Toughest Lesson

What was your toughest lesson in life?

Marty, Linda, Corina and Chad (ca 1983)
Marty, Linda, Corina and Chad (ca 1983)

I left home in August, 1985, and our divorce was final in September, 1987. While Linda and I agreed on the terms of the divorce, we did not agree on whether to seek divorce. I, alone, was seeking divorce.

My purpose is not to attempt to justify seeking divorce, nor even discuss the reasons for it. Rather, I’m attempting to describe how divorce was my toughest lesson. Divorce was tougher than I imagined and divorce, by itself, does not solve problems in relating.

Linda and I were married for 17 years and had two children at the time we separated. Our divorce was final 2 years after separation. During the two-year separation, I lived across town from Linda, Corina, and Chad. Linda was generous about allowing me to visit them on special occasions, birthdays and major holidays. I tried to see them every other weekend and this worked with Chad, but not with Corina who had a busy schedule.

Participating in an active life with the children seemed impossible. They were busy with school, friends, and the daily tasks of living. I gradually became a stranger to their day-to-day concerns, their habits, and their lives. The gulf with my children became the main source of my continuing sadness and shame. Driving away from time spent with them left me sobbing over the loss. I consoled myself with the thought that my loss was the price I was paying to protect them from the trauma of living with conflicted and depressed parents.

When I left home, I also left behind a network of friends centered at the Beaverton Christian Church. I tried to keep up with a small group of male friends there by visiting with them regularly, but could not continue because they were intent on putting my broken marriage back together. I was surprised by my willingness to disengage from their friendship as it became clear they were intent on leading me back to my senses. This was not what I wanted.

I tried remaining in the faith of my youth by visiting other large bible-oriented churches around Portland, but found that none of them interested me despite their rich programs, powerful speakers, and beautiful music. I moved on to churches in the tradition of Unity, which kept my interest, but I remained mostly on the periphery. As the years passed, I found a deeper interest in the Unitarians and the Buddhists.

Finances had usually been strained as a single family, mainly because we over-invested in real estate in an era of relatively high interest rates. As two separate families, finances were impossible. My lifestyle took a dramatic nosedive and I reduced my living expenses by renting rooms in a series of co-housing situations. Linda expanded her work to full-time sales and was able to keep the home we had built together.

It was a financial strain for everyone when Corina and Chad entered college. Corina really wanted a private college, and we visited a couple of those in the Seattle area. Gradually it became apparent that such small colleges weren’t going to offer enough aid to equalize the cost with state colleges and that I did not earn enough to pay the difference. I decided to handle this by committing to an annual lump sum payment of about half of the yearly cost with the expectation that Corina and Chad would handle the rest. Both of them worked hard to supplement their financial needs during their college years. Fortunately, both graduated from the University of Oregon with Bachelor’s degrees.

I had sought divorce with the idea that life would be better when I found my soulmate. Entering into the world of middle-age dating was a rude awakening. My attempts to enter romantic relationships were mostly disasters: Poor choices, unrealistic expectations, and unskilled behaviors. These relationships were all memorable and valuable because I was learning.

I spent a lot of time, money and energy with organizations and individuals oriented to helping individuals live better lives. Some of these were the Quest Fellowship, the Excellence Series, and the Hoffman Institute, in addition to individual therapists at Kaiser Mental Health, Bonneville Employee Services and private practitioners. Gradually, I was helped to heal and develop enough character and strength to make commitments for a future that would not perpetuate all the mistakes of the past.