Yesterdays topic apparently revealed something to my soul. I had a crappy day yesterday and a semi-sleepless night and this morning I am miserable.
I started thinking about it on the way to my office, (to face another day of disappointment and defeat) and I guess another layer of the old Ogre Onion must have been peeled off.
Yesterday I talked about Identity. I gave some very good examples of how my identity changed after my divorce. The past 24 hours have shown me some more. They hurt. I don't even like addressing them but this blog was intended to help guys like me who truly lost all that mattered in their divorce so I am going to post on the topic again today.
I don't think I knew just now much of my identity I lost when I got my divorce. Not until I wrote that post yesterday. Being a husband and a dad was not the most important thing I was...it was all I was. There's a story here, so hang on to your grocery bags...
When I was 21 I found out that the man I had always been told was my father was actually my stepfather. My mother and father never married and, depending on who's version of the ugly tale you believe, my father either wanted nothing to do with me or he was so sick of being manipulated by my mother he relinquished his parental rights. The story has been altered by both sides so frequently I get motion sickness from the constant change.
Anyway, at age 21 I was suddenly re-identified, if you will. On the one hand I had this man who I loved and thought was my father, who had no capacity for love whatsoever and who took no interest in me whatsoever. I loved sports and he hated them. I loved humor and jokes and he hated that too. I wanted a dad to hang with and throw a baseball with and he wanted to come home at night and eat dinner and then be left completely alone for the rest of the evening. We had two things that we ever had in common and did together: deer hunting and going to drag races. In both cases, once we got to the venue, we basically separated for the day. I'd go to my tree stand and not see him until dark. Or I'd go hang out with my friends who were at the track with their car, and he'd walk the pits and sit in the stands. We never talked and we never did anything together that really mattered. But I always wanted to.
When my mother informed me of the whole sordid mess my first reaction was relief. I finally had an explanation for why this man didn't like me. I finally knew why that wall just wouldn't move no matter how much I pushed on it.
On the other hand...
My father is a lot like me. More than I know, I'm sure. He loves sports. He loves education and values it greatly, even achieving a PhD. He has been a wonderful father to the two children he has with his wife. He was a teacher and his students adored him. He was his sons' best man when he got married and they are very close. My sister readily admits she is still "daddy's girl" and she points to him as a hero.
He is funny. He likes people who are funny. He has an engaging personality and enjoys people in general. He is everything I needed when I was a kid and I never even met him until May 2007. He also doesn't recognize me as his son.
I grew up in a home where love was rationed out and used as a weapon and a tool. Nobody loved us just because we were their children. Nobody ever considered themselves blessed to have us around and enjoyed just the sound of our voices. (The way I do with Morgan.) Love was very conditional and you could lose it easily and it was near impossible to gain.
It drove me to near distraction to live like that and it had a similar effect on my two brothers and my sister. (the children of my mother and stepfather...)
All of us have struggled, all of us have been broken at times, all of us have tried to become something...anything...we thought we might need to become to win the permanent affection of our parents. But we never could.
Add my whole lineage issue to the mix and it gets even more cloudy. Here I was, in many ways free at age 21, from ever having to try to win the love of a man who had non to offer. And yet I was thrust into a quest for the love of a man with lots of it, who didn't, for whatever his reasons, want to give it to me. I simply leaped from one treadmill of rejection to another one.
God mercifully brought two families into my life back then who filled so many of those wounds. Pop and Jewell and Bob and Cathy literally saved my life. I was so torn apart inside and so damaged when they found me. They loved me as their own and they claimed me as their own. They considered me family and they meant it. But for all the love they displayed to me, it was scary at times. here were two sets of parents who had made the conscious decision to love someone Else's son. Somewhere in the deep recesses of my heart I simultaneously longed for it and accepted it, and feared it being temporary and conditional...just like always. In many ways it became self fulfilling prophecy. I tested their love many times. Fortunately they never buckled. They kicked my rear now and then, but they never stopped loving me. I never realized it then, but years after my divorce, when I could still go home to them and it would really still be home.
When I met Holly I thought I had finally found one person who would love me unconditionally. I mean, that's what a wife does, right? (or a husband, in case any women strayed in here unawares) I thought, "Now I can finally be me and not worry about performing in order to keep the love I've longed for. Someone finally loves me as I am". Marriage was finally going to let me sweep all the embarrassing mess of my identity away and I could redefine myself on my terms. That lasted about a month. When the problems started, I began hearing those terrifying words, "if things don't get better I'm leaving". I lived with that devastating fear for two and a half years. Conditional love again. Obviously I didn't perform well, or I wouldn't be hosting a divorced man's blog.
Being a husband was supposed to be my one thing. The thing I could finally do right, by simply being me, and I would have a lifetime of love unconditionally. I was finally identified in a way that I thought would make me happy and stop my endless "love safari". I was a husband, and marriage means that with all the other worries in the world, losing the love of your spouse was not going to be one of them, right?
Then we moved to Nashville. Until then I never knew how much I loved my home. Until then I never realized how much I identified with my hometown. Phillies Eagles, Flyers, Sixers. Cheesesteaks and Tastykakes and Italian Ice. Rocky and the Franklin Institute and Vince Papale. Going to the beach and the Mummers parade. That was, and is, who I am. It was never more evident as it was when I moved here. There is nothing wrong with this place. But it isn't my home. Not by a long shot. Maybe if I had remained married it might have become home to me. But I think Philadelphia is a little to embedded in my DNA.
But we came here and I was once again stripped of something that identified me.
Then we had our child. I was finally a dad. I was identified by fatherhood. For all the failures I had endured, I was great at being a dad. I still am. It comes naturally to me. I think I get that from my father. I love every single second with Morgan. I could fill volumes with the amazing things she has already done in her ten years thus far. I know everything about her and I treasure her beyond measure. No matter what befalls me I am the luckiest man alive being her dad.
So the man who thought he was a part of one family finds out he is actually from another family, and that makes him feel like he truly belongs to neither.
The Man who belongs to two other families wrestles with where and how he really fits in with them.
The Man who finally found a clear, unmuddied identity of his own in marriage and being a husband is now identified as a divorcee.
The Man who identified himself most importantly as a dad, is now limited in his ability to perform that most important task.
The Philadelphian lives in Nashville, and longs for Philadelphia.
Where marriage was supposed to clear up my identity, in many ways it just made it more cloudy.
And, apart from my daughter, unconditional love seems to still be a riddle, wrapped in an enigma, surrounded by mystery.
And my identity with it...