Sixteen-year old Alexandre Paturel finds redemption in surprising places in this unusually seasoned discourse on divorce.
The opening line is always the hardest. I’m never quite sure what to say. I suppose that I ought to start by way of introduction. My name is Alex, I am sixteen years old and I live in London, England. That should be enough. Introduction here seems redundant, and also irrelevant to what I want to talk about: separation. One significant detail from this introduction, however, is my age. Because, like quite a few 16-year olds, I’ve been made to act a lot older than I am.
It must be said that separation is an awkward subject for discussion: you can either get too personal or too general about it. Ultimately, the two amount to the same. In the former scenario, the problem is that every brush with divorce is different. So, other than a teary-eyed tale, your audience is not likely in for much else. As for over generalizing, the same holds true. It is precisely because every case is so different that, in advising on the subject, the terms normally, basically and usually never apply.
I’m not here to advise and since there appears no way around it, I am taking the first approach. I will share what I think about separation based upon my own experience of my parent’s divorce. At best you might agree with what I have to say. At worst, you may derive from it some lukewarm sentimentality. And, because merely airing a laundry list of the loss that accompanies divorce would be boring and depressing, I am going to talk about what I have found.
By far the most important thing gained – perhaps the only thing worth discussing – is freedom. Put simply: my parents’ divorce gave all who were willing to take it the liberty to pursue happiness both fully and independently. This is not to say that it has been easy. However, I believe that the greatest gift a parent can give to their child is freedom. Ironically, that is exactly what I have gained. So, in spite of it all, and faced with the options of either going through it again or not, I would most definitely go through it.
This might seem strange. The tragedy of divorce has been elevated to the cultural norm. Just the other day someone told me that, after death, divorce was the most traumatic experience one can go through. Granted. But divorce should be viewed in context.
Both a dysfunctional marriage and a divorce are potentially destructive for family members, but a distinction should made between the two: that between the healthy and the unhealthy, between letting gangrene spread and amputation.
One the one hand, a dysfunctional marriage is likewise stagnant and infectious. It slowly devours the years and their markers: those half-hearted Christmases, the superficially celebrated birthdays and forced anniversaries. The painful truth is that it ebbs away at your life and the lives of your children, one sour weekend after another.
And, decaying marriages can have a deterministic, inevitable air about them. You can easily imagine them stretching out to the grave like something by Tennyson: nightmarish, scary and not worth it. Furthermore, continuing on is akin to accepting bad terms, and therefore, adopting a distorted view of normality and of what is acceptable. And, this can too easily propagate within the marriages of future generations.
On the other hand, you have your classic divorce: messy and traumatic. It varies, of course, but in my case at least (one not nearly over yet) the situation at times can be described, euphemistically so, as insoluble and helplessly deteriorative. It’s a shock. It’s like being thrown off a plane without a parachute. It’s terrifying. You reach a point where you stop trying to convince yourself things can’t get worse.
But, at the same time, it cannot go on forever. Hopefully, things reach a point where the series of unfortunate events that have become your new existence come to an end. There is, then, hope. Out of the ashes you may paradoxically discover within yourself that great human propensity for creation. And, out of destruction, you may draw inspiration for a new and improved way to be.
If I discuss my parents’ situation, the first thing that I invariably hear is “I’m sorry”. I view such apologies apprehensively. What exactly are they sorry about? The obvious answer is that they’re sorry that my parents are divorcing. But, since I personally am able to view the means (divorce) as justifiable to the end (liberty), such apologies seem inappropriate.
If anything, divorce – like a release from imprisonment – should be cause for celebration. That said, I welcome condolence for the fact that a marriage has deteriorated to the point of divorce. The loss is not the divorce, but the waste of time that led to it. If prior to divorce my family life was restraining, unhealthy and claustrophobic, then what came after it has been liberating for all.
Plato holds that the problem with freedom is not that we don’t all want it, at least in theory, but that in practice we are not all able to cope with it. Freedom often comes at a daunting price. In my experience, the road to divorce was beset on all sides with pain and difficulty. Despite this, however, I believe that freedom is always worth it – a belief echoed throughout the ages: from the cries of the French revolution, “Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité, ou la mort”, to the wording of the American Constitution.
It is because of this belief that in the future I also hope to look back convinced that it was all worth it. Right now, I would change nothing. Why? To risk losing all the new and simple things that I have witnessed my Dad experience in recent times (taken for granted by most but viewed by him as a privilege and gift)? The divorce has opened my mind like a can. It is the single most inspirational thing that I have been through. It has taught me that every moment is an opportunity and it has given me the freedom to treat it as such. The road has not been easy and it is a long one. Like a parent myself, I must be patient – merely to take baby steps down it.
In an ideal world, the unified family would provide its children with the gift of freedom and the ability to make the most of it. This was not my case, so I took it for myself. I pride myself for reaching my own answers and for sharing them with others who could use them. I have also met incredible people who have taught me about the power of friendship and its own gift of unity – about the significance of the roles that others play in our lives without which we simply cannot fully develop ourselves.
The true message of my experience has been, then, that whether you are an adult or a child (such interchangeable terms!) your responsibility for protecting your individuality and your autonomy is without parallel in its significance for personal fulfillment.
In the beginning, I stated that I was a sixteen year-old boy who has been made to act older. Did I define what I hold this to mean? For me, growing up has been about appreciating the responsibility to take care of myself. It took a long time for me to realise that before I could love anyone else I had to love myself, and by virtue of this, to nurture myself. I am not advocating selfishness, egoism and egocentricity. They do not constitute self-love. I am talking about growing oneself in the midst of turmoil; in a way that opens up the future possibility for believing that though things were once tough, they turned out all right in the end. And, they will.