“Okay, little ladies . . . You know this is a difficult conversation for all parties concerned, but I am going to ask you for 110 percent. I am going to ask you to bring your ideas to the table as we think outside the box. This should be a constructive meeting for all of us. We are going to use our time together to make positive and productive decisions—results-driven decisions—for our future as we drill down on determining what are the most important things to our individual and collective lives. So no tears, all right? I forbid anyone in this room to cry, okay? We do not need all that extra emotion while we are having an ideation meeting. If we all dissolve into tears, then we will have to circle back at a later date. Nobody wants that, am I right? This situation has been hard enough on everyone—myself included. Moving forward, we have important decisions to make—life changing decisions—so let’s ruminate on the tasks at hand. Let’s discuss things and make proactive choices, okay? We need you to take things to the next level. With our collective synergy, I know we can find a successful resolution in meeting the needs of this family. So I need you to be present. I need you to be concise. I need you to be constructive.”
What I say: “Okay.”
What I want to say: Constructive derives from the Latin word construere, meaning “heap together,” as in my dad is heaping together his infinite bullshit, self aggrandizement, and posturing on a funeral pyre for this family. Dad, take a look at mom sitting on the far end of the couch. She looks like you have ripped out her intestines through her sinus canal. How constructive do you really think this meetup is going to be?
My younger sister and I look at each other. She shrugs in silence. I remain as stoic as an Easter Island statue.
My father looks flustered and tries again. “I know the past few years have been difficult ones for us all. It’s no secret your mother and I have had our problems. We have had years of marriage counseling that only seemed to deplete our bank account as well as our patience with one another. I will admit I have said things that I now regret. Your mother has said things to me that she might regret. I will also admit that I am not a perfect man. Your mother will agree with me on that point, I’m sure. But we have never regretted having you two girls. You are the loves of our lives. No matter what happens, we will both always love you with all of our hearts. That is the prime directive—ensuring that you know that we love you. We want to split our time equitably and equally so that all of your needs and wants are strongly considered and hopefully met. So, moving forward, your mother and I need your input on some important decisions. These are not individual decisions. We are going to make these decisions in the collective.”
What I say: “Okay.”
What I want to say: Collective derives from the Latin word colligere, meaning “gathered together.” Well, here we are, dad—all gathered together: your soon-to-be ex-wife and your daughters. You remember us, dad. The ones who are inheriting a soon-to-be stepmother. It seems like your sidechick should be part of this collective decision making. Where is she, dad? You’ve gathered us all together. I guess she couldn’t gather together with us? Hey, you remember when you first heard that phrase—gathered together—don’t you, dad? We are gathered together here today to witness the joining of two lives . . . yadda yadda yadda. I understand that you may have forgotten your wedding vows. It would certainly explain your actions over the past year, but we’ve seen your wedding video a few dozen times—back when you had hair—and a waistline—and integrity.
My younger sister and I look at each other. She frowns. I frown, too.
“So, girls. I love you. Your mother loves you. And we are gathered together here today to make some important decisions. Your mother and I decided to save a truckload of money by working out the primary physical custody and visitation schedules for you girls. I mean, you are both in high school. It’s only three or four more years to hash out these things until you are adults and off to college. Frankly, I’d rather pay for your college tuition than some feckless attorney’s fees. So let’s do a deep dive until we gain traction on the logistical matters. We can keep all lines of communication open as there are a lot of moving parts in the future dynamics of our family.”
What I say: “Okay.”
What I want to say: “Family” derives from the Latin word famulus, which means servant. You have to appreciate the Roman sensibility in understanding what a family truly is, dad. It just makes sense: family members serve each other. Without the servant component, we are just a group of people sharing living space. Veritable roommates! So be careful how you throw that word family around. Serving does not mean self-serving, dad—your raging midlife crisis notwithstanding. I get it, though. You put in a good twenty years or so, coached a few soccer teams, showed up for some daddy daughter dances, and now it’s time to serve yourself. Gotcha, dad. You do you.
My younger sister and I look at each other. She rolls her eyes. I try to keep from snickering.
“Well, it basically comes down to one question. Who do you want to have primary physical custody of you? It’s completely up to you. Take your time. Feel free to think about it—”
What I say: “Mom.”
What I want to say: “Mom.”
My younger sister and I look at each other. She nods. I nod, too. Then we go over and sit by our mother on the far end of the couch.