DEAR DIARY... HOW MY PARENTS' DIVORCE AFFECTED MY LIFE
IS HAPPY EVER AFTER JUST A MYTH?
I’ve always found writing therapeutic. I’ve been very open in the past through my laptop about suffering a miscarriage and the subsequent effects that it had on my relationship and my life. I’ve also spoken about how taking antidepressants for that loss also affected my life. I find it easier to open up to a keyboard: it doesn’t judge, doesn’t question, it just lets you type away the pain.
But something even bigger happened in my life that’s left a profound effect on me, something that nobody saw coming and everybody struggled to come to terms with. My Mum and Dad splitting up.
As a child in the 80s and 90s, a few of my friends would talk to me about their parents’ splitting up and mention their Stepdads and Stepmums in the playground. I could never relate: my Mum and Dad, Glynis and Peter, married in 1977 and had my brother Simon in 1979. I came along in 1982 and the family was complete. They’d been together ever since.
We were always a very openly loving family: my Mum and Dad would sing Whitney Houston love songs to each other in the kitchen while cooking the Sunday morning fry-up together. Dad would crawl across the floor at night time to Mum and kiss her passionately while we covered our eyes shouting ‘ewww, gross!’ They’d go on date nights all the time; we’d run in on Sunday mornings to see the duvet covers frantically moving and their heads popping out (see, now I understand why!). Dad would come home from work with a huge bunch of roses or a van would turn up delivering them. Ask anybody who knew them and they’d say they were very much madly in love. As a little girl, I looked up to my Mum and Dad as a real-life prince and princess; they had the kind of love Disney would be proud of.
When we were little, my parents started a furniture business together. They opened their first shop and one became two, two became three and life became very busy for them. Initially together, they jetted across the world sourcing furniture to bring into the store. Simon and I were very occasionally left with childminders while they worked hard to make money through the business. Dad would come home from work and go into the dining room, drawing out adverts to put in the local papers to advertise the shops (it’s now obviously all done on computers), and I remember watching him, seeing how hard he worked. Mum looked after the home as well: cooked, cleaned, ironed and washed. It was a solid partnership that worked well because the roles were defined and operated through bloody hard work by both.
As Simon and I grew older, the business became more successful and we were extremely fortunate to be taken on magnificent holidays around the globe: ski-ing in Canada, sunbathing in Mauritius, annual trips to the Caribbean with European beach destinations in-between. We had three holidays a year and it’s only now I realise just how fortunate we were. It’s a lifestyle I’ll never be able to provide for my children, but we only received that because my parents bust their balls for to provide a better life for us. We even had two weeks at Disney World in Florida followed with a week in the Bahamas straight after it when I was 8 (let’s not mention Yugoslavia though!). We wore nice clothes and the family car went from a Scorpio to a BMW to a Mercedes. We’d regularly drive to Llanberis in North Wales to visit my Grandad (my Dad’s Dad) with a soundtrack of Bread and Paul McCartney, in what became a traditional family road trip. Grandad owned a chip shop, so Simon and I would help to peel the potatoes in exchange for some penny sweets. We would enjoy family Saturday nights in; watching Gladiators and Blind Date, then going to the video shop to pick a new release, with packets of nik naks and fun size. We have plenty of memories from a wonderful childhood.
We were brought up with traditional family values in a house filled with love. Simon and I did fight, but for brother and sister we were close. His passion for Manchester City meant that, because I looked up to him, I became very interested from a young age in the sport and adopted the same team. As we grew older, we’d go to the games together and still do sometimes nowadays. Our holidays together and our days out meant we enjoyed a lovely relationship and, although we’re older now, we’re still close. Don’t get me wrong: there were times when we would scrap and drive Mum demented; to the point she would ring Dad up at work screaming, saying ‘Peter help! Get home, they’re driving me crazy!’ But for siblings we were very amicable.
It got to a point where Mum and Dad bought a villa in Antigua. I used to fly out with them while it was being renovated for a break and I’d see Dad at barbeques on the beach with our friends over there. He’d make odd comments about the future with Mum, but I never really drew anything from that. As far as I was aware, they were still very happy. They even got re-married in Mauritius in a delightful little church and had a big party back at home with family and friends to celebrate for their 25th wedding anniversary. The romance continued and the love just seemed to blossom.
