We put the Y in Dysfunctional

When I was little, I was super self conscious of my family structure. In fourth grade, there were only two of us in the entire fourth grade with divorced parents. We happened to be in the same class. I remember our teacher calling us out into the hall to talk to us while someone told the rest of the kids that our parents were divorced. Nice, a really great thing to do to make us feel less alienated.

My family structure was very fluid as my dad got married four times. His first marriage was to my mom and we are the only kids he ever had. The second time he got married I was in middle school. My dad phoned to tell me he had gotten married and I went on with my life. I didn’t like his wife and she didn’t like me or my brother. But she wasn’t in the picture long enough for it to matter anyway. When I was a senior in high school, my dad announced his next marriage. He was going to get married after school let out. Dave and I were to travel to a vineyard in Napa for the wedding. It was beautiful and again had very little impact on my life since they lived on another coast. It wasn’t until I was in college that the marriage impacted me. My dad’s wife decided I couldn’t come and stay at their house for my fall break as planned. I was going to have to stay with a neighbor. After dozens of phone calls and tears, I was allowed to stay at the house but I certainly wasn’t welcome. I had to go to work with my dad each day and wander San Francisco on my own. If my dad wasn’t at the house, I wasn’t supposed to be either. That marriage didn’t last long but it managed to damage my relationship with my dad as I could never get over the fact that he was going to let this lady say I couldn’t stay with him. I saw him in a different light. Suddenly, he was powerless against this woman he “loved” and I was not even remotely the most important person in his life or hers. It’s clear from his journals that he struggled with women and their importance in his life for decades. My dad’s fourth marriage came after my wedding. On a trip to Chicago, he brought a friend. We went out to dinner with some of our friends and my dad and his new “friend” and at dinner he announced they were to be married the following week. I didn’t attend the wedding but Justin and I were invited to the reception afterward. That marriage lasted until his death and my relationship with that wife was the best out of all of the others…excluding my mom of course.

When Alex was first in school and we started to get school pictures, Justin and I quickly realized that they didn’t make picture packages for dysfunctional families. Justin’s parents were also divorced and his dad was remarried. We decided early on that the big pictures would go to the grandmothers and the grandfathers would get the wallet size. I don’t think our dads even realized the inequity so there was never an issue. But this year, I realized that we don’t have that problem anymore. In fact, we have very few relatives to share our pictures with now and I can get away with just getting one sheet of photos. See, both our dads died within a year and a half of each other. Justin’s dad died quickly of lung cancer. He only lived six months after he was diagnosed. And my dad, well, it felt like his decline was fast sometimes and other times it felt like time stood still.

But as we have grown back to a traditional, functional family, I have to be honest and let you know that I would much rather have all of the dysfunction that our dads brought with them. And believe me, the stories of their dysfunction could fill the pages of many books.

2 comments on “We put the Y in Dysfunctional

  1. Good to see your writing. It strikes me that your family was not dysfunctional, just divided. I have 4 parents, so to speak. Divorce is very hard on the kids. But troubled marriages are so hard on the parents. Hard choices we face as adults. My step-mom was abusive to me, and she stuck around! After a heart attack, she became kind to me, when I was there for her and my dad during her recovery. It’s healing to write. I hope you do write that book. Maybe I’ll write one too, but I don’t want to re-live the past at all, so it would be fictionalized. Warmly, Mia

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