Tell Ruth the Truth

This is a moderated blog is a project of the Ruth Institute. Have a story to share? We're listening.

A Living Death

by Sean (Nova Scotia)

I was born late in 1964. Gen-X leaning late Boomer, I guess.

My father had severe mental illness & self-medicating drug & alcohol abuse. From his mid-20s, he was on a downward bipolar/ psychosis spiral which slowly shredded his marriage, and the life of his wife and three kids. Sadly, because he was still very high-functioning, he refused treatment with the then-new Lithium protocols.

Essentially, from 1974 through to the 1990s, there was almost no part of my life that was untouched by their separation (1977-8) and divorce (1981). Family life & order went to hell, my brothers and I lived in the chaos of his visits & divided holidays, and in a home (Mom got custody) in which regular meals were rare, new clothing had to be begged for, cleaning was non-existent, and neglect and emotional manipulation were the order of the day.

At the time, I remember seeing books and magazines at home, arguing the idea that kids were resilient, divorce was a bump in the road, and everybody would recover nicely.

I suffered from severe childhood depression from probably 1975-6 into adulthood; I carried a fear of commitment (let alone marriage) into my 20's. The emotional chaos, neglect, and abuse of a divided family (which soon included a step-mother figure I was supposed to love, even though she represented the death of my hopes that my parents might somehow reconcile) have made it very hard to be a husband, father, and friend.

Even though both of my parents are now dead, their destructive relationship & our careless upbringing has meant my brother is a high-functioning teenager, though in his mid-40s; my other brother married badly, and is now divorced; and while I am still married, that my relationships are complex, fraught with anxiety, avoidance, and an almost PTSD-like dysfunction.

Divorce breaks people. When kids are growing up (birth-13, especially), divorce unsettles their fundamental relationships and assumptions about good, bad, mommy & daddy, home & safety, their own goodness and relationship to events in their lives, and so much more. Some of this damage is never healed, or heals poorly; most children of divorce are damaged in ways which are only revealed as they grow up, and try to being adult lives, relationships, marriage, parenthood, and useful lives in work & community.

When my parents were separated in the 70s, it was literally the first such in my whole school; yet now, 50% of marriages end in divorce, and some kids are born outside of a stable marriage in the first place-- here is is a recipe for another 30-50 years of terribly damaged, emotionally crippled & rootless people. Such people likely to marry late, if at all; postphone childbearing, extend immature life-choices & self-medication substances & behaviours.

We must have more & better marriage preparation. We must make separation & divorce harder, and get rid of no-fault divorce, punitive anti-male divorce settlements, excessive lawyerly interference, and make sure that children receive counselling and care, post-divorce, over years, and not just at the moment.

Just a few thoughts.

Enemy of Children

First, I never knew my biological father. But the pain from that didn't come until later. My mom's husband was there for me from birth until age 8. He was my dad. There is video footage of me telling him I loved him, so perhaps I sincerely did. But my memories of him now are of disgust and not feeling safe in his presence. There's a chance that's due to brainwashing from my mom. Anyways, I have not seen this man since he gave up custody of me ate age 9.

They divorced because he cheated on my mom. All the time. He had fertility issues so apparently he thought he could sleep with anyone he wanted because there wasn't a chance of him impregnating anyone. When they divorced we moved into a small, but nice townhouse. My "dad" moved into a disgusting townhouse across the street that should have been condemned. Every weekend my sister and I were supposed to go to his house to spend time with him. But he didn't do anything to entertain us. We were just forced to be there. He bought us game-boys so we could entertain ourselves. There was never any food. I remember surviving on circus cookies.

My mom's house was much better, much cleaner. Her balcony had plants. His balcony had a rotten out floor-board so we weren't allowed on it or else we would fall three stories down. But my mom was so busy that she couldn't cook real food. Her food was better than his, but it was still mostly lunchables, pizza—anything that we could open and eat on our own accord, or microwave by ourselves.

One day our dad was supposed to give us a present—a big screen TV. He asked for the keys to the apartment so he could drop it off and install it while my mom was at work. She agreed because she didn't want to see him if she didn't have to. He made copies of the keys and later in the week broke into our apartment and supposedly raped my mom.

She was dating a guy at that time and they very quickly moved in together. He came to her rescue and protected her from her ex-husband. He married her and adopted my sister and I. He seemed great.

The thing is their whole marriage was based off of having a common enemy. They didn't build their relationship on mutual love, companionship, understanding, or anything truly positive. In the 16+ years they've been married, the only way they've been able to maintain a connection is by creating enemies that they can bond in the effort to destroy. When we moved across the country to get away from my first dad, he became less of a threat and then my SISTER became the common enemy because she wanted to still have a relationship with the only dad she ever knew (she was 14 when they divorced). They bad-mouthed her day and night because she resisted the disposal of her father.

