My heart is heavy, and I’m grieving the loss of a relationship I never had. Or rather, two relationships. Or one relationship with two people. My parents. My relationship with my father has ranged from nonexistent to frosty to cordially distant. Right now, I would classify it as parent-child–with me being the parent. His faculties have diminished to what I suspect is early onset dementia, but it’s hard to say because he refuses most testing in that area. Funny because he’s a hypochondriac who goes to the doctor at a moment’s notice, but like most hypochondriacs, if there is a potential serious issue, then he refuses to go. And if it’s something that has a negative connotation about his brain, well, forget about even mentioning it.
To be fair, my mother told me that Alzheimer’s is looked upon as a personal failing and weakness in Taiwan, so I can understand not wanting to open yourself up to that. I suggested he get tested here, but his English is nowhere near as good as it used to be, and it wouldn’t be fair to use a test he took in English as a barometer. On the other hand, the longer he goes without treating it, the worse it’s going to get.
Do you notice how I immediately started talking about my father? I meant to talk about my mother as a starter, but my father is such the focal point of the family, it’s hard to avoid, even here. Why am I grieving my relationship with my mother? Sit back with your favorite cup of tea because this is going to take some explaining.
If you asked my mother, she would say we are really close. She made me her confidante when I was eleven, pouring out all her woes about my father and her marriage into my very unwilling ears. She would cry about how he treated her (very badly), and I would listen until I couldn’t take it any longer before telling her she should divorce him. Then, she would shift to how he wasn’t that bad. I would feel like a dupe, and I would vow never to say anything again. She also told me how depressed she was and how much she hated her life. Not in those exact terms, but that was what she meant.
That was thirty-seven years ago, and our relationship concerning my father has followed the same rut ever since. Well, more or less. There was a period when I was in my twenties and thirties when I didn’t talk to her hardly at all, and, to be honest, it was such a relief. Now, however, in my late forties, I’ve become the dumping ground once again. All our conversations revolve around my father, and when they’re here, it’s eighty percent of our conversation.
The recent I’m writing about it now is because we had a really long, involved, and (for me, and I presume for her) painful conversation. She waited for him to go to bed (her M.O.) and said she needed to dump her feelings on me. I think she even used that phrase, or at least, “Get it off my chest”, which to me is the same thing.
Backstory to the talk: She has to have surgery on her back. Or rather, the doctors in Taiwan say that she has to have surgery on her back. She decided to get a second opinion while she was here, and he was dismissive of her. Probing a little deeper, I realized it was in part because my mother minimized her pain while talking to him. I’m sure it was also partly because women don’t get their pain taken as seriously, and he had ageist beliefs as well. But her minimizing her pain sent me over the edge when she told me. Why? Because she does this all the fucking time. She complains about something, but when rubber hits the road, she downplays it. Then, she goes back to complaining. I’ll get to that attitude more in a moment.
She talked to my cousin who’s a doctor (three brothers in that family, all doctors and all married to doctors). He specializes in sports injuries, so it was right in his wheelhouse. He told her that she would benefit from the surgery, so it’s back on again. It’s set for ten days after they return to Taiwan (which is in two weeks! I’m 3/5ths of the way done!), and she was panicking. My father went through the same surgery a year ago, and she took care of him for three months (more than usual, I mean) afterwards for during his recovery. We both know that my father cannot and will not do the same for my mother. My brother made the same comment. None of us are under any delusions about my father–at least in terms of this aspect of him. My mother has plenty of delusions about him otherwise.
She had asked me to go back for three weeks to help her after the surgery. It wouldn’t be enough time, but it would during the worst of it. I talked about it with my brother, and we discussed each of us going for ten days. Last night, I mentioned that to my mother, and she immediately said she wasn’t sure it was a good idea because we didn’t know the language or how things were done in Taiwan. She’s not wrong, but it’s indicative of her mindset. She works herself up into a lather about a concern that is real, but it doesn’t help that she dials it up to eleven.
In this case, she has the very real fear that my father can’t take care of her after she has the surgery. He can’t. More to the point, he would resent having to do it. If he’s not the center of attention, he can’t be bothered. Taking care of someone else? Hahahahah, no. I told my mother if she had it done here, I would be more than willing to take care of her. She immediately listed reasons why she couldn’t. One, the doctor here was so dismissive. Me: There are other doctors. Her: I can’t leave (my father) alone. He can’t take care of himself. Me: You could hire someone to take care of him. Her: He won’t allow it.
Then, since she seemed set on doing it there, I suggested she get friends/family to help her out. She started listing why this wasn’t possible. Some of the reasons were valid, but some were just supposition. They all were her just deciding it was true without even mentioning it to them. This one was depressed and couldn’t do it. That one was too busy. The other one had family issues. I’m not saying it’s not true–I’m saying she’s decided it’s true without even asking because she doesn’t want to have to deal with the rejection. I know because it’s why I don’t ask for things, either. If someone says no, then it means they don’t care. Which means i”m not worthwhile. Which means I shouldn’t have asked in the first place. It’s not rational, but I know that’s the impetus, and I come by it honestly.
