I was at work when he called me.
My dad doesn’t call me often–usually just for birthdays or health updates–so I knew I should answer. I walked to one of the smaller private meeting rooms on the floor and shut the door. He entertained a few pleasantries before getting right to it.
He was moving out.
I’ve known plenty of people throughout my life who are children of divorce. Elementary school friends who split their time between homes. Others were forced to navigate the landscape of blended families during the already difficult hormonal years.
There’s no argument children of divorce undergo a certain type of trauma. Their image of family has to be repainted. But as a grown adult, married with kids, and no longer residing with them, I really thought my parents’ separation wouldn’t affect me.
I let a few tears escape down my cheek as he walked me through his next steps. I was acutely aware of the disconnection between my parents for the past few months, but they had just returned from a warm, beachy vacation. Surely that would have helped fix things between them?
I asked my dad to impart any piece of marital wisdom he gained in the twenty-plus years of being married to my mom. The least he could do is tell me how to prevent the same falling out in my marriage.
He chuckled, brushed off my very serious inquiry, and said, “Communication.” We hung up, and I sat motionless. How could I continue my work day as if nothing had happened? It was as if I had just concluded a routine phone call with a teacher or dentist, not my own father, with the news of our nuclear family imploding.
I recently read an excerpt from the book, Date Your Wife by Justin Buzzard, which said, “Make a list in your head of the marriages you’ve seen that you actually like. How many married couples can you think of that have a thriving marriage—a good, happy, alive marriage—the marriage that makes other people want to get married?”
He reveals that countless people he’s asked have the same answer. He writes, “Most people can come up with only one or two examples of strong, lively, and attractive marriages.”
Before, I would have considered my parents one of those.
They traveled the world together, indulging in fancy hotels and luxury cruises. They unknowingly showcased their smarts through conversations over the Sunday paper or while they unpacked their work days. They prayed together and attended church weekly. Their laughter was real, and their love was tangible.
But in the years between him moving out and the divorce being completed, I became a pawn stuck in the middle. I acted as an unlicensed therapist, mediating communication between them. Overlooking hurtful words and blame, resisting the urge to defend the other parent.
I no longer felt like a daughter, but a casualty of their war; an ear that would listen, a head that would nod, a shoulder that wouldn’t buckle beneath the pressure.
My father’s departure planted new insecurities about my marriage. My stomach knots when my husband makes new female friends. My jealousy rears when he goes out on a Friday night. Fear manifests itself in recurring nightmares of him leaving me for someone else, startling me awake in tears.
How do I forgive the two people who made us a family for tearing us apart? For choosing bigger and better things than what was in front of them? For changing the dynamics between parent and child, grandparent and grandchild?
I still have questions about how their separation will permeate the lives of those who love them.
I contemplate who will be at the kids’ high school graduations and if we can all sit together. I visualize the boys’ weddings and wonder about reception seating charts. I imagine these questions will linger in the air for a while. Some days I’m frustrated we even have to navigate these dynamics. Other days, I’m at peace with the evolution of our family.
But despite my dad not having any sage advice that day on the phone, their separation ended up teaching me a few things. I now see how unique my parents are from each other. While I always knew them as a pair, they have their own voices and laughter. I can hear more clearly now. I know how they each prefer to communicate and how I should ask for help when I need it.
And I can envision what the “perfect day” looks like to each of them, whether it’s live music along the beach or knitting next to the fireplace. They have accomplishments they’re proud of and dreams they’re chasing.
Their divorce has reminded me of the importance of individuality in marriage. That we are safe to be our own separate selves. That we need to communicate about our goals and our struggles. That we should explore our own unique hobbies and passions, but remain invested in each other as well.
Despite my parent’s divorce, I am grounded because I am still loved and cared for—as a daughter, a sister, and a wife. Despite my parent’s divorce, I am certain our boys will be cherished by their grandparents, from miles apart or a five-minute drive. Through postcards in the mail or movie-night snuggles.
And because of my parent’s divorce, I’ve learned that forgiveness takes time.