Friday, September 11, 2009

My dad shelves our relationship # fathers # grandparents # adoption # rejection

A few days ago we told them about the house, and I extended an invite to my parents to join us for Christmas. We've never had Christmas together as a family though my mum's dropped plenty of hints. My dad, who has never travelled down to see either grandkid, running through an endless litany of excuses from weather to health to money to just the fact that he doesn't like Melbourne, immediately started backing up and scrambling for an excuse, muttering something panicked and incomprehensible about it being "too late I mean too early, the mother's recovering and, and..."

Last night, having thought through the various excuses he's made for years, he decides on our recent argument - well to be precise the fact that Beloved and I are too precious and take his comments (you remember, that the way we feed Mitts could technically be rape, and the one about me being a QC if only I was more eloquent?) the wrong way. Apparently it's too hard for him, he feels he's stepping on a minefield, so it's easiest if he doesn't come to visit. Period.

We are still welcome to go there, and he might visit if one of his old friends who lives in Melbourne passes away... both of which demonstrate a wee inconsistency with the excuse he'd just given.

Once again, as I have so often found in the last 20 years or so, I found myself being almost apologetic, doing the pleading: "We can work through things, it's ok, why don't we just agree to note politely at the time that the comment might cause offence and then you could simply clarify or withdraw it.. etc etc".

But he chose, in the same weary "I'm just a reasonable misunderstood old man" voice, to politely push those suggestions back at me, and insist it's for the best that we minimise our contact and stick to talking on the phone. It's just easier, was the message. I don't want difficult, I can't be bothered with difficult.

Sadly, when so many grandparents will endure far greater schisms to spend time with their grandkids, his barely rated a mention.

This is going to end up an excruciatingly long post but I have to give this context. I have long worked through oddities in my relationship with my father using certain mantras to ground me. The mantras sound like this:

"It's just his way"

"Of COURSE he loves me, he's my father"

"He's very generous with money"

"He's much better than HIS dad was"

"He didn't really mean it like that, it just came out wrong"

and underpinning them all:

"He didn't have to adopt me, so he MUST love me."

You may pick up that I am not the original source of apologia in my parental household, that is my mother, from whom all of these mantras have directly or slightly-indirectly come from.

There is some truth in all of them, and I have enough evidence that at some level, he loves me and cares about what I do. But you can only use mantras for so long, at some point a long history of actions starts to accumulate. You can take it that both being adopted and having spent over 3 years working in Child Protection and Juvenile Justice I have read reams on not only fathers, but also all of the variations on classic, simple biological relationships and the particular difficulties men often (far from always, but often) have with those relationships.

I don't need to spell out how some of these things start to play from my end. In particular when so little excitement or interest has been shown in my children.

Before you write my reaction off as simple, knee-jerk, or wanting of more time, understand some more context. In relation to the grandkids as I've noted there have been an endless list of excuses for not visiting or showing much interest. But in relation to the meta-narrative of our father-son relationship, the big milestones stitch together from about the early teens, when things started to really go awry. They include:

- telling me I'd been playing up and having too much fun at boarding school, when I'd been depressed, bullied and lonely, before taking back an offer of student exchanges I'd got all excited about;

- telling me I was a loser and a failure in as many words, several times over, after I didn't do well in year 12, then pretty much turning his back on me until I'd found a backdoor into Uni;

- in the heat of one of our most vicious 'arguments', which like most were a succession of putdowns that I reacted to, he suddently said with great clarity "I like seeing you like this, I like making you get upset like this";

- the one time he got physical with me, repeatedly pushing me hard until I warned him not to try it again, because I turned the TV off and demanded he talk to me, it was me who had to breach the gap and start talking again(and move out of home);

- when I was living in the UK and hadn't seen him for over 2 years, he pretty much stated he'd never visit me and when I started planning a 2 week visit he told me it was too long and I should spend some of the time in Bali (I stayed away and went to Greece, an excellent decision), something especially hurtful given our relationship then seemed to be very good;

- he's only popped down for the wedding and for a friend's funeral, the whole time (since end of 2002) we've been living in Melbourne; etcetera, etcetera...

I could write more but I think this post will get too long, I can follow up with a separate list for anyone who's read this far, and I do want you dear reader to read it because this in its own way is a significant turning point, like saying "I do" or Beloved screaming out with excitement from the bathroom when she did the tests, and it is all I can do as a writer to set it out here and say that I am very sad, but I have done everything I can and it is time, at 37, that I started accepting that there has always been a wedge there, for my dad, and it is something I could never have changed in all the legions of times I've gone to him to make up, to work at it, to try and cling on to the very idea of a father, my father.

