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IMPOSSIBLE DAUGHTER-IN-LAW

cartoon - daughter-in-law

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Robert Jackson

Cast of characters:

I, Robert
Joan, my sister, and Philip, my brother
My niece Nina and her husband, Victor
My niece Brenda and her husband, Charles
Lois, my wife
Dakin, our older son, and Marcy, his wife, our impossible daughter-in-law
Audrey, Marcy's mother
Cara, Ralph, Matt, and Cassie, Dakin and Marcy's children
Arnie, our younger son, and Janet, his wife


I must say at the outset that my daughter-in-law has been successful in corralling my son. It is 10-1/2 years now that I have been shunned by her, my son, and my grandchildren. I must confess that I have not been successful in maintaining a relationship with Marcy, and, consequently, her family. However, this situation is not all bad, and this is the reason for my writing this account.

How bad is this situation? It is bad. What has been good has been the challenge. Whereas before the break I was suffering nightmares, now I am a fairly patient, steady person.

It seems that the name of such daughters-in-law is Legion. Just in my own family I can think of more than one. Of course, "impossible" has many meanings. With all the mental illness, drunkenness, and dope addiction in our society, not to mention just plain, common orneriness, it would seem to be no wonder that "impossible daughter-in-law" is a common problem.

My own daughter-in-law hasn't uttered a word to me in 10-1/2 years. She told me not to call their house any more, and I have not done so. Now my son criticizes me for not reaching out to her, even though I have sent her letters, and we tried, unsuccessfully, to get her to meet with us and a family counsellor.

From the first days of Marcy and Dakin's marriage, Marcy picked a fight with Dakin every time we saw them. Saying that it was every time might seem to be an exaggeration, but I don't believe that it is. There was always something that Dakin did or didn't do to irk Marcy. On one memorable occasion, Dakin overlooked helping Lois into the house. Marcy didn't speak to him for two days. Later, if she didn't pick a fight with Dakin she picked a fight with their son, Ralph. I remember sitting on their back porch with Ralph and a small group of others. Marcy asked Ralph if he had finished his homework. Ralph responded in the negative. With irritation in her voice, Marcy said, "Then you'd better march right up to your room, young man, and get started." Off Ralph went, sent to his room while guests were visiting.

I worried about Marcy's despotic behavior with the children. I wrote Dakin a few letters advising him to take more of a part in the children's upbringing. He didn't respond.

My problems with Marcy got serious when Ralph was about four years old. Dakin and Marcy had invited Lois and me to the ballet recital of our granddaughter, Cara, who was then six. The school of ballet put on a show in a school auditorium with ballet students ranging in age from five to seventeen or eighteen. Our little group endured the ballet numbers fairly patiently during the first half of the show, but then, during the intermission, realizing that Ralph had had enough, as had I, I said, "I think Ralph would rather be playing on the swing set in your back yard. Let me take him home, and he and I will wait for you there." Marcy bristled. She said, "Ralph has to learn that you have to put up with some things that you don't like. There's no need for you to go home." Those remarks were more than I could take. I walked out of the auditorium and got into my car. As I was driving out of the parking lot, Dakin and Arnie intercepted me. They got into the car, and I drove slowly along the street. Arnie said, "When I heard Marcy, I knew that Dad would get mad," and Dakin agreed. "I don't know how you stand her," said I, breaking down, and I complained that I never saw Marcy but that she was rude. I let Dakin and Arnie out of the car, and I went home.

A couple of days later, Dakin and Marcy came over a visit, "not to apologize but to discuss our differences." I was still incensed. During the conversation I told Marcy that she was rude and too bossy with the children. I said that Dakin's parenting style was more to my liking than hers.

Then, for the first time (later, there were three other times), Marcy dropped all contact with Lois and me. Week after week, month after month, she kept out of touch. We couldn't reach her on the telephone. We left messages on her answering machine for her to call us, and she never called.

I don't remember the cause of the next break in our relationship, but I do remember the consequences. At Arnie's wedding, Marcy was not speaking to us. The strain in our relationship had taken its toll on Lois. For the only time in her life up to the present, Lois lost the coordination between her two eyes. She was like creatures on TV with one eye looking in one direction and the other eye looking somewhere else. This was a shame, because, with Lois in such a state, we were unable to invite Arnie's new in-laws to the house after the wedding. I made an attempt to speak with Marcy's family, but I steered clear of Marcy, because I knew that she wasn't talking. Lois and I conveyed our distress to Dakin but he was unable - or unwilling - to affect Marcy's behavior.

A few weeks later, our new in-laws held a big party for Arnie and Janet in Chicago. Marcy still wasn't talking. Everybody gathered, the pianist played, the refreshments were laid out, and Marcy gave Lois and me the complete cold shoulder.

