Ex-father in law question

LainyAugust 2, 2003

I feel a little weird posting an "ex" question on a marriage forum but here goes. Long story as short as possible:

I lived apart from my husband since 1998 due to his drinking and DV problems. He died suddenly in 2001 of a heart attack while we were still legally married. We had a son, now age 19. None of us had any contact with my FIL since the early 1990's because the constant battles between him and my LH escalated into a full-scale war. FIL did the whole stupid "rewriting the will" bit, etc etc, the whole nine yards.

However, now after my LH's death my FIL is insisting that my son call and visit him on a regular basis "because he's my grandson." My son much prefers not to do this and has been avoiding it. (And personally, I can't say I blame him! My FIL is a very demanding, self-centered, and selfish person who also has a drinking and 'temper' problem although not as bad as my LH did.) As a result, I end up the recipient of angry phone calls demanding to know why "his grandson" hasn't called, etc. I have been making the usual lame excuses - "he's been working this summer", "he's been away with friends", "he was busy at college" - but I can see this isn't going to fly much longer. I do promise to ask him to call - and do - and the result is that my son never gets around to calling, because he really does not want to. And so the cycle continues...

Now my opinion is that at 19 someone is an adult, and that it's not my place, even as a mother, to stand over him and force him to make a phone call to anyone. Even if that person happens to be a relative. And there was no traditional grandparent relationship between them in the past. Thus, it's not as if they used to be close but then lost touch.

So my question is, do you think I should continue to make excuses or just tell my FIL point-blank that yes I have asked my son to call but that I cannot MAKE him call - and then refuse to be drawn into an angry conversation as to "why won't he call" and how "wrong" my son is for not calling?

My own inclination is to be honest about it, even though I'm sure it would be considered rude. Personally I would be just as happy to have nothing more to do with my ex-FIL myself, because I no longer consider myself part of that family and have also legally resumed my maiden name. But that applies only to myself; if my son wanted to maintain a relationship with his grandfather I'd have no problem with it. I want him to act according to his own wishes in the matter, and not have any pressure from either his grandfather or myself either way. Do you think that allowing a 19-year-old to make his own independent decision about something like this, is reasonable and proper?

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Absolutely. At 19 he is adult enough to be able to make these decisions for himself. This also means that he should let his grandfather know that he does not want a relationship with him and take you off the hook. He should either call or write him and let him know how he feels. Maybe writing a letter would enable him to get out more of what he wants to say. If this man is how you say he is, then you son may not get to speak his mind. I don't blame your son for not wanting to have a relationship with this man, it sure seems like the grandfather cut him off many years ago. This is not an easy situation, my thought are with you. Good luck

    Bookmark   August 3, 2003 at 11:07AM
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Yes, he is old enough to make this decision. I can certainly understand your son's feelings. His grandfather never cared about a relationship with him before and now that he decides he wants one, his grandson is supposed to follow along with it? Of course, you did mention that the grandfather is demanding & selfish, which would go right along with the way he's acting. He now wants a relationship, on his terms, and his grandson's feelings don't matter at all to him.

I agree with the previous poster, it would be best if your son wrote or called his grandfather & explained to him that he doesn't want a relationship. It would be good if you sit down & talk with him about this. But you can't make him do this either. If he won't do it, do let the grandfather continue to harrass you. Don't make any more excuses. Do as you mentioned earlier. Tell him you've given your son the message that his grandfather would like to talk to him. When the grandfather starts demanding from you to know why he hasn't called, say, "He's an adult & I can't force him. You'll have to talk to him about this." Refuse to argue with him. If he tries, tell him you're not going to argue & you're going to hang up if he continues his tirade.

