Sometimes, too much goes on in a short time that it is hard to get it all down. Hard to give everything it’s due. Hard to process all the emotions.
My son graduated from college this past weekend. My beloved wife and daughter and I all shed our winter flannel and took our long-neglected shorts and T-shirts and flew down to celebrate.
The first thing I feel at graduations is simply gratitude. When my daughter graduated from College a few years ago the mix of joy and pride was overwhelming. I smiled my way through the weekend. I was on the edge of tears all weekend. Good tears, but tears none the less. I had the same mix of emotions going on this time with James.
We’ve come a long way, our little family. There was a divorce when the kids were youngish. My daughter was 11 and just entering middle school. My son was six, just out of kindergarten. They had the strange mix of love and anger that only kids who are part of a divorce carry with them. They were largely groomed to dislike me, yet their feelings did not always feel that way. Their emotions were torn, and that is a hard thing for anyone, much less a kid.
We came to a good place, eventually, but it took time, and it was not without pain. My daughter left her mom and moved up here to Vermont at the end of her junior year of high school. My son made the same move at the same place in his life. They both came up broken in different ways. My daughter barely talked for a week. My son was full of anger and anxiety.
My daughter was a mix of mourning and anger. She had lost a life she loved in Virginia, and came up to me to be emotionally safe. It was a hard choice and not without pain. We found a way. My work had me traveling at the time, and she had to travel with me. She finished high school online. She’d stay in hotels or in my office while I worked. Often on the way too or from the long trips from DC to Vermont, we’d stop someplace and take in the historical sights of the Mid Atlantic and New England. She actually got a taste for traveling.
We worked hard to keep her connections to Virginia intact. We traveled to a band competition. She was working on her Gold Award in girl scouts (like the Eagle Scout award in Boy Scouts, the Gold Award is the highest level in Girl Scouts.) and we managed to work it out so that she could do that project through her Virginia Troop, something that normally not done. You do the award where you live. We managed to work it out so she could transfer her online credits and graduate and walk with her class in Virginia.
My son was a different creature. More social. We tried the online school but it was not a good fit. He needs a certain amount of structure and needs people around him more than my daughter. I re-arranged life and work so he could go to school near home and he managed the shift well.
They found their passions here. My daughter and her love of historic preservation; my son and his love of lighting and technology.
None of it was easy. I was unemployed for nearly two years while my daughter was here. My shift from traveling work to working from home meant a deep cut in pay. Both kids worked while in school, because they had to. I had savings, but not enough. It was hard.
Both kids had healing to do. Love and gentleness were the tools of choice. But it took time. I learned a lot about their lives in Virginia. My son needed, wanted and got therapy. The scars will never disappear, but they have grown strength and wisdom to help them through their hurt and broken places. They have learned how to control the painful emotions. They understand what healthy relationships can be, and the value of staying away from toxic ones.
My son is gay. In Virginia and here in our corner of New England, it was not an easy thing. But he grew into confidence in himself as a young gay man in an America that is not always good to gay and lesbian people.
They watched me and my struggles. My on-going battle with depression, and how I actively fought it. They watched my first post-divorce relationship rise and fall and come undone. We suffered loss of my parents and another grandmother they loved. They watched me find the joy in my life with the woman I love, and watched us become a couple and then, man and wife. They accepted her and today, love her dearly. Forget all the stereotypes of a stepmother, it can be a good thing and the three of them have worked themselves, and me, into a family with all that implies.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Through it all, the four of us never all lived in the same place at the same time. My daughter moved up and at first my son, because of his age, stayed with his mother. By the time he could make the decision to move to Vermont, she was off to college. He moved to college a month before I got married.
And yet, we became a family. A real family with regard and love and constant contact between us all. I live in gratitude because I never thought, after my divorce, that this would happen. The scars were too deep. The financial situation was hard. There was too much hurt. The timing was all wrong. And yet, it has. And at times it brings me to tears, humbled by the power of consistency and gentle love. It’s one thing to give that kind of love lip service, quite another to live it despite what seems to make sense, and to see it work.
This was a weekend of celebration. We attended the graduation ceremony at Full Sail. Together we watched James graduate and collect his awards (He won three of them.). We met Jame’s boyfriend of over a year (a wonderful young man.). We went to Disney. My wife had been and was sick, for the weekend, but she was fully a part, and celebrated and laughed and talked away the weekend with us all. The weekend felt like what it is, a family. Simply a family that loves each other.
There’s more growing together to do. My stepdaughter lives a distance away as well. She and I have come a long way, simply by giving each other a chance and seeing what love does and is. She is on her own journey, that may take her farther still, and yet we see the same thing work in our lives.
One thing that struck me. As we talked, as we ate out, before and after Disney, we talked. And much of the talk was about things remembered. There were things about their childhood – for instance, they each had memories of the many trips we made to Disney over the years. And some were memories of recent years, things like my wedding, or some of the tough times. What did they remember? What did the celebrate? The small things. The simple acts of love.
I came to see how much a part of the continuing healing my wife has become, and the importance she plays in their lives now. How, in a way, for all the things that went before, she is part of what brought us together for that final melding. Love. simple love. And as we continue to find our way to closeness and family-ness, her love is central to the growing together, and makes mine stronger.
Don’t let people tell you love is not powerful. It is. I have seen it work. There is no manual for healing broken people and broken hearts. For me, the only guides I had were biblical – 1st Corinthians 13:1-8a, and Galatians 5:22-23. It may seem idealistic, but love works. Love builds. Love heals. It is, to repeat myself, powerful.
I have seen what it has done for my family, and in my life and in the life of others. There is no substitute.
And I am grateful.