By Colin Zalewski
It was the biggest day of my young life: freshman move-in day at Whitworth. Despite the new people, new home and my new life, the thought at the forefront of my mind was managing an entire day with my divorced parents.
Move-in morning for most families meant moving unnecessary furniture into dorm rooms, mothers being overdramatic, fathers trying to look tough despite their minivans, and younger siblings rolling their eyes while listening to their iPods. While this was unfolding in dorms around campus, my Dad and I were at his parents' house in Spokane. Getting a late start as usual, we had to drive all the way across town to pick up my mother from my sister's home. While the two of them exchanged civilized good mornings I was already strategizing a room set-up for my new life at college.
At the time, my parents had been divorced for about six years. Despite it being a bad situation, they still wanted to make us look like a functional family.
The morning proceeded as most do when the three of us are together: a patience-testing, tongue-holding effort to maintain civility. It was quite the game we played, with me trying to make friends with my new dorm-mates while my parents muddled through surface level conversations. Seemingly against all odds, we made it through move-in day, each of us happy, but with all our patience spent.
The day's success would have never been possible without a revelation I had three years prior, which had led me to adjust my attitude and find positivity in the midst of our family's turmoil. Reading for a high school English class, I came across a statement by psychologist and Holocaust survivor Viktor E. Frankl. He said,"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."
This was it. This was the God-sent advice I had so desperately been searching for as I saw the world around me disintegrate. It became clear to me: This situation will hurt me only if I allow it to. I choose the "attitude"I take towards this situation. Perhaps this is an opportunity. Perhaps this is an opportunity for growth. Once I recalibrated my attitude to a positive one, my chin lifted, my shoulders were thrown back, and my hope was booming. Now was not the time to shy away from life and sulk in my life's mishaps; it was time for pro-activity, and growth.
I now took on the world from a fresher, more independent standpoint. While a parental separation in any family is a devastating event, my story is one of maturation and opportunity, proving that good can come from bad so long as you approach it correctly. Adopting a positive and growth oriented mindset has been instrumental in my personal development. It made me more responsible, forgiving, and loving, and heightened my value of relationships. However, it was not always easy to maintain these new values.
My high school years were a time of "self parenting." I was 12 when my parents first separated and divorce papers were signed soon afterward. Much of the time that would have been spent with the family was spent alone or with my younger brother, Corey. The two of us would come home from school to an empty house; Dad was at work and Mom was living alone in an apartment. We would pop in a Hot Pocket and settle in for some "Boy Meets World." Then it was time to go outside and play. Afterward we would fend for ourselves for dinner, and perhaps do some homework. While these living conditions sound less than ideal for a maturing high school boy, it is the side-effects that make this story a happy one.
The self-parenting phase of my life was still parentally driven. Although they were not together and not always around, they were still my parents: ones I respected, loved, and parents who could still raise me. Except the tables had turned. No longer were they practicing typical "hands-on parenting." It was now my turn to learn from them in my own way rather than being taught. It was not only my life that had been torn apart, so had my parents', and because of this their true character became visible. I was able to see my parents in a new, more genuine light than before.
My family is one of opposites. In our brokenness we should be bitter, yet we are optimistic. Our disagreements make it so we should be hurtful to each other, yet we are patient. We should be negative, yet we are positive. And there lies the common denominator: positivity. Frankl was right; in spite of any situation you have the power over one thing, your attitude.
Although my parents may no longer love each, they certainly love their children. That is reason to celebrate. You see, I see myself not as a product of a broken home; I am simply a member of an unorthodox family (and a functional one at that). My family is able to lay down their differences when it matters most, such as when my mother flew to Seattle for last Christmas with my father, brother and me. We share time together, living, learning, and developing our characters.
Time has passed, and we are all spread out now. All the children are out of the house. My brother and I are at Whitworth and my two older sisters live with their husbands. My mother lives in Spokane, and my father still resides in the place I call home near Seattle. We may be physically moving apart, but relationally we are growing closer. We are supportive of each other. We are caring toward each other. Even my parents have a respectful, although at times strained, relationship. For my family, each day is filled with more and more joy as our relationships grow. We love to laugh together and rally around each other in times of need.
That freshman move-in day showed me, once again, that who you truly are becomes apparent in the ways you respond to life's crises. Just as my Mom and Dad did the best they could in that awkward situation, so I too have learned that character is not only brought forth in hard times, but it is also produced.
As the Czech leader and playwright, Vaclav Havel said, "The real test of a man is not when he plays the role that he wants for himself, but when he plays the role destiny has for him." I never wanted my parents' marriage to die. But even now they're cheering me on as I embrace my assigned role.