"Do not think that love, in order to be genuine, must be extraordinary.  What we need is to love without getting tired."

--A. G. Bojaxhiu


--A. Dell

DRIVEL: Opinions and Reviews copywriter toronto

The Frankenfamily

[On the death of the survival instinct and the birth of the pain fetish.]

Dedicated to children of divorce

By the elevator in a small town hospital, this cheery yellow poster headline:  “Divorce Workshops”  Three full-day sessions:  The first on managing the couple's feelings during the break up, the second on managing the children’s feelings during the break up, the third on raising kids in two different homes after the break up.

The reasoning is heart-boggling.  The same reasoning in the world of pro sports, for example, would advocate scrapping crotch protection in favour of workshops to manage your feelings about mashed testicles.  In the arts, no one would create art, but would take workshops on coping with an artless world.

And so, one learns, there are sincere folks who are finally paying money to sit for eight hours a day for three days—to learn something about family.  Did these wizards ever pony up for three days of insight into family before this?  Did they even take one workshop on communication, being competent lovers, being competent parents, being competent humans?  Did they ever read a book?  If not, why not?—and why the sudden interest in arranging dead blooms fallen from an unwatered plant?

Come unto me, ye baby-boomers, come here and put your balding or foil-streaked heads on my belly.  You’re all so smug and perplexed and shellacked and jingly with shiny things.  And you’re well-workshopped, this generation that’s distinguished itself as what?—the architects of divorce culture.

Or perhaps it’s the divorce movement.  Or maybe, it’s an industry.  There’s enough infrastructure to support the industry model:  Therapists, authors, talk show hosts, book and magazine publishers, publicists for authors of divorce books, renters of limos for divorce book launches, vendors of cottages and boats and cosmetic surgery for divorce lawyers, realtors, travel agents, toymakers, filmmakers, matchmakers, and makers of IKEA furniture for divorced dads—all have their own trough and their own ways of rendering usable lard from the beast.

The divorce movement is the result of the neutered warrior skills that are woven into our DNA to save families from flaming things or toothy things.   Here’s how far we've come at this point in the Pleistocene:  A woman I know, shouting from the crest of post-orgasmic endorphins, announced blithely to her family that she was leaving for her lover and intended to form a ‘blended family’ with his children and hers; –and, of course, with her now-ex-husband’s new wife’s children and the new wife’s ex-husband’s new wife’s children’s father’s new wife’s children…until the hyphens become choke-worthy and the emotions vertiginous, and we wonder why don’t we all just pitch our eggs and sperm into a communal cauldron and stir it up and take pot luck.  Or stick with designer dogs instead of babies.  <Deep sigh. >


So another divorce industry consumer readily cops to their inability to negotiate intimacy with one other soul—and chooses the brilliant alternative of negotiating intimacy with an endless domino gang of strangers.  “I can’t park my car, so I think I’ll become an astronaut.”    Well, pin a rose on you, hon.

The abruptly grafted clan showcases their forced grins through enough Freudian dramas to thicken the air with suppressed resentment, envy, and regret.  (And for variety, add morbid curiosity, subtle sabotage, and other morsels harvested from under the soul’s toenails. )  When did baring the canines pass for a smile?

Down inside, we don’t like this differently-abled team, none of us does.  We don’t even dare acknowledge to ourselves that we feel an odd drain and Discovery-channel curiosity as we look at each other and wonder who these people really are and why we’re shaking hands and baring canines—but it’s because they’re all wearing the emperor’s new clothes:  They’re part of the New Deal.

We bought the story that divorce was magicke, that it would heal all inward insufficiencies, make gracious citizens out of clods, make co-operators out of controllers, make uninhibited satyrs out of puckered souls, turn callow into confident, and give us our due!—the gloriously blissful version of ourselves that only our wretched ex-mate was preventing us from revealing.   Yeah, that’s it.

And so what?  Who cares whether this is true?  Why jabber about it at all?  Well, If there are no kids, then shutting up is perfectly correct.  The divorce price-tag is individual and private—and frankly, it don’t confront me none because it’s peer to peer.  But when there are children, the couple’s contract is with the children, no longer between the adults alone.  A break-and-enter into a child’s family by another adult—invited or not—is not peer to peer, it’s invader-to-child, invader to clan.

FLASH:  There have always been people willing to get it on with those who already have mates and kids.  Duh.  When did this oblige us to consider these volunteers an exotic and irresistible prize?  Based on the inexplicable trophy factor, could it be possible the whole divorce industry is founded on low self-esteem?  (Golly.  I wonder.)  “Hey, someone else wants me, in spite of the gruesome price!  Wow, I must really be something.”   Yeah, you’re something.  You’re something looking to be somebody.

