Land of Confusion (long)


For the past year or two I’ve been struggling to reconcile a lot of the tenets I was raised on with how the people who taught them to me have followed, or rather failed to follow them. I know that, when it comes down to it, I should continue to lead my life in the best way possible, but it’s hard to get this to quit nagging at me.

I’ve discussed this with my wife several times because I know she’s struggled with the same thing, but with her the discrepancies have always seemed a bit more cut & dry, which makes them a little easier to deal with (in a way, at least). Her parents raised her with a strict religious morality, telling her to respect all others, to remain chaste at all costs & to always respect life. Their bold & blatant racism kind of shot the first one out of the water. The presence of her half-siblings in her life, her parents providing her with birth control pills, condoms & a free reign to use them & several episodes of various forms of abuse kind of shattered the second. Them rushing her to get an abortion the first time she got pregnant then literally terrorizing her over the fact that they were too late to get one the second time she wound up pregnant took care of the third. She saw the hypocrisy early on & has had a lot longer to come to terms with it.

For me, although there were always issues just at or below the surface, it was only in recent years that I’ve seen a lot of the basic rules I was raised with get completely tossed to the side. Admittedly, I caught a pretty big vibe along these lines when my wife & I were dating. Growing up, if my priest or religion teachers told me something, it usually came with a dose of the fear of God & I really took it to heart. As much as I may have been tempted, the thought of my wife & I having premarital sex just wasn’t an option to me. She felt the same way, both because of my convictions & because it reassured her that I wasn’t going to use & then leave her. Unfortunately, everyone from friends to family & even a couple priests told us they didn’t believe that we weren’t having sex. It took me a while to get over those accusations.

One of the main rules I heard all the time growing up was that, if I didn’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all. I’m still not the best at this, but I’ve worked hard at it & I always look to one great-aunt of mine as an inspiration. She was the stereotypical saintly matron who never swore, never seemed to sin & never had a cross thing to say about another human. I always admired that & after she died I redoubled my efforts to try to come close to her standards. She did have a few harsh things to say about my one cousin’s husband, but he beat her, cheated on her then left her with four kids & quit his job so she couldn’t collect child support, so I’d always given her a pass on him. As the months went on, though, I started hearing about others she’d looked down on. These were all family members to one degree or another, & with one or two exceptions weren’t people who’d abused anyone or lost their jobs due to substance abuse, committed major crimes, etc. A couple of these were people who’d just had the misfortune of being in a difficult, loveless marriage, or had worn their hair wrong. It was kind of crushing as seemingly every time I turned around I heard a new, cruel pet name she had for this person or another.

Even bigger than that, though, was the notion that you should always stick by your family, regardless of the circumstances. This included forgiving them any time they sought forgiveness & coming to their aid whenever asked. This was always a big one for me as it’d been taught to me by my parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles & in particular the aforementioned great aunt. While I was dealing with my wife’s family, the stuff they’d done to her, the dislike to hatred they had for me, & all the other assorted troubles they brought us, I heard more times than I can count that they’re my family now, too; they’re going to be my family for a long time, & I need to accept them. This & the occasional prayer (I’d drifted a bit from the Church during this time) were about all that got me through. Something else that helped was the thought that, by forgiving & turning the other cheek (I lost count of just how many thousands of cheeks I turned), I was honoring my upbringing. I’d had some serious fallings out with family members of my own & