Well son, soon you’ll be married. Just seeing those words on the page fills me with a mix of emotions that surpasses my ability to sort them all out. Where do I begin to express everything I want to say? All I want you to know about life, about marriage? About loving someone for the rest of your life? So, what do I say to my son on his wedding day?
Of course, I realize that my best opportunity to convey all these things has already passed. I had my chance to teach you by example. All those years as you grew up, there were days, weeks, and months where I could demonstrate in real life how to be a good spouse; a good parent. And I did. I did my best. Not every day was a success, obviously. Okay, some days were total disasters.
But here we are now. And I just feel like there are some things that still need to be said from a parent to a child; well, from me to you, specifically. So, here goes. (Forgive me if you’ve heard some of these things before. Surely by now you’re used to me repeating myself.)
Think More of Her, and Less of Yourself
When confrontations occur, and they will, big egos can spell disaster for a marriage. This is something I’ve learned from personal experience. If you let your ego take over, it will eat away at your marriage from the inside out. Big egos make the owner of the ego push their side of an issue during an argument when, in fact, they should just let go. A big ego can make one ignore the signs that really hurt their partner. Big egos make people do really stupid things like deny that they made a mistake, or deny them the ability to say they’re sorry. This isn’t to say you need to think less of yourself. Not at all. But humility is a fine attribute that will give you the opportunity to build a stronger marriage.
Little Things Really Matter
Small, loving gestures are meaningful to your partner. And, so are small, irritating habits. It’s important not to overlook the little things in a marriage. Things like not drinking out of the milk jug if it really bugs your wife. Things like bringing home a bouquet of flowers “just because.” Things like putting the car keys in the same place every night, and turning the lights off in the room when you leave. The small, loving gestures are a gentle reminder to your wife that you truly love her. But the small, irritating habits can also make her think you really don’t care. The truth is, they both have meaning, and they both matter.
The Laundry Can Wait
As your marriage grows, try not to get bogged down in the day-to-day routine of life. It’s easy to get caught up in domestic chores and daily tasks that rob you both of the joys of marriage. Yes, the garbage has to be taken out, the laundry has to be done and dishes have to be washed. But, if you’re not careful, these chores can take over your whole lives. This is especially hard when you own a home. Now you have this big “thing” you have to take care of. Leaves to rake, garden hoses to untangle, a new furnace install. Let me tell you something. As much as you might enjoy being a homeowner, over the years these things get boring with a capital B. And, if you’re not careful, you can project that boredom onto your spouse. You grow to mistakenly think she’s the one who’s boring. In reality, she’s probably just as bored as you are.
I don’t know what the answer is to this one. The answer won’t be the same for everyone. Maybe you won’t want to even own a house. Lots of people these days prefer to live in a condo just so they can avoid yard work. Or maybe you’ll be able to afford to pay someone else to take care of some things. Who knows what life will bring you? All I know is, you shouldn’t let domestic chores rob you of the real joys in life. The laundry can wait.
What Do I Say To My Son – Be Consistent
Please do your best to keep your promises. If you tell your wife you’ll pick her up at 2:15, be there at 2:10. Being true to your word is so important in a marriage. It builds trust. It instills a sense of security in the marriage. Imagine if you have a marriage when if you don’t show up, your wife knows without a doubt that something is wrong. People might say to her, “Oh, he probably forgot. You know how men are.” But your wife will say, “Not my husband. If he says he’ll do something he does it. Something must have happened.” Be that guy. Be true to your word. Be dependable. Show up. Be on time. And, show her you care, about her.
Realize Your Own Vulnerabilities
Lots of people will disagree with what I’m about to say. I don’t care. (This is something else you’ll learn when you get older. You care less and less what others think.) You have to realize your own vulnerabilities. Be honest with yourself. You’re a man. Other women will be attracted to you, married or not. You’ll still be attracted to women, even after you get married. (Surprise! You’re human and you’re not yet dead.)