[Image: Family—Neil Braun]
In our vows, we ask the Deity of our choice to give us the guts to do right by the babies we inveigled Him/Her for.  If there are children, the divorce price-tag amortizes over generations until it’s a ragged brown-edged stain on the collective soul.  No one is untouched by it.



We’ve spawned divorce culture (and now share custody of it) out of fear of our own survival instincts.  Think about it:  As soon as we felt the horizon tilting, the cracks spreading underfoot, the invasion of detachment into intimacy, we could have mobilized.  But it would have taken acknowledgement of the primal stuff.  It would have taken the kind of all-out group guts that we now think it's prudent to save for post-divorce workshops.

We’re afraid of our own adrenaline.  We shrug suavely and “share” with our comrades in victimhood, while allowing our children no firm ground to stand on, no horizon that isn’t in sudden danger of tilting.  Instead of using sacred ferocity when it correctly presents itself, we go all passive and puny and suppress the juice to be spewed away later on petty metaphorical battles over who sits where at the kids’ concerts.

The divorce industry flourished amid our distrust and our discomfort with the fiercely instinctive stuff in the belly and in the belly’s belly.  The survival stuff.  Whoever doubts this should only creep toward the babies of any warm-blooded creature—and see what mama does.  Try it on a sparrow first;  then work up to a leopard.  Start with a chirp and a peck;  end up blood rare.

The origin of this warrior instinct is sacred and the main reason not to piddle it away is just that:  Profaning it makes it something not worth honouring or mastering.  Ain’t gonna study war no more?  Darlins, you need to study it big time.

Men act out beautifully choreographed metaphors of the original and the only worthy war—the one that keeps invaders away from the babies.  Men make big machines and loud machines and belch blood up to the sky and are saluted and decorated for it.  But when their woman bolts for the guy next door, they pretend that fighting is beneath them.  They’d now prefer to at least be admired for being urbane cuckolds.

And when men bolt, women have no choreographed metaphors because we wage war only when it counts, in front of the hearth and bed; so we startle our men, un-nerve our men with our innate ferocity.  "Hell hath no fury"? Children hath no army.  Women are the species’ militia.

"My dad was too much of a babe magnet for the marriage to have worked."
Women fight for the right to have our creations honoured and sheltered from fear and grief.  One woman I know kicked through her tomcat husband’s windshield, leaving him as unprotected as their babies.  Another raked her long nails down the tom’s chest and left him decorated with her betrayal.  Another confronted the mistress and sent her scuttling back to desperado singledom.  These three women had two children each.  Perhaps without the kids, they might have moved on without confronting the windshield, the chest, and their understudy.

Study war.  Study it until you can practice it with sincere and swift elegance.  (Those with no grasp of what the warrior instinct is about — being the life-honouring guts of the mother – will act out clever steps that they hope will look like the real thing.  But they fail as soon as they put on uniforms and add the soundtrack of fife and drum.  They also fail when they muffle and translate their warcries into legal prose.  That’s the honesty of the jungle losing out to the entertainment of theatre.)

Picture a mama critter in the midst of an authentic battle to protect cubs from assault, being asked which side she’s fighting on?  Side?  The same side your mama fought on so you could hang around long enough to read this.  The side of Keeping Stuff Alive.

Give me the uniform of WMD, Weapons of Ma’s Destruction. [sorry, couldn’t resist. ]  My brain, my womb, my labour pains, my scarred body, my sharp eyes and keen ears and tall antennae, my truthful tongue, my unsheathed pen, my dreams for my babies that you dare not violate.  Ma don’t tolerate no fools.  And she deeply resents having her time wasted.  She directs tactical manoeuvres only at those who are directly between her and her babies’ wellbeing.  (Real men do the same thing. )

If you cast a shadow anywhere on that line, you’re not the enemy—you’re gone.  She doesn’t regard you worthy of a smartly butch uniform to  smite you in.  That’s something only boys have time or need for.  You won’t catch her painting her face in the babymaker’s official team colours and screaming from the bleachers.  She’s on the field, eviscerating the foe.  Circus maximus, mama’s version.

Why then (when most of the penthouse residents of the food chain know this is true) do we have such a hard time with the spiritual skills of war?  Why are we a culture that’s been gutted by divorce instead of an honest and square-shouldered culture that don’t let no one mess with our cubs?  Why can’t we just use what we were given at birth to make sure that natural selection isn't over-rated?

(And when it must be fought, war must be fought with zero Collateral Damage.  As in “less than any.”  Collateral Damage is a guy thing.  It’s guy code for “We Missed.”   Mama never misses.  If she don’t know exactly where the bullet’s going, she don’t waste the ammo.)


