Friday, February 13, 2009

Handling Unemployment as a Divorced Dad

Yes, I too was downsized. Go ahead, get angry. Break something. Just make sure your kids are not there when you do. Also be sure it is not their favorite toy you try to throw through the wall. Prepare to stop hemorrhaging money like water through a collander (that's the bowl with the holes in it you use when you make spaghetti). A few things to keep in perspective:
1. Don't get mad at your kids about it. It is not their fault they are expensive. Explain you are going to have to scale back if you have to. Let them know you are going to get back on your feet soon. Kids will worry a lot and be afraid to ask questions. They may think you are going to have to move or get rid of the dog. Make sure they are ok and answer them honestly. Until things go back to as normal as possible, visits may just be hanging around your house watching a movie from Red Box and splitting up a Tombstone pizza. Don't sacrifice all of your income for your kids sake. They can also learn some valuable lessons from this experience. It's not fun, but it doesn't have to be the end of the world.
2. Get a reprieve (at least for a little while) from your ex. If she's not into helping you out, you are going to have to call the lawyer and get yourself into court to plead your case that you cannot pay all of the child support. I would say you should at least try to do this one between you and your ex, because you do not need a $900 Lawyer fee at this point. Do not skip out on the payment. That's a dirtball move and you'll pay dearly for it later. Explain the situation, propose a solution (on paper) and get her to sign it and keep a copy just in case. "It's just for formality's sake, just in case."
3. Run your numbers. Most likely, you are like me and have just about everything on auto-payment. Shut that down immediately. Unemployment hardly brings in anything. You'll need to figure out what's going to be coming in (that means you need to file with the unemployment office for benefits--NOW!) Take everything that comes out of your account automatically and get a list together of all payments you make in a month. It is time to plead your case.
4. Call every company you make a payment to (credit cards, etc.) and ask for help. Tell them you are going to be having a hard time making the payments and need to see what programs they have available. Apparently, I had signed up for a "credit protector" service on one of my cards. I was able to turn the card off, be charged no interest and not have to make a payment for 24 months! Call ALL of your payments. You can defer car payments, life insurance, I.R.A. and other auto-payments. You just have to ask.
5. Get into the mix. Start looking for a new job. You know where to start, LinkedIn, etc. Call some headhunters.
6. Learn to love your place again. Home is the sanctuary. You'll have a lot of free time to spruce things up and improve your surroundings. Start fixing things around the house. Enlist your children to help out. Make a list a get to it. Keep busy. Start working out...again, and NOT AT A GYM! Last time I checked, you can do push-ups and pull-ups for free at home, and no bachelor worth his salt doesn't have some kind of weights to lift. Fix up your kid's room.
7. If your kid(s) are in daycare, you may be able to save some dough by going part-time. You can handle them for a few extra days, have some rewarding time with them AND save a few bucks. Just check with the daycare to make sure you don't lose your full-time spot if you switch.
8. Hopefully it will be a short run and you'll find a new gig soon. If you can stay positive, you'll teach your kids a valuable lesson about money and more importantly, show them your character. Don't can handle this.

See you in line at the soup kitchen,

North Side Alex

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Monday, February 2, 2009

Papa's Got a Brand New Bag

As I am sure you have noticed, the marketplace is amazingly scarce of male oriented products when it comes to us guys handling any parenting. You most likely did not pick out the bedding pattern at Pottery Barn and as such are doomed to bear the evidence of similar calamities. Having to carry a totally feminine diaper bag that your ex lets you use for the weekend, for example. Most times these are built with women in mind, so they are smaller, sit higher up on your back and definitely do nothing to make you look more masculine.