Don’t put yourself in situations where your natural vulnerabilities may cause you to do something stupid. So, here’s what I suggest. Don’t have women friends outside your marriage. It just doesn’t work. Maybe it does work in a small number of cases. But is it worth the risk? Is it worth hurting your spouse when it makes her uncomfortable that you have a standing tennis date with your woman “friend”? Trust me when I say you’re just putting yourself in a tempting situation when you engage in a friendship with a woman outside of your marriage. Maybe it doesn’t seem fair, or maybe you’ll say that your spouse shouldn’t be so jealous. Nevertheless, it’s not good for your marriage.
Say Something. Anything.
You don’t need to be a chatterbox to be a good husband. But engaging in conversation and small talk, anything, just a little something helps tremendously, even when you just don’t feel like talking. In fact, if you cannot engage, then just say, “I don’t feel like talking right now.” That works. But the worst thing you can do, especially in an argument, is to clam up. THAT is infuriating. Try to say something that will give you a little time to think, at least for now. Anything will work. “Can we please talk about this later? I need some quiet time to think.” Or, “I’m busy right now but this is important to me. Can we talk over dinner?” And really, talking later is often better. It allows both of you to calm down, take a break. It prevents you both from saying something you’ll regret later. But, say something; just don’t say nothing.
Stop. You know what I mean. Just a little pat on the shoulder as you’re walking by. A touch to her hair. Holding hands on the couch. These tiny little gestures of physical affection are very meaningful and important to your wife. They’re like an unspoken, “I love you.”
Ask for Help
This might be the piece of advice that will be hardest for you to swallow. Things won’t always be rosy. There will be times when you need help. Don’t be shy about asking for it. You don’t have to be the big, strong, tough guy. You have lots of supportive people who love you and want to help. When things get overwhelming, ask for help. If you hit a rocky patch in your marriage, ask about counseling. Ask your wife to help you understand the problems. When you ask for help, miracles can happen. People are there for you. I’m there for you, too.
What Do I Say To My Son
Honest, it is difficult to know what I should say to my son on his wedding day. Today you will live through a life altering event and there are no right or wrong words for me to say. What do I say to my son? In guess, the last pearl of wisdom I want to bestow on you son is – be humble. Be yourself but be gentle. Like most men, you’re a strong man with strong opinions and strong attitudes. And, in gentleness there is strength. In dealing with your wife, gentleness will reap its own rewards in love and understanding. And you will be the recipient of those rewards if you just treat your wife with love and respect.
God Bless you and may you shower your wife with the love that’s deep in your heart on this momentous day.
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Yeah, so your wife walked out on you. Or told you to get out, one of the two. Hey, I know the feeling. I’ve been there. One day my wife of thirteen years up and left, leaving myself and our children hanging out to dry. It wasn’t like the signs…
For you, my incredibly amazing, magnificent and beautiful daughter on her graduation from High School, I give this ‘Letter to My Daughter on Her Graduation.’ It was hard to write this then, and still hard to read today. Several years have passed since I first wrote this to you, and as I read it again, I’m struck by how true it still is! It will still be valid in another couple of years, and even more beyond that. You continue to amaze me daily and I’m struck so often by how you “have it!”
Hi. This is your father. Many things below I’ve said to you in person. But I believe important things are best backed up with the written word. Most of this letter is a bunch of stuff you may, or may not, decide is useful. I know when I was graduating high school I didn’t give my father’s advice much thought. But I promise you, if he had written it down for me, I guarantee I would find it valuable today. Hopefully you’ll find a few nuggets buried in this letter to my daughter now and later.
You’ll excuse me for overstepping my boundaries if you feel I have in writing it down. Since I can’t buy you a car for graduation or fly you around the world as a present when you turn 18 soon (both things I’d love to do, but alas, it ain’t gonna happen), what I can do is this. I can write a letter to my daughter. Sure, I can write you a letter any time, but I’ve decided to pour out what I consider to be the real morsels of truth in life. I’ve found these over the years, with most coming from pain and wrong choices. You’ll make those too, but maybe this letter will help you avoid the ones I made so you can go make your own, less painful ones.
