An Ordinary Life – Part 4
An Ordinary Life Part 1 — Setting the Scene
An Ordinary Life Part 2 — The Bad Years
An Ordinary Life Part 3 — Her Point of View
This is Part 4 — Aftermath: The Effect on Family
A reminder of the characters in the story.
|Ian||Yours truly; in my late 50s; an honourable man, but apparently a complete bore|
|Dawn||My ex-wife; a Thai national; 3 years younger than me; a "good girl"; a university graduate|
|Peter||First born son; just turned 21|
|Paul||Second born son; just turned 18|
|Mary||I don't have a daughter but if I did she would have this name|
|Mitch||The husband Dawn should have chosen|
|Udang||My current partner; pronounced "oo-dung"; Thai national; 21 years younger than me (!)|
|John||Udang's son; 15 going on 16|
Because of its personal nature this series hasn't been easy for me to write. Part 1 was an introduction so it wasn't too difficult. I wrote about events in my career I don't like to discuss in Part 2. While Dawn has done me wrong she is not completely without merit, which is what I tried to say in Part 3. However, this is the part of the story where she wreaks havoc on everyone in the family; this is the low point.
Let's pick it up from when I finally got a new job after 18 months without work. It's 2007 and the bad news is the job was back in the services industry. It was with another US multinational — one I'd come across in my previous work and didn't even like — but they were willing to pay a salary and that's what I needed. It turned out to be a good company; it was much better working for them than I thought it would be. It didn't last long because they were bought by a different US company, one that wanted to improve its services business. You may remember my disgust with the first US multinational services company for their lean & mean approach to business and unethical behaviour. Working for this new company was perhaps worse. It suffered from the worst morale I've experienced anywhere. Can you imagine what it's like working in a company of 300,000 people and the only two things everyone talks about are how much they want to leave and their current job opportunities? I can because that was day to day life in this company. The poor morale was a big factor in my decision to leave.
In 2010 I found another job back in my preferred industry that had good responsibilities and I'm still there today. It was a win on three fronts: 1) I had no interruption to income when I changed jobs; 2) it was not in the services industry; and 3) the job is located overseas which provides a number of extra benefits. After several years back in my home country I felt I did not "fit" there any more so I was happy to go overseas again. Another family move? I don't think so. The Economist magazine publishes a list of 140 cities titled the best places to live. By the time you get down to #100 or so you're not talking about the best places to live, it's more like the worst. The new job location is at the low end of the list so I didn't consider bringing the family. It meant I would be a long distance husband and father but that was OK, I'd done it before and the boys were older so they didn't need me as much as when they were young.
After three months working in this new place, when I was coming to terms with the reality of life there, I went home for two weeks' break at Christmas. After a long flight and missed connection I arrived home late and was surprised Dawn wasn't there yet. She really was putting long hours into that coffee shop! After three months of being a monk, and ever the optimist, I was hoping to get the rewards of marriage but I was tired and went to bed. She came back home about an hour later and to my surprise she ripped the blanket off the bed, took a pillow and slept on the floor. That was strange. It didn't matter because I was tired anyway. Next morning she got up for work and emerged from the bathroom at 6:17 AM; when I said hello she looked at me, deadly serious, and said "I want a divorce" then walked out of the room. I clearly remember saying to myself "welcome home" after she left the room. The time was 6:18 AM. If our marriage was a war there were a few important skirmishes and a long phony war but the final, decisive battle took only one minute.
I didn't have a happy holiday. I was despatched to sleeping on the couch at night. It's very embarrassing telling your kids you're sleeping on the couch and trying to come up with a good reason. (I think I failed that test.) I tried to talk with her but she wasn't interested. The most I got out of her was that she'd had enough. Bubbling under the surface was her point of view that I always suppressed her, never gave her opportunities or encouraged her to grow. She said she bought the coffee shop so she could improve herself and get ahead. I pointed out that she didn't ask for my advice about the shop and I can't help if I'm excluded. Her response was that if I was involved I would have put obstacles in her path.
