A Quandry of the Moral Kind

I find myself in a bit of a spot, dear readers, and I’m wondering what you all think.

Last night, my cell phone rang.  It was my cousin Sheryl who, aside from my sister, is the only blood relative I have any kind of contact with.

My first thought was “who’s dead?”

It turns out that Sheryl was visiting her father – my uncle – for his birthday and, during the course of her visit, had occasion to spend some time with our grandmother (our fathers’ mother).

Gram has never understood the rift between my biological parents and me, despite my repeated attempts to explain and Sheryl’s (spectacularly failed) efforts several years ago to get both sides to a place where reasoned, mature diologue could happen (after a couple of months, she gave up and conceded that I was right – there WAS no talking to these people).

Gram, it seems, is starting to come around, and mentioned to Sheryl that she thinks she might have a better understanding, after spending time with Sheryl’s teenage daughter, of how badly my own childhood was handled.  Sheryl, in her concise, Downeaster Maine way, put it thus: You were a kid.  You were acting your age.  Your parents were not.

ANYWAY, in the course of the conversation, Gram mentioned that my father had expressed to her a deep longing to have some sort of connection to my daughters (though, conspicuously, nothing was said about whether he wanted to reconnect with ME).  Gram told Sheryl that my father has access to her email account and wondered if Sheryl would ask me to send some pictures that my father could see without my mother’s knowledge.

My first instinct was to say “fuck, no!” but I backed off of that as I thought about it a little more.  My father is in terrible health and, if his past is any indication of his present, he’s profoundly isolated.  I started to feel a little compassion and sympathy for him and thought, maybe, I’d send Gram a few new snapshots of the girls.

The more I think about it, though, the more I’m circling back to “fuck, no.”  The fact of the matter is that this man isn’t man enough to come to ME to ask.  In fact, he stated, on no uncertain terms, that he was completely done with me and that, in his mind, the only daughter he had was the one who died at birth (and yes, they actually said that).  He’s had nothing to do with me for nearly ten years, and has made no effort whatsoever to contact me in any way.  Sheryl’s efforts to get us together were met with stubborn and self-righteous resistance on their side (I was willing, though cautiously, to meet halfway in a safe and neutral place with a disinterested mediator).  He was openly hostile to her, in fact, and I have heard, through one or two roundabout sources, that he’s had nothing nice to say about me to anyone who’d listen for quite some time now.

My door has been firmly shut, but it’s never been locked.  I can’t help feeling compassion for this man, who’s been too weak to stand up for what HE wants in the face of his wife, but I also feel a fair bit of contempt for him, as well.  If he wants to see my kids, he’s going to have to do some work with ME first.  Until then, I think I’ll send email notes to my grandmother, but no pictures.



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21 responses to “A Quandry of the Moral Kind

  1. Still thinking over what I think but my gut reaction just to that end bit is that now you’ll be punishing your grandmother by withholding photos of the girls from her. That seems…iffy.

  2. Improbable Joe

    I’d go with my first instinct about your father. As for the pictures… either send then to your father, or give your grandmother hard copies of photos, but don’t get involved in any sort of weird subterfuge about shared email accounts. That whole thing seems vaguely dishonest, and that’s not something you should allow yourself to be drawn into.

  3. sphyrnatude

    Having dealt with a few of this type of issue, I would whole-heatedly support your last paragraph. IF he really wants to connect, he’s going to have to figure out a way to do it that includes you. If not, you’re setting your kids up for a push-pull relationship, and that isn’t fair to them. Look at it this way: is it possible for your kids to have a relti0nship with someone that refuses to have a relationship with you, and if so, what type of relationship would it be?

  4. de

    Just wondering what the girls know about him and how they would feel if they found out what was happening.

  5. twoblueday

    Sounds like yet another attempt at evil manipulation by your father.

    I agree with you, hold your ground.

    I’d even go with lock the door.

  6. My vote is for your gut reaction. I’ll explain more later but the short answer is that while my son lives under our care, our family is a package deal. Take us or leave us but you don’t get to pick and choose.

  7. I agree with TwoBlue. I understand that your father’s current circumstance generates some sympathy, and we’d all like to think that everyone is redeemable, but, based on the information you’ve provided, your father has apparently done less than zero to be worthy of any sympathy and less than zero to indicate that he has truly changed.

  8. I know that I am traditionally marked as too lenient on this subject but wait until you hear my reasons. I think that, assuming you’ve always sent photos to your grandmother via e-mail, you continue just as you would have without this information. Maybe in your next e-mail with photos you mention that you appreciate her giving you the heads up but you don’t plan to change your life in any direction for your dad. You love her and when you send her photos you give them freely, it’s up to her what she does with them from there.

    I absolutely agree that your dad is blowing sunshine up his mother’s elderly keister. Your grandmother, on the other hand, is on the verge of understanding. Perhaps having the photos, passing them to her son and having him just do the stupid shit he does will push her over the precipice of getting it.

    Either way the one thing I stand behind wholeheartedly is that if you change the way you interact with your grandmother on the strength of trying to take some action on your father then he gets what he wants, he still controls you and that? I think that’d be a shame.

  9. The thing is? I’m not really close to my grandmother anymore, either. I’m not actively avoiding her, certainly, but we’ve never been particularly careful about correspondence or staying in touch.

    The truth is that I don’t think I’ve had any contact with her at all – photographic or otherwise – since I sent her our Christmas picture in December. I don’t feel as though I’d be withholding anything from her one way or the other, really.

  10. twoblueday

    Wait! If his only daughter died at birth (I guess both you and your sister have been fired as children), then what the heck would the man care about the children of some stranger (that stranger being you)?

