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Seeds of Affection

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My father had fallen in love with a woman who was not my mother. It shouldn't have come as a great surprise; the shared feelings of love, respect and fascination that held my parents together had long before metamorphosed into a difficult and combative friendship. And so my father, rather innocently at first, moved on.

I was first introduced to her 23 years ago. I don't remember any of the details because I felt she was an enemy of sorts. Despite the fact that I knew the truth of my parent's relationship, I was devastated by their separation. I believed my father when he would say, "your mother and I will always be together." I was a romantic who ignored their frequent private battles in favor of the public image of a happy family that we showed the rest of the world.

So, their divorce hit me with such ferocity that you would have though I was 9 years old and not 27. In fact, I had married my own husband a few months before, and my new life and happiness were overshadowed by what I saw as the complete destruction of my nuclear family.

It is in this context that I met Lyn. To complicate matters, I met her as a fait accomplis. Not as a girlfriend with months or years ahead of us to get to know one another, but as the woman my father loved deeply and would marry - and as the woman, it turns out, he had loved deeply while married to my mother.

It was an inauspicious beginning, to be sure. And so it surprises and amazes me that today I am eager to write about her, this former adversary, who is now a dear friend and a woman whom I love.

Days before their wedding, I had a conversation with my father and practically begged him to find someone closer to his age (Lyn is 25 years his junior). My father looked at me, his eyes welling with sympathy. He loved Lyn, he said, not Kitty Carlisle Hart.

Their wedding day was one of the most painful of my life. One side of the metaphorical aisle was full of happy people, and the other was just me and my sisters, holding onto one another for dear life. I didn't think it was possible to laugh that day, but I did when a dear friend of Lyn's said to me, "I want you to know that I acknowledge your pain."

Things didn't improve much when, a year later and in the midst of my third year of infertility, my father called me to announce that Lyn was pregnant. I moved through the motions in those days, hugging Lyn hello and goodbye, feigning interest in the growing baby inside of her, and listening as they debated moving from my childhood home to a new home of their own. The months and years went by as I watched my own mother struggle crankily but valiantly to find her way in the world alone, while my Dad, Lyn and their baby, Ben, played the happy family. The topper occurred in the midst of my second round of infertility, having given birth to my father's first grandson a couple of years before, when my father told me that Lyn was pregnant again. "Ah, um," he stuttered, "it's twins."

But, what I realize now, is that during all of those years Lyn was patiently and carefully laying the seeds of friendship. We had always celebrated Christmas and Chanukah and though Lyn is not Jewish, she continued that tradition. Our first holiday together was a huge, festive production that showed both her generosity and how much she cared - she was a nervous wreck! She was genuinely excited with the birth of my (and my sister's) children, and although she wasn't ready to be called "grandma," she was as loving, proud and constantly gift-bearing as any grandmother could be.

Some of those seeds were hugely significant gestures that I was grateful for immediately. The most important of these is that she never came between my father and his grown children. My relationship with him continued in all of its closeness and intensity. I realized from the very beginning how lucky I was, especially when I heard horror stories from friends whose new stepmothers had "stolen" their fathers from them. Incredibly, Lyn has always been a loving and supportive friend to me, even offering a sympathetic ear with issues having to do with my father.

It's not always easy. I still get jealous of my father's commitments to Lyn's family (our families are too large to have holidays together.) And I occasionally feel a twinge of jealousy towards my half siblings because of the precious time they spend with my father - and a more than a twinge of frustration at the amount of time he must spend being a father and not a grandfather.

But, most of my feelings about Lyn and my Dad these days are happy ones. My father found a very real, deep and uncomplicated love and I am so grateful for that. Our crazy family, with my son being older than his aunt, works - the kids all blend together beautifully. And the impetus for wanting to write this modern "love story" is a moment that took my breath away a few weeks ago during the holidays.

Lyn was toasting our family and talked for the first time about "my grandchildren." It happened so naturally that I don't even think she realized it. But, I did and it meant the world to me. Being a grandparent is not about age, it is about position. Children need grandparents, and my children need Lyn. And now they truly have her and their lives will be richer for it.

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