Daily Archives: Thursday, March 13, 2014

He makes for a great uncle! 13/40

That is undoubtedly true…

My father probably should never have had kids. He is not exactly a terrible father, but there are aspects about his fathering choices that are pretty worthless when you are his offspring.

My cousin, the daughter of one of his brothers, always reminds me that he is a great uncle… and if he were my uncle, I am sure I would feel the same… though my cousins father is the most amazing uncle ever, and I can’t even claim that my father beats him… compared to my real uncle, my father still kind of leaves something to be desired.

I do have a caveat, while my parents were still married, he was great… he sent me letters as an infant, he participated in school activities (he played Santa one year, which I did not figure out was him until I was in my 30’s), he had animated bedtime stories, and then there was his whole thing with Mr. Sunshine  (he would sit in our atrium off of our dining area and call for Mr. Sunshine that was apparently a spot of sunshine that had come to brighten our day (this turned out to be the reflection from his watch which he could manipulate to move around and answer yes or no questions). So my 0 to 7 or 8 memories of him are pretty awesome… up until the day he left. After that most things involving my brother and/or myself seemed burdensome to him. It may have been that our souls had been crushed and he has little tolerance for signs of weakness.

My father left my mother for my brothers kindergarten teacher, a woman that had also befriended my mom (part of that whole publicly indecent PTO post). There was sex involved, and drugs I suspect. My father became a glorious selfish bastard at that point, at least as being his daughter is concerned. For the next many years, I was lucky if I knew where he lived, or how to get ahold of him. He had claimed to his family that he left my mother because she was crazy (which based on my experience is what many selfish men will call their ex-wives). I know because my grandfather told my mother when she called asking for help that “Maybe Jim is right, you are crazy”.

Though at the end I can’t say he was horrid… I got to spend time visiting him in Guadalajara, Mexico and in Chorley, England (a small town in Lancashire folks, that feared being taken over by Americans when I last visited) and he did help fund part of my stint in Medical School… but those things he did more as the uncle than as the father.

In my mid twenties, I had had enough… I had encountered a time where I had no clue as to where he lived nor did I have a way to get ahold of him. As his child I would figure we should be notified before or after his parents, not the case. I changed my last name. I talked to the father of a friend of mine about it, he was a lawyer. I remember sitting in his office and telling him that I wanted to find out how to do this. We talked and he asked why… I told him that I deeply felt that my father had not fulfilled his paternal obligation to the extent that would warrant my carrying his name.  I continued that my mother and her family had not only made up for his failures but had done so willingly and lovingly and as such I wanted to show my allegiance to her and her family and their sacrifice by taking her name. I may not have done this if during the divorce my using her last name (and remember that in Latin America you use all your parents names so it was not something I was un-used to) had not become an issue for him. My mother had asked to get a copy of the proof of my birth and when he sent it to her, he had underlined his last name several times as if he had some point to make? Anyway, at the point when I was filing for a legal name change, I really did not care. I felt completely estranged by him and his family. My mother kept trying to force me to bear the burden of the greater conscience and approach them, but as an outsider I felt like it was not my place (there are two notable exceptions, my cousins dad I mention before and my aunt, my fathers sister, though even those relationships had waned a bit).

So, I changed my name… as did my brother. And it was the right thing to do. The family that had spent the most time, energy and money in raising us now shared a moniker with us.

It is a decision that I do not regret.

The hardest part about it is not wanting to shove it in the face of my fathers side of the family. It is there though… because when I got married I added my husbands last name to the end of mine.

When my paternal grandmother was still alive, we had a somewhat tense relationship. I think we loved each other, and as much as she was human she was an OK grandmother. And we got much closer before she died in ways that surprised some folks. She ended up being one of the catalysts in helping me make peace with the choices my father made.  I was/am not often invited to family functions on that side of the family (probably because I spent a few years declining wedding invites and the like when I was at my most bitter), so I did not see her often. There was one time, at events surrounding one of the few weddings I did attend when I drove my grandmother back from my uncles ranch to town… we talked a bit and she said one thing that stopped me dead in my tracks and made me very upset with her; she told me that she wishes that she and my grandfather had done better by us (my brother and I). That is a fine sentiment, I am sure… and perhaps I should have drawn comfort that she acknowledged her failings… but at the time I could only think to myself “we were just children and you chose your grown up son over us”.   It took her having to get serious surgery for me to even want to speak to her again. I alienated my cousins father because they had sent me a letter asking me to talk to her and I had replied that I couldn’t… my father called me angrily and told me that she should not bear the burden of his choices… I told him he wasn’t a part of that conversation and that I was allowed be angry with her for failing my brother and me. He hung up on me angry… in his family Grandma was a queen and was not allowed any negativity (which eludes me, she was a very well respected child psychology teacher).

Fifteen or so year later, my grandmother became very ill and required surgery. My aunt called to let me know and I went to the hospital to see how she was. My fathers family had left (to get a bite to eat, I presume) when I arrived… which happened to coincide with when she was moved to the recovery room so the nurses let me in to be with her. I went in, and she seemed very surprised to see it was me and not her daughter. We chatted a bit, and she stopped… looked at me quite intensely and grabbed for my hand. She said that she had never ever been able to control my father, not even as a little boy. That she knew that my mother and his second wife (yes, he married her) had both wanted her to intervene, but he was closed to that. Her gaze intense and telling a part of the tale she couldn’t put in to words. So, what I took away from what she told me was that my father had a pathology. My interpretation is that he is unable to connect with others in a lasting and meaningful manner.

So, what made me come here and have to post this tale?

This father’s post (with whom I am in a writing group) about seeing the hurt in his sons eyes, and probably even more so because of a comment a friend (in the same group)  made in a thread on his post about how her father gently consoled her at her distress about her parents divorce. I know and remember her father, and here is the tough part for me… I remember being privy to watching him with his daughters over the years (and even him without them and the way his eyes lit up when he talked about them and other such evidence of how much he adored them)  and my being incredibly jealous that they were wanted by their daddy. 

When I asked my father about their split, he just said, “your mom and I can’t live together any more” and added “but it doesn’t mean we don’t love you” almost as an afterthought. No sitting on his lap or even a wiping away of my tears… just a clean, concise conversation.

So, if you are a parent, my advice to you is to let your children know how much and how deeply you want them in your life because at the end of the day, they want to know that you want them, and that you aren’t just the cool uncle (or aunt). Show them, make hard choices and have hard conversations with them that they matter. As I always maintain, actions speak louder than words, and this is a place where you can best use that.

I have come to a place where I am generally at peace with my father, we get along and he seems to like my son. I have somewhat settled in to the idea that if I am going to have a relationship with him that I know it has to be by his rules and his rules alone, that I am not allowed to make demands of him that require anything other than what I would request from an uncle. I also have had many good memories with him, some that have even touched on that connection I want with him as my dad… but they are short, and don’t often involve tender moments and are all purely on his terms and require my completely giving in to them.

Thankfully, my mother (and her own mother and sister)  filled in those gaps where she/they could and I live knowing that I am deeply loved by her/them in ways that are beyond what I would expect from a mom/aunt/grandmother.