Thursday, September 27, 2012

...And There's Gonna Be Trouble

Actually, I'm not anticipating any trouble, but my boyfriend's back and that song has been in my head since I went to pick him up from the airport last night. (Hey na, hey na.) Clark was out of town for a few days, spending time with his family. I, meanwhile, had a nice few days alone. Not completely alone--I went out with friends on Saturday and spent time with my kids at least a few hours each day--but alone enough for me to get the "me" time I need and to refocus on who I am apart from Clark. I enjoyed my time alone. And I was also happy to have Clark back home last night. I think this is a good thing.

Shortly before I met Clark, I read The New Codependency by Melanie Beattie. While reading the book, I had a little epiphany and realized that I have a very codependent personality. I looked back on my life up to that point and the various relationships I've had--not only romantic relationships but also with family and friends--and realized that I've spent most of my life trying to be what other people need, regardless of my own needs. I've had several relationships where I felt it was my job to fix someone else, where it was my responsibility to make the other person happy. Meanwhile, my own happiness wasn't even on my radar.

So as I started dating Clark, I was very conscious of this fact. One of the first conversations we had was about codependency and what a healthy relationship should look like. Over the past several months I've made a deliberate effort not to fall into old people-pleasing habits and to make my own needs and happiness a priority. It's been a struggle, because this means I need to express opinions, which means I need to have opinions in the first place. Which sometimes leads to conflict, which is sort of terrifying. It's difficult to find the balance between being needy and insecure on the one hand, and selfish and inconsiderate on the other. I think I've erred on both sides of that line on different occasions.

At least I haven't let him keep me in a glass bubble.

So it was really good for me to have a few days for myself, to find my bearings again. I started re-reading I Need Your Love - Is That True? by Byron Katie, which is a great book about questioning the thoughts that lead us to spend our lives trying to impress others. It's a good reminder that we are happiest and most able to form meaningful relationships when we drop pretenses and live completely honestly with ourselves and with the people we love.

Clark got in late last night and we both needed to work this morning, so we really didn't spend a lot of time together. He held my hand on the way home from the airport, and we chatted. I enjoyed hearing about the fun time he'd had with his family, and I appreciated the little signs of affection he showed. There have been times in the past when I felt like I needed him to show me how much he loves me, like no matter how much he did, it wasn't enough. Last night, by contrast, I felt happily confident in myself, and, as a result, in our relationship. So no, I don't think there will be trouble.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

I Hope This Post Doesn't Make You Uncomfortable

One of the reasons Clark doesn't publicly discuss his sexuality is that he doesn't want to make others uncomfortable. He recognizes that we live in a conservative culture and that we're the odd ones out, so he feels the onus is on us to bear the discomfort involved in going against the grain--it shouldn't be the rest of society that has to conform to us. In principle I disagree with this way of thinking, but in practice I'm much more in line with Clark than I think he realizes. Ultimately what it comes down to is that both Clark and I are people-pleasers.

It's true that I can be somewhat loud-proud-and-in-your-face, but usually I do it in a very passive, non-confrontational way. I'm quite vocal about sexuality and politics on Facebook, for example, because in that context people aren't required by social norms to respond to what I say. They can pretend they never read it if they so choose, and it seems that most people who disagree with me choose to do exactly that. I would never say most of the things I say on Facebook unless I were sure that the people I'm talking to are sympathetic. This is true not only of political statements about same-sex marriage or anti-discrimination laws; it's also true of casual references to the fact that I'm in a same-sex relationship. The other day I was talking with some friends who may or may not know that I'm gay. They're all my Facebook friends, but I don't know how closely they pay attention to my posts there. At several points in the conversation there were opportunities for me to mention Clark--things like "Oh, your husband is a very private person? So is my partner!"--but I hesitated and ultimately said nothing because I didn't know how my friends would react. There's a good chance these friends already know I'm gay or even if they don't they'd probably handle the news just fine, but I couldn't get past the fear that my saying something would result in an awkward silence.

