2016-07-21

When there's no will, there's no way

My relationship with my father can be described as "strained", at best. Growing up, I don't remember him being around much. He worked hard to make sure we never really wanted for anything; and though it meant we did have a very comfortable lifestyle, it did mean we didn't spend a lot of time together.

I've never been very good at communicating. I think there are many reasons for this, but I don't want to get into them for fear of being accused of trying to place blame. Even now, as a fully-grown adult, I get very anxious when I think about making a simple telephone call. I also tend to be forgetful and more than just a little lazy. My ideal vacation consists of one where I never leave the house. Not that I don't enjoy the occasional family trip once in a while, but I don't really ever fully relax until I can get back home.

My father has never accepted these aspects of me, though. While it could be considered noble to want me to be a better person, he's always taken my failings as a personal affront to him. If I don't call, it's because I don't respect him, and I'm a horrible, ungrateful little brat because of that. And he takes that as license to treat me as such. Which makes me more likely to act that way, and the cycle spirals downward.

My biggest issue, though, is that I am always the one to shoulder the blame, and the punishment. And, sometimes, that punishment borders on revenge.

Many years ago, we were having issues with email spam. An email address we had set up was getting hundreds of messages a day. We decided to change our email address to try to hide from some of these electronic assaults. I think that might have been the time when we set up our own email server, so that we could create new email accounts at-will and give a new email address to every website with which we were inclined to register. This is a huge benefit in that it means, when we start getting spam, we can identify exactly whose email list was hacked or sold, and we can terminate a single address without affecting our communication with any other person or business.

Anyway, we sent out notices about our email address change, and after a couple months, deactivated the account. I am not certain if we failed to send such a notice to my father, or if he failed to read it and update his address book (though I'm leaning heavily towards the latter, for reasons I will explain later), but eventually, he noticed that emails he was sending were going unanswered, and eventually started to bounce.

I'm not sure how long it was before he eventually got in contact with us, and we told him (or reminded him) of our email address change. I'm not sure how we failed to communicate this, because apparently what he heard was: "We changed our email address and didn't tell you so we wouldn't have to hear from you." And, being so affronted, he then stopped sending birthday or Christmas cards for a while.

This was annoying for two reasons. One, it was clearly a misunderstanding. Somehow our change of address didn't "take". Although we were reasonably sure we told everyone, we accepted responsibility, apologized, and made sure he had our correct email. A reasonable response would be to accept that it happened, it's been resolved, and move on. But his response was to be angry that it happened, accuse us of doing it on purpose, and to punish us by not sending Christmas cards anymore. Two, he went beyond us. Not only did he stop sending my wife and me anything, but he stopped sending birthday cards to his grandkids, too. He was punishing them for what he perceived as our "attack" on him.

This was a very long time ago, so I don't remember exactly when things might have turned around. It might have been when my son was admitted to the hospital a few years back, and I decided to call him and let him know. But in any case, we had been back to sending cards and gifts for birthdays and Christmas again.

But moving forward to a few years ago. He and his wife came to visit around Thanksgiving time, as they decided to take a vacation to the Rocky Mountains and would stop by for a couple days. They stayed for a day, and we chatted for a while in the living room, but he wasn't feeling well and ended up spending most of the time back at his hotel to get some rest.

The next month, he sent a Christmas card. Since he handed us a check when he came to visit, I didn't expect there to be anything inside. Which I'm not complaining about. In any case — as with all Christmas cards and checks we get from relatives that time of year — I didn't open it right away and put it on the tree, for opening on Christmas day. We had also sent him a package, with some hand-made quilted wall hangings that Karen had been busy making for relatives all that previous month.

Christmas day came, we opened our gifts, and I opened the card to find a rather sizeable check inside. We were pretty thankful for this. We knew he was planning on having a big family gathering at his house that next summer, and we were planning on going, but we were a little concerned about the logistics of making such a trip with four kids on a budget. (I have not done as well for my family as he did for his when it comes to finances. We've always had "enough", and in many cases even some "extra", but I don't know that I would ever consider us "affluent". Though maybe that's because my only real comparison is with how much my own father provided us.) I put the check aside, with the intent to deposit it later, and, as is typical for me, didn't think about it for a bit.