I'd known for a long time things were on a downward spiral but I didn't take the new job to get away from her; I took it so I could support my family. Until this trip I never lost hope things would improve. Every setback, every complaint, every time she gave me that look of dissatisfaction I figured she would get over it and see I'm a great guy. She'd said she wanted a divorce once before, when we were in the US after a particularly difficult holiday period. (I don't know if this was before or after she contacted Mitch.) Back then things returned to "normal" and she kept going, probably for the benefit of Peter & Paul who were still young. This time was different. She had a determination in her eyes that wasn't there before. I tried to talk to her but she'd made up her mind. After about a week I conceded defeat. My Christmas gift to her that year was a letter saying I would give her what she wanted most — a divorce. Despite all the disappointment of the marriage it broke my heart.
I went back to my new job down in the dumps but determined not to tell anyone. I hoped Dawn would see she'd made a mistake and change her mind. Four months later I went back and tested the waters to see if she'd relented but the determination was still there. A period of separation is required before a divorce so it was convenient for both of us that I was living in another country. Amazingly she wanted to pretend nothing was happening in front of Peter & Paul. It wasn't really possible because I was sleeping on the couch but she refused to concede that point.
For a long time I kept a brave face at work and didn't tell anyone I had a problem at home. I tried to do the Asian thing, to segment my life. I put the problems at home in a box and didn't think about them when I was working. I only opened the box when I was at home. I tried really hard to be good to her, to be considerate and convince her, by actions not words, that she was making a mistake but it didn't work. The steel never left her eyes, she maintained the rage and when the time came to apply to the courts she was determined to see it through. Until the day we filed the divorce papers I always felt there was a chance she would relent. I was wrong. We filed the papers in March 2012, had a hearing date set for April and the court dissolved the marriage in May.
In March 2012 I told the senior executives in my company I would be getting divorced. I finally told them because I was afraid there could be a drop in my performance, I would certainly need time off for the court hearing and it would affect my employment conditions (the extras you get when you work overseas).
But the biggest impact was on Peter & Paul. In 2012 they were 18 & 15 respectively.
You can't keep up the charade with your kids that everything is OK when you've filed for divorce. I called a family meeting to tell them and, unsurprisingly, they told me they had figured it out. They knew it was wrong that I was sleeping on the couch and they had mistakenly, or otherwise, seen a file on their Mom's computer referring to a divorce. So the family meeting was only a confirmation of what they already knew. I was very chivalrous telling them the reason their Mom wanted a divorce was because I hadn't been good enough to her. The truth is I lived overseas and they lived with her so I felt there was no point damning her in their eyes. I found out later this might have been the right thing to do but Peter & Paul knew the truth was different.
The next paragraph outlines some changes in Dawn's behaviour. The dates might be off by a bit but the point is she changed a lot over a period of time and this shows the progression.
Peter & Paul may have been Dawn's little insurance policies but she was a good Mom. She looked after all of us, kept a clean house and cooked great food. I think the change in behaviour started when we moved back to Bangkok in 2002 and she didn't want a big house because it was too hard to keep clean. In Thailand, like many families, we had a maid so she had help. When we went to my home country in 2006, where we didn't have outside help, she started to complain that she felt like a maid. After a few more years, around 2008, she stopped cooking for me. She said I came home from work too late and she couldn't be expected to stay up just to cook for me; I guess coming home between 7 PM – 8 PM is outrageous, but she kept cooking for Peter & Paul. When she bought the coffee shop in 2010 she said she didn't have time to cook for anyone. Peter & Paul came home from school way before I was back from work and she left it to them to cook their own meals. She still did the shopping but she stopped cooking. I think Peter lived on fried chicken for a year or more. She stopped housework, too. The presentation of our home fell away and she did nothing to clean it up — she said it was our job now. I vacuumed every few weeks and did laundry but our place went from a presentable home to a mess. I was only there for about three months after she bought the coffee shop so it didn't affect me much. When I came home on that first trip and walked in the front door I noticed how disorganised the place was; Dawn was always a pack rat and it was positively jam packed with stuff; you had to squeeze past all sorts of things that had been left lying around just to get from one side of a room to another.