Another way I like to quietly proclaim my sexual identity is through what I wear. I have a Human Rights Campaign t-shirt and another one that I got from volunteering at Pride this year. I like wearing both of these shirts because they say something about who I am, but without shouting it in people's faces. People who aren't familiar with HRC might think I'm just pro-civil rights in general (which I am), and you kind of have to read the fine print on the Pride shirt to realize what it's from. By contrast, I also own a neon green t-shirt that says in bold letters across the chest, "UTAH GAY FATHERS ASSOCIATION." I've worn this shirt maybe three or four times since getting it in June. One time when I was wearing it, Clark asked me to change into a different shirt before we went to a movie together. That upset me because it made me feel like he was ashamed of who I am, but the truth is that I rarely wear the shirt not because of Clark, but because of me and my own fears. Every time I consider putting it on, I think about where I'm going that day and who I'll see, and I usually decide against wearing it. I'm always worried that if I wear it to a PTA meeting, some parent will get upset and demand that I renounce my position as treasurer, or that if I wear it to the grocery store I'll get nasty looks. To some extent, I am ashamed of who I am. It's hard not to be when so many people around you think you should be.

See what happened when Batman tried to wear a flamboyant shirt?

Last night I went to a play with my ex-boyfriend, Clone Wolf. He put his arm around me while we watched the play. I enjoyed this because he and I are friends and we care for each other, and it feels nice to be able to show that affection in public. This is not something I can do with Clark. As much as I enjoyed it, though, I couldn't help feeling self-conscious at the same time. There was one older man in particular who I felt was staring at us the whole time. It may just have been that we were sitting on one side of the stage and he was sitting across from us on the other side, so he was watching the actors and we happened to be behind them, but it felt to me that he was judging us. I kept imagining a confrontation similar to the one on this week's episode of The New Normal, which made me feel simultaneously indignant and terrified. That confrontation didn't happen last night and honestly I've never been in one, but I know they happen. The two competing impulses I have are to avoid such a confrontation on the one hand, and on the other to do my part to create a world where that type of confrontation doesn't happen. I'm afraid if I want the latter, I need to be willing to deal with the former.

I get that I need to be the change I want to see in the world. I just wish I could do that without making anyone uncomfortable--myself included.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Weekend Report

I made it through the weekend without losing my cool, as promised. To be fair, my kids didn't make it especially difficult, so I can't take too much credit. The biggest challenge didn't have to do with me responding to the kids' emotions, but rather my other weakness: the stress that comes from trying to do too much in too little time. For reasons that are too boring to explain, on Friday night I ended up needing to get my kids to eat dinner quickly at my mom's house, get them back to my house, get them ready for bed, put P. Bibby in bed and get S-Boogie and Little Dude watching a movie with the Kent kids, then drive half an hour to pick up my car from the mechanic in Middletown, all within a little over an hour. To use a metaphor my ex-mother-in-law is fond of, trying to get children to do anything efficiently is like herding kittens. Typically this turns me into Angry Dad, but I managed to stay relatively calm on Friday--mostly because I knew I'd promised my blog I'd do so, and one simply does not break promises made to one's blog.

The rest of the weekend went pretty smoothly. Yesterday morning my kids played well with their cousins while I did the Color Run in Metropolis, they had a fun time feeding ducks with the Kent kids in the afternoon, and we managed to get all seven kids bathed and in bed last night without too much trouble. This morning Clark made pancakes for everyone, and the kids went to church with their moms.