Even though we can’t seem to bring it forth at the right time—and are despised or shamed for it if we do—we remain drawn to the warrior spirit.   Media culture sells us theatrical versions of it, which millions are addicted to; they can’t get enough "action’"dramas or intense personal encounters involving trembling chins and snot and tears.

The spiritual skills of war, the sacred warrior instinct, should be allowed up only in genuine, life-threatening emergencies.  It's more potent and more compelling than the higher emotions of dignity and grace.  It’s Gauloise versus Alpine air.  Bourbon in a dirty glass versus Perrier.  Raw steak versus crudités.  Breastmilk versus Cadbury.  It tastes powerful for a reason:  It keeps life going.

At the same time as we’ve let the family be gutted by whatever comes along, we’ve become ultra-violent in our entertainment tastes.  Why?  Because we’d like to see someone having guts, that’s why.  We’ve diverted our talent for courage into surrogate experiences—which we have a revealing craving for.

Instead of learning to use our own shock to save what’s irreplaceable, we’ve developed some strange taste for our own shock as entertainment.  Rehearsing rehearsing rehearsing ... and never lifting a finger.

We’ve increased our tolerance for the spectacle of conflict, but not our knowledge of strategy and manoeuvres.  We’ve simultaneously given the world the divorce movement, in all its splendid carnage and inefficiency, and—unshockingly—created a media culture in which the moment is all, the context is nothing, the future is an arrogant assumption.

We have some nerve.


Newfound freedom from ex-family is celebrated by 6-12 months of sexual and social diversion and a perkier wardrobe.  For men, there’s the added glamour of outfitting the bachelor pad in all that mismatched, left-over dinnerware and bedlinen from the basement.  (For women, more chintz and lace--camp it up, girlz!)  I’ve seen men using fast-food plastic promo drinking glasses.  Hardly the scene they were picturing when they were planning shwing-ins with the office's erectile function fieldworker.  To suggest that this justifies gutting children’s trust, is the tawdriest gesture that a grad-schooled generation has ever offered up on the roof-rack of an SUV.   If this is greener grass, then that explains the thick layer of fertilizer.

Nonetheless, we persist.  After the divorce-bent citizen admits that they’re not up to one other person in their life, they imagine that salvation lies in the arbitrary crew known as The Steps.  I’ve not yet met one person (including my post-divorce therapist) who had the emotional sophistication needed to deal with the Steps.  [also known as the Hyphens]

The Steps are nothing less than relentless, unsolvable, Freudian dilemmas.  Once our children learn to replace my mother with my father’s wife and my father with my mother’s husband– all hell breaks loose in the psyche.  Freudian dramas coat the consciousness like oil spills; lineage returns to the lower primate lifestyle of seasonal matings.

Drama X:  The woman who never got enough attention from her daddy, fills the void in adulthood by winning some other daddy away from the mommy, resolves her early childhood drama—and then tries to become a ‘step’parent to the cubs that she’s orphaned by her triumph over their mama.  Drama Y:  A man who never successfully detached from his mama, marries a woman and then escapes from her. 

(But wait!--there's more!)  The interaction between the neuroses needs a PowerPoint™ presentation to sort out...

Divorce culture, for all its resourceful spin, never managed to come up with dignified titles for the domino gang of strangers.  “The Ex” (ex’s spouse, ex’s spouse’s kids, ex’s spouse’s kids’ other parent’s ex…) has a vaguely industrial sound to it, like a corporate org-chart.  So the movement commandeered the word step.

Actually, supple reader, the word ‘step’ defines only people who replace dead parents, not living parents.  But it’s just too pathetic and silly to introduce someone by saying “This is my husband’s children’s mother’s husband”--it’s just too lumpy and embarrassing and indicting and we gratefully snatch an illiterate substitution and pray for an audience that’s too embarrassed or charitable to snort.

And so we have step-parents, step-grandparents, step-aunts, step-siblings, step-cats, step-hamsters, step-stuffed-toys, and on.  And in the quietest marrow of our bones, we know that we screwed up when we’re cuddling babies that we’ve learned to love even though they smell all wrong and always will--because they’re our "step" children.

By that time, it’s too late.

So the metastasizing limbs of the step-family tree--The Frankenfamily©2004--are way peachy-keener than watering the original tree, treating it to a little sun, a little daily kindness--a little workshopping?  Wow.  Brilliant.  No wonder we encounter clumsy gestures, misunderstandings, veiled barbs, and hurt feelings.

We have zero training for the Frankenfamily©2004—nothing but reflex ambition and an engorged sense of entitlement.  Nothing in four million years of DNA has equipped us for this in the slightest.  And we realize it when a single blundering utterance of some step-thingie produces explosive, primitive emotions and boots our behaviour down the food chain in seconds flat.  We hiss and declaim and try to restore control of a team that’s, by definition, controlled by no one--not by biology, nor community, nor logic.  It’s more like a game of precarious truce among naturally warring forces—it’s love/sex/family versus love/sex/ambition.  The natural warring has gone underground, but is never totally absent.