To My Daughter
So… here’s the most important stuff (read this next paragraph if nothing else, please):
In all the time you have been on this planet, I have loved you more than words will ever express. You are my daughter, and I am amazed by you. Always and forever. I wish I had more to offer you than simply my pride and love, though I hope they will suffice in this moment. I’m truly in awe at what a smart, sweet, kind, caring and optimistic young woman you have become. You are quite simply the best thing that ever happened to me, and I’m really glad you’re here. I love you. Looking good, kiddo!
Now, on to the graduation address…
That I am sitting here writing to you on the eve of your high school graduation and a month before your official status as a young adult has me simply flabbergasted. I could not possibly have prepared for this day, and yet here it is. What I find more odd is how vivid my memories are of my own graduation and then later your birth. I can still see you as you were before school began for you, when the world is full of wonder. And now you are about to set out on the next chapter. I can’t describe the joy and sadness that swirl in my emotions.
You are a young lady now, hardly the small child of my memories. I haven’t the foggiest notion of how to really talk to you, though it is absolutely my honor, privilege and duty to keep trying, for as long as I live.
Truth told, I’ve never considered myself a very good father, and in many ways I’ve been simply lousy. I’m sorry is about all I can really offer. The older you get, the older I get, the more likely the struggles of my adult life will become things you know more about, and in so doing, will likely shift some of the distance between us, though it will never excuse the places where I failed you. For this, all I can do is say I’m sorry and ask for your forgiveness.
Of course, there are also many little things that I have had a part of along the way that have certainly helped shape the fine young woman you are today. I’d like to think that some of the adventures, people and places I have shown you had an impact, and that my family has had some positive growth for you as well.
Your mother and I made a deal a long, long time ago that no matter what happened, we would always do our best to teach you about the world as best we could without disparaging the other. I think it served you well. I hope it did. It wasn’t easy, for either of us.
Somehow, I missed the part where you stopped being a little girl and started becoming a young adult, and it definitely happened along the way. The young woman I see before me is really an amazing person, and I want to do everything in my power to help ensure she stays that way.
So, I’ve been watching you for awhile now, and I’d like to offer some insight into the world you are about to enter. There are things your father still knows that you do not. There are some pieces of advice you’re unlikely to hear from anyone else, and some of them may piss you off a bit, but if I don’t tell you, no one else will, and forewarned is forearmed.
Know that first and foremost, what I want for you is a joyous and happy life filled with love, friendships, adventures, learning and growing. I also know that there are going to be tough days. I hope you’ll count on me as a voice of reason and wisdom as you grow into adulthood.
Know also that no matter what anyone ever says, you are perfect just exactly as you are. You’re never going to be too short, too fat, too dark, too weak, too dumb, or anything else that people may come along and tell you that you are. Surround yourself with people who remind you of how awesome you are, and avoid the ones that don’t. The only person you need permission from, from now on, is you.
I hesitate to say this part, and I think it is necessary. The world is sometimes cruel and evil people really are out there. You have been incredibly blessed so far that perhaps the worst hardship you have endured is your father’s lack of presence. I’m not aware that you have broken any bones, required surgery or had any close friends die on you or really fuck their lives up horribly while you had to watch. While I truly don’t know what personal struggles you have overcome (though I do know that you have a perseverance about you that is admirable, and that simply learning itself has been a life long challenge for you, and may well continue to be), what I do know is that you really have lived a fairly sheltered life compared to what many children in this world endure. There are a great many “bad” places on this planet, and I hope you’ll steer well away from them, or enter only safely with a good guide. I mean this as much about real, physical places and people as I do about bad decisions and poor judgment, your father being somewhat of an expert on bad decisions and poor judgment.