When I left to work overseas, apparently even before she told me she wanted a divorce, Dawn changed completely. She became a party girl. The sweet, caring Mom disappeared and was replaced by a woman who went out with friends to dinners, wine bars and music clubs. Peter & Paul told me it was normal for her to come back from the coffee shop, go into the bedroom, get changed and go straight out. She would be home for 10-15 minutes and gone again. She barely asked them about their day and she certainly didn't stop to take care of them. They said this happened 4-6 times a week. She became an absentee mom. Maybe she wasn't working such long hours in that coffee shop after all? I didn't know about this until later because Peter & Paul didn't want to tell me and Dawn certainly didn't. She unleashed her wild side and it continued for years — it could be still going on now for all I know. The effect on our family was devastating. Dawn was absent; Peter quietly rebelled; and Paul did something about it.
Whether it's good or bad Peter isn't affected much by what goes on around him. In one way he's oblivious and in another way he doesn't seem to care. As long as he has a roof over his head, food in his belly and clothes to wear he seems to get by. (He learned how to do laundry, kicking and screaming, but he learned.) He rebelled by not putting a lot of effort into his school studies; he ended up with good enough results to go to the university he wanted but not his first choice of degree. I'll provide more information about Peter later; he came out of the experience OK but perhaps a bit disappointed in his Mom.
Paul was affected much more. He was at an impressionable age and horrified by his Mom's behaviour. He decided that all Thai women reach an age when they let themselves go and behave badly. Later on he said to me that every middle aged Thai woman he knows starts this behaviour of going out, drinking and neglecting the family. I don't know who else he meant but Dawn presumably had friends who behaved the same way and some of them were Thai. Paul wasn't going to put up with it. He told me after about a year he wanted to leave home; he seemed to be under a lot of stress and I was afraid he would explode if he stayed. I was lucky my new company paid for schooling (up to the end of high school) so I asked him if he wanted to go away to school, figuring that would be an elegant solution. I researched some boarding schools and provided him with the information. I was surprised when he said he would prefer to go back to the international school in Bangkok because it was the best school he'd been to. I figured he could stay with Dawn's family and they could all live in the family house in Bangkok, which we hadn't sold and for which I was still paying the mortgage. This is when I received one of my surprises. When I suggested this to Dawn she was reluctant but said staying at the house would be straightforward because her sister was already living there. Huh? This was news to me! I was never asked and therefore never gave my approval for that. This was now early 2012 and it turns out she'd been staying in my house rent-free since 2006. When I said she needs to pay rent I was met with an indignant response that I should consider myself lucky she's staying there and "looking after it for us" at no cost. Ha! It still annoys me.
I contacted the school in Bangkok asking about fees and they compared favourably with the boarding schools in my home country. It turned out they were even building a wing for boarders that would open soon so he could board at the school if he wanted. Very much against Dawn's wishes we (I) put Paul into the school. After three months of fighting the Bangkok traffic he said he'd prefer to board five days a week. I arranged for that and he liked the lifestyle and routine so much that after the first year he changed to boarding seven days a week. I send money to Dawn's family in Bangkok every month to take care of him; because he's in boarding school seven days a week they don't have expenses for him, except when he's at home on holidays, so it's money in their pocket — and they live rent free in "my" house. (It's Dawn's house because a foreigner can't own land in Thailand; but I pay the mortgage so I call it my house even though I know it's not.)
As a result of the separation and divorce my little family has split up, and sooner than it should have. Dawn and I are not together. Paul was unhappy at home so he got out. Peter stayed on, I think because of his view on the world (roof, food, clothes). I'm sad at the way things turned out. As I said in an earlier post I really thought our marriage would be 'til Death Do Us Part.
