My parents married in 1968, when my father was 26 and my mother, a mere 19. Despite the tumult going on in the world, they lived in a small, rural West Virginia town, far away from the growing tide of feminism and flexibility in gender roles. Instead, they were still part of a culture where you married young, made babies early and settled on a front porch to watch them all grow.
At the time my parents married, my mom had just witnessed her own parents go though an acrimonious divorce. She was enrolled in college, torn between living on her own without sufficient means to support herself and meandering back to her dad’s house to contend with her three younger siblings who still shared his home. She wanted out. She wanted another existence. She wanted life to be easier.
Enter my dad.
He was one of two suitors vying for her attentions. One young man was an athlete at the college she attended, from an upper class background, based in a faith with which she was unfamiliar. The other grew up in the same town as she, attended the same high school where she knew his siblings and frequented the same drive-in restaurant.
It was at that restaurant where she first spoke with my dad.
The familiarity with which she regarded him and his surroundings set the stage for their marriage a year later.
It wasn’t a happy marriage. It wasn’t an unhappy marriage. It was a marriage that could be described as normal by their peers. Two people existing together. The type of marriage that so many knew, though no one aspired to it. But when you don’t know anything different, don’t see anything different, there is no reason to believe that anything else exists.
Until my mom had children.
When my mother had me three years into her marriage, her life changed. Having never known real love before, her focus soon shifted. Two and a half years later, my sister followed. In her eyes, nothing else compared to the love that she had for her children. That’s when the real divisiveness became apparent. He was a young man on the brink of his 30’s still subsisting in an unaffected world not concerned with jobs or money, raising children or making home a priority.
By the time I had reached age three, the situation had taken a toll on both parties. My mom was ensconced in the lives of her children. My dad, while loving when present, was taken with a different life. Ultimately, their growing apart resulted in his affair that eventually ended the marriage.
While I don’t believe that all affairs are marriage-ending, I believe divorce was a viable and practical solution for my parents. There was little holding their relationship together by the time my father commenced his affair.
Of more importance to me was not the reason that my parents divorced, it’s that they did. For many years, I did not know nor was I especially concerned with the reason that my parents divorced. Even now, the reasons surrounding their divorce seem unimportant to me. That was their relationship and it does not define me. What has been a great point of pride for me throughout my life was that my parents were able to pursue a friendship after their divorce. They spoke nearly every day and my father joined my mom and stepdad for many family occasions.
Before my dad passed away nearly 17 years ago, he had the knowledge that we were in good hands. My stepdad entered the picture when I was a pre-teen. I didn’t take to him immediately as I have attested in a previous post. However, his persistence and love throughout the years resulted in a healthy blended family. My dad had the privilege of seeing his children loved and well-cared for, something which he acknowledged and was grateful for during his lifetime.
Why am I glad that my parents divorced?
Because my dad was not forced to parent, and thus live life, in a way in which he was uncomfortable. Because I did not have to watch my parents fight on a daily basis, creating a tense home life. Because my parents were able to end their marriage as friends and continue in that relationship until the day my dad passed away. Because it enabled my mother to find happiness with a partner who shared her morals and values. Because I had the opportunity to see a good marriage between loving adults, my mother and stepfather. Because I would have been denied an existence without my stepdad who provided me the stepparenting role model that I needed to succeed in my own marriage and family.
No, divorce is not ideal. The effects reach far and wide to every member of the family. Still, I rest easy knowing that the decision that my parents made nearly 40 years ago was in the best interest of our family. In addition, it set the stage for me to see a safe, secure, happy home life…the very life I attempt to create for my stepchildren today. That’s a tribute to all of my parents.