By “Dad X”
Divorce is not the end of your life, although it may feel that way at times. Life does go on and for some, it starts over rather quickly and love is once again found and your children suddenly are faced with a stepfather (or stepmother as some relationships can be).
The hardest thing for a divorced dad is when another man (or woman) enters the picture and his children are under the influence, daily interactions and safekeeping of this new person. It’s frightening and more often than not, an emotional nightmare.
I will personally never forget the first time my kids uttered the shocking words, “our ‘new’ dad.”
There is life after divorce.
My ex-wife is one of those people who can’t be alone. She started dating even before our divorce was final.
My kids would mention going to the park or zoo with “Bill” or “Tom” or a few other “friends of mom.” I thought it odd that they were brought into her dating so soon after she had met a new man. I started dating after our divorce was final but waited until I was sure the relationship I was in was strong enough to warrant the kids meeting the woman I was seeing.
When my kids first mentioned their “new dad,” I was floored. He had not been in the picture for very long but was moving in with my ex and kids. Even the kids’ school sent an adjusted release form my ex had amended to allow this man, listed as the “stepfather,” to pick up the kids from school.
I wasn’t allowed to meet this man. My ex set the rules that she would bring the kids out to my car when I came to pick them up for the weekend and I was to leave right away.
When she got tired of getting dressed so early on a Saturday morning, I was allowed to go to the front stoop and the children were basically shoved out the door by her “finacé” so I could walk them to my car. No “hellos,” introductions or basic niceties adults should practice.
It was only in the deepest winter cold, I was allowed to wait in the entry foyer for the kids who he was now getting ready for pick up, but he said nothing to me except, “wait right here.”
He wasn’t a physically forbidding man. I was bigger and stronger, but I was also polite and smiled when we came face-to-face. My mere presence seemed to really anger him.
He had obviously been told horror stories about me. I was to find out, once he was dumped by my ex, how ridiculous those stories were. In fact, he even admitted that the stories didn’t seem to match what he saw when I picked up the kids.
Eventually, we started speaking when my ex left him with the kids for three weeks while she went off on some business training trip and I had to call him to speak with my kids. Quick acknowledgements eventually turned into questions for me on my traveling so far, my life during the week and even exchanges of some strange things he noticed from my pathologically psychotic ex.
Shortly after that, “new dad” was gone and the rapid dating process started again.
Since our divorce, my ex has had two live-in finacés, one more husband (number three) and is currently keeping company with another man who hasn’t proposed or moved in.
Our kids, however, are too old and too smart to start with the “new dad” crap again. These other men weren’t even given the title of “uncle.”
How to deal with “new dad”
Life does go on after divorce and love can enter the picture, or at least the comfort of being with someone, as some men and women need.
There are no laws against your ex dating and, unfortunately, even cohabitating with a boyfriend or girlfriend hasn’t been grounds for a custody switch for quite some time unless the situation is damaging and/or dangerous to the child(ren). Certainly having the children call someone “new dad” or “Uncle whatever” isn’t serious enough for court action or a call to protective services.
As hurtful the thought of another man influencing and protecting, or not, your kids may be, you have to find your zen spot. There will be stories of gifts or special favors a stepparent may do to garner favor from your kids. Don’t be jealous! The new toys lose their thrill quickly and the favors become boring after a while.
When my kids first uttered the “new dad” phrase, I calmly explained that I wasn’t their “old dad” and that as their “dad” I would always be their father and be there for them throughout their lives until the day I died.
After that sunk in, I had a very long talk with them about what a stepparent is and the respect they should give theirs (if and when their mother actually got married).
If you consider the other side, being a stepparent is a tough job. They are always outsiders, not respected as a parental authority and, as many of my friends who were divorced from their spouses and forbidden to see or contact their stepchildren (many of whom they had raised from toddlers) found out, often heartbreaking.
My ex’s fiancés and third husband were all nice guys. The kids liked them and said they were all very nice. That’s a great relief for a parent to know the other adult in the children’s life is a good person.
Unfortunately, none of these men lasted longer than a couple of years with my ex and the children soon learned that their mother had relationship problems. (Her family was already estranged from her but loved me.) With that, I could breath a sigh of relief.
New “bad” dad?
Some of my friends from a divorced father’s group weren’t so lucky with their ex’s choice in men. There were problems with drug and alcohol abuse, suspected physical and mental abuse of the kids, and huge confrontations between the father and stepfather about visitation usually ending with the father being threatened with physical harm and/or death.
If you think blending a few kids into a family is a big challenge, imagine three or four adults, two of them ticked off at you, trying to get along.
Most of these problems were solved, or at least working towards some sane solutions.
Some of them recommended keeping a log of bad interactions or recording them with a digital recorder if that is legal in your state.
There were a few restraining orders and kids had to be traded at a police station, but there was always consensus on one major fact, and that is: Always, always check with your attorney and let him/her know what is going on and discuss your options!
Naturally, you have rights as per your parenting plan and you want to exercise it. That is the job of the attorney and just one letter to the offending party can sometimes set things straight, and it’s a legal trail.
Chances are, you’re not going to sit down and write a emotionless, legal response to something your ex did. You’re going to go off like a maniac and write something incriminating.
Why? Because family court judges don’t like bad words when entered into evidence.
Remember: It’s all about the kids!
You’ve been through this with the divorce, the pain, the emotions, the stress. But you knew you had to keep it from the kids.
I never spoke badly about my ex and the kids grew to appreciate that. She was not as kind, but the kids know what they see and what they feel. Sometimes you just have to let the little things go.
My kids, no matter what, always knew I was a phone call away, and they made those calls and I was there. They are young men now and aware of the world around them and upon whom they can count. “New dads” 1-to-3 are long gone.
I was worried about how they would approach relationships with women after being involved in so many breakups, witnessing it from a woman’s point-of-view. I still worry, but they’re teenagers, so there are lots of things that worry me.
There are many great pieces of literature for the layperson about divorce laws (and parenting tips!). Some are available from your state family court website. You can also find numerous resources here at DadsDivorce.com.
Check back on the first of every month for the next column outlining the mistakes I’ve made and how to best work with your attorney for success and, most of all, a better life for you and your children.
To arrange an initial consultation to discuss divorce rights for men, contact Cordell & Cordell.