Spoiled Children of Divorce

Memoirs About Growing Up in Divorce

For some reason I suddenly became aware that there are several memoirs written by Children of Divorce. Just in case you need company during the Holidays…

(I haven’t read any of them yet)

Susan Thomas
In Spite of Everything

Clair Dederer

Mark Crandall
Eulogy of Childhood Memories

Amanda Stern
Little Panic: Dispatches from an Anxious Life


After I watched the movie Biutiful last night, all 2.45 hours of it, I was not feeling very good.  It’s Spanish movie about a guy who is dying and, all I could really think was that I must have aged out of the European movie market.  I figured I just can’t handle the reality anymore.  Then, this morning I woke up thinking, “O my God, Uxbal is my Father!”

So, why I’m listing this movie on this blog is because Javier Bardem, as always, gives the most amazing performance of a Father who is divorced.  One realizes how much he loves his children and wants to provide for them.  He has custody because the children’s Mother is Bipolar and unreliable. There are two children in the story.  The oldest daughter has her 10th Birthday during the time that the movie takes place.  Her parents do everything they can to make it special for her, but their complicated lives and personal problems turn the celebrations in to one catastrophe after another.

I don’t know who the actress is who plays the wife/ex-wife, but she is brilliant.  Society really has come a long way when one sees that children are not expected to live with their Mother when she is that mentally ill.  My generation; usually the Father couldn’t handle it, and took off, the way mine did.  This character acknowledges that his children will turn out however they will turn out, whether he is around or not in the same way that he and his brother both turned otu, but he also acknowledges the importance of providing for them as a parent.  This centers around his obsession with leaving enough money to keep the rent for their apartment.

But, here, what is so incredible is to see the portrayal of this Father from so many different angles.  He sees his life through his spiritual side, which is strongly related to death and unresolved grief, as both his parents died when he was very young.  He makes a few extra bucks helping newly dead people to pass over.

One sees that he just keeps going, focusing on fixing other people’s problems but perpetually unable to break out of the slums that he is born into.  Finally his body just gives out.  Incredible scene where he goes to the toilet;  looks out the window to see a guy passed out in the street, you can see that he is feeling bad for the guy and meanwhile looks down to see that his urine is full of blood.  He himself has waited too long before going to the Doctor.

Better description than what I can provide here.


“Safari” by Jennifer Egan

Heard a partial short story reading on NPR while driving tonight.  “Safari” by Jennifer Egan.  As happens while driving the car I usually haven’t got a clue what I’m listening to and for some reason it’s always really interesting that way.  Egan was interviewed after the reading and explained parts of the story which have to do with “unstable family situations.”  She discussed her own childhood and her parents’ divorce.  So I had to come home to see if the story is available on the Internet.  Turns out there’s an editor at The New Yorker who doesn’t mind publishing stories about Children of Divorce:


The story is about a “family” going on a Safari vacation together for three weeks.  Dad is twice divorced and has brought along his new girlfriend.  Two of his children are there.   All the characters are weaving in and out of understanding of what their relationships with each other are.  The story is told from the fractured points of view of each character and with a fractured sense of timing, a sort of whirlwind of who, what, when, why where, which expresses the unstable situation.  Relationships, Sex, self understanding, grief, boredom are all told by characters at completely different places in their lives and without any cohesive tribal understanding of the events.  In the background, meanwhile, there is the structured scheduling of the trip and on another level the lives of each character past, present and future is told with a sort of innocent but frightening frankness.   I think that this is sort of the attitude that Children of Divorce take on in life in order to try to make sense of it all.  There was no sense of emotion, the characters continue with their lives trying to follow along the way they have followed the scheduling of this trip.  Event after event is told with a sort of inability to really feel what is going on.  In the end there is this matter of factness about how life unfolds along with a great sense of emotional loss.  (Sorry went on a little too long here, but I really liked the story)

Jennifer Egan’s parents divorced when she was around 2 years old.  Her Father was an alcoholic who rehabed in his 40s.  She was her parents’ only child together and was the oldest in her new family that her Mother created with her Step Father.  Egan was born in the Midwest.  Moved to San Francisco when she was 7 years old.  She is married and I believe has two sons and lives on the East Coast.  I can’t vouch for the accuracy of any of these details.

“I.D.” by Joyce Carol Oates

Strongly recommend a story written by Joyce Carol Oates called “I.D.” which I had the good luck to hear her give a reading of in person.  This story was published in The New Yorker magazine.  This is an emotionally wrenching story about a young girl, I think around 13 years old, who is growing up in what I think is probably a pretty common picture of divorce.

The story of the girl, Lisette’s, relationships with both parents, though, is exaggerated (at least I’d like to say that it is) to emphasize the level of denial that children go in to in order to deal with their parents.  Lisette lives with her Mother who works in a casino and dates a lot of guys and is pretty unreliable as a parent.  Her Father, also unreliable, is in the military and seems to have War Fever.  He’s either on his third duty in Iraq or has just completed it.  He has literally beaten his daughter to the point where the nerves in her face have no feeling and she has a permanent tear that drains out of her eye that she keeps wiping away.  She has just completed a third surgery on her face, I guess that parallels her Father’s emotional scars from fighting in War?  The part of the story which explains the title is just too genius so I won’t give the spoiler.

Joyce Carol Oates and Willa Cather were the writers who got me through High School while my parents’ divorce was raging. At the time I remember wondering awestruck how Oates could portray the women characters in her story with so much understanding.  My parents’ divorce opened up all these feelings in all the women I was around like the proverbial can of worms.  It led to way too much enlightenment and shock, the opposite of denial, about how women really feel about their lives. And I was so mesmerized and grateful that Oates was actually putting these things into words.

Oates said that the main theme of the story was to understand how Denial helps as a survival tool.  I think one can see how Denial also hurts, though.  If we were to check back in with the main character, Lisette, in this story at Age 25 I suspect that we might see a person trying to constantly eradicate herself from quick sand which she can’t explain.  Maybe not.  I’m probably just talking about myself.

Ann Packer Story
August 3, 2010, 6:59 am
Filed under: Alcoholism, creativity, Fiction about Divorce

The Summer 2010 (Vol. 14, #2) issue of Zoetrope:  All Story has a story about being a grown up kid from Divorce.  “Thing Said or Done” is written by Ann Packer (p.12).  Definitely a great writer.  The story is written from the point of view of an older daughter who is attending her brother’s wedding.   Her parents are divorced and she must mediate between them.

I sort of sensed that Packer wasn’t a Child of D because there were no emotional undercurrents in the descriptions.  That was sort of what the story was about. The Father is narcissistic and the Mother is detached.  They’ve been divorced for 35 years yet the tensions remain and no one has ever discussed any of it. The main character did remind me of my step-sister (I sort of was getting jealous that maybe she did write it actually).  But, since there was no discussion of rage or resentment or exhaustion which is pretty prominent in most Child of D’s conversations (I remember a couple of tirades my step-sister trying to find food and going on about how the refrigerator was always empty because they were poor, but there was always money for cigarettes and booze) about family, I was wondering…

So I looked Ann Packer up on Wikipedia to see if she’s a Child of D.  No.  But, wow, she had a pretty difficult situation.  Her Father had a stroke and committed suicide 3 years later.

The story does show the tensions of mixing the two narratives of parents into one setting.  You’ve got to be a really great writer to do that.  And you do have to be a little emotionally numb as well.