And since this post is already all over the place, a list of things I particularly enjoyed about the weekend:
  • That I was able to leave my kids at home with Clark on Friday night while I went to pick up my car. It's nice having someone to help. 
  • That Little Dude and Charles really seemed to have a good time together. The three older girls have gotten along great from the beginning and the little girls play together as much as toddlers ever play together, but Little Dude isn't as social as his sisters are, and Charles is two years younger than him, so for a long time they didn't really play together. They've become very close lately, though, which is nice because neither of them has a brother. I'm glad they each get to have a "brother," even if it's only for a couple days every other week. 
  • That I went upstairs this morning to get P. Bibby dressed, and found that Wisp had already taken care of it. It was sweet of her to help without being asked, and it's always nice to have extra help with the little ones.
Overall, I'm just happy to see all of the kids getting along. Stepfamilies can be difficult. Perhaps another benefit of our current arrangement is that no one has told the kids they're in a stepfamily. No one has told them they need to act like siblings or stepsiblings or whatever, so they get to define their relationships themselves. And thankfully, the relationships they're defining make for a pleasant home environment for us all.

The Kent-Fob family weekend: Kind of like when the Avengers and the Justice League get together, but with less fighting (and only two super-hot men flexing their muscles)

Thursday, September 13, 2012


I consider myself a pretty empathetic person. When I hear about a teenaged girl devastated by the pimple on her face the morning of prom, I feel devastated for her. When a friend tells me he is proud of the papier mache walrus he made, I feel proud for him. When an old woman is anxiously awaiting the results of her gymnastics performance, I am anxious for her. I can often understand why people do or say the things they do, because I can imagine how I would feel if I were in their shoes. Not trying to toot my own horn here, just trying to make an honest assessment.

This image would totally make sense here if you were a comic book geek. 
The thing is, empathy is not always a good thing. The downside of empathy is that I often find myself mirroring the feelings of people around me--particularly negative feelings, like sadness, frustration, and anger. This makes caring for children, who are emotional jumping beans, stressful. When my kids come home from school fighting with each other, I feel the tension the moment they walk in the door, and I jump right into the fray. When S-Boogie gets frustrated with an art project that isn't going her way, I get frustrated along with her. When Little Dude is yelling at P-Bibby, I yell at him to stop yelling. I am not that parent who responds to a temper tantrum with a calm "Let's talk about how we're feeling." I am that parent who throws a temper tantrum of my own.

For the sake of modeling good behavior, and for my own sanity, I need to change this. My goal is to maintain a cheerful attitude even when my kids are grumpy and rude. My goal is to be the kind of parent who makes my kids laugh when they're upset, who calms them down by singing a silly song. My goal is to not be Angry Dad. But as lofty as these goals may be, I'm not stupid--I know I won't change overnight. So I'm not going to tell myself that I'm going to never let other people's moods affect me again. Instead, I'll start small. My kids are coming over to my house tomorrow afternoon, and they stay until Sunday morning. That's a little less than 48 hours. For a little less than 48 hours, I can choose to be calm and cheerful, regardless of what other emotions are being thrown at me. I'll report back on how it goes.
No, Dr. Fate, your powers will not work on my emotion-controlling masks. 

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

On the Upswing

I've always heard about the Six Month Curse, but I'm not sure I've experienced it before. I've only been in one relationship that lasted six months before this one, and that relationship was not a typical relationship. Perhaps FoxyJ's and my Six Month Curse was the point when I freaked out about marrying a woman and very nearly didn't go through with it. For the most part, though, she and I very rarely fought like most couples do after they get past the honeymoon stage.

In the case of Clark and me, I think we hit the Six Month Curse a little early, the process expedited by us moving in together at four months. It's hard not to be faced with reality once you're living with someone. It was about the time we moved in together that we started to have arguments, which freaked me out because conflict scares me and because like I said, I had very little experience with relationship conflict before that. I think we have both handled our disagreements well, doing our best to voice our concerns without being mean or spiteful, and honestly more often than not our disagreements are no more serious than the difference between "to-may-to" and "to-mah-to," but still my impulse when confronted with any type of conflict is to call the whole thing off.