Your conservative father is deeply concerned that you may not give enough credence to the idea that capable as you are, you are also diminutive, attractive and generally optimistic. While these are cherished things, they are also traits a bad person will try to capitalize on. I don’t want you to be afraid of the world in any sense, and I do want you to be prepared.
My second really important point I want to get through to you is this: There is a huge, amazing world out there, too. Go see it.
You aren’t in a hurry, of course, and I don’t want to see you wasting a minute of your life longer than you have to here. There is an entire planet out there, and you should strive to see as much of it as you can. My largest regret in life is that I didn’t take advantage of the opportunities presented to me to travel in my youth. I got scared and stayed put. Don’t let your fear of the unknown keep you from travelling abroad or moving out of state for college.
This point you seem to grasp really well, but I want to say it anyway: Do what makes you happy! Find your passions and do them! They are absolutely the most important real life work you have to do. When you are passionate, you energize others. When you are working with purpose, you show the way. Trust the little voice in your head when it tells you that you should make art, or plant a garden or help someone. It’s a good voice. Too many ignore it, and after some time, they lose it. I can’t imagine how different and wonderful the world might be if more people listened to that good side just every now and then. Be unique and be that one that does!
Lastly for now, (since I expect to write you again at 21 and offer you a few more pieces of wisdom that you would currently call “lecturing”), I want to remind you again of something that is becoming more and more relevant as you mature.
You are a creative person. Unquestionably. So is your dad.
So, please, help me help you.
I don’t know enough about your inside life to really know what to offer, though I am quite certain that I have some answers for you, and I don’t want to pretend I know which ones are relevant. I just hope you’ll still consider asking me when you feel you have a tough one. This old man might know some things. My life hasn’t been easy. I haven’t followed the cookie-cutter path. I’m certainly not perfect. That’s where I can help. If there is one guarantee in this life it is that you will make mistakes and you will fail at something, and actually several things. I know I have. Dealing with it is extremely tough. I can speak to you as one that’s fought through many tough times, and continues to do so. Don’t seek advice from those that just don’t know.
My dearest daughter, all I really want you to know is that you are loved and supported by many.
I am so proud of you.
With Much Love,
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Some may find the title confusing. If you are one about to set up a blended family, you may not understand what I mean by blended family chaos when you are planning your future. After all, the kids have been hanging out and playing nicely up until this point. Your story will be different. I’m here to tell you, if you are looking for a key piece of divorce advice for men, read this whole thing! Odds are you will one day attempt this very thing.
Anyone out there living the “joy” of a blended family today? Do you find it as shown on television? The world is never as portrayed on television. The best divorce advice for men regarding blended family chaos does NOT come from the Brady Bunch! Here a man with three boys marries the woman with three girls and they all get along wonderfully, and resolve minor conflicts in less than 30 minutes. The real world laughs at this absurdity!
Several years ago, I attended a wedding that set the stage for blended family chaos. The bride’s parents had divorced when “Holly” was in elementary school. Her mother remarried shortly thereafter, and the stepfather, “Tim,” was instrumental in Holly’s life. So important that, when it was time to plan the wedding, there was no question that Tim would walk her down the aisle.
But at the wedding reception when the emcee announced the father-daughter dance, both Holly’s biological father and her stepfather walked onto the dance floor. A shouting match ensued, and it was uncomfortable for everyone. Especially the bride.
How awful do you think this made the daughter and bride feel? It’s easy for us to analyze this from the comfort of our seats and recognize the behavior was pathetic. But when you are the one in the heat of the moment, emotions are flared up, you see your ex happy with another and old feelings kick in, and you potentially have some alcohol giving you a boost, your personal decisions may not be the best. Weddings are hard enough anyway. Non-blended families have their own stresses at the wedding as discussed here. Throw in the old wounds of divorce and you have to be ready to not ruin the event for your kids.
Not All Stepparents are Evil
What did we learn from this awkward scenario? Well, the obvious lesson — anticipate these moments when planning the wedding and reception, and communicate the decisions ahead of time. But what about the subtle lesson? Not all stepparents are evil. Some even have the ability to love beyond their own progeny. Step-relationships do not have to result in blended family chaos.
