- Family and Parenting
By: Jeffrey Hall
Our lives are made up of a series of events, defining moments, experiences, and changes that will define our lasting legacy some in a positive and others in a negative way. Everyone experiences different things. Not any two people are the same. We live differently, we mature differently, and we build our lives differently. It’s these unique periods in our lives that develop our chapters that collectively create our story. The stories of our lives.
This article will be organized into three parts that have a lasting impact on all of our stories; relationships, faith, and family. Most of what you will read will relate to my personal story. However, what I hope you get from reading this is that while we live very different lives, it’s the whole story that defines our legacy and not just one chapter.
In our stories, relationships have many impacts on us as people. Relationships, whether positive or negative, will have a tremendous impact on how we perceive other human beings, how we parent, and how we deal our personal relationships such as dating and marriages. Often times these relationships set expectations for us that can often be unmeasurable. In many cases our negative relationships will set unrealistic standards while our positive relationships will result in lowered expectations. In negative relationships we experience a series of hardships, challenges that left us often wondering where we failed, why we let things happen to us that did, to determine whether or not we are strong enough to move forward from them. This results in us developing a mentality of developed expectations that focus solely on the negative behaviors of negative relationships which results in us just finding someone who doesn’t exhibit those specific behaviors. Because of this developed mentality, our negative experiences over shadows exactly what we want in a relationship resulting in another unwanted, unhealthy relationship. This is why it is so critical that we take time to figure out who we are as people before we enter new relationships.
In my story, I experienced very traumatic relationships from the days of a young teen to today. Everyone experiences their “first love” but very few actually stay with them for a variety of reasons which are irrelevant to this article. My experience with my “first love” left me torn and wondering what a true relationship was about. Infidelity left me thinking that betrayal was natural in all relationships. As a kid growing up, I had many circumstances in my family where betrayal had occurred. When I experienced it for the first time I really thought betrayal was just something people did. I didn’t have an explanation to why people did it.
My next serious relationship resulted in a marriage. Little did I know that the person I would marry was actually seeing another guy when I met her. After experiencing betrayal and seeing what it can do to a family, one would have thought that they would do it again or that it was a bad idea to enter the relationship with them in the first place. For me, I turned a blind eye because it wasn’t me who would have to deal with the idea of being cheated on. It would be the other guy since she was dating him first. Again, my mind had a developed the idea that betrayal was a part of relationships and that is just what happens. Eventually she would end things with him and we would begin our relationship.
After a few breakups and getting back togethers, we settled into our relationship, had a child, and got married. Shortly after that we had our second child. Like most couples, we experienced hardships that left us in tears and accomplishments that resulted in celebrations. Over time, the idea of betrayal would slowly fade away. As children of married couples of 40+ years, my vision of a long lasting marriage seemed to be realistic. Betrayal became a thing of the past. My ex-wife and I educated our children on the importance of family, unity, trust, and love.
Over the course of my marriage, I saw many friends and families members getting divorced and leaving children in the midst of turmoil and hardships. I vowed that would never be me. By the time of my 10th wedding anniversary, one of my best friends had been married three times and he was younger than I am. Brad Paisley says it best in his song titled If Love Was An Airplane, “don’t tell them the odds, it’s best they don’t know. If love was an airplane, nobody would get on”. For me, I had this vision of defying the odds by being the success we all strive for. I didn’t enter my marriage nor any of my relationships hoping for a divorce or a breakup. We enter them hoping for the fairytale ending.
Little did I know my fairytale ending would come crashing down right in front of my eyes by the one thing that I had worked so hard to forget existed, betrayal. In 2014 my ex-wife entered into an adulterous affair with a close friend of mine. Specific details of this affair are not pertinent to the purpose of this article. However, the trauma and heartache as a result, is. When I found out about the affair, I was mortified. I spent every wakened hour wonder why, how, when, where, and what i did wrong in our marriage to cause this to happen. Does this sound familiar? If not go back to the introduction paragraphs of this blog and re-read please. Some time had passed and I attempted to allow myself to forgive to only find out months later, that what I thought was over, wasn’t. It had continued. I entered deep dark depression that caused me to take time off of work, that impaired my judgement, and left me wondering again why this was happening to me. For three years I lost hope, trust, and began to literally feel hatred towards my ex-wife. The teachings that we preached to our kids about family, love, relationships, and trust no longer had validity. They were now “lies”.
After three years of turmoil, mental, and emotional abuse, I decided I could no longer stay in what was now a failed a marriage, or in the eyes of Brad Paisley, a crashed airplane. We had failed the odds. Moving forward I found relationships to be a thing of the past. I became cold and thought love was a four letter word you just used in the game of Scrabble but didn’t have true meaning. I was left thinking that relationships are not as real as they appear. Then I took some time to myself, time to reflect on me. I went to church. I formed new friendships. I went on a few dates. I spent time with my family. Eventually I re-learned who I was, who I had forgotten about because of something that I couldn’t control. I started to understand that people make choices often to just to benefit themselves and not considering the effects they could have on people they care about. This resulted in me discovering the closure that I needed for myself. I eventually regained my belief in real relationships.
