Are We Family, or what?

(This is not a particularly cheery post, so feel free to skip it and go do something nice like hugging your kids. I won’t mind.)

I should let you know that I’m unqualified to give advice about building healthy relationships with your parents and siblings. I may have already told you that, but I’m saying it again: my relationship with my family is a mess. And the worst kind of mess is the one sitting in the middle of a bunch of people who have no idea how to fix it, and they just can’t stand the idea of getting their hands dirty again. No one trusts anybody, there’s no peaceable middle ground to work towards, and most of the players don’t even know what they want out of this family.

And this is not coming up as a result of some kind of great and terrible battle between my mother and I, or some other falling out. It’s not a familial cataclysm, but a slow ceasing of momentum that grinds us to a halt.

For the longest time, I had assumed that the arrival of grandkids would realign our family dynamic and bring us together. We’d throw all of the baggage aside and just build a new workable peace based on the new little ones. It didn’t work that way.

I was stunned when my mother was talking about wills and inheritances recently, and she said she was only thinking of her kids, not the grandkids. The potential exception she gave was if she formed a ‘close bond’ with one of the kids, and that really cheesed me off. You can’t sit back and wait for a kids to like you before you care for them. You have to have an excess of affection and you have to work at building that relationship. But I digress.

There is an additional element of family sadness looming in the background of all of this. According to my mother, my estranged father is very ill somewhere, losing his faculties, and generally approaching the end of his life. My brother still holds a deep resentment and perhaps active hatred for our father, and it can’t help his emotional situation that his daughter has some of my father’s facial features. I know my visual similarity to my father constantly reminded my mother of him, and she couldn’t help but see his negative traits in me. Being compared to you drunk father can really monkey wrench your self-esteem.

So that’s a partial snapshot of my messed up family: my brother is angry, probably angry at me for my teenage screwup years. My mother has emotional expectations that I cannot meet: She wants a return to a relationship between us that stopped when I was 12, and she won’t let us start over. And somewhere, in some medical facility, my father who I have not seen or spoken to in more than 20 years  is slowly dying and I don’t know how I feel about that.

I don’t think my mother even understands how ill he is. She mentioned that she had received a letter from a hospice offering her support, and she didn’t understand why they were contacting her. She doesn’t know that a hospice offers care and help for the terminally ill and their families. For all I know, he may have already died. I assume someone would tell me if he did. That may be the saddest thing I have ever typed. Yikes.

Sorry, faithful readers, but I have to process this somewhere. It can’t be sunshine everyday.Anyway, I order all of you to find someone you love and lavish affection on them. And yes, that someone can be yourself. Cookies for everyone!

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9 thoughts on “Are We Family, or what?

  1. The first thing I would say Chris is that we are all united in our misery. The next is that no amount of lament, regret or sadness on your part is going to fix it. I would ask why you would want Max exposed to someone who clearly can’t give unconditional love to her own children and grandchildren. Better to protect him from that until he too is at least 12 and then you can have a man-to-man about the disfunctionality of adult relationships. I may be wrong but you seem to be stuck in a childhood feeling of helplessness about the situation. What I had to do with my divorced parents is lay out, in no uncertain terms, what the rules of engagement were. My mother and I didn’t talk for 2 years but she came around and is the best Nana ever. I haven’t talked to my father in years, have no idea how he is doing and my children don’t know him. It takes two people to make a relationship work, even a parent/adult child relationship. I’ve been thinking lately of sending mine a letter with everything I want to say but haven’t (just in case). It seems you are already in this place and haven’t said everything you need to say. I would rather you visit your father despite the risk of it going badly and at least know you did your best. Because I think the pain of regret at not going would stay with you forever. Don’t assume people are going to tell you how he is doing or if he had died. Find out and take action.

    Call me if you want to go for a coffee and talk.

    • I’m pretty good with where things are, usually. It’s nice to hear from someone else who has tried to sort out a difficult family situation. Thanks.

  2. Process away, Chris, that’s partly what we’re all here for. Would love to offer a coffee and chat too, but New Zealand is a little far away. I *do* know that having a strong sense of autobiography – making some sort of sense of where your parents were at emotionally when they raised you – is hugely helpful.Hope you can find someone who is physically near to process all this. It is a big deal.

    • Thanks, Karyn. I’d love to jump on a plane and see your part of the world, but they tend to want “money” for their “flights”. Sheesh.

  3. I have a similiar non-relationship with my father…(counts on fingers)…It’s been 27 years since I’ve seen or spoken to him, although there were 2 or 3 letters a while back. I assume he is alive, although I don’t know for sure. Someone would probably tell my mom if he passed, I think. Then she would tell me.

    I’ve come to peace with his absence in my life. I mourned for not having a father. I blamed myself for not having a father. Then, during my short correspondence with the man I realized what a colossal asshole he was. (There was a reason why he could blow the chips off his block without looking back.) I wouldn’t have “just a father”, or some Norman Rockwellian ideal father, like I longed for. If things turned out differently, I would have had HIM…and why would I want that wanker in my life? Things may have turned out for the best.

    But the guy must be pushing 70, or even past it now, and won’t be a round for much longer. Do I care? Will I feel different when it actually happens? I don’t think I care…but death is absolutely final.

    • I know my pops is just a man who made a bunch of mistakes and found himself on the ugly end of alcoholism, and I don’t look for any other answers. I wish that I could have had healthy and adult relationships with my parents, but they never made peace with their own problems. I can’t fix them, and that is that.

      • My Dad was a victim of his alcoholic father. (Sad how the sins of the father…) He was sent away from home at two because (it gets a little fuzzy at this point) there were too many kids in the home to care for, or something. Later he was reunited with his mom and dad without knowing who they were. So he is a hurt little child–but still an asshole.

        I can see the love you have for Max. Props to you for breaking the cycle. I hope you are impressed by it, ’cause I am.

        Darin

      • Right back at you, gentle giant. You’re doing a great job being a caring and loving dad to Lily. Hooray for us!

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