Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Brady Bunch taught me everything I knew about blended families



The Brady Bunch is one of my favorite TV shows ever. That's where I learned everything I thought I needed to know about blending families. After all, I am not the product of divorce and neither were  most of my friends.

So when I met Rob and we decided to get married, I thought everyone should be happy. Morgan was getting a dad, so she was thrilled. And Kalie and Nicole were getting a nicer and bigger house with a pool. No problems, right?

WRONG! Seriously, I had no idea the trauma and turmoil that was still going on. I had no idea that their mother had just moved out of the home they shared because Rob the Great lied to me about the timing. I had no concept of the hurt and pain those children were grappling with. I should have known but I just didn't. (I do now.)

However, Rob the Great should have known. He should have had a good understanding that his children were in pain. They were confused and hurt and not at all "settled" with anything when Bob disrupted their lives even more by finding a new girlfriend, selling their childhood home, introducing a new wife and child (and an adopted child on the horizon), and basically throwing it all (with glee) in their mother's face. However, in all honesty, Bob simply doesn't care. His pleasure comes first. Period.

So, unbeknownst to me, I walked into a hornet's nest. So I deserve a lot of blame for: 1) being completely ignorant and clueless; 2) believing Rob; and 3) playing along with it.

Here's one example: Rob owed Terri $75,000 as an equalization payment from their divorce. He borrowed that money from his mother (and I paid her back, by the way; Rob still owes me that money) and cut a check to Terri. We were on our way to a movie and Rob needed to drop the check off to Terri at her house. As we were pulling up to her home, Rob said: "I don't want any confrontations with Terri so can you take this to her?" Sure, no problem. I walked up to the door and knocked. Terri answered it. We had never met, though Terri knew of me.

"Hi, this is for you," I said and handed her the check.

Terri looked completely confused and Kalie walked up to the door. I said hi to Kalie and Terri said, "I'm sorry, who are you?"

"Oh, hi, I'm Liz," and I shook her hand.

Terri was incredulous. "Rob had you bring the check to me? Where is he?"

"In the car," I said.

Terri was speechless and walked out to the car and started yelling at Rob on the sidewalk. I was speechless as the two of them got in a screaming match right there on the sidewalk with all the neighbors in earshot. After they screamed at each other, Rob said, "Liz, get in the car. Let's go."

So I did and we left. In retrospect, what the hell was I thinking? That was so rude and horrible and awful. But Rob did know exactly what he was doing and he did it to get under Terri's skin. I was a pawn.

Throughout our relationship, Rob spent quite a lot of time fighting with Kalie, Nicole and Terri. I often was culpable because I was part of the story (see example above). Shame on me. And then, of course, when Rob was an angry drunk (mostly all the time unless we were on vacation or there was an audience), he would blame me for all the problems with his kids.

Finally, I fought back. "You are, or at least should be, your children's advocate, not me. I don't know them like you do. If there is something you want to do differently with your kids, then do it! Do not blame me anymore for your problems with them. You're a grown man, you're their father, so act like it."

From then on, when he blamed me for these problems, it just went in one ear and right out the other.

When I left Rob, he sent me one text that just cut straight through my heart. He said, "Kalie and Nicole are so much better now that you're gone" That stung and hurt to my very core. Because if Rob was a horrible father, it wasn't my fault. He was just simply a horrible father. If he didn't have the relationship he wanted with his children, well, that was his fault, too. Still, ouch, that was hard to hear.

So I contacted Terri. I apologized. I said that whatever blame was mine for Kalie and Nicole's struggles, I was deeply and sincerely sorry. Terri responded by saying that Kalie and Nicole were the same people they were when I was in their life versus when I wasn't and not to let Rob blame me for anything. God bless that woman. Terri is a better person than I am.

Rob the Great is good at blame because if he doesn't blame, he will have to come to some hard truths: 1) That he destroyed two families; 2) That he was a horrible father. Sure, he's a fun dad. But as far as parenting, guiding and mentoring his children, he's pathetically horrible; 3) That he made his second wife sick; 4) That his drinking problem had severely damaged the lives of many people around him; 5) Well, he is just not a good, kind or honest man. Contrary to his claims that he's a really great guy, he's not a good man.