I remember the only time when sometime just didn’t seem right to me. When my Nanna (Esther, my Mum’s Mum) took ill, my Mum and her sisters took it in turns to go to the hospital to be with her and support her. She sadly passed away; in honour of her, my Dad had arranged for the sisters and I to go to a Take That concert at the Etihad Stadium as a celebration of her life together. We were all drinking before leaving for the gig and Dad ran in offering to take photographs. He seemed different. I noticed that he’d lost quite a bit of weight and he seemed to have a glint in his eye. I did pull him up on it, but he shrugged it off, saying I must be imagining things. I told him how good he looked and asked what had got into him, but he just avoided it and continued to take pictures. That was on the Saturday.
It was the Tuesday when our lives changed forever.
I was at my ex-boyfriend’s house in Preston watching England vs. Sweden, a World Cup match, on Tuesday 20th June 2006. My brother was in Birmingham watching it in a sports bar while he was away on business. He was in the process of moving out to live with his girlfriend Liz (now his wife) and I was set to move out to go to university just a couple of months later. My phone starting ringing – it was Mum. I answered – and I couldn’t believe what I heard.
‘I think I’ve just killed your Dad,’ Mum screamed. ‘I’ve just thrown a candle at his head. He’s having an affair, he’s leaving me.’
It sounds dramatic, but in those seconds of processing those words, my life flashed before my eyes. Playing with Dad as a little girl; running on the beach with him, watching him dance with Mum in the kitchen, serenading each other. Our birthdays, their kisses. The love. That love. That passion. 29 years of marriage. Surely not.
It was all true. While Mum had been caring for her Mum, Dad still had to go on his business trips. It was during one trip when he met ‘Fei’, a Thai lady who he fell in love/lust with. He even flew out to see her on the day of my Nanna’s funeral and left just after he’d carried her coffin to the burial place. I’ve since learned that it all started the day his Dad/my Grandad passed away: he was away in Kuala Lumpur when he received the call and he admitted that he walked more or less straight from the airport to a brothel. He lost his head. It continued from that point and now it was out in the open.
The aftermath was horrific. I hated him. My Mum was an absolute wreck – understandably so – her world fell apart. Her Mum had just passed away and now her husband had revealed he was having an affair. The timing is never good – but with Simon and I both moving out of the family home, she was on her own at the worst possible time. She took Prozac in an attempt to deal with the grief and the hurt. I had to accompany her to a sexual health clinic to be tested as a precaution after Dad had been sleeping around with God knows what. I’ve never seen her so low and I never want to see her go through that level of trauma ever again. My poor Mum.
It broke Simon and I too, in different ways. Simon doesn’t really talk about how it’s affected him but I know it does on a daily basis. It just completely destroyed any belief I’d ever had in marriage. It made me hate all men. I had no trust in any of them: it made me bitter, paranoid and judgemental. I went to university and socially, lost my head. I didn’t really want to know boyfriends: I slept with boys and didn’t care about them, I slept with them even if they had girlfriends - it was always only ever about one thing. I used to feel carefree and relaxed in relationships – it all changed. I got into a couple of relationships at uni and just ended up cheating. I’d think, what’s the point if it won’t work out anyway? I also hated seediness: brothels, strip clubs, anything that I could link to that part of a life that I credited to destroying that beautiful marriage.
You might say that’s irrational, but in my head I couldn’t get past it. I still can’t. When I finally did enter into a relationship with Chris (Vincent’s Dad), it was filled with trepidation and caution. I trusted him but I didn’t, if that makes sense. It was as much as I could put trust in the opposite sex at that time; at that point it had been two years since the split. Mum and Dad divorced and Dad moved out to the Far East: he initially lived between Kuala Lumpur and Thailand. He married Fei but things turned sour and they split. Some people thought it was a mid-life crisis and that he’d come home back to Mum, but that never happened. He met Da, who is five years younger than me, and they got married on Valentine’s Day this year.
