Who knows why couples divorce? Obviously, there are as many reasons as there are couples. If Dr. Phil doesn’t have the answers, I certainly don’t.
Nevertheless, after 25 years of marriage, my mom and dad decided to call it quits.
What led up to the divorce?
My dad had been commuting from LA to Atlanta for three years. He was gone for months at a time. Sometimes distance makes the heart grow fonder. Sometimes distance makes the heart question everything.
I was 20 and in college. For better or worse, I was the most adult version of my siblings. It was my job to drive home from Athens to Atlanta and talk my dad out of divorcing my mom.
Twenty-year-olds know nothing about life, let alone marriage, let alone divorce. But I had a strategy. I talked to my mom and dad as Jane and Gene.
“Why? Why now? What do you want individually that you aren’t getting from each other? Have you thought this completely through? Do you realize you’re making a decision for five people, not just for two? Do you really want to start over?”
I acted and sounded as mature as I could. But my faux adult facade soon crumbled.
My dad had met someone in LA and had a plane to catch the next day. I was losing my dad. My family was losing my dad. Before I knew it, my dad and I had reverted to our 20-year-old relationship. He was my father. I was his son.
To quote Emily Dickinson, the heart wants what it wants.
While my dad was home, I took two photographs of him. One on Saturday after he had just mowed the lawn. And one on Sunday when we was ready to catch his flight back to LA.
Here are the two photos.
Maybe I’m reading too much into these two photographs. But in the first one, to me, my dad seems more vulnerable, more lost. He seems to be saying:
“This is who I am, son. I don’t know any more about life than you do. I’m just as confused, just as uncertain, just as afraid as you are. Eventually you will have to make decisions like these. For now, let me make my own.”
In the second photo, he’s wearing his I’m-Leaving-On-A-Jet-Plane armor. Maybe there are a few tears behind his Ray-Bans. Maybe there are none. It doesn’t matter.
He’s my dad, he’s made his decision, and his emotional state is not my concern. My concern, my dad tells me, is to take care of my mom and brother and sister.
I did the best I could to follow his wishes, but I was not my dad. Two years later, he flew back to Atlanta to re-marry my mom. Not because I was a lousy father figure.
No, he flew back to Atlanta because he couldn’t live without my mom and all that they had built together. And my mom couldn’t live without my dad. He wisely discovered that his mid-life crisis posed a lot more questions than it did answers.
Most stories like this don’t have this kind of ending.
It’s true, the heart does want what it wants. As it turned out, my mom and dad’s hearts wanted exactly the same thing.