Unworthy: Missing Chapter #3

I think he’s an asshole.

My SIL is not wrong. Nor is he alone in his opinion. Most of the book prior to these chapters is a testament to this reality. But Unworthy also explains why — the sources of my expressing ass-holier-than-thou thoughts. Even so, I’m not quite sure all of my new understanding and “scary” self-awareness would have changed anything between my SIL and me.

I do not begrudge my SIL’s venting. Nor do I begrudge him his pain. Believing his narrative, as he does, would demand the tone and form of his attack. I get it. I do. And his adamant desire to sever ties with me is a natural conclusion to his narrative. Hey, look, I have written too many “fuck you” letters in my life, personal and professional, to not understand his to me.

But what has become crystal clear to me throughout this family turmoil is that my SIL barely knows me at all, nor I him. At the very least and outside of political enemies, he is nearly alone in such contempt for me. Certainly, hate could prevent him from seeing more than his own running narrative of me. This veil of ignorance also could be the result of plain bad intentions – meanness, not understanding, was his motive to write what he did. (He might say here, something close to what he said in his Facebook dress down, “Just dishing the meanness right back at you!”)

Of course, the Imposter discards what is rational in favor of anything irrational. Upon my first readings of his invective, my defenses immediately kicked into gear. What is he talking about? I lack what? Love? Empathy? (Is he calling me a psychopath?) Understanding? Veracity? Or, in the form of an affirmative insult, I am a “smug, patronizing prick,” a fraud, hypocrite, liar, and, as mentioned earlier in these pages, small, bigoted, and a bully? I thought, “This guy is gonzo!”

I don’t know what love is? (Cue Foreigner) Here is the heart of love: Sacrifice. A willingness to personally sacrifice on behalf of someone else in need. Beyond the emotions of love, sacrifice is what marriage and children represent; sacrifice reveals itself in compassionate service to others; and, sacrifice throughout our family has been staring him in the face for 20 years. Does he not see all that Sally and I have sacrificed, directly or indirectly, benefitting him and everyone he deeply loves? I thought, “I can and do love you.”

And then, out of nowhere, a deeper introspection hit me. But if he can’t feel or see my love, do I really love him? Many people (and the Imposter) might say, “That’s on him, as is the ability to forgive people.” But I’m not so sure he carries this burden in this case. I began to really put myself in his place, maybe to a fault, but tell me if I’m wrong.

His harsh words, while hurtful by any standard, have not changed how I think about him because, well, even without such harshness, I’ve always known how he feels about me.  Airing his pain and anger the way he did was surprising, but those feelings were not shocking to me.

On top of it, I actually like that he finally spoke up. It felt refreshing (maybe only to my warped sensibilities) and I meant what I said in initial reply to him, “That must have felt good.” Even so, “fuck you” letters always feel good until you realize all of the apologies you need to hand out after the fact – and, to his credit, that realization only took a short amount of time for him before he moved from venting to deleting and, in a very protective and passive manner offline, offering an olive branch to Sally and our other children.

As I’ve reflected in this short amount of time, if my SIL has let me down, he has only let down my own expectations for him. And why should either of us care about my expectations for him? My Imposter does but that is precisely the enemy with whom I struggle and battle.

Let’s stand him up. He is intelligent. He is curious about life. And he is actually very pleasant to be around. My SIL is a great dad. I enjoy watching him interact with his children. He has a keen sense of humor. While he and Emily have had their ups and downs, like every other married couple, I know he loves my daughter.

Typically, he has been respectful and deferential when one on one with me. After the beach incident, later that night on the ship after dinner, he sidled up to me as we were walking and apologized for that moment. I believe his words were sincere.

I like him and always have.

The source of contention seems to be that damnable letter I sent him prior to their marriage. As many times as I have reflected upon it and read it over 20 years (at least once a year I’ve run into it), you would think I would have it memorized. But I don’t. It was hard on him and, regardless of what I felt at the time, not my place to say such things to him.

Not that my concerns weren’t accurately forecasted. They were. Many of my concerns have surfaced over the years. But together he and Emily have weathered their storms. Through this current tension, without actually saying it, he is telling me that I withheld grace from him. Hard to argue with that. He saw my grace extended to every other family member for 20 years. But not to him. He is my family too. It had to hurt.

As I’ve mentioned, I was sure for many years that I was a black mark on my father-in-law’s family. But, unlike my poor example, my father-in-law never sent me a letter describing this loser. Though I could not recognize it at the time, in his own way, he afforded me grace. If he anticipated my failures, he did not share those premonitions with me. Yes, he threw off a negative vibe at times but, looking back, I’d say those vibes were often totally justified or, at the very least, reasonably permissible based on whatever was going on in his life at the time.

If I could do it all over again, I would not have written that letter. The fact that he was so hurt by it, and still to this day, also tells me that he had once respected me, perhaps even looked up to me. Maybe not. The apology that I remember, but that he does not, was obviously not enough. In fact, it does not exist in his mind.

So, I will say it again: I apologize to him/my SIL. Yes, it appears to be too late, sadly so. He has been clear recently that he wants nothing to do with me. No contact, period. Was I to barge in on his emotional space now, even with an apology, it would simply confirm to him another layer of my lack of respect. So, as pathetic as this is, I apologize in these pages.

So many elements of the Imposter were in play at the point of this conflict’s origination. First, I was not present. I worried about a totally unpredictable future for the two of them and, worse, I doubled down by looking to my past to confirm my feelings about their future. My SIL was behind the 8-ball before we started.

Second, consciously or subconsciously, I kept him behind the 8-ball. Remember, the Imposter at its core is expecting failure even as we succeed. There is nothing quite like a few failures for my SIL to prove my concerns were warranted. They never have been warranted – even if failures ensued for him. My failures do not define me. Why should his failures define him? This is another sign of a lack of grace on my part. Was my empathy real? If it was, he never felt it. Real empathy for him would never have me rely upon an expectation of failure but rather would have been supportive when needed. That I believe I had empathy for him matters not if he could not feel it.

My Imposter always waited for his other shoe to drop. “There it is,” my Imposter would whisper. Feeling as if I was “bailing him out” of failures is far from empathy. Even now, inside our immediate family, the general consensus is that my SIL lacks a sense of gratitude toward me. Defensively at first blush, I thought the same thing, as I did with him on the beach in Barbados. But, frankly, if I thought my father-in-law would use every opportunity to throw me a lifeline just to prove what a loser I am, I too would show ingratitude. Why? Because there would not have been a sincere basis for any sign of gratitude.

Why wasn’t I more sensitive to his feelings all of these years? In his recent Facebook tirade, he did point out how I could have picked up the phone at any time to talk through these signs of pain. That he also could have is irrelevant. I could have. I should have. I would have done that for any other member of this family. Why not for him? Knowing that he loathed me all of these years has been no excuse not to reach out to him. In fact, that knowledge should have been the exact signal for me to act.

The Imposter not only keeps expectations insultingly low for me and comes with every emotional dysfunction imaginable, but it also makes projecting the same misery on others so very easy. I did that to my SIL. How terrible to do that to anyone but especially to a member of my family. I am truly sorry to him and to my precious daughter for all of it.

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