Sunday, August 5, 2007

An Open Letter to My Son

Dear Little Man,

You know, there are times when I look at you and I know that when you get older you are going to ask me what happened with our family. Growing up, I was grateful that you were so well adjusted to our separation. You mother and I, regardless of our differences, always agreed that nothing good would come of putting you in the middle of our problems. I will always be grateful for that; even your school teachers said that your behavior in school seemed to get better once we separated and I moved out of the house.

So now that you've become a man, you've asked me several times what happened between us. Each time, I've told you I'll tell you when you're older. When you're old enough to drive; when you're old enough to drink. Well, I'm sorry; I still don't think the time is right for you to know the details. One of the things I have always done is honored your mother for you, just as she has done for me. Our problems remain our problems; and this is something that you will need to learn to accept over time. When we are peers and you have been married, had a child, created a career, and carved your place in life then we can talk about this. As corny as it sounds, you still have too much to learn and experience. It's simply not the right time, and I hope you can understand.

Now, with that in mind I want you to live and benefit from my mistakes. I want you to learn from them, and not have to relive them. You've told me about being in love, and how your relationships are getting more serious. I'm happy for you, and excited for the opportunities that are in front of you. A good relationship will enhance your life. It will give you insight into aspects of yourself that hide from the world, and empower you to achieve more. The flip side of that is that a bad relationship will limit you; it will whittle you down to a sliver of yourself. Given who you are, you will know when things are right and when you have a good thing going. Its hard, sometimes though, to understand when things are bad; when it is time to move on. Here is some advice on when / why to move on:

Remember that relationships don't define you. They don't determine who you are. They describe where we are in life, and demonstrate what we value. Its ok for this to change over time, and when it changes its ok to recognize, accept it, and move on. If you find that your relationships define you, then maybe you have forgotten who you are. Don't let that happen.

This is going to sound like a cliche, but sex is not love. Great sex should be celebrated, but it cannot be the basis for a relationship. If you have not experienced this yet, you will soon and will know exactly what I mean (this is one of those things that you will know when you know). Ride it out for however long you can, but be real about what you have. Remember: a kiss is not a contract.

If you find yourself "hoping" your relationship will change, leave. Hope on its own has never changed anything; it certainly cannot change people. If you think that "waiting" for someone to change or that they will "see the light" at some point is noble, think again. In relationships, chumps hope. Now, at some point in your life you may find someone that you feel is worth your "hope" because when things are good, they are better than anything you have lived through or experienced. As a father, I want you to know that this will be your cross to bear, and it will be your choice alone to value this person more than yourself.

Does she say she loves you, but act differently (like she resents you, for example)? What people say and what they do can sometimes be very different. If they are, look out. You want to be with someone that lives congruently; whose actions are aligned with their emotions, thoughts, and goals. If she loves you but likes to put you down, walk away. Does she need to be right or have the last word? Does she feel the need to elevate herself above you (for whatever reason)? Does she put you down when she feels bad? If so, she has contempt for you at some level. Walk away.

Its smart to walk away from a bad thing, and trust your instincts when they tell you something is bad for you. Your instincts are right more often than we give them credit for; respect and hone them. Walking away takes courage and conviction; it takes strength and will. Believe in yourself and trust your instincts.

Nothing is more important than loving, respecting, and nurturing yourself. If you don't love yourself, no one will love you back. If you do not respect yourself, people will not respect you. If you do not nurture yourself, you will not learn, grow, or evolve. I feel that these three things are keys to living; I didn't learn this until my 30's. Hopefully you have learned it already.

Kid, you have always been the greatest gift my life has experienced. I am honored to be your father, and hope your understand the things I am talking about in this letter. I will always be here for you.

With Love and Respect,


Evolution Example: Where Is Your Wedding Ring These Days?

To this day I think the proudest moment of my life was expressing my wedding vows. I remember the pride and power I felt; almost like a mountain. On that day, I knew my purpose, my reason for breathing, and had this cool confidence that grounded me. Everything seemed to move a bit slower; and while things around me were a little crazy, I never felt consumed or impacted by it. For me, saying my vows culminated the day and made the marriage real for me. Take the ceremony away, forget the reception, and erase the honeymoon. What made the event concretely real for me were the two minutes we used to exchange the vows we wrote for each other. In all my life, I do not think that I have said anything else with so much passion and honesty; and when we were done, it was my wedding ring that for years would server as a reminder of the person I was that day. Of the person I had pledged to be.

