By Eric S. Elkins
April always brings a kind of fraught loveliness for me. It’s a mixture of joys and pain all wrapped up in the teasing buds and blooms and snowflakes of early spring. In Denver, April is when you withhold your trust that winter has truly left, unable or unwilling to suspend your disbelief, knowing that a 70 degree day could be followed unbidden by one of those spring blizzards that shatter the branches of the city’s newly green trees, leaving everyone feeling sort of bereft, even though we should have known better.
And that’s sort of how I felt when my parents got divorced when I was in my mid-20s. April 1 would have been their anniversary, and it it never goes by without my wondering what might have been. I’m no April fool, but I am still the kid of two wonderful parents, and though I don’t grieve for their marriage in the way I once did, the first day of the month always catches me a little sideways.
My parents had been married for a little more than a quarter century when they pulled the plug. When I talk about it, I say that I’d thought we’d beaten the odds — most of my friends came from divorced families, and I felt like we were the rare exception that had made it through. I mean, shit, my parents were married when they were 20 and 21, and had me, premature and unlikely to live more than a few days, just months later. They were still kids when they had my middle sister, and not even out of their 20s when my baby sister came along. We moved up and down the East Coast, then away to Denver when I was 8, to LA when I was 10, and back to Colorado on my 14th birthday. And, through it all, my parents, though they fought here and there, were, at least in my eyes, a model of love and affection.
So when my father and I met for lunch one day, something we’d do every few weeks, I was surprised by the news, but not altogether shocked. To make some extra bucks, my mother had been working as a traveling nurse all over the country, staying in nursing shortage areas like Fresno and Sacramento for months at a time, and every time she returned, she was more worldly and independent than before. I could see that she was becoming her own person, defining herself outside the context of a relationship that had kept her in a little box since she was a teenager, and I couldn’t help wondering what would happen if she found herself back in the house with my dad.
I remember the day Mom drove off to Sacramento, where the hospital she’d been working for had offered her a permanent position. I know she was feeling devastated, leaving my high school-aged youngest sister and my dad to fend for themselves. I’m trying to piece together where we met — I think it was at a park and ride on the outskirts of the city, just off the highway she’d take westwards. Her car was loaded up with items she’d bring to her little apartment; the whole back seat was stacked with boxes and clothing…26 years of stuff whittled down to whatever could fit into her Ford Tempo. I remember Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me” playing, plaintive and heartbreaking. I remember that it was a cloudy, grim sort of day, the mountains barely visible in the distance. And I remember my mother’s tears as she hugged me goodbye.
Thinking about it now, I imagine the torrent of feelings that must of been wheeling through her heart at that moment — wracking guilt over leaving her children, maybe some doubt about ending a lifetime of love with my father, a sense of devastation at everything she was giving up, and then, if I’m not mistaken, that heart-pounding feeling of possibility, of liberation, of an adventure that could go anywhere.
My parents have never really talked to me about the divorce — I was out of the house, dealing with my own relationship, and I think they believed it wouldn’t affect me like it did my sisters. Of course it did, in ways none of us would have guessed.
But here’s where April threw me a curveball this year.
My father sent me a text wishing me a happy Passover, adding that he and his wife would be at my mother and her husband’s house for the first night of the holiday — for first seder.
Both of my parents remarried within a few years of the divorce — my mother met a man in Sacramento and stayed there; my father met someone in Albuquerque and moved there to be with her. A few years ago, though, my father was transferred to Sacramento, and he and his wife moved within 10 minutes of my mother.
The new arrangement was a little uneasy at first…one year, when Simone and I were invited to spend Thanksgiving at my father’s house, my youngest sister insisted he invite my mom and her husband. It was a fun night, but everyone was a little on edge. Still, it was a good start, and having my parents live in the same city is much easier on the travel budget.
But I attribute the latest changes to dogs and illness.
A couple years ago, when my mother learned that my father and his wife had picked up a gorgeous puppy, expected to grow into a very large dog, I told her there were still sibs left in the litter. She ended up with one of my dad’s puppies’ brothers.
After a time, my mom and dad would meet up at the local dog park, and the brothers would play together while they visited. Pretty awesome, right?
And then, last summer, my father was diagnosed with cancer and had to go through several months of chemotherapy. My mother ended up keeping my father’s dog at her house occasionally, to take some pressure off of Dad’s wife when she was ministering to his needs. And then, when my mother needed foot surgery, Dad and his wife took her dog quite often, and the boys would play together in their backyard.
Now I receive mobile photos of the two dogs together at one house or another. And I smile every time.
See, I don’t expect my parents to get back together; they are happy in their respective relationships, and have found some sort of sustainable equilibrium. They were best friends for 25 years, so it only makes sense that they’d find a way to enjoy each other’s company again.
Ever since the early days of my divorce, I’ve had a fervent wish that Simone’s mom and I could find our own friendly equilibrium — that, once the initial anger and hurt went away, we could see that it would be in Simone’s best interest for us to get along. And I’ve tried, at times, to encourage that kind of interaction, from inviting Simone’s mom and her family to join us for her birthday brunch or our Hanukkah latke-making party, to letting them know that Simone and I would love to watch her baby sister for a few hours if they ever need it.
And though none of those invitations have been accepted, they also haven’t been met with the same incredulity of the early years. So we all attend Simone’s functions together, whether it’s a school play or a Taekwondo belt test, and I get along with Simone’s stepdad. I also always make a point of getting down to kid-level with Simone’s sister, because I don’t want her to think I’m just the guy who takes her “Sissie” away from her.
Dad and Mom have been divorced for many more years than we have, and they were together much, much longer. But they do give me hope that, someday, Simone’s mom and I will find our way to, if not friendship, at least a sense of mutual admiration for our roles in our daughter’s life. Maybe we won’t have Passover seders together, but maybe, just maybe, we’ll find ways to celebrate and honor Simone’s accomplishments as one big family.
Eric Elkins’ company WideFoc.us specializes in using social media and ePR strategies to develop constellations of brand experiences, delivering focused messages to targeted segments. Read more of his Dating Dad chronicles at DatingDad.com , or tell him why he’s all wrong by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.