Growing up, I went to a small private school where all my friends had “normal” families: married parents, two kids, a cute house, and some sort of pet.
And then there was us: a detailed calendar sitting on the kitchen counter, a list of where my sister and I would be sleeping each night, how our parents would hand us off. We had matching suitcases that we packed to go to Dad’s house, wherever that was at the time. We started collecting two of everything— one for each house so there was less to pack.
I tried to pretend to my friends that divorced parents were kind of cool— after all, I got extra Christmas presents, and I got TWO birthday parties every year. But still, I cried to my mom that I wanted to be normal. I never felt like I was able to be still, I never got to choose where I would be, and with divorced parents AND grandparents, holidays were exhausting.
It wasn’t normal, but it was my normal. Until I found out why my parents had gotten divorced in the first place; my cheating dad had let me believe for 10 years that the divorce hadn’t really been his fault at all. I had never realized that my step mom was the other woman. The woman who tried to call me her daughter had knowingly contributed to the destruction of my little 4-year-old world. My normal was shattered. Nothing seemed the same, my whole childhood and every happy moment with my dad looked like a lie to me.
I’ve spent the past five years dealing with that fallout. With who my dad is and what he’s done and the selfishness that drives him. I’ve realized that I am more of an adult than he is, that I understand relationships better than he does. And I’ve moved past the anger, but I hold him at arms length. He will never have the chance to hurt me again; I won’t let him get that close ever again. But I’ve come to terns with my dad; for all his flaws, he loves me, and I know that.
But then he did it again.
Fifteen years later, and my dad is still a cheating scumbag willing to put his temporary satisfaction above the well-being of his family and the vows he took. He is a toddler, stomping through things, shattering relationships, and then crying that nothing is whole any more.
I’ve watched this all from 400 miles away, slowly deciding what I want from the future, waiting to see how it all plays out. I’ve watched him declare that he will stay and work on the marriage only to get caught in the act of maintaining his affair. And now he’s moved in with his new girlfriend, who I never want to meet. She is not welcome at my birthday party or my graduation or my wedding. I am not interested in his new other woman.
I don’t even want him in my life any more. I don’t want him to walk me down the aisle. I don’t want him near my children with his falsities and his mixed motives. I don’t want his advice or his presence or his shadow on my life any more. But I don’t know how to cut him out without being an awful person.
I don’t want to break him or hurt him or get him back for the damage he’s caused. I just don’t want him anywhere near me. I don’t want the distractions or the poor decisions or the childish need for vindication. I don’t want any part of it.
I don’t want to explain my splintered family tree to confused kids who don’t get why their holidays are a little different. I don’t want to explain my father’s infidelities. I don’t want to be constantly paranoid that my dad will do something stupid and irresponsible if I ever leave my kids with him.
I want a new normal. I want to pretend that John is my only dad, that our family is what I always wanted it to be. I want my “real” dad to disappear into the sunset with all his drama and self-actualization crap. I want a nice future where my mom and John are grandma and grandpa and Joey’s parents are Poppy and Mimi. I want simple and quiet and drama-free. I want my kids to have a quiet, stable childhood that I never got to experience because of my dad’s decisions.
Will there ever be a day when I get that sense of peace?
That my parents are willing to drive almost 6 hours to come to an awards night where I just got a scholarship is crazy to me. They must have sat through dozens of hours of boring ceremonies by now, but they keep coming. I walk across the stage and get another piece of paper, and then I look over to see my mom and stepdad smiling at me from one of the front rows, and that just means the world to me. I am so supported and loved; it’s absolutely ridiculous.
I could not be the person I am today if I had not grown up in a home where I was allowed to explore and dream and be who I wanted to be. My parents never told me I couldn’t do something; they just helped me figure out a way to make my dreams happen.
When I was 9 and decided I wanted to make my own ink, my stepdad helped me crush berries from the backyard and sharpen a stick to write with. When I was 19, fresh home from my first year of college and feeling out of place, my mom helped me redecorate my room so I could feel at home again.
My mom visited EIGHT colleges with me. EIGHT. And five of those were in different states. She drove me to ice skating lessons, she left notes in my lunchbox, she let me grow an herb garden last summer— just because I got excited about plants. She was the first one to realize I was depressed, so long ago, and even now she does an excellent job of keeping an eye on me and making sure my mind is healthy. She helps me move into my dorm every year, she texts me every day, she sends me cards every few weeks. She told me that if I wanted to go to Italy this summer, that we could make it happen. I’m going, and it’s incredible.
My stepdad researches everything I mention, from tv shows to designers I love to the newest dream I have. He gives me supplies he’s had hidden away for 25 years. He is always winking at me from the front row of the auditorium when I am receiving an award or singing in a musical or waiting to get my diploma. He loves my mom the ways she deserves to be loved. He is passionately interested in everything I do, and he patiently listens as I stumble through my explanations of my design work. He met my teachers tonight, and he engaged them and learned about them. He never forgets anything (except to buy my mom flowers on Valentine’s Day). He has been there for me for almost 14 of my (almost) 20 years. He has spent his life loving a daughter who isn’t technically his, and I love him all the more for that. (Have I mentioned that he is going to marry me and Joey? I think that’s the part I’m most excited about.)
My life seems charmed sometimes, and tonight is one of those nights. Thank you, Lord, for the blessing of parents.