“Things change all the time, so why do people make such a philosophical to-do that things are constantly in transition?” — Twyla Tharp
I often walk in different worlds. Since my divorce nearly five years ago and my remarriage, I am a member of three families. It’s awkward sometimes.
There is this family blended from kids from my previous marriage and my new wife’s kids. Then there is this family in which I live most of the time which consists of my wife and I and her two kids. Thirdly, there is the family of my three daughters and me, the one most familiar and the one that feels the most upended by my divorce. This latter family is the one that causes the most discomfort because it serves as a constant reminder of my limits and failures. It is also the one for which I have to deal with my ex-wife, who hates me.
I would not have guessed five years after the fact that crossing to a happier, more fulfilling life would be so burdened by the difficulties of this transition for my three daughters and for me.
I have always felt as if the ground upon which I built my life was never too solid…Never quite settled. Never feeling the full comfort of ritual set down and repeated over time.
In fact, I have always felt as if the ground upon which I built my life was never too solid, like the sand above the water on a beach. I try to walk or run, but I lose my footing as the sand slides away and I nearly fall. Never quite settled. Never feeling the full comfort of ritual set down and repeated over time.
My parents forgot my 17th birthday. My mom had been sick with migraines or sinus headaches–a precursor to the more significant and deadly battle she would lose to pancreatic cancer just four years later–and my dad was inexplicably down too. At the last minute my mom emerged from thin the eir darkened bedroom with a credit card, telling me to go get the adidas tennis shirt and shorts I coveted. I drove the hour to the tennis shop clutching that credit card and eagerly bought the shirt and shorts. I bought myself some socks for good measure too. In the moment, I focused more on the gifts I was buying myself than on the fact that my parents had forgotten my birthday. Years later I realized how deeply I buried this hurt. Kids don’t expect their parents to forget their birthdays.
Later, after my mom died, well after the doctor grossly underestimated her complaints about the pain in her abdomen, I felt shitty about being angry at my parents for forgetting my birthday. My guilt over my pettiness when my dad lost his best friend and my poor mom succumbed to cancer stayed over the years.
It’s as if the three of us, my dad, my sister and I, retreated to our own private place, all living in the same house but ultimately leading separate lives. There were suddenly no rituals. The rituals we had as a family died with my mom.
It was a transition yet again–from complete family to something resembling a family but not quite whole. It’s as if the three of us, my dad, my sister and I, retreated to our own private place, all living in the same house but ultimately leading separate lives. There were suddenly no rituals. The rituals we had as a family died with my mom.
After mom’s death, I breezed through job after job. City after city became like a playground for me. When I got tired of the kids on my playground, I quit. I chose a new city and a new playground and a new job. I switched careers several times as I sought the perfect fit, hoping to fill a hole left by a deeply held sense of abandonment. People become adults at 21. Not true, at least for me. I was still immature at 21 when Mom died and for many years after. How I lived throughout my 20’s and into my 30″s was surely anything but maturity.
Before I knew it I was married and divorced and living with another woman who eventually would become my second wife.
I operated on an immature emotional plane. When I got uncomfortable, rather than discover what was motivating me, I moved to get rid of the discomfort. I expected my wife to take care of me emotionally and when she didn’t, I transferred all of my emotional needs to my daughters. At first, this was okay. I could be a great dad and get all of my emotional needs from my kids. Meanwhile, my relationship with my wife and my marriage crumbled.
I was somewhere approaching 50 before I matured. That’s one long adolescence. My second divorce–another difficult transition–gave me my biggest “aha” moment. Almost like turning pages in a book, I looked at parts of my life and my decisions and realized so much had been about how I responded to discomfort and fear. I realized I needed to change. I needed to grow up.
We can not stay where we are. Ever. Life is a continual flow whether we realize it or not. Everything is always moving forward. I didn’t understand that until now.
Our kids don’t stay kids for long. They need parents to be adults if they are to grow as well. Because I’ve seen it in myself, I recognize immaturity and it astounds me how many people walk around with baggage from their childhood.
Our kids don’t stay kids for long. They need parents to be adults if they are to grow well. Because I’ve seen it in myself, I recognize immaturity and it astounds me how many people walk around with baggage from their childhood. It colors everything we do with our kids as well as how we interact in our careers and with friends and our closest relationships. Recognizing my immaturity has been especially helpful in finally building deeply respectful and fulfilling relationships today.
Yet I am amazed at how often I slide into habitually immature thinking. The pause is the greatest tool in my backpack when this happens.
I’ve learned to recognize transitions by stopping for a moment and breathing. Breathing reactivates the parts of our brains that give us logic. It allows our intuition to meld with right thinking, as the Buddhists might say. Without taking that breath, without pausing to slow things down, I react as a kid rather than respond as an adult.
I’ve learned that life is about discovering and refining who we are–our wants and hopes and fears. We are always in transition. I used to think that transitions meant something was wrong, that the world was off kilter and I needed to right things again so that I felt comfortable. It fascinates me that I have been so fearful of transitions when I am even more fascinated by the concept of the adjacent possible. The adjacent possible is all the potential outcomes that might follow depending on which choice we make when faced with a particular obstacle or challenge. We cannot know all the potential great things that might happen yet because we have not yet passed through the door right in front of us. Think how different your life might be if even one choice in the past you made differently. It is both tantalizing and scary, because for most of us uncertainty is uncomfortable.
“A lot of people resist transition and therefore never allow themselves to enjoy who they are. Embrace the change, no matter what it is; once you do, you can learn about the new world you’re in and take advantage of it.” –Nikki Giovanni
We expect certain things in life to be constant. The sun rises everyday. The four seasons pass. We run out of milk. And our parents stay married.
Imagine how divorce must have felt for my daughters and for my new wife’s kids. We expect certain things in life to be constant. The sun rises everyday. The four seasons pass. We run out of milk. And our parents stay married.
When one of the constants in our lives proves not to be, we are in transition. I did a lousy job preparing my kids for life and helping them through the transition from mom and dad being together to mom and dad being together with someone else. I had a hard enough time handling me. My poor daughters had to do a lot themselves.
There is, however, hope. My youngest sees the upside of the divorce–that she will be better equipped to handle rough patches in her life and possibly to avoid some of the things that led to my divorce. Maybe she and her sisters will be able to leave adolescence much earlier than I. At the right time and intact. They all show signs of doing a better job than I did.
The title of this essay is borrowed from a song by the post-rock group This Will Destroy You. They are currently on tour and recorded a live album from one of their concerts in Reykjavic, Iceland. Here is their page on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thiswilldestroyyou
This Will Destroy You is one of a couple post-rock bands in which I find great joy in listening along with Explosions in the Sky, God is an Astronaut, Signal Hill, Mogwai, Hammock, Tristeza. Thanks always to my friend Keefer to sharing his headphones so long ago and turning me onto post-rock.