From the onset of autumn and up to the New Year are perhaps the most nostalgic time of year for me, perhaps even a bit melancholy although I really love this period. The chill in the air for some reason makes me think of my childhood and all the holidays. I actually remember my first week in Australia as an exchange student. Despite the buzz and excitement of the first few days in sub-tropical Sydney, the chill in the air at night in Canberra felt comforting. The cold makes me think of being at home with my parents over the school breaks, watching movies and reading. Just that joy of being at home and feeling snug and secure. Even as an adult with my own kids, I could still get a sense of that by going to my parents’ house during this time of the year. I could feel snug at home(usually we would light the fireplace), watch movies, and for a short period feel taken care of and not have to be the caretaker. I could forget my worries for a bit and imagine I was a kid again.
The refuge that was my parents’ house is gone as my parents are going through some sort of separation. It’s a long story involving feelings of neglect, my mom’s attraction to another man, two years of couples therapy, and the discovery that the contact never ended and my mom declaring that she is in love with this other man. It’s been a few weeks since the latest round of events unfolded, so at this point I think I have really removed myself from the situation. At first I was mad and felt lied to by my mom. However, I’ve come to realize that there is nothing I can do. My mom doesn’t want to seem to end her affair and my dad feels too betrayed to want to do anything regarding the relationship. They are still living in the same house, but I’m not sure how long that can last.
Dealing with both of my parents together has been stressful. They put on a good front (they were last over for Halloween) when together in public, enough that I get fooled into thinking there is some hope. However, at some point I hear about what is going on at home and I realize that it is hopeless. If I put aside my wishful thinking I can sense the tension between them. My dad is hurt and angry, despite his claims that he is fine and “more calm” than when the affair first came to light. My mom seems uneasy and to me dangerously delicate, almost as if this world she inhabits could come crashing down at any moment.
I feel a bit stuck. I don’t want to cut the kids off from seeing my parents, but going to their house is no longer comfortable for me. Beyond the immediate sadness of seeing my parents separating after 40 years of marriage(apparently the Divorce rate for those over 60 is rising), I get hit hard by the little things. One that really gets me is thinking about the bunkbeds at the house that we finally assembled a few weeks ago with my dad. My mom bought them earlier in the year and the girls were so excited. Now I wonder if they will ever be used again. I just imagine those beds in an empty house. It represents a lost memory for the kids, one that they never got to really form. What other experiences with both of their grandparents that I had imagined will never take place now? Obviously they can still do things with my mom or dad, but sadly it probably won’t be with both of them together. We even had to re-shuffle our trip to Chile this December. Now it’s basically going to be two separate trips, one with my dad and another with my mom. I have so many treasured memories of trips and events that my sister and I had with my parents that I had wanted my children to have some of their own with them as well.
The positive result of this mess is that it has helped me turn in towards my own family. That sense of lost opportunities for the kids has made me feel so protective and so loving towards them. It’s something about their innocence and vulnerability that really pulls at my heart. I’m not perfect but I’ve tried to be much more patient with them and not get annoyed as much. I’ve tried to spend more time with them doing stuff they want to do. I want them to feel loved and to keep them as safe as I can from the hurts that I can control.
I’ve also gone to my wife for support and help during this period. I’ve tried to let myself be open and share my concerns and feelings with her ( I tend to be more of a silent brooder). I’ve also been reminded by all this to not take her for granted. A lot of my mom’s frustrations over the years are based on my dad’s bad habit of cutting off conversation on certain topics. He does it to my sister and me as well, so I know how off-putting it is. I think I have that tendency as well. I don’t know what the triggers for my dad are, but I know that for me, I would often shut down if I felt I couldn’t explain something, or if a question by my wife pointed out a flaw or made me realize I hadn’t thought something through. It’s more of a self shame process, but my wife feels it as punishment towards her. I’m trying to remind myself that it’s okay to not know everything and to let myself feel that frustration of not knowing or discovering mistakes. I’m also trying to let my wife know how much I love her, leaving short messages at random times during the day when the feeling hits, trying to be gracious when she asks for small favors, doing small things that can make a world of difference.
I may not be able to change what is happening with my parents, but hopefully I can spare my kids the hurt of having their parents separate. By working on my own marriage, now and always, I can hopefully avoid the pitfalls that plagued my parents. As long as we are alive I want the kids to always feel that we can offer a place of comfort and love, a place where they can be warm on a cold night.