The third time that she started to shun us for months was at the time of Lois's operation for endometrial cancer. Shortly before the operation, the phone rang, and Lois answered. It was Dakin offering to have Marcy come up to be on hand to help during the time of Lois's operation and a few days thereafter. It meant that Marcy would have to leave the children with Marcy's mother. This was not an offer that I welcomed, and I told Lois so. She was afraid that Marcy would take offense if we refused her offer. However, I was the one who would be at home, so Lois called back and said that, as much as we appreciated her offer, we had all bases covered. Lois mentioned that Aunt Joan had also offered to come and that we had said no thanks to her. Again, Marcy went into her phase of not speaking to us. I talked with Dakin and assured him that we did not really need Marcy and that she was more needed by her children. I said that, if Marcy would really like to come up, I would be glad to have her. Dakin said that it was too late. Marcy continued not to talk to us during Lois's convalescence and for months afterwards.

Now for the most recent and still unresolved case. It all started with my 70th birthday party. Lois invited all our family to a restaurant for an evening party. I felt happy for the honor, but I didn't want to burden the guests with having to bring a gift, so I asked Lois to mention to the guests that there would be no gifts. When Lois talked with Marcy, Marcy said, "Why is it up to Dad to decide whether or not I give him a gift?" Lois told her that that was the way I wanted it.

At the party there were no gifts, but everyone except Dakin and Marcy gave me a birthday card. Cassie had drawn a crayon picture, which she gave me, and Marcy's mother gave me a card, but other than those two there was no card from Dakin's family. Knowing how much importance Marcy attaches to the giving of birthday cards, I took offense, but I said nothing at the time.

About a month later, Marcy invited all the family to Matt's First Communion. At the ceremony, Matt was presented with a white-bound book, and there were congratulations all around. After the ceremony, Dakin and Marcy invited everyone to their house and put out refreshments and a fancy cake.

This ceremony was just at the time when Cara had virtually made up her mind that her college of choice would be the University of Dayton, a college run by an order devoted to the worship of the Virgin Mary (Marionists). At my 70th birthday party a month earlier I had encouraged Dakin to take Cara to see the University of Delaware, to which Cara had a chance of being accepted. In the back of my mind, of course, was my preference for a non-religious college. Dakin reported back to me that Cara would have none of it. He told me that the University of Dayton had all the courses Cara could want. He tried to make out that the University of Dayton is just an ordinary college and that Cara would be taking ordinary courses.

A theme entered here which has come up again and again between us. Dakin said that we can't all go to Harvard and that I should adapt to a person's interests and abilities. Cara had never been an outstanding student. I felt that this advice was unfair, since I would have been perfectly happy for Cara to go to a Maryland community college, and I had told Dakin so.

At the First Communion party for Dakin and Marcy's son Matt I was not in a happy mood on two counts, first, that I had not received a birthday card from Dakin and Marcy and, second, that Cara had chosen the University of Dayton. During the party I went over to Cara and said that I wanted to talk with her privately. She left her friends and joined me in the garden room, where there were no other guests. In as gentle a tone as I could muster, I pointed out to Cara that she was going to an area where values are more traditional. I said that she would find her local church to be more liberal than what she would find at the University of Dayton. I said that I thought she wouldn't like it. I also said that her father was not a Catholic, implying that she was rejecting her father's values. Cara responded that that was her choice and that she wasn't going to change it. I told her that it certainly was her choice. Then I asked her why she hadn't given me a birthday card. She said that she had done so. She remembered buying one while with Audrey. I said that I didn't remember receiving one but that I would check. We closed the conversation in what I thought was an amicable way.

The next day I received a telephone call from Dakin. In an angry tone he charged me with terrible timing. I had ruined what Marcy had planned to be a wonderful party. Upon leaving me, Dakin said, Cara had burst into tears, and her friends had called over Marcy. I told Dakin that I have few opportunities to talk with Cara and so had chosen this opportunity to talk with her face to face. I reminded him of my dissatisfaction with Cara's college choice, when I had hoped that he would take her to see the University of Delaware, which he had not succeeded in doing. He said that behavior like mine could result in Cara's not wanting to see me again. I took this as a threat and responded that I wouldn't be losing much, since every time we saw her she was coming and going with her friends. I called Cara's behavior weak and immature. I said that, instead of bursting into tears, she should have said, "To heck with you, Grandpa. I'm going to do it my own way." Dakin asked me what I had against Marcy's religion, and I told him.

My grandchildren have never shown much pleasure in seeing Lois and me. When we have arrived at Dakin and Marcy's house, the children have gone on with what they were doing instead of running up to greet us. I don't have a clear explanation for this. Sometimes, I have thought that love for grandparents has declined in general in our society. Other times, I have thought that Marcy froze us out. Other times, I have wondered if Lois and I are just not warm people. However, regarding the last point, I will say that our devotion to our two sons is very great. We have been trustworthy, ever-present parents, and we have made sure that both Dakin and Arnie received an excellent education. Most people would say that our sons are a success.

