Children of Divorce: Blame, Forgiveness, and Scars.


Confession: I yelled at my dad tonight.  For the past few months, I’ve been the primary cook in the house.  It’s not a big deal, I enjoy cooking, but I hate that my dad expects me to cook now, and he doesn’t even try.  He’ll even purposefully come home late, or if he comes home early, he sits in his chair or waters the garden instead of getting dinner ready.  So I end up cooking.  I’ve had this discussion with him before.  We used to take turns cooking, or if anything, he cooked the main dish while I made sure we had vegetables on the table.  But not anymore.  I cook, and he (unspoken) expects me to cook.

Yesterday, he asked me if I’d be home for dinner, and I told him yes, but I’d probably be a little late.  He said he’d cook leftovers, and then changed his mind and said he’d cook this beef we’ve had in the fridge.  Instead, I come home around 7:15, wash rice, and relax a little, waiting for him to come home.  He doesn’t get home till 8, then he starts watering the plants and asks me if “we’re” going to cook the beef.  I told him I don’t know how, and so I start getting other food ready because it’s coming on 8:30 and we have no food to eat.  I don’t mind until I after I come out of the shower (after my dad took his shower while I cooked), and I find that my dad has already started eating without me.  He didn’t even think to wait for me.  That’s what bothered me.  After I cooked dinner (when he said he would), the least he could do is just wait till I get out of the shower so we can eat together.  He did the exact same thing the other day, and I pointed it out to him then as well.

It just struck me tonight, as I was yelling at him, that this is what it must have been like for my mom.  I’ve been feeling that more and more as time goes on…throughout the summer, it was necessary to really clean the house because we (me, really) were having guests over to stay.  He didn’t help clean the house at all, so I cleaned everything.  The only thing I asked him to clean is the area around his recliner, and under the toilet seat, because those messes have nothing to do with me.  He says “Why can’t you clean it?  Mommy used to clean the whole toilet.”  And that’s the problem.   She used to do all these things for my dad and he never showed any gratitude.  He took it all for granted.

When I first found out about the divorce, I blamed my mom.  Her temper was is explosive.  Therefore, I thought it was her fault.  My dad, as everyone who meets him tells me, is so nice, and such an easy going guy.  Make no mistake, he is, he’s a local boy, product of the Hawaiian Islands through and through.  How could it be his fault?  My mom is the one who flies off the handle, who has problems forgiving people, right?

Eventually though, when I learned what happened, how my dad broke her trust in a major way (no cheating, thank the Lord) in the early years of their marriage, I saw his part in it all.   But I didn’t and still don’t fully understand how he allowed –no, chose–to lie to her about something so major, so the easiest thing to do was turn a blind eye.  Given what I know about my dad, how nice and laidback he is, this just didn’t make sense.  So instead of trying to understand it (my dad gets really sensitive every time I bring it up), I told myself–why couldn’t my mom just forgive him?  Again, I chose to blame her.

That is, until I grew older.  To have been betrayed by your best friend, the one you swore to love till the day that you died, is a deep deep wound that requires the strength of God to forgive and his grace alone to work on saving the marriage.  I realized too, how much my mom had sacrificed in order for my brother and I to have the opportunities we did.  With my dad’s betrayal came a role reversal.  My mom became the primary breadwinner–had to, in some ways, if she wanted to continue towards upward mobility for my brother and me.  She certainly wasn’t a gold digger, but she had planned for an easier life for herself, with her doctor of a husband.  Instead, she now took consulting jobs that forced her to live in hotels Monday through Thursday–perhaps just for the money, but in retrospect, perhaps to get out of the house to keep their marriage from crumbling any sooner.  And so over the past few years, I’ve come to see her as the paradigm of sacrificial giving.  I even bragged about her to friends at times, whenever the topic came up.  I know it’s common, especially amongst Asian Americans, to sacrifice for your children, but I’m amazed at how much of her life she gave–no, continues to give– for us.

And so when Joe asked me about the divorce, and I told him what happened, and how I now am so grateful for my mom–he replied–“But she should have put her marriage first.”  I was a little offended by his comment.  I appreciate my mom for everything that she has given to me, it has allowed me to be who I am, to have the amazing educational opportunities that I did, to not be in debt upon college graduation, etc.  She should have put her children first, I thought to myself.  That’s what makes a good parent.

But as I yelled at my dad tonight, I found my voice cracking and tears starting to come to my eyes.  I couldn’t figure out why I was so emotional, until I realized that now I do blame my dad for the divorce.  I blame him because he shuts down during conflicts, and he doesn’t take responsibility for his part of the problem.  He has a hard time saying that he’s sorry, instead choosing to shift the blame and put it back on you.  Not only that, but I realized that this is what I do when others get upset at me.  I have a hard time owning up to my mistakes if I’ve really hurt someone.  Moreover, as the words “you always” and “you never” came flying out of my mouth, I realized that I even argue like my mom.  I even brought up that point about cleaning under the toilet, just like my mom would have done.

The tears came because I realized that I blame both my parents for giving up.  For not putting their marriage first.  For showing me these terrible conflict resolution styles that have wormed their way into my personhood.  For thinking that sacrificial love is really putting your children first, when in reality, the best thing you really can do for your children is to love your spouse.  For not fighting for their marriage.  For not learning how to apologize.  For not learning how to forgive.

In addition, the tears came because I realized how much of their sinfulness is in me.  I am like my mom, and I am like my dad.  And it scares me.

They were both Sunday School teachers, super involved in the church.  They knew what was right, and what was honoring to God.  But they chose instead to lie, to hold grudges, to withhold forgiveness, and finally to get a divorce.  I’m grateful that they waited until I was in college so they wouldn’t have to fight for custody or make me choose which parent I wanted to live with, but they should have fought harder.

I tried to apologize for yelling at my dad, but he still wouldn’t admit his role in any of it, or even say sorry.  He still pushed the blame back on to me, so I just went to bed.  (Now a few hours later, I realize that I tried to apologize but couldn’t because my dad wouldn’t admit he was wrong.  What kind of apology was I trying to make??)

Before turning out the light, I opened up a book I’ve been reading through recently–Child of Divorce, Child of God–and as I turned the page and began to read, I started to cry.  The author was abandoned by her father and knew that God was calling her to forgive him.  And as I read that, I knew that God was calling me to forgive my parents for not putting their marriage first, and for not trying harder.

I’m still working on it.  I wish I could say that I willed myself to forgive them, but I can’t just yet.

It’s been 8 years since I accidentally found the divorce papers.  I thought I was well adjusted to it–even grateful, to a certain extent, since family vacations (which we still do with both parents) are infinitely more pleasant now.  I was still blessed to have grown up in a (tumultuous) two parent household.  I’d seen the humanity in my parents and loved them still.  I’d found my identity in Christ alone, the great healer and restorer.  But it’s only now, as I’m beginning to look to marriage for myself, potentially inviting another person into my life, that I begin to realize just how many scars I have, and just how deep they run.

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