Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The difficulties in being a dysfunctional father.

As usual, it has been many months since I have written.  I am still running my law firm, still a father and a husband to my growing family, and still a functional member of my community.

However, nobody read about the "Zoe Strickman" character to learn about how "normal" he was.  Rather, you guys read my blog and followed it (sometimes for years) because of how dysfunctional I really am.  So here you go -- a bit of food.

First of all, I apologize for my explicit dislike of my own blog -- it symbolizes and exposes everything that is weak, bent, and broken in my life.  My secrets are here, and as I learned quite a while ago, my identity is known to a few of you who still read my posts.  Some of you live in my city, in my town.  Some of you take your kids to the same school as me, and yet when we see each other in the hallway, I know you know me and I know you, but I am too shy and/or embarrassed to open up to you because you know my secrets and you can share them with the world and destroy me.

Yes, secrets can destroy a person, and they have been eating away at me each day.  I have been very stressed lately -- vulnerable, and easy to anger.  My tolerance for stress has been very low lately, and I have been having a difficult time focusing at work or showing up for meetings.  I would rather hide in my cubicle at the office space I rent than meet potential clients because I have a difficult time being "on top of my game," or even sometimes being able to form coherent sentences.

I spend so much energy each night putting the kids to bed, and then instead of going to bed myself, I sit down at my laptop, turn on Netflix or play a game on Steam, and then the hours melt away from me, as does the stress and the tension of the day.  The problem becomes each night, I look at the clock when I finally crash a game from playing with the code and "modding" it to the point of instability, and it is often 2:30am or later.  Then in the morning, I am expected to wake up with the kids, feed them breakfast, make them lunches, and spend time with them until it is time for them to go to school.

The reason it is me who has taken on all the morning chores and the extra legwork rather than my wife doing what she ordinarily (extraordinarily) does is because my wife is resting because she was just up all night [yet again] feeding our newborn baby.

Proving to her that I am not a "subhuman" selfish husband (her words; I actually would have taken on all the extra tasks with happiness if I were only asked), I have been happy to take on the new role of father AND mother while my wife rests from the birthing process.

If I were a better person (or if I were given the ability to be HUMAN or PSYCHIC, I would have not been oblivious to the fact that my wife was recovering from the birthing process and the day she returned from the hospital, I would have sent her upstairs and I would have done everything she does without getting into a fight over what a terrible husband I was for not taking on tasks without being asked.  As the moronic husband, after running around non-stop while she was in the hospital recovering from giving birth, when she returned two days later, I mistakenly assumed that since she was home from the hospital -- no epidural, on her feet immediately afterwards -- that she was back and ready to bathe the kids and resume her regular activities, and I would resume mine.  I even took two days off from the law firm calling it "unpaid paternity" where I stayed home with her and the kids so that she wouldn't be alone with them, but it obviously was not enough.  I honestly didn't realize that I was supposed to be the hero who does everything I do -- run a firm, help with the house, play with the kids, etc. -- AND also do everything she does so that she could rest and bond with the baby after coming home from the hospital.)  FYI, this was also right before Pesach, so everything was disorganized to start with both at home and at work -- I had cancelled meetings, client matters that needed to be closed up for the holidays, deadlines, and... the birth of our daughter.

Yes, we are on our sixth child.  Our children go to yeshiva, and my oldest child is now seven years old.  Our children sing Torah songs that they learned in school, and they fight over who plays with what toy, or who sat in who's spot at the table.  They are very good children, and I love them dearly.  However, I have been distant, and my wife has noticed my lower tolerance for stress these past few months.

She has urged me to see a psychologist to resolve my past family issues, and in the past, I have refused because I could not justify spending hundreds of dollars on myself.  Last year, we went to marriage counseling at $160 per session, and we went for quite a few months every week, and it certainly helped.  We learned some really good skills and techniques for getting along, but after everything was said and done, we learned how to be "civil" with each other and to diffuse fights before they happen.  We have not, however, developed the close intimate relationship that a husband and wife should have with each other.  We certainly trust each other and lean on each other, but I don't always consider her a friend, and rarely does she willingly confide in me about her feelings.  Even asking about the events of her day seems to be intrusive on her privacy.

I also don't open up to her because every time I have, she has judged me or stepped on me.  I have in the past few days decided to get help for my inner struggles / issues relating to being able to connect with other people (as she calls it), and it was only as of this afternoon that I think that I've found a therapist.  I meet with him next week.

The funny thing is that I didn't want to tell my wife the name of my therapist because I did not want her to jump to conclusions about his specialties.  This therapist deals with adolescent and family issues relating to abuse, and he also deals with "issues of attachment and bonding" and "disorders of intimacy" -- things that are right up my alley as far as getting help with my issues. I also don't really want to open up to her about the content of my conversations with my therapist.  We have been married for EIGHT YEARS now, and I really don't feel like being judged, criticized, or put down.

