My stepbrother hates me.
Or, maybe that’s not entirely accurate, since he’s not really my step-brother and I’m not sure “hates” is the optimum word. You see, he is the natural son of my former step-father. So what does that make him to me, exactly? My former step-brother? But that sounds too much like he’s dead, and he’s not. Also, hate might not be the exactly right word. Perhaps “resents” is better. Or “misunderstands”? Or “begrudges”? I guess I don’t really know, since the one conversation we had about his feelings was years ago, and true to form, was characterized by naive honesty on my part and guarded suspicion on his. So who really knows how deeply his negative feelings for me fester.
But the fact remains that we are somehow at odds.
The situation sounds like something out of a nighttime soap opera (think Dallas or Dynasty for point of reference): My mother was my dad’s fourth (yes, fourth) wife and I was my mom’s adoptive daughter, aged 13 at the time of marriage. Their marriage lasted five L-O-N-G years and culminated in a nasty divorce in which my step-dad lost a significant percentage of his net worth despite a good prenuptial. None of this was my fault; in fact, I disapproved of my mom’s marriage. Not because I didn’t like my step-dad, but because any primate with a 50 IQ could see that they were not destined to a bright future. Any primate, of course, except for an primate in love.
So, their marriage was a disaster but my step-father was a terrific dad, and the only one I’d ever had, since my adoptive father died when I was 9-months-old. Indeed, my step-dad has since told many people that he married my mom because he felt that I “deserved to have a real father.” That’s a pretty noble undertaking, I think.
Their marriage didn’t survive, but my relationship with my step-dad, who after their divorce became just my “dad,” did. In the 27 years since my parents’ divorce, he has done everything for me a dad does for a kid: sent me money when I was broke, offered advice (solicited and unsolicited), invited me to family functions, visited me from out-of-state, sent presents and cards at appropriate anniversaries, and called “just to check in” on a regular, if not frequent, basis. He has been, in every regard and every part of my heart, my dad.
And my former step-brother hates me for it.
My dad had four kids from his first wife — two girls and two boys. The other three have mostly accepted my strange place in their dad’s life. They seem to understand (mostly) that our relationship has brought both of us a lot of happiness and is no threat to them, so they let it be. My oldest step-brother, however, is not so generous. No, he views me as an interloper, a gold-digger, someone who has no right to his father’s time or love.
But he’s wrong.
My dad, Dex, and I have a deep connection that goes beyond words. We understand each other in the way that only soul mates do. My dad’s current wife, Meri (his 5th and last wife and true soulmate) understands this and has welcomed me with open arms from the first day I met her. But Dex’s kids have struggled more. I think the other three have gradually realized that I am not in competition with them in anyway. Indeed, I easily cede my position to them at any opportunity. But Richie, my oldest step-brother, cannot abide my presence in his dad’s life. I am threat to him that neither he nor I understands and he would like nothing better than for me to disappear forever.
I am in dad’s last will and testament. It reads that after Meri dies, all proceeds (because she has no children of her own) shall go to Dex’s three other children and me in equal 20% measures, with Richie’s two girls receiving his share divided between them as 10% each. This was constructed many years ago, when Richie’s obstinate insistence that my dad disavow me resulted in Dex’s cutting Richie out of his will altogether and apportioning Richie’s share to his daughters instead. When I found out about the Will Drama, I asked my dad — twice – to rewrite the will and leave me out of it. Both times he replied that it was “none of my business” and that he would do what he damn well pleased. But he also knew his son and made me promise that I would respect his wishes and defend his will — in court, if necessary — after he was gone. I reluctantly agreed.
At the time all of this was going on (many years ago), I really had no appreciation for how intensely my step-brother disliked me. It has only been my most recent trip to Seattle, spending time in their home and with my former step-sisters that I have fully appreciated how deeply resentful Richie is.
Apparently, unbeknownst to me, Richie has been waging a war against me for many years, with both my dad and my former step-siblings as the targets. The mere mention of my name is supposedly enough to send him into a diatribe, and his siblings have grown weary of the conflict.