As I am writing this, I am happy to say that I am in a young relationship that defines what true relationships look and feel like. While we are still learning about each other, we acknowledge our struggles as building blocks for who we have become. Now to think that we have the perfect relationship would be a stretch. We have our own challenges that we have to face, many of which we can’t control. With that said, we strive day by day with the motivation of common grounds, our passion, our mutual respect for boundaries, and continue to build a true relationship founded the basic principles of a successful relationship; balance, faith, financial success, and support for one another. It’s this relationship that has given me new life in believing that things happen for a reason and that real relationships do in fact exist. While this chapter of my life would be looked down upon as a flaw, my failed marriage actually did something bigger and in a positive way. It brought my life back together.
Faith is often an underestimated factor in our stories. Now, let me be clear about faith. Faith doesn’t mean you have to be a Christian or that you must believe in a specific god or worship in the name of Jesus. When referring to faith, I am referring to the ideas of living a moral lifestyle through the ideas religious/code affiliation. Faith provides us with the belief that a higher power is in control of our stories. By default, faith requires us to lift our arms up and succumb to a much bigger person/spirit allowing them to have control of our stories. For many people, this is hard to do. Many people believe that our stories are created by oneself ,which is true, but faith makes it a lot easier to believe that someone is looking out for us spiritually and that they have a mission and vision for each and everyone of us. In our stories faith can become the catalyst for success and the motivation to stay strong during failures. However, no matter what religion your affiliated with, no matter who you worship, faith has the same impact on all of our stories. It provides us with stability and it grows us into moral human beings with a set of spiritual standards that we live by daily.
For me, my faith in my story has been challenged on multiple occasions starting with the affair. As a practicing Christian, I thought to myself repeatedly; “how could a god of such power do something so cruel to a person that didn’t deserve that kind of treatment”. Well, I will tell you why. You see, a few years prior to that defining moment in my life, I had reached the top of the top in my profession. I began to get the mentality that I was invincible and that no one could do my thing better than I could. I became egotistical, self-centered, and lost touch with reality. This experience trickled down into other facets of my life, specifically my home life. I wouldn’t go as far as saying that I deserved to be cheated on, but I will say that I did deserve what GOD, not my ex-wife, would do to me to put me back in my place. The affair did just that.
After finding out about the affair, I was lost, torn, broken, you name it, I was that too. I was also confused. Confused to why it happened. I was so set on the why, that it became my problem to solve. As a result, I took blame, felt like the victim, and felt alone. When I turned to God, I didn’t get responses. There weren’t any signs that suggested he was working for me so I gave up. I gave up on God. In all reality, I had given up on God long before the affair because I thought I was in control in my life and that I had made my own success. I was ungrateful to say the least. Then when I needed him the most he did exactly what I did to him. He turned his back on me. He said “I wasn’t worthy of his help”.
This journey lasted for three years. When my ex-wife and I got divorced, I began dating a wonderful woman who reintroduced faith back into my life. I wouldn’t say she was a gift from God because God and I were not on “speaking terms” if you will. But I will say this; she was an angel sent to me to pick up some of the broken pieces. We began attending church weekly at a nearby establishment, daily prayer was introduced back in my life, and I began studying the bible. Over the next few months I spent time learning about God and my faith as opposed to just using it in times of need. I would say it was at this moment where I became a follower as a opposed to just a practicer of my faith.
In March of 2017 I had the wake up call that I needed. I was going through a rough patch of my life at the time. I had my kids that weekend and decided that Sunday we were going to church as a family unit. This church has a contemporary mass, therefore the band plays contemporary music. They played a song called “Yes and Amen”. It was the first time that I had ever heard this song so I just read the lyrics. The first verse goes as follows; “Father of kindness you have poured out grace. You brought me out of darkness and filled me with peace. Giver of mercy your my help in time of need.” This first verse put me to my knees. I tried to stay as strong as I could in front of my two sons but the power was too strong. I went to my knees and I surrendered my body and soul to God. He was there that day. He was speaking to me. I felt it. The sermon talked about destiny, challenges, and questioning of our faith because we didn’t get immediate responses, everything that I had been experiencing. That day, the Christian was born inside of me again. Going from non-believer to submitting myself to God, was a huge leap of faith in my life.
Now to think that everything from that point would go smoothly, would be overkill. I still hadn’t proven that I was worthy. I had lost everything. I mean everything! I had a lot to work on personally, emotionally, professionally, and spiritually before God would say “you’re worthy of me and I will reward you with an abundance”.
Over time I would work on me. I began to relearn myself. I went back to my roots of hospitality because that was really all I had to fall back on, I lived well under my means. I struggled to make ends meet, and lived so basic that even a caveman could do it. But I managed to live that way and to survive. Then, THAT day came. The day that I will never, ever forget for the rest of my life.
