I truly believe that no one gets married to end up divorced and yet we see such high rates of divorce without understanding the context nor the deep-rooted shame that comes with it. I am a child of divorce. I’ve seen the end of my parents’ relationship and as much as I hated to admit it when I was a young man, it had a profound and everlasting effect on me. I’ve always wanted to make sure that If I ever got married that I would never end up like my parents. I wanted to make sure that if I got married, I wouldn’t end being a statistic. But the thing about statistics is that we all tend to fall somewhere.
My story is too large to tell. There is so much nuance and context within my story that I could write another novel just on my journey to unlearn toxic masculinity. I thank God for the clarity of 20/20 vision when it comes to the past.
This essay is for me to talk about the shame that I’ve felt and have since reconciled. I have sought forgiveness and have forgiven others so it is my hope other men going through similar things can see that it’s best to recognize the part they play in broken relationships no matter who is at “fault.” I also want to preface this by saying that childhood trauma caused by divorce is a real thing with consequences that may not be so obvious.
Marriage is about partnership and sacrifice. What I’ve come to learn was that I was a terrible husband that wasn’t willing to sacrifice my own selfish needs for the benefit of being in that partnership. The acknowledgment of this comes with a certain level of self-shame for me. I have been divorced for almost 10 years (even though my ex-wife and I can both say the relationship ended 2 years before New York State made it official) and it has taken me years to fully comprehend how this all went down. Before I even talk about how I had a low sense of self-worth, it is important to understand that the choices I’ve made are my own. There is no female supervillain that I can blame my infidelity and overall toxic masculinity of the past. My past behavior is learned by watching other men react to the world since I was a boy.
I realize that there has always been a deep-rooted sense of pain and anger with has been inside of me since I was a kid that manifested itself in many ways. Sometimes it has been in anger when I’ve lost a game or in making incredibly dumb decisions when it came to women. That anger and sadness came from feeling helpless in watching and internalizing the toxic nature of my parents’ marriage. There was no violence but there was a cold war that would make Regan and Gorbachev jealous. A cold war of blistering words that came out in arguments and in conversations that shaped and sharpened my sarcastic ways. A cold war of inaction towards each other that showed me that they were never really there for each other once the bills were paid. A cold war that leads my mother to immerse herself in work and my dad to seek out other women. All of this affected me in small ways that would lead to the snowball of my life.
I can honestly say that I have never seen my parents say they loved each other nor can I remember a time when they showed it. I’ve often laughed when I see pictures of them before I was born because they seem happy and well adjusted but that was never my experience.
My experience was missed opportunities, missed little league games, missed family vacations, and missed organic family fun. More importantly, all this equals to missed time, which is the most important thing for any human being. On the outside, family and friends have pointed out that I was absolutely spoiled as a child. I had more toys than I could play and I had more comic books than I knew how to deal with. But, I know what I didn’t have… time with my parents together.
Sure, I’ve been to places like Puerto Rico and Disney World as a child but never with them. Instead, I was sent with other family members and was told to behave if I have wanted to go away again. Yet, after such family trips, when they were informed of the little asshole I had been, was when I realized that my bad behavior (which lead to them being embarrassed) was one of the few times they agreed on anything. As I grew older, they would blame each other for my missed opportunities but I used to blame them both. I have since grown up and realized that my parents are human and are thus fallible. My parents had it rough and I recognize this now.
Of course, all of this led to a litany of issues that revolved around abandonment (this would awkwardly enough be the same reason that was listed on my divorce papers) issues, imposter syndrome, and low self-esteem. If I knew then to get a therapist I would have, but I didn’t because that is not what Latino men do. We man up. We take our traumas and swallow them only to regurgitated and share with the world. The closest thing I came to a therapist was a Guidance Counselor in high school who was assigned to me after I wrote to my teacher saying that I didn’t see the point of life.
Eventually, the cold war would lead to their breakup and an eventual divorce that would lead me to be in the middle of a nasty custody dispute that would fracture my relationship with my mother, which would take almost 2 decades to repair. It felt like the longest divorce in human history that started in high school when I was 14, which lead to a custody hearing (where I ultimately chose to live with my dad) when I was 16 and ended by the time I was in my second year in college at 19.
It would also take about 2 decades to realize the connection between my failed relationships with women to the damaged relationship with my mom. I was searching for something that I felt was missing in my life. I spent years being single and blaming women for that when I should have been healing my wounds. Once I found someone that liked me I clung to that and didn’t let go. It made me settle for her. It made her settle for me.
The shame comes in the realization that I wanted to have the same life my parents did with a house, a white picket fence, and 2.5 kids. I wanted to right those wrongs by having a better life without understanding that I chose a partner that I could not commit to. The entire time I was unfair to her because deep inside I felt that I was looking for something that I could not put my finger on. I lied and cheated which lead to the Cold War my parents endured in their relationship until it reached the end. While I can say that both us (after everything occurred) have admitted to playing a role in this, I feel that I could have been better. I took the brunt and responsibility of the divorce. I was called a liar and cheater (rightfully so).
To some extent, I still bear the brunt of the blame for this because, within all of my bullshit, I did fall in love with another woman and it made me realize that I was trying to be something I was not. I was trying to live up a version of myself that I built in my head to be better than my parents. In doing so, I hurt too many people along the way. What I wish I recognized when I younger that it was that it is okay to push for something more.
After the dust settled, I had to come to grips with my life, my manhood, and my parents. I started writing which was the one thing that no one could take away from me. It was the one thing that made me the person I am. I began writing a year before my divorce was final and I have rarely stopped. It became my release, my only form of therapy and it made me read more. Working in Higher Education made me open my personal lens a little more so that I could understand my male privilege and begin to unlearn things I’ve internalized a long time ago. I am truly fortunate to be engaged to a woman that I have been able to forge a true loving and respectful partnership. As for my parents, I’ve learned to push aside negative feelings because I want to break the cycle for my own mental health and the potential health of any children I may have.
Anthony Otero, a Bronx native, Syracuse University alum, Afro-Latino blogger/podcaster, and former contributor to the Huffington Post, has aspired to be a published author for most of his life. He began his blogging career in 2009 which chronicled his journey through life as a student affair professional going through a divorce to his journey toward self-publishing.
His first book, Hanging Upside Down, is a fiction novel that explores the pressures men face after divorce, the consequences of letting good intentions go astray, and how a single turn of events can change the world as they know it.
The Book of Isabel is a follow-up story that explores Louis’ past while examining his present situation which is filled with questions about friendships and lost love. His short story, “La Casita of American Heroes” is featured in the Eisner Winning Comic Book Anthology Puerto Rico Strong where all the proceeds went to the people affected by Hurricane Maria. Anthony is also 1/5 co-host of BlackComicsChat on Stitcher and Itunes.
You can follow him on Twitter and Instagram at @latinegro.