After she became an adult and moved away there have been a string of other common enemies: The Home-owner's Association, our local immigrant community, ME.

I've always had an aversion to my step-dad. I could tell that he was attracted to me physically. Every time I would stretch or dance in the house he would comment on my body parts. He would walk in on my in the shower for bogus reasons. I could feel his inappropriate stares. To defend myself I gained a great deal of weight and tried hard to make myself unattractive. For this my mom ridiculed me. She was embarrassed of my appearance.

My mom has recently been pressing me as to why I am so ungrateful and unloving toward my step-dad. Finally I told her that I thought he was creepy and he made me uncomfortable and I will NEVER have a loving father-daughter relationship with him because at my core I loathe his company. I outlined why. She told me she thinks I'm fabricating every event and episode.

I'm having her second grandchild in a few months and we are not on speaking terms. They changed the code on their garage so I can't come in. My little brother won't speak to me either. In fact he often makes fun of me to my face—clearly regurgitated language that his father (my step-dad) taught him.

Its extremely frustrating when I see friends of mine from intact families achieve outrageous success in arenas I have just as much talent in. The support they've received from their parents... I can't compete with it. I'm poor, uneducated, and very much burdened compared to my peers whose parents have remained married.

And they're oblivious to their privilege.
They vote for policies that undermine the family and call me names for suggesting people should behave themselves for the sake of their kids.

Lives in ruination.

by Still Paying for the trauma.

I was 8yo when I first found out my parents absolutely hated each other. They argued & fought late @ night after they thought we were asleep.

Being the oldest & female I sided with my mother against my dad, who had only ever been a father by name to me. (The boss, the one to be feared, the last word & the executor of punishment after torment & threats from my mother.) As a child I felt very unloved. My brother was my mum's favourite, my sister my dad's. I actually thought I was adopted. But I found out later that my mother's pregnancy with me, was what sent her back to the husband she hated. (SO, it was all my fault.)

I was 12,it was NY's day 1971, when after an argument in the front yard, my Father threw his car keys @ my mum so she could move his car (because he wouldn't), to let her get her car out. I literally chased my mother up the street, running after her car, screaming to her to stop, not to leave me, & pleading with her to take me with her. "I'm coming back for you". Lie No;1.

My brother was 9, my sister 7, I was entering high-school (year 7). I became little mum to them. I had to wash & clean & iron & cook. I was the recipient of whispers & side-ways glances as the only kid in school from a divorced home (& God forbid, the mother had abandoned the kids).I was not allowed to see my friends outside of school, I went from the top end of my class to the very bottom. No time for homework or study. I saw my mum every other Saturday for about 2 hrs (apart from the times I ran away from the house to go see her).

She sat us down & tried to explain to us, that the reason she hadn't come back for us was because she couldn't, as a single woman, get a home loan. Lie No;2. Because she managed to rent property & later buy property with her Lesbian friend.

She told my sister that she had just needed to get away for a while, that she had intended on coming back to the marriage (when she saw that my dad had moved on to another woman--3yrs later). Lie No;3.
My father dragged us to PWP (Parent's without Partners) events every W/E. I hated it, sleazy men abounded.

He "rescued" a woman from a bad relationship there,(her 2nd) & she became my step-mum eventually. But for 3 yrs we were picked up after school & taken to her place for the W/E. I slept on the lounge, my sister on 2 armchairs joined together with a sheet, my brother on the floor of our soon to be stepbrother's bedroom, then later, the car (station-wagon in the carport).

That marriage lasted 2yrs tops. She was in & out of hospital with "Nervous breakdowns"(??) She hated me because I refused to call her "mum". She accused me of horrible things,& while in the beginning she was stepping between my fathers corporal punishment (for years I went to school with whipping welts across my legs from him), in the end my father was pulling her off me as she attacked me in a jealous rage. She even confronted me in the corridor of my workplace to yell abuse at me.

My mother accused my dad of infidelity & other sordid things, my step mum accused him of incest. But they both left 3 kids with him. Go figure the justice.

My mother said as justification of her decision to leave my father, I would have killed him had I stayed, then you would have no parents, because I'd be in gaol.

Both my parents were from loving close knit family homes, but 2 people who should never have ever got together, produced 3 kids & then proceeded to physically, emotionally & psychologically destroy them.

My brother is an alcoholic with 2 broken marriages under his belt. My sister & I both single, with failed relationships. I didn't finish school because my home-life was unbearable.