It wasn't long afterwards that I learned that Marcy had listened in on most of my phone conversation with Dakin, and, what she hadn't heard, Dakin told her. I felt betrayed. I had no desire to insult Marcy's religion. However, I thought that I should be able to talk honestly with my son, especially when he asked me directly what I had against Marcy's religion. Soon after this telephone conversation, after I had learned that all had been revealed, I said to Dakin, "You shouldn't feel bad about revealing to Marcy what I said. What I said was what any atheist might have said. It was not a personal affront to her." Dakin said, "I don't feel bad. She had a right to know." In a later meeting with a psychiatrist, Dr. Talbott, Dakin said that there is nothing that he doesn't share with Marcy. In my opinion, he abdicated his responsibility for not riling Marcy. He knew what her disposition is.

Soon afterwards, I telephoned Dakin and Marcy's house, and Marcy answered. I said, "Hello, Marcy," and there was no response. I said, "Aren't you going to talk to me?" and she said, "Not really." I asked for Dakin. She said, "If you want to talk with Dakin you should call him at his office, not here at the house." For more than ten years now Marcy has shunned me, and the policy of not wanting me to call their house has not been lifted.

Dakin brought Cara over to our house, at Cara's request. Cara said that I had taken her by surprise, and that that was why she was so upset. I assured her that the choice of a college was certainly not in my hands and that I never had any desire to make her feel bad. I said that sometimes people disagree and never do come to an agreement. In such cases, they agree to disagree. It came out during this conversation that Cara intended to take religion courses at the University of Dayton. So much for Dakin's assurance that she was going to take ordinary courses at an ordinary college. At the end of the conversation Cara seemed to be mollified, and he and Cara left with, I thought, the relationship mended.

Not so. This was the spring of Cara's high school graduation. No invitation came for it. Then, a formal invitation to a graduation party at Dakin and Marcy's house came addressed only to Lois. It was not believable to me that Dakin had had any part in such an insult to me, but a few months later, in conversation with him I learned that he had shared in the decision to exclude me. I was stunned.

Another issue entered here, the issue of Lois's response to invitations addressed only to her. I took, and now take, the position that husband and wife are a couple and that, when one partner is excluded, the other should stand up for his or her partner. Lois, on the other hand, agreed with Dakin and Marcy that my timing had been terrible, and she decided not to ruffle any feathers and to accept the invitation to the party.

I learned from Lois that Marcy wanted an apology. I told Lois that that would never happen. Lois reported back to Dakin and Marcy that no apology was forthcoming, and Lois said that she supported my stance. She told Dakin that what I had done was pale in comparison with what Marcy had done to me.

The stalemate continued throughout the summer. Lois learned from Dakin that Marcy would not cash the birthday check that Lois had sent because my name, along with hers, was imprinted on the check.

In the fall, Cara went off to the University of Dayton. Then, one day soon after, Dakin approached Lois regarding our email address. Cara wanted to write email to Lois, but she wanted her email to go privately to Lois. Dakin asked Lois if she would please set up her own email address. Lois said that that would be ridiculous and refused, closing that issue. It was at that time that I realized that, far from being mollified, Cara had joined Marcy in her campaign of insults.

Lois invited Dakin and family to go out to a restaurant with her to celebrate the children's birthdays. I telephoned Dakin to ask him to come up to the apartment for a brief visit before they all went out. Dakin asked why. I said, a father wants to see his son. Dakin agreed to come up. About five minutes later, the phone rang. Lois answered. I heard her say, "No, Dad isn't contemplating anything evil. He just wants to see you." The word evil incensed me. I called Dakin back and told him, if you were worried that I would do something evil, you shouldn't come up to the apartment at all. He never came up and never apologized for this insult.

When it came time for me to receive an invitation from the children for Grandparents Day at their school, no invitation came. I heard from Lois that Marcy was looking for a new grandfather.

Then came the time for Thanksgiving. My niece Brenda and her husband Charles have for several years invited all the family, including my sister and my brother and their families, for Thanksgiving, including Lois and me and Dakin and his family. Word came through Lois that Dakin and his family were not going to attend, because Marcy couldn't stand being in the same room with me. I took the position that, even if Marcy refused to attend, Dakin should attend with the children. Lois said, that will never happen. Then, I learned that Dakin and his family would go for Thanksgiving to Marcy's family. I called their house, and Marcy answered. I said, "I want to talk with Dakin" She said, "Who is this?" I said, "Never mind, just give me my son." When Dakin got on the phone, I told him I couldn't believe that he was going to boycott Thanksgiving at Brenda and Charles's. He said, well, that's the way it's going to be. I said, "I've stood by you for forty-three years, and now you are abandoning me." He said, "Yes, and they've been good years, but I've made my decision." True to his word, he and his family went for Thanksgiving to Marcy's family in New Jersey.

