Monday, December 25, 2006

Contact From the Dark Side

It was two days ago, December 23rd. The doorbell rings. It's Mr. Postman dropping off a box. I picked up the box and gasped in horror and amazement at the return address. My father. The box is addressed to my 24 year old daughter. There is a postal forwarding sticker on it. My father doesn't know we've moved to another state so he addressed the box to our previous address. Our mail forwarding is still in effect for a couple more months so his package was routed to our present location and not returned to him. (By the way, we put in a "temporary forwarding" which has some advantages if you're trying to keep your new address from someone. During the forwarding period, the post office will not do address correction. At the end of the forwarding period, the post office will still not do address correction. It is a great way to keep those stacks of catalogs from following you to your new address as well.)

My father and I stopped all communication in October 2005 after a hopeless exchange of letters in the wake of my telling my mother I was not going to talk to her anymore. His motivation was to convince me to make things "right" with my mother. My motivation was to tell him I would still like to have a relationship with him even though I found that having one with my mother was insupportable. He made it clear that wasn't an option. I very politely ended our hopeless exchange allowing him the "winning position" by not answering his last letter to me which was filled with history revisionism, lies and accusations. I didn't want to further antagonize him by continuing to refute him.

Back to the box. My daughter immediately opened it and found a very short, typed note on top of a photo album. The note said:

Dear N......,

Since my three score and ten is rapidly approaching I wanted to give you this before it was too late and your family history was lost forever. It is nice to know where you come from, even if there is a rift in the family right now. I know your children and their children etc. will appreciate it even if it doesn't seem important right now.

I hope you all have a great Christmas season.


On the front of the album is a computer generated label that says, "The Family History of [Daughter's full name]. The album starts with my father's side of the family. A few copies of old documents going back to my great, great grandfather with some very old photos. Cool. The bulk of the album is dedicated to my father's side of the family. All the photos are copies. Until he gets to pictures of me as a child. Original photos all. Yes, indeed. Apparently, he doesn't need to keep originals where I am in the picture. Interesting. Then he has a large picture of me with my first husband who is daughter's biological father. This is a man who was almost entirely absent from my daughter's life. But he is memorialized in this photo genealogy simply because blood is all that matters with my dad. My daughter was raised by the loving man I am still married to, and he adopted her. He doesn't even get an "honorable mention" in this album, except, perhaps, for the fact that the full name of my daughter splashed across the outside of this album includes the last name of her adoptive father! This inclusion of her bio dad and exclusion of her REAL dad greatly irked my daughter. There were other significant oversights in this picture gallery of people. Including my daughter's older brother who died in infancy. No indication that he ever existed.

Then my dad gets to my mother's side of the family. Two pictures of my maternal grandmother. One when she was around 18 and the other when she was in her 60's. That's it. No pictures of my mother's many siblings, cousins, grandparents, or even of my mother (except where she is in pics of me or daughter in the previous section of the album). This has led to various speculations on our part. I suspect that my mother is being petulant and refusing to share. This album was my dad's idea, not hers. She would feel no obligation to cooperate much. My dad probably has a few residual good feelings about my daughter, his granddaughter, but not so my mother. The confrontation between my mother and me that led to the final break was precipitated by something she did to my daughter. My mother has never been affectionate with her any semblance of affection with my daughter likely evaporated in the feud.

My first reaction to this photo album was gratitude for my father's efforts. But as I thought about things, I started to lose any feeling of sentimentality as I realized what a slap in the face this was intended to be. His granting of this family history to my daughter is the same as his saying that I am dead and gone to him. Even with the present estrangement he could have shown some effort at conciliation by bequeathing the family history in its proper order by giving it to me. But, no, it is clear that I am like a dead relate to him. Believe me, I am very happy that my daughter has this little bit of history. I am only commenting on what the message is that my dad is sending to me by giving this to her.

Another thing is how this is proof that I will receive nothing when he dies. (Not that I wanted or expected anything. This was something my husband noted.) Everything will go to my sister including all family pictures. I will not have access to any of this when he is gone. He is making sure, before he dies, that something gets passed on to his only grandchild as a way of preserving the past for future generations. Another thing that lends itself to this interpretation is that he did not use this gift to his granddaughter to establish any request for continued contact with her. He is simply using her to 1) take a swipe at me 2) look like he is a good guy 3) preserve some part of himself for the future. He doesn't make any expression to his only grandchild that he misses her, that he would like to stay in touch with her, that he gives a flying crap about her. It is really all about him! He sees the danger that all memory of him and his bitch wife is going to vanish when they die.

