“He allowed himself to be swayed by his conviction that human beings are not born once and for all on the day their mothers give birth to them, but that life obliges them over and over again to give birth to themselves.”
I wrote previously that I was excited for 2020 as this was the year I turned 45. I dreamed about the places I would travel and the people I would celebrate with. Those dreams were a mask for the pain I was suffering and have been suffering for quite some time.
In the 15 years I’ve been blogging, I have used this platform as an outlet to share updates on my life and my opinion on current events, sometimes as a call to action for my readers to do something like vote for Hillary Clinton. Reminder there’s work to be done to get out the right vote between now and Election Day November 3rd. I have been open about my struggles with depression and infertility, and how my two miscarriages destroyed me and made me question my faith in God.
I feel that now is the right time to share that early last year, my husband Dean and I separated. I was in the thick of so many negative emotions–despair, anger, sadness, failure–that I will forever remember 2019 as a nadir in my well-being. It’s not easy to end a long-term marriage, especially when there’s a child involved. Honestly, Franco is the reason I held on for as long as I did. Splitting custody is hard enough, but as a mother, being away from my toddler would have been unbearable. On nights I’m away from Franco, I still wince, but he’s 6-years-old now and sufficiently independent to not need both parents every day.
When I told a friend about the divorce, she asked why I wasn’t sharing more broadly. Her insight was that hiding it can be more exhausting as you show up differently based on the type of person you’re trying to portray (your authentic self vs your partial self). She was absolutely correct. However I was not ready then. Only now does it seem like the right time. I slowly shared with close friends, but even that was a process. At first, wanting to share in person. Later, during Covid, calling people. For some of you, this will be the first time hearing it and if so, I hope you’re not offended. As you can imagine, I have been dealing with a lot and one-on-one discussions were emotionally draining.
I also felt maybe it wasn’t my story to tell since marriage is a covenant between two people. I want to respect the sanctity of our vows by not sharing the specific details on why we decided to end our marriage, aside from what I believe to be mismatched marriage compatibility. I will always love Dean; he’s one of my best friends, but even love and friendship does not guarantee marriage success.
We enlisted the help of a couples therapist, child psychologist and mediator–in that order–to help us work through our divorce. The couples therapist, who we had worked with in the past, asked us to acknowledge the beauty in our marriage and what we hoped for the future. Dean and I both cried as we reminisced on our love and how we are completely aligned in Franco as our north star. There was and still is pain despite surrounding ourselves with support and expert advice, but focusing on our son has helped the process not devolve into chaos.
Comparatively, I believe this to be one of the most amicable divorces I’m aware of (with a nod to Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin for paving the way with conscious uncoupling). The fact that we used a mediator should also be an indicator of how collaborative we wanted this to be. I chose our mediator Susanna Tuan based on her personal story.
“My father left my mother and I when I was four years old, and then my mother passed away when I was ten. Since then I was a ward of the court, and was raised by my sister and large extended family. I was the community child. Everyone contributed what they could whether it be time, money or love and life lessons. As a result, I am deeply grateful and value my family and therefore started this family focused practice. While I appreciate the family unit, I’m also well aware that it comes in all shapes, sizes and dynamics. Whoever your family is, it’s my instinct to help you manage and protect it.”
The first time Dean and I walked into the mediator’s office, we were thrilled to discover she had a dog. I can’t remember the dog’s name or the breed. I don’t even recall whether it was male or female, only that it was a small dog that enjoyed burying itself in your lap. I distinctly remember how soothing it was to hold and stroke. Whenever one of us got aggravated about a particular point in the marital settlement agreement, we would either relinquish or welcome the dog based on who needed it more. A few times the dog was not around which was a point of contention: “Why isn’t your dog here?” as if we expected Susanna to provide an emotional support animal during our mediation.
We are technically not divorced as we await court approval of the Judgement of Resolution, which has been delayed due to Covid; but essentially, Dean and I are no longer married.
While Dean and I rarely fought in front of Franco, we did get into a very big fight during a car ride to a Christmas party last year. It embarrasses me to say that two adults could not help yelling in front of their 5-year-old. Above the fray, Franco hollered from the back of the car, “MEDITATE! Mommy and Daddy, let’s meditate. Breathe. Let’s breathe together.”