It hasn't been great for my finances, either. I spent all that money keeping the family together when I had no job even though it whittled down my bank account and made life difficult. I was determined to keep the family together and in one of life's ironies it was Dawn who broke it up. I offered her a separation agreement that many of my friends say is noble, which is their way of saying stupid. I give 80+% of my after-tax monthly income to the family. Peter has ambitions to go into academic life so he wants to do a master's degree and maybe a doctorate. Paul wants a master's degree, too, but his goal is to work in a regular company. This is a summary of the agreement; as long as Peter or Paul are cared for by Dawn, up to the age of 25, I will pay:
Rent in my home country (I don't have the down payment needed to buy property)
Utilities, internet, phone and mobile phones
Health insurance for the family
$1,000 per month for each of the boys
$500 per month for her, a carer's allowance
Peter's university fees
Paul's school / university fees
Mortgage for the Bangkok house as long as Paul lives there.
Generous? I think so. I'm paying for two households, two sets of school fees, a living allowance for the boys and a small living allowance for Dawn as well. I'm paying her because she makes no money from the coffee shop, from her subsistence model of business. A while after signing the agreement Dawn complained to Peter & Paul that I'd tricked her and she only did it to make me happy. Gratitude is not one of Dawn's traits.
The only condition in the agreement is that if she marries or lives with someone else my payments to her and rent payments would cease; nor could she have a relationship with someone in the place we called home. My basic position was I wouldn't pay rent for her if she had sex there with someone else. If she wanted to have sex with someone that was fine, but not in a place I'm paying for.
Coming back to the family meeting when I told Peter & Paul we were getting divorced and it was my fault for not giving Dawn enough respect — they were laughing, or crying, inside. During the separation she met another guy and had an affair with him. Paul (who didn't know the contents of the agreement) told me later this guy would visit regularly and was very comfortable in our home. I don't think he lived there and I'm not sure if he'd stay overnight. But both Peter & Paul, on separate occasions, walked into her bedroom when they were having sex. When I went back home on one trip during the separation I noticed the master bedroom had a lock installed on the door. It was Paul who told me why, and I was livid. Of course I found out about this when it was too late to do anything about it. Until then I never appreciated the word "cuckold". I felt humiliated by her seeing someone and bringing him into the home I paid for while telling me she wanted to maintain the charade of our marriage in front of the boys. And everyone knew the truth, except me.
This is one of the keys to the story — I found the whole situation humiliating; and I felt powerless.
Peter & Paul have changed in their relatively short lives. When they were young Peter was an image of me. He was academically gifted, a bit introverted and loved his Dad. I was told by others he came alive when I was around — I obviously couldn't observe him when I wasn't there so I have to believe what I was told. Peter loved his Mom but he and I had a special relationship. Paul was similar to his Mom. He wasn't as gifted at school but he had a great personality, lit up a room with his presence and everyone liked him. He was so close to his Mom that I sometimes wondered if he even knew I was there.
But they did a complete turnaround in their teen years. Peter became lazy at school, coasting along without trying. This is the opposite of me; I wasn't the smartest kid at school but I was always conscientious. When he was a bit older he started going out with friends on weekends and when he was older again, going out on weeknights. In the last few years he's started binge drinking; probably not unusual for someone his age but not something I did. Paul says his drinking started when Dawn went off the rails.
On the other hand, Paul started to improve academically when he went to high school. He didn't do particularly well in elementary school but the freedom that comes from having different teachers for every subject seemed to suit him. He's conscientious and takes his grades seriously. He wants to get into a good college and has worked hard to achieve that goal. He's become bitter towards his mother but treats me with respect. He's the only one in the family who shows me any gratitude. I try to be even handed with the boys but I think I probably favoured Peter when he was young and I probably favour Paul now.
Overall I feel bad for Peter — he's been on the receiving end of everything bad that's happened in our family. If you believe in luck, good and bad, just look at the comparison between the boys.