The next time of crisis was Christmas. For several years, Lois and I had spent Christmas Eve with Dakin and Marcy. This time, only Lois was invited. I was very unhappy with Lois's decision to accept. Dakin came for her, and I spent the evening by myself.

Dakin stopped telephoning altogether. Lois told me that he didn't want me to pick up the phone. I asked Lois please to assure him that I would be friendly, but that message did no good. He has not made a friendly call since then.

In May was the big wedding of my niece, Nina, and Victor. Just before the wedding ceremony, Dakin came to the pew where Lois and I were seated and talked with us pleasantly. I thought that this gesture boded well. However, I was to be proven wrong.

At a certain point in the wedding ceremony, Marcy walked over to the pulpit and read the chapter on love from II Corinthians. Was it hypocritical for this woman, who had shunned me for more than a year, to be addressing the wedding guests on love? I wish that I could answer yes, but then I would be saying that Marcy had insight into how unloving her behavior toward me was. I cannot say this. Excommunication is part of her religion, and she believes in it.

At the reception, Lois and I were seated with my niece's new father-in-law, Dr. Nathan, who leaned over and asked me to introduce him to Dakin since Dakin is a cardiologist, and Dr. Nathan, before he retired, was a heart surgeon. I figured I'd take the chance and walk Dr. Nathan over to Dakin and Marcy's table. I introduced Dr. Nathan to him. Marcy turned her back and seemed to be paying attention to other goings-on in the room. Not liking to be rude to Dr. Nathan, I said, "And this is my daughter-in-law, Marcy, and my grandson, Ralph." With the greatest of effort Marcy managed a weak smile and a how-do-you-do.

This incident had repercussions later, when Lois and I and Dakin met with Dr. Talbott, a family counsellor. Dr. Talbott had met earlier with Dakin and Marcy alone, as had Lois and I. Dr. Talbott reported on Marcy's version of what had happened at Nina and Victor's wedding. According to Marcy, a master of ceremonies was trying to get everyone's attention, and for that reason she had turned away from me and Dr. Nathan. Dakin corroborated Marcy's version of the incident. After our meeting with Dr. Talbott, I asked Dakin to join Lois and me in the car for a few minutes. I told him that Marcy had gone to the wedding fully intending to shun me. Dakin repeated Marcy's version, but I persisted, and then he said, "Well, she did go intending not to talk to you." He had lied to Dr. Talbott.

Back to the wedding. Seeing Marcy's mother, Audrey, in the crowd, I greeted her and said, "Nice to see you, Audrey!" Audrey said, "Nice to see you, too" and turned away. I concluded that Marcy had poisoned her against me.

The next day, we were all invited to the home of my niece Brenda and her husband Charles for an after-the-wedding breakfast. All of Dakin and Marcy's family were there except for Ralph. We studiously avoided one another. Near the end of the morning, I saw my granddaughter Cassie, who was then six years old, playing a game on the floor with Charles's granddaughter. I said jokingly, "Who's this skinny thing?" and took Cassie by the elbows. She turned her face toward me and gave me a blank look without speaking a word and then returned to her game. The poisoning had even reached my little granddaughter.

Now for events surrounding my sister Joan's funeral. At the time of the wedding, Joan was in terrible condition as a result of many strokes. She died in September. I decided that I didn't want Marcy at the funeral home. She had shunned me for more than a year and had turned her family against me, and I felt that I shouldn't have to put up with her at the funeral home. I was just as annoyed at Dakin as I was at Marcy. I felt that he had not stuck up for me at all. Furthermore, I was dissatisfied with the status quo. I decided that I'd just as soon make an aggressive move as put up with more of the same treatment. I wrote a note to Dakin saying, "I will not allow Marcy to enter the funeral home. Please get her to stay home. The same goes for Audrey." This note caused a sensation. Marcy would not be dissuaded from going. Dakin told Lois that funerals mean a lot to her. Lois asked me what I would do if she showed up. I don't remember my exact words, but I let her know that some threats are idle threats. Was I going to attack Marcy in any way? My family should know better. I have never attacked anyone, and I certainly was not going to make a scene with Joan lying in her casket. However, Lois misunderstood me and reported to Dakin that I would physically attack Marcy if she tried to enter the funeral home. The next thing I heard was that Marcy planned to hire a policeman to accompany her to the funeral home. She did attend the viewing, but I didn't see any policeman. Soon afterwards, when Lois and I met with Dr. Talbott, Lois declared that a policeman had been at the viewing. I said that this was the first I knew of it. Lois shot back that I certainly did know of it. I insisted that I didn't and then asked if he was in uniform. Lois said, yes, he was in uniform. Why hadn't I seen him? Well, maybe he just had a badge on. Dr. Talbott remarked that a badge is hardly a uniform.

