Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Happy Birthday To You

My parents stopped giving me birthday and Christmas gifts when I was in my 20s, and I'm not entirely sure why.  With my mother, it was a blessing, partly because I couldn't say "thank you" enough times or in enough ways to prevent her getting angry and yelling at me for being ungrateful.  It was also a blessing because the things she'd sent me were crazy -- mostly heavy boxes full of random crap she had bought on sale or in the Target dollar aisle.  Sometimes there were small toys intended for small children, which seemed to be how she still saw me.  My mother stopped acknowledging my birthday (or any holidays) about a year before I ceased contact with her, and about six months before I stopped acknowledging hers.  This may have been an intended slight on her part, but it was just as likely a side effect of being depressed and so mentally inept that she didn't acknowledge much of anything.

The last time my dad (social, non-bio father) gave me a gift was later, just before my daughter was born.  I don't know if he has some kind of belief that people with kids are too old to receive gifts (though I was sending *him* gifts until a year after that) or if I'd unwittingly upset him somehow, or if he felt slighted by my daughter's existence, or why he stopped sending me anything -- I have an Amazon wish list after all, and it requires very little thought to select something off of it like he previously had -- but that was the last time I received anything from either of my parents. 

I realized a couple years ago that the only way to maintain a relationship with my dad without resenting him was if I stopped putting more energy in than I was getting back out.  I quickly learned that that meant putting no thought or energy whatsoever into our relationship.  He wanted me to do him favors, handle his finances, be his emergency contact on all his paperwork, but he wouldn't call me.  He wouldn't email me unless I emailed him first, and our emails centered around whatever personal complaints he had and whatever he'd been watching on TV.  If I said something about my daughter, his only grandchild, he usually ignored it.  If I said something about my life or my interests, he usually ignored it.  I told him I was happy to help him out but that I wanted him to start prefacing his requests with, "How are you?" or "How is the baby?" and that it hurt my feelings that he didn't acknowledge her, or me really.  He said he understood and would do better, but nothing changed. 

That was when I made him take over his own finances.  There was no reason he couldn't manage them himself anyway, beyond the fact that he never had.  I stopped giving him personal information since he didn't acknowledge it, and I stopped asking him questions in my emails because I didn't see the need to keep drawing out the conversations about TV shows I'd never seen and foods he currently hates.  I just responded to the things he said and the (very rare) questions.  I tried not to take his lack of interest in me personally and instead looked at our exchanges like an anthropological study.  Our communication tapered off. 

Now I acknowledge his birthday and Father's Day and Thanksgiving and Christmas with a "Happy [Holiday], Dad!" email in which that line is both the subject and the entirety of the body.  I can do that without thinking about it, so I'm willing to put in that much effort, at least for now. 

For my birthday this year, he sent me the following email:

"Happy Birthday!  At least you're still young enough to enjoy it."

I replied, "Thanks!"

This is the relationship I used to wish I could have with my mother, when I still bothered wishing for anything in regard to her.

No comments:

Post a Comment