It's One Big Happy Family month here at This Writer's Life. In celebration of the book's paperback release I have asked a number of the writers from "One Big Happy Family: 18 Writers Talk About Open Adoption, Mixed Marriage, Polyamory, Househusbandry, Single Motherhood, and Other Realities of Truly Modern Love," to reflect upon how things have changed (or remained the same) in their own lives since they wrote their essays over a year ago. Further, I've also asked various writers I admire to discuss their wild, messy, loving, non-traditional families as well. Below, Richard Goodman talks about his happy family:
It was about ten years ago that our D-I-V-O-R-C-E became final, and since that time my ex-wife and I have developed an entirely new kind of relationship. From all that I hear--and sometimes the volume is piercingly loud--ours is clearly the exception, and not the rule. We actually get along and work together quite well. The other day we were talking on the phone and she started laughing.
"What's so funny?" I asked, since I hadn't--or at least thought I hadn't--said anything amusing.
"We're talking now more than a lot of married couples do."
And certainly more than a lot of divorced couples do. We do so because we have a daughter, and we have pledged that she always comes first. I live in New York City, and there is ample opportunity every day to reconfirm how lucky I am to have this kind of communication with my ex-wife. I can see it on Page Six--the flaming gossip section--of the New York Post. If it isn't a daily barrage of hatred between high profile couples like Ronald Perelman and Ellen Barkin, then it's something else, like, "Ex-Wife Drives Sports Car Over Millionaire's Beloved Dachshund." But I don't even have to read the paper. All I have to do, really, is to listen. Listen in coffee shops. Listen walking on the street. Even listen in movie theaters before the show starts. There, I imbibe small doses of vitriol between couples, listen to the rancor and the discord, to the stories of what a son-of-a-bitch my ex-husband is, or what a bitch my ex-wife is.
The disputes I hear about--and I would reckon that you have, too--are unimaginably petty. And they are fought with all the sound and fury of the Normandy Beach landing.
"I asked my ex if I could have the kids an extra hour last weekend. A lousy hour! And she said no. I needed it because I was taking them to see a three-hour movie on Sunday. We had a knock-down on the phone. Every time I think she's gone as low as she can go, something like this happens." Expletives follow.
It's not pretty. In fact, it's usually about as ugly as it can get.
Believe me, I thank my lucky stars every day that I am communicating with a woman who, well, will communicate, first of all. Who wants to. And we communicate at least once a day, sometimes two or three times, usually by e-mail, but by phone, too. We communicate, because we have a child, and this is what you would do if you were married and trying your best to be good parents. Because there are always things to discuss, to work out, to plan, to resolve when you have a child. Every single day there is an opportunity to make our daughter's life smoother, more bountiful, less stressful (we live in New York), less complicated, better. And that often requires that my ex-wife and I work through things, balance schedules, make plans. And we do.
There have been problems, yes, of course. There always are. A few times we've reached an impasse. Or what seemed an impasse. And there was some tension. But it eventually got worked out. The fact is, though, our daughter has never heard either of us say an unkind word about the other. She has never felt like she was the rope in a tug-of-war. She's felt free to express her affection for both of us without worrying one parent will feel jealous or hurt.
So far, so good. With parenting, though, the last thing you ever want to do is to predict the future. That would be tempting luck. And I would never, ever do that. It's been too kind to me, to us.
Richard Goodman's new book, A New York Memoir, will be published in the fall. He is the author of French Dirt: The Story of a Garden in the South of France and The Soul of Creative Writing. He has written on a variety of subjects for many national publications, including the New York Times, Harvard Review, Vanity Fair, Saveur, Commonweal, Creative Nonfiction and the Michigan Quarterly Review. He teaches creative nonfiction at Spalding University's MFA in Writing program in Louisville, Kentucky. His website is www.richardgoodman.org