On a brilliant, balmy day this past September, I married my ex-husband for the second time. This time was different from the first. Not because I’m older and wiser, though one of those is certainly true. Marrying Michael was different this time for one reason. I am now a United Church of Canada minister. I married him to another woman.
Many people find this odd. I have to say, I used to be one of them. When Michael and Rena became engaged, they emailed from Paris asking if I would preside at their wedding. My first response was, “Oh my gosh, of course!” But weeks later I called asking, “Are you sure? Won’t people think it’s weird?” Rena laughed. “In this family, there’s no such thing as weird.”
She’s right. Certainly portraits taken at Michael and Rena’s wedding don’t show your traditional family group. The bride is beautiful of course. The groom is glowing. The bride’s two teenage children are there. So is the bride’s lesbian rabbi mother and her partner. And Michael and my adult daughter, Becky. Along with our transexual daughter, Jade, who transitioned from male to female. And me, the presiding Christian minister/ex-wife. And my own spouse, Liz.
I have to admit that my image of a perfect family used to me more traditional; a married couple, son and daughter… who all stayed that way. Until, as a friend put it, my dream of a nuclear family melted down.
Even then, while I no longer had a traditional family, at least I knew the traditional way for ex-spouses to behave. We all experience disappointment, resentment and anger in life. The benefit of divorce was, now I had someone to blame it all on.
There’s a problem with this model of dealing with your ex-spouse of course. If you’re going to spend the rest of your life being irritated and frustrated with each other, you may as well just stay married.
A therapist suggested, “You and Michael are going to be in relationship for the rest of your life. You can have a good relationship or a bad relationship.” I suddenly realized that how I relate to other people was entirely up to me.
I could choose the traditional ex-wife role- stay angry at Michael for the rest of my life because things hadn’t turned out as I planned. Or, I could choose not to do that.
True, my life plan had been to get married and stay married forever. But my beauty plan had been to stay 28 forever. Sometimes, we’re forced to rethink. I decided to look for a new way of being family.
“Isn’t it weird?” was the question that was asked when, in the years after, Michael and I sat comfortably side by side at school events, shared family birthdays and turned to each other for help and advice. It was asked when, as a family, we banded together to support our daughter through her transition.
But I’ve come to believe that the real difference between a traditional and modern family is this:
Modern family includes at least one gay, one trans-person if you can possibly manage it (trans is the new gay), one interreligious/racial marriage, unmarried parents of one or more children from one or more different relationships, and at least one divorced couple with/without new partners.
Traditional family includes exactly the same mix. We just weren’t allowed to talk about it.
A few nights before his wedding, Becky, Jade and I took Michael out for a Mexican dinner “send off.” We talked about our family, how it just seems to work for us and how, yes, others find it odd. It brought to mind a quote by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche. “This is my way. What is your way? The way doesn’t exist.” Likely, Nietzsche’s family dinner table included a few interesting relatives too.
Rena and Nietzsche were right. “The way” of being family doesn’t exist. “Weird” is useful to describe the smell of the yogurt at the back of the fridge. But it should never be used to limit who we love.
So, I joyously married my ex-husband to his beautiful new wife and one happy family celebrated together. And, there’s nothing more traditional than that.