My parents separated a month or so before my 19th birthday. I had reasons to suspect it was coming for a while, but it still came as a shock, and I've spent the past three years trying to come to terms with it.
Holidays are still difficult, and going back to the house was strange for a long time, as is adjusting to a family of four suddenly becoming only three. I’m still angry and sad in many ways and I'm estranged from my father, but lately I've been trying to focus on the good things that have developed since (and thanks to) the divorce.
Trying to see the silver lining has helped a lot. As of right now, there are three main things I can identify as positive effects of the divorce.
1. Thanks to the divorce, my mom and I have become best friends.
Five years ago, I never would have thought my mom and I would be able to talk to each other the way we do now (although I know this often happens naturally as daughters age). We had a tense, tumultuous mother-daughter relationship, but looking back I now see that all she wanted to was help me be happy, while all I wanted to do was smoke cigarettes and sleep at my boyfriend's house, AKA she had loving motivations and I had crappy, immature ones.
It wasn't until I moved to New York four years ago in the summer of 2009, right before my parents' split, that things started heal between us. I was in my second year of college when my father left, and the bond of going through that trauma together sealed us together in ways I never thought were possible.
When I was growing up, we were a very close family and I couldn't fathom my parents loving, respectful, rock-solid seeming relationship could possibly change. To further complicate an already painful divorce, my father had a long-term affair with a woman who my mother and I both personally knew.
Also, his spiritual beliefs led him to say several infuriating remarks in line with his beliefs like: Live in the present. Don't let the past weigh you down. If someone finds true love, you should be happy for them.
This broke my heart because I wanted him to have "true love" with my mom and to love me and my brother more than someone he had only recently met. That's been the divide that has become between us because we're looking at life from such different angles. To me it feels like he's not having empathy for my very in-the-present heartbreak.
It was hard to get past these (to me, maddening) principles to get to the person he is. To make him understand my point of view.
My mother became the only person who truly understood where I was coming from and why I was so angry, so we went through our grieving together, as companions, for the first time. Without the experience of going through that unique pain, I doubt we would have become nearly as close as we are now.
Today, my mom is my best friend (cheesy, but really, it's true). We talk everyday, and since she is the most hilarious person I know, she is often the subject of my tweets (which she hates). She runs her own business, her and my brother have taken up clay-pigeon shooting (which I find hilarious since she is a yogini), and she has a group of equally awesome lady friends. She's taught me how to be strong and independent and not depend on anyone.
Once again, I wouldn't have thought it possible two years ago when we were crying in bed together, spending Christmas Eve driving around looking at the lights like zombies, in a shocked-daze, but she is doing better now than I have ever seen her.
...Okay, enough gushing about my mom. (For now)
2. My little brother has grown into the raddest fifteen-year-old boy on the planet.
Being raised mostly by women from age 12 and up has done wonders for my little brother Luke (but maybe I'm just tooting my own horn here). I thought I was cool and "different" when I was his age because I went to noise shows and had a mullet-mohawk, but Luke is the true nonconformist in the family.
An enigma of his own living in Rhode Island, he loves country music, wears flannel and cowboy boots every day, and knows how to drive a tractor. He can drive a motorboat, loves fishing and shoots shotguns with my mom in our backyard. He has three Russian tortoises and a workshop he built in the basement, where he makes his own knives, leather wallets and laptop cases (he even has a freakin' Etsy account!) None of his friends share these interests, yet he never waivers in flying his freak flag.
But since he’s being raised by a bunch of feminists, he also is incredibly progressive for a 15-year-old boy and very respectful. He actually stood up to his sex ed teacher, who claimed that the “Q” in LGBTQ stands for questioning. Luke corrected the teacher during the class, saying his sister was queer. They told him he was wrong, then a few days later said they looked it up, realized they were wrong, and apologized to him. How sweet is that?
My mom owns a yoga studio, which she runs and employs all women teachers. Since Luke can't drive yet, he mostly is tagging along with them, and their kids, most of whom are predominantly girls.
My brother loves women -- in the right way.
Luke is 100 percent his own person and it’s something I really respect about him. Maybe I'm reading into it too much, but I really believe at least some of his confidence comes from being constantly surrounded by strong women, because my dad isn't around for the most part.
Losing my dad melded Luke, my mom and I together into a tight little group. My cousin Tristan just moved from Germany to live with us though, so now at least Luke has a cool older guy to kick it with.
When my father first left, I went off the deep-end so to speak: barely leaving the house, vomit-inducing panic attacks, curled up in the fetal position for days in a row, drinking a LOT of wine, not eating, and generally punishing myself with any type of harmful behavior you can imagine. Luke has said that seeing many of my mistakes helped him become a wiser individual, who's more cautious and conscious of his drinking than I was because he saw his crazy older sister go too far with it for a brief period.
3. I realized my father isn't God.
My dad is also a yoga teacher, and a very well known one in certain hot-yoga power Vinyasa circles, as well as a popular "spiritual teacher" on a particular new-age Christian text. I grew up idolizing him (and some wise commenters pointed out in my last article that I have hero-worship issues -- this is probably where that stems from).
He's an incredibly brilliant, charismatic, charming man. I've watched him succeed again and again in every new (business and material) venture he's taken on. He instilled in me the belief that I can do anything, not with words, but with his actions, because I've watched him accomplish anything he set his sights on. I didn't see him as real person who could do any wrong, who had feelings and conflicts -- I thought he practiced exactly what he preached and had no issues of his own.
But the fact of the matter is that my father is human. And if my parents hadn't gotten divorced I don't know if I would have ever been able to realize that. I don't know if I would have gotten the opportunity to truly know my father, because I could have easily gone on blindly imagining my idealized version of him.
Yes, I am still angry and sad, and I don't know when or if I will extend the olive branch, but at least I know that if I do decide to rebuild our relationship, it will be from a realistic place, instead of a superficial, distorted, holier-than-thou one.
While I do sometimes miss the way my life used to be before my parents were divorced, and some days I wake up thinking my parents are still together (which can be unsettling for a minute) or worry about my mom and brother, overall, I'm grateful for what my little family has turned into.
Ultimately, even though my father and I are currently estranged, I'm finding myself agreeing with what my father has been trying to tell me since the details of his affair came out.
I'm not going to let the past weigh me down.