In a past life, I was a suburban middle-class dad, with three kids, a minivan and family sedan, a plump Coach-purse-carrying suburban wife, a roll of paunch forming around my middle, a six-figure mortgage and five-figures of credit card debt. From the outside, it looked like I had it all. But inside, I was dying.
I never quite fit in. I never have all my life, always been the lone omega wolf, but in suburbia, it’s not an option. There are constant force-feedings of interaction with other suburban dads, wives, kids. Neighborhood barbecues, impromptu conversations during the kids’ sports events or during that awkward time between the end of mass and the walk to the car. I watched from across the community pool as small gatherings of families I knew from church chatted away for entire afternoons, seemingly never running out of things to talk about, while I sat quietly in the shade reading a book or magazine. On the few occasions when I would go to sit with them, I would marvel at how quickly they could flit from subject to subject and never quite seem to keep up. But I’d pretend to enjoy myself listening while secretly wishing I was anywhere but there.
My wife and I never quite connected, even though we kept up appearances for 17 years. We were a mismatch on many levels. Different values. Different hopes and dreams for our future lives. Different parenting approaches. And most painfully and frustratingly, different sexual appetites.
I wanted out. But surely, there was no way out. Surely, I would never be able to make it on my own. Surely, if I were to get divorced, I’d end up drunk and suicidal in a squalid little apartment with no money and no friends. And surely, if I were to get divorced, my children would hate me.
Fast forward. I’ve been divorced 7 years. It’s been the happiest 7 years of my life. I’ve discovered things about myself I never knew, established new hobbies, made new friends, taken trips and vacations that I never could have imagined taking if I was still married. I’ve gotten fit and as I approach 50, I’m in the best physical shape of my life (thanks, Tony Horton!) I’ve rebuilt my financial situation and if all goes according to plan (not always feasible I know) I’ll hang ’em up in 2023 and spend the rest of my life selling motorcycles and riding around the country. I’ve moved to a new area of the country (Tulsa, Okla.) where I enjoy the relaxed mellow quality of life, a lower cost of living, a noticeable lack of traffic (something that used to make me crazy when I lived on the east coast), and where people are kind, supportive, and appreciative. Most importantly, I enjoy a great relationship with my daughters. I’ve been able to show them that the most important thing in this life is that you be true to yourself; and that when you are true to yourself, everything else takes care of itself. Perhaps the greatest life lesson a parent could teach a child.
Telling them I was leaving their mom was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. But it was ultimately the most important thing I’ve ever done, in order to pursue my dreams for my life. Today, I’m free. Today, I can look myself in the mirror. Today, I’m able to live life the way I choose, and while some may say that’s selfish, I believe that it is quite the opposite. That in living an honest life, true to self, I am giving the world the greatest gift of all.
A few weekends ago I was at a meeting I attend frequently, a sort of spiritual group for men. We share about our life struggles and our walk with God. We support each other and counsel each other. It’s a neat group of guys, and some of the closest friends I’ve made in my life.
At one point, my friend Sal was distraught. Single his whole life, he yearns for a more traditional life. “When am I going to have the wife, the kids, and the white picket fence in the suburbs!?” he exclaimed.
In other words, he believes in his heart of hearts that a woman, some offspring, and a mortgage is the solution to the emptiness he feels inside.
I pulled him aside at breakfast after the meeting and tried to comfort him. “Sal,” I said, “Let me give you another perspective on the stuff you were sharing about. That white picket fence you want so badly? It’s a prison wall.” He listened attentively as I described my experience in being a middle class dad. How I realized this life was not for me. How blocked I felt on pursuing my dreams. How my now ex-wife milked me for every nickel I earned when we were married, and then after my divorce continued the milking until the last legal option for keeping me tied up in court was exhausted. And how, despite all this, once I got the balls to say, “No mas” and ask for a divorce, my life opened up in ways I never thought possible.
I don’t know if he heard me, but it was a revelation for me. We place a lot of emphasis in this country on the “American Dream” Sal was describing. Marriage and children and home ownership. I’m convinced it’s because once you are married, mortgaged, and breeding, you have no choice but to continue earning. And if you are earning, you are paying taxes. And so the cycle perpetuates itself.
It’s why the tax system is set up to benefit you if you get married, if you have kids, if you buy a home. It’s why it is so difficult to get a divorce, and why men are penalized so heavily for divorcing. (NOTE: my divorce cost me a fortune but it was the best investment I ever made in my life. Once I got back control of my finances, I was free to spend or save or invest the dollars I kept any way I wanted to. As noted above this enabled me to reshape my life and recast my financial future, to my great benefit.)
Today, I share with anyone who will listen what a great experience getting divorced was for me. Once I broke through that prison wall, it led to a renaissance in my life.