My anger melted into a mix of sorrow and shame. What wisdom coming from a child, neutralizing the situation and advising his own parents! I do meditate, but it’s not something I practice in front of Franco. Franco learned it from his school St. Philip Neri. Thank God for the teachers and the school for imparting this method. It wasn’t a prayer that came to mind, but the practice of meditation, which means anyone can do this regardless of religion. Meditate and breathe.
Franco does not know the word divorce. We have not said we are getting divorced. He understands that we are the kind of family that will always love him despite living apart. I have heard of many caustic divorces and did everything in my power to avoid a similar experience. In addition to couples counseling, Dean and I worked closely with a child psychologist to help transition Franco into our new family dynamic. At first, Dean and I traded between the two different levels of our home, then between the home and our newly-built accessible dwelling unit, and now between that property and a new home that I purchased 10 blocks away on the same street, with Franco never away from one parent for more than 3 nights on the weekend. Franco’s teachers and the school were made aware of the situation. Before shelter-in-place, we would get together every Friday for a family dinner at a local restaurant. He has adjusted well between the two different homes, has close neighborhood friends in both locations, and is doing great in spite of the pandemic.
Dean and I were married at St. Dominic’s church in San Francisco on June 3, 2010. All religion has good tenets. Catholicism is modeled on forgiveness, but its culture is one of shame. Shame for being gay. Shame for getting divorced. Shame for not going to church. Shame for any damn mistake. Catholics like to point fingers even though Jesus said “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.” Maybe Catholics feel less sinful by projecting their guilt onto others.
I can already hear the gossip in my community circles as they judge what kind of mother ends her marriage and breaks apart her family? My response is: a brave one. At the end of my life, I will determine if I did what was best for me. Not what was best for Franco, which is important, but more importantly, what was best for me. I don’t want Franco growing up thinking that what’s best for others should supersede what’s best for his own good. My whole life I have conformed to please my parents, my family, my teachers, my friends, my employers. This time, I followed my heart and what was right for me, instead of others’ expectations of me, and also the misaligned expectations I had for myself.
This divorce caused me to believe I was a major fucked-up failure. I continue to work through this in intense therapy. I’m not going to lie, when I see family pictures on social media, it’s a sucker-punch to my gut. But however my divorce is characterized, I am proud that I was married for 9 years, and immensely thankful to Dean for giving me Franco, the love of my life and my greatest achievement.
I am not shy about admitting my imperfections. I’m riddled with sin. But I know God forgives in a way no human can ever understand, and that comforts me greatly. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life. And I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
I often felt very alone during this dark time in my life, but I’ve been blessed to work with my own set of therapists, coaches and friends. My therapist urged me to surround myself with other divorcees which was good advice because hearing their stories was very helpful. Often times you cannot truly understand someone’s path unless you have walked in their shoes, similar to my struggle with infertility. I say this because there is power in the sisterhood, or divorcehood (since I spoke to both men and women), and reaching out to someone who can empathize with the situation you are coping with. It’s not a panacea and sometimes it didn’t work, as I reached out to a few people who either never responded or didn’t respond appropriately (i.e., a divorced friend who said unless I had someone else to move onto, that I should just stick it out. WTF).
Most of the past year has been a blur, but another distinct memory, besides the mediator’s lap dog, was driving to my parents’ home to tell them about the divorce. I could feel my heart pounding in my chest and I kept thinking, “this is what it must feel like to walk toward the guillotine.” I was so ashamed to tell my parents–who had watched our courtship, witnessed our church vows, and practically raised our son–that our union was over. I sat down at their dining table and sobbed, and they offered only the most loving support. I will forever be grateful to my parents for wrapping me in their love when I needed it.
Today, the 4th of July, on what would have been 10 years and 1 month of marriage, I am lighting a firecracker of hope in the midst of Coronavirus. Hope that we can all be free from racism, prejudice, the constraints of society, religion, other people and ourselves. I declare my independence from limitations. This is my gift to myself. But I also hope one day Franco says that his mom worked through her fear, that she was someone who loved her only child unconditionally and loved herself enough to dismiss judgements and follow her heart. Maybe now that I have shared this pain, I am free to dream again and dream big.