Here are a few examples of the glee Bob took in undermining his children and the mother of his children:

--- "Stolberg, Robert" <RStolberg@semprautilities.com>
wrote:

If at semester, Nicole is looking like she will not graduate, we will go to court and introduce all the evidence we have of Terri enabling Nicole to fail.  In addition, all the information on Nicole's poor performance in school to get CS dropped for Nicole.

Or, instead of fighting, we stay low until March, send Nicole and Terri a letter stating that all will be cancelled in June and in June, it's gone.


And here's a letter he sent Terri (I put some of my comments in pink next to it):
Terri,
You have no idea how much I wish your words were true... That, yes, in fact, you were and had always remained neutral and/or positive in what you've told our daughters. However, that is simply not true. In fact, the more I research and think, the more I am absolutely convinced that you are one of the primary reasons for the alienation of Kalie and I. I believe that your actions, some of which have been on purpose and some you may not even realize, have become emotionally abusive to Kalie and severely damaged our relationship. (The alienation suffered by Rob and Kalie was Rob's fault, and no one else's. He's great at blaming everyone else, though. It's his MO.)
Of course, I am the first to admit that I am no psychological professional so only someone with that training can make a final determination. And that is why I feel it is a critical necessity that Kalie, and Kalie alone and with me present, should get into counseling as quickly as possible so that a licensed therapist can begin a reunification plan. (As if Rob the Great would ever follow through with counseling.)
Encouraging at worst and remaining neutral at best is not a good course of action for Kalie. You can do the research yourself, but suffice it to say that not having a strong male father figure in Kalie's life is of enormous detriment to her wellbeing. (Except Rob is no "strong" male figure. Actually, it's quite beneficial for a child of an alcoholic parent to have distance.) And, as much as you'd like to try and deny it, I've been a very good father to my children and I have tried my damndest to do everything right by them. (Oh.My.Gosh. Really? Like drinking, lying, screaming...) Am I perfect? Of course not. But Kalie is hard pressed to come up with concrete reasons or examples for why she is verbally agressive towards me and harbors ill feelings towards me. (How clueless was he? Well, I suppose when all you care about is drinking, fishing, vacations, movies and naps, who cares about your children, right?)
The reasons for Kalie's desire to cut of all contact are complex, to be sure. But one of the primary reasons is the many negative things that she's been told by you. I could list them all here but I'll give just a few examples:
1. "Your dad can't love all those children."
2. "Your dad's life is unraveling and his life is out of control." (So true)
3. "Your dad ended the marriage." (So true. When you pick alcohol over your family, well, you've made the marriage impossible to sustain. That is Rob's fault.)
4. "Your dad cannot and will not be paying for your college. He has a new family to take care of now." (That turned out to be true.)
5. "Your dad is not going to buy you a car." (True)
6. "Your dad is an alcoholic." (while leaving out the fact that you've had three DUIs, attended AA for nine years yet started drinking again four years ago) (And during those nine years that Terri didn't drink, Rob still was an aggressive asshole. Nothing any wife can do will change the fact that Bob is an aggressive and mean alcoholic. And, well, her statement that Rob was an alcoholic is true.)
7. "Your dad is too negative to talk to." (True. Terri cut off all contact with Bob for years. I have done the same. Not only his he negative, but he is a bully. Prior to me cutting off all contact with Rob, I used to see texts or emails from him and I would literally start shaking before I opened them.)
Kalie also, during better days, made such statements to me that include "Mom hates me being with you and Liz"; and "I feel so sorry for Mom. You have a wife and family and great job and big house and Mom is all alone." To her cousin Casey, she stated that "Mom says I'm not allowed to talk to my dad." (These quotes make me want to cry. True, Rob's new family and relationship must have been a source of tremendous pain for Kalie, Nicole and Terri. He should have taken time after his marriage ended to get therapy, become a good man, enter alcohol treatment, and help his daughters assimilate to their new reality. But Rob's interests come before anyone else's and Rob can't be without a woman. To be without a woman may force him to confront himself, and that image is truly ugly.)
You have also allowed Kalie to read court documents.