Soon after that, I called upon my brother-in-law Larry and asked him if Marcy had taken a policeman with her to the funeral home. Oh, yes, he said, there was a policeman there. He was the tall, black man in a suit. I clearly remembered a tall, black man in a suit. I had thought that he belonged to the funeral home staff!

Not long afterwards, I decided that I needed a break. I made plans for a trip to my boyhood home, Wilmington, N.C.. Before leaving, I called upon my brother, Philip, who had come up from Florida for the funeral, and Larry to explain that Lois and I were not getting along and that I was taking a break for an unspecified period of time. I said that Lois was disloyal to me in taking Dakin's side.

It seemed particularly unfair, because for years and years Lois had complained about Marcy just as much as I had - Marcy picked a fight with Dakin every time we saw them, Marcy couldn't let the children alone without telling them what to do every minute, and so on. Now, she backed away from these complaints and didn't want me to say anything critical of Marcy, even privately.

I did leave for Wilmington. When I arrived, which was at about eight o'clock in the evening, I parked the car on Third Street, where there are a number of pleasant bed-and-breakfast establishments. I noticed several young people lounging next to a fence but didn't pay much attention. As I was crossing the street, someone came from behind and put a gun to my head. He asked for my money. In disbelief I said, "You've got to be kidding." He said, "I ain't kidding, man. Give me your money." I slowly fished my wallet from my back pocket. One of the other young people gave me a bop on the head, the boy with the gun snatched my wallet from my hands, and they all fled.

Later that evening, after a visit to the police, who advised me to go to the Ramada Inn, which turned out to be full, and a search for a place to spend the night, I called Lois. I told her what had happened. I gave her the telephone number of my motel. A new issue enters here. Lois hung up but decided after a while to call me back. When she tried the number, it seemed to be inoperative, so she called the Wilmington police. They said that they had advised me to go to the Ramada Inn. Lois couldn't find me there. Somehow she was put in touch with my niece's husband Victor, who declared to Lois that I was mentally ill and shouldn't be trusted. However, there was no way to reach me. I called again the next day and wound up at home that night.

The idea that I am mentally ill was a new issue, which was to be played to the advantage of Marcy, who, Dakin later said, was protecting her children from me by keeping them away from me.

Lois bought the idea that I was mentally ill based on two episodes. One was my distress when I called her about the mugging and her suspicion that I had somehow misled her by giving her a wrong telephone number for the motel. The other was my distress at the funeral home, where I broke down with grief. My sister-in-law, Judy, had reported to Lois that I had hyperventilated. Lois took the position that normal people don't hyperventilate at a sister's funeral.

In a subsequent meeting that Lois, Dakin, and I had with Dr. Talbott, Dakin said that I was mentally ill. Dr. Talbott said, "I have met with him twice for depression, but I wouldn't say that depression is a mental illness."

Not long after the funeral, many in my family were invited to the retirement ceremony for Victor. I was talking with a few people before the ceremony when who should enter but Dakin and Marcy. At this point I was thoroughly fed up with both him and Marcy, and I turned away from him and continued my conversation. We never spoke a word to one another the entire afternoon.

Still hoping that relationships could be mended, Lois and I made appointments with Dr. Talbott, the family counsellor. Dr. Talbott thought that things could be mended, but Marcy would have to be involved. Lois asked Dakin if he and Marcy would meet with us and Dr. Talbott. Dakin readily agreed, but, after checking with Marcy, he reported back that she would not. She asked for a separate meeting with her, Dakin, and Dr. Talbott. They did, in fact, meet. It was at this meeting that Marcy told Dr. Talbott that she was distracted by goings-on at Nina's wedding and that that was the reason for her turning away from me.

Dakin, Lois, and I met with Dr. Talbott a couple of more times. I was no longer hoping for Marcy to come around but still had hope for Dakin. Dr. Talbott's main point was that Lois and I are a couple and should stick together. Lois should not accept any invitation alone to Dakin and Marcy's house. Lois did not buy this point at all. Dakin blamed me for upsetting his family regarding religion. I responded, "You ASKED me what I had against them." I have never discussed religion with any of Dakin's family except him, and I have never had an argument with any of them except him. I told him that, if the shoe had been on the other foot, and it was he who was shunning Marcy's father, Marcy would have put up such a fuss that he would have folded in minutes. Dr. Talbott still wanted Marcy to join us, but Dakin had no hope. It was at one of these meetings that Dr. Talbott mentioned that Marcy had turned away from me at Nina's wedding because she had been distracted by goings-on. As I already mentioned, Dakin supported Marcy on this, but I insisted that Marcy had no intention of talking to me there. Later, in the car, he admitted to lying on this point.

