Writing in my mother’s voice came in handy when she decided to seek my father’s input on her journal. They’d been divorced for thirty years, but she still valued his opinion and denied ever having felt anger at him for leaving her. When she asked me to mail a chapter to him for comment, I wasn’t surprised. What did take me aback, though, was the tone of the letter she drafted to accompany the material. It was an attack from the opening sentence. She may not have known she was angry, but it sure was obvious to me.
That started us on a long conversation about what she hoped to accomplish by sending him a draft chapter, one that focused on their travels during WWII. Ostensibly, the point was to have him fact check it for inaccuracies. But what she really wanted was for him to tell her what a good job she had done. Of course, she never wrote that. Instead, she reminded him of how he’d ignored his first family for so many years, saying that she hoped her writing would free him to act more maturely. If I had received a letter like that, my reaction would have been either to ignore it or to be annoyed, or both.
I tried unsuccessfully to explain my reaction and to get her to modify what she’d written. The results didn’t work. After several attempts, I asked if she’d mind if I gave it a try, writing in her voice the way I had done for some of her journal. When she agreed, I drafted something very short and simple, basically saying that the writing process had her thinking about him and that there were some wonderful memories and so she wanted to share the results with him. And that if he had any corrections, she’d incorporate them. It worked. She liked the results, and apparently he did as well because he responded with a warm note, unlike any he’d written since the divorce. Wish I’d saved it.
About a year later, I had the chance to join him for lunch and we talked about my mom’s journal. We talked more openly than we ever had before and he shared with me his thoughts about what had gone wrong in the marriage. While acknowledging that he was the instigator of the divorce, he said that she had given up on the partnership years earlier, when she stood by her father instead of her husband. The journal had awakened old feelings for him of being hoodwinked into marrying into a crime family. While that seemed harsh to me, I could understand his sense of betrayal in that my mother had acquiesced to her father’s demands that she not tell anyone of his illegal activities, even her fiancé. She had shared that this was the greatest regret of her life, that she wished she’d ignored my grandfather and shared everything with Leon. When I told my father that, he was surprised. He never thought she understood how it had hurt him to not be trusted.
Most children of divorce fantasize about being able to bring their parents back together; I was no different. And, although it was too late for anything to come of this new communication in that my dad had been happily remarried for over thirty years, it was satisfying to be able to serve as a go-between for my parents in their eighties and help them to come to peace with each other in some small way.