My Parents Were Married 38 Years Ago, Had Me 36 Years Ago, and Broke Up Last Month

My Parents Were Married 38 Years Ago, Had Me 36 Years Ago, and Broke Up Last Month

“I had lunch with your brother today, and I met with your sisters tonight,” Dad said as he drove me home from the airport last month. He paused for a long time, steering with one hand and holding his cigarette with the other. Then he said something that came out like a question. “I’m divorcing your mother?”

It wasn’t a question—it was a statement of fact. The questioning tone, I suppose, was because he wasn’t sure how I would react. I didn’t, really. I just nodded my head. I was surprised, but not shocked.

So how does it feel to become a child of divorce at age 36? The first feeling I had was, ironically, a feeling of finally being—for lack of a better word—legit. Lots of my friends had, and have, divorced parents, and I’ve always felt almost bashful about having parents who were still married. I knew my friends’ situations were nothing to envy, but at the same time there was a sense that those friends had experienced something very deep and real and hard that I would never know or understand.

Now, I’m one of them—a kid with divorced parents. I’m not saying that I understand what my friends have gone through, especially those friends whose parents broke up when their kids were still young: every family is different, and deals with a divorce in its own way. There are, though, some similarities—my siblings and I now have to decide who to spend any given holiday with, and have to be careful in how we talk about each parent to the other, and have to prepare ourselves for the possibility of our parents eventually dating, perhaps even marrying, other people.

It’s a new world, and in some ways it’s scary. When the relationship that’s been most foundational to your life ends, it inevitably causes you to think differently about the world. I know that relationships can change, and end—I’ve been through a couple of tough breakups myself—but the knowledge that a relationship is something living, that you have to work on and treat with care, is more real for me now than ever before.

Though it’s impossible to know what challenges the coming months and years will hold, I’m optimistic. I’m glad my parents were able to do the honest thing and the kind thing: to end a relationship that was holding both of them back from being as happy as they could be. It feels gratifying to have two of the people you know and love best in life say, you know what? This relationship is not right. It’s not the kind of relationship we’d want for others, and it’s not what we want for ourselves. For my parents to affirm that everyone—themselves included—deserves a better relationship than that is something that feels honest and empowering.

Though my parents say they might have made different choices in their lives if they’d known then what they know now, they aren’t overcome with regrets. They understand why they got together, and stayed together—and so do I. I see what they loved about each other, and not just in them: I see it in myself.

My dad saw my mom’s unfailing kindness, her sharp intelligence, and her resourcefulness. My mom saw my dad’s deep commitment to social justice and his iconoclastic wit. There are not a lot of other pairs of parents who could have produced a son who’s had success both teaching preschoolers and running a blog with posts like—well, I think my aunts and uncles might read this, so I won’t name any other Tangential posts, but you know.

I think my parents know a lot too. They knew what was good in each other, and for our sakes they held fast to that for almost 40 years—but finally, they knew when it was time to let go. For both of those decisions, I love them. Even if our parents never see each other again once Dad moves out, each of the four of us—their children—will see both of them every time we look in the mirror. I feel good about that, and I think Mom and Dad do too.

Jay Gabler