We are starting out our New Year with one less family member.
It was not a death that claimed him. Not a death in the typical sense at any rate, though, if I am completely honest, there have been moments when I think that would have been an easier parting. The departed are often elevated to a mythological status. Mama used to say we kids did that with our dad. That losing him so early allowed us kids to retain all of the good of him without ever having to deal with any of his flaws. She was probably right about that.
Given my druthers, I’d like to retain the good of everyone and forget all their flaws.
That’s hard to do, however, when a person is so rotten they defy any good you ever hoped for or imagined for them. Harder yet when one sees how they spin the narrative, making it seem as though it was not them that betrayed the very vows they made before God and loved ones, even as they continue to daily betray them.
For years I had a dream that my father returned from Vietnam only to find my mother on a date with another man. It was a disconcerting dream, one in which I was elated to see my father alive and mortified to have to tell him that my mother was out with another. As a child, I could never resolve whether that meant my mother was cheating on my father or not. I certainly woke with a sense of shame after every single one of those dreams.
That sense of shame is not uncommon. Children often carry the burden over a fragmented family. They feel it’s their fault. Sometimes kids feel more responsible than the adult at fault. Perhaps that explains why so many books, so many movies perpetuate the false narrative that kids can keep their families from splitting up. Consider how many stories put the child, wrongly, as the hero in the Hero’s Journey. Forcing children to be the grownup that adults refuse to be is not heroic; it’s just plain wrong.
I grew up in a culture that almost always placed the blame for divorce on the woman. A culture that blamed Hillary Clinton for Bill Clinton’s betrayals. How many times did I hear a Conservative Christian repeat the story that the reason Bill Clinton cheated on Hillary was because she preferred women? Misogyny and homophobia are the true lifeblood of the American Evangelical movement. Not the Blood of Christ.
I have lived long enough to know that no matter how low you set the bar there will be people who manage to go under it. They will say and do things you never in you lowest expectations of them imagined. While it takes two people to create a family, one person can wreck it.
Anyone who has been through it knows that divorce isn’t something that happens between two people. It happens to entire families. Our family is starting the new year saying good riddance to one who was never trustworthy.
One whom, I wager, will never be.
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of After the Flag has been Folded (William Morrow).