then...I hope I never have to set foot in that state ever again.  Yes, I know it's beautiful and scenic, and the lobster is great, but I've had my fill of Vacationland forever.  There will be one lest goddamned tourist for them to hate.  I'll find my special place somewhere else.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

94,000 Miles, stuck at the airport

So here we are, well into 2014, five months after the ER visit that set this round of legal action into motion: nothing has changed, and it looks like nothing will change for several more months.  The GAL has not issued his report yet, in spite of assurances that he would complete his work by the end of January.  He has six more days to deliver, but he could ask for an extension if he feels like it. 

I had been hopeful that he would get his report in, I would get my final court hearing this coming week (before my kids' school vacation), and we'd load up the car and go.  I was actually doing pretty well at getting up in the morning, motivating myself to face the day, and being a productive member of society.  Then, with no fanfare, a notice arrived in the mail last week stating that there was a "mediation hearing" scheduled for late March and a "pre-trial/status conference" scheduled another week after that.

That one piece of information knocked me right off course.  The judge had ordered back in December that there would be a mediation hearing within 75 days of the appointment of the GAL; that date would come in mid-February.  At the time, my attorney assured me that we would be able to bypass mediation and get a final hearing scheduled for that same day.  It seemed simple: the GAL will present his report, testify about it, and the judge will make a decision.  But now I'm getting a completely different story.  Apparently the court can just ignore its own order to delay this for no good reason.

I asked my attorney to estimate, based on the new scheduling, when I could expect to actually have a final hearing at which custody could be switched, and she wouldn't say, but she didn't dispute my assertion that it wouldn't happen until May.  Worse, she denied telling me that the whole thing should have been done this month, and when I challenged her on it, she slipped into lawyer-speak: "well, I'm sorry if you got that impression.  I don't recall ever saying anything like that."  She is a good lawyer, but she still has a vested interest in stringing this thing out: after all, each hearing is another $1,000 for her.  She says she will try to schedule a private mediation with my ex's attorney, but even that will only save a couple of weeks.

So now, in a best case scenario, it will be sometime in April before any decisions are made.  In the meantime, another school year has been lost, and my kids are one year deeper into the abyss that is their mother's world.  The isolation, paranoia, narcissism, over-attachment, and tolerance of bad behavior that she displays has had one more year to seep into their souls, making it that much harder to undo the damage.  The separation has gone on for another year, leaving me only tied to them by a phone call each night for weeks on end during the long, dark winter.  I grudgingly made my arrangements for another long weekend over the President's Day holiday that will be spent holed up in a hotel room in Maine. I had convinced myself that there would never be another weekend like that, and signing up for at least one more is a stab to my heart.

I had a reminder yesterday of just how long things have gone on like this.  I was watching the 2014 Winter Olympics, and remembered the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, when I was hunkered down in a sparsely furnished apartment in Maine without TV service.  As a result, I missed the now-legendary U.S.-Canada gold medal hockey game.  Now that the 2014 Olympics are underway, it's been a full four-year cycle spent living like this.  When it started my son was in Kindergarten and my daughter was just barely two years old.  Now he is about to turn 10, and she is well into first grade.  So much time has passed, they have grown so much, and I have experienced so little of it.  Even if they eventually do come to live with me, I will always feel a deep sense of loss for the years of their childhoods that I did not get to share with them.

There is a certain feeling that has been coursing through my body each day since the court scheduling notice arrived last week.  It is a feeling that I have come to know too well, but can't really explain it.  It's a sensation of emptiness and coldness, tightness in the chest, detachment, and confusion.  It is not something that I ever felt before moving away from my children, so it's not just depression.  I have come to realize that is something far deeper, something that can only come from losing something you love.

I love my children more than I ever thought I could love anything.  I know it is still quite likely that they will be living with me soon, but, until that day comes, I am just left with one day after another to feel the cumulative effects of being separated from them for so long.  For now, I don't even know what the GAL will say, when my real day in court will come, or what will be decided.  Until all of those things happen I am just going to continue to feel like I do right now. 

It is a terrible way to be living--stumbling through life in a fog and wishing days away just to get out of this darkness.  I am 40 years old now and have wished away enough days--days that I won't be getting back.  This period of my life has been reduced to simple survival.  I don't know how many days or weeks it will take until anything changes, but I am fully aware that I am going to continue to walk around feeling terrible every day until then.

I don't even want to think about what I will feel if the court does not agree with me and my kids are allowed to stay put.  I am not OK with that and probably never would be.  I know that it's not a likely outcome at this point, and I am trying not to think about it, but the possibility definitely exists.  I have had so few things go my way over the course of my adult life, so I should be used to disappointment.  But if ever the time was right for the karma to even out, this is it.  I have suffered enough.  My kids have been poisoned enough.  The world may not be fair, but I'm not asking for fairness.  Life has already been so unfair to me--I'm just asking for a little less unfairness.

Sunday, January 12, 2014

94,000 Miles

Well, it's 2014, and I'm still waiting for the verdict that will determine my children's future.  The court hearing in December began with the judge saying that she wanted to appoint a guardian ad litem (or GAL in legal-speak) to investigate the case, but that she was willing to hear our testimony just for kicks.  So I got to take the stand, where I related my story to the court, telling the judge (100% truthfully) that I had only brought this action as a last resort after my ex-wife refused to do anything to protect our kids from the dangerous drunk living in their home.  I fielded the predictable accusations from her attorney of being a bully and a meanie, and then asked him if he would be concerned if his child had been sent to the ER.  He was speechless.