And you cut off my ability to call or text her phone for several weeks until I sent a letter to your attorney. Kalie could not have done this on her own as the account is yours. You did this, and that is not a neutral action as you claim in your letter. (Something tells me that Kalie probably didn't want to hear from her dad for a period of time. I can't blame her.)
Additionally, you have encouraged Kalie's aggressive behavior on numerous occassions. Most recently, you brought Kalie to the San Diego Brewing Company just a few weeks ago. This after you had aggressively come into the restaurant to confront me on a check, which I paid you immediately. I will have you know that Kalie walked in visibly shaken, highly uncomfortable and then nearly ran out of the restaurant. When Liz tried to walk out with her, she ran outside, jumped in your car and you two sped away. There was no reason for that and does not show neutrality in any way. (The BrewCo was a HUGE problem in Terri and Rob's relationship and home, just as it was in Rob and my relationship. Terri and Kalie wanted to call Rob's attention that they knew he was still doing things that were damaging to Rob's families, yet he simply didn't care. Rob's wants trump anyone else. That's too bad and morally inexcusable.)
I might also remind you that when we were in mediation, the mediator stated explicitly and in no uncertain terms that you were a primary cause of the rift between Kalie and I, and that your actions were undermining our relationship. That is not 'neutral' as you state. The simple reason she recommended the custody arrangement was purely on Kalie's wishes.
The reality is that it would benefit Kalie enormously to grow up with frequent contact with me. (Except, Rob forgets to mention that the BrewCo will come before her or anyone else.) She should have the benefit of seeing a functioning family (This is pathetic. Rob can't have a functioning family because he cannot be a partner), and a functioning husband-wife relationship (Yes, because Rob and I functioned so well. Alcoholics make great partners, after all! And our husband-wife relationship was a nightmare and made me sick). Kalie has never seen that, as we did not get along for most of her life. (How sad. But alcohol comes first!) She should know that marriage and families and homes can be happy, that love and affection can exist between a married couple, and that siblilngs can have enormously positive relationships. (Yes, Kalie should know and see that! Too bad her dad cannot ever demonstrate that for her because he's a horrible husband.) She should see cohesive parenting in action. This would help her function in her future relationships. Believe it or not, Liz and Kalie have enjoyed a great relationship until recently when, for no apparent reason, all contact was stopped. I know that you and Liz are not on the best of terms, however, that should never involve Kalie-- that is between adults and should have always remained that way.
Whether we brought out the best or worst in each other is irrelevant. Whether our relationship was toxic is equally irrelevant. What is important, vitally important, now is that Kalie begins healing inside of her. Kalie's aggression towards me needs to be addressed and curtailed. She is still a child and needs to be coached into having parent-child relationships, not parent-peer relations as she has now. Kalie needs her father and you, as her primary custodian, need to be supportive and encouraging of that. (This paragraph makes my stomach hurt. Wow, Rob the Great, try seeking help yourself. Try stopping drinking. Try being a kind and loving dad who will actually parent your child and put your child's interests first. If Kalie has aggression, it's because she learned that communication skill from you. If she hates you, that poor girl has been hurt by you! Oh my gosh, the things I've learned since meeting Rob.)
To that end, I am going to begin exercising my visitation as stipulated just weeks ago. As if Kalie were to announce that she no longer wants to attend school, you would use all resources to make sure she attended regardless of those wishes. The same should be afforded to ensuring Kalie makes every one of our visits.
For starters, I will begin expecting her to attend therapy. I ask that you make those appointments and let me know when and where they will take place. If I don't hear from you, I will make appointments. I will pick her up at the time or you may take her. Let me know which you prefer. (By the way, Rob attended one therapy session with Kalie and it didn't go well. Of course, Bob never followed up with more therapy appointments. After all, therapy or the BrewCo? Well, there wasn't time for both and Rob the Great picked the BrewCo!)
I sincerely hope that we can avoid attorneys and costs in asking for Kalie to begin therapy by court order. I truly believe that we can work on this together to ensure that Kalie receives the support she needs to repair a relationship that is of critical importance to her, that of having a father who loves her unconditionally in her life now and forever.
I look forward to hearing from you soon.
Rob