Sunday, November 23, 2008

Families

I have been thinking about this post for the past few days... how and what to write... in what light did I want to paint my life. Then I received a response from a friend, Adrienne, who, in the course of her email, said "I thoroughly enjoy your updates because I know you won't censor them. Thanks for being so honest about your struggles.....along with all the joys! I really respect that!" - So here it is. My honest feelings.

I am so disillusioned with families these days. As you know, I have been reaching out to particular people in my family... with varying results.

I have been exchanging emails with David (my biological father) for the past week or so.

Let me stop and provide a little background. When I was only months old, I attended David and my mothers wedding... presumably I was the reason for the wedding ;~) They stayed married for 7 years and I have a few memories... some good, more bad. When I was 7, David divorced my mom and my mom and I left the house. I visited him on weekends for about a year and then contact pretty much stopped. Around that time David married a former flame who had a daughter about 8 or 9 years older than me. I spoke with him on rare occasions... you could count on one hand from age 8 until 18. The last conversation I had with him ended poorly because I called too late... at 10.

Back to present day. The emails have been civil... your basic getting caught up kind of information. He even provided me with some medical background (he has cancer) so that I might keep it in mind for Chase when he is older. We have avoided any sticky topics of conversation... partly because we are on email and partly because... well, they're not pleasant to talk about. I was ok with things until his latest email. In previous emails he had stated that Laura was my half sister... which shocked me because I only ever thought she was a step. The last email stated that his wife corrected him and said she would be my step sister... not my half. Then he went on to say

"Neither Laura nor I like that term “step” because of the bad connotations it has so we have never referred to each other as step this or that. Laura’s biological father passed away several years after Aster and he were divorced."

I'm sorry... what? Bad connotations? What connotations does "abandonment" or "rejection" stir up for you? What about "fatherless"? Give you a warm fuzzy?

Now please don't get me wrong... I am of the opinion that if you feel close enough to someone, drop the step. I don't call my dad "stepdad" even though technically he is. Adam doesn't call his dad Joe "stepdad" even though technically he is... nor does Adam refer to Nick as a half brother because Nick is his brother, that's it. I am all for ditching the step or the half.

However, may I say "KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE" He's going to write that to me? Of all people? I am sitting here trying to figure out if he is stupid or uncaring... I don't know which I wish for.

Also, let me point out that I LOVE... and I mean truly LOVE when men take on roles to which they are not assigned. My 2 great examples are my dad and Adam's dad Joe. I love Adam's dad Joe because he fell in love with Sandy and then fell in love with her boys. He walked into an instant family and didn't look back. My dad did the same thing with my mom... and I was 17... and we all know how trying 17 year old girls can be! But he did it and with a glad heart I believe. He helped me through college, he saw me through (lots of) dating and he helped shape my perception of what a man is supposed to be. I love him for everything he has done and am so glad he continues to be in my life. So I get it... men stepping into roles they weren't assigned is a wonderful thing.

However, Laura loses a father and David steps in to play daddy to her? What about the actual blood related daughter that God assigned to him? I wonder if he ever, in all the years of being her 'father', once thought of me and wondered if I had a father? Again, I am trying to figure out if he is stupid or uncaring.

I haven't yet responded to him... quite obviously I am not sure what I will say. I do know that it won't make me bitter or hateful again. I spent years on that wasted emotion and I would rather not go back. I am hurt though and I am not sure how to deal with that. I am not sure if telling him is the way to go or just pushing it off would be better. It's a gray area that I am still trying to find my way through.

For all the frustration I feel right now, I am still glad I sent the announcement. In my emails with David, he put me in touch with his sister and her daughter (Aunt B and Cousin C) to which I am extremely grateful. I have very fond memories of my childhood with them and have often looked back at pictures wondering how they are doing. It has been wonderful catching up with them and I look forward to staying in touch and one day reuniting.

As for the other side of my family... even more turmoil. I received this email from M...

Oh Jess, I can't begin how happy I am to hear from you. My prayers have been answered, it's like a miracle. I have prayed to hear from you or your mom since this terrible thing happened years ago. I have so much to say and to catch up in this e-mail would go on for days. Your baby is so beautiful, hopefully, I can see him soon. My home #xxx-xxx-xxxx, my cell is xxx-xxx-xxxx,please call me! I really have something to be thankful for this Thanksgiving! With lots and lots of love, Mxxxxxxx.

At first glance it seems genuine and heartfelt but knowing what I know about the past, I was still extremely guarded. I decided to call her the next day while Chase was sleeping... which happened to be in the middle of the day. I did this because I knew she would be working and I didn't want this to be a long drawn out conversation... at least not the first one. I wanted to scope out her attitude and her real interest in me and then decide how far a friendship would go.

I called her and when she answered it was actually very movie like... her breath drew in and I sensed a shaking in her voice. She was definitely happy to hear from me. We exchanged the "hi, how are ya's" and spent a few minutes catching up. She was actually very close, within 30 minutes, to Hagerstown a few weeks prior. Turns out she has a friend that lives in Martinsburg and visits somewhat regularly. She was extremely excited that she would be able to see Chase and me on her next visit.

Now for you astute readers... you may have picked up on something that I noticed as soon as I read her email. "I have prayed to hear from you or your mom". I have spent the past 4 years wondering if M knew about my mother's death. I always assumed she did because so much of my mother's family knew... I thought that somehow, someway the news would have gotten back to her.

I was wrong. She then said "So how is mom?" I inhaled deeply and said "I am not sure how to say this but we lost mom 4 years ago." Again, her breath drew in and she was speechless. I filled in the silence by adding that it was actually 4 years ago yesterday, Nov 12. She sputtered and stammered for a moment... asked how... was it the cancer? Yes, it was the breast cancer... it had metastasized to various parts of her body and it got to the point where it was impossible to keep fighting it because it was in too many places... her head, her legs, her lungs.