Let’s take a look at a couple of scenarios you might be able to visualize.
Scenario #1: Your ex remarries, and her new husband has kids of his own. The newlyweds are able to sync their custody/visitation dates together so that they either have all their respective kids, or none. When your kids spend time with you, all they do is complain about their evil stepfather and his obnoxious children. What words of wisdom do you pass along to your own kids about their new blended family?
Scenario #2: You remarry, and your new wife has kids of her own. She has primary custody of her children, and their father is pretty much out of the picture. So now you’re a stepdad, essentially raising and supporting somebody else’s kids. How do you navigate this newly blended family without affecting your relationship with your wife?
Could you be reading about anyone you know?
Exploring the New Family Dynamic
Bringing up the role of a future stepparent isn’t generally discussed during divorce mediation. But subsequent marriages and blended families may eventually happen. This could be the perfect storm, or it could be a perfect opportunity to revisit your divorce mediator, only this time to talk about issues within the new dynamic. Sometimes, it’s even a good idea to bring along the entire blended family.
In my mediation practice, I have achieved success in helping families avoid Blended Family Chaos.
Imagine you, your new spouse, and your respective children all sitting in a conference room. The kids are spinning around in their chairs, your wife is clutching her Starbucks cup with both hands, and you are nervously tapping the end of your pencil against the table top. I walk in with a smile on my face, and immediately address the kids; writing down their names and ages.
This seemingly simple tactic of writing down the name of each kid and his/her age is my way of showing that the kids are as important in this process as the adults. Next, I’ll explain the ground rules – that I’m here to listen and to make sure each person has an equal opportunity to talk, uninterrupted, with the goal of achieving some understanding.
I’m not saying this produces instant results. Kids need to feel comfortable with their counselor to even begin to open up. Kids with other mental health challenges present unique challenges. However, all kids need time to get comfortable before the real therapy begins. For you parents this means be patient. Your kids aren’t going to respond right away, that’s the one guarantee.
Not too long ago, in my very own conference room, I empowered a 10-year-old girl to express her concern about sharing a bedroom with her eight-year-old stepsister. Everybody listened to understand her fears and concerns, and then both sisters created a code of conduct about their stuff. The entire family talked about acceptable behavior and also about consequences. I took notes, and then prepared a written agreement between the two girls. They solemnly signed it as though they were entering into a contract to rent an apartment. The impact was unmistakable. And the parents took it very seriously.
Of course, there are different issues when it comes to teenagers. If the stepparent’s teens are allowed unlimited use of cell phones, computers, and automobiles, but the biological parent’s teens are not, whose rules govern? This is another opportunity for a neutral third party to help the entire family brainstorm about what is reasonable, fair, and enforceable. Once decided, the Mediator may draw up a written agreement for the entire family to sign, outlining the new rules. Naturally, after the agreement is has been signed, it’s binding, and you and your spouse must also agree to the terms, including enforcement of the consequences.
When Kids Hate the New Partner
So what happens if your new partner’s kids take an instant dislike to YOU? (Or vice-versa?)
I recently had the opportunity to work with a blended family where the stepmother’s dislike of her new husband’s 14-year-old daughter wreaked havoc on their marriage, and she was ready to file for divorce. The teenager had been in therapy, but it obviously was having no material effect on the family dynamic. The husband chose not to play the adult card with his belligerent daughter, and opted instead to seek out the help of a family mediator. Within the first 20 minutes, it was obvious that the daughter was able to open up more to me than she had in several therapy sessions. Why? Because I’m a mediator, not a therapist. Mediators are trained to listen and ask questions without judgment. In this case, the daughter desperately wanted her biological parents to reconcile. We all heard her say the words, and then I gently asked her what would happen if the reconciliation was impossible. She literally took a deep breath, sat up straighter, and began to talk about her future.