Well, my how things change over the years.

So I do not wear my wedding ring any more. To be honest, I do not even know where it is. I stopped wearing it minutes after I told my wife I wanted a divorce and sincerely meant it. Now, one thing about my wedding ring is that it honestly was among my most prized possessions. I took it off maybe five times in all of the years we were together. What it symbolized for me was tangible as well. The ring had an interesting design; there was an inner band to my wedding band that allowed me to "twirl" it with my thumb. I would do this when I was nervous, thinking hard, looking for inspiration, or grounding. When I spun the ring, I could faintly smell the perfume my wife wore on our wedding day (it was powdery, with a touch of flowers). The ring was not expensive, but it represented the resolve and commitment I had regarding out marriage. Thus, it was only fitting that I remove it when my marriage had finally failed.

Hindsight being what it is, I removed my ring originally out of anger and spite. I took it off, and left it on my entertainment center for days. I wanted my wife to see it; I wanted her to understand that I was at the end of our relationship; that she had made a mistake treating me the way that she did. I wanted her to feel hurt when she saw my ring on our shelf, and eventually in my sock drawer. When I moved all my things out of the house, I left my ring on the kitchen table. I refused to take it with me. I wanted her to see that I had abandoned it; that I had abandoned the idea of our marriage. I now realize how wrong and petty I was with that. Divorce is such an ugly, painful process. We end up hurting or trying to hurt each other because of the pain we feel and cause.

So if you are curious when it is appropriate to remove your wedding ring, remember that this decision should not be trite or trivial. The ring represents something you vowed to own, an ideal that you chose to live up to. Removing the ring is a broken promise. It is a resounding "no", and (chances are) something that will at least initially hurt your spouse. It is a rejection. But rather than look at this act as the end of your relationship, chose to view it as the continuation or evolution of your life. Removing your ring is the start of something new; the announcement that in the face of no evidence you are will to change your life. Be empowered by this experience, and do not look upon it with guilt. Think about the following:

  • Your wedding ring is not an obligation; it is a pledge or oath of commitment. If you feel that, for whatever reason, you cannot live up to the ideals that embody your ring and marriage, then remove it. Don't live a lie; it will hurt you more than you will understand in the moment.
  • If you no longer honor or respect your spouse, remove it. You cannot have a relationship without these emotions and values; pretending that you can only perpetuates the painful.
  • If you look at your ring resentfully, remove it. Remember that the ring can be a symbol. Remember that your ring represents your relationship and spouse. If you look at your ring and feel overwhelming resentment then consider taking it off.
  • If the negative aspects of your marriage have begun to define how you feel about yourself, remove it. Over time, we sometimes define ourselves not by who we are, but rather by the circumstances around us. We convince ourselves that we are good people when things go well, and bad people when they do not. This is not reality; its conformity.
For me, my ring originally represented the ideals behind which I chose to marry. It was an iconographic representation of how I wanted to measure my relationship. Over time, though, that ideal changed to one of commitment, then responsibility, then obligation, and eventually debt. In a marriage, you should not feel obligated to your spouse. In life, we have “get to” opportunities; things that we do not have to do, but rather choose to do. Marriage, in my view, is not a “have to”; it’s a “get to”. Obligations indicate a lack of choice; well, marriage is a choice; commitment is a choice. When marriage becomes a “have to” is a sign that problems exist.Now, in divorce, we experience a n array of negative emotions typically associated with loss; anger, frustration, resentment to name a few. When we feel these emotions, we tend to react. Do not let your wedding ring removal be a reaction to something your spouse has done. Let it be a decision or choice that you have made which defines the direction you have chosen in life. Removing your ring should not be the end of your marriage; it should represent the beginning of your new life.

When I removed my ring, I was sad; but I knew it was right. When I look back on the experience and get through the anger I had, the hurt I felt, and the resentment that filled me, part of me immediately acknowledged that it was time. It was right. It was the first step in my evolution. Did I miss it? Yes, of course. Even today, I still find myself looking at my ring finger and seeing if there is a faint tan line / outline left (there isn't). But now, I recognize and understand that I missed the idea behind my relationship; not my spouse or the relationship we had. When I missed the ring, I missed the connected moments we had as equals and vulnerable, giving partners. Well, life moves on. You have to be willing to move with it, or it will leave you behind.