And now for another episode of "Ridiculously long emails I write and sometimes send to my family members to try to teach them to not be such douchebags!" It's been a while, amirite? This may change as I tweak it...
Dear Aunt E.,
This will be long but please read the whole thing and take at least a few days to think about it before deciding how to respond.
First off, let me apologize. It was rude of me to not fill you in on my important family news over the past few years, and I'm sure you've had to find out about a lot of changes in my life through the grapevine. So let me catch you up on what I've been up to so that you can hear it straight from me.
First, I am not religious anymore, and I haven't been for over a decade. I openly went "off the derech" when I was in my early 20s. This caused my parents a lot of heartache, which I felt really bad about, but ultimately after many many years of living a double life and trying to keep secret my true beliefs to protect their feelings, I was miserable about having to lie to my family and pretend I was doing something I wasn't.
Yes, I am married. I got married a little over 4 years ago (May 2009) to a man named B. We got married in a small non-religious ceremony in a state park in Pennsylvania with about 20 of our closest friends and family members there. I'm sorry we didn't invite you- ultimately we didn't want to deal with the heartache of possible reactions like the one you just had while we were going through such a happy time, so we decided to not invite extended family. I'm sure you heard my parents didn't come to the wedding, and for a long time me and them were not on great terms, although we are talking and visiting more now that I have a baby. You see, my husband isn't jewish. Like me, he isn't religious at all. He grew up Catholic, and he also had a lot of fights with his family when he decided he didn't want to practice religion anymore, but they ultimately resolved their issues and have a relationship that is stronger than ever today.
B is a great guy. He followed me down here to the south so I could get my dream job. Neither of us were super thrilled about moving to the south, but we like the how cheap everything is- we were able to buy an awesome 3 bedroom house in a great public school district- and we feel like it'll be a good and safe place to raise our kid(s). Right now B is back in school again in a post-bacc program, working on getting a teaching license to teach middle school science. He also does a ton of housework and changes almost all the baby's diapers which is awesome! :) We are very happy together and he is a great dad.
Speaking of which, we also just had a baby! Her name is C. She is 10 weeks old today and really adorable. She has this kind of half smile sometimes which makes her look just like your son Y and when she frowns she looks just like Bobbi. :) She also has Zayde's (And your/my mom/my) eyes. Being a mom is amazing.
Now as for your response to my email. When I read it, I was deeply hurt and very disappointed. B and I are sending out birth announcements to his family, and since there are plenty of people on my side of our family who are very happy for us, several of whom have sent us cards and gifts, I am sending announcements out to those people too. I thought it would be rude to send baby announcements to some cousins/aunts/uncles but not others, and I thought it would be a nice gesture to send them to cousins and my aunt and uncle (namely you and uncle A) who I have been out of touch with in a while.
I didn't expect to find out that you had been keeping my marriage and child a secret from your children like I'm some sort of shameful pariah, just because I made some different life decisions than you did. It's not like I'm a murderer, I just married someone I love who follows the same religion as me (none) for goodness sakes, and having a child is always a happy thing.
If you don't want to give me the contact information of your children of course I can't force you to give it to me. But how do you expect this to work in the long run? Do you think I will never see your children again, or keep my husband and child a secret when I do? Some day my brother E is going to get married (and he is still religious), are you going to keep your children from attending? Are you going to pressure my parents to make sure I'm not invited? What happens when chas v'shalom bobbi and zaidy pass away? And when my parents do? Am I supposed to not go to the funeral of my own grandparents and parents so your children won't find out about my secret husband and daughter and any future children I have? Should my children not attend their grandparent's funeral, or will you somehow keep all your kids from attending my parents'? Despite our differences in thought, we are still family, and even if you
try to sever ties with me, there is no way to actually do that. And
meanwhile you are putting all the rest of our family in an awkward
position where feelings are going to get hurt, by trying to keep this a secret.
And how are your children going to feel when they find out that I am married and have a child then? What are you afraid is going to happen? It's not like their heads are going to explode
or they are going to throw off their hats and sheitels and run off with a
non jewish person or something. You should have a little more faith in
their ability to handle the truth. They will be surprised I'm sure, like L and another one of your other children were when I told them. I doubt they will be very hurt, unless they are hurt that I didn't tell them before, because your children are mentches, and there is no reason to be 'hurt' that another person has different religious beliefs than you, or that they are happily married and have an awesome child. There is also no possible way that finding out I am married to a non jewish person and have a child could hurt them a fraction as much as your response has hurt me.
