By Zoe Claster
The other day my father and I were going through old VHS tapes that had been piling up in our living room. Most of what we found was old episodes of Roseanne and Becker back when my dad actually cared about watching every single episode of just about anything that came on television. But among the re-runs and award shows from the early 90’s, we’d occasionally find some old home videos from my childhood.
One video my dad showed me was from before I was born–when my mom and dad were still married and my mom was pregnant with my brother, Max. My grandmother had recently sent them an 80’s equivalent of a camcorder that you had to strap onto your body in order to use. She had sent it to them with they intention that they could send her videos of the baby and the house and whatnot. So they made some videos and they creatively called them the “Bob and Kathy” shows, which were essentially my dad and very-pregnant mom being a silly married couple.
As I watched this, I knew that this footage was and always would be incredibly important to me, mainly because I was about two-years-old when my parents got divorced and so I never got to see what they were like as an actual couple. What I didn’t realize, nor was I relatively prepared for, was how much of an emotional impact it would have on me. And during the moment, I couldn’t understand why this footage was suddenly making be sob uncontrollably.
I later realized that I had gotten so upset because, in a way, I was watching the family that almost was and never would be. Here I was– 16 years having grown up with a single Mother and a single Father, never having experienced what it’s like to live with “Mom and Dad” together under one roof, always hearing stories but never fathoming the mere notion of my parents actually living together, let alone willingly, happily, and in love–seeing them start out as the beginning of a real, honest-to-goodness family.
To know that there was a time when my parents were together and happy. Happy and madly in love. To know that there was a time when my dad was young and thin and full of life and optimism. That there was a time when my mom’s laugh was warm and bright, when their marriage wasn’t thought of as such a joke. When my uncle, Scott, was alive and healthy with not a bit of cancer in sight. When my grandmother had the ability to have an interesting and worthwhile intellectual conversations… A time when there was real promise for a “family”– a family that I never got to experience. A family that pretty much fell apart before I was even born.
And to suddenly come back to the present, 22 years later, and know that their marriage would eventually fall apart, that my dad would end up older and heavier and all around bitter about his life, that my mom would re-marry but never really have that warm laugh that she once had, that my uncle and grandmother would pass away too soon, and that our “family” would be nothing but a sad nostalgic reminder of what could have been–just makes me fall apart.
This is not to say that I don’t feel more than grateful to actually have a mother and father that are still alive and well and are not hookers or crack dealers or something seemingly awful and disturbing. Living in a time where 60% of the country’s population has divorced parents, it isn’t terribly unusual to be in my situation and it’s hard to feel terribly sympathetic. Most people just say, “Well at least your parents are still alive!”
I’m not saying that I wish I had parents. I have them, I love them dearly, and I know I shouldn’t complain. But I feel as though I have missed out on a very crucial part of the “family” experience.
My father once told me about a survey that his boss sent him as an anti-social attempt to “connect” with his fellow co-workers. One of the questions that the survey asked was, “Who do you miss the most right now?” My father told me that of all the people that he’s lost this year, including my grandmother in 2005 and Scott this past year, the people that he really misses the most are the kids that my brother Max and I once were and never will be. At the time I thought this was silly because Max and I were still alive where as he would never be able to see Nana and Scott ever again.
It didn’t make sense to me until I watched the home video of my parents and realized what he meant. It is true that Max and I are still alive, but we will never be those cute and adorable little people that we once were. Those kids are still inside us, in a way, but we’ll never say silly things like, “Boo boo” and go on and on about what we learned in school. We’ll never be those little portable bundles of cuteness.
The people that I miss the most are the “Mom & Dad” that I never got to know and never got to grow up with. I feel like, in a way, those people died sometime before I was born, and I miss them terribly.
Back when my Uncle was still alive, I asked him what my parents were like when they were together. I remember that he thought about it carefully for a moment before saying, “They laughed a lot. They were really funny together.” I remember thinking how baffling that was, simply because even seeing them in the same room together just seemed bizarre. But having seen that video, I really understood what he meant. And in some way, it’s nice to know that they started out in a good place, even though I never got to see the “Bob and Kathy show” live.
At it stands right now, my family is and has been broken for some time. Our numbers have gotten smaller as people have died and holidays seem more and more depressing and upsetting than anything else. However, I maintain that we are slowly on the mend. And that with time, like most things, it will get better. Like most children of divorce, it feels like the family dynamic that we often crave is simply unrealistic in this day and age. It’s hard not to feel jaded about the future of romantic pursuits because, if they couldn’t make it work, how do I even stand a chance? Let alone have children to suffer the consequences if it doesn’t work out. Needless to say, it is a crippling concept for those of us who don’t have the hope and encouragement of their parents’ relationship to fall back on. Still, I maintain optimistic with the hope that I will someday find someone that I can trust—to have kids with, to be happy with, to rebuild a family and hopefully have home videos of my own that maybe won’t upset my children as much as they upset me. That’s the idea anyway, isn’t it?