Father Time is a weekly column dedicated to the concept of time in a parent’s life, particularly a father’s life. The point of view comes from a father of two young sons, both under three-years-old, and how time really is just that: a concept.
In New Mexico, where I grew up, people talked a little funny. Instead of “He landed in the intensive care unit,” folks would say, “He landed up going to the hospital.” Or, instead of, “Please turn off the light,” a simpler, “Shut the light,” will do. Also, Valentine’s—as in Valentine’s Day—is often pronounced with an ‘m’ where the ‘n’ should be. Valentimes.
My extended family, in fact, had its own argot of phrases and mispronunciations of words, perhaps passed down from our Spanish and Native American ancestors. Add to that the gradual wash out of Spanish as the mother language, and its morph into a functional Spanglish, and then English by the later generations.
All this is to say that when I go back to my home of origin, New Mexico, which isn’t often these days, it’s as though I am going back in time. Everything is just as I remember it. The pace is slow and steady the way it used to be. There is no one rushing around the way they do where I live now in San Diego.
There also isn’t much reason for me to go back to Santa Fe, other than to see my sisters and their children. Our parents separated years ago and have been on private islands since. They haven’t made their divorce official, and it’s caused huge gaps in communication amongst us as siblings horizontally, not to mention ripping the fabric of parent to child, vertically. My father and I haven’t spoken in several years.
The year after our family breakup, I sent Valentine cards to each member of my immediate family. Father, mother, sister, sister. I wrote to tell them I still loved them despite all that had happened, and that even though these were hard times, we are still a family, and so on. Not much came back to me. And I wasn’t expecting much either. The wound was too fresh.
In the six years since, my sisters and I have each played the role of peacemaker at one point or another. My parents however, have continued to retreat further away from each other, and, inadvertently, us. The only constant has been the passage of time, which has helped we, their children, understand that we might never be able to fix what has been so deeply broken.
Experts say adult children are more affected when their parents divorce, because adult children have more emotional range, and when they process the rift, many more deep-seated issues arise. Young children of divorce, they say, have a resiliency, and though they will suffer their own collateral damage, they do move on into adulthood, perhaps, a little less unscathed.
I can say that my sisters and I fully understand this. We’ve accepted that nothing will be the way it was (nor should it be), and we accept that this is the new normal. Our children have to understand that, too. We’ll have a holiday here with a few of us present, maybe make a graduation or a first communion there. We’ll keep up via text messages and Snapchat. We’ll still send birthday cards, the occasional Valentime.
What all this has taught me is that time takes its time. It cannot be rushed or waited upon. All that can be done is to let time do its job, and that is to be the ever-present denominator, quietly moving forward, onward, into forever. It will resolve everything if we just let it.
And so, I can say I was moved when I received a letter from my mother this week, and not in the shape of a greeting card, or a Valentine. It was a thick letter, and detailed her plans and vision for the rest of her life, one element which included finally making the divorce legal. She was going to do what she had to do to move on. Six years later. In due time, as she always said. In due time.
Photo credit: Robert Couse-Baker.