While my father seems to value keeping a record of dead relatives, what is ironic in all this is how he and my mother are estranged from every living relative save one. My sister. And, who knows, maybe they are estranged by now too. I'm not in touch with my sister anymore so I wouldn't know.

My husband, daughter and I live a few houses down the street from my father's brother (my uncle, obviously). His daughter (my cousin), and her two sons live with him. My father and mother are estranged from all of them too. When my daughter showed this album to my uncle and cousin, my cousin noted how many of the copies of early documents, photos and newspaper clippings were ones collected by my dear uncle over the years. My mother insisted on borrowing these things a half dozen years ago so my dad could get copies. My father is still in possession of the originals and never even gave copies back to my uncle. Yes, indeed, my parents STOLE these things from my uncle. We have the proof in our album! Apparently, my parents felt entitled to own these things which is why they wouldn't consider it theft.

My daughter is still trying to decide whether or not she will acknowledge receipt of I'll let ya know how it goes. By the way, even though my father may have intended to impress me with how dead I am to him, it does not excite any emotions in me but mild bemusement and general sense of being entertained. He can not hurt me. What he thinks of me is of no consequence whatsoever, so he is unable to hurt me or rile my feelings. I just sit here looking on in quiet amusement as I receive more evidence that my parents have no peace in their hearts. Our estrangement has brought me much peace and happiness. But for them, the estrangement leaves them with a constant reminder that their false reality is indeed false. My dad is trying to gain a little bit of peace by assuring himself that some semblance of memory of him will get passed on. I hope that works for him. I guess I do feel a little something else in the wake of this. A tinge of sadness. I really do feel sad for my dad that his wife was worth giving up relationships with the rest of his family. I feel sad when I imagine his bitterness and loneliness. But the sadness is moderated by awareness that he chose it all.


bonsai said...

Wow, Anna. A blast from the past, as it were.

I don't think I'll ever get such a thing from my N-mom, because she has never gotten off her butt to make an album (or do anything else to honor memories, other than writing poison pen letters about them and bitch about who, if she only had a more peaceful life, she could take up poetry) ever in her life.

She now lives such a near-feral existence (in terms of anything approximating culture or real contact, anyway) in her hotel/improvised assisted living setup that she doesn't even have much in the way of pictures --- of anyone. Not even her grandchildren (my brother's twin son and daughter), whom she always made such a fuss over. Her life is now a nearly entirely closed feedback loop. All her pictures, books, favorite paintings, etc., are packed away in storage or back at one of the three houses she owns but hasn't lived in for years.

It's great to hear how little you were affected by it all, even thought your dad did such a thorough job of surgically removing references to you in his "gesture". Your daughter is lucky to have you and her cousins nearby to help her gain more insight into this bizarre situation.

Happy new year!

Anna Valerious said...

I would never have gotten such a thing from my Nmom either. My father is not a narcissist, although he has definitely assumed many of my Nmom's character traits through long years of association.

Your descriptions of your Nmom here and in your blog show a much more unstable person than my own Nmom. Perhaps part of my Nmom's stability is due to the presence of my father. Who knows what she'd be on her own.

My father has become an isolated and bitter man always assuming that people are out to screw him. My mother has nurtured this outlook for him because it has allowed her to control who in the family can be allowed in his life. My refusal to play by the family rules anymore has fed into his bitter world view. I'm nothing but an ungrateful, hateful person. Funny, that is how I would describe him.

Judith said...

Wow, I am so glad I am not the only one who thought it was weird to the extreme when my dad showed up at my house this winter with all my original baby pictures and original artwork and cards I made for my parents as a kid, but also photocopies of photos of this family that he kept the originals of. Although, I may be giving my enabling father too much credit, but my guess is that he did this to keep my mother from tossing it out like she did everything else of me in her house.

Still, I felt wounded, that little girl in my photo albums is so full of love and has no place in their home. The only thing they retain of me is the false image they've devised of me that doesn't resemble the real me in the least.

Thanks for sharing and all your hard work on this blog. I hope you still post from time to time when it suits you.