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  • Writer's pictureDove

The Other Woman: A Daughter's Perspective

Updated: Jan 25

“You shall not commit adultery." Exodus 20:14

The first decade of my life was forged in the 1970's; a time of social and political upheaval that was mirrored within my own family. My parents married shortly after my father returned from a combat tour in Vietnam where he served as a helicopter gunner, and I was born the following year.

Back then, I rode a Schwinn bicycle with a banana seat, my best friend Michelle had a mood ring we exchanged endlessly to reveal our true feelings, and I actually baked tiny cakes in an Easy Bake Oven. Women wore hair curlers out in public under colorful kerchiefs, and hippies could walk into stores without shoes before public outrage hit when storekeepers posted, "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service" signs to keep them away.

There were also the endless rows between my parents fueled by my father's heavy drinking. I would hate it when they ended with him slamming the back door against my mother's parting shots, leaving me behind to deal with her rage. Episodes of physical abuse followed as she chased me through our cramped house for any perceived infraction, especially "back talk". I would frantically lock myself in my bedroom and dive under the bed, bracing as I heard her jiggle the door knob until she succeeded in picking the lock with a bobby pin. She would hit me with a wooden spoon she christened the "family weapon" until her anger was spent. The truth is, the spoon was only ever used against me, I don't know why she bothered to lie about it.

In spite of his drinking I adored my father because he paid attention to me. He took me fishing and would buy me my favorite snacks at the convenience store along the way; barbeque chips and a Slim Jim. Other times he would leave me at relatives and friends' homes where I had to spend long hours waiting for him to return. My mother rarely answered the phone when I called home looking for a ride, feeling bored and lonely. She was usually annoyed if I did reach her, and would refuse to pick me up even when I pleaded, forcing me to wait for my father who was usually drunk when he arrived, if he arrived at all.

It was crazy and crazy making. I withdrew into books and an imaginary world I christened "Magic Land" that was inhabited by my favorite stuffed animals and all the sweets I could eat including Oreos, Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream and the Betty Crocker frosting that came in a plastic container. I pretended I could get there through the back of my bedroom closet and would wait inside with my Teddy Bear, hoping it would all come true.

You can probably tell I was heavily influenced by C.S. Lewis' book, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe", where Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy enter Narnia through the back of a wardrobe at their Uncle's estate. The land of sweets idea likely came from the musical fantasy, "Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory" which played on TV back then and had a heavy grip on me.

When I was in the second grade my father was in what could have been, should have been a near fatal car accident due to driving drunk. By some miracle he was left unscathed, and by a greater miracle he didn't hurt anyone. The accident led him to quit drinking "cold turkey", and his oral fixation was replaced with Wrigley's Spearmint gum . Nearly a decade of sobriety followed, which by no means smoothed out all of my family's problems, but diminished them significantly, because they were no longer fueled by alcohol.

Then came the 80's, the era of MTV and ET, leg warmers, Jordache jeans and neon colors. The Soviet Union began to collapse, AIDS emerged and Reaganomics ushered in an explosion in consumerism. In this decade of decadence, it also ushered in you, the Other Woman.

I turned an awkward sixteen who wore too much eyeshadow, while my father hit his stride in middle age. He was more prosperous and ambitious and became arrogant. Obsessed with image and material success, he took up golf as a hobby, transforming from a burly outdoorsman to someone who wore polos and tacky plaid golf pants. My mother became a "golf widow" and I was even more of an emotional orphan who took to calling the country club to find him.

My father also took up drinking again. Chivas "on the rocks", the scotch whiskey he savored would forever leave an indelible mark on our time together going forward. The golden liquid would slosh around clinking ice cubes as his body relaxed and his speech grew sloppier. He would lean in too close with maudlin "I love you's" , as I inhaled his warm, boozy breath. He was a black hole sucking everything in around him, and I felt powerless to escape.

Maybe my father's judgement was impaired, maybe the decades long marriage problems between my parents came to a head. All I knew was that suddenly my father had a mistress, and she could have been my older sister because she was that young. All I knew was that my mother was erased as his wife, and I would soon be erased as a daughter.

To the Other Woman: my family wasn't perfect, but it was still my family.

My father didn't just cheat on my mother, he cheated on our family. Not only did the Other Woman usurp my mother; I lost my father to his girlfriend too, and in the coming years she would usurp my role as a daughter, and my membership in my extended family as well.

My father's infidelity destroyed the already fragile sense of security I had, leaving it in tatters. My family was shattered by the chaotic, destructive force of my father's affair, and just like the Humpty Dumpty nursery rhyme, nothing would ever put it back together again. None of the adults in my life helped. In fact, my father's family quietly accepted his mistress and the end of my parent's marriage while I was just coming to grips with the nature of his shady behavior, and when I turned to them for support, they faltered. I learned then that no one could be trusted, and in this world, everyone would let me down.

As the years went by, the pain never diminished, but amplified, each life event colored by the scandal of my father's affair, and the fact that his mistress, no longer hiding but in plain site, was now grafted into the family tree while my mother and I had been pushed into exile. Such was the power of my father, the adored and glorified oldest son who seemed to escape the consequences of other mere mortals.

Meeting you.

I did not formally meet my father's mistress for many years, as they played cat and mouse, perhaps to deceive others or perhaps because they were both fueled by the adrenaline rush of keeping secrets, engaging in taboo behavior and the heightened sense they were somehow special.

My parents separated the year I left for college, my father telling me point blank he had no reason to stay at home anymore. The guilt this sent me off into the real world with cannot adequately be put into words. I would occasionally visit my father's dumpy bachelor pad apartment only to have my stomach drop when I saw framed photos of him and his mistress together on vacation, grinning widely on the decks of cruise ships while my father brazenly told me how much fun they had and how my mother had never wanted to go anywhere anyway.

I felt so powerless, and with no one backing me I accepted the relationship in order to have access to my father, because his mistress had become his gatekeeper. In my own Machiavellian ploy, I did something desperate to secure my father's affections. While my mother had pretended to forgive my father, she could not -would not forgive me for what must have felt like a second betrayal.

My father's affair destroyed my parent's marriage, but it also destroyed my sense of family and place in the world. I no longer had two parents who shared a cherished deposit of memories about me or the secure position of daughter within a family unit. I was forced to quickly adapt to a new configuration of myself as two broken halves, and now had a permanent rival for my father's affection and attention. The affair may have ended my parent's marriage, but I could not "divorce" my father. The suffering caused by my unfaithful father and the Other Woman remained exceptionally painful and life-altering.

Today, more than three decades later, my parents and I rarely see or speak with one another. Like a nuclear bomb going off, the powerful and destructive force of my father's affair set in motion a chain reaction, splitting our nuclear family apart and shattering parts of us along with it. The residual pieces have settled into a toxic emotional fallout that will linger in our lives forever.

To my father and the Other Woman:

Tell me, Was it worth it?

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