Side note: The video I included above, Headlights by Eminem ft. Nate Ruess, hit me really hard the first time I heard it. Everyone talks about it as an apology, which isn’t how I see it at all. I mean, yeah, he does say he’s sorry for some of the things he’s done, but the main message is that he’s done with his mother. He’s closed the book on their relationship, and he’s ready to walk away. Nobody ever points that out, though, so I think I’m crazy for seeing it that way. But I do. He’s realized that his mother isn’t going to change, and he can’t deal with her any longer. So, he wishes her well, and he’s made his peace with not having her in his life.
Maybe I’m projecting. This is what I’ve gone through with my parents. The eternal hope that things will change, that I could have a relationship with them that actually is one I want. The growing realization that this will never, ever happen. I once said that one way I was able to have a better relationship with my parents was when, ironically, I let go of the need to impress them. (I haven’t completely, obviously, but mostly.) Giving up hope gave me peace and the ability to look at the relationship as it really is–not what I long desperately for it to be.
Side note 2: It’s ironic, but I have an easier time accepting my father as he really is because I don’t expect him to be better. I never had a connection with him other than blood, and I knew from a fairly early age that he didn’t want to be a father. He had children because he thought it was what he was supposed to be, but he never should have been a father. The hardest part for me right now is having to pander to him while I slowly seethe at how he treats my mother (and me when they’re here). But it’s also difficult because he’s deteriorating to the point where having a real conversation about anything is impossible. His memory is failing to the point where he can’t remember a conversation we had two minutes ago, and he wants to talk about things such as why does a squirrel go down a tree headfirst. The latter might be an interesting conversation if he actually listened to what I said, but he doesn’t. He’s so stuck in his own way of thinking, nothing I say makes a whit of difference. He’s always been this way, but he’s getting worse as he ages. It’s as if whatever filters he has are now completely gone, and it’s as annoying as fuck.
With my mother, it’s so much more complicated. We’ve never been close despite what she thinks. I’m the antithesis of everything she’s ever wanted in a daughter–hell, my niece is closer to it than I am. She’s thin, feminine in a more traditional way, Christian, and will probably have kids (though she told me she doesn’t want them). There are other reasons my mom is concerned about her (because god forbid my mother isn’t concerned about something related to everyone and everything in her life), but on the basics, my niece is a better fit for my mother than I ever was.
Side note 3: Asian people are such fucking complainers in general. I’ve noticed it’s how they–we–communicate. Bonding over perceived terribleness in mutual acquaintances or common situations. I should say older Asian people–my parents’ generation. Similar to a small town mentality, I think, and it probably stems from a similar place–us vs. them. It’s something I’m trying to change as the first thing I usually do is complain about something. In a humorous way sometimes, but still.
My mother finally admitted last night that she needed my father. I knew it, but it was never said out loud. I told her I knew she did, though I didn’t know why. He didn’t do anything for her, but she needed him for whatever reason. I have my theories why–fear of abandonment, being deeply unloved as a child, needing to be needed–but as I told her, it is as frustrating as hell to watch her tiptoe around him and basically bow and scrape before him.
I admit it. I lost my patience. She was agonizing over why he thought the way he did, and how he could do blah-di-blah. I told her she was so focus on him and how he thought, what was she avoiding in herself? She knew as a therapist when a person became obsessed with something, it was because they didn’t want to look inward. I also said that she spent so much time thinking about him, did she think he spent 1/100th the time thinking about her? What I said wasn’t wrong–but I need to take my own advice. She isn’t going to change. She needs to be like this for whatever reason, and I cannot logic her out of it. I told her I didn’t know what she wanted from me because if I tried to suggest anything, she immediately shot it down. And, if I added a complaint about my father, she quickly switched to defending him–as usual.
There is no win for me here. I can’t just sit and nod my head because she expects me to respond. I can’t respond because she rejects everything I say. I told her to gray rock or JADE my father when things get bad, and I need to do it to her, but I don’t know if I can. It’s hard to see her like this. It’s hard to watch her in an abusive relationship (yeah, I said it) and bite my tongue. Yes, intellectually, I know I can’t do anything about it. Emotionally, it’s draining. At the end of our conversation, she said she knew she was burdening me, and she hoped it wasn’t causing me emotional distress. I couldn’t say anything because really what is there to say? I’m just counting the days until they go back to Taiwan and I can enjoy the blissful sound of silence.
ETA: My point of this whole rambling post is that accepting I can’t change things has been hard, and it was last night when it finally hit me (but probably not for the last time) that there is not a goddamn thing I can do in this situation other than try to protect myself as best I can. That’s why I’m grieving and my heart is heavy. I am going to have to sit with that and deal with it however I can.