Do you think they will all be happy to find out that their mother decided that we could no longer have a relationship with each other? Because by refusing to give me their contact information, you are cutting off any relationship I can have with them. And yes, they are your children, but they are also my cousins, and we are all adults. My relationship with my cousins is independent of you, and I really don't think it's appropriate for you to be making that decision on our behalf at this age. Am I supposed to keep that a secret from them too, on the day they inevitably find out about my husband and child?
Finally, even if you don't care about me and my family, I really wish you would consider the implications of your attitude for my mother, your sister, who I presume you care about. She cares about your opinion and I'm betting that she feels enormous pressure to distance herself from me and my family because of your attitude of trying to keep this all a secret. But I also know she wants to have a relationship with her only grandchild. You have 8, you can't let her enjoy her only 1 by turning this into some huge shameful secretive thing? Are you going to ask her to hide pictures of her only grandchild if your children come over to her house, instead of fawning over the pictures of her grandchild the way a sister should? Knowing my mother I bet she has done a ton of nice things for your children and grandchildren over the years. Have you even wished your sister mazel tov on becoming a grandmother? Or were you too busy trying to make her feel ashamed about it? The sad thing is I think she might come to believe you and feel like
this treatment of her, her daughter, and her granddaughter is warranted
or acceptable. She deserves better then that, and so do me and my daughter.
I really think it would be better for the entire family if we just told everyone the truth now and got it over with, and then went back to being a happy family again (as much as we were before, anyway). Then your kids can decide for themselves how they want to react, and it
won't be a huge secret anymore, since the fact that it is a secret is
what is tearing our family apart and causing so much hurt feelings.
Yes this is very difficult. It is difficult when your family turns their backs on you. It's difficult when the people you thought loved you, the people who helped raise you and who you spent countless hours with you throughout your childhood, distance themselves from you, and let you know that they will only love you "unconditionally" as long as you live a lifestyle that makes you miserable. It is difficult that even though I want my daughter to know about
her jewish heritage, your insistence on keeping her a secret may prevent
her from experiencing jewish holidays with my side of the family, since
you and my parents spend so many holidays together. It was difficult when my mother wrote me a letter disowning me, and it is difficult that even though we have reconciled to some degree, there is still a great distance between us, which you are helping to reinforce. It is difficult that every single time I have a major life event- when I got engaged, when I got married, when I had my first child - the times when decent people are happy for their relatives - I've had relatives popping up acting like I should be ashamed about it instead of celebrating with me. Can you imagine what it has been like to go through all that?
But you know what? I am happy and proud of the life choices I have made. I have an awesome life, I have a great husband and a beautiful daughter, I own a great house and I have a successful career which I love, and I am happy with my life and the way I live it, and I will not for one second be ashamed of my happiness. The only thing I am ashamed of regarding my family are the people in it who don't know how to act like family members should, and who use religion as an excuse to be heartless and cruel. Do you really believe that God cares more about the
length of your skirt or the food you eat than about treating
your own flesh and blood family members with basic human decency, let
alone the respect and unconditional love they deserve, regardless of
what those family members believe or who they marry? Or who their daughters have married? I have many off the derech friends who are married to non jewish
people, and a lot of them have very good relationships with their
orthodox jewish family, even with families that are much more religious
than you. Why are their families able to stick together, I wonder, while ours seems to be falling apart?
You are my Aunt and I guess part of me will always love you, but I could not be more hurt by your words. I truly hope you will reconsider your treatment of me and my family, and especially how that treatment impacts my mother, since in the end I think she is the one being most hurt by all of this. And if you choose to continue to go down this path, I hope that on the day that you inevitably meet my family, that you will do the right thing and keep any hateful words and sour expressions to yourself, especially around my daughter.
Attached is a picture of your new great-niece. Mazel tov on the new addition to your family.
P.s. The last time I saw P (at N's wedding)
she found out I was moving down south, and she begged me to
come back up North to come to her eventual wedding, and I promised her I
would. When I heard she was engaged, the first thing I did was think
about the best way I could travel to the wedding, given that I will have
a 5 month old baby who will still be nursing. I am very
upset that she will think I didn't keep my promise (Since I'm assuming
you are going to prevent me from keeping it by not inviting me), and I
hope she is not too hurt by it.