It’s taken me a long time to get back to a real, loving relationship with Dad. I’d seen the hurt Mum had been through and for so long I felt so much hate towards him. But you only get one Mum and Dad and life is very short: I thought about all those late nights he’d spent grafting for us to give us a better live, the years of memories we’d shared and eventually, those negative feelings began to subside.
I’ll always love him and I’m devastated he lives on the other side of the world, especially now I have children. I have been out to the Far East a couple of times (a huge step as at one point I point blank refused to go there) and I’ve met Da many times. She makes him happy and she isn’t a gold-digger (like the first one), so at least that’s something. She seems genuine, even if she is younger than his daughter. I don’t think he will ever come home at this point – after selling the family business, he’s built up a new furniture empire over there and it seems to be doing very well.
I’m not sure I would be so brave and strong in such circumstances. My Mum is an amazing woman: she’s strong, determined and a shining example to women everywhere. She’s come out of the other side and is finally enjoying her life with her head held high. She doesn’t have to rely on a man, or babysit one, or try to make one happy – she’s living in the family home and enjoys a more active social life than I do. She’s also recently discovered Facebook, which has opened another social door for her. I would like her to find somebody again, but that doesn’t define her and I admire her for that. She’s a superstar and I’m lucky to have her in my life. She can hold her head up high – she’s a magnificent Mum and was a devoted wife who did absolutely nothing wrong, she just loved her husband deeply.
Mum and Dad together have come on leaps and bounds. They can be in the same room together, with their children and grandchildren. But Dad doesn’t help himself: he’s always throwing out the rod trying to wind Mum up and she always bites, it’s playful and not vindictive and Simon and I laugh it all off now. But it’s always sad to be in the family home, filled with so many family memories, with that family torn apart. You never get used to it; it’s just a constant headfuck seeing them in the same room yet so much has changed.
It’s hard to put into words how I feel about love now. I know I can’t hold it against any boyfriend – it’s not their fault and that isn’t fair – but it’s very hard to let go. I don’t even know how I do that? Trust and relationships are a leap of faith; one I’ve been happy to take with Adam, who I adore and love very much. But do I believe in happy ever after anymore?
I’m a hopeless romantic: I’ve been brought up on years of love and affection, so that’s exactly how I am in a relationship. I love hugging, kissing and making love. I’m passionate and I care, perhaps sometimes too much. But it’s hard to get past investing that long in a marriage, for it to ultimately break down. To see somebody put through so much pain and devastation – I don’t want to suffer like my Mum did. I’m not sure how I feel about marriage. I’m 35 years old – certainly not getting any younger, with two children but still not married.
The divorce has absolutely been an eye-opener. Gone are the days of believing that the kind of love Disney depicts is real – it’s not. Relationships are hard work and only work if both parties put the effort in. Do we need to be married to be happy? I don’t think so. I guess only time will tell. I’m still very wary in a relationship – even if he looks at another girl, I’m imagining up affairs in my head. That’s the problem – it’s all in my head and I don’t know how to overcome that, how to get rid of it. Maybe that will never go. It wasn’t there before but now I’m stuck with it. Thoughts of wondering if I’ll ever be good enough and ‘oh, if I’m not he’ll just cheat anyway’ never go away - especially in this age of digital love, where affairs can be at the touch of a couple of buttons. An unfortunate legacy of heartbreak and hurt after one of the most loving marriages I’ve ever seen.
Maybe time will heal. More time. Maybe I need to try and let go – I just don’t know how. It’s so hard. I want to believe in love, I really do. I do believe in soul mates. I want to grow old and be happy with somebody. I just don’t want to be hurt. I’m not sure how I get around that, I don’t think I ever can. I think I have to just go with it and see what happens. I’ll always have my guard up. It’s very conflicting. I’m a sensitive soul – I didn’t used to be as bad as I am now – the divorce changed all that. But I will always have to think that love must exist or else my Mum and Dad wouldn’t have had those 29 years of marriage without it.
They say everything happens for a reason – I’m just still trying to figure out why. I do believe in a thing called love – the happy ever after is still yet to be determined. I guess if the person is right, one day I may find that out.