His lying to Dr. Talbott was a major shock to me. What hope is there for family counseling if any of the participants lie? What is the purpose of anybody's lying in such a situation? Is Marcy ashamed of her behavior at Nina's wedding? I think not. I can only think that the lying is a ploy to get the counselor to take her side.

Dakin said that over the years he had had a big problem convincing Marcy that I liked her. I reminded him of how rude Marcy had been all along and of my distress years before at Cara's ballet recital. In another conversation, I told him that I had never said a word against Marcy except that she is an abuser. (I have mentioned to him a number of times that Marcy's shunning me is abuse.) Marcy and I have had disagreements, but we have never had an argument, and I have never exchanged heated words with her or with any of my grandchildren.

Lois and I were seriously thinking of separating. Our talk seemed like a prophecy come true. About ten years before, Marcy's sister-in-law Bonny Simpson had predicted that Marcy would break up our marriage. Bonny blamed Marcy for breaking up her marriage. I told Dakin that Bonny's prophecy seemed to be coming true. He said, "Are you saying that Bonny is some kind of prophetess?" At this time, and later, when our marriage seemed to be doomed, he was unmoved. It was hard for me to believe that he didn't make an effort to mend my relationship with him and his family in the face of such a threat.

Thanksgiving came and went, with Dakin and his family again boycotting Thanksgiving at Brenda and Charles's.

As Christmas was approaching, I told Lois that I didn't want to spend another Christmas Eve like the last one. I said that I would not resist her being gone any other day or night but that Christmas Eve was special. If Lois insisted on going, I would go on a cruise. In the back of my mind was my feeling that I wasn't scoring any points. Lois told Dakin what I had said. He was incensed. He said that another time wouldn't do. He wanted Lois on Christmas Eve. Since I was an atheist, I shouldn't care.

Arnie thought that my threat of taking a cruise was out of proportion. I would be gone for two weeks in response to Lois's being gone one night, he said. I responded, "Two weeks don't make up for the injury of being alone Christmas Eve. Most of the country is observing it as families. Even though I am an atheist, I don't want to be left out."

Lois decided to stay home on Christmas Eve and told Dakin so. He was very angry. However, Lois kept her word and stayed home, even though she thought that I was creating a crisis for nothing. A few days later, she went over with all her presents for a belated Christmas Eve.

The next year Dakin and Marcy again invited Lois at Christmas time, though not exactly on the day of Christmas Eve. Lois hired a driver to take her. Again, an opportunity was presenting itself for me to take offense at Lois' disloyalty. Then an idea popped into my head. As soon as Lois and the driver had left the house, I ran down to the car and headed for Dakin and Marcy's house, arriving there in advance of Lois and the driver. I was parked across the street when they pulled up. They saw me but said nothing. Lois did not get out of the car. Shortly thereafter, Dakin could be seen jogging up the street. He saw the car and stopped. I rolled down the window, and he asked me what I was planning. "I am not planning anything," I responded. We chatted for a minute, and then I said, "I'm getting cold. You are welcome to sit here in the car with me." He declined and went into the house.

Lois and the driver continued to sit in the car, and various family came out and talked with them and then went back in. I continued to look on. Then, after about forty-five minutes, the driver slowly backed the car out of the driveway, and they left. I was suspicious that they were pulling a fast one and would return once I was out of sight, so I circled around for ten or fifteen minutes, after which I decided that they had really left, and I returned home. Lois was there waiting for me. I said, "Why did you come home?" She said, "I didn't want you looking in the windows." I said, "I wouldn't have done that. It would have been trespassing." My success in this episode has been one of my few satisfactions in all this sorry business.

A few months later, Lois invited Dakin and family for a party at a restaurant. I couldn't believe that she would do this, excluding me. I was burning with indignation. As the time approached for Dakin to arrive to pick up Lois for the party, an idea occurred to me. I looked out the window so that I could see where he would be parking his car. When it arrived, I could see that Marcy was inside with a couple of the grandchildren. As soon as Dakin and Lois had left the apartment, I sped down the stairs (we live on the fifth floor) and out to the car. Cara, who was driving, rolled down the window, and I could see Marcy sitting next to her. I pointed and shouted, "Shame! Evil! Shame! Evil! . . ."

All the family blamed me for my immoderate behavior, but I have never regretted it.

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Lois and I were not getting along. I blamed her for labeling me as prejudiced a year and a half before. I blamed her for declaring to Dakin that I would attack Marcy at the funeral home. I blamed her for leaving me behind when she went to Dakin and Marcy's house. I blamed her for sticking up for Marcy.

A week or two later, I overheard Lois on the telephone say to Dakin "I am leaving Dad. I'm sick of his threats [i.e., threatening to go on a cruise]." She called Arnie and told him the same thing. She missed her grandchildren and wanted to be near to Dakin and his family.

