My parents separated in 1963. I was two years old. In the early sixties divorce, especially for a Catholic woman, was almost considered a stain, like walking around with a scarlet letter “D” on your shirt. You just didn’t talk about it. Even the church scorned her. No Holy Communion for my mom.
Others being “worse off” still makes obvious sense, but not validating my feelings . . . that doesn’t. Suppressed emotion doesn’t stay forever hidden. It creeps up in all sorts of places. I spent my fair share of time with therapists working hard to uncover a plethora of deeply embedded emotions. It’s a slow process. A little over a year ago, choking back my tears, a common occurrence during therapy, I struggled to find adequate words to explain my sadness. My therapist patiently waited and listened, then she gently suggested, “You feel gypped.”
Three simple words.
“Yes!” I exhaled, not realizing I was holding my breath, and my shoulders slumped forward. I felt a moment of relief as a 54-year-old splinter was plucked from a wound. I never got to know my dad. My life was a series of related chain-events after that.
I! Felt! Gypped!
I can’t speak for all children of divorce, but I know for me, the effects of being without a dad laid deep, muddy grooves that I have repeatedly scrambled and slipped out of again and again. They affected my physical health, tainted romantic and social relationships, manifested in unwise choices, and tampered with my self-esteem and sense of belonging.
Children read all sorts of uncomfortable, downright painful, scenarios into their position within the divorce. Some parents, lost in their personal struggles, unconsciously inject false suggestions that work like a poison to an already infected heart. In addition to my personal experience, I have seen first-hand, other children emotionally scarred by the false, bitter words of a scorned parent. It is sad.
I am far from naïve about the saying “it takes two to tango.” I have held both positions, that of scorner and scorned. I harbor no anger toward any one person for my loss. I have always understood that some things are not intentional. And I’ve always known my story was one of them, but that never lessened the sorrow.
I spent a lifetime choking back my feelings in believing that revealing them would somehow make me appear less than, or worse, pitiful. My healing process is hard work and takes guts. I take great strides in trying to be more open. Writing "The Absent Father" placed me in a position of vulnerability, but it’s a tremendous cathartic help on my path.
I hope my story will help newly-divorced parents recognize how important it is for their children to have both parents active and present in their lives.
If two adults, all those years ago, could have put their differences, bitterness and pain on the back burner, I’m guessing I might have had a dad. Of course, I’ll never know how any of that would have played out. My childlike imagination wonders why everyone can’t just be honest. Why is there a need to be right, to blame, point a finger, and smell like the proverbial rose?
Is it possible to meet somewhere in the middle, in that healing field Rumi longingly speaks of? Holding on to that possibility prompted me to finally write this story, one of many more to come.
How about you? Can you share how writing a story helped overcome loss?