Several weeks ago I wrote about Frank Zappa’s influence on me. At the end I said I hoped to write a series about major influences on my parenting philosophy.
I knew I’d be writing about my parents. I was surprised when the following post came out of it. It’s awkward writing about them, especially in this context. I called them and told them about the post, that I was writing about how their divorce impacted me. I didn’t want them caught off guard when they saw it. There were no objections. After many, many revisions, here it is.
I have no memories of my parents together. By together I mean married and in the same room. I don’t know why. I have a distinct memory from just before their marriage ended. My brother and I were home with my dad. He was making popcorn on the stove. I guess he didn’t keep a close enough eye on it. Soon the house was smokey and reeked of burnt popcorn. I could be wrong but I seem to remember us laughing about it. I have no idea where my mom was or why I remember this.
I should have some memory of my parents separating but I don’t. It’s gotten mixed up with the one of my mother explaining we were moving to Virginia. It was Sunday evening. I was inconsolable. It felt like the world was over.
I spent every weekend with my dad after the divorce. He was going through hell but I didn’t know it. He hid that from me until many years later. We went to the beach, laughed, and went to movies. Moving ended all of it. It was painful. I was separated from my dad a second time.
The years between the divorce and moving to Virginia feel…hollow. Vulnerable. When we moved I had to adjust.
The experience of parental separation came back into focus when I became a father. My daughter would have no connection to either of her biological parents. She would have no memory of them. Not consciously anyway. I began to wonder what kind of feelings she would experience. Would she feel hollow? Vulnerable? Or something else entirely.
I made it through childhood with no outward signs of trauma or stress due to my parents divorce. But it was there. Fault lines beneath the surface. When Penelope starts asking why she doesn’t look like us or why she didn’t grow in mommy’s belly, my mind will go into overdrive thinking how these foundational issues will manifest themselves in her life. And I will have to be very careful, being attentive to her needs and feelings while dialing back my desire to ask seemingly endless questions. Or worse, trying to fix her.
Because when it comes right down to it Jenn and I are additions, not replacements, in Penelope’s life.
There are things from my past I just accept. Making a judgement call or wondering how things would have turned out “if only” doesn’t help me. My parents divorce is one of those things. I don’t hold it against them or think they failed me in some way. But it did happen and it did shape my life in ways I have been coming to grips with.
I’m fortunate that I can talk openly with my mom and dad. If I have questions or need to say something they are there and will listen. I hope Penelope will have the same openness with Jenn and I. Though we cannot replace the love of her first family I hope she welcomes the addition of our presence and love in her life.