Let me start by saying we have perfect kids. Eli, our four-year-old completely gets “parental personal time”; he never talks back and is engaged in figuring out how to make Laurie and my lives better. Ervin, our two-year-old is introverted, spends time reading self-help books and loves his brother so much, they never quarrel. Personally, I have never stepped on a single toy in the dark, only to scream curse at “Paw Patrol.” If you don’t know who “Paw Patrol” is, think crack cocaine for children. Of course, that is the world I would LOVE to live in; however, I live in this little town called reality. Reality is littered with toys on the floor in the middle of the night, filled with noise at all times, and smothered in the joy of being the father of two incredible boys and a wife that is filled with wisdom beyond her years (although as a husband, I tend to discredit her perspective way too much).
To explain how @GetConnectDAD came about, I have to take you back a few years. I am the father of three kids: my daughter of 21 years, Eli(4) and Ervin(2), both adopted domestically. More on that later. A few years ago, 2007 to be exact, after having joint physical custody of my daughter since she was 3, the great state of Nebraska decided it would be best to move my daughter away from her entire extended family to grow up with her Mom and her new husband. The court battle was long and contrary to my wife’s strategy of a ‘scorched earth’ court case, I decided that I would take the high road and not focus on the portions of my ex-wife’s life that I disagreed with. I didn’t want my daughter to look back ten years after she graduates and read a transcript where I played dirty. It just didn’t feel right. In hindsight, I have a different perspective; however, maybe another night I will share that with you. After a very painful trial, the judge awarded custody to my ex-wife with the caveat that ‘you are both great parents; however, she is a girl’ and I lost. (Thank you sexist court system.)
Parent Alienation And My Depression
I spent the next five years struggling with severe to moderate depression, specifically trying to come to grips with the loss of my one and only ‘little girl.’ I didn’t know what it was called until years later. Only after spending a significant number of months being a poor husband to my wife did I discover parent alienation and its impact on hundreds of thousands of moms and dads throughout the world. I had done all of the right things I thought: dance lessons, horse riding lessons, loved her unconditionally, learned to do her hair, etc. All of that ultimately paid off (in a small way) when the court ordered my ex-wife to bring her home every three-day weekend as well as every first weekend of the month. I also got to spend summers with her, which were just awesome. This award from the judge was quite the big deal. She had moved four hours away and the judge mandated she drive across the state to ‘maintain the good relationship’ with her dad.
So, two years pass with relatively low drama. My ex-wife was never on time; however, it was a four-hour drive and by leaving right after school, it meant she had to literally drive straight to my place to comply with the judge’s order. I never took exception with her arrival until the weekend that she just didn’t show up.
“Little did I know that I was about to experience what has been the most painful season of my life as a father.”
I hope you can not imagine the pain I felt when I tried to reach them on the phone, called her husband, texted, smoke-signaled; all in an attempt to make sure she was okay. For all I knew she was on the side of the road somewhere dead. Needless to say, I didn’t sleep that evening or the next until finally the phone was answered and the response I got was ‘she didn’t want to come to Omaha, so we didn’t.’ Dumbfounded, I asked why I didn’t get a simple phone call or text to let me know she was okay. Crickets. Little did I know I was about to experience what has been the most painful season of life as a father.
Little did I know that I was about to experience what has been the most painful season of my life as a father.
Fast forward a few years. I have only seen and talked to my daughter one time (her graduation) in the past five years. I have tried. I texted, I Facebooked (she unfriended me), I called, I called her mother, I called her boyfriend, I drove to the city where she lives (they played hide the daughter for two days), I begged, I pleaded, and I cried. You name it. I tried it. Nothing worked.
Legally, she was 15 and could make up her own mind. I get that. 15 is horrible age. Hanging out with your dad is not fun I guess. Personally, I think I am a blast to hang around with; however, let’s assume that I am a dork and she didn’t want to hang around me anymore. I get that. The challenging part is she literally un-familied my entire family. Nothing. Notta. Zip.
So, if you have made it this far, you are thinking….”boy, this guy’s life has sucked”, or “I must find out what happens, there has to be a happy ending!” Why on earth would he share this with everyone?
During the short period of time where the judge said ‘you are a great dad; however, she is a girl’ and the time my daughter had to leave to move, in the middle of a fit of despair, I thought back at what I would have done differently as a father in the face of a court fight for custody. The one thing I didn’t do enough of while I was just being a parent was document what I was doing to engage with her more. The court focused a great deal on who took her to the doctor and because I didn’t have any documentation of the trips that I took, I felt like I got caught flat-footed when asked, ‘if you are the primary caregiver, why haven’t you taken her to the doctor?’
So, sitting down, trying to figure out how I could help other fathers, I said ‘I am going to write an app called ConnectDAD’ that will allow fathers to document in chronological order, what they have done with their kids. JUST in case they have to produce a timeline of what happened, they could produce a good summary for the court. Now, I am NOT taking credit for Facebook, it was sort of already a thing at this time; however, I started down the path of developing a facebook app that allowed a father to ‘tag’ specific items to create a summary of their engagement with their children. My daughter loved it and the concept of ConnectDAD was born.
Fast forward a few more years, life happened, depression hit me super hard, and I found myself working too much, focusing on the wrong things, building a business, ignoring my wife. My state of mind was not conducive to being a good husband. I admit I still struggle with bouts of depression when I think about how much I miss my daughter who is now a young lady.
I am hopeful that God has put me through this misadventure with my prodigal daughter for a reason. Maybe it is to share my story so other fathers (and mothers) can relate and understand that there is life after such a great loss. Maybe it is to force me to put my ALL into raising two great little men. Maybe it is to remind me that out of great suffering comes great joy. Who knows. I am convinced that I don’t know the answers. I am not supposed to know the answers. I must trust that God has a plan laid out for me, my family and I just need to trust him unconditionally. If it were just that easy.
The Good News
So, today I have two incredible adopted boys (Read More about our adoption journey here!). One boy has a completely open adoption (and we love his birth family) and one boy has a semi-open adoption (we send letters in hopes his mother gets them). They are curious, playful, loud, impatient, boisterous and best of all, ours. They are boys. Enough said.
I was flying a few weeks ago to another location to make another dollar and like a freight train, I was hit with a very tough reality. How much time do I spend OUTSIDE of my regular job, worrying, preparing, reading, thinking, planning my career? What would happen if I spent that time (even half of it) focused on being a better father? I read voraciously, but every book focused on leadership, sales engineering, technology, etc. NOTHING about being a better father. Duh, right? So, I am on a journey. A journey to honor my daughter and the relationship we had and I hope to have with her again; a journey to become the best dad God will let me be to my boys; and a husband that my wife admires and looks up to (or over at for those of you who think I mean that in some sort of power struggle way).
I have been compiling a list of characteristics that I want my boys to have and will be writing on each of the 52 topics over the next 52 weeks. I welcome you on this journey and pray for your active engagement with your kids. If you have time to comment, like, share, or smoke-message this journey to your friends a father in need, your son who is a new father, please do. I have a few fathers who have expressed interest in participating in this written journey with me and I hope we all grow from challenging our thinking, engaging in different, deeper ways, and having honest conversations about the struggles we face being a dad in today’s world.
Please feel free to reach out to me with your story to share. I want to know how men and women who have been impacted by their father(figure) and impress upon the rest of us dads, these things are good, do them!
God Bless you and your family.
Julian Caldwell @GetConnectDAD