I remember it vividly: My mom and I were at a hot dog stand in Studio City, California. It was a hot summer day. I was four years old. It had been a year since I'd seen or heard from my dad and I had asked for the umpteenth time when he was coming.
"Never," my mom said in a tone of finality. "Your Dad is dead."
I ingested the news through two different channels. The first was physically through my stomach, which felt hollow, and I immediately tried to fill it with my lunch: a grilled dog with mustard called "The Mutt." The second burst through my young reasoning mind as an angel of mercy: that's why he hasn't been to see me!
Now, you might ask yourself what kind of person would tell such a lie? Not someone who thinks things through, that's for sure.
Eight years later my Dad resurrected and Mom was forced to come clean.
But, while he'd been gone, I'd made up my own version of him in my imagination. I created a fantasy Dad who loved and watched over me and who never left me. When Mom confessed Dad was really alive, I had an out-of-body experience. In my thirteen-year-old mind, I believed my fantasy had come true.
Later, when I met our replacements -- the family he'd started while dearly departed from ours -- my feelings toward Dad changed, and I thought he deserved the lie Mom told. My anger toward him allowed me to avoid feeling hurt over his discarding me, and I waited a very long time before I made the effort to have a relationship with him. This is where the ramifications of being told that lie manifested: I absolutely could not reconcile the fantasy Dad I'd created with the real one I was trying to relate to.
In fact, I've spent years healing from the abandonment wound inflicted by my father, but mere months thinking about the wound from my mother's lie. It wasn't until I divorced and became a single parent of three with an ex who rarely showed up for his kids that I began to, at least partially, understand Mom's possible motivation.
My mom worked as a hostess for minimum wage -- a job far below her rank as a socialite in the elite circles of San Francisco -- to keep my brother and I housed, clothed and fed. And she managed to carry the load without too much moaning and groaning. It wasn't those burdens that made her prematurely put the nail in Dad's coffin anyway. It was the relentless sparkle in our eyes when we would ask when we could see our Dad. The same eager look of hope I must have had that day at the hot dog stand, a look that made her feel insignificant and underappreciated when she was doing all the work. For isn't it the parent who never has to give orders, carry out punishment or deal with a plate of uneaten vegetables who garners all the love and thanks from the kids?
I'm not condoning my Mom's actions but I forgive her her madness. I know what single parenting without help does to one who is already fragile. Children are a huge responsibility that many of us aren't prepared for, let alone equipped for.
In the end, all of us, from and of divorce, have to deal with what we're given even if we gave it to ourselves. But, as long as we're alive, there's always the chance for repair. As divorced parents with kids, we must tread with care and guard the most precious of all gifts -- our children's hopes and dreams -- and we should never assume that we are the arbiters of those gifts. We can't be. We're flawed. They're innocent.
Finally, if you're one of those parents at the end of their rope and this lie has crossed your mind at least once, grab a hold of a trusted friend and run it by them or comment here. I'm sure some of us will understand. I know I will.
Follow Terry K Carr on Twitter: www.twitter.com/terrykcarr