A few years ago I was helping my mom clean out her basement. She handed me a box of unlabeled reel-to-reel tapes. She wasn't sure what was on them. I took them home and discovered that one of them was a recording of my parents' 1963 wedding ceremony.
It's pretty overwhelming for a divorced kid to hear your parents taking their wedding vows. Their voices sound so young, and it's such an idealistic moment.
I decided to make a CD and play it for them as a surprise. They were dating each other again, so it's not quite as bad an idea as it sounds.
The divorce still hurt. And I knew I didn't want to go through it ever again.
I cued it up on the CD player in my mom's living room and hit the play button.
Right out of the chute, it's a disaster. I had underestimated the emotional wallop of hearing this again. It makes my mom cry. My dad starts cracking jokes to help her regain her equilibrium.
My mom's 19-year-old voice quavers as she takes her vows. My dad teases her, "She was only 11!"
My parents' marriage blew up at a time in the late '70s when a lot of families were falling apart.
"Somehow that contract -- that sacred contract that we entered into..." my dad teases.
"For me to be a slave?" my mom interjects, then scolds, "Paul, don't make yourself worse than you were!"
We can laugh about things now. And there were funny parts, like dad telling telemarketers who asked for my mom, "She ran away," just to see how they'd react.
My brother Joel and I still laugh about our dad's bad cooking -- we had macaroni and cheese for a year straight -- and how he stored a canoe in the living room and rebuilt his favorite British motorcycle in our dining room.
It's harder to acknowledge the pain. Theirs and ours. My mom says she feels badly about what my brother and I went through in the divorce.
"I don't think so," said my dad. "I doubt very much if either you or Joel ever went to sleep at night wondering if you had a dad or a mom who loved you."
I knew my parents loved me. But the divorce still hurt. And I knew I didn't want to go through it ever again.
When I talked to my friends at book group, we talked a lot about our mothers and the example they set for us. Marriage didn't look that appealing to me.
I reminded them that it took me 12 years of dating to make it to the altar.
When my friend Amy from book group called to tell me she was getting married, I flat-out asked her, "Why?"
"That was the first word out of your mouth!" remembered Amy.
"I think I didn't associate it with any upside," I said. "That must have been it."
"Yeah," Amy said softly.
But I eventually did see the upside. I decided to trust the happiness I felt. I booked the church. I even tempted fate and wore my mother's wedding dress. I was 31. She had been 19. I wanted to be absolutely sure of what I was doing.
Growing up, I thought I turned out fine after the divorce. I looked good on paper. But inside, I held myself back, afraid of breaking my own kids' hearts someday.
Each year, about a million kids in America experience their parents' divorce. The high water mark was set in 1979, but the record didn't hold for long. The same divorce rate was reached in 1981. It's been falling since then, but that probably has more to do with couples deciding not to get married in the first place.
I worked on this program for five years. At first I thought it would be a show about how divorced kids aren't all messed up.
But the more I read, and the more interviews I did, the more I became convinced that the real story is how deep this stuff cuts. Sure, divorced kids can be successful in life and relationships, but the past stays with us, as a cautionary tale.
Still, I've decided, I still believe in love. Even for divorced kids.