Graduation With My Three Husbands

"Never before had this group assembled in the same room."

College graduation challenges the multi-wedded. I've been married three times, and my daughter Star has a loving relationship with each father figure. So naturally, when David and I celebrated her graduation, my two ex-husbands were invited.

It was a June evening at Seattle's Pike Place Market. I was talking to Tom, Ex-Husband No. 1 and Star's biological father, who came to the restaurant with his mother, Joanne. Twenty-three years divorced, Tom was considering another go.

Sharing a picture of his girlfriend, he said, "We're talking about getting married."

"Wow. Congratulations!" I said.

His mom added, "Tom's seeking an annulment from you so they can remarry in the Catholic Church."

My raised eyebrow signaled, You don't say!

But what I was thinking was, He wants to invalidate the union that brought your only grandchild into the world? Is that a polite comment to make to your dinner hostess?

No time to gnaw on that bone because along came Ken, Ex-Husband No. 2, with girlfriend Deirdre. I noted his red flannel shirt and jeans, which contrasted with our dressy evening wear—always the rebellious criminal lawyer. Miffed, I pretended not to see him.

Ken tapped my shoulder, and I turned, startled. "Hey, you made it!"

"Of course. You remember Deirdre?"

Deirdre radiated a classy friendliness, and we embraced like old friends. What is she doing with him? I thought.

Walking in, our daughter Star's eyes widened in joy, and she grabbed us in a group hug. "I'm so happy you're all here!"

Chic in a black cocktail dress, Star's open back artfully centered her Capricorn tattoo. Red rhinestone pins clipped back her dark, wavy hair. Vampy.

Patrick, her boyfriend, looked brave. Consider the poor 21-year-old consort meeting three dads and Star's mother for the first time. Could one blame him for saying, "Gin and tonic, please?"

My three marriages were flying discreetly under the radar until Grandma Joanne insisted on snapping photos in front of the restaurant. How many combinations can one come up with?

Tom, Star and Joanne

Ken and Star

Deirdre, Ken and Star

Tom and Star

David and Star

David, Star and me

Then Joanne said, "Now I want a picture of the original family."

Clenching my grin, I posed with Tom and Star. This led to Ken's request for one of himself, Star and me.

Honestly, how did Elizabeth Taylor do it? It's exhausting. Can we eat now?

At the table, Deirdre shared with me snippets from her life with Ken and waxed devoted. He sat distracted, rubbing his temples while observing others in (no doubt) negative character studies.

Ordering food is good for fifteen minutes of animation.

"I hear the swordfish is great!"

"Ooh, they have lamb."

"I can't eat prawns."

While discussing likes and dislikes, Deirdre said, "You know how Ken can be. You know him better than I do on that subject."

Ain't going there. I laughed, "Oh, no. That's not true. He's very different with you."

Elsewhere, my husband David talked about science. Bio-dad Tom probed Patrick's ambitions while Star nodded encouragement to her champion. A bit tipsy, Joanne peppered the air with non-sequiturs.

Once dinner orders were taken, we went quiet.

Ken zoomed in on Star's boyfriend. "So, Patrick, where did you say you're from?"

"Flint, Michigan."

Ken said, "Well, a lot of people don't know where that is, but I do."

"Yeah, it's way out there," admitted Patrick.

"I'll say! It's where the men are men and the sheep are nervous!"

We could only stare. Patrick looked confused, obviously unfamiliar with animal sodomy.

Ken the merrymaker continued, "What's your state bird anyway—the mosquito?"

I grabbed his arm, rolled my eyes and whispered loudly to Patrick, "Pay no attention. I never did."

Ken shrugged me off, pleased at his ability to loosen everyone up. Deirdre stepped in (gingerly, over the doo-doo) and once again engaged Patrick.

"So Star says you like music."

"Yeah."

"What kind of instrument do you play?"

"All kinds. I can play anything."

"Really? What's your favorite instrument?"

"No favorite, I like them all. I can play them all."

"The piano?"

"Well, no. Not the piano."

"Oh. Most musicians who can play more than one instrument usually play the piano…."

Silence.

Deirdre continued awkwardly, "But I guess not…"

"Toasts! Toasts!" screamed Joanne.

Regrouping, stepfather Ken said, "I propose a toast to Star. Congratulations on your graduation. We are proud of you. A job well-done."

Cheers and clinks.

Bio-dad Tom raised his glass. "Star, I love you with all my heart, and we are so proud of your achievement."

Star looked radiant with the fanfare.

Then Grandma gushed, "Mamma! Now it's Mamma's turn!"

Heck, I memorized my toast a year ago. Dramatic pause.

"Your degree does not define you. What we all want for you will not define you. How you handle the challenges that will come to you will tell us who you are. And if history is any indicator, you will never disappoint."

Approving murmurs. I looked over and knew Ken was reworking another toast in his head—competitive bastard.

The food arrived amid lively camaraderie. We heard about the latest in the law from Ken and what was new in the world of viruses from David. Asia was a hotbed of new architecture, according to Deirdre, and Star fended off all attempts to share memories of her childhood with Patrick.

During dessert, David offered his toast. "Star, we see you now, and you are beautiful. You've always made us proud. And a special toast to Patrick because it took a lot of guts for him to come here tonight and deal with all of us."

We laughed at our bond. Weathered warriors, we knew what lay beyond the door for our little girl—the Real World. School had been her cocoon, and soon she would fly free.

Suddenly, our butterfly took us by surprise. Star's red fingernails held her merlot up high.

"Now I want to make a toast. Thank you to my mom and David for hosting this dinner. And thank you all for coming. This evening is very, very special to me. My entire family is here, and it means so much to have you all together at one table." Star's voice cracked. "I love you all, and I know what it took for all of you to be here today. I will always remember this night."

David's eyes went shiny. Tears rolled down my face. Deirdre sniffled. Tom smiled, and Joanne blurted out, "Honest to God, you're just like me!"

Ken brought an official end to the evening when he announced, "My leg is cramping up. I gotta go."

We sighed collectively. Never before had this group assembled in the same room. Chances were against a repeat performance, but for Star we would lay aside our pride, fears and versions of what happened when. This night was our own milestone in moving forward.

Yes, it was our graduation, too.

Cover image via  Nirat.pix I Shutterstock

Story by Suzette Martinez Standring, Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Crazy Family 101 Stories about the Wacky, Lovable People in Our Lives © 2018 Chicken Soup for the Soul, LLC. All rights reserved.

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