Helping people in conflict move forward is what Mediators are trained to do.
Helping people in conflict move forward is what Mediators are trained to do. Families, especially those with teenagers, seem to find something less threatening about choosing mediation over family therapy. And let’s not forget that it’s likely way less expensive.
Blended family mediations have tremendous success because all of the family members have an equal voice. It’s no surprise that many second (or subsequent) marriages fail because of the chaos caused by conflict about the kids and stepchildren.
Critical Steps for Avoiding Mixed Family Chaos
So, to avoid Blended Family Chaos, I urge you to consider these eight steps:
- Don’t show favoritism.Whether you’re obviously favoring your own children over your stepkids, or you’re over-compensating by favoring your stepchildren over your own, the kids will call you on it. And they’ll be right to point it out to you.
- Don’t be played.Your kids know just how to get to you, whether it’s by dishing out some guilt, or by acting out, or by other devious methods to “punish” you for divorcing their mom and marrying their Wicked Stepmother. Recognize it and avoid it like the plague.
- Be consistent.When you and your spouse establish new ground rules, whether with the help of a family mediator or not, make sure those rules are enforced equally and without exception. Your entire family will benefit if you and your spouse put up a united front.
- Stand by what’s important.You and your new spouse will not always agree. Often the stronger personality will win on many rules and standards for the blended home. As dads, we sometimes seek the compromise and by doing so, can force our kids into a setting that is drastically different for them. Know your key stances on home environment and don’t give in when setting the baseline with the new spouse just to get it moving.
- Compliment each kid.Find something to praise each child about frequently. I’m absolutely not suggesting that you hand out participation trophies simply for being a member of the family. Rather, I’m encouraging you to find something noteworthy and express it to each child, preferably in front of everybody. Dinner table compliments are an easy habit to establish and you’ll not only be boosting their self-esteem, but also your own ratings.
- Nurture your marriage.I saved this one for last because in my opinion, it’s the most important. Have regular date nights with your spouse. Remind yourselves (and each other) why you’re together in the first place, and why you’ve committed yourselves to raising this blended family in the best way possible.
- Flexible holidays. When you blend a family, you increase the number of families that have to work together. Your new step-kids have another parent, and your kids have another. At holiday time, the different groups of kids will be heading in different directions. Just remember to stay flexible. Your kids are the ones really feeling the stress of going between households. Do your best to make their time at your home low-stress.
- Go almost all-in. You’ve got to be ready to push all the chips in from the start and fully commit to the new family for any hope of making it work. However, just like Vegas, keep a chip or two in your pocket for cab money, or Uber for the younger crowd. Never forget who the #1 advocate for your children is (hint: it’s you)! If you’ve gone the full road and applied your soul to making it work, but your partner has not or it is just tearing your kids apart, you may need to use that saved chip to pack it up. Sad fact, but they come first. Don’t let them know this, or they’ll do everything to get you to depart. But you’ll know when.
Don’t Give Up On Your Blended Family
Okay, now what? You say you’ve made the effort to avoid Blended Family Chaos by following the five steps above, but your relationship with your stepchildren is still causing stress in the family, and in your marriage? Or, what if your blended family needs a tune-up because the kids are older and the issues have changed accordingly?
Find a family mediator in your community and schedule an appointment. Be proactive and you won’t have to deal with Blended Family Chaos.
Nancy Gabriel is the principal and managing partner of Mediation Around The Table, LLC., a Las Vegas-based private mediation company. Ms. Gabriel is a founding director of Nevada Mediation Group, a non-profit corporation focusing on the education and training of mediators, a volunteer for the Neighborhood Justice Center of Clark County, Nevada, a member of the divorce panel for MWI, a Boston, Massachusetts firm specializing in alternative dispute resolutions, and a volunteer at Three Square Food Bank. She is a graduate of UCLA, an avid gourmet cook and NFL fan. She may be contacted through the firm website at www.MediationAroundTheTable.com
Image courtesy of stockunlimited.com
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