1. You go to say goodbye to your dad one day. He’s looking at a weird website, it kind of looks like porn. You think, “Seriously? Porn in the middle of the day, in the family room, on a Sunday?” For whatever reason, the name of the website sticks with you. You Google it. You realize what it is.
2. Hate. You basically want to cut that asshole out of your life. How could he do that to your mom? The woman who bore his children? You research reasons why men cheat. You come across Ashley Madison as a source for a couple of articles. Ironically, this website is also your dad’s tool of choice for meeting up with women. You create an account and find your dad. You see his ratings and comments by past lovers. You want to barf. You keep Googling why men cheat. Most of the studies you read point out men begin to cheat after they have children. That makes you feel terrible and unwanted. You wonder if your mom knows…
3. You tell your mom. In an e-mail, of course. Because, what if you actually just made this all up and it’s really all just a big misunderstanding? Your dad, the man who falls asleep watching television every Friday night, could never do that. She responds that she knows and to bring it up with him if I want to find out more. You’re relieved but heartbroken that she knows. Reading the e-mail your heart felt like it dropped into a bottomless pit. But now she has an ally and can finally get out of this sham of a marriage, right?
4. Your mom tells you she’s not getting a divorce. You are deeply saddened for your mother. She is clearly a victim. She explains that he doesn’t want a divorce and it’s purely sexual for him. She goes on and on, defending your father. All you can think about is how strong she must be to wash and cook for the “man” who disrespects her in such a repulsive way. It might be ultimate sign of disrespect in a marriage actually. Poor, resilient mom.
5. You have a family event. Christmas, a family outing to a movie or a sit-down dinner. Whatever it is, you have to excuse yourself. You can’t sit in this room knowing the lies that have occurred. You constantly keep staring at your father in bewilderment. How can he sit there cracking jokes to your mom while his penis was probably just inside someone last Thursday when he came home from work late. You go up to your room, or to a bathroom or somewhere else that’s private and cry.
6. On your birthday you send your father a drunken text message saying you know what he does, but your still love him. Because he’s your dad and has always provided for you. He doesn’t talk to you for a few months. During those months you wonder whatever happened to end keys on cell phones?
7. A couple months pass. You begin to reflect and realize, wait … Mom is not a victim! She is a hypocrite! If I were ever in her position, she would urge me to divorce the son of a bitch. She would probably hire a hit man to kill the guy. You begin to notice your mom tries to pin you against your father. It’s awkward and subtle. You were always a daddy’s girl growing up. Yeah, he’s a complete asshole and what he’s doing basically warped your views on relationships and marriage forever, leaving you to be one of those girls with upper-middle-class-daddy-girl-issues, but he’s your daaaadddddd. He taught you how to water ski and play soccer. And, it’s not like your mom is stuck in this marriage, she is choosing to live in it and participate. You begin to become more upset at your mom for not being a better example to you and for playing out. At least it feels like she was playing you.
8. Something important in your life happens: college graduation, marriage or a child. Your dad writes you a letter – a pretty big step for someone who never shows his emotions. It’s filled with truths about how he wasn’t the greatest father but that he loves you and is so proud of you. You begin to tear up and really remember that your dad is just a person too and despite the fact that he’s a terrible husband, he’s a great dad. Then he states your birthday wrong. Four times. In one paragraph. You were born in January, not November. Your birthday is three days after your mom’s.
9. Time goes by. You enter therapy. Their façade of a marriage just becomes apart of life and your try not to dwell on it too much. You don’t know whether your should applaud them for having an unconventional marriage and making it work, or hate them for being terrible examples of what love should look like. Whenever you talk about it with your friends they comment on how well you’ve handled it. It’s almost eerie how well you’ve handled it, actually. It’s hard to trust men, and people in general. The world becomes a bleaker place and people’s faults become harder to accept. You wish you could go on living without this weight on your heart and chest, back to the days where your parents had just been married for a long time and that’s why they seemed more like business partners. Just when you start forgetting about it and things seem normal, your dad goes on a weeklong business trip and you can’t help but wonder.