How we lie

Here, an image we all aspire to in one way or another as Christmas approaches. Back then, Norman Rockwell was trying to capture an America that was overlooked. Ironically today, his paintings have become an ideal which people around the world now seek to emulate.

This, despite all the complications that Christmas brings. And by this I mean the clotting together of family, the pooling of genes around minced pies and brandy, roast fowl and sprouts.

After years of sporadic calls from my dad, in which he would drop the non-committal promise of a visit (“Yah, most probably I’ll come that way in December”) my father has done the unthinkable and turned up. No one believed he would, of course. My cousin, who was meant to collect him from the airport, told me that he’d told my dad to ring him once he’d actually arrived. He didn’t want to hear about flight numbers or arrival times beforehand, because he didn’t expect him to come.

Now he’s here. His reason for coming is not to see Rosie and me, of course, although that’s part of the plan, too. His reason for finally making good on his word is the fact that my aunt, his eldest sister, is dying. She’s 81 and has cancer which has metastasised in all her vital organs. The doctors have given her six months.


So, my dad is here to spend Christmas with her. I was planning to do the same, but of course, my dad hasn’t come on his own. He’s brought his wench with him (if 60/70-year-olds can be considered wenches). I didn’t know this, of course, until we spoke yesterday:

Dad: “Your cousin is coming now. He’ll drop us in an hour.”

Me: “Who’s us?”

Dad: (says wench’s name)

Me: (silent for a moment before) You know she’s not coming here to my house.

Dad: (surprised) No?

Me: No.

Dad: (silent for a moment before) Ok. Well I’ll see you anyway.

I spend the next two hours in a state of agitation, wondering how it is that my dad could even countenance bringing that woman – the woman he cheated on my mum with for most of my childhood and had a child by (a child, incidentally, who was born on Christmas day, when I was 16) – to my home. I’ve told him many times before that I would never be in the same room as her let alone speak to her, but whenever I go to Canada to visit the family, he tries to take me to his house to meet her. He seems pathologically incapable of understanding what his actions cost us as a family, despite my telling him very clearly that when it comes to this, the past isn’t the past.

Not a Rockwell Christmas

For all his broody silences and lack of sentimentality, my father seems to think we are living a Hollywood movie or, indeed, a Rockwell painting. That we will all somehow sit together and share a meal at Christmas. That’s all of us, including my other cousin (my aunt’s daughter), her husband (who recently smashed a jug over her head, thus hospitalising her), her children, my dying aunt, my dad, his wench, my daughter and my recovering alcoholic sort-of-ex-husband.

I won’t even go into the other cousin (the one my dad is staying with who collected him from the airport and is also one of the sons of my dying aunt) who also touched me inappropriately when I was 13, in a way that still confuses me and makes me wonder whether it ever happened at all. And yet, when I see him looking at Rosie, I’m filled with dread while still somehow smiling and offering him juice and a bite to eat and continuing to watch him hawk-like whenever he’s around her, always calling her away from him or putting myself between them.

When my dad comes over, he is with my cousin (yesย thatย one. And yes, I smile and offer him juice and some food and touch him on the shoulder to say goodbye.) My father, who was always so active and fit, looks old. White haired, he stands with a slight hunch. He’s got bunions so painful he finds walking difficult. For a moment, I feel sorry for him.ย I hug him and sit him down with Rosie so they can build a lego car together. They play for a long time, while I cook lunch for all of us. I book tickets to a play and make plans for us to see the reindeer in Covent Garden. Never once do we mention his woman.

We pretend, like we always do, that we are a typical family. And in our own way, I suppose we are.