In such a situation, I am not inclined to beg, although I certainly did not want her to leave, so I told her that I would make out very well without her. We went into the whole matter of whether or not we could afford to live apart. We concluded that we could. We decided on a distribution of assets.

Lois contacted Spring House, a retirement village. Dakin took her over there. They looked at apartments. I couldn't believe that he was facilitating Lois's departure. I thought to myself, why am I not hearing you say, this is ridiculous, I will have no part in it.

Lois kept worrying about stretching our money to cover two households, and I kept reassuring her that we'd be all right. After a couple of weeks, she said, "Am I better off with you or with living alone in Spring House? I've decided I'm better off with you." I was happy to hear it, and there has been no mention since then of her leaving.

In March, my niece Nina invited Lois and me to a party for the eightieth birthday of her father, Larry. Larry's family from North Carolina and Mississippi were there. I was enjoying the party when who should arrive but Dakin and his family. They all marched in without paying me the least attention, except for Dakin who came over to greet me. Here he was again tolerating bad behavior on the part of his wife and children. I knew that Marcy would not talk to me, but I thought that Dakin should have brought his children over. He allowed them to shun me the entire evening, and they left without a word. Later, he told Lois that he was offended that I hadn't gotten up to talk with him. He didn't seem to realize that he had a responsibility for his children's behavior.

A couple of months later, Lois was invited to the First Communion ceremony and party for Cassie. Arnie was expected. I had read a newspaper article in response to the Littleton, Colorado, killings that I thought Arnie should read. The article was about bullying. It struck a note with me, because I felt bullied by Marcy. Instead of trying to make an accommodation with me, she took every opportunity to insult me, and to me this was bullying. The article said that friends should stand up for victims of bullying. I showed the article to Arnie. He responded, "This is goofy," and off he and Lois went to the ceremony.

Lois invited Dakin to come to our house for his birthday, and he accepted. She also invited the children, but Dakin said they wouldn't come. He, Lois, and I enjoyed our time together. Lois had prepared a nice supper, and I had a gift, a card, and a loving letter for him, in which I said, "I love you and think about you every day." The gift was an enlargement of a colored slide left behind by my sister, Joan, that showed my mother holding Dakin when he was a baby. It is the best picture of my mother that I have, and the picture of Dakin is wonderful, so I thought that he would like to have it.

I thought that, after this party, Dakin might start calling up occasionally, but that didn't happen. Month after month passed, and he never called. What I had thought was an auspicious party turned out to be a dud.

There is a saying that some good comes out of every bad situation. The saying holds true in my case. I have learned some things that I didn't know before.

First, I have learned about the weak affections of my wife and son. Can this learning be construed as a positive result? I believe that it can. I am better able to deal with Lois than I ever was, because I understand her better. I see her as she really is, not as some artificial construct in my mind. I see our relationship as full of fault. This isn't to say that I don't still think she's adorable. I do. I love her, as I always have, but who she is and who I am are clearer to me.

Even though I don't see Dakin anymore, I understand him now as I never have. He told Dr. Talbott that there is a very strong bond between Marcy and him. I could never before have believed how much of himself he would subordinate to this bond, but now I believe it. He is like the Southerners in the Civil War: you defend your way of life, regardless of truth or virtue.

Second, I have learned some methods of dealing with my obsessing and my panic attacks.

So, this is where we are. Marcy isn't talking and Dakin isn't talking. I am still tortured by my loss, but I am improving. My worst time is in the middle of the night, when I almost always wake up and get up for an hour or so. During the day my mind is more and more clear. My future looks brighter to me, because I am living a life better accommodated to the realities of my family.

I have learned how extremely I love Dakin. I have always loved him, but I didn't know how powerful my attachment was until all this trouble came about. I have read that evolutionary biologists believe that the attachment of parents for their children is greater than the attachment of children for their parents. I can believe this. Knowing it helps me understand him better. I believe that with more reflection and study I will come to an even better understanding of him and of myself. Belonging as such is something that Nature strongly reinforces. Nature seems to want to keep families and groups together. It is the nature of happiness to belong and the nature of suffering to be separated.

Is Marcy's a character problem, or is she insane? Over the years Lois and I have tossed this question back and forth. Lois has often maintained that Marcy is insane, pointing to her irrational rudeness and despotism. I, on the other hand, have maintained that her problem is a character problem. Granted, she is irrationally rude and controlling. However, if she was insane, we would see evidence of some identifiable mental disorder. Being rude and controlling can hardly be classified as a mental disorder. The reason that I think that she has a character problem is that we can see the same type of character problem world-wide. The dedication that religious people in general devote to their religion can be seen in such conflicts as those between the Protestants and Catholics in Northern Ireland, between the Muslims and Hindus in Pakistan and India, between Sunnis and Shiites in Iraq, and between the Jews and Arabs in the Middle East. These people have no overarching world view. To them, their tribal practices are universal.

