It gives me no joy to write this, though it may end up being cathartic. I would have been perfectly happy plodding along, loving those who love me, and not feuding with those who don’t. But my life now includes a grandfather who doesn’t respect me. I've suspected this was true for a while, and I just received a letter from him which leaves no doubt. And it isn't just he who respects me so little that he must send a miserable letter saying as much. Since he can't write legibly, the letter was re-written by my mom and sent by the wife of an uncle. And though this will not be a feud, I can't ignore it either. Maybe you disagree with my writing this post, but I ask you to remember that I did not ask to be in this position; I would love nothing more than to have my family's respect. But I do not have it, and it is clear that I will not get it. That is not something I can control. Basically what I’m saying is, “I didn’t start it.”
For starters, while the above-mentioned letter did come as a surprise, its contents did not. I have written before that there is a part of my family whose opinion is that they can never be thanked enough; who may occasionally do nice things for me, but in return will demand total submission and eternal gratitude. I realized this perhaps 10 years ago, and decided that I didn’t want to submit to those rules any longer. I struggled with enormous guilt, as you may imagine, but eventually I came to realize that a child should not have to find his own guardians, nor his own food, clothes and shelter. Yes he should be grateful when his basic needs are met, but he should not have to perform for them.
It is one thing to be taught self-reliance; it is another thing to be forced into learning it on your own. Ever since I can remember I have known that I was going to have to work for everything I got. I will not be inheriting any money from my parents. I have been working and/or going to school continuously since I was 12 years old. I largely put myself through college (my dad helped with community college and bought me my first computer, for which I was and am very thankful). After college I worked my way up to management in retail, where I worked long hours for years. And my wife and I have worked extremely hard to build her law practice. It is true that I don’t do anything for her office anymore, but it is probably also true that it wouldn’t exist in its current capacity without the many hours I put in during its infancy. This is not a sob story, and I am not asking for your sympathy. It is important to know, though, that I have worked very hard for everything I have, and continue to work hard to keep it.
Without question the thing that I have worked hardest on is me. If I totaled the hours that I have spent soul-searching, striving to be a better man, and working to control my inherited mental illness, I would arrive at a number easily measured in years. I have overcome an abusive father and parental divorce. I have overcome years of bullying, which caused me to wonder around school in a funk so severe that I quit reacting to being shoved into lockers- I quit straightening my clothes and my hair; I would simply bend down, pick up my books, and carry on. I have overcome criminally low self-esteem, depression, anxiety and suicidal thoughts.
Do you think the segment of my family now demanding my gratitude noticed the trouble I was in for so many years, and offered help? They did not. To be fair, one of the uncles who has no respect for me did drive 10 miles to our house every Sunday, at 5 in the morning, to help me with my paper route after my parents divorced. For this he had, and has, my great thanks. But would you believe that this is still a source of great dismay to some in my family? Yes, it is their opinion that I have not thanked him enough for all that help. Maybe so; but I have made peace with my belief that it is not a 12 year old boy’s responsibility to find his own father figure. My mother, lost in finding her own way after the divorce, could not help. I’ll admit that I think the least her family could do for me was to help two hours a week with my paper route.
I’ve never wanted to list all the shit I’ve gone through, and I will not start now. Many people have gone through much worse than I, and, yes, it does embarrass me to carry on in this way. But it is without question true that I have survived hardships, and done so largely without the help of the family that is now so disgusted with me. Some would be proud of the life I’ve lived (my dad, for one, is, and he tells me so every time we speak. We have a good relationship these days; he is a cute grandpa to my kids.) So why is this corner of my family so disappointed in me?
They have noticed, and are angry, that I have distanced myself from them. They accuse me of thinking myself to be “too good” for them, of being selfish. I must say that I have brought up with them some of the things I’ve written here, with poor results. They are not interested in hearing that they have made errors; that they, perhaps, let me down.
I am a big boy and I will accept responsibility for my actions. If my actions have caused them to lose respect for me, then so be it. So it seems that we are at a point of disagreement that cannot be reconciled. Where they see selfishness, I see someone who has worked extremely hard at being a better man. Where they see someone who doesn’t call or visit enough, I see someone who has been busy with jobs, building a strong marriage and raising a family. Where they see someone who doesn’t ask about their health, I see someone who has been dealing with pancreatitis since October 2006; pancreatitis so severe that I have had six surgeries and seven hospitalizations, and few visits from them. Where they see someone obsessed with money, I see someone who has not asked for money or free room and board from them since he was 18; someone who has paid for his own college and at least $20,000 in medical bills.
Where do we go from here? I don’t know. Here is what I do know: I have done plenty to earn the love and respect of every member of my family. If I have neither, then nothing I say now is going to change that fact. I am proud of myself, for what I have done and for what I will continue doing. And many amazing people love me. I value my time and my energy too much to go chasing after love where I’m not going to find it.
Last night, my wife, kids and I went out for supper to celebrate the fact that my blog now has over 100 followers. I proposed a toast, “To love, family, and 100 followers!”
My four year-old loves toasts. “Cheers,” she exclaimed, and added, “I ‘pose a toast, too.”
“Okay, go ahead.”
She paused, not sure what to say.
“What are you happy about, honey? Or what do you wish for?" I asked.
“I am happy you’re my daddy.”