Divorce Just Let More Love In: On My Parents' 57th Wedding Anniversary
Today is my parents’ 57th wedding anniversary.
My parents divorced in 1973, and my daddy died in 2006, but I say it “is” their anniversary rather than “it would be” because the fruits of that marriage live on. That wedding led to children and grandchildren who are vibrantly alive; that wedding led to a legacy of kindness that survived the legal end of a marriage.
Hubert and Alison met in grad school at Berkeley in 1961. My mother was the only woman in the PhD program in philosophy, clever and serious with wide blue eyes. My father was charming and musical, his English accent and sparkling humor more than compensating for being barely 5'7”.
They were very different, mom and dad. My mother was from a Social Register family, a fourth-generation Californian. Her ancestors came to America from England in the 17th century, and to California for the Gold Rush. They had prospered here for generations. Daddy was an Austrian Jewish war refugee whose family had just barely escaped Hitler; he grew up in genteel poverty on a farm in rural Oxfordshire, and came to America in 1959, when he was 24.
Mom was more interested in political philosophy, and wrote her dissertation on Hobbes. Daddy’s focus was on the more technical world of analytical philosophy, and wrote his on Wittgenstein. They fell in love while arguing ideas– and they fell in love over the burgers that my mother adored and the beer my father did.
Mom was 26 and Dad was 28 when they were married in the living room of my grandparents’ home, a few miles from the Cal campus in leafy, affluent Piedmont. There was no honeymoon yet — two days later, they flew to Canada so that papa could start his new teaching job at the University of Alberta.
Only real love sends a California girl to Edmonton in January.
Real love isn’t always enough. So no, even though my dad eventually took another university job in the far more congenial climes of Santa Barbara, the marriage didn’t work. My brother and I came, and a few cats, and a house or two, but there were other challenges too great to overcome.
When the divorce came, there was hurt, as there always is, but there was forgiveness and friendship too. My mom got custody and we moved to Carmel; daddy drove up every six weeks to spend the weekend with us, sleeping in my mom’s guest room.
They laughed and joked and debated together on those visits for years. I would lie awake as a child and listen to their conversations until I fell asleep. When I was very young, I fantasized, as you might expect, that they were still together.
When my dad remarried, to my extraordinary stepmother Carol, my mother was thrilled. She and Carol became dear friends, because, as my mother said, “that’s how it should be.”
Had my parents’ marriage lasted, I wouldn’t have my wonderful sisters and my children wouldn’t have my sisters’ children as their adored first cousins. The divorce made our world bigger and let more love in. My mother believed that as much as anyone. To quote that Nineties classic, “Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” The essence of both wisdom and generosity is to hold both the grief at an end and joy at a new beginning in tension, refusing to see these deep emotions as irreconcilable.
When papa was diagnosed with terminal stomach cancer in the spring of 2006, my mom drove down to Santa Barbara to spend a few final days visiting with him. What their last words were to each other stayed between them, but I know they were kind, and full of affection and gratitude.
Here’s to the love two young people pledged to each other 57 years ago today, and here’s to the way that love widened beyond all expectations.
Happy anniversary, mommy. Happy anniversary daddy.
You know I love this.
What a beautiful story. I love that photo- they were an adorable couple.