When we moved from Jakarta to Bangkok, Peter was in preschool. He went from English instruction in Jakarta to a Thai-only preschool in Bangkok and was as confused as hell. When we went to the US he was starting in kindergarten. We arrived before the school year started and he had to attend summer school to improve his English. Later, in the real school classes, he was assessed as having poor English skills so had to attend remedial classes. In the US it's not a good thing to be in special ed; he probably copped a bad time in the playground which might explain why he preferred to be in the library in later years. He went to a great school but just when he started to feel comfortable we had to leave because of my job. At elementary school in the US they pledge allegiance to the flag at every assembly. He didn't understand why we had to leave the country because he pledged his allegiance. How do you explain about citizenship and visas to a seven year old? We went back to Bangkok and I wasn't sure I'd have money for him to go to international school. That's when he said he wouldn't attend a school unless they taught in English (the story mentioned in Part 2). Fortunately I managed to get him into an international school. After four years there I moved the family to my home country and when we arrived he was too old for entrance to the selective schools. My home country has special selective schools for the best and brightest students and they have a superior record in standardised tests and university placements. I'm sure Peter would have qualified for one of these but he was too old so he had to battle through at a regular high school. Then when Dawn & I separated and divorced, while he didn't show outward signs of problems, he became demotivated, just coasted through his final years at school, started going out a lot with friends and progressed to binge drinking. Peter's start to life has been unlucky.
Paul didn't go to school until we were in Bangkok (second time around) so he started in a great school. He probably wouldn't have been accepted if Peter wasn't already there. The school had high entry standards and Paul went nowhere near them in his verbal test. (Kindergarten entrance at this school was tougher than the kindergarten graduation requirements for Peter in the US.) I was mildly surprised when he was accepted but they're more forgiving when one family member is already at the school — and Paul was helped by Peter getting good grades. When we left Bangkok for my home country Paul was less affected because he was in the middle years of elementary school. I gave him the opportunity to go to an elementary school that prepared him for the selective schools but he wasn't focused on academic results and there was something about the prep school he didn't like so he didn't want to go there. At the time he was keen on the performing arts and our local high school happened to have a performing arts program. When the time came he auditioned and was accepted into that part of the school. He didn't stick with it for long and focused on academic results instead. When Dawn and I separated leading up to the divorce he was unhappy at home and wanted to leave. I just started working at a company that paid for school fees and was able to offer him the option of boarding school, which ended up being the international school back in Bangkok. They have an entire department focused on getting entry for the students to overseas colleges. Even though we weren't living in Thailand I was still paying the mortgage back there so he was able to go to that school and stay with family. Then he was able to live in the boarding quarters at the school. In the last month he's been accepted into US colleges (5 out of 5 that he applied for). Paul's start to life has been lucky.
I look at everything that's happened and feel bad for Peter. He's doing well but things could potentially have been much better for him.
The effect of the divorce on me has been pretty much as you'd expect. I felt humiliated — by the divorce itself and Dawn openly having an affair with some guy right in front of my own sons. All my money was drained from keeping the family together through the bad years and now I have a financial agreement that means I won't have savings any time soon. As Paul is 18 and I pay family costs until he's 25 (up to but not including) I have another six years of payments under the separation agreement. With Peter & Paul both in college I will be paying even higher school fees until I'm in my mid-sixties. My retirement plan is buying tickets in the national lottery or possibly asking for handouts on the streets. I put aside some money every month and might have enough for a retirement visa in Thailand but I most likely won't have enough for the first renewal which would be due five years after the first one is issued. <Actually, you have to renew annually – Stick>
However, I have one "out" in the agreement with Dawn. If she gets married then I'm off the hook for a substantial amount of the monthly expenses. She really is a nice lady; if you want I can give you her phone number J
With all of this background I now have a new Thai girlfriend. I have large outgoings, more to come with college fees and I've taken on a new partner who I support as well. Am I smart or what?
Part 5, titled The Aftermath: New GF, Good or Bad will follow soon …