Variance from any of these rules will result in: lost sleep, self-loathing, alienation from your children, and validation of your ex-wife’s decision to kick your sorry ass out of the house.
- If you attempt to compete for attention or affection with the mother of your children, you will lose.
- If you attempt to compete in any way with the jerk who married the mother of your children after she dumped your ass, you will lose. Your children already know he’s a jerk.
- If you attempt any manner of passive-aggressive behavior with your children, they will be highly incented to ignore future invitations to spend any portion of the Thanksgiving holiday/weekend with you. Their bad behavior is expected: they are young and stupid. On the other hand, you are the grown-up in the relationship and are expected to follow your better angels.
- If you find yourself spending Thanksgiving alone in a diner being served microwaved turkey cutlets by a woman who calls you “hon,” that is not the fault of your ex-wife, the jerk, your children or your friends.
- If your children blow you off at any point over the Thanksgiving holiday/weekend for a better offer, do not blow your stack.
- Do not keep score on your kids’ expressions of affection towards their mother and you, especially not on a holiday. You will come off as a cliché.
- If your ex-wife and the jerk invite you to share Thanksgiving dinner with them and your children: first, take a breath and, second, accept this as a challenge to be categorized under the heading “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Relax. It’s only a few hours in enemy territory and your children will be watching out for you. If they see their mother or the jerk treating you with anything less than respect, it will be noted on their scorecard. When your ex-wife sees you man up, she will gain a measure of respect for you (if not regret for her obvious foolishness).
- If you want to see your children on Thanksgiving, invite them. Several weeks in advance.
- If you want to see your children on Thanksgiving, make sure you have something to offer them beyond “wanna come over and hang?” Make an effort and cook a nice dinner or take them to restaurant with good food and better service.
- If you invite your children to your house on Thanksgiving and your ex-wife and the jerk have already extended an invitation, accept it like a man and come up with a thoughtful and sincere Plan B. See #3.
- If you beat your ex-wife and the jerk on the invitation, but your children subsequently ask to change plans so they can be with their mother and the jerk in your former time slot, see #4. Guilting your kids will lose you points on their scorecard. Grace under pressure wins you points on their scorecard.
- When your kids (finally) walk through the door (whether on Thanksgiving or the day after), remember that you love them more than life itself and do not skimp on expressions of affection (no matter how embarrassed your kids profess themselves to be).
UPDATE: A faithful female reader told me that I was a bit harsh regarding the character of “the jerk.” Please be advised that this character is an archetype and does not resemble any particular man. “The jerk” can be a saint or an ace or an asshat; however, by virtue of filling the void — physically and metaphorically — in the world left behind by the single, divorced dad, this man is, by definition, a “jerk.”