by Andrew Root
I could see the pain spilling from his eyes; his disposition was heavy, and his sentences slow as he discussed his children. He would be my first friend with kids to go through a divorce. I have had countless friends whose parents had divorced, who were the children of divorce (and in every way this book is for them), but he would be the first of my friends to go through divorce as a parent. As he talked of his children, his words poured out from the gash in his broken heart. This whole experience was more painful than he could bear. As I sat next to him, listening intently, his pain drawing me to his person, every cell in me wanted to say it; every fiber wanted to say the same phrase every divorcing parent and his or her friends say to mitigate their severe heartbreak. I could feel the words coming to my lips; I could feel my lips curving to release the words. I wanted so badly, sitting in the heavy shadow of his pain, to say, “Your kids will be fine. Kids are resilient; as long as you stay around and tell them you love them, they will be fine. Don’t worry about it.”
These words tend to be the mantra we give parents, and I now understood why. Divorce is deeply painful and no one wants to face the fact that this event, this event that in so many ways you are responsible for, is hurting, and will continue to hurt, the children you so deeply love. But it does! Divorce leaves an indelible mark on children, and such a mark that it strikes those who experience it (myself included) at an ontological level, at the level of their being. The deepest, rawest, most unsettling questions of those experiencing the divorce of their parents, the question so deep it is often cognitively oppressed is: Can a person be at all, now that those who are responsible in their union for creating that person are no longer together? If I am the product of these two people, what does it mean for my very being if these two people have severed and voided their union to each other?
Since the 1970s divorce has become a common cultural reality. With the creation of “no-fault” divorce, many were freed from unhappy and unfulfilling marriages. For a generation of young people born in the late sixties and after, divorce is as familiar as Froot Loops and cable television. Parents have been told that if done right, their divorce can be only a minimal disturbance to their children, on a par with changing schools or moving to a new neighborhood. But lately the young people who have lived through and with the divorce of their parents have questioned this assertion. In biographical books like Stephanie Staal’s The Love They Lost, screenplays like Noah Baumbach’s The Squid and the Whale, and popular music like Blink 182’s “Stay Together for the Kids,” Papa Roach’s “Broken Home,” or Pink’s “Family Portrait,” the initial and continual pain of their parents’ divorce has been expressed palpably.
It is my belief that our humanity (and very being) is upheld in community. For each one of us, the most significant and core of these communities is the one made up of a biological mother and father. Without their community, there would be no child. So when that community is destroyed, it is a threat to the child’s being. Divorce, therefore, should be seen as not just the split of a social unit, but the break of the community in which the child’s identity rests. Divorce is much more than a psychological or sociological reality. It is about something deeper than economic advantage, psychological stability, or social capital. Divorce is a threat to a child’s very ontology, to his or her very being. It is this threat that is powerfully sung about in popular songs and illustrated in popular movies. When the community that created a child dissolves, the child is left exposed not only psychologically and socially, but ontologically.
Excerpt from Children of Divorce: The Loss of Family as the Loss of Being (Brazos Press; August 2010)