Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Residue of Divorce

I’ve mentioned previously that the effects of divorce on children are sadly all-too-well documented. There is a whole set of fears and neuroses that cluster around the category 'children of divorce'. And I can see some of them in myself.

For virtually all of my post-divorce childhood, and into my young adulthood, I didn't particularly 'feel' any effects of my parents' divorce - I didn't cry myself to sleep, and, once we settled into the routines of the 'new' family, life was busy and challenging and intense. I had an 'alpha male' contest to work out with my step-brother (I'll call him my 'step-brother' for blogging purposes, just because it's easier; in real life, I've only ever called him my 'brother'; just so you know), and, for the first time in my life, I had sisters, which introduced a whole interesting set of parameters to my life.

My 'first mother' pretty much just disappeared from the scene of our lives. In retrospect, I think it had more to do with a sense of shame than any kind of rejection of us (but she had clearly rejected my dad, and didn't particularly want to bump into him, if she could help it). For a couple years after she left, she sent my brother and me birthday cards, but then, even that stopped, and I wouldn't hear from her again for over 20 years. I can't say that I ever consciously 'missed her'; maybe I did, but I don't remember it.

To backtrack just a bit, for the year between when my mother left and when my dad got married again, we lived in a different house. We had moved 'up north' when I was seven, and our house was right on the shore of one of the Great Lakes, which is a pretty good working model of heaven - long walks on the beach, going swimming at the drop of a hat all summer long, and beautiful scenery out the back window all year long. So, the first casualty of my parents' divorce was living in heaven. Dad moved us into an old house 'in town', where we could be more easily cared for while he was at work.

I look back on that year with a kind of odd amusement. Dad certainly did well enough by my brother and me, but - well, he was a guy. Lots of mac-n-cheese for dinner, and he was as likely to open a can of kippers for dinner as anything else.

When Dad remarried, we moved again, into another house on the edge of town, at the isolated end of a dead-end street, with the yard surrounded on all sides by woods. And that was where we lived for the rest of my youth.

My relationship with my step-brother was interesting. I'd grown up pretty sheltered and bookish up to that point; he'd grown up on the street. He was much 'tougher' than I was, more street-wise, and generally 'hipper'. When he wanted to assert his dominance, he would just pound on my shoulder until I cried. But, as we got older, I stood up to him more and more. I recall one time when he was taunting me during a football game with a group of our friends, and I chased him around the field in a blind rage; I was sure that I saw fear in his eyes, and he treated me better after that. Over time, we arrived at a decently respectful relationship with each other.

He always had trouble with Dad, and when he was 16, he ran away from home. His life has been a lot harder than it needed to be, but at the time, I admired him for being able to live 'on his own', and I wondered if I could do that, when the time came.


Anyway - the effects of divorce. When Molly and I were dating, and I laid out the story of my life for her - adoption, divorce, etc, etc - she looked at me and asked, in the way that only Molly could, "How can you possibly be normal?" (She found out, heh, heh, heh)

I sometimes see in myself a kind of insecurity, a fear that the good things in my life won't last, or will be taken from me. Molly will tell you that, right up until our wedding day, I was anxious that something would go tragically wrong - she'd get run over by a truck, or she'd change her mind about getting married, or whatever. I even worried that we'd get in an accident on our honeymoon, and be killed before our life together could really get started.

Going back a bit further, I think that, with my girlfriends before Molly, I was a 'clingier-than-normal' boyfriend, which they eventually found kind of stifling.

I've been prone to depression most of my life. I've never taken medication for it, and it's never been debilitating, but, given the right day and the right set of bleak circumstances, life can seem pretty hopeless and dreary. That's the point at which having Molly for my wife really works in my favor - she's so sunny, so sanguine, that she just cheers me right up out of it. Most of the time, anyway.

So yeah - until ten or fifteen years ago, I'd have said that I was unaffected by my parents' divorce. I don't say that anymore. The effects haven't been crippling, and I've had a good life, even so. But the scars are there; they're 'deal-able with', but they are there.


Just as a kind of 'post-script', I did eventually get back in touch with my 'first mother'. 1F is very musical, and when she was five or so, we started her on piano lessons, and she took right off with them. I recalled that my 'first mother' had gotten me started on piano lessons, and had instilled in me a love of music (my dad can't carry a tune in a basket), which I then saw passing through to 1F, and I wanted to thank her for planting that seed in our lives. So, with that as the motivation, I decided to look for her. I was able to track her for a few years after she'd left my dad, but then the trail went cold, and I quit searching. Then over Thanksgiving - what, 18 years ago? - out of the blue, she called. Somebody I'd talked to had talked to somebody, who'd talked to somebody, who told her I was looking for her.

She'd gotten remarried four years after she left Dad, which corresponded to the time that the birthday cards stopped coming. She'd never told her new husband that she'd had kids, and the news that I was looking for her left her with some 'splainin' to do. (The 'adoptive' thing played into it, too - even when she was still with us, she didn't really, 'deep in her gut', think of herself as our 'real' mother; kinda sad, when I think about it).

Anyway, we've re-established our relationship, and she's happy to know us and our kids. Ironic, on one level, that she and my dad are both still living, well into their 80s; they'd have celebrated their 59th anniversary a few weeks ago, if they'd stayed married.


But, I don't have any 'yearnings' to go back and have the life we had before. As I hope I've conveyed, for all the bumps in the road, we wound up with a good family, one which gave life to its inhabitants. But sometimes I look back and just marvel at all the twists and turns that have brought my life to where it is today.

La-la, how the life goes on. . .


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