Monday, September 08, 2008

Second verse, same as the first

My mom tells the story about how angry her father was with his father. My great-grandfather was quite the womanizer, evidently, and made my great-grandmother's life fairly miserable with his sleeping around. He never stopped, either. He died when he was 91, living with his much younger girlfriend, who supported and took care of him, even though he supposedly treated her very poorly.

Just the other day I heard from another genealogist, who is a distant cousin of mine on my father's side. She shared some pictures with me and told me about my grandmother's family. Evidently my grandmother's grandfather had emigrated from the old country, then brought his wife and family over. They lived for a while in the New England area, then he left for Texas. The intent was, evidently, to bring the family out to join him, but when his wife moved out there she didn't like it, and went back east. He stayed in Texas, met someone else, and started raising a second family. My grandmother's uncle went to Texas to try to talk him into coming back. He couldn't. In disgust he changed his name, renouncing his father's surname.

There are more stories like this in my family history, and I've heard others tell the same story. My husband's surname should be Gonzalez, but the ancestor from whom the name came disgusted his children so thoroughly that they sided with their mistreated mother and took her (thoroughly European) maiden name as their new surname. A good friend of mine tells about how her grandmother grew up going to school with the children of her father's mistress. No-one ever officially acknowledged that these children were her half-siblings, but everyone knew. She never forgave her father for the pain this caused her.

Why, you might ask, am I back after so long, and why, you might ask again, am I talking about this stuff?

It's my dad.

I have another blog, actually. My sister talked me into it, and I've been rather enjoying doing a blog out in the open. This, though, is something I can't talk with the world in general about, and I can't process it without writing about it. So I came here.

My brother called me last night, miserable, needing a friendly ear. It seems he's been the confidante of both my father and his wife for the last year and a half. (Yes, my brother is too nice for words.) Today I talked with my sister who had talked with our stepmother. Here's the story as I got it from the two of them.

My father has a girlfriend. He seems to think this is alright, as long as his wife knows what he is doing. He also seems to think that being saved is a one-off thing, final and complete once it has happened. After that, he can do whatever he wishes and everything will be just fine with God.

My father is 70. His girlfriend is in her 30's, with three children. My father has a post-retirement career that involves a lot of traveling. That's how he met this woman. Not only has Dad been sleeping with her, he's been going into debt sending her money. He has even stolen from his wife to get money to send to her.

I am amazed Dad's wife has put up with this as long as she has. She has had enough, though, and has finally initiated divorce proceedings.

All this is bad enough, but there's more. My sister had a talk with our mother, in which it came out that Dad did the same thing to her - more than once. (At which I thought back to certain childhood memories and went, "Oooooh. That casts a new light on that particular incident, and that one, too. No wonder Mom was so upset.")

I thought I had no illusions about my father. I thought I knew what he was like, who he was, how far I could trust him, and where it was best to keep my distance. I thought that, in finally learning to forgive him for the abuse he visited upon me when I was young, I was able to see him clearly, love him in spite of his many, many failings, and yet be clear on his failings.

I guess I had a few illusions after all, because when I heard about the divorce, the only thing I could think of as a cause was that he'd been abusing his wife. When my sister told me about the other woman, I was completely taken aback. My mother has never breathed a word to any of us before about my dad having affairs. She did tell me once, when I was getting through a difficult breakup, that what my boyfriend had done - flirting with and ogling other women in front of me - was something my father used to do and it had made her very unhappy too. That's it. That's the closest Mom has ever come to saying anything about it.

Knowing Mom, this was at least partly in an attempt to be nice to Dad and not to say or do anything that might give us a negative opinion of him. (Yes, my brother takes after my mother that way. And yes, my mother could have been called a poster child for codependence at that stage of her life.) And yet. My siblings and I all have our own major struggles with dealing with anger appropriately. Not becoming abusive batterers and verbal abusers like our father is something each of us struggles with every day. Becoming philanderers, though? I think I can safely say that has probably never crossed anyone's mind. We're all fairly strong romantics, with a belief in eternal love and staunch fidelity. I honestly think that if Mom hadn't protected us, we might not be this way. (I'll tell you what, though - I don't think I could do that. I don't know if I could keep quiet about my anger and pain if I was cheated on.)

Right now my feelings are still developing. I'm angry, I'm hurt, I'm sad. I don't agree with my father that once you are saved, that's it. I don't think that you can say, "I'm saved!" and then go around stealing and hurting others. In fact, I don't think you can even claim to be saved if you are still acting like that. The idea of being born again, after all, is that you become a person whose desire to do righteously is stronger than your desire to sin. Sure you sin still, that's why we constantly need Jesus Christ - but you don't revel in your sin, you don't flagrantly ignore God's commandments and say you have a free pass to sin. And, believing that, I worry about what he's doing to his relationship with God. I worry that he's hurting himself, and I worry about the potential he has to further hurt himself if he doesn't turn away from this. I believe God loves him, I believe he will have all the help he needs to change, if he will only ask for it, but I believe God's commandments are there to protect us, and if we choose to ignore them then we are putting ourselves in as much danger of harm as if we were children playing in the middle of the freeway.

Mostly, though, I am profoundly disappointed in my father. I understand now, a little, my grandfather's feelings toward his father. It's not about my mother being betrayed, it's not about his current betrayal of his wife. It's about the fact that he always taught us not to do this sort of thing. It's about the fact that I never would have thought he might do something like this. It's about the fact that the last illusions I had about my dad, one of the last shreds of decency I always assumed he had, are gone now.

Looking at my father's life, at what I know of him in my 40+ years of knowing him, decade after decade of long conversations and discussions, looking at that, and looking at what I now know about how he has behaved...

I can't help looking at him and thinking, "What a profoundly selfish man." This is a man who is truly concerned only with himself and with what he wants. This is a man who is always ready with an excuse to justify doing what he wants to do, regardless of what he claimed to believe before. This is a man who is so consumed with pity for himself and tenderness for his own feelings that, when his son expressed forgiveness, he was angry and refused to talk to him for two years, offended by the implication that he had ever done anything that might need to be forgiven. This is a man whose behavior, from my current vantage point, stops just short of narcisissm.

I am so disappointed in him. I thought there was more to him than this. And sure, there are reasons I can think of for why he has done this, now and in the past. I can think up a thousand excuses for him. But, ultimately, he is hurting people, and he doesn't care as long as he has what he wants - whether it is a relationship with a new woman, the unquestioning obedience of his children, the submissiveness of his wife. Mental illness, childhood abuse - these things only go so far to explain his lifelong behavior patterns. People can and do overcome these things. My siblings and I fight every day to overcome these things, and we are succeeding, inch by inch.

But my dad? To him, these aren't things to overcome. They are excuses to justify doing what he wants to do. And that disappoints me more than anything else.

I guess I did have illusions left. I had the illusion that my father cared about being a good person, that he wanted to overcome his worst impulses, his worst nature.

I wish I was wrong. I hope I am.

(There's more, but it's worse, much worse, and I'm too ashamed to talk about it in public, even in an anonymous blog like this. I couldn't face you all if I had to admit my father could behave so reprehensibly.)

4 comments:

Barbara said...

Jennifer...no words of wisdom but just wanted to say I'm sorry about your father. :( Good to see you around again though...I've missed checking in on your little family!

Hapi said...

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indavao said...
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