Average Jane

A different sort of anniversary

“Our therapist thinks we should get a divorce, but we can’t afford it.” My mom certainly has a way of sugar coating things. This little nougat of information was almost as awesome as when she told me, “Don’t make the same mistake I made,” regarding her decision to marry my dad.

Oh, so this post is about my parents’ “marriage” but you might come out understanding a little about my attitude toward love and dating and why, maybe, I am a little bit totally damaged in that regard.

From a very young age, we are all taught that divorce is “bad”, or at the VERY least, completely discourages if at all possible and avoidable. But from almost as early an age, I knew my parents weren’t happy. I got mad at my mom for provoking and enabling my dad, and mad at my dad for being a dick to my mom. Then one day I surprised my mom while she was eating with her friend. They were looking through a book, shuffling it away as soon as I arrived. But I saw it. I saw the title: “Emotional Abuse.”

I was livid. Fuck her for saying my dad abused her. She didn’t know abuse. I saw abuse on TV and my dad didn’t do that. And how dare she tell her friends such lies. How dare she?

All these years later, I wish I had been right. I wish she had been wrong. I wish they had been lies. But I’ve seen it now. I’ve seen what he does to her. The criticism, the mental and emotional games. The power plays, the insults. Making her feel like an idiot. Making her feel like she didn’t do enough. Making her feel like she wasn’t good enough.

So about 6 or 7 years ago I started asking her to leave my dad. I told her, you don’t even have to get a divorce, just leave. Come live with me. And I was always rebuffed. “I like your father,” she would tell me. After 30 years, I guess “liking” him was as good as could be expected. But I persisted. Every year on their anniversary I ask her again, “Why don’t you just leave dad?” And every year I got rebuffed. Until this year.

This year, for the first time she didn’t say no. She said, “I guess people my age do it all the time.” Yes, mom. They do.

While I was at the CC’s house this weekend, I brought it up to her mom. Her response: “You know, we’ve all offered her help if she wanted to leave. Your cousin said your mom could live with her.” Like a brick to the head, I was caught off guard and hurt. They knew. They all knew. It’s one thing, I suppose, to know that my parents’ marriage is doomed. To hate my dad sometimes. It’s an entirely different thing to know that other people hate him, too. That other people have been working as hard as I have to save my mom. To salvage her life. To give her the opportunity to find happiness and maybe even love.

I am as conflicted as I could be: What child wants to see her parents divorced? But what child wants to see her parents miserable. It’s one thing to know my dad is slowly killing himself, but as he kills himself physically, I see that he is killing my mom’s spirit, too. Why go down alone when you can bring everyone else down with you?

I love my dad. He has every good intention in the world toward everyone else, except my mom. And what a model that is for me. What I have learned is to be independent enough that I’d never be obligated to anyone, any man. Just as the last guy I dated. I violently resisted any attempt he made to do anything for me, any opportunity he had to make me feel indebted. He had no malicious intent in trying to be wonderful, and yet I raged against it all. I will never, ever be what my mom is: stuck.

So today is the day I ask my mom, yet again, to leave my dad. I ask with hope, and yet I fear that one day the answer will be “yes”.


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  1. * Sam says:

    I know exactly what you mean; my dad’s the same way with my mom. The roughest part (for me at least) is knowing that it’s not entirely his fault; his parents were fucked up, too, and his grandparents before them. It doesn’t absolve him of his responsibility to not be an emotionally and physically abusive alcoholic asshole (alliterative!) but it complicates things for me to know that he’s not simply a bad person. Sometimes people who would otherwise be good just can’t help but do bad things.

    On the bright side, you seem to be only about halfway as damaged emotionally as you could be! Try waking up one day and realizing that your dad probably didn’t grow up wanting to be the sort of person who was abusive towards his wife, in fact it’s probably a learned behavior he desperately wanted to escape, it just sort of happened to him anyway despite his best intentions to not be a douchebag. Then connect the dots and realize that maybe for all of your declarations that you would never be like him, perhaps you can’t escape that learned behavior, either.

    I pray regularly for God to not let me turn out like my father. Most Jewish girls I know pray that they’ll never turn out like their mothers anyway, but out of curiousity: do you do pray for that in earnest?

    In all honesty, I pray more that I won’t end up like my dad. He and I are so similar that the propensity for me to go down his path is more likely than that of my mom. But I also pray that I won’t end up in a relationship where resentment reigns supreme. I don’t think it’s “hate” or “spite” but each resents the other for being stuck in a loveless… well, a marriage with a different kind of love, because surely they love each other on some level. They need each other, that’s for sure.

    My dad was not what his dad wanted him to be: the athlete. The brute. And my brother is not the son my father wanted him to be: The intellectual. The charmer. My dad is depressed and sick and disappointed, I think, in his life. It’s just that my mom ends up taking the heat for a life she didn’t choose.

    So do I pray that I won’t end up like my mom? I pray in so many ways that I end up being half the mother she is. She is my hero in so many ways, for keeping the family together, for being as strong as she can be. I just also hope that I’m never in a position to have to be so strong…

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 7 months ago
  2. * Cphgrl says:

    This sucks and I’m sorry. Truely.

    Good luck to you and both your parents.

    Also, great job on the blog!

