By: Domenic F. Fraboni
I want to talk about that ugly “D” word that wreaks havoc on so many families every year. “We’re getting a divorce.” The words my mom and dad shared with me at the kitchen table during my senior year of high school. My world flopped on its head in an instant. How could this be happening at this time in my life? When I was about to fly the coop and go into the big bad world on my own? Where would this leave our family? What will holidays, birthdays, or even funerals look like? I want to tell you about my family during this period and where we landed after this tsunami wave of divorce swept the household.
We live in a country in which 90% of our population gets married before the age of 50. However, roughly 40-50% of marriages end in divorce, with the divorce rate in subsequent marriages tallying even higher. The United States also boasts one of the highest divorce rates internationally. Why is it that divorce is so prevalent in our country? I think the answer to why can encompass a vast spectrum of reasons. In this post, I am not attempting to generalize divorce or say some separations aren’t warranted. There are many instances in which separating may be the best option for the wellbeing or safety of one or both partners and their kids. Because of this, I am going to stick to my parents’ divorce story. The most appropriate place to start is with a brief intro to my family. Let’s hop in the hot tub time machine and travel back to the 1990’s.
I want everyone to imagine a family. Disclaimer: It is going to be a stereotyped, nuclear, “American” family. The type of family image that has been perpetuated by popular media and television since media began. I’m talking about the families from the likes of The Wonder Years, All in the Family, The Cosby Show, Everybody Loves Raymond, and even The Simpsons. I’m talking a mom, dad, 2.2 kids, dog, cat, and two-car garage in a suburban home. Other than the fact that we lived in a pleasant, conservative country town, and I had two brothers, that would just about sum up the family dynamic in my early life. My father was a family physician specialized in OB/GYN and my mother was the chair of the Princeton School Board (she participated in many other boards and political realms for that matter) and was the volunteer extraordinaire.
My parents were like many others: taught us to say our please’s and thank you’s, made us eat our vegetables, and tried providing any potential opportunity that they could for my brothers and me to find joy. My parents were also incredibly active in exposing us younglings to a wealth of diverse experiences. I remember bringing books to the local Princeton Laundromat to the “give one, take one” library for families looking for children’s books. We would go and help stock food shelters when the trucks came in and did monthly ditch clean up around our outback neighborhood. As my brothers and I grew up, we began falling into our preferred activities and had a fair amount of success doing so in our high school and community. So, what in the actual heck went wrong to tear apart my “picturesque” family? Back in the time machine to return to the dinner table.
“We’re getting a divorce.” Again, dread and despair flooded my entire 6’2” being. However, the next sentence out of their mouths was one we may not have been expecting: “I am gay,” my dad followed up. The remainder of the night was filled with more explanation, loads more questions, enough alligator tears to supply the Nile, and a bucket of ice cream to pass around between the family. It wasn’t until weeks (potentially months) later that I realized how lucky I was. Lucky? No, you did not read incorrectly. I said lucky. I’ll try to briefly explain to you why.
During the three to four years prior to this announcement, you could cut the tension in the Fraboni household with a knife. Arguments would spark out of nowhere. Resentment could be felt between my parents if you stood close. Chores left undone were punishable by solitary confinement in the dungeon. Okay, that last one is an exaggeration, but I once offered to clean the dishes to prevent a fight between my father and older brother. I couldn’t remember seeing my parents show affection to one another for a stretch of years.
I found out that night at the dinner table that my mom and dad had been going to marriage counseling during this entire four-year period. My mother stayed by my father in order to help him find himself and what he needed to be happy in life. It was my mother, the rock, who did not say “get out of my (expletive) house you (expletive)” when her husband of 25 years told her he thought he was sexually attracted to men.
This is why I am lucky. I feel scenarios like this generally do not play out in this manner. I learned many lessons about life through this experience. I learned that kindness, respect, acceptance, love, and forgiveness can mend shattered relationships and even save lives. Without the example that my parents set across those four years, I don’t know where my family would be now. Yes, I am generalizing the situation a bit. There are many more details of happenings between my mother and father that I won’t be sharing to protect the sanctity of their privacy, but hopefully this gives you a little sense of the situation.
Let’s fast forward to present day and see what’s going on in the Fobbe-Fraboni Chronicles. It’s been over six years from the fateful dinner that rocked our family, and I’m proud (and fairly shocked) to say my family is closer than ever. Never did I think that I would find myself on a houseboat with my mom, her boyfriend, my dad, his boyfriend, my brother, his wife, and my gay younger brother (oh yeah, he came out to the family three years later too). Never did I think that my mom would be standing up as the matron of honor (or best woman, whichever you prefer) for my dad as he married his now husband, Alex. Never did I think my parents and both their partners would come to watch my college football games together, and make the three-plus hour drive north to do so in a single vehicle. Yes, our new “Modern Family” unquestionably still faces challenges. I believe that it is through the example my parents set that we are able to navigate these challenges much better than we may have in the past. With love, respect, acceptance, and forgiveness.
Yeah, my family contributed to the fifty-whatever percent of marriages that end in divorce. But this experience helped me realize not all divorces need to end in complete destruction of the family dynamic, especially because of the Blended families are all the rage these days. Now, instead of exemplifying the nuclear family, my household has joined the likes of The Brady Bunch, Full House, and Modern Family. And I love it.
Acknowledgements: I need to send a huge thank you to my family. They have always been there for me and my dreams, and now I know that they always will be, no matter how they look.
Author Bio: Domenic is a third year Doctor of Physical Therapy student at the Mayo Clinic School of Health Sciences. He is currently in a 12-week clinical rotation at 1-Domitilla and hopes someday to work in a private outpatient setting that serves a variety of patient populations.