I told Beloved that if I ever become like that with my kids she is to blow my brains out. I meant every word.


Zoe said...

Have you tried some therapy? Not to "fix" the relationship, but for you. Helped me a lot with my father iss-ewes. A LOT.

MsLaurie said...

How awful, the whole lot. Can perhaps just your Mum come to visit the little ones, even if not at Christmas?

Armagny said...

Zoe, potentially quite open to it, not the least because there's nothing I won't do to try and ensure I don't make the same mistakes.

MsLaurie Yeah, I'm cross at my mum too but she'll always be welcome and indeed I suspect that relationship, her and the grandkids, is the one that will get all the focus from here on.

Kelly said...

glad you got to the accepatnce bit yourself in the last para- that was going to be my brillaint advice. AT some stage you have to give up on wanting them to be differnt and just accept thats what they do/who they are/ how the do stuff. Makes it a whole lot easier than taking responsibility for their behaviours and always trying to run around finding ways to make it all better. Thats what i did with my difficult/foot in mouth mother. Works a treat.

Anonymous said...

It's almost a pity he won't see this post, as these are things he could be told.

Kerryn Goldsworthy said...

"I like seeing you like this, I like making you get upset like this"

Wow. Jesus. I mean, fark.

While I was reading this (and earlier) posts I was all like 'Oh I'm sure it can be fixed, discussed, talked through' right up till I got to this bit. But I've seen enough of this nasty streak in certain members of my own family to recognise it and the power of it. If upsetting you gives him pleasure, then of course he's not going to stop doing it and he was never going to stop doing it. But you are clearly not that kind of person yourself, so I really think your worries about getting like him are way off base.

That said, I agree with Zoe. Counselling is good.

Elisabeth said...

I was saddened to hear your story. And to hear again the ways in which history repeats itself.

We make excuses for our fathers, they too have suffered. We also expect things of them rightly or wrongly and all of this is compounded for you by the fact of being adopted.

Along the lines that Zoe suggested, you might want to look at this webpage from a woman I know for ideas about how to approach some of the issues.

Mindy said...

With absolutely no experience or qualifications in family counselling, I think you are doing the right thing. If he has to come to you to annoy you then he just might. You could really annoy him by asking "is mum there?" every time he answers the phone too.

seepi said...

Ouch. Just ouch. So nasty. and just so sad.

But some things you just cannot change. And most people will never change.

From reading this account I think you are on the right track not to court his involvement with your kids anyway.

I think the tricky thing may be trying to maintain a good relationship with your mum, and not with dad. But perhaps if he makes no effort, and you cease making efforts, it will just happen that way.

Helen said...

Oh bummer. We have a kind of similar thing going on in a more benign way - Dad doesn't actively say poisonous things, but he's airily unconcerned about most family/grandchild goings on, having lived in his head as he has done pretty much from 40something on. But his airy unconcern of course makes him foot in mouth prone, of course, and he's oblivious of any hurt he causes with that.

Ann ODyne said...

peace and love from me.

Helen said...

So what was the feeding-Mitts-abuse thing? Own up now: you used the funnel, yes?!

w/v: theedn

BwcaBrownie said...

but thanks for the WV - I always think they are 'Notifiable Names' ie Childrens Court appearancees - the twins Jhaidn & Theedn

Anonymous said...

Having visited your blog a few times and read some entries, and seen how much you delight in your children, I don't think you need to be concerned about ever becoming like your father. He is a man of an entirely different generation. Just enjoy your wonderful life. (I'm no expert on professional assistance with such things, but others have made good suggestions.)

One thing I have to comment on, though: why on earth have a family Christmas! I personally need therapy, or a lot of wine on the day, just to cope with the idea of meeting up with various family members, in-laws and etc. at Christmas time. Throw a party for some friends— it's much more fun, and the kids will love it.

anon ed

Ann ODyne said...

That is such a good idea.
It is well-documented that Christmas-New Year is a busy time for suicides and violence, not to mention debt.
It should only be commemorated by people who have actually attended a Christian church service during the year. Everybody else should ignore department stores exhortations to buy everybody a $400 gift - an don't scoff at me, the adverts are being booked as we speak.
Watch Billy Bob Thornton play brilliantly Bad Bad Santa.