    I’m more than ever convinced it is a manipulation.

    Ever notice that no matter how low in intelligence some people are, they still manage to have a sort of native cunning for manipulating/using others?

  11. Gerry, I’m not going to tell you that this isn’t pulling at some scars that are still healing.

    It’s never been about making things right with Auntie and me. There was never any concession that things were handled badly, there were never any explanations or efforts to make amends (and, in some places, those things would have been entirely appropriate). Most of this, I lay at the feet of my mother, but as Auntie pointed out to me when I called her last night, my father has been complicit in all of it from the very beginning (and, to be honest, there are one or two things for which he has yet to answer for personally, and one of them is something I’m not sure I CAN completely forgive him for).

    Manipulation has been the operating system of this part of the family for as long as I’ve been self-aware. This is exactly why I found a lawyer and had myself emancipated at 17.

    I still do wonder, though, if I am denying an opportunity for redemption by refusing to open the proverbial door. I think I would be more disposed to such a course of action if the overtures were made toward me or Auntie, instead of their just making a play for my kids, but I still do wonder if, cosmically, I’m not being as open and loving as I can be right now, even if my motives are entirely self-protective….

  12. I understand the impulse to want to be open to possible overtures for forgiveness, but I really don’t think this is an attempt at reconnecting with you. There’s still a little girl inside you who wants your parents to be the kind of parents they should be.. It’s important to forgive your parents because that’s something you do for yourself, but forgiving does not mean getting involved with their shit again.

  13. I am not sure what went on in your childhood, but for you to get a lawyer and become independent of your parents says that a lot of bad stuff happened to you as a child.

    I think Jules is right on about forgiveness. It is not about letting them off the hook for the horrible things they did, but it is about you letting go and moving forward.

    Letting go of old baggage is hard to do, but if you can forgive then you move forward.

    It is a difficult situation at best, but I trust you to make the best decision for you and your family.

  14. You do what you need to do for you. It’s selfish, but then again it’s not, because your attitude affects the people around you. If you can’t feel good about it, don’t do it.

  15. Wow. I don’t know the whole story but as someone whose father legally disowned her when she was 12 (she’s 39 now), who tore up her photo in front of her brothers and who now is suffering the early stages of Alzheimers (as reported by one of the brothers), I would say this: Your father’s redemption is his own path and under the circumstances, it does not appear to involve you. Stay clear and make your children’s best interest paramount. Forgive him–because that is what is best for you–but do not let him in. Keep in mind exactly who he is because that is exactly who he will be, no matter how much you may begin to think otherwise.

    It’s easy for a compassionate person to have sympathy for a manipulator. Regardless of what kind of health they are in, it really doesn’t change the person that they are.

    Go with your gut.
    Wishing those wounds heal over again.

  16. mel

    If you don’t mind advise from a stranger. I see wisdom in the last comment you make about wishing this interest was extended to you or your sister. You are strong and generous to wish to offer a chance at redeption but that should begin with you not your children. Even if he as a genuine interest in your children, he does not have a right to have any connection to them without first fixing the connection he has with you.
    Without wanting to rave about my own personal situation on your blog…it may shed some light on where I’m coming from. My mother was molested by my grandmother’s husband. When she found out, she denied it, called my mother a liar and then moved off to a remote island with her husband. However, in an effort not to damage us children’s relationship with our grandmother, my mother continued to allow us to see her, when he wasn’t around. We had a close relationship with her until we were adults and found out what had been done to our mother years previous. Our grandmother is now moving back because she claims she wants to have a relationship with us and our children(her great grandchildren). However, she has still not left her husband, still denies what happens, and really doesn’t make that much effort to truely be part of everyone’s lives. It is our full intent, as hurtfull as it may be or seem, not to let our children have anything to do with her because she clearly, has not learnt her lesson. I will not risk my children’s wellfare for her. Some ask me, why not just pictures, do as your mom did and just let her see them when he isn’t around? I say, because she is still with him, she is as evil as him and can’t be trusted, shouldn’t be respected.
    I know my case is different than yours but I think it is in some ways similar. DO what you know is right for you and your family. If someone decided you were not family years before, they need to patch things with you before they are part of the trusted circle that shares your children’s lives.

    Just my opinon… 🙂

  17. No.

    I can’t articulate this at all, but having your father look at pictures of your children gives me the creeps. If he wants them badly enough, he can contact you.

  18. Laurie B

    Hi Mrs. Chili,

    You are always very careful to not post pictures of your children and so is Auntie, and so are your friends. That’s a good thing. I would guess that most (if not all) of your readers would be very protective of your kids and would absolutely watch out for their well being. I’d vote that your father and grandma may not be in that same frame of reference.

    Until you are clear and sure about your relationship with the people that created so much pain in your own life, protect your children from them. Those people are the same people you fought so hard to get away from.

    You envisioned, created, and sustain a loving life. Don’t sell out for your father’s manipulative desires. Your father, just like the leopard, has not and will not, change his spots. Be wary and cautious. I’m in the “Fuck, no” and lock the door camp.

  19. people dont change that much, really… protect your children and follow the instincts that kept you safe against all the odds

  20. Xena

    Don’t do it. Didn’t you say a long time ago he molested you or have I got that wrong? Think of your daughters.

  21. Terry

    I’m with Jules.

    Your first responsibility is to protect yourself and your children, and this person does not have your interests or your children’s interests at heart. I agree there’s something strange about sharing your children, even in photo form, with someone who is determined to cut you out of the loop, so to speak.

    Just because they want something from you doesn’t mean you have to provide it.

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