I never apologized for not contacting her but I did say that I thought the news would have gotten back to her because parts of the family knew. She said that she often wondered if mom were ok but that cousin 3 would tell her "if something happened, someone would have contacted you".

We kept moving through the conversation and she seemed to react as well as I could have expected... especially in light of the curve ball I just threw her. She made sure she had my correct number, she wanted to call and catch up when she wasn't at work. She was sympathetic to me about losing mom. She still seemed interested in my life. Just before we got off the phone (I could hear them calling her for a meeting) I asked her which of the cousins had the baby... I knew she was a grandma and I wanted to know who had the baby. She hastily informed me that cousin 3 had a baby in Feb 06... a little girl. She, the baby and cousin 2 were living out of state but that she talks to them often and sees them when she can. She then told me that she, cousin 3 and cousin 2 were estranged from cousin 1. Apparently cousin 1 cut them out of her life... just stopped calling or taking their calls. Somehow M found out that cousin 1 had a baby boy around the same time I had Chase but that cousin 1 still won't talk to the family.

We hung up and I sat back and thought about their estrangement. My first thought (albeit not a nice one) was "karma's a b****, isn't it M". Hey, I said I would be honest. I quickly dismissed that thought because even with the bad blood between our families, I don't wish that for her.

I spent the next few days forgetting about all the family insanity and enjoyed myself at Rose's wedding. I can honestly say I didn't think about any of this stuff while I was there and it was wonderful!

When I got home, I discovered that I had received a return to sender birth announcement. Apparently I had an incorrect address for cousin 2 and cousin 3. Not related to the returned birth announcement... I started to get the feeling that I wouldn't be hearing from M. I had this sense that she was angry with me for not contacting her when mom died. I decided to use the returned announcement as an opening... I emailed her to get their new address. That was 5 days ago and I still haven't heard from her. Now I know, she may not check her email on a regular basis... she could be busy... she could be this that or the other thing. Any of those things could be true but I have the sneaking suspicion that she is angry with me.

I don't know how I will handle the situation moving forward but I do know that I will not apologize for not contacting her. It wasn't my responsibility to inform her of our life changes. I am sorry that she didn't know and that she wasn't there but that is the risk you run when you cut someone out of your life... especially someone with cancer. If she wants to be angry with me then I can't stop her but I won't let her anger rest on my shoulders.

Even though M and David have caused me some frustration and sadness, I am still not sorry I sent the birth announcements. I believe I made the right decision and I am still very happy and content with my life. I'm not sure what I will do with any of this... just ride it out and see where it takes me I guess! I just needed to vent here. Thanks for listening. I feel like I am living in a soap opera.

7 comments:

AmyJean said...

WOW! All i can say is wow. And how incredibly strong you are.. i'm so impressed...I can't tell you with words how much i admire you for taking the risks, for reaching out, for letting yourself try again... That is huge and you deserve a lot of credit !!!

Rose said...

I agree with AmyJean. You are so strong for reaching out (more than I'm willing to do with my estranged family.) I want to tell you that David is just stupid and thoughtless, not cruel. I think I can come close to understanding your pain with him. I am so angry that my father has raised his 3 daughters (my "half-sisters"), sent them to private school & college, and never bothered to think about his first daughter...
Anyway, you are amazing no matter how it turns out.

asuthrngrl said...

And I have to agree with both of the girls above...you are amazing, it's true. I have finally gotten to the point where I look at my children and think, "Sorry, Dad, your loss and I am not going worry about you anymore." Glad you vented. It lets us who don't see you know what is happening.

Johnnie Avocado said...

Jess, yeah wait and see what happens. I know this must be tough on you.

Caleb and Adrienne said...

Jess-

I had to read this post 2 ½ times just to try to process it. If it has taken me that long just to read through it, I can’t imagine how long it has taken you to get to this point where you could even write it!

I am floored by how you reached out to these people from your past. Based on the history, they certainly are not deserving of your time. I can see how naturally you would be skeptical of their intentions, motivations and responses. Unfortunately, I don’t think that they have thought through their answers. I think that sometimes when people hear from family members they never thought they would hear from again, they say stupid things just to keep the conversation going.

In your Forgiveness vs the Olive Branch post, you stated, “Why risk the rejection and hurt which has so clearly been demonstrated?” You never really answered that here on your blog, but you must have answered it to yourself because you took the risk. You took a risk that had no guarantee that it would be worth it. This is very humbling to me.

I wish I knew specific verses like you asked for in your previous post. I do know that this point is addressed in the Celebrate Recovery material. This program deeply studies the Beatitudes….and there are references to Biblical principles that you question:

Steps 8 & 9- “Evaluate all my relationships. Offer forgiveness to those who have hurt me and make amends for the harm I’ve done to others when possible, except when to do so would harm them or others. ‘Happy are the merciful’ and ‘Happy are the peacemakers’.”

Here’s the link to check out the other steps:
http://www.celebraterecovery.com/?page_id=4#eight

Anonymous said...

maybe to your birth father you could explain your relationship specifics with your "dad" - how you dropped the 'step' as well because he is the one who behaves like a father and is Chase's "grandfather" and how you refer to this man as your "birth father". Maybe then he'll see how you in fact already understand his own family dynamics. Then he'll realize that you see him as both stupid and uncaring!

kathi said...

Oh, hon. Only the those that are closest to us can hurt us deeply. They've missed out on so much, I feel sorry for them. Sort of like how I feel about the boy's dad. Regardless of the pain we feel, the real loss is theirs.