Remember the woman that I met that I talked about in Relationships? Well, she is one of those gifts from God. She is so special. I was planning a very special date for us for a Wednesday. The excitement leading up to that day was amounting. Then that day came. At 9:30am I got a phone call from a principal from a school asking to interview me for a position she had open. Of course I said yes. Now, up to that point, I had not worked in a classroom for nearly eight months but it was something that I had been dying and praying for. I had applied for so many teaching jobs, had interviews, and were never offered. A week prior to this specific Wednesday, I was literally telling a family member that a permanent position in education may be very unlikely for to ever happen again. This job I did not apply for. I accepted the interview which took place over the phone later that afternoon. By the end of the interview they had offered the job. Later that night at dinner, you could see the magic happening between myself and my date. It was the most amazing date ever. This day was a day given to me from God. He saw that I was worthy and awarded me with his grace.
The chapter of faith in my story, like many other people, faced challenges often resulting in questioning whether faith was real or not. But let me tell you people, it is real and it will work for you when you least expect it. I have full faith in God and what he has for me in his vision and mission. I trust him every day that he is making the right decisions for me.
Undoubtedly the most influential people in our lives and our stories are obviously our family members. Our families are our building blocks, our supporters, our guidance counselors, and some of our best friends. In our stories we can all say that someone from our families played a significant role whether it be a positive role or negative role. They are present in all that we do and who we are.
You hear the cliche all of the time “you will find out who your true friends are when your in time of need’. Often times these true friends are our families. Our stories are full of ups and downs, accomplishments and failures, and gains and losses but no matter how difficult our lives may get, family will always be there by your side. Yes, of course sometimes parents can be overbearing, overprotective, and even an annoyance from time to time, but all they want to see is the good in us and never want to see us fail.
With all of that said, sometimes our families can infringe upon personal matters, use materialistic items over our heads, assume that they know what’s best for us when they don’t know who we are in that current stage of our lives, and invade on our privacy that results in us being unhappy with ourselves. Whether our families mean good or bad, sometimes it is essential to let us fail from our decisions so we can learn from them to build a better story for ourselves.
Now for the sake of this article, when I refer to my family I include two boys (ages 12 and 14), my parents, my sister, a grandmother, and a few really close friends. If I need to specify I will do so clearly. Throughout my story, my family has experienced a lot of stress, burdens, ups, downs, heartaches, failures, successes, and death. Divorce is hard enough to go through physically and emotionally, but financially it is a burden for anyone who makes an average salary AND their families. With that said, my family has more than supported me in the process. I personally watched my parents drain a savings account that they had worked for so many years to build up just to keep me afloat. My two best friends sacrificed their time and energy to visit me, to talk to me at all hours of the night, and even left behind their families because I needed a helping hand or just a friend nearby. And the people that have been most affected by this divorce are my two boys. While they don’t totally understand what happened because of the nature of what happened and their maturity levels, one day they will see it from my side and hopefully will respect my decision. Although this last three years has been a struggle, my story wouldn’t be where it is without them. From going outside to play catch everyday, hunting, fishing, and just being a father to them, our memories and good times will always be the chapter of my life that I love the most. No matter who enters into my life, my children will always take priority. It’s those moments that you take for granted because at any point they can be taken away.
The hardships listed above are just a fraction of what my story entails. There were many struggles prior to my divorce as well. None the less, my family was always there for me. At one point I did take a stand. I forced them to allow me to fail and not save me. I couldn’t let them save me anymore. I had to fail for myself in order to learn what it was like to have to rebuild. I am thankful for my family for understanding that I had to do that for myself. As hard as it was for them to understand and for them to allow that to happen, they respected my wishes and supported my decision. In my opinion, that experience allowed for God to see that I was willing to give up everything and show that through faith and determination, I could get back on my feet and be successful. For that, my family is responsible for the majority of the content of my story.
My story is simply my story made up of a series of chapters, some filled with good, some filled with bad. Even though in the article my story focused a lot on the struggles during and after a divorce, that chapter is just a fraction of my whole story. Therefore, passing judgement on me because of one chapter is an unfair conclusion. So I am a divorcee. I am also a former district teacher of the year, a state educator of the year, multi-awarded educator with a variety of educator associations, a coach of the year, a member of Sigma Alpha Lambda, a member of a committee who worked on a four million dollar grant for battered and abused women, a Christ follower, and most importantly a loving husband (former), and the best father that I can possibly be. When you look at the other chapters, being a 37 year old divorced father of 2 is just a part of who I am and does not define my character. My story is made up of ALL of my chapters and not just a few. I hope that these chapters and the chapters before me, will be enough to leave a positive legacy in this world.
In conclusion, if your unsure of your story, if your trying to figure out who you are, revisit your chapters. I did. I went all the way back to the beginning to determine who I am currently so I could continue to write the story about me and not someone I turned into five years ago. We all have the strength to get us through the struggles by way of relationships, faith, and family. Your story is incomplete, but it matters. Take the time to write the best chapters so you can leave a legacy called your story, worthy enough to share with generations down the road.
God Bless You
Update: Shortly after I began writing this article, an event occurred and I lost what I thought was a gift from God. I still have faith that it was. I still have faith that he has a plan and if it is meant to be, it will. For now, I live in faith and positivity so I can continue to write my story and never lose sight of who I am.