Family Ties

The best part of my recent trip home was getting a chance to see my family without all the additional pressures of the holiday season. Since I was there for a whole week and hubs didn’t come with me (at first to save money, and then because he couldn’t get the time off work) I got to have some in person heart to heart chats with both my parents, and my semi-prodigal brother as well.

I’ve written about previously, my dad and I have gone through a rollercoaster of conflicts ever since the divorce, but I think we have finally come to a permanent detente. He and my brother…not so much. But in talking to them both I planted some seeds which I hope will bear fruit in the future. Fathers and sons tend to have combative relationships, and the issue here is compounded by the fact that my brother has all of our father’s stubbornness but also, all of our mother’s sensitivity. It’s fair to say our dad just didn’t get him. He felt like my brother needed to toughen up.

But Dad lived through segregation and went to Georgia State University just two years after it integrated. There were no Black nerds or internet in his day. The world was much harsher. And in the past couple of years I have learned more about how my Dad grew up. That doesn’t absolve him from responsibility but you can’t do what you don’t know. By any objective measure he did far better for us than his parents did for him. There were times I was disappointed, and my feelings were hurt. But nothing he did prevented me from becoming a fully functional adult so what’s the harm in forgiveness?

Without getting bogged down in the details, suffice it to say that he did some things which were just wrong. But parents are people too. It was weighing me down to constantly be reacting to everything he did that I didn’t like. Once I accepted that it had nothing to do with me, I felt so much lighter. My dad got as close as I’ve ever heard him get to apologizing for past mistakes. He even admitted (not explicitly, but reading between the lines) that he was unnecessarily hard on me at times. He also admitted (without naming specific incidents) that he had done things wrong which he wishes he could do differently, but wants to do better for us now.

The current rift between my father and brother is because, on top of all this past baggage, he missed my brother’s ( planned in advance)  engagement party because he had to work.  Of course, my dad had a seemingly reasonable explanation of how he had a client trip that ran over and had to fill in for another driver who called out that day (my dad runs a chauffeur business). But at a point in time, family has to come first and you need to just refund the client and tell them to call an Uber Black. My brother won’t accept anything other than a hat in hand, abject apology which he will probably never get, and feel like he will cut off our father if he doesn’t get it. I’m a jerk so with any other person I would tell him him to go for it. But this is our dad, and I know my brother will one day regret it if they never make up. Plus, I feel like Dad is genuinely seeing the error in his ways and trying to make up for past mistakes.

I just came to a point where I asked myself, do you want to be right or do you want to have peace? I wanted peace. Dad has messed up before and odds are he will do so again. But I have stopped expecting things from him that he can’t give. He loves me, he is proud of me, and if I need financial support I will get it. But emotionally, there are needs he can’t always meet. And that’s okay. Fortunately I have a slew of other people who care about me. Nobody gets everything they want but I do have everything I need to create a happy life for myself. I’m just praying that my brother will discover he has the same.

Daddy Issues

On Saturday I graduated from law school. And as excited and thankful as I was, something cast a pall over the celebration because my dad wasn’t there for me.

Yes, he and my stepmother came to the celebration. But they refused to sit on the same row as everyone else because my mother’s boyfriend (henceforth referred to as her partner, because saying boyfriend is weird at their age) was there. When I left the arena and came to hug my father, his words were not “Congratulations, I’m so proud of you” but “I love you but I hate that son of a b*tch.” When we went out to the courtyard, I was savoring the moment, chatting with my siblings but he broke it up to say “Let me get my pictures so we can leave.” He had told me earlier in the week that he had to work, and since then his sister had been taken to the hospital for surgery related to her cancer treatment. Understandable. But in his haste to leave he didn’t refer to that, he talked about how he couldn’t stand to be around my mom’s partner. As a gift, he gave me the money to treat everyone to lunch but stipulated that it wasn’t to be spent on “that man”.

The rest of us went to lunch and had a wonderful time. But it bugged me, not least of all because the words I thought I’d hear from my father came from my mom’s partner. He was the one who gave me a big hug and said, “Congratulations, I’m proud of you. You did good.” Today I spoke to him on the phone. He tried to explain himself and say that my mom’s partner says inappropriate things. “He is just so arrogant and pompous. He had the nerve to say- in front of me, your father~- that he needed to walk around and catch you so he could have the first picture.” I responded by saying he just likes to joke and you have to ignore it, and honestly I was a little disappointed because I felt that he let his dislike for my mom’s partner, overshadow my accomplishment. From there the conversation devolved into a monologue of how ungrateful I was, how dare I say that after all he’s done for me when mom’s partner has done nothing; that the fact he’s been around as long as my stepmom is irrelevant because he and my mom aren’t married; that if I take pictures with him at my wedding he’ll be hurt and disappointed. I only call when I need something and I didn’t even wish my stepmom a happy Mother’s Day (untrue on both counts).

I’m done.

I have spent the past 5 or 6 years of my life actively trying to build a better relationship with my father. He has always been emotionally distant. I thought that since I was growing up, that maybe we could start to speak on more equal footing, and that my feelings would matter just a little bit. But unless I’m showering him with praise, it goes south. My dad can recite every perceived wrong that I’ve done to him and my stepmother going back a decade or more, but the things I do right are summarily dismissed. It has become clear that he has no interest in my feelings. Anytime I do or say something he dislikes, he says I am selfish, greedy, ungrateful. If he’s in high dudgeon, there’s a guilt trip about how he won’t be around forever and I’ll regret not appreciating him while he was around to see it. Frankly, it’s starting to feel like emotional abuse and I’m not having it. I’ve wasted years of my life trying to be the perfect daughter in order to gain his approval but I finally see that will never happen. I’ll always love my father, but he does not have the right to be in my life just because we share DNA.

From now on, our relationship will be strictly surface level. I’m keeping all my opinions and feelings to myself. If it’s not about something neutral like the weather or the news, or impossible to avoid like the wedding? I’m not speaking on it. I thought we could be open and honest with each other but he either can’t handle it or doesn’t want to be bothered. But I won’t continue to put myself in situations where he is going to belittle me. I have yelled, screamed, cursed and shed tears over how my father treats me and I won’t do it anymore. It’s not worth it. If he asks why I’m acting so distant, I’ll tell him–but only one time. I’m sure my honesty will incite more bad behavior on his part, but I think it’s fair to give people an opportunity to change. From now on, the ball is in  his court. When he’s ready to treat me with respect and kindness, even when my actions don’t please him, I’ll be waiting.