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 7 months ago
  3. * carrie m says:

    it sucks when we look at our parents as people, not just parents. truly fallible people who fuck up just like us.

    much love, my dear. and i’m around tonight if you need to talk or if you want to hang out with me and the moo. we can even come to you! 🙂

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 7 months ago
  4. * Megan says:

    Just remember, this is your mom’s decision. She will make that decision when she’s ready, if she ever is. It’s just like when you’re dating the wrong guy — your friends can tell you he’s a loser, but you have to come to the conclusion from within yourself. Nothing anyone else says will make a difference. All you can do is be supportive to your mom, try to live your own life in a positive way, and be there for her if she does decide to make the move.

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 7 months ago
  5. * Kim says:

    My parents separated 2 years ago because my dad couldn’t hide his girlfriend anymore. I was shocked because he wasn’t the man I knew. I hated him. My mom did everything for him for 30 years and this is how he repaid her. But I have to love him because he is my dad.

    This, of course, totally fucks up the way I look at guys, never wanting to invest too much for fear of being thrown aside with nothing. Thanks dad!

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 7 months ago
  6. * Janet says:

    Wow. As I read this post I kept thinking, did I write this? Did one of my siblings write this? Because this is almost verbatim what we have experienced growing up with our parents. For years we’ve been begging our mother to stand up to our father, who–like your dad–is a good man with kind intentions, well-liked by others (i.e. his employees love him and think he’s the greatest guy, the people in their congregation adore him because he’s so helpful and giving to others, the neighbors like him because he’s always around to lend a hand, etc., etc. Meanwhile, my mother continues to live in a house he tore up 10 years ago and has yet to put back together.) As for the emotional abuse, everything you wrote was an echo as this is exactly what we’ve experienced and what my mother has spent the last 40 years living. I could go on and on and on, but I’ll stop.

    The good news is, my mother is finally standing up for herself and using her voice. She’s getting some of what she wants, but when it gets bad–as it often does–we each tell her to kick his ass to the curb. My siblings and I have tried for years now to communicate to our father what his behavior has meant in our lives (it might explain why none of the three of us are married), but he just doesn’t get it, so we’ve given up and moved on.

    I’m hoping one day that he’ll either see the full extent of the consequences of his behavior and work like hell to make it right to our mother or I hope he gets the hell out, because right now, not only is he killing himself, he’s killing our mom, too, and that pisses me off!

    Good God, I’m a total stranger and I’ve just vented to you. Sorry about that. I guess what I really meant to say is, I know what you’re talking about. I’ve been (and am) there! Hang in there with your mom. Your continual, gentle prodding and constant love will yield change over time and positive results. Your mother may never leave your dad because a lot of her identity, security, and self-worth are wrapped up in him and she may not know who she is as just For however-many-years they’ve been married, she’s gone from being someone’s daughter and sister to someone’s wife to someone’s mother without ever really knowing or figuring out who she is as just herself. The thought of separating from all that identifies her and having a blank slate can be scary. But she will find her voice and her legs. Like I said, she may not ever leave your father, but she’ll find herself and she’ll start sticking up for herself and eventually, she won’t take his crap anymore and she’ll start moving forward.

    All the best….

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 7 months ago
  7. * LJ says:

    What a hard situation. I’m with you though… raised with the idea that divorce was bad, but somewhere along the line I’ve seen that sometimes ir’s just the healthy thing to do. I think people should give things a chance but I don’t think people should see marriage as some sort of prison they’re committed to indefinitely.

    Like Carrie said, it’s a hard transition when we see our parents as people. People with flaws and situations without easy answers.

    Hang in there…

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 7 months ago
  8. * M@ says:


    my ex-girlfriend cooked up some “abuse theories” with her therapist to justify breaking my heart–even though she had been the one with the power to abuse emotionally.

    It’s called rationalization. I believe it was Ben Franklin who said, Man is not a rational creature, but a rationalizing one.

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 7 months ago
  9. * Rachel says:

    I found your blog via a link of a link…and I wholeheartedly sympathize with you. My parents are going through the same thing, in reverse…my mother was the abusive one and my dad finally left her two weeks ago, taking my littlest brother with him. It hasn’t been easy for them or any of the kids…financially, emotionally, mentally, etc. But, you hit the nail dead center when you said, “I am as conflicted as I could be: What child wants to see her parents divorced? But what child wants to see her parents miserable.” None of us do. I hope your mom can find some source of inner strength to realize that her life is not over and what she has left of it doesn’t have to be spent in a miserable marriage…my dad finally did it, after years of abuse, and it’s the best thing that he could have ever done. Best wishes to you and your parents.

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 6 months ago
  10. * Robin says:

    No family is the Hallmark family, no family is the “saturday news post” artist family. It IS weird to realize that others know. I can understand you feeling defensive (of your family, yourself, your mother, even your father) in finding out that others DO know, however much or little. And, while it’s your mother’s decision, it’s great of you to stay offering your support of her. Change isn’t easy, for her, and it wouldn’t be easy for you if she someday says, “Yes.”

    I agree — sometimes our closest family can be the family we chose. Sometimes, the relationship modeled for us colors our own dating.

    With the amount of introspection you’ve had, combined with still being social, I do believe you’ll be just fine:)

    | Reply Posted 10 years, 6 months ago

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