Friday, December 9, 2016
A letter I actually sent my dad
Hi. Thanks for the invite to Florida, but I can’t just drop everything and take off to Florida with less than 2 weeks notice. C has school the third week of December (including her violin recital and a second school-wide recital that week), then we have holidays over those two weekends that we celebrate, and we are having a visitor the last week of December. And like you, I plan my schedule months in advance, and have a very busy winter break schedule planned with my coauthors, with deadlines the first week of January for a 35 page conference paper and a 15 page major NSF grant proposal, and advance preparations for my new job as Director of Undergrad Studies in Sociology that I start officially in January. Taking a 2-3 day break (+ half a day to pack and get everything ready + a day to recover) will make my break a lot more stressful because I still have to write 50 pages somewhere.
We also took that big trip in August to visit everyone specifically so that we wouldn’t have to travel over winter break. And the cost of travel for us is more than the cost of plane tickets and lodging. We have to board our dogs, which requires a vet appointment ($120 for both) to get shots for “kennel cough” (the shot only last 6 months), and an appointment at the Kennel ($65 a day). And the last two weeks of December usually gets booked up at the dog kennels months in advance. Plus in general I would rather visit you in *State* as long as you still live there, because that way I can see my friends up there and other family members in the same trip.
To be honest, apart from all these reasons, which are all true, there is another one that I’m not sure if I should bring up with you (Since I’m not sure it will do any good). I had hoped that after all the drama we had before my wedding that I would never write a long email like this to you again, and D has asked me not to fight with you about this, but after going back and forth I think it’s better to just say it instead of silently resenting you from afar and avoiding spending time with you without telling you why.
Ever since I found out you are not going to D’s wedding it has brought up a lot of hurt feelings for me. I spent years being upset about you not attending my wedding, and maybe I fooled myself into thinking you had ‘gotten over it’ and had accepted my family. Over that time there has been and continues to be a lot of painful reminders of the past, and I have felt rejected by you and mom’s actions many times, but I know it is a difficult adjustment for you as well, and for C’s sake I try to hold my tongue. But the fact that you are not attending D’s wedding has shown me that if you could travel back in time and do things differently, you would do things the exact same way, despite all the hurt it caused me and our family, the damage it did to our relationship, and all the years in which we barely talked to each other.
It seems to me that you still look at my life choices and my husband as being ‘lesser than’ you, and I don’t think anybody likes to hang out with people who look down on them and clearly disapproves of the entire way in which they live their life, and feels so strongly about it that they are willing to skip two out of three of their children’s weddings and ruin their chance of a normal healthy relationship with their kids, son/daughter in law, and grandchildren.
I often wonder if you only tolerate us now that we have a kid, so that you can hang out with your grandchild and try to kiruv her into your religious beliefs. Or at least that’s how it looks from my perspective. The fact that you usually fly in for 3 hours at a time, just long enough to snap pictures with her to show off to your friends and give us a ton of jewish stuff and then fly out again, reinforces this view to me. As does the fact that I asked you to not send C Jewish books anymore, and yet they are still coming. When E has a ‘real’ jewish kid some day are you going to drop her like a hot potato? When she has no interest in being religious as she gets older, are you going to lose interest in her or treat her like a second class citizen, the way you and mom treated me differently than D and E when you thought I was the only one not religious? Or, just as bad, are you going to treat her better than D's kids because she's a 'real' jew and you can try to kiruv her but his kids won't be halachicly jewish? Are you going to skip her wedding some day and hurt her the way you hurt me and now D? What about when she inevitably realizes for herself the way you feel about her father and, by extension, her? These are things I worry about and feel I must protect her from.
So I’m not sure where exactly that leaves us. I can’t just go on pretending everything is ok and just swallow my resentment and take fun family vacations together while you treat my brother and sister in law in a way that shows you don’t regret the way you treated me, and which is leading to a lot of hurt and angry feelings on my part. I want so much to have that family life you are thinking of, where we come to visit you in Florida just like I visited Sabba and Savta as a kid, but I feel like that is a fantasy of some other family that never will be real, because of the choices you have made and continue to make. In a way I feel like this must be what it is like to be related to a heroin addict. I see you going down a path this is once again irreparably harming your relationship with my family (and D’s family) even further than it is already harmed, and driving an even bigger wedge between people in our family, but I am powerless to stop you. So even though I love you, I feel I have to distance myself from you to protect my feelings and my family.
