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Hope for Love

The surprising realization that made award-winning actress Andie MacDowell feel complete.

By Andie MacDowell

As appeared in

It was a gorgeous summer day in the North Carolina mountain town I call home, perfect for wandering around the All Souls Church craft fair with my dog Leila.

My 100-pound Anatolian shepherd was my companion on my walks, and she didn’t seem to mind that I was meandering from booth to booth, looking at handmade jewelry here, braided rugs there.

Not that what I was truly seeking could be found at a craft fair.

What I yearned for was a happy family, the kind of family I never had growing up, with a deeply-in-love couple and their children. For a while I thought I’d found my dream-come-true with my husband Paul and the three beautiful children we had together.

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Then our marriage fell apart, and I fell apart too.

I was devastated by our divorce. I couldn’t eat. I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t even pray.

I was so des­perate to recapture my romantic ideal of a family that I rushed into a second marriage to a childhood friend without taking the time to really get to know the man he had become. That marriage didn’t work out either.

Here I was at 48, alone again, not any closer to my dream of a family than I had been when my parents divorced. I was six years old then, and back in the day people didn’t think to get kids coun­seling to help them deal with those kinds of family issues. You were just supposed to deal with it.

I remember my mom and dad signed some papers and then my dad packed up and left. I never cried over my parents’ divorce. I was trying to be brave and strong.

That was in part because even at such a young age, I knew my mom was fragile. She adored me and I adored her, but she was an alcoholic and wasn’t really able to take care of me or my sister, Beverly, who was 18 months older.

My dad remarried when I was in fourth grade, and Beverly and I went to live with him and his new wife. I thought everything was going fine until one day a year and a half later when my dad picked us up from school. Our suitcases were in the back.

“I’m taking you back to your mother,” he said. “This isn’t working out.”

He didn’t give us any further explanations and I didn’t dare ask for one.

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Now as a parent myself, I see that he must have had his reasons, reasons that had a lot more to do with him than with us—he’d just had a baby with my stepmom and maybe he couldn’t handle raising us girls along with an infant. I understand that no family is perfect and I love my father.

But as a child, I felt utterly rejected. I was emotionally shattered. All I could think was, What had I done wrong? Why wasn’t I good enough to stay with my dad and his new family? Why wasn’t I good enough to be loved?

Someday I’m going to have a real family, I promised myself. And I’ll love them and they’ll love me…no matter what. The way my mom loved me, except without the drinking to get in the way.

We grew even closer after I went to live with her again, but her alcoholism meant that the mother-daughter roles were often reversed. I took care of her. I watched her struggle to hold on to jobs.

If she was having a bad day, I’d stand there and rub her shoulders and try to make her feel better, thinking that the better I made her feel the less she would drink.

As soon as I was old enough to work, I got a part-time job at McDonald’s. I was able to help out with the expenses, but more than anything, it gave me a sense of structure that was lacking in my home.

Was it any wonder that when Paul and I married and started our family, I tried my best to give our children the stable, loving home life I never had?