He’s divorced. He’s doing okay. He grieved hard for the first two years, but now he is finding his way back to a meaningful life. He is not here to talk about his divorce. He is here to talk about how to be related to his ex-wife and his need to be a faithful, post-marital co-parent.
For months before, during and following the divorce, his now-ex recited the List of Reasons I’m Leaving You: You use your friends, you are weak, you are addicted to drama, you have unhealthy views of women, you are fake and phony, I have lost respect for you, you are unmanly, you are a stingy and inattentive parent.
Recently, however, and seeming most suddenly, his former mate thanks the man for “his friendship,” extends her own, and reaffirms her commitment to encourage the children to “respect their father.”
And the divorced man is stuck. Frozen. Friendship? Respect? Huh?
And I think to myself, “Hmm. That’s the same way I feel about American politics.”
Have you noticed the way we have mostly normalized the idea that we get to blow anything we want out of our mouths yet still reserve the right to be surprised, incredulous and patronizing when our words negatively alter others perceptions of us and our relationships? Because then I’ll tell you you’re just taking things too personally. Or you’ve misunderstood. You just don’t understand. That’s not what I meant. You’ve taken me out of context.
Or, “That’s just politics.”
For months now, I’ve been listening to increasingly uneasy (and now nearing desperate) Trump supporters say, “He’s got to (change, soften, manage) his rhetoric.”
Wow. When did we all agree that my rhetoric was in no way related to my identity? Because it’s not true. People tend to say exactly what they mean. Want to know me? Then listen carefully to the words that come out of my mouth. Argue backwards from there. What I say, how I say it, and the contexts in which I open my mouth and let forth will give you a reliable printout of the man I am, and the man I am not.
Ted Cruz reminds me of the divorced man in my office. So strange. Personally, I wasn’t a Cruz backer. But I found myself standing next to his heart with real admiration when he did not and could not endorse the man whose words so deliberately vilified him, his wife and family during the Republican primaries. Cruz said he wasn’t “in the habit” of supporting people who attacked his family.
I get that. Me neither.
You think I’m picking on Republicans? Keep reading.
The other night Barak Obama said that Hillary Clinton had “the courage, the compassion and the heart to get the job done.” He endorsed her. Glowingly.
But, in 2008, Obama said Clinton was “what’s wrong with politics.” And that “she will say anything to get elected.”
Sing with me: “One of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong …”
To quote a favorite Monty Python sketch, “I couldn’t help but notice that you are mean to me and polite to me, alternately.”
I think of Timon the meerkat in the Disney movie “The Lion King.” You might remember: Timon, Pumbaa the warthog and Simba the lion are friends. Another lion stalks Pumbaa, and would eat him except Simba fights back. In the fight, Simba recognizes the enemy as his old childhood friend Nala. Hugs. Kisses. And now Simba introduces Nala warmly to Pumbaa, who says, “Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
But Timon will have none of it: “Whoa! Time out! Let me get this straight. You know her. She knows you. But, she wants to EAT him. And, everybody is … OK with this? Did I miss something?!?”
The divorced man sets down his coffee and play-acts for me the scene he might soon play in real time for his ex-wife. In so many words, he wants to say, “Whoa. Time Out. Let me get this straight. I’m a weak, dramatic, unmanly, unhealthy, phony user … whom you would like to befriend and teach vulnerable children to respect. Did I miss something?”
The divorced man continues: “See, if half the things you said about me are true, you would never choose me as a friend. That would make you insane. And furthermore, you would even now be gathering the resources to support and help your children on the inevitable day they discover about their dad what you already know.”
I admire the cartoon meerkat Timon. Duplicity creeps me out.
Steven Kalas is a Nevada author, therapist and Episcopal priest. He writes a weekly column for the Sparks Tribune on the art of being human. You can reach him at “mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org” email@example.com.