A couple weeks had gone by, and the checks were still on my "to-do" board, since I had forgotten to grab them on my way out to work every day since. (Again, typical me. If you ever send me a check, and you need it cashed right away, please call me and I'll make it happen. Because it's not unusual for a check to be sitting in my "out box" for a month before I remember it's there. I've had our church's clerk come to me and ask me to deposit a reimbursement check for things we've bought for the scout troop on more than one occasion.) So I receive this email:

We sent you a Christmas card with an extra check to maybe make your Christmas a little happier. We didn't hear from you for Christmas or New Year's which is not unusual as you hardly ever call. But I am concerned about the check being lost in the mail and I am going to put a stop payment on it. If you did receive the card and still intend to deposit the check, please let me know before Monday.

Ok, oops. I hadn't deposited the check yet. Need to rectify that. I'd better reply.

Yes, we sure did, just haven't remembered to take the checks to the bank yet. Thanks so much! We're going to be putting that away for our trip out there this summer. Looking forward to it.

How was your trip up to Harvard? I heard there was a big storm that hit New England around that time.

Oh, but he won't have any of that "cordiality" or "small talk".

Unbelievable. You would think I would not have to solicit a thank you, or a Merry Christmas.

And you'd think he would know by now that I'm just not that good at replying. But the sound of his emails imply that we made zero communication at all. Notice how there's no mention of the gift we sent him (that Karen had been stressing over making the prior few weeks), which did include a "Merry Christmas" card enclosed. I don't know whether to be concerned or angry — concerned that our package didn't get to him, or angry that he got it, didn't say anything about it, and tries to lay the guilt trip on me for not saying anything. I'll try to keep things cordial by assuming the first, and copy his wife just in case she got it but forgot to tell him.

Well, now I'm a little concerned. Did you not get our gift to you? Karen spent a lot of time and effort designing and making it. We sent it to the Alabama address around the second week of December. Did it arrive? Vail, have you seen the present we sent?

Enough already, I'm not going to play your game. Yes we got the Christmas present you sent and thank you. And, If I recall correctly, you said thank you when I gave you the Christmas card when we stopped to see you in November. I guess I thought that a check for [amount redacted] would be something a little extra special and something you might pick up the phone and call and express your appreciation, or call on Christmas, or on New Years. I know I don't call, I stopped several years ago because I felt communication with you was a one-way street.

Maybe our feelings toward each other are mutual. Maybe you think I am rude, inconsiderate, and ungrateful for anything you do. That is the way I feel about you and it just isn't worth it to me to try anymore. Please take the check and put it to good use for your family. You don't need to think I sent it to you so you could come visit us.

Yes, see, I forgot the rules of the "game". The rules that say I'm totally at fault for everything, and how dare I accuse him of not taking some of the responsibility himself. He claims to want to talk to me, but he'll be damned to be bothered to actually pick up the phone himself and call, because he doesn't feel that I don't call him enough. Which, yes, I don't, because that's just me. Yet he takes it as some personal slight to him, and because I don't live my life according to his rules, he can't be bothered to try.

I will give him credit for the masterful way he phrased this, though. He managed to call me rude, inconsiderate, and ungrateful, but worded it in a way that put the blame squarely on me for thinking that's what he thinks of me.

But, at least he did address my concern — our hand-made Christmas gift did, in fact, arrive; so it was just his own hypocrisy at work here. "How dare you not thank me for my gift! I don't have to thank you for yours, because you wouldn't appreciate it anyway!" But now I'm starting to wonder about this upcoming trip. Do I really want my kids to be exposed by this kind of treatment? Maybe he doesn't want me there, anyway. Of course, he's unlikely to admit to any such thing, instead making it so that my failure to attend is my decision and fault anyway. Perhaps he would answer a direct question.

No game was being played. Your previous message seemed to imply that you received absolutely nothing from us with regards to Christmas, and we were concerned that what we did send didn't make it. But I’m glad to hear that it did arrive.

You have always made your feelings for me abundantly clear. You can rest assured that none of this was any revelation.

We were legitimately looking forward to using the money you sent for coming out to visit, but the end of your message makes it sound like you don't want us to do that. We are willing to come, but it is your home, so I will leave the decision entirely up to you. Do you, or do you not, want us to come and visit this summer?


