Thanksgiving is an interesting time for my family and me. I typically make the 10-hour car trek to South Florida from Atlanta with my son, my boyfriend of three years, and my ex-husband, so we can be with my entire family.
This year marks the six-year anniversary of my divorce--the event that turned my ex-husband into one of my best friends. I tell my ex all the time, "Honey, I'm glad I married you, because you are great to be in a divorce with."
He knows exactly what I mean.
Our friendship is an unusual story, I know -- and the truth is, it didn't just happen. From the moment my ex-husband and I decided to separate (which was a culmination of years working hard to stay together, including 14 years in couples' therapy), we asked ourselves: can we create a divorce that isn't bitter and hurtful? Can we preserve the platonic love we have for each other - for both ourselves and our son? Can we keep all the good parts and toss all the bad stuff?
We decided we could.
So with small, mostly-even steps throughout a one-year separation leading up to our divorce, we created what is for some of my family and friends, a mind-boggling relationship.
We understand it takes some getting used to.
The person most confused by our friendship is my father. My dad - as any father who thinks his little girl has somehow been wronged - wanted to be furious at my ex. I told him that I wasn't angry, so he didn't need to be mad on my behalf. I think that leaves him a little unsure of how to feel about his ex-son-in-law who is still a big part of my family.
I've told him, "Dad, maybe if you had raised Jon (that's my ex) he would have turned out differently. But he didn't have the benefit of having you for a father when he was young."
Still, my old-school dad doesn't understand how we can all hang out together. Yes, at any given time you can find my ex, my boyfriend, my son and me, bowling or going to dinner or even having a New Year's Eve party. We all get along that well. As an example, my boyfriend was the first one to buy my ex a gift last year for the holidays. My ex is a huge fan of my boyfriend's technological wizardry and his Thanksgiving mashed potatoes. My son adores his dad and really likes my boyfriend. My boyfriend likes my son (which, because my son is a frequently moody 15-year-old, is the biggest surprise of all to me.)
When we arrived at my parents' home the night before Thanksgiving this year, there were hugs for everyone (including my ex). My ex sincerely loves my father; his own dad died when he was 13, so my dad is the only father he's had in his adult life. Later, as we were leaving for the nearby hotel, my dad announced he was picking up the tab for all of our rooms - even an extra for my ex. We all protested, but both of my parents insisted.
Then my dad whispered to me, "When you got divorced, I didn't think I'd be paying for more rooms than when you were married."
I think he was only half-kidding.
On Thanksgiving morning, we arrived at my parents early to help. My boyfriend lifted the 22-pound turkey into the oven; my ex set the table; my son took out the never-ending trash. As soon as the rest of my 20-member family showed up, the conversation and laughter level rose to concert-level decibels. Occasionally, someone came up to me and told me how wonderful it is to see Jon here; how great that we can have this kind of relationship. A couple of my nieces, now of dating and marrying age, told me they think it's great for my son, and asked me if it's ever weird.
"Not really," I said honestly. "It's just the way we've done it from the beginning."
Honestly, I think it would be weird to do it any other way.
At the dinner table, it was my turn to say what I am most grateful for. I looked at "my boys," - my boyfriend, my ex, my son ... I looked at my dad ... trying so hard to be new-age with us ... I looked at my mom, who has never stopped loving Jon and has also welcomed my boyfriend. I see my siblings and nieces and nephews, and I realize what I am most grateful for this year is my family's open arms, open hearts, and most of all, their open minds. I thank them for supporting this and understanding that for us, this is what normal is.
Will our son be better adjusted because of his divorced parents' friendship? I honestly don't know. He seems pretty well adjusted already. I know he loves being able to be with his dad along with the rest of his family at holiday time. I know it's gotta be good for him that there's no fighting, no feuding, no taking sides between his mother and father. I hope that he learns - as we have - that divorce is not always a tragedy. But just in case this has somehow damaged him for life, along with our son's College Fund, we might just create his Therapy Fund. Because one day he might be lying on a therapist's couch somewhere, whining: "Why couldn't my parents have had a normal divorce?"
Every once in a while I hear about other divorces like ours - amicable, respectful and embracing friendship. I hope there are hundreds of us -- thousands even - out there shaking up the traditional holiday scene and putting new meaning into "goodwill toward men" - starting with our ex-men.