How to Keep It Together When Divorce Blindsides You

Off to War, Only to Return to a Dreaded Divorce Proceeding

The day my life changed started out like any other. Being married and in the military, the trip I faced felt like countless trips before. The same routine played out for over a decade. I deployed, was scheduled for random night flights, and engaged in many short trips; all while maintaining the normal day job when not on the road. None of this interfered with attending sports practice and field trips with the kids.

For a few years, my job involved traveling to so many different locations that I’d occasionally wake up at night wondering where I was. But this move and this job would be different.

I was heading up the team, which meant I would finally be in control of my schedule.

My family and I had just moved back into a house we had lived in before, in a town from about five years prior, and I was leaving for a few weeks to train and qualify in a new aircraft. The kids were starting school and the future seemed brighter than ever.

Divorce Blindsides You In the Worst Way

Fast forward to a few weeks later, I was preparing for my final evaluation flight so I could come home when…I got the call.

Those who have been there know what I mean by “the call.” Evidently the marriage had been wrong from the beginning, at least from her perspective, and she wanted a divorce. I sat in my hotel room, speechless, the wind completely knocked out of me, my world spinning out of control. I was in shock; this is not how I had envisioned the future. I always knew the marriage my wife and I shared was going to go the distance. We were best friends and we never fought. Turns out I could not have been more wrong.

Evidently, the marriage had been wrong from the beginning, at least from her perspective, and she wanted a divorce. I sat in my hotel room, speechless, the wind completely knocked out of me, my world spinning out of control. I was in shock; this is not how I had envisioned the future. I always knew the marriage my wife and I shared was going to go the distance. We were best friends, and we never fought. Turns out I could not have been more wrong.

Divorce Blindsides Everyone, and I Was Far from Alone

I learned later that my story was far from unique. I quickly realized how common it was for divorce to blindside a man who thought his marriage was rock solid. When I called my old commanding officer—who I knew was traveling down a similar path with his wife of over 25 years—his story was nearly identical to mine.

Shortly after talking with him, I went to see the man whose job I was assuming. I started to tell him that I had some personal issues at home to work through for a few days when he got up and shut the door. He returned to his seat and his normally stern face changed. His eyes swelling and red. He appeared to gain a heavy burden in a matter of seconds.

I learned that my confession had taken him back seven years to the heart-breaking goodbye he bid his daughters as they moved across the country with their mom. He recalled the gut wrenching agony he faced recently when, while visiting them, he heard them call another man ‘Dad.’

Sharing my story with others, I heard more of the same.

Statistics today show that a large majority of divorces are initiated by women. The size of the club I was joining, kicking and screaming, reflected the reality of most men facing divorce.

Fighting for My Kids

The nightmare intensified for me several weeks later when I met with an attorney to discuss my options. She told me—rather bluntly—that, as a working dad versus a stay-at-home mom, I was headed to visitation every other weekend. Should the military move me out of the area, she could move with the kids anywhere she wanted and I would see them when I could and a few weeks in the summer.

I left livid, emotions bubbling inside like hot lava threatening to overflow. Not only did it only take one person to end a marriage, but she could also take the kids away! Sure I was a working father, but that did not mean I did not make time for my family or that my relationship with my children was of any less value than their relationship with their mother.

I quickly decided I would fight to be more of a presence in my children’s lives after the divorce; in stark contrast to what my lawyer told me to expect.

My divorce transitioned through many stages, turning from a friendly desire to work out the details together into multi-state legal combat after the kids were taken halfway across the country by their mother. It spanned nearly two years from the initial phone call until the official divorce settlement. In the end, we came to an agreement and today I enjoy much more time with my children than the first lawyer advised me to accept in that initial meeting.

SoloFathers book cover by TJ CarverMy Solo Fathers Book Series Was Born from This

So much of my divorce was on-the-job training. I searched the web, but the articles and books I found seemed slanted towards a women’s perspective. The lessons I learned—not only from my divorce but also from the many dads who had gone before me that helped me along the way—fueled my inspiration to reach out to help others facing the same situation.

That first night in the hotel, after the phone call, I felt more alone than ever before. I was flying solo. It was only through connecting with many other solo fathers out there that I learned we were all flying a similar path. I learned an abundance of lessons from my successes and failures.

There are many details covered in my books and blog—but all the elements can be boiled down into three main steps for men to follow to navigate the storms of divorce with the best possible outcome:

1. Take care of yourself.

Divorce is second from the top of life’s greatest stresses, behind the death of a spouse.

No matter how you enter the pattern, you will be tested to your limits. Without a doubt, you have to see to your kids’ needs and your legal case, but you fail both if you aren’t at your best.

Never in your life will so much be riding on your performance. You must take care of your health—through exercise, diet, and rest—while also maintaining your mental focus on areas you can control and avoid toxic mental spirals into frustration, regret, and rumination you can’t control.

Above all, stay focused on positive thinking.

2. Take care of your kids.

They need you, a strong you. Divorce will rock their foundation. You can’t control how they will react, but you can be there for them when they need you.

Despite how you feel about their mom, they need her too. In my case, I had their mom over a legal barrel after she absconded with them across the country. Full custody was mine for the taking. But the kids needed their mom. I knew them, and I knew their relationship with both of us. They needed both their parents.

So, despite pressure from attorneys, family, and friends; I chose the custody arrangement that fit their best interests. You and only you know your children and what they need. It will take deep soul-searching, but you can determine what the best situation is for them and never lose focus of that goal.

3. Take care of your case.

Odds are you will need legal help to get through your divorce. Most divorces are carried out through the legal system, but very few men actually ride the whole process out.

There are many pitfalls early on—like moving out—that can cause irreparable damage to your case. No matter how strongly you believe in your desired outcome being the best for your family, if you haven’t attended to the details of your case, you may not get to your solution.

The legal system is slow, so the best advice I can give when it comes to taking care of your case is to be slow as well—meaning methodical. You don’t have to agree to anything right away. Listen, get informed, and take time to think things through before you make any decisions or commitments. The arrangements being worked out now will be binding and guide your future relationship with your kids for years to come, so be dedicated to the process and clear about what you want.

I firmly believe that, while all our divorce stories are unique, they also share many common elements. As dads and men, we naturally draw inwards, cowboy up, and work alone to solve our problems. My goal is to help dads break out of that tendency.

In flying, we depend on our peers to discuss, grade, and improve our skills constantly. We can do that as solo fathers too; we can work together as a community to build us all up. I am forever in debted to the dads that advised and helped me. It’s through sites like this that we must support each other so the next guy to get that phone call will start out a little more informed, knowing he is not alone.

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