Monday, May 18, 2009
A Surprise Request
who has been estranged from her father for several years, chose to respond to
his unexpected email by asking if he would be willing to attend her wedding as
a guest but alone, without his second wife and their daughter. She asked Rob to come with her to visit
her mother for the weekend, to break this news to her. After all, Mom was the one who took it
upon herself to inform Don about Celia’s engagement, without Celia’s
Rob and Celia had driven down from Columbus late last night
and, after a quick hello to her mother and sister, had gone to bed, Celia in
her old bedroom and Rob on the sofa.
Even though Celia had not yet heard back from Don as to whether he would
agree to come to the wedding alone, she wanted to tell her mother that she had
invited him and she did not want to do it by phone. Rob supported this choice wholeheartedly, because it was a
more gentle way of introducing the idea that Celia would hereafter be in touch
with her father on a regular basis, whether he attended the wedding or
When Rob awoke early Saturday morning, he listened to the
chorus of birds outside the open living room window and tried to figure out
what his role was here. Support
for Celia, one, he thought; a voice of reason, two; and frankly, Celia’s mom
really liked Rob. He wasn’t sure
why, beyond that he was male and this family of women desperately needed an
infusion of male perspective. It
seemed to balance things out somehow.
He walked quietly into the kitchen to begin the coffee, a
routine he had started when he had visited after Christmas for almost a
week. They liked it when the
coffee was started. Rob wondered
if Celia’s father had been the coffee-starter when he had lived here. In the last two weeks Celia had
opened up about her father as never before, talking about summer evenings spent
at the community pool, eating popsicles; and his crossword puzzles he did with
his coffee in the morning, asking the family for help and pretending that they
did. He also had a temper, and
when he didn’t get his way he could be a beast. He had never laid a hand on any of them, but Mom, his
primary target, had been afraid of him.
For a long time, Celia had admitted to him recently, the
temper and yelling at Mom had been her dominant memory and experience of
Don. After receiving his very
human and normal-sounding email, Celia began to wonder about Mom’s role in
their marital dysfunction. Perhaps
it was more complex than she could have understood at age twelve, when Don
left. She further admitted that
while she had missed her father terribly after he left, none of them missed
that walking-on-eggshells feeling that they could set him off at any
Rob sorted through the mugs in the cupboard and lined up on
the counter the few that had neither teddy bears nor warm thoughts-of-the-day
on them. Maybe I’ll make breakfast
for everyone, he thought, as Celia came down the stairs and into the
She hugged and kissed him, and he did so in return.
“Rob. Would you
do me a favor?” Celia asked.
“Of course,” he said, imagining a run to the market for
chocolate syrup for her coffee.
“Will you tell Mom that I invited Don to the wedding?
Without me? I mean, take her out
to breakfast yourself and, you know, wine and dine her like you do…”
does Rob respond?
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Can You Handle It? (Joanne’s response)
What a shift in Celia. She has been bound by unconscious loyalty to her mother for years. In divorce situations, children often take the side of the parent who has been most obviously injured, so it was easy to blame Don, her father, for their troubles. Now that Celia has her own adult experience of her mother, she can more easily empathize with Don and understand that her parents' divorce was more complex than she could have understood as a child or teen. Pulling out of a black-and-white blaming stance into a grayer, perhaps-they-did-the-best-they-could perspective, is the first step to Celia discovering new, balanced relationships with both parents. As Harold has noted in previous posts, the vitality of her impending marriage will be impacted by her ability to mature in her relationships with her own family.
Tuesday, January 06, 2009
Rob and Celia are beginning the new year having made a commitment to a new intentionality in their relationship. They began therapy together at Celia’s insistence to work toward marriage, Rob’s ultimate goal, but in a moment of discouragement about her career Celia appeared to give up on this plan and expressed a desire to marry Rob and let him take care of her.
On this Sunday following New Year’s, Celia felt stuck in some netherland between her past, represented by her mother and sister Catherine in Canton, and the future, which was Rob. Celia, leaning her head against the car window, looked out from the passenger seat at the bleak winter landscape and reflected back on the last couple weeks. Rob was driving them both back to Columbus and the car was warm and quiet. Maybe too warm. The cold window felt good on her forehead.
Since her parents’ divorce a decade prior, holidays at the Gillespie home had been almost lonely affairs with Mom, who was always slightly depressed; Catherine, who comfortably filled the role of grown-up when Mom withdrew; and Celia, who had always been the baby. Then, there was the silent gap that was her father’s absence: it was ever there but never acknowledged and even after eleven years this Christmas was no different. Celia and Catherine went to church Christmas Eve without Mom, who was too tired; gifts were exchanged in the morning, although they were sparse because they had little money between them; and Catherine cooked a holiday meal while Celia made motions that resembled assistance and Mom acted helpless. The bright light for Celia was anticipating Rob’s arrival the Sunday after Christmas, to spend the New Year’s week with them. It was something to look forward to.
Rob had come through for Celia before Christmas. When she had been discouraged enough to consider quitting her part time position as choir director, Rob had met her there – literally. He joined her at the church following a truly crummy dress rehearsal, and sitting in the pew together he helped her think through the situation she was in. Rob also seemed different to her in this conversation. He seemed genuinely to want what was best for Celia, setting his own interests aside as he talked, soothed, and held her hand; he talked her down from making any rash decisions and promised complete support whatever she decided. For the first time, Celia truly and deeply believed she could commit to spending the rest of her life with him.
Celia turned away from the car window and sat up, turning to look at Rob who saw her, smiled, and took her hand as he continued to drive. Celia chided herself that she shouldn’t have been surprised about what happened when Rob arrived, because Carolyn, their couples’ therapist, had been very interested in how her parents’ divorce continued to impact Celia and her family. Celia wasn’t even sure if anyone else noticed, but once Rob came to their house in Canton, Mom brightened up, Catherine stopped playing the parent and Celia felt happy in her family for the first time in a very long time, and not just because her boyfriend was here. It was as if having a man in the family after so many years was just the stabilizer they all needed, and each reverted to healthier ways of being together. Rob had a great time and told Celia he couldn’t figure out why she thought her family was so depressing at the holidays.
Celia hadn’t yet shared anything about this with Rob. She still had no idea what to make of it herself.
What would be the most helpful stance from which Celia can begin to process this?