What I cannot share is that I have been so wound up these past few months (and really, these past few years) because I have been angry at my own failings as a human being, as a father, and as a husband.  My lack of a connection with my wife hurts me, and I don't know what to do that I have an unhealthy relationship with my wife.  We went to marriage counseling last year, but we ended it because my wife ended it.  She flat-out told the therapist that she had no interest in working on her relationship with me, and that my relationship with her was simply not important to her and that it was the children alone that were the focus of her life (and she meant it; I was merely a tool or a piece of meat [an indentured servant] to go to work and put food on the table).  On that note, the therapist told her that she could not continue if both parties were unwilling to work on the relationship.  It was also our contention to end the marriage counseling because we hit a wall -- we did not feel as if we were benefiting from the sessions any more as they were getting repetitive.  On my end, I felt that there was an inequality in the focus of the sessions because I was usually the punching bag of our sessions, and my objections were almost never considered and/or worked on.

My experience of the marriage counseling was this -- I had an issue I wanted to work on in the relationship.  She complained that I did not do X, Y, or Z.  The therapist somehow convinced me to do X, Y, or Z, and the session ended.  Rinse and repeat, week after week.  At the end of our sessions, I was (and still am...) no longer working my law firm even 30 hours a week, I was no longer working past 6pm or 7pm, and I was waking up with the kids, making them lunches, and then coming home for the arduous exercise of getting them to bed.  I dropped all aspirations of finding a new area of law or making more money than what automatically came in by the grace of G-d, and I have been showing up to work a zombie, and I have been coming home and putting the kids to bed only to collapse in front of my laptop after their bedtime.

"Go to sleep you idiot!" you might scream at me.  Well, if I did not have my nights and my evenings to play video games and/or relax, I don't think I would survive.  Rather, I think I would die of boredom and unhappiness for the routine dullness of my life.  It is funny how I call my large and unusually busy life boring, but I find that it lacks meaning.  I don't even like to daven (pray) and my spiritual life is lifeless.  My kids are loving and kind, and they need and crave my warmth and loving attention, but while I do love spending time with them, usually I find myself simply looking for activities and/or time wasters so that we can get to bedtime.  Since the baby has been born, I have taken them to the zoo twice, I have taken them bowling, and I have taken them to the park... all five of them.  These were Sunday activities and "kids are home for Pesach break" activities.  We all had a blast at these events, but I had a hard time not obsessing over them touching toilets when they peed, or touching walls, fences, and gates which I know are never cleaned and are probably full of thousands of various kinds of bacteria, and I'm really in no mood for another bout of "pink eye" which circulates around the family for a days at a time, going from child-to-child, no matter how many times we nag them to wash their hands over and over again.


Anonymous said...


Suggestion....Not an answer to happiness for you, but may I respectfully suggest you stop having children? More is not always better and in your family's case it is not.

Anonymous said...

Anon, that's not really a helpful thing to say to a Lubavacher. They are going to continue to have children. His wife most likely feels that it is her purpose in life to raise as many good Jewish children as Hashem will give her.

Zoe, I still follow your blog after all these years because I worry about you and pretend that my comments might help you in some small way. Hope you don't think of me as a troll looking to be fed!

I'm a little confused about the confusion about her needing bonding time and rest with the baby. Didn't she need to recover from the birthing process with each of your previous children? I don't know of any women who don't need help right after they give birth. At any case, you can file this away as a lesson for the future. She will most likely need and want extra help after every birth, no matter how easy.

Also-- going to see a therapist isn't spending hundreds of dollars on *yourself.* It's investing that money in your *family* and your *marriage*-- which I'm sure you're more than eager to do. I am beyond delighted that you're taking this route! May it help you and your family. I hope your therapist can help you find some level of contentment in your life.

It is really hard to break a pattern of dysfunction that has lasted for so long, but it does sound like your last round of marriage counseling had good results. It's like water softening a stone-- these things take time. In your case, you could very well spend the rest of your life improving your marriage-- but that's okay. Even small steps can move you in the right direction.

Good luck. I'm davening for you.


Anonymous said...

Beg your wife to do the kesher wife workshop with sarah yocheved rigler online. It is amazing. It will mamash change her. You could say you saw it online while looking for a men's program. Eventually your wife will realize her linluness too but now she too tired and busy. Hatzlachahà and brocha. Try to daven even 5 minutes in bed st night. Cheshbon nefesh. It will plug you into Gd.

Zoe Strickman said...

I wanted to thank all three of you for your comments, all of which I will certainly follow.

I have been thinking about the blog, and I think I'm going to take it in a new direction -- a more positive one.