It's a good thing we have Clark's friends Batman and Robin to help us overcome this curse. 
Partly because I was aware that the Six Month Curse is something most couples go through, and partly just because I'm stubborn, I have made a conscious decision to face my fear of conflict and stick with it. It has been encouraging to me to see that Clark is also willing to put in the hard work to make our relationship a success. He steps outside his comfort zone regularly to show his commitment, and I often notice him quietly doing little things to address some concern I voiced once a few weeks prior and had not brought up again since. I think it's because of the work that we are both putting into the relationship that it feels to me like we are back on an upward swing lately. We're in the "hard work" phase described in this article--we're slowly getting to know each other better and to understand what makes the other tick. It may take us a long time to achieve any kind of relationship nirvana, perhaps if we're lucky it will take us the rest of our lives, but in the meantime I'm going to focus on enjoying the ride.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

Evolution of Thought

A little over six years ago, Mr. Fob blogged about his feelings about his relationship with FoxyJ.  In this blog he shows growth in his understanding of the situation. In an essay he published while in college he stated being with a man or a woman was a “a choice between one's heart and one's libido.” An article written in a local newspaper used that quote in a story years later, causing him to reflect on his beliefs and decide that “The decision was no longer a simple one between love and sex.” The “evolution’’ in Mr. Fob’s thinking somewhat mirrors how my thinking has evolved over time. The rest of his post focuses on the reasons why he chose to stay married at the time. They were all fantastic reasons to stay married.  As a reader of this blog, you know how that eventually turned out.

I didn't enter marriage expecting it to end in divorce.
In time it became apparent that our lives were heading in different
 directions, and we decided to move on. It wasn't fun. Superman and
Lois have some tough times ahead

Reading Mr. Fob's post got me thinking back to a letter I wrote to some family members about why “Lois” and I  decided to get a divorce. I’d like to share some of it with you.

                 Lois is an amazing person. I love her, I enjoy spending time with her, I wanted to share my life with her.   Soon after we were married I struggled a lot with feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt. The feelings were not going away, no matter how hard I fasted and prayed.  I ended up at that point in time talking with Lois about my feelings, and we talked to the local bishop for help.  Lois and I would both meet with him. I wouldn't have blamed Lois if she had left me at that point, but she stayed by my side, and tried to help me the best she could. I felt empty inside, and was afraid of hurting Lois. I put all my efforts into being the best husband, and eventually father I could be. I love being a Dad, I love making Lois happy. Working on projects together, having adventures- things were good. At the same time I always had an empty feeling inside. Every time I would have a stray thought I would beat myself up inside. In the end I hated myself for who I was. Several times I considered ending the marriage, but I couldn't bear the thought of hurting Lois and the kids, or letting everyone else down.

                Things came to a point where I was no longer happy with anything, and Lois could tell. She was feeling that she wasn’t performing the duties a wife should. Despite frequent moments of joy, celebrating our children’s successes, or our accomplishments together, I was unhappy with my life. The wear of it got to me and Lois both.  I felt that Lois deserved someone who could give her everything she needed and deserved, and I was failing to give her that.  At the same time when I considered ending the marriage, I couldn't bear the thought of hurting Lois and the kids, however I realized I was hurting them as I continued in the pattern of silent discontent and guilt-induced recommitment to stay. Over the past 10 years my faith in God has been tested, and at the moment I really don’t know where I stand in regards to religion. I do know that if I still believed God could “cure” me, I would have stayed. I no longer believe that. And really, it comes down to that. Lois and I saw our lives heading in different directions. We no longer had a common goal in mind, and felt we needed to move on. 

Move on we have. My feelings for Lois haven’t changed, though our relationship has. I must admit, over the last few weeks I have really missed Lois and the relationship we had. She was my best friend, in many ways she still is. In my own way I loved her, and still do. We spent nearly 10 years together, taking care of each other. We knew what each other needed without saying much of anything. With one glance we could communicate many things. I miss that part of our relationship. It is an odd feeling, on one hand feeling more fulfilled than I have ever felt, and on the other missing what I used to have. I am happier than I have been in a long time, I know that one day Mr. Fob and I can have the relationship I miss, but that takes time.  Time I am willing to invest.