Originally, I was going to give you the advice to get yourself a new backpack and make it your "Dad Diaper Bag." Thankfully, some smart fellow Dads did one better and started Dad Gear. You can now buy a "diaper/gear/anything your kids could possibly need bag" that not only looks and feels better when you wear/use it, they actually look very cool. The second reason you need to buy one: it is another victory for you. When you pick up your kids, you can say "no need for the bag, I have my own." You will keep it loaded and ready and get the respect you deserve because you will no longer need to rely on someone else to help you. I think it scares people. It shows them you are not helpless and have things under control and are prepared to handle anything that comes your way. So, Step 1 is:
1. Get to and pick out a cool new bag...see note below for a code to get 15% off.. (simple enough)
2. Depending on the age of your kids, you're going to build a list and buy the necessities that you really shouldn't leave the house without.
Shopping List:
1. Baby Wipes (or wet wipes). The most important item. Buy several packs of the travel ones. Keep one pack in the bag and one in your car. These will be a Godsend for the next few years. They clean up poop way better than any public bathroom toilet paper does--'nuff said? (by the way, they get stains out of almost everything, including silk ties and no, Armor-All wipes do not count.)
2. Changing Pad. If your bag did not come with one, a small towel will work too.
3. Disposable Diapers. Get the right size and put in as many as you think you will need depending on how long you will be out of the house...then add 2 more for emergencies. If you swim a lot, get some of those Swimmer ones and keep 1 or 2 in there as well.
4. If your kids are out of diapers; At least 3 extra pairs of underwear. For them, not you. One accident can lead to another.
5. Plastic Grocery bags. Stuff these in a small resealable container (like an empty snack size Pringles can)--Sweet! now you can buy Pringles too! You'll need these to wrap up and dispose of diapers or underwear and wet wipes should an accident occur. I think if your child has an accident outside of the home, the last thing you want to be dragging around is gross dirty underwear. Pitch it and start new.
6. Hand Sanitizer. Your kids will touch everything and then touch their mouths, eyes, etc. Make it a habit that before you get out of the car and after getting in the car, you sanitize the hands. Squirt a bit on the fast food table you're sitting and wipe it with a napkin. Listen for the screams of dying germs.
7. Snacks. First off, something your kids will not choke on. Fruit snacks rock here. Keep multiple packs in your car and in your bag. Kids love them and it takes kids a while to eat them. Usually, they are by the cereal in the grocery stores. Fresh fruit and vegetables can be risky, since we Dads will most likely plop the bag down when we're home and forget that there's a ziplock full of grapes in there until we need it next weekend. Not good unless you dig the Pruno wine.
8. Drinks. Put these in on an as need basis, juice boxes and Capri Sun will explode if accidently stepped on, etc. A water bottle with a sports squeeze top tucked in a side pocket works much better.
9. Sunscreen. If it's summertime, or you're traveling somewhere warm, get the kind that comes in a stick (like a big Chap-Stick). No leaks, easy to use.
10. A few small books that will fit, a few small toys/stuffed animals, (and nothing with a ton of pieces, maybe save the travel version of "Risk" for your next camping trip with your buddies.) There are a ton of "travel" toys like travel Magna-Doodle, etc. You need some that will be "Bag Only." If you take them out constantly, you're going to forget to put them back in constantly. Be careful, loading it to the gills with junk makes it way more difficult to run a successful changing exercise.
11. One change of clothes in case something bad happens. Check them once in a while to make sure they still fit.
12. 1 or 2 things that your kid gets to pick. Maybe a small pack of crayons and a coloring book or a sheet of stickers. That shows them that its their bag you're carrying. For now at least, until they can carry it themselves while pushing you around in your wheelchair.
Now step up and be a man! Get your kids and go somewhere and be not ashamed for the bag you carry. Never again shall you have to face ridicule and jeers for carrying something that says "Grandma's Little Pumpkin" on it. Get one with skulls...or flames...or "Motorhead" on it. Anything that makes you feel proud to be a Dad..and why not? You should be proud. You've got it together and you can handle this.

P.S. You can go to and enter the code "NSAlex" and get 15% off.

Later, North Side Alex

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Monday, January 26, 2009

A tiny bit of Pro-active planning on your part goes a long, long way.

Hey Dads.

Is it your weekend coming up? Are you a little nervous about how things will go? There's a reason. You have no plan. It's time to get one. Here's why;
1. Kids need structure. I am sure you've heard this one before, but let me decode it for you a bit. It does not mean you have to have every single waking minute of the day planned for your kids. You do not have to be a micro manager of their time. Simply put though, a general overview of what's going to happen for the day or weekend gives you and your kids an expectation, which is much better than coming over, plopping down on the couch and watching TV while you keep pitching activities to them. Guess what? Asking them if they want to go to a movie or to the park or whatever over and over again makes them realize that you do not think about them at all until they are right in front of you.
2. Everyone respects the guy with the plan. Think about where you work. Doesn't the guy who got the promotion (maybe it's you!) always have a plan? You will enjoy it (I promise). Your kids will be better behaved because they are not bored. Your ex will respect it--especially when your kids tell her about the good quality time they had with you. If you have a new girlfriend or wife, they will be much more at ease because she will be able to see she is a part of it!