Don't bother.

Your actions have been abundantly clear since you've been a teanager and I don't know that there will ever be anything I can do to change your feelings toward me, either. Just like my father told me a few years ago,he did for me and I did for you what I thought was best for you.

Have a good life. I'll stay out of it.

I'll be there if you ever appreciate or respect me as a father, all be it not a perfect one. But I am not going to continuing doing things that are not acknowledged or appreciated.

This will be my last communication.

"Don't bother." As close to a direct answer as I could expect.

The cry to appreciate or respect him as he is, is, once again, hypocritical and insulting, when he obviously has no respect for the kind of person I am. You know, "all be it not a perfect one." And I really hope I don't harbor resentment for my own kids the way they act as teenagers the way he does for me. I'm sure he didn't act out at all when he was a kid, either.

I replied to make it clear that I refuse to accept total responsibility.

As you wish. If you ever decide to change your mind and treat me with the level of respect you seem to expect from me, you know how to reach me.

I did deposit the check, only to get a call from my bank a few days later to inform me that he did stop payment on it. I guess he really didn't want me to "take the check and put it to good use for your family", though I'm more inclined to think it was his reply to my last email (which he couldn't actually write since he already said it was his "last communication"). He had to get the last word in somehow.

A couple years later, we took a trip to visit family. When we got to my father's sister's house, we got a lot of admonishments as to how horribly we were treating my father, and how I should call him. Apparently, he has spent a lot of time telling his family what a horrible son he has and how I'm exiling him from our and his grandkids' life. Up until this point, I have not discussed our relationship with anyone in the family — I did not feel it was anyone else's business and didn't feel the need to burden anyone else with our "issues". Besides, I don't communicate much, anyway. My father, on the other hand, obviously did not feel the same. We had to spend a lot of time explaining our side of things while we were there.

I can only assume that some of our conversations with the family got back to him (one of our biggest complaints being how he seemed to punish the grandchildren for our disagreements or misunderstandings, when he severed all communication), because he actually sent us a card for the next occasion. We sent him one back, and, later, he mailed us a thank-you note that he had tried to email to us. Remember when I suspected that he just didn't update his address book when we changed our email? Yeah, the thank-you email had bounced back from an email service we hadn't used in well over a decade now. Apparently, if he wants to chide or berate me, he has no problem using the correct email address; but when it comes to sending something nice, suddenly he can't use the right address?

We continued to send cards back and forth. (Though not gifts; if he's not going to acknowledge the time and effort we spend into making and sending gifts, it's not worth sending. See, I did learn something from him after all.) We also made sure to send a thank-you card for every gift he sent us and the kids, since that seemed to be very important to him. But it was very obvious he had no interest in talking to us, just the grandkids, when birthday cards would come in for each of the kids and our days were conspicuously skipped. We had almost missed Father's Day, so we sent a quick e-card and, respecting his apparent wishes, "signed" it from the grandkids.

Apparently, the absence of my and Karen's names on this email was the last straw, as this email came in addressed to Karen:

Please inform my son that I have an appointment with my estate attorney in a few days with the purpose being to take him out of my will. I don't know what I did that was so bad that has resulted in his lack of any respect for me. I do believe I was not half as hard on him as my father was on me and I do believe had I not been hard on him he might not have been what he is today.

I intend to send birthday cards and gifts through the end of this year. After that, it just isn't worth it to me to make any more effort.

TL;DR: How dare you snub me after I snubbed you! I quit!

So, I suppose, that's it. Because he makes efforts to punish me for not being the kind of person he demands me to be, and because I don't kowtow and give him the love and adoration and respect he demands while he treats me like dirt, I'm not worth his "effort".

Some of my reaction may seem harsh with the limited discussion here, but this is just a small sampling of my interactions with him. And most of this has occurred after I have gotten tired of the beating down, bullying, and lack of respect as a person that I've endured for many years. He was a very toxic influence on my emotional well-being. I've tried to maintain the lines of communication so as not to cut him off from his grandchildren. But I have felt no guilt for declining to go above the minimal effort required when nothing is ever good enough.