Family is the F Word

Jaques’s Happy Families Cards

My mom was just diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It’s not a surprise. I knew this was coming. And my dad’s reaction shouldn’t have been a surprise either.

A few hours after they called me to deliver the news, my dad snuck upstairs to call me —specifically without my mother — and once again worked on guilting me into getting in touch with my brother. This isn’t the first time.

The last time he did this was right after my fiancé (now husband) and I called them to announce our engagement. My father’s response was, “Now that you have found a man, don’t you think it’s about time you get back in touch with your brother.” [period rather than question mark intentional]

I was flabbergasted. It made no sense to me whatsoever. I did not see any connection between my finding Love and getting back in touch with my brother. However, I reflected at the time that he really had no idea of the extent to which my brother’s abuse had affected me. So, I wrote him a very long letter explaining the entirety of the abuse over 30+ years and its effect on me. It was a pretty brutal letter. Not something any parent wants to hear. It seemed to work, though.

For some time, he let it go. Then, during a dinner party while visiting my parents, I was talking about how herbal medicine has helped me both physically and mentally. He accepted the physical healing part, but once I got onto the mental issues, he interrupted my story, saying that no one else at the table would have any frame of reference about mental issues, that they wouldn’t be interested in it and that I should just move on with the rest of the story.

I got to know my dad better that night than ever before: He really does not want to talk about anything that is not pleasant. Physical pain is an acceptable subject because it is tactile which is demonstrable and, therefore, understandable. Mental anguish is all in your head and, therefore, made up and fully capable of being controlled if you really put your mind to it.

So, back to the request of an 82 year old man for support while his wife fades away. This time it was, “I’m 82 years old and will need help. We need to gather together as a Family to handle this.”

I’m not completely heartless or selfish. Yes, this time, the request for us to come together as a family makes more sense to me, but still shows how little he knows — or perhaps even cares — about how deep abuse runs and how the cycle never fucking ends.

As House Representative Kennedy just said to Paul Ryan, “With all due respect to our speaker, he and I must have read different Scripture,” I wish I could have said to my father at that point that I think that he and I have a very different definition of Family.

I have had to gradually build up the idea of family as something good. Family has always been the F word for me.

Dad was never around during the worst times. He left the house at 6am and didn’t get back until 7 or later. I don’t begrudge him this time as I know that that financial support meant we did not have to worry about money. However, I am now realizing that not only was he not there physically, but he truly has absolutely no concept of the extent to which our house was in permanent turmoil and never really wanted to know in any case. My father avoids even the concept of conflict and mental illness at all costs. And the cost has been very high in the long run.

So, in any case, now my father wants me once again to get back in touch with my brother. As I said, it makes sense to him. He needs help. He wants the support of Family.

What he does not realize and never has is that we are not a Family and we never have been. This is the biggest flaw in his idea of having Family around him at this point.

I am going to have to do this. And maybe it’s about time to face my brother and stand up to all his bullshit. The problem with that is that my father has never had any idea of how to deal with the awful dynamic in our family. His idea of Family is completely anathema to the reality of ours. He was always completely bewildered by the chaos around him because he grew up with a relatively healthy family and had no frame of reference for ours. He’s still living in that dream and trusting it will all work out alright in the end if he makes us come together. His dream is that we’ll end up one big happy Family.

So, I am going to have to figure out all the boundaries and rules I can put in place for everyone’s safety; to fortify myself to be the best I can be in every situation; to plan for all the worst possible contingencies. Because that is and always has been my role.

Regardless of how well I prepare, I am afraid that this will be so much more awful than he has any idea that it could be. Despite any best efforts on my part or best intentions on his part, I have the dread that this is all going to fall so terribly apart right in front of his eyes. And I’m worried about how much damage that will do to his 82 year old mind.

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