How can these religious people be so intolerant, even to the extent of killing offenders and non-believers? A parallel question: why does Marcy feel so endangered by my atheism?

And what can be said about Dakin? Is he weak, a tool of Marcy's despotism, or is he putting family cohesiveness above all other values, like the Southerners did in the Civil War? That he doesn't have a mature value system of his own seems obvious. Without it, he is subject to the tyranny that Marcy, who is very sure of her value system, imposes. However, I do believe that he is first and foremost a family man. He told me that he has a strong bond with Marcy. I believe that what he said is true and that he will keep his family together, even at the cost of repudiating his father.

Are there NO occasions when he can and should stand up to Marcy? If there were none, he would be weak, indeed. If he had repudiated Marcy's father the way that Marcy has repudiated me, Marcy would have thrown a fit, and he would have folded in minutes. Marcy assumes that she will win battles. Dakin seems to assume that he will win none.

Parents who give advice to their adult children are sometimes told by their adult children, "Mind your own business. Don't tell me what to do (how to raise my children). You raised your children. Now let me raise mine." This response reveals that these adult children still think of themselves as children, subject to the parents' control. In truth, both parents and children are now adults. Parents have a right (even obligation) to be real persons with their adult children. They have a right to speak their minds, as they would to any other adult. The mature response of adult children who hear advice from their parents is either, "Thanks. I'll consider that" or "That doesn't sound like a good idea to me." The response "Don't tell me what to do" is an immature response. Adult children who get angry at their parents' advice feel disciplined, as they did as children. Parents who give them advice and get this response need to explain to their adult children that the children are no longer under their parents' control. The parent is expressing an opinion, as one adult to another. The child is under no obligation to follow the advice. If the child rejects the parent's advice, they have agreed to disagree. If the parent and the adult child both see themselves as equals, no harm is done. Adults have expressed their opinions to one another.

If I had the power to put words into Marcy's mouth, this is what I would have her say to me: "I will be glad to hear any advice that you have to give me. People have a right to express their opinions without repercussions. What I do with it is, of course, up to me, since Dakin and I are in charge of our family. I do thank you for being concerned about us."

There is a symptom of controlling behavior that we all see - anger. When a person gets angry, he or she is feeling controlled or else is feeling unable to control someone else. Angry households are households where people are trying to control one another. In these households, unity is the goal - it is important, they think, to present a common front. Peaceful households are households where the individuality of each person is respected. In these households, diversity is the goal - each person is encouraged to develop according to his or her own nature/life. There are disagreements in every family every day. If, at the end of a discussion, there is still disagreement, it is always possible to say, "You have a right to your opinion" or "We can agree to disagree."

Controlling behavior can be seen every day. It begins between parents and child. Since the child is helpless and in danger, the parents exercise control over him or her. Often, they control the child longer than they should. Parents who care more about their own power than the welfare of their children fall into this trap. The child, for his or her part, instead of being - and feeling - independent, looks to the parent for direction and guidance in all things and grows up still feeling controlled.

An example: Arnie was (I thought) underdressed when we went outdoors, so I said to him, "Arnie, you need to be more warmly dressed." He responded, "Dad, you let me decide how I'm going to dress." I said, "The final decision is yours, but I have a right to my opinion."

People with some superior characteristic, such as talent, intelligence, achievement, possessions, education, good looks, athletic ability, heritage, power, position, or personality, often take advantage of the false idea that they are superior. They would rather that other people see them as superior overall. It is important for the mental health of all of us not to buy into this false idea. I can deliberately say to myself, "I abdicate making an overall judgment about the superiority/inferiority of any human being, including myself. We all have equal rights to a good life."

Some parts of our society put ammunition into the hands of shunners. In my case, it is Marcy's religion that has done so, with their policy of excommunication, which my daughter-in-law has embraced.

There is an epilogue to the sad story of me and Marcy. Lois died on October 18, 2010, and my younger son, Arnie, and I arranged for a funeral in Worcester, Massachusetts, where Lois' parents and brother are buried. Lois' sister-in-law recommended a Marriott hotel as being convenient to the funeral home, so I informed Dakin of it. First thing I knew, he and his family had arranged to stay in a motel in Auburn, which is about ten miles from Worcester. Not only that, but he never visited me after Lois died.

This has all been too much for me. When Dakin called a few days ago, I let the phone ring. I think that it is now time to be unavailable to his and Marcy's hostilities.

This is a major decision, since it involves not only Dakin but also my grandchildren, who, unfortunately, have been affected by Marcy's behavior.

Am I bothered by all this? It is inevitable that I am. To keep a level head I have to speak the antidote in my mind: "Mercy! Stop [agonizing]! Enough! Your resentment is the problem."

For an explication of the philosophy that has emerged from the above trials, navigate to Commonplace, Ordinary, Everyday Life
and to
Bad Habits of Mind.