When my step-mother, whom Richie also does not like, called to ask me to come help her, Richie was away in Africa on a medical missionary. I have since learned that this was fortunate timing, because if he had been in the country, the call would have been nearly impossible for my step-mom to make as the other three siblings are so intent on avoiding the “conflict” between us that they would have likely begged her to reconsider.
I guess I am fortunate that he was on his mission and I, states away in Colorado, was oblivious to the family politics swirling around me. Had I know, I would have approached this trip with far more trepidation.
Richie and I are the only children who don’t live in or right outside my dad’s hometown of Seattle. I am in Colorado, and Richie and his family live in southern Idaho. I suppose his distance from his family gives him some cause for anxiety and me some cause for oblivion, for I have been mostly unaware of the family politics at play.
True, my dad had hinted that Richie resented me and did not respect his marriage to Meri, and he had made me promise to defend his will and protect Meri from whatever predatory interests Richie has after his death. But the extent to which Richie had complained to his siblings was not clear to me until this trip to the Pacific Northwest.
Here’s what I mean:
I have been here for 12 days now and in Richie’s group emails to the family about my dad’s illness, he refuses to acknowledged my existence or anything I have been doing for his father or step-mom. To be honest, though, he basically refuses to acknowledge his step-mom at all. Richie sends daily emails to his dad, which we have to read to him since Dex can’t operate a computer at the moment, with strong “suggestions” for his care (Richie is a doctor, and one with a “healthy” doctor ego). I know that Richie knows that I’m here because he apparently has said various things to his sisters which they have relayed to Meri in aggravated and hushed tones, and she has related to me in annoyed and angry tones.
It is very strange to learn that you are the object of someone’s intense emotions, when they mean so little to you.
I honestly do not think of Richie but a few times a year when he comes up in conversation with my dad or step-mom. He is completely inconsequential to me. The fact that he does not understand why my dad stayed my dad after he divorced my mom is of no concern to me; my dad and Meri and I understand it, and, in my mind, that’s all that matters. But I am clearly the object of much negative emotion on his part and likely have been for years.
But what I’ve come to realize over the last ten days is that my oblivion has been a blessing. Had I fully realized the amount of tension and conflict my presence had caused in my dad’s life, I would have likely gradually receded from him, so naturally conflict-averse and prone to keeping the peace am I. I am so averse to wanting to cause trouble for those I love that, had I known, I would have probably, gradually, but resolutely, left his life.
And what a shame that would have been! I would have deprived myself of precious moments of parenting from a father who so sincerely wanted the job that he held onto it even after being fired by my mother. And I would have deprived him of a daughter who knew him — dark secrets and all — and loved him completely and unconditionally and defended his character and integrity from anyone who dared to question it.
With the benefit of age and the certainty of my dad’s love, I can acknowledge that my former step-brother’s animosity is his journey to wrangle with, not mine. My dad and I, we understand and accept our unique relationship, even if some of those around us do not. And we are both willing to make sacrifices and defend that relationship when necessary. Until this month, I had not realized the full nature of his sacrifice or his struggle, and he will likely never know the nature of mine, but we have both fought for and protected this relationship in ways that have cost us dearly.
But what a life lesson that has been for me. I have not bothered to defend this relationship to others; if they do not understand it after my best effort at explanation, then I leave that as their struggle, not mine. And I have been grateful every single day that a man with no obligation chose to be a father to a young woman who desperately needed his guidance and love and reassurance. I am different woman for his care-taking, and I hope that he is a different man for my love and devotion.
As for my step-brother, I am determined to return to Colorado and sink back into my oblivion. Let him emotionally rail against me. Let him target me with all his resentment and animosity. Let him assign all blame to me for the relationship with his father that is so much less than what I share with him.
Because I know — and my dad knows — what is true and what is real and what is right. And my step-brother can wrestle his demons all night long, while my dad and I sleep peacefully, secure in the knowledge that a love that is pure and well-intentioned and generous is never wrong.