Greg Wheeler lost his job. Which, to be fair, he kind of asked for.
“I took a Landmark course,” Wheeler said. “I said, ‘I want to wake up excited about going to work in the morning.’”
Three weeks later the universe obliged him. He was downsized from his longtime job in corporate America, doing R&D on things like infrared cameras.
By the time he had confessed to wanting to enjoy his work at a professional development course, Wheeler, a Ewing resident, had been divorced for almost 20 years and happy for about 20 seconds. But with his wish answered, he began studying Kundalini yoga and found a part of himself he didn’t know he had.
Getting to the point at which he asked for something to look forward to, though — that only came after he realized he needed to face an awful lot of issues about himself, including who he had been as a partner and as a father. His healing journey has led him to a new career as a personal coach specializing in single fathers. It’s also culminated in a book, “Single Dad Essentials: The 12 Most Important Things Single Dads Need to Know,” published this month through Abby Press.
“I couldn’t not do this because the universe was making it so easy for me,” Wheeler said. It’s an interesting thing for him to say when you consider just how much of a pain the universe was being to him for quite a while.
So let’s back up to the end of the 1990s. Wheeler was married, with four children, and so in love with being The Man in his work as an engineer and strategic project manager that he didn’t pay as much attention to the family as he should have. He was all about being awesome at his job, taking the tough assignments, working with brilliant Ph.D.s, and getting projects to completion.
That stuff, he said, gave him a sense of accomplishment and validation he never got growing up in New York. His father, “a fully functional alcoholic,” ran an escalator and air conditioning business there; oversaw 300 people. When he got home he would unwind with a drink. Or three.
“By 9 p.m. he got into verbal abuse,” Wheeler said.
All the while, little Greg, naturally empathic and the youngest of three in a working class family, was taught two messages: one that men gut it out and cope, and two that it was better to stay clear of his angry father.
As a long-lingering consequence, Wheeler overachieved in everything he could. He found his validation in being able to work with tough bosses, getting patents (he has six), gutting out the hard jobs, etc.
“I lived my life proving myself,” he said. “When we have a wound we overcompensate.”
He earned his bachelor’s in electrical and computer engineering at Clarkson in 1977. He received a teaching scholarship for a masters of engineering (which, of course, is harder to get than an MS) in the same field in 1980. He then entered the tech industry, eventually bought a house with his wife in West Windsor, and set about indulging his need to prove how awesome he was.
By 1997 his wife grew tired of that. She told him she wanted a divorce and the news actually surprised him. He felt left. Hurt. In April he was divorced and by September his new ex was remarried, to someone who didn’t work 60 hours a week.
Wheeler kept the house in West Windsor so his kids could retain some normalcy. But as was his nature, Wheeler spent much of his time overcompensating for his hurt. He dated a few women, all of them gorgeous, of course; all of them in need of rescuing.
“They were perfect for me because I could show up as the hero,” Wheeler said. And, unsurprisingly, they all disappeared once they felt better about themselves.
After the collapse of his third straight relationship with a formerly distressed damsel, Wheeler started looking at his life. He recognized the self-destructive pattern and figured he had better start doing something about it.
In December of 2015 Wheeler moved to Ewing, and a month later took his first Landmark course. A month after that, the universe listened to his request for something more meaningful. A month after that he found yoga and became a certified Kundalini instructor within a year. Since then he has become certified as a coach in Conscious Uncoupling (based on the five-step program by Katherine Woodward Thomas to gracefully end a romantic relationship) and Integrated Energy Therapy. By January he expects to be certified as a coach in “Calling In The One,” which is Katherine Woodward Thomas’ program to attract the true right person for you.
As much as he didn’t enjoy things like divorce, being fired, a string of failed relationships, and the realization that he was living his life to impress everyone else with his awesomeness, Wheeler realized that he “had gifts to share” with the world. As he sees it these days, his pain yielded an abundance of opportunities to understand how to heal life’s traumas and dramas.
To heal, he said, you need to be receptive to some harsh truths and be willing to build from them. For Wheeler, those harsh truths included understanding that he was, in a less verbally abusive way, doing to his own kids what his father did to him — which was work too hard to really be there for them; get so wrapped up in himself that he didn’t see the family he took for granted.
“Single Dad Essentials” was built on a lot of realizations about himself, Wheeler said. And it grew from a thesis he had to write in order to become certified in Kundalini. As part of his own healing he looked into the problems single fathers have to deal with and realized how universal most of the issues are. Wheeler offered a few tips from his book:
Socialize like women do. “One thing women do very well is socialize,” Wheeler said. “They ask for others’ opinions a lot.”
If that sounds like the old chestnut about guys refusing to ask for directions, you’re on the right track. Men, Wheeler said, so often get stuck in their own heads with that same lesson he learned as a kid — boys are tough, they gut it out and don’t need help. Consequently, they wallow, and their relationships with their kids suffer, because they don’t ask for help from friends — which they often don’t make.
So build yourself a network. Step one of getting out of your own head is to actually meet other parents, he said. Volunteer at you kids’ school. Meet their friends’ parents. Socialize.
If you look at building your life as a single father like building a small business, in other words, you will have a better shot at making it work. Business-building takes networking and small relationships, some of which will flourish, others that will do not much. But, Wheeler said, you need a social network around you.
Incidentally, this does relate to something single dads often complain about — that single men around kids are somehow … less socially acceptable than women around kids. But that stigma is in part due to the fact that a single father often just show up at something and no one knows who he is, Wheeler said. In other words, he’s a stranger in the world of his kids’ friends — and, more importantly, their parents.
The point is, don’t be a stranger, unless you want to seem creepy.
Get past your manly man insecurities. Wheeler is encouraged by younger men when it comes to the old-fashioned tough guy thing. Younger guys, he said, don’t seem to have that same bravado about having to “muscle through it” that Boomers and even Gen-Xers have, he said.
But there’s a catch with that.
“There are no instructions in what this new role looks like,” Wheeler said. “There are no role models.”
Men, in other words, are trying to figure out this brave new world while they’re building it. Gone are the days when men were the cheese and women were just somewhere around, doing whatever. Equality and coexistence are the watchwords of the day, it’s just a matter of understanding them, he said.
And here’s the kicker:
“The answers to those questions have been around for 5,000 years,” Wheeler said. “But society has moved away from them towards ‘the guy with the most toys wins.’”
So how do we get back to where we were 5,000 years ago?
“Listen,” Wheeler said. To yourself, to your heart, and to the harsh truths that help you understand better why you might be so unhappy. “You’re only going to be integrating these insights if you listen.”