Author photo by Peter's son, Walter Bakowski

Monday, August 10, 2009

When your parents are divorcing

At parties in the Eastern surburbs of Melbourne in the late 1960's/early 1970's my Polish father, flirted compulsively, fueled by Polish and Russian vodka. At these parties, my mother sat on a sofa studying the hem of a lampshade. In the family car on the way home my mother's valid accusations would start. My Dad claimed/shouted that he should be allowed to be himself, that he was gregarious by nature, loved friends, drinking and dancing. 
My father felt tethered, that Mum was a less than warm-blooded German anchored to the three "C"s - children, cooking and church. At these parties my mother felt humiliated, ashamed, by her husband's close dancing and laughter with the wives and girlfriends of others. She felt neglected, unnoticed, unconsidered, wringing her hands on that sofa.
Back at the family home, often at 1 or 2 a.m. the fighting continued in the kitchen to the sounds of Dad throwing a bowl or plate against the wall. Mum shouted at Dad to "go to hell, go to the devil" in German. Sometimes he hit/slapped Mum and then, slamming the front door of the house, drove off in the family car, returning at dawn or later.
I was 17/18 at the time and the known universe had a huge crack in it. There was no-one for my younger brother or I to turn to for counsel. Both parents were stunned and exhausted combatants in the tawdry boxing ring of their marriage.
Their temperaments were different and ultimately a ruinous match. My Dad's flirting which he rationalized as "harmless flirting" further eroded my mother's self-esteem, which has never been high or healthy. I see them now as victims. My father, not having a proper role model, because his father died young, beaten to death in a WWII concentration camp. My mother, immediately after WWII, urged by her parents to leave Poland, escaped to the West, which she did at the immeasurable cost of never of seeing either of them again.
I've written two poems about my parents' divorce - The Children of Divorce which appears in my third collection Days That We Couldn't Rehearse and At 10 Rosebank Terrace, Lower Templestowe which appears in my fourth collection, Beneath Our Armour.
Besides victims there are survivors, some who may learn/glean something from trauma - poems andautobiographies in print and film.