Graduation: dinner with my three husbands

Suzette Standring
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(Photo:  Star and I today.  Her 1996 college graduation dinner was memorable.)

A graduation poses challenges for the multi-wedded.  I’ve been married three times, odd for a spirituality columnist to admit, but guess what?  I’m an optimist. Experience decrees that when breaking bread with exes, stay positive.

Star, my daughter, graduated from college in 1996, and for that milestone, family members traveled to Seattle, which included her bio dad Tom, stepfather Ken and my now happily-ever-after husband David.

Introducing dads, their better halves, and ex-in-laws is an art form. (How did Elizabeth Taylor do it?)  Consider Star’s 21-year-old consort who met her “modern family” for the first time. Could I blame him for whispering to the waitress, “Gin and tonic, please?”

When my ex-mother-in-law insisted on group photos, other diners looked on. After exponential combinations, she yelled out, “Now I want one with the original mom and dad!”

Across the nation, graduations invite blended families to…well, blend.  Muster the resources to create a judgment-free zone. Stay the snark. No jabs or jealousies. Enjoying my ex-husband’s new wife, I thought, “He always marries such wonderful women. How does he do it?”

When thoughts drift into darkness, let gratitude play its part: “Thank you, God, that we cannot yet read each other’s minds.”  Baby steps.

That night the wine flowed and food arrived amid lively camaraderie.  Conversations went from the politely impersonal toward the warm terrain of personal sharing and big laughs. Star fended off all our attempts to share memories of her childhood with her boyfriend.

As the evening wound down, we offered toasts. I memorized mine in advance, ”Your degree does not define you.  What we 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.”  Then her three dads took turns offering up love and praise that left me misty-eyed.

Within the mellow haze of celebration, we were weathered warriors, aware of what lay beyond the door for our little girl: the Real World.  College 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 all of you together at one table.”

A collective sigh. 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, our fears and our versions of what happened when.

It was our graduation, too.

This column nationally ran through GateHouse Media on 5/23/2016 


  1. Suzette your columns always inspire me.I admire your willingness to share candidly your thoughts,experiences and insight. What a gift for your beloved daughter to love unconditionally.May with a Big open heart.You are rich in love,and it comes across in your well written articles who h always leave us with much food for thought .Thank you

  2. I believe you captured the awkwardness of exes reuniting with pinpoint accuracy. When you have mutual love for a child, you have a tie that binds despite a divorce decree. Love wins, even when marriages end. That’s the message I got from this recount, Suzette. Lovely post.

  3. Molly Stevens, thank you. I brought my daughter up to know that despite my mistakes, you can’t have too many people loving you!

  4. Thank you Elizabeth Thomas, and you’re another one so rich in love. What we do for our kids, it’s unlimited, right?

  5. That last line was killer!!! Great column. I was shaking reading it, sweating the outcome. Humorous and inspirational.😄

  6. Margaret Duffy

    Loved your article with regard to extended family. It was wonderful for your daughter.

  7. I’ve always told my daughter despite my mistakes you can’t have too many people love you