Get Started.
1. Plan the year. Seriously? Yep. Totally doable and takes maybe an hour. When do you have your kids? Every other weekend? Once a week? Start a yahoo or google calendar. Even Outlook works for this. Put in your weekend and visitation dates as a recurring appointment for at least one year. Then go through it and plug all the dates onto an Excel spreadsheet. Note all of dates and when you or you ex has your kids. I just do mine by the "weekend of." Plug in all of the holidays. If it's your year for 4th of July, note it and follow through with all of the other holidays. Then make some notes for schedule conflicts; does your ex have your kids on the weekend that Father's Day falls on, are you scheduled to have them on your ex's birthday? Note those dates as conflicts and add in the possible solution. Swapping for different days and weekends is way easier 4 months ahead of time than 1 day before. My ex an I have a poor arrangement for Christmas. I have my son Christmas Eve and she has him Christmas day. It is a huge pain to figure out when you want to travel for the holidays, etc. But it much easier to come to an agreement early on in the year than on December 20. Double check it with your significant other and your business calendar to find any other conflicts.
2. Email it to your ex and get the buy in. Preface it as "a solution for both of you." She will either like the idea or be pissed off she didn't think of it first. Either way, its a victory for you. Regardless, it takes on the appearance of extending the olive branch and shows everyone involved that you are making the effort to make things better for your kids.
3. Make that Excel Spreadsheet be your bible. You now have the tool to refer back to whenever a conflict arises. Work trip, weekend trip, vacation for you and your kids, etc. Plug all of the confirmed dates into your calendar and you're ready to go.
4. Plan some fun things for the year. Want to take your kids to the ball game? Check the team schedule out at Find tickets for the weekends or weekdays you have your kids. Note: Most, if not all baseball teams have "kids days" during the regular season. You and your kids will have a much better time if you know exactly what's going on those days at the park. I am going to post a new article on how to take your kids to a ballgame and not only survive but enjoy it, soon. How about skiing? Or going to an indoor water park? I'll have more ideas for you in coming articles as well.
5. Now that you have the buy-in, you need to plan what is going on this weekend. And no, planning to go to a movie 15 minutes before you pick up your kids from school does not count as planning. Get out a sheet of paper for each one of your kids and put their name at the top. Write the hours from 8 am to bedtime along the side. For the weekend, even things that seem boring count as an activity. You need to incorporate your kids lives into yours. Every weekend should not be "having a blast with Good-Time-Weekend-Dad." But there are some quick things you need to put on the schedule that will quickly fill up the days. 1. Breakfast. Normally, for you, its 10 minutes from cooking to clean up. With kids, its longer. Give yourself an hour. Let them help make breakfast if you want to, definitely have them help clean up. 2. If your kids are small, or one of them is, you need to schedule in a nap time. If you are going to take them somewhere, put in the travel times as well. Until I started doing this, my son's nap times would seemingly start after we for instance, went to the zoo. Well that didn't figure well into the zoo being 40 minutes away and he needs to go to the bathroom and he needs to eat something. Falling asleep in the car makes it almost impossible to move him out of the car once home without waking him up and then you have a cranky kid on your hands. See how this works? 3. An afternoon activity. Play in the park. Play baseball. Go grocery shopping. Visit their grandparents. 4. Dinner. Stay home and cook? Go out? get take out? Know where and what you're doing and it will pay off big time. 5. Bath time. Again, you?--maybe 15 min. Your kids? Probably at least 45-60 minutes for bath, teeth brushing, final bathroom trip, pajamas on, lay out clothes for the next day, read two stories, say prayers, say goodnight to all of the stuffed animals, check for monsters in the closet, tuck them in, goodnight kiss and then lights out. Starting this process at 8:30 p.m. makes for very tired and very cranky kids later on because they are not actually getting to bed until 9:30 or 10.
6. Check your plan after the kids go to sleep and see what worked and what didn't. Do it when it is still fresh in your mind, not when you are trying to plan the next weekend. Make notes and get ready to tweak your plan for the next weekend accordingly. Save your notes. It makes a great way to remember all of the fun things you've done with your kids and the new things they will be learning over the years. Does that mean you should build a scrapbook with pictures and confetti and bubble letters? NO. This is a Dad's site, remember? You can stash it in a 3-ring binder or a file. Add some pictures in there if you want.

By taking charge and building a plan, it has made my time with my son much more enjoyable. He and I both know what to expect during the day and less time is wasted on figuring out what to do and all of the logistics involved. It also makes dealing with my ex-wife a lot easier, with fewer last minute changes about who has my son and when. Of course things come up. One day, one hour, one minute before we have something planned, but being able to figure it out and re-write the rest of the day in a few minutes sure beats the alternative.

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A real resource for help and information for divorced fathers of children of all ages.

I want this to be an open forum for all fathers. I myself am the divorced father of a four year old boy. I have been divorced for 2 years now, and have learned many lessons already and can hopefully use this to help other dads be better dads. Let's learn from each other's victories and mistakes. A few quick things I've found in the past few years of this:
1. There are very few resources for the divorced father on raising your kids. There are however, a ton of single mom resources. Sometimes they work just as well, sometimes, not so much.
2. Dads, and guys in general, are not really that into networking with other dads or finding play groups for their kids. Most of these happen during the week, when we normally would be working, especially if you have younger kids. But there are many easy ways to integrate your kids social lives into yours.
3. It is completely manageable and actually very rewarding to raise your children!! You just need to make a plan that is YOUR plan, not one dictated TO you by your ex, your parents or your new girlfriend/wife, etc.
4. You have the right to be happy. Your kids have the right to be happy. Your ex has the right to be happy. Everyone either chooses to be happy or to be miserable. You have the duty though, to be a father. So why not be the best father you can be?
That's basically the overview. I'll learn as I go and keep up with the advice and lessons learned.

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