I certainly don't like being rude, but this man is being VERY rude to you. He has no right to harrass you. Just let him know that this is a matter between him & his grandson & you're not going to be in the middle of it anymore.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2003 at 3:48PM
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My $0.02 - You should sit down with your son and lay the cards on the table. He may be 19, but apparently he hasn't learned about being a man yet. A man doesn't let someone harrass his loved ones in some sort of proxi war over his behavior. He needs to be a stand up guy and make what will probably be a quite unpleasant phone call. Tough - that is part of being a man. You stand up and do the right thing. You treat other people with respect and compassion, even if that person is a jerk. That doesn't mean you role over and accept their misbehavior, it means you confront them and explain in no uncertain terms that you will not tolerate it - not in your house - not with your loved ones. Your son is too old to be hiding behind his mothers apron.

As far as your role goes, it doesn't sound like your late husband was a shining example of a stand up guy. That makes you the primary role model to demonstrate proper adult behavior. Making excuses and lying to avoid dealing with unpleasantness is not proper adult behavior. That is what your are doing and you are helping him to behave similarly. He's 19 now and it is past the time where you can force him to anything, but it is exactly the right time to model the behaviors you want him to learn and to make your expectations of his behavior clear. Next time FIL calls, don't make any excuses. "I told him you called and he has chosen not to call you yet. He is an adult, and I can not force him." When you deliver the message to your son tell him that you did not make any excuses for him. Tell him that the right thing to do if he doesn't want to speak with his grandfather is to call him once and let the man know - and this is what you exepect of him as a young man.

    Bookmark   August 5, 2003 at 9:29AM
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Bill - right on. I don't think that the excuses should've been made in the first place, but they were so it's best to end it now, in the way you suggested, above.

Good answer!

    Bookmark   August 5, 2003 at 2:02PM
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Thanks to all of you for your well-thought-out responses! Billl you are right, my LH wasn't anywhere near a standup guy. In fact I used to dread any holiday because my in-laws would insist that we spend it at their house (Thanksgiving, Xmas, Easter, you name it) and my LH would tell him "yes, sure" every time and then the night before - or worse, the MORNING OF - whatever the day was, he'd tell me to call and make some excuse such as that one of us was sick, the car wouldn't start, or whatever. Thus, I was the one who got the immediate flak over the phone; not him. Or we'd go and then I'd have to make up some excuse for us to leave early. I'm sure that you all will say that I should never have gone along with that nonsense. However as I mentioned in my original post, my LH not only had a drinking problem (as did my in-laws) but also a hair-trigger and violent temper. It was literally safer to do things his way.

The estrangement between my LH and FIL was just as much my LH's fault as his father's (by that time my MIL had died).

Naturally there is no longer any reason for either me or my son to appease my FIL. I admit I hate confrontation and conflict and of a nature to want to avoid rocking the boat; also, I'm caught between my FIL's personality (which is really tough to take) and the fact that he's 80-something years old, with a pacemaker, and almost completely blind from glaucoma. So part of me says, I should cut him some slack and try to smooth things over. However, lest it be thought that he's a helpless elderly man sitting in a rocking chair, that's hardly the case: he has a GF of long standing, lots of friends, and they spend every winter in a condo they own down in Florida. So I'm a bit conflicted at times about how to handle the situation. I have not invited him to our new home yet and I am hoping that he doesn't one day demand to know why not! I have no idea how I'd handle THAT one!!

There are two other grandsons in the picture (my LH's brother's children) who are 21 and 24 and do keep in contact with my FIL fairly regularly. Of course that adds fuel to the fire of why don't I and my son do the same! However, I happen to know that the main reason the other grandchildren do this is because of, um, let's just say an eventual financial reward. However my son and I just can't bring ourselves to be quite that mercenary.

I agree though that it is better to let the s**t hit the fan - as it will if my son comes right out and says he would rather not keep in contact with his grandfather - as a result of being honest, than letting it do the same as a result of excuses resulting in nothing being done.

The ironic thing is that I personally don't believe in making phone calls or giving gifts, out of nothing more than a sense of obligation. I've mentioned to my FIL in a light-handed way that when my son is away at college, he never calls ME unless he needs something, and that's just the way it is. And that it really does not bother me. My MIL used to DEMAND that her sons call her every Sunday without fail - and if they didn't she'd throw a spectacular sulky hissy fit; and I swore I'd never put a child of mine into the same position.

