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Some people have the belief that you stick with family, no matter what. I am SO not that girl. I actually think that the reason a lot of us remain in toxic patterns (church folks oftentimes refer to these as “generational curses”) is because we don’t cut some relatives off. The toxic ones.
Take for instance, literally the entire side of my father’s family.
Growing up, I didn’t even realize who his actual parents (my grandparents) were because my parents divorced when I was just 3 years old, and there was a mutual agreement that I would go to see my father every summer, stay with my great-grandmother (his mother’s mom) and would hang out with my other great-grandmother (his father’s mom).
My grandmother wanted to be called Mama D, so I assumed she was an aunt or something. And my grandfather? Don’t get me started. I didn’t even know I had one until I was around 12 and not because he told me; his other son did after (supposedly) finding a copy of my father’s birth certificate in his father’s bedroom. Right, that means he didn’t know he had a half-brother either. SMH.
The story is so crazy that we don’t nearly have enough time to get into it, but here’s just one example.
I remember when I was a teenager, my dad finally told me that what I thought was his first name was actually his middle one. He was named after his father. Wait, it gets better. So was the uncle who found the birth certificate. And still, it gets better. My grandfather (a church-going man with a doctorate, mind you) had the nerve, pure nerve, to ask my father (as an adult) to change his name so that only one of his sons — my grandfather’s preferred son, although my dad is the only child of his who truly looks like him — would have his name. So that one would be a “Jr.” This man right here. Can you say #ridiculous?
Throughout the years, my great-grandparents were pretty proactive in my life. One of my dad’s brothers on his mom’s side was pretty invested. And my dad’s siblings from his father’s side were welcoming in theory, so long I was the one doing most of the work to keep the relationship going.
Dysfunction…on top of dysfunction…on top of dysfunction.
When I finally had a conversation with my grandfather about what a crappy grandfather — and father — he had been, he at least gets points for candor. He basically told me that he and my grandmother were high school sweethearts (who got married if memory serves me correctly). When she found out she was pregnant, their parents decided that they should go to college while they raised my dad. Some of my dad’s relatives were good. Others beat him regularly. He was even raped by a clergyman at one point. So, not only did he have abandonment issues out of the gate, he was also the victim of abuse while his parents lived their lives like they didn’t even have a son.
For some reason, my grandparents went to separate colleges. All of us already know that is a surefire way to break-up young love. My grandfather ended up meeting another woman — the woman who he later married and is still his wife — and her family told him, “If you want to marry into our family, you don’t have a son.” He took the deal.
What kind of man takes that kind of deal?
Because his children knew that I existed, he would tolerate my coming to their city to visit. Although you never saw any pictures of me or my father in his home (they had lots of pictures of other family members in his house). I remember one time staying at my grandfather’s best friend’s house and him saying to me over dinner, “Hmm…you have the same last name of my best friend. Do you know him?” More ridiculousness.
On the upswing, once the secret was let out of the bag that I was indeed his flesh and blood, I would get a $50 check every Christmas from my grandfather. One time he sent me $1500 to get a Honda, too. Meanwhile, my grandmother? Yeah, I heard from her if I called her. All of this needs to go on record because this is where it gets really strange. And ugly.
I’m a praying woman. Big time. That said, the December before my father died, I knew God had told me that I needed to — and this is the exact word I was given — “release” my father’s side of the family. I wrote them to let them know and moved on.
My dad died that following March. I found out because I received an email from my grandfather asking me to call him. I rarely ever heard from the man, so I knew that either his mother or my father had died (that’s how little I heard from him). My gut said it was probably my father since he would usually call every Sunday and it had been a couple of Sundays since I had heard from him.
When I called my grandfather back, he confirmed my suspicions. He told me that the coroner was going to hold my dad’s body for three days. He was wondering what I thought should be done.
Cremate him, spread his ashes over the Dallas football stadium and have a shot on him. My dad was a nice guy and super-introverted at the same time. My grandfather would send, what I think is guilt money, but he hadn’t made the time to see his son in a couple of decades. He didn’t know what was best, I did. He ignored me. They held a traditional funeral anyway.
I’m not coming. I don’t have the energy to make you guys feel better about dropping the ball on my dad. The way I saw it, my father’s parents played a huge role in why he died before his time. My dad had been battling substance abuse for years due to unhealed wounds that started all the way back in his childhood. Did I really want to hug and hold hands with people who didn’t even want me to know that we had the same blood running through our veins? No thanks. I’m good. My dad would’ve wanted it that way.
My grandfather couldn’t believe that my dad’s only child wasn’t coming to his funeral. Meanwhile, I couldn’t believe he would have the nerve to show up. So, you can’t find an airline ticket when he’s alive, but you can figure your finances out once he’s dead? Again, SMH.
I simply requested that he let me know what they decided to do. Then I hung up the phone.
SIX WEEKS LATER, my grandfather’s wife (someone who basically had NOTHING to do with the matter; I don’t even think my dad had ever met her before) sent me a forwarded email. I was two seconds away from straight-up cussing her out. I decided to just request being taken off of her unsubscribe list. That turned into one of the longest Friday email exchanges of my entire life. Basically, she tried to guilt trip me about cutting them off.
Really? Because I still don’t know what my father died of, when or where he’s buried. Kindly shut up.
OK, I didn’t say the “shut up” part, but her literal response was, “We thought about telling you. Your grandfather decided you didn’t want to be bothered.”
I’m sorry. Come again?
And my grandmother? The only two things we have in common is we’ve both had four abortions in our life (bloodlines really are deep) and we both didn’t attend the service. I’m assuming she didn’t out of pure heartbreak, because she had already lost a son (my favorite uncle) due to an overdose several years before.
As it related to me and my dad, she wasn’t much better. She decided to use the funeral program (my grandfather finally got a clue like a month after his wife and I had our email war and sent it to me) to rewrite history, acting like they all were characters in the Soul Food movie when it was any and everything BUT that.
My dad hated seeing her over the holidays. He said she was addicted to nagging and complaining. He was right.
I never heard from her about my dad. Not once. I did, however, hear from her over two years later to ask me to take custody of my uncle’s kids. When I asked her if she was going to apologize for essentially being the worst grandmother ever, she said she had nothing to apologize for. I let her know that we no longer had anything to talk about. Because we don’t.
It might seem like I’m bitter about all of this. Actually, writing down what I’ve lived is just further confirmation of just how psycho my father’s bloodline was and is. To me, one of the best things that I could do for his legacy and my sanity is to “release” them and move on. Move on peacefully, but move on nonetheless. Because all they brought was confusion, pain and secrets. A lot of secrets.
I won’t lie to you. Other than writing this narrative, I haven’t really given any of those people much thought. I have a lot more peace and clarity, and I feel much more whole because I’m not spending time trying to figure out why my father’s family is the way that they are or treated him and me the way that they did. Healing teaches you that some things you just have to accept — not embrace, but accept — and then do what’s best for you. It reminds you that when you’re a child, being around dysfunction is usually something that you can’t control. Oh, but when you’re an adult, everything changes. EVERYTHING. It changes because you have the power to change it.
I know they say you can’t choose your family. I’m a writer, so I’ll edit that a bit. You can’t choose the family you are born into. But baby, you can choose whether to associate with them or not.
Choose what keeps you healthy and happy. If that is your family, you are blessed. If that isn’t your family, find who keeps you sane and stable. It’s a win either way.
If you don’t believe me, just read this all over again.