My dad's in his late seventies and is a bit of an odd duck. He’s always marched to the beat of his own inner drummer, but is all goodness. He’s long divorced from my mom, who is a classic Type A personality and powerhouse. The two are so different from each other that — if not for photographic evidence — I’d swear I couldn’t be their progeny.
My mom gave me unconditional praise, telling her 5'3" daughter that she could be a fashion model, while my dad was rather spare in his praise, once claiming that a poem I won a prize for in the a sixth grade wasn’t good enough for "The New York Times." So it’s no surprise I wound up looking to myself for honest self-appraisal. Hell, it’s a wonder I don’t have a shrink on speed dial.
My personality was shaped by my folks and my younger sister, Amy. They're all very gregarious and larger than life. I was sort of the opposite — the shy, dreamy one, always reading and sketching in notebooks. It wasn’t until I went away to college that I realized I could reinvent myself and become whoever I wanted to be.
I decided to be outgoing and funny. I channeled my sister when reacting to situations. I also decided to be bold and take acceptable risks. And then, several years later, I realized I could finally take ownership of this new personality. Like they say, fake it 'til you make it!
So who better than my immediate family to celebrate the big 5-0 with? My mother figured that if she and my stepfather were going to fly across the country, we should at least have a big party. I invited everyone I had ever loved, liked or even been a little fond of. Considering that the party was in March, and inconvenient for out-of-towners with kids in school, 75 people still showed up.
It was awesome. Many friends of the family attended, more I think to actually have the chance to see both of my parents in the same room than to see me. At one point, I had someone take a picture of the four of us. The last photo we had of our nuclear family was taken more than 40 years ago. Now my mother is remarried and Amy and I have families of our own. We certainly love and are dedicated to those families, but there’s something about all of us being together — our original family unit — that is unlike anything else in the world.
I was in college when my parents split. I knew it was coming for years, but it was shocking to my sister, who with her busy social life, was oblivious to the fact that her parents had wandered very far apart. She was angry with them, and with me for not telling her. It wasn’t as if we still lived at home — there were now two homes to visit. My mother’s new place was filled with rattan and antiques. My father’s was filled with most of the furniture we had grown up with.
My parents remained distant but friendly, and any time we could get them together, usually for weddings and births, my sister and I would find some excuse to nudge them close and just be in their presence. They had grown increasingly dissimilar during their marriage, and even more so in the many years since their split.
So much so, that one day, when my oldest niece was about eight, she overheard Amy and I talking about our parents and looked thunderstruck. “Wait, wait,” she stammered, “Do you mean that Grandma Sara was married to Grandpa Wally?”
“Yes,” I explained, "they’re our parents.” All of these years later, I'm still not sure if she believed me.
I love my parents and am lucky to have them in my life. I do feel sad that they're no longer together, although I also love my stepfather. I guess, no matter how old we get, we’ll always wish for our original family, even though those broken pieces might be very happy just the way they are.