You have said you don’t want to go to D’s wedding because of the message it sends. Well what message does it send to my husband and daughter and me, and what message would I send to them if I pretend like nothing is happening and continue to just visit like everything is normal? What exactly am I supposed to say to C next Fall when she asks why you aren’t at D’s wedding, where she will be the flower girl? She has already seen a wedding album from my wedding and asked why you weren’t there, and it was heartbreaking for me, and I had no idea what to say to her. That her grandparents believe in an extremist version of Judaism that puts religious beliefs over their children and family connections, and they believe they have to miss their own children's weddings to show their devotion to god and their religion?
I don’t even fully understand it myself. I know plenty of other OTD people whose parents came to their wedding to non jewish people, or who compromised by coming to the reception but not the ceremony, whose parents are much more religious than you. So I wonder what makes you different from those parents? The only explanations I can think of is that maybe you are under the sway of your Chabad-trained rabbi, who believes in a cultish version of Judaism with strict “in group-out group” rules like missing your children's weddings. Maybe you have developed your own extremist dogmatic version of hashkafa, perhaps influenced by those rabbi courses you took, your strong feelings about preserving jewish culture because of the holocaust (alienating your kids over religion is probably not the best way to go about that), and maybe too many times watching Fiddler on the Roof (which, by the way, was originally written as a satire/critique of shtetls, not a history lesson).
And honestly I think this is partially about control and you trying to show your disapproval when you feel you can’t control our actions, and trying to punish me/D to try to sway us to do what you want us to do and marry Jews, just like the way you threatened to stop paying for my college tuition if I wouldn’t come home for shabbas when you knew I wasn’t religious in college (which, incidentally, makes me wonder if every ‘gift’ you give us for C is a future manipulation tactic to withhold if we don’t silently put up with your disrespect). Or maybe it is a simpler explanation and you’re just a narcissist or a coward or an extremely stubborn man who cares more about getting your way and looking good to others and maintaining your social standing in the community than about your children and how much they get hurt in the process. None of those explanations are very flattering, and I don’t know whether it’s a good idea to even share these thoughts with you since I feel it will only insult you and put you on the defensive which is not my intention, but they are honestly the only ones I think explain your actions. If any of that hit close to home maybe you should think about why.
This whole situation is also making me hate Judaism and my own heritage to the point where I don’t want to pass it on to my kid at all. After I came home from L’s wedding when I found out you weren’t going to D’s wedding I was so angry I gathered up all the 50+ jewish childrens books in my house and stacked them up in my laundry room so C wouldn’t have access to them. Yes religion has a lot of good to it, and we have a rich history and traditions, but preserving it comes at what cost? Your relationship with your kids and son/daughter in law? Your grandkids? Even God told Abraham in the end to not sacrifice his own kid. And in the end you are driving us further away from Judaism, to the point where I want to pass on none of it. I think there might a dvar torah in there somewhere.
You are of course entitled to your own beliefs and decisions no matter how much they hurt me. I considered sending the first two paragraphs of this email and just leaving it at all the other reasons for why I am not visiting. But I feel it is better to say what I am really thinking and try to maybe understand each other. I’m also just not sure if you are aware of how much your actions have hurt me and continue to affect and hurt me, since I often just bottle up my resentment and don’t tell you. It’s hard because we live so far apart and only meet up for 2 or 3 hours at a time, so meanwhile I just sit at home and resent you from afar and never talk about it with you. In the end, even if it doesn't change your mind, I want you to go into the decision to skip D's wedding fully informed of the impact you are having. And I also worry that you live in an echo chamber of people telling you this is the right decision, and don't have anyone pointing out why it isn't.
In the meanwhile, while I do very much appreciate your invitation and offer to pay for our flights, I don’t think a trip is in the cards this winter break while I am still so upset, and if you are not going to go to D’s wedding then I don’t think realistically I’m going to want to go out of my way to come visit you in Florida for at least the next couple of years. It really saddens me that we can’t have a closer relationship where an invitation to visit you in Florida makes me happy instead of filling me with dread and resentment, and worry that if I am honest about my feelings I will lose our fragile relationship again. But I’m not going to bring my husband to stay in the house of someone who looks down on him and me and our life together while this hurt is ongoing.
Maybe over spring break or next summer, with plenty of advance warning and planning around both of our schedules, you can go stay in *Nearbye city 1.5 hours away* where there is a kosher restaurant and we can meet up somewhere in between like at the Zoo or the *other local attraction* or something with C. I’m also planning to have a tenure party in April which you are invited to, but I’m not sure yet if it will be on a Saturday or a Sunday or when exactly it will be. The only trip I’m planning to make North next year is to D’s wedding, and I don’t think it would be appropriate to visit you during that trip since it will just upset me and confuse C, and I’m not going to lie to her on your behalf.
I hope you have a good vacation and I'd be happy to talk more if you would like.