I’m nearly 45 years old. I feel I’ve earned a few moments of digital type dedicated to complaints. I’m currently typing with sinus pain that feels like push pins stuck thru the roof of my mouth, so I’m primed for maximum whining. You’ve been warned.
When I go for more than two or three days without some writing time I start to feel a little strange. Like, I’m ignoring something very important in my life. It’s sort of like having an exercise regiment and blowing it off. You feel guilty about it(my exercise regiment needs serious work at the moment.) I’ve been writing regularly for almost 7 years. It’s ingrained in me to sit down to write. When I don’t it’s as if I feel a part of my brain harden and become atrophied. Yes, I know that’s a bit over-dramatic, but dammit that’s what it feels like. Since I don’t write music nearly as much as I used to, writing about music and my life is where I exorcise those creative tendencies, as well as past and present demons. Writing is essential to me; it’s like fiber, foot rubs, and fluoride in my toothpaste.
But last weekend we had to go to a family brunch to celebrate my father-in-law’s 76th birthday and I’ve been struggling with that whole experience since. You see, we haven’t always been on the best of terms with my wife’s dad and her stepmom. Really, since the beginning it’s been a strained and awkward sort of dance around obvious ill will.
My wife’s parents split when she was very young and she stayed with her mom. Her dad remarried and got lots of religion in his life. He also got a new stepdaughter in the mix and so he worked his way right into a new family, where as my wife was with a mom who struggled with drinking. Despite the alcoholism my mother-in-law did the best she could and (barely)provided for her daughter. This was the late 70s and early 80s. What passed for raising a kid back then would be considered child neglect these days. Anyways, the father-in-law ended up getting a job in Oklahoma and moved there with the new family(and to be near Oral Roberts University) and left his biological daughter with his ex-wife(whom he knew had a drinking problem) to fend for themselves. There was court-sanctioned child support that was supposed to be paid, but it wasn’t(both my wife and mother-in-law got restitution checks from pops into the 2000’s.)
My wife’s pop ended up moving back to Indiana when she was in her teens, and for a bit she lived with him in an apartment when he and my wife’s stepmom separated. I think at this point my father-in-law was starting to make up for those years he wasn’t around. He took part in her life and chaperones band trips. He did the stuff a parent is supposed to do. Of course, the good times ended when he got back with his second wife and church, condemnation, judgement, and(did I mention church?) came back as well.
Let me give you a Cliff Notes version of this so as not to take up 4 gig of internet space on my disdain for the whole situation:
We began dating halfway thru our junior year of high school. Since the beginning the stepmom was a judgemental and clueless person. She always assumed the worst in my wife(leaving pamphlets around the house about the dangers of wearing black on certain days of the week), while her own daughter was pregnant and married right out of high school(she’s currently on marriage number 4 and things are going great.) My wife’s dad never stood up for his own daughter and just let wife number 2 do her preach-y thing all the time.
Two weeks before my wife was supposed to go to college the old father-in-law tells her he can’t pay for college, but then insists on driving her down to college with the stepmom(as opposed to me and my family or my wife’s aunt and uncle driving her down)for an incredibly uncomfortable and strained 8-hour trip to Tennessee. Subsequently she paid for that first semester herself with money left to her when her estranged grandpa passed away.
Most of the 90s was weird get-togethers and attempts from her dad to make up for being an absent father and general clueless adult in the 80s.
When we had our own kids he tried to be a better grandpa than he was a dad and succeeded to a degree. But then he started forgetting birthdays a few years ago and phone calls were much more sporadic(pretty much non-existent.)
We’ve pretty much been back at that standstill position in our relationship with her dad for a couple years now. I didn’t grow up in divorce and church, but yeah there was certainly some dysfunction. But for the most part there was love and honesty in the family I grew up in. Every time I was around my wife’s dad and stepmom it just felt fake. Once my kids were old enough they saw it, too. They’d be over there and see and hear the stepmom hounding my father-in-law; berating him on meaningless crap. The facade of happiness was just that: a facade. I got to a point where I felt I wasn’t going to deal with that anymore. I didn’t need(nor did my wife and kids) to put up this false smile and pretend I was interested in these mindless conversations.
The fake was overwhelming to me.
We’d gotten to a point where if her dad wanted to come over for a visit and have a cup of coffee or something then that was fine with us. Our turf, our terms. I didn’t mind some chit chat occasionally, but I wasn’t going to have family functions and ridiculous talks with the stepmom. She’d ask me questions she’s asked me a million times before, like we’d just met. I was done with it. Done, I say!
Then a week and a half ago we get invited to go to brunch for the father-in-law’s birthday celebration. And not at their house, but an hour away at some hoity toity place called Tippecanoe Place. It’s like a museum/restaurant that was the home of the Studebaker family back at the beginning of the 20th century. It’s also $25 a plate. So that’d be $100 for four of us to go have an awkward lunch with people we never see. Sounds great. Of course after looking up the cost I told my wife no way. She’d already come to that conclusion herself, so she’d let the mother-in-law know that we appreciated the invite, but we just couldn’t swing it. The MIL replied “Oh it’s my treat.”
Needless to say we ended up going and it was as awkward as I figured it would be. I won’t go into those details. I guess what I’ve been struggling with all week are these feelings of resentment I have towards the man that without him I wouldn’t have my wife, my children, or the life I’m currently in and love quite a lot. I don’t like feeding into the illusion that everything is great between all of us. I don’t think he deserves that, quite honestly. In order to have that kind of relationship, that needs to be earned. In my mind he’s still making up for the psychic and emotional trauma he allowed to happen to my wife all those years ago. He may not fit the usual stereotype of the “deadbeat dad”, but goddammit that’s exactly what he is. He abandoned his daughter knowing full well the alcohol dependency his ex was dealing with. Not only that, but being very well employed he never paid dime one towards helping take care of his daughter, and I’m supposed to sit there at that banquet table and feel all warm inside as he tears up thanking everyone for coming?
I don’t think so.
Listen, this has nothing to do with forgiveness. I have jack shit to forgive him for. It’s my wife, his daughter, that grants forgiveness for his douchebaggery as a father. And I think she has forgiven him. She’s one of the strongest people I know. The crap she endured growing up would have made the strongest fold like rice paper. But she had the support of loving grandparents, friends, and had the drive to not let the world crush her like it wanted to. She transcended all of that and became a wonderful, caring human being that I’m damn proud to have as a partner in life.
This isn’t about forgiveness, this is about forgetting. I don’t forget. I have over the last 4 years or so found a center in myself. I’ve let a lot of anger seep out of me and into the ether. I’m very much “chill”, folks. But there are certain things I will not forget nor let slide. My father-in-law’s mistakes as a father don’t get erased by tractor rides and homemade ice cream for the grandkids. And the stepmom’s righteous indignation towards her stepdaughter in high school or yelling at her granddaughter for reading Harry Potter because it’s “Satanic” doesn’t get erased because of one overpriced brunch.
Maybe I’m just a prick. Or maybe that huge “in-law” chip on my shoulder will never quite dissipate. Either way, we made a 76-year old man extremely happy last Sunday and I don’t know how I feel about that.
Blood is thicker than water, but water doesn’t stain a nice shirt for life.