About the only thing I remember about the time of year when my parents informed us of their impending split was that it was winter. I can’t remember if it was Christmas break or if it was just some other winter day. I remember it was cold. I remember that my father was stationed with the Navy somewhere really far away (as in, not down the street where I could see him all the time). I also remember that I still had really long hair, so I must have been in 2nd grade, which means I was 8.
All of us kids were on the floor sitting “Criss-Cross-Applesauce” as they call it these days. Back then, they called it “Indian Style”. I think my mom might have been holding the baby. This would have been around 1982, so my baby brother would have been about 19 months or so.
The word DIVORCE fell like a bomb. Oddly enough, my older brother seemed completely ready for it and acknowledged it as if it were a foregone conclusion that this is what was going to happen. But me? Tears flowed quickly and ferociously…and I remember thinking…wondering…would he say next that I was going to go with him? I would sure miss my sisters and brothers, but surely I was going to stay with my Daddy.
But those words never came. I don’t know if my brother asked what was to become of the children or if my parents just moved right into that part, but it was made clear that we would stay with our mother. I didn’t understand. Why would I stay with my mother? Didn’t my dad want me? I mean, I didn’t understand why he’d leave at all…but surely (in my 8-year-old brain) he couldn’t bear to just leave me there?!?!
I don’t remember anything else about that particular day. It’s very hazy. It’s probably best that I don’t. I’m sure there was a lot of crying from my mother. I think I was probably in some sort of state of shock. I don’t remember feeling angry necessarily…just very confused and very unsure and maybe a little bit rejected and unloved. I don’t remember if I hugged my sister that was old enough to process what was going on (she was 6) or if I hugged my brother. I really only remember sitting there, wondering why I wasn’t going with my dad.
I started seeing a therapist through Catholic Charities about three years ago. My reason for starting was because I had all these pent-up, unresolved feelings about what happened to my Dad and to me. I realized through talking it out that what I suffered was abandonment, in the classic sense of the word, though it took quite a few sessions for me to term it what it was and really accept it.
I’m really happy that I talked with this therapist about this stuff. She reminded me about the climate for our situation in the early 1980s.
It would be quite a fight for my father to “fight” for custody for me or for any of the children. Especially since my mom had been and still was (at the time) a Stay-At-Home-Mom. My father would have to try and prove my mother to be an unfit mother in order to have any sort of chance, and there was practically zero chance that a court would see my mother as an unfit mother…because, well, she wasn’t.
Besides that, my mother had cared for the home and children while my father had attended and completed law school. My mother had cared for my father, the home and children for 16 years, while my father had been in the military, stationed in several different locations, including internationally.
And…my father, in my adult opinion, “wanted out” and didn’t want to mess with a messy court battle that would upset the children or even my mother. As it was, I am fairly confident that my father wasn’t getting a lot of support from his own parents with this move. So as a man on his own, doing what I have come to see as what he felt he had to do…trying to take me with him was not going to be a very smart move.
The only way I might have had a chance to go with my father would have been to ask for it, to beg for it, to let the screams of my desires reverberating in my brain to overflow out of my mouth. And, well…that’s a tall order for an 8-year-old, seeing her mother crying on the couch, being told by her father that he’s leaving and not knowing what that really means. I mean, as an adult, I can look back and see that my parents’ relationship was far from healthy and that my father was trying to “get out” of a bad relationship. But when I was 8, it sure felt near impossible to see my father leaving as anything but leaving ME.
I realized after my post the other day, that perhaps writing about this stuff might cause some people to misconstrue my intent or my relationship with my father. While my relationship with my father is nothing like it would or could have been, I consider it strong at this point in my life. That is possible only through the power of God’s forgiveness and the Grace He has bestowed on me to accept my father with all of his failings…as my Dad.
God has granted me the GRACE to see as an adult what I could never see as a child.
God has bestowed upon me precious gifts of my husband and my children to show me that the evil of divorce doesn’t HAVE to be a cycle and that I have a choice to love beyond myself. Through these gifts, I am able to see that my dad was broken (as we all are broken) in sin and God has enabled me to believe that my dad really did love me and that it was probably very hard on him that loving me and my siblings wasn’t enough. As a mom, I can’t truly empathize with it, but I can see it just enough in the way my dad has handled our relationship since I’ve been an adult to know that it was painful for him to be separated from us…because he was separated from God as well.
Anyway, as I write of these experiences, I am still on a journey of discovery and forgiveness. I’m able to write about this part of the journey BECAUSE God has enabled me to reach the point where I understand and God has touched my heart just enough that I can see the situation the way that I do. I can’t predict how long this journey will continue as I am currently processing much related to my mother and her role in all of this, but I feel confident that I have resolved enough with regards to my dad, that I am able to share.