I'd never want anyone to call, write, or give me anything unless it was done only because they wanted to do it... not because they were told to, or felt obligated to do so for any reason. Otherwise it is nothing but a meaningless gesture. But perhaps I am a bit odd about that. :-)

    Bookmark   August 5, 2003 at 10:07PM
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I take exception to the last two paragraphs you wrote. The "sense of obligation" is getting a bad rap in this country. There are a ton of things that you should feel obligated to do, even if you don't always enjoy doing it at the time. You should visit sick people in the hospital. You should help elderly relatives. You should give to charity. You should watch out for neighborhood kids. You should carry groceries for old ladies. You should send birthday cards. And yes, you should call your mom. It isn't a meaningless gesture. It means you care and will go out of your way to show it.

Some things are just more important than your immediate wants. Many people, especially young people, don't realize that fulfilling your immediate wants does not lead to longterm happiness.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2003 at 9:42AM
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I agree with your view, with some reservations. Yes, you should call your mom BUT you should not be doing it only because you know she will make life miserable for everyone else in the family if you don't call her every week or whenever; or because if you don't call, you will get a angry lecture on how she "brought you into the world, wiped your bottom, put clothes on your back, so now you owe me". Yup, that was my MIL. And 95% of any conversation with her consisted of her verbally trashing other people and relatives for something or other. IMHO if someone wants to be treated with consideration and respect, they should extend those qualities to those from whom they expect that treatment; and if they don't do so, I fail to see where an obligation exists.

Yes you should give to charity, but you should not be bullied into giving in a specific way, a specific amount, or on a specific schedule which someone else may consider appropriate.

It means you care and will go out of your way to show it.
Yes you should send birthday cards but I bet a lot of women could tell you that there are a lot of men out there that simply do NOT remember dates (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). For a long time I was under the delusion that "if someone cares about someone, they will remember and will make the gesture." I now accept the fact that a forgotten birthday does not necessarily mean that someone doesn't love you or that you are not worth the time and effort to remember a specific day. I also accept the fact that although I am a person who does "show it" when I care, there are many people who find it difficult to show emotion or demonstrate affection. MHO is that I don't think it's appropriate for a person to impose his or her expectations of behavior on someone else. Respect should be a two-way street. Unfortunately it doesn't always work that way.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2003 at 3:59PM
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Well, I agree - if you aren't making the person happy by calling and you don't enjoy it, then there is no point. However, I think the vast majority of mothers on earth would enjoy hearing from their children on a regular basis.

You know what's sad? That many women have such low expectation of men that you think we are incapable of sending a card on an appropriate date. Honestly, I am horrible with dates. I know that. However, there are these wonderful inventions called pencils and calendars/day planners. I mark the important dates in advance so I will be reminded in case I do forget. Maybe I am letting out a big man secret or something, but in general, we are competant and functional beings. We'll often take the lazy option if one is available, but that isn't all we are capable of.

    Bookmark   August 6, 2003 at 4:48PM
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Billl you are to funny...Of the four main men in my life only mystep father would think to write down aniversary and birthday dates. As for men taking the lazy option? yep on the money.

Lainey tell FIL the truth then get your number changed and unlisted.

    Bookmark   October 11, 2003 at 8:27PM
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I think that the FIL is missing out on his chances and while he is still in denial, would like to make amends with his grandson, except he is not capable of being very sucessful...ego is at stakes here. He probably can't bear to loose another family member but doesn't know how to extend anything but his own fear, fear, anger it's all the same thing...afraid of being alone...? The grandson may have more empathy than you because of a direct bloodline, but even that may not be enough. The ole drunk just is sad and lonely it sounds like...too bad he cant change.

    Bookmark   November 7, 2003 at 1:17AM
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