My father conveniently has blocked out those horrible years, saying he can't remember. He has married 3 times all up. The 4th/5th, last & longest relationship of his life, he didn't marry & supports her to this day. My mother stayed with her Lesbian friend till her death.

I have a son of my own & unfortunately he was raised in a single parent family because his father decided he didn't want to be one. (He was from a normal family that was happy & together). So who knows the reasons why.

We are all damaged goods due to circumstances beyond our control & as children we paid for our parent's selfish & ultimately abusive decisions.

My Family Photo Makes Me Feel Guilty

I have two photographs of my parents and me. One is a candid shot, in color, taken by my great grandfather right after I was born. My dad is holding me and smiling at the camera. My mom is looking down at me and smiling, with her beautiful blonde hair bundled in the "beehive" style that was popular then. The other is black and white photo, professionally taken in a studio. My dad is wearing a dark suit and tie. My mom is wearing her long blonde hair down the side, over her shoulder, in full view of the camera. We're all smiling and looking just beyond the camera, at the photographer I suppose. I don't remember the occasion. I was probably about two when it was taken. They are the only two photos I have of me with my parents.

After their divorce, they both remarried later and started new families. Their lives spread further and further apart. Each new family consumed their time and energy. Each ignored the other, and therefore ignored 1/2 of my family. As the odd man out in their new families, we never had family discussions about my relatives or cousins on the other side, although discussions about the new children's relatives and cousins were standard fare. So it seemed perfectly natural to remain silent about my family on the other side. Perfectly natural, yet somehow unjust. The other family was good enough for me, but not good enough for them. There is a certain immorality about such a message.

I feel guilty when I look at the photos. I'm not supposed to want that. Yet I do.

What should I call this man?

by JVW (NC)

I distinctly remember when I was 5, trying to figure out what to call the man my mom had married. I knew my dad was supposed to be called dad, but this man was around me every day, always here, and my dad was only around from 12:30-5 every Sunday with a weekend visit once a month. It was very confusing. So, awkwardly I determined to call him "Daddy G*****", using his first name and differentiating between the two by always calling them daddy (first name inserted).

Holidays were [[[Horrible]]]]. Imagine getting to be at a party during the set up phase, and always leaving before it began, and having to open Christmas presents at 3:00 pm Christmas Eve because visitation ended at 5:30...only to be dropped off in the insanity of getting ready to go to the step-relatives house, who all think you don't really need any presents because they assume your "real" family has taken care of that, and hearing the hushed whispers from the older step relatives of how you're "so & so's girl, from the previous marriage". Step families rarely succeed at taking in the children and making them feel as if they are loved.

I never spent a Thanksgiving at my moms house. Thanksgiving was always at my dads' familys house. I only vacationed with my mom one time that I could remember; both of my "dad's" worked at plants, where they got July 4th week off. That was my assigned visitation week with my real father. So the family I lived with-my mother, her husband, my half sister and half brother, always went somewhere and I would go with my dad. It's just plain confusing.

Don't get me wrong; I appreciate that I don't have a dead beat dad. He did right by me, in that he always came on Sundays at 12:30.

He also took me to different women's houses that we would spend the night at. I would sleep in other little girls' beds, that I had just met.

And when my mom divorced my step dad--the man that I had grown to love as dearly as my father....and she married another man years later.... Well, lets just say I called him by his first name, and barely got to know him.

I have a hard time trusting people. Or believing people. I'm not really close to any of my relatives, and don't feel a strong compelling urge anymore to "be there" during supposed family crises. I used to try, but it was emotionally suicidal. It was killing me.

It has taken years for me to fully understand the impact. The complete disillusionment during childhood. The lack of belief that I was worth anything. I felt discarded. Abandoned. Lost. Orphaned. Alone. Scared. Hopeless. I had no direction. This is just a quick summary of thoughts.

The road has been hard. My husband and I have fought and struggled for our own marriage for almost 20 years, but I know we're going to make it. My own kids know it too now. It's taken the incredible grace of God to bring us to this, but it is working. God takes broken things and still uses them. Isaiah 42:3

How about great-grandchildren of divorce?

by K (Colorado)

Nobody in my family has divorced for three generations. But my great-grandfather divorced his first wife and married my great-grandmother. His own son, born of this second marriage - my great-uncle - criticized him for what he did. Now both of those generations are gone, but there are still effects.

I live in the same town as one of the descendants of my great-grandfather's first family, and I like genealogy, so I have often wanted to go meet this person. But I still haven't made it happen - I keep thinking, what do I say: hello, I'm the great-grandchild of the woman your great-grandfather left your great-grandmother for?

I am ashamed of the divorce, even though I would not exist without it - three generations later!