Sunday, October 15, 2023

Mixed (Up) Families

Divorce takes a toll on children more than anyone else.

I recounted before my friend who was kind of gullible.  We would be out "hanging around" as teenagers and my friend "Tommy" (who was kind of evil) would say to my friend Gary, "Hey Gary, you've got a good throwing arm, I'll bet you can't hit that streetlight with this rock!" and Gary would throw the rock, broken glass would rain down, and everyone would "ditch it" except Gary, who would still be there when the cops arrived.

Gary was a nice guy, but suggestible and also prone to dumb ideas - like shooting off a pellet gun at cars.  He "got into trouble" a lot, not because he was evil, he just didn't think through his actions sometimes.  And maybe he wasn't the smartest guy in the world, but is that a crime?   I'll give you an example of that - he invited me over one time and said he had this new record album.  "These guys are great!  Real 'macho men!'" and he showed me the album cover of The Village People.  Even then, I sensed there was something very gay about this - but Gary wasn't gay, though.  Like President Trump, he actually thought they were "Macho Men" - staying at the Y and joining the Navy and such.

Nice guy, just not very bright.

His Mother was an utter harridan, who married and divorced three men, taking each husband to the cleaners every time - getting alimony and child support, keeping the house and cars and most of the marital assets.  I remember after the latest divorce, we went to visit Gary's step-Dad (who was more of a Dad to him that his biological Dad) and the poor guy was living in a run-down apartment in a bad part of town.  She cleaned him out - completely.  It was so sad.

Another time, I visited him at his "real Dad's" house - after his harridan Mother finally tossed him out for "getting into trouble."  By the way, "trouble" would include doing such awful things as stepping on the carefully raked shag carpet in the living room, or taking a snack out of the refrigerator without permission.  She was a real tight control freak.  So off to "real Dad's" house he went.

We were in the basement "rumpus room" and his bio-Dad had one of those Bang and Olufsen fancy stereos - the kind that would find tracks on a record using a laser beam.   Pretty cool for the era.  I asked him if we could play a record (no Village People, please!) and he said "No, only the real kids are allowed to use it!"   You see, bio-Dad had remarried and had a second family, and those were "real" kids and Gary (and his brother) were just some sort of mistake that should be swept under the rug.  "Real Dad" - indeed!

It kind of broke my heart, as although Gary was prone to doing dumb things on occasion, he wasn't an evil person and he didn't deserve this.   His controlling Mother was a piece of work.  As a teenager, he bought a used Gremlin (remember those?) and we fixed it up and got it running.  But he never drove it, as his Mother would never let him register it or take it on the road, as punishment for some stupid transgression (stepping on the raked shag carpet, for example) and he was always being "grounded" or punished.  He was the only one in our social group who had a "curfew" which I think was something ridiculous like 10:00PM on a Saturday night.  I mean, for a middle-school student, I understand this, but when you are 17 years old?

As soon as he could, he left these "homes" and joined the Military, which was probably a good move for him.

Sadly, his experience is not unique.  I read online these stories from people who have "blended" families.  Husband and wife are both previously divorced and have two sets of children.  Issues arise as one child is treated "differently" than another.  Or one spouse has no children and has to be the "wicked step-Mother" (or Father) and never gets along with the step-children, who sulk and pout and try to subtly sabotage the marriage.

Worse yet, it is impossible, I think, in a divorce situation, for the kids not to pick up on the hostility between ex-husbands and ex-wives.  I mean, after all, there was some reason they got divorced, right?  So even when Mom says she doesn't talk trash about "weekend Dad" there no doubt is a lot of trash to take out - and vice-versa.

The good news is, I think children of divorced families are less likely to get divorced - although statistics would seem to disagree with me.  It is anecdotal evidence, I know, but I have met many people who lived through divorce hell as children and vowed never to put their own kids through that.  They lived with their spouse years before marriage, and then thought carefully before starting a family.  Maybe those other statistics reflect the great number of people in America who get pregnant by accident and divorce at the drop of a hat.  Trash is as trash does.  Little Lurleen will get pregnant in the back seat of a Camaro and get a divorce five years later - just like her Momma!

On the other hand, divorce rates - and marriage rates - are both declining, perhaps because the younger generation is smaller than the previous one.  And perhaps they also see that divorce is a stupid waste of money - unless there are serious issues that cannot be resolved and not just the fear of missing out..  Maybe too, younger people are thinking more carefully about a life mate before settling down.  I've seen how horrific a marriage can be, when rushed into without careful contemplation.  You marry the wrong guy and there is no "fixing" that later on - it just gets worse and worse.

Are there healthy and happy "blended families" like the Brady Bunch?  I suppose so, although I think in the case of that (fictional) family, the Mother and Father were both widows (or widowers) and thus there were no messy divorce issues, just grief issues.  It also raises the odd prospect that since the boys and girls are not genetically related, it is incest if Jan has the hots for Greg (or vice-versa?).  I say this in jest, but I recall one of my adopted friends always was fighting with his adopted sister (who was from a different set of parents) and I always wondered if their smoldering hatred for each other was some sort of defense mechanism they used to keep each other at arm's length.  But I digress.  Shit happens, and not just in the Duggar family!

My own parents came close to divorcing when I was in my early teens.  And it was a horrific time, now that I look back on it.  My own life was going off the rails as it was.  I think they both realized that their lives would be shattered by divorce.  Dad might have lost his job, and they would have had to sell the house and divide assets.  Mother would have a much more circumspect lifestyle, and no doubt they may have been shunned by some of their social set.  In the end, they decided it was cheaper to stay together than to divorce.  And like I said before, if you divorce your husband because he has a bimbo on the side, then the bimbo wins and he marries her - which he never intended to do in the first place.

Sex and love are two different things, although when combined together can be magical.  On the other hand, sex is a poor reason to get divorced, in my opinion.  I guess for some folks, that "till death do us part" has a lot of caveats.   As a result, I think a lot of kids suffer, too.