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Shannon Bradley-Colleary Headshot

When Your Divorced Parents Love Each Other

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Shannon Bradley-Colleary
Shannon Bradley-Colleary



My mom and dad haven't been married since I was two years old. Throughout my childhood, they had very little contact. Once custody was settled, they passed me back and forth with a minimum of drama or friction. I was fortunate that they had a very civilized divorce, but I have absolutely no recollection of them as a couple and they are polar opposites, which always made me feel like I came from Jupiter and Mars.

This is the only photo I have of my parents together before the divorce. We're celebrating my second birthday with my dad's parents:
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My dad is two inches shorter than my mom (even though his driver's license says he's 5' 9", dad is really 5' 6" on a tall day). My mother is warm and wears her heart on her sleeve. My dad is practical; sentimentality give him the Big Ick. My mom likes to take the road less traveled. My dad prefers stability and security. How the heck did these two people fall in love?

"Well, your father was very handsome and had such a lovely singing voice in college," my mom once told me. What? My dad doesn't sing. "Oh yes he does, he serenaded me." Could my dad have a long-lost twin?

"When I saw your mom on campus at Fresno State she looked like a model. She just had this long-legged way of loping across the quad," my dad said, in one of his rare sentimental moments.

Hmmm. Beginning to get it.

Since my marriage to Henry and the birth of our children, there have been more and more reasons to invite both of my parents to shared events: birthdays, ballgames, holidays. Just from time to time. And over the last ten to twelve years, their relationship has evolved in a way I could've never predicted.

When my stepdad died two years ago, my dad called my mom, quite apart from me, and told her if she needed anything to let him know. Then he told her he loved her.

My mom related this to me. Then said she loved him and my stepmom (aka my second mom) too. My eyes well with tears as I write this. The three most influential people, who have shaped the person I am today, love each other. I didn't think it mattered to me one way or the other. But apparently it does. Who knew?

The other day I got a phone call from my mom telling me that she, my dad and my second mom were meeting at my house to exchange items which I'm not at liberty to name. They just wanted to make sure I'd be home to let them in.

So that night, my girls, husband and I sat with my parents while my dad and mom reminisced about their three-month, living-on-five-dollars-a-day-in-Europe honeymoon circa 1964.

My dad is known for his embellishments. He remembers almost getting thrown in prison in communist Germany and having to take the seats literally out of their rented Fiat so the Germans could inspect the vehicle.

My mother only remembers how attractive the guards were.

My dad recalls dining and ditching when he felt ripped off in an Italian eatery then being picked up by a taxi driven by the brother of the restaurant owner. Apparently they ditched the taxi too.

My mom remembers how delicious the coniglio in salsa was.

Dad also recalls sleeping in the public bathroom at a campground, blocking the door with his body. Perhaps they were over their five-dollar-a-day limit? My dad's very frugal.

My mother only remembers how cute the camp police were. Men and food are her two weaknesses.

Sitting at a table listening to my parent's talk about these escapades -- with my stepmom laughing along -- made me feel like I am something more than a beloved mistake. They had a history and a story that had nothing to do with me, but everything to do with me becoming the person I am today.

I love my parents -- the three I have remaining and my stepdad Guido who is gone, but has left his mark on me too. Despite all of my poor-me-child-of-divorce-violin-in-A-minor sonatas, I had great parents. I have great parents. And I'm grateful, grateful, grateful that they love each other. Thanks mom and dad.

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(All of my parents at my wedding. From left to right: my mom, my stepdad Guido, my second mom Gini and my dad -- all happy to see their late-bloomer finally getting hitched.)