My ex, as she will do, proceeded to steal the show.  Without any emotion whatsoever she admitted that her husband still consumed alcohol on a regular basis (in direct contradiction to her prior statements and countermotion), but that--get this--was engaging in a NIH-sanctioned practice known as "low-risk drinking."*  She did not acknowledge at any time that his drinking was dangerous in any way to our kids.  She then talked about how she "lived in fear" of my harassment, namely my "constant threats" of taking her to court.  For the record, I haven't threatened to take her to court; rather I have actually taken her to court when she demonstrated that she would never shield our kids from a drunk.

*I researched this after the hearing, and low-risk drinking is a regimen aimed at preventing casual drinkers from becoming alcoholics.  It consists simply of limiting yourself to no more than four drinks** in a day or 14 in a week.

**One "drink" is equivalent to eight ounces of regular-strength beer.  Her husband favors 40-ounce malt liquor, which is equivalent to six drinks.  If he even has one of these in a day, he's over the "low-risk" threshold, and I'm quite certain he has at least 2-3 per day.

Anyhow, after all of this, the judge did what she said she would do, and appointed a GAL, the same one who had investigated our case three years earlier.  The GAL was hired (costing me nearly $3,000) and he traveled to Virginia during Christmas break, so he could observe what life was like in my home for my kids.  The GAL's visit couldn't have gone any better.  It was a warm sunny day, and my kids were outside playing with the other kids in the neighborhood, looking like happy, well-adjusted kids who would do just fine if they lived here.  My mom even came over and make cake pops, so the playing was followed by a stream of neighborhood kids coming into our house to enjoy them.

More importantly, I had about an hour to drive him around and show him the local area, then drive him to his hotel.  During this time he told me candidly that my ex-wife had filed for divorce from her husband, but that he thought that was a stunt, and that she would likely keep him in her life no matter what a legal document would say.  He then asked me to tell him what sort of visitation I would want her to have if I had primary residential rights.  I told him that I wanted her to be in the kids' lives, as it would be good for them, but that I would want her to go through a parenting class and counseling before she would be granted regular visitation.  He nodded and said that seemed fair.

In short, I came away from his visit believing that he was ready to grant my request.  I'm not counting chickens yet, but the questions he asked and the things he said all pointed to him being appalled at my ex's pattern of denial and irresponsibility, and ready to remove the kids from her home.

*        *        *

The rest of the visit was as it ever was--a lot of fun in a very small amount of time, followed by a long day of travel and a hasty goodbye.  I did not and have not told my kids about what is going on, but I sense that they are aware of what could happen, and they seem to be embracing that my home is their home too.  They have each taken ownership of their rooms here and, more importantly, my daughter did not cry even once for her mommy during the visit, which is a first.

And now all I can do is wait.  The GAL is set to complete his report in the next 30 days, and a court hearing will be scheduled immediately thereafter.  In theory, my kids could be living here with me by the time Spring begins, but it could also be delayed or--worse yet--the judge could rule that my ex has done enough by removing the drunk and divorcing him, so the kids can stay with her.  In any case, it's been a terrible struggle for me to continue to go about my daily business under these conditions, with so much up in the air. 

I have been afraid to sit down at my computer and write about all of these goings, because it's just been easier to not think about it.  But, really, it's all I can think about, as nothing matters to me more than my children's safety and well-being.  I am hoping that my next entry will herald the end of my Frequent Father days, but I am not letting myself believe that, at least not until the GAL report has been issued.  There will be plenty to digest and dissect at that point.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

91,000 Miles

Another 1,000 miles have been added to the frequentfatherometer, and it seemed like just another routine three-day weekend.  My wife and stepdaughter came along this time, so it was five of us crammed into a hotel room, enjoying the free buffet, the indoor pool, running around on the beach in spite of the cold weather, and even a jaunt down to Boston for the afternoon.  It was, as always, wonderful to have some time with my kids, but sad to say goodbye to them for a while.  The difference this time was the thing in the air, the thing we can't discuss, the specter that is haunting everyone.

The custody case.

It's been 2.5 weeks since the prior hearing, and it will be another 2.5 weeks until the next (and hopefully final) one.  I have hit new lows emotionally and mentally during this period, often unable to work, think, speak, or be around other people.  My nightly phone calls with my kids have been a burden, as I am so depressed I can barely converse with them.  In short, I am paralyzed by the way things are, and am absolutely frightened at the prospect of being told "no thanks" by the judge.

I am trying my best not to think about that potential outcome, but I can't.  I know it is very possible that the court will conclude that removing the alcoholic from the home will take care of the problem, and then give my ex one more chance to prove that she can be a responsible parent.  It's equally possible that the judge will conclude that she needs to know more about me and my lifestyle before transferring custody, which would mean appointing a guardian ad litem who would then spend several months and several thousand dollars investigating my life.  That may be the worst outcome of all: more waiting and more money that I don't have.

Being back in Maine for three days was harder than ever.  First off, I hate November in Maine--the trees are barren, the sun goes down before 5:00, and the permanent midnight of the Maine winter is beginning to set in.  Second, I felt myself feeling like telling my kids what I was doing and why I was doing it, but I know that I can't put them in the middle of this.  Finally, and most importantly, I found myself looking around, knowing in my heart that, if the judge says they have to stay where they are, I will have no choice but to come back to this place, where everything reminds me of failure, of the nine years of my life that I wasted there, of the stupid decisions that led me there.

In 16 days I will be back in the courtroom again.  I get three hours to prove to this judge that my kids need to be with me.  Those three hours will, for better or worse, permanently alter the course of my life and my kids' lives.  As much as I want that day to come, I dread it as well.  Either way, it is going to be a momentous day, one that will replay in my mind for the rest of my life.  I am in no way ready for it, but really, how could I be?