And we finally realize with a chill, that the creepiest conflict is still to come:

After the Steps congregate around the arbitrary altar of ‘blended family’, out comes the warrior spirit—too much, too late, and too far from its original purpose of saving the clan from any of this atavistic farce.  It’s all twisted and awkward and snarling at paper tigers.

If you thwart the sacred warrior, the life-preserving force will insist on its day eventually, no matter what.  And so sundry exes and step-whatevers fritter away away the passions and instincts that could have been used to bring trust and security to their shared children.

"Gee, I'd love to, but that's the weekend my father gets me."
They sniff and snipe over U.N.-level issues like who’s in which pew at the wedding of some step-person.  Who attends a baby shower?  What time will the children be volleyed across the DMZ on Christmas day?  Who attends a recital?  Where do they sit?  Where do they sit?  Have we all done a triple back-flip up our own butts?  We’re talking about the GPS of butts on chairs here, not nuclear silos.

A 30-year old friend of mine got married and her dad’s second or third wife pouted and sulked through the whole thing and finally became "ill" so her husband would have to leave.  She was well into her fifties but had no training for witnessing the fruit of her husband’s loins walking down the aisle, nor could she bear being squeezed into a hall for 200 with the bride’s mother.  Another friend had to make several calls before her baby shower, to arrange for the arrival and placement of her mother and her dad’s incumbent wife.  These elders should have been thanking her for putting up with their butts – not asking her to spend valuable time on the politics of positioning their buts in her home.


Listen up when the sacred warrior spirit roars at a legitimate moment, heed it and act on it, use it fearlessly, unapologetically—or you, too, will end up listening to a child you birthed saying, “I'll call you from Dad's/Mom's place...”

They’re calling from the rear end of divorce culture, where no holy wars are fought for their peace—just ritual parrying and chest-thumping and implant-thumping among neurotic boomers.  We’ve devolved to the least-sophisticated relationships with each other, the ones that our DNA gives us no manual for.  We’re parking by ear.   And it, um, shows.

I do no disservice to my post-divorce partners when I say that both they and I would have preferred not to have to find each other, because we would have ideally been bandaging the wounded families that now live in the next area code. ( Look, aren’t we all smart enough by this time that we know we can find The One True Mate on any continent whose shores we might float up on?  The One being just-around-the-next-corner-- is a meaningless Harlequin truism.  It can never not be true. 

I’m so lucky because my smart mama said to 16-year-old me when I was weeping over a boy who’d dumped me, “If we’d moved to Japan when you were a baby, you’d be crying over a Japanese boy right now.”   Apparently, there are lots of folks whose mamas never explained this to them, poor things.)

We’re all making the best of our chagrin, but what a glorious legacy our children would have had if we’d fought as hard for their happiness as we have for our own (and with such a low return on investment. )  We invested the kids’ trust in our sexual ambition.  What dividends can we possibly offer them?


It’s just one big, trashy, mall-style, daytime TV, breaded, deep-fried, sugar-frosted, visibly-liplined, stale-smoke-reeking, tabloid-headline embarrassment.   On behalf of boomers (everyone born between 1946 and 1966) I apologize to the species. 

We blew it.  Big time.  The gen-X types are just miming what we’ve done, cuz it’s monkey-do time; so Britney Spears will be married for 55 hours, cuz that’s about all that’s left in the way of one-upping the previous generation’s, like, commitment style.

Kids, forgive us and try to do better.  We respectfully stand by as your sadder and wiser counsellors, whether we’re cuckolded spouses, invasive "other" lovers, or consolation-prize subsequent mates (those who are under the impossible pressure to ‘make it all worthwhile.' )   It’s no longer up to us to make it worthwhile to each other; it’s up to us to make it worthwhile to our kids.

Go forth, kids, and listen to your belly’s belly.  Be brave and act decisively and authentically and let no one take your hearth and bed for granted.



Gays, please give marriage your best shot.  Heteros everywhere are counting on you to restore meaning to the family that's been auctioned off for a cruise ticket on the good ship Greener Pastures..



[All cartoons from www.cartoonbank.com]


If you have
a big mouth,
use it to shed light.


  Drivel archives:

Cars and Blenders:
Appliances as lifestyle statements

What's up, dad?
Buddy, can you spare a decade?

Tears and Money Shots:
The Obscene View of Grief

The Frankenfamily:
Dedicated to
children of divorce

Drama and GPS

Murkin Theology:
The all-you-can-eat-buffet as an altar of worship

SUVs and Pet Rocks: Differently Abled products

Dear Single Men