It is still surprising to me how the currents of life take me on a path I might never have intended and how little choice I have but to surrender and go with the flow. Such has been the past few days. The river of life has carved a new swath.
Yes, there has been a devastating hurricane, Sandy on the east coast of the United States and millions of people are affected. A few days before the hurricane hit New Jersey, there was apparently an earthquake in Canada and another in Arkansas. Our Presidential election is days away and here in Santa Barbara, the birds are singing, and the weather has been beautiful. I however have been barfing my brains out and have barely stepped outside.
Yesterday morning on day three of my stomach flu, I received a call from my daughter in Alabama informing me that her father, (who lives just north of here in California,) the father of all three of my daughters, suffered devastating injuries in a fall from the second story roof of his home. His chances of survival are not good. Suddenly, life is prioritized in a way that only the mirror of death can bring about. As Stephanie put it, “none of the bullshit matters. I just know I love my Dad."
The bullshit she is referring to is her life with and without her father. My girls are the victims of divorce. I say victims now, because I am more than forty years down the river from the time I decided to “be happy,” at my children’s expense.
Of course I could not have imagined the consequences of my actions at that time because I was basically still a child. I was seventeen when I married their father and twenty-three when our marriage ended. I was still playing dress-up and pretending to be like my mother. My pretending, (or acting-as-if, as I like to think of it,) was mostly around cooking, baking and dressing us all in cute outfits. It had very little to do with determining the welfare and the future welfare of my three little girls.
The future they received was in many ways a gypsy’s life. It was in the late sixties and seventies and I was a blossoming flower child. I moved them away from the city and the home they knew, from their grandparents and their father to live with me at the beach where I fervently pursued my bliss. I thought it must be a child’s dream to live with my version of myself as Auntie Mame, but parts of what they lived were a child’s nightmare. My child. My children.
Their father moved to the beach to be near us shortly after our move. He was heartbroken over the loss of them and for a few years he stayed close and saw them every week. Five years later, he remarried and his priority became his new family. There was nothing I could do to bring him back into their lives in the ways he had once been.
Here is one of the problems with the seventies; we were all told a big, fat lie! It was women’s lib and the sexual revolution and I for one, bought the story that we women could “have it all.” A career,marriage, children, a big social life, whatever. Not true, not even close. Something and someone suffered.
For one thing, I had to go to work. This meant leaving my most precious with someone I did not know. I went to work in Los Angeles in a job that required travel. It was not the job my parents wished for me. They were hoping for something steady, secure, close to home and chock full of benefits. I was hoping for glamour. I won. My children, well, my children suffered.
I became an alcoholic with all of the implications of a single, alcoholic mother. The blessing being that by the age of twenty-eight, I was finished drinking. I have been sober since December 22, 1974. Still, the rug had been pulled out from underneath all of us and the repairs would be decades in the making. Losing the day-to-day contact with their father being perhaps the most devastating of all, at least for them.
Whenever there are stepfamilies there are obstacles and lessons to learn. David’s new wife was a child of nineteen when they married and she was less than secure or generous about sharing her new husband with his kids. The gap between my daughters and their father widened and when there were new, half-siblings, the gap widened even more. My daughters became the stepchildren. The ones who were not included on vacations or honored for birthdays, graduations, weddings or the births of their own children. Their father was mostly a voice on the phone or an occasional “drop-in” visitor. Visits were difficult for all of them.
So here we are, legions away from where all the “bullshit” began. My daughters are grown women now and their father’s life is in question. They each have long-term marriages and families of their own and when their half-brother called to tell them of their father’s accident, their unanimous response was “thank-you” for calling to tell us.
They do not care about how their parents cheated them, or what a painful childhood they had. They remember the times before the bullshit, when their dad took them camping at Rock Creek and fishing in his little sailboat in Balboa Bay. When they would stop at Thrifty for a nickel ice cream cone, and when their Dad found a desert tortoise in a gas station parking lot and brought it home to be the pet they would keep for a lifetime. They only remember the love.
It is strange; the snaking path the river of life takes to bring us back to the source. Parents make selfish, unwise choices, the way is made more difficult, but in the end it all returns to love.
Two of my daughters drove up north today to see their Dad. He is in an induced coma with a piece of his skull removed. He is hooked up to all sorts of life-saving devices and cannot acknowledge his visitors. Still, my daughters believe he knows they are there. They believe he will hang on until Saturday when their sister will be here from Alabama and they can all visit again together.
My daughters say they feel the relationship with their father is clean. The hurts have healed and been put away. The bullshit of power, of jockeying for position after a divorce, of who is more important, this family or that, is all gone away. All that remains is love.
God bless you David, and thank you. When it came to making children, I am grateful the way I followed led me to you.
My life is so glamorous! It’s just not fair, lucky for me!!