8 thoughts on “How we lie

  1. Part of the process of recovery is letting go of baggage from the past. It doesn’t mean we have to like or love any part of it. We only have to acknowledge it and move on. Acceptance of others and where they are at, keeps us minding our own business. That’s right. It is truly none of our business how other people run their life.
    Letting go of the past is the only way moving forward positively can occur. Living with past resentments is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.
    But then, you knew I would say all this didn’t you? ๐Ÿ˜‰
    xo Joanne
    PS. I think many families all over the world share similar family issues…..wanting the Rockwell family but falling far short. We can only count our blessings for what we do have.
    (Glad you kept an eye on Rosie around your cousin)

  2. You’d be surprised how many families go through this. I was the same – not to the extent of the drama you recount, but there were certain things between my brother and I that made being in the same house, let alone the same room, very impossible. But the one thing I did about a year or two ago, along with my wife (who had similar issues with my brother and his wife) was we invited them over to our place. With my folks. We approached it like a clean slate – a new beginning. We welcomed them like we would welcome strangers or friends. No messy baggage. And it was fine. It’s not like they have invited us back, or there was some great reconciliation, but now when I see them it’s a genuine hi and all that. The great thing that has come from it is the great weight off my shoulders.

    It’s sort of piggy backing off what Sharon said so well there – resentments are killer. And even if we feel that “they” (whoever they are) are 90% at fault for how things have come, that means I am 10% at fault. And I look at and take responsible for that 10% and let it go. I am not there to fix anyone or make them see my way. I acknowledge my part of the deal, clean it up and move on. Easy to say, yes. It’s taken me years to do that kind of thing, but that is what the steps in recovery helped me do and see my ways.

    Anyway, just wanted to let you know that I understand how you feel.

    I hope you have a wonderful holidays ๐Ÿ™‚


    • Thanks, Paul. Yes, well, I’m a really quite terrified of being in the same room as this woman. Equally, having anything to do with her would mean betraying my mum – which is something she’s had enough of, I think, without me adding to it. So, it’s just not possible. My loyalties are with her for obvious reasons. Which is why it’s hard to let go. It’s not just my hurt I need to leave behind. But thank you for sharing. The holidays will be interesting, to say the least. ; )

  3. I have a question? Why is your father’s love interest more guilty than he is? If she isn’t allowed in your home because of what THEY did, than why is HE? I don’t, of course know her…but what I do know from reading this is he is the one who was married… HE is the one who should have been committed. I am not of course, in any way absolving her, but if she isn’t welcome due to an affair THEY committed together, then neither should HE be welcome, and if he is, then maybe it’s time to move forward. She didn’t owe your family anything..did she make a horrible decision in cheating with a married man YES! ABSOLUTELY! No woman of value should allow herself to be used like that, but the blame for the indiscretion should rest squarely on the shoulders of the one who broke their commitment.
    I am so glad that you are protective of your daughter. You are so smart to be wary and proactive. The one good thing about having been victimized is that we know what to look out for. Kudos to you for looking out.
    It would be nice if that painting represented the reality of family…sadly it does not. You are not alone in family dysfunction. I can totally relate. ๐Ÿ˜ฆ

    • I don’t think I ever said she was more guilty. He’s my dad, so I have to see him, or at least let him enter my home. That took many, many years. I have no such commitment to her. I just don’t give a shit about her (so, in that regard, the feeling is mutual). She means nothing to me, and therefore, there is absolutely no reason why she should know anything about me. That includes seeing my child or being in my home. He can see her all he wants. That’s his affair. Literally. It doesn’t need to be mine. Anyway, like most things, this is a complicated situation that has a lot more layers to it than those I choose to demonstrate/illustrate here. His responsibility in all this is pretty obvious. At the end of the day, I choose how I should or shouldn’t respond to a situation. And what I choose is what works for me and my mental well being. I do not and never will accept that this woman has anything to do with my family. That is his punishment for doing what he did to our family. As to what she owed my family – well, well. it’s that kind of selfish attitude that makes this world the shitty mess that it is, frankly. We all have a responsibility to our fellow human beings. I find it extraordinary that people put forward this kind of argument time and time again. I don’t buy it. Yes, it takes two to tango. Anyone with half a brain cell can see that. Yes he’s the one I’m really angry at. Why should she care whether she can or cannot come to my home? He’s the one who is affected by it, not her. I think that’s rather obvious.

      • I am sorry if I offended. I wasn’t meaning that she isn’t guilty or that what she did was any less offensive than what he did, just that it was his responsibility to be committed. I think it’s awful that any woman would allow herself to be involved with a married man. It truly is indicative of her caliber. It sounded to me like you blamed her more than him, so that’s where I was coming from. Again..sorry if I offended. ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Pingback: Regression | married to an alcoholic

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