Saturday, January 26, 2008

Family History, Part II

Family History, Part I, can be found here.

When we left off yesterday, I was regaling you with tales of my step-dad's rageaholic tendencies. You may ask: how did my step-dad get to be so messed up? And I can tell you: He and his parents were Holocaust survivors.

In 1939 when he was 6 months old, his parents packed him into the backseat of their car with a few, carefully-chosen belongings, and fled the Nazi-occupied Eastern European country where he was born. They actually ran a Nazi roadblock with all their lights off and ducked gunfire as they sped away.

His father led them to a faraway new country, where they didn't speak the language. His parents struggled to settle in and start a business. Within the year, word reached them that almost all of their immediate and extended family had been killed in the concentration camps.

His mother fell into a deep depression, and was unable to care for her son. His father was occupied with earning a living for the family, and there was no one else to care for him. He was fed and bathed, but otherwise badly neglected. At this critical time when he should have been bonding with his parents, he missed out. It seems to me that he was never able to make up for this stage in his development. It's why he's always seemed to live at arms' length from other people, and have difficulty understanding other peoples' feelings.

When I was in my late teens and early 20's, both of my step-dad's parents died. This triggered a period of intense introspection, and a new resolve to be a better man. He began to read self-help books, which gave him a better understanding of human psychology.

Unfortunately, by the time he'd begun to manifest this new direction, I'd already moved out.

Years passed. Once I was no longer a part of the household, the dynamics of my parents' relationship changed, and they slowly settled down into a comfortable routine. After many years of keeping my distance, I gradually began to build a new relationship with my folks. We began to enjoy each others' company. Since I turned 30, it's been more and more common for me (and eventually my husband) to visit with them just to talk and hang out together.

After 15 years of living in the Angry House, and then 7 years of not seeing much of each other, we had finally achieved what had seemed to be impossible: Harmony. Love. Good conversation. Happy memories.

My step-dad will never be as sensitive as we'd like him to be, but at least he tries. He knows that he tends to blunder and put his feet in his mouth, but he is open to suggestions and corrections, as long as they're gently worded. He has really turned around 180 degrees from a bully to a sweet, generous man. He doesn't try to hurt people anymore.

All of this goes to explain why it's so tough to watch my mom and step-dad split up. I want more happy times together to make up for all the lost years. We had finally gotten there, and now it's all going down the tubes.

It's also hard to watch my step-dad handle the situation so badly. I believe that he's making a big mistake by leaving my mom, and by the time he figures it out, it'll be too late. He's not going out of his way to hurt her, and feels guilty for the suffering he's causing, but you wouldn't know it from the things he says and does.

His insensitivity is staggering. He's just trying to follow his heart's desire, like all the pop psychology books told him he should. He's just trying to be honest (ditto).

I've already had to take him aside and tell him that my mom doesn't want to hear how happy he is with his new girlfriend. There's such a thing as too much honesty, not enough tact. And here I am, having to spell it out for him. Stuck in the middle again.


Keera Ann Fox said...

Man, he really missed out on the 70's, didn't he, when everybody else was doing that "I gotta be me" thing - and only years later realizing that it isn't sacrificing yourself to support love and loving.

I'm so sorry that this mess is happening and has happened to you. I started out with parents who did not get along, and was relieved when they got divorced, and even more relieved when my grandparents stepped in and gave me a home. A real home and real love.

I get that now that your step-dad is finally figuring it out, he's figuring it out with the wrong people. I hope he comes to his senses. I wish you and your mom patience and strength.

R.E.H. said...

I see why you are so heartbroken about their separation. Especially since you felt that you were all re-connecting on an emotional level - and maybe better than ever before, right?

It really sucks when you've lost many years, and just as you find a way to make of for all those lost years something happens that makes it no longer possible.

Thanks for sharing this with us.

Sparkling Red said...

Keera: Thank goodness for your grandparents. It's so important to have that experience of a safe home and real love. I'm glad that you had at least some of that in your childhood.

R.E.H.: Yes, it was better than every before. I'm not losing my step-dad, because he wants to keep being a dad to me, but I'm losing that united family. There will always be someone missing at family events from now on, since he won't be there.

Warped Mind of Ron said...

Well I'm glad he found some help to be a better person and maintain that connection with you. I feel for what you and your mother must be going through right now and hope you find some peace with it.

jameil1922 said...

don't think of it as stuck in the middle. you're helping both of them. you're sparing your mom's feelings while helping him to become a better person even through this time of confusion. the missing out on nurturing thing explains a lot.

Sparkling Red said...

Ron: Thanks. We'll get through it. I have faith that peace will come in time.

Jameil: Yeah, we're all in this together, so it's best if I can find the willingness to help my folks get through this. I can't always - sometimes I just want to be left out of it. But it's not like I really have much of a choice. I love them both too much to shut them out.

Kell said...

The middle is not a fun place to be, but as jameil1922 said, you're helping them both. I understand why this is so hard for you now. I wish things could be easier, but it's good that you are staying close to both of them.

Nicole said...

Uh, it's good to know that he managed to turn into a better person and you guys could make up.
It's just so sad that after all that time he now tried his luck with a new girl.
Life is weird sometimes.
Loads of strength to you and your Mom!

Aurora said...

It must be painful to comfort someone who bullied you and your mum for years. It's good that he's 'come around' enough to understand and hear your gentle advice ... and reading self-help is great... but talking to him can't be easy. It's very good of you to keep the lines of communication open with him, I feel.

Jenski said...

Oiy. I can see how difficult it must be to once be so unhappy around the man, see everything turn around, and then this. :( They obviously became good friends over the years if he is sharing, even if he shouldn't be.

Sparkling Red said...

Kell: Thanks. I care about them too much to turn my back on either of them, so I guess I'll just do what I can to help them out.

Nicole: Thank you. Life sure is weird. You just never know what's coming. I comfort myself with the thought that there are as many happy surprises as sad ones.

Aurora: Yeah, that does make it harder. It's an emotionally loaded situation. Thanks for your support, online and off. ;-)

Jenski: That's what makes it worse for my mom - she really is losing a friend. She invested so much into their relationship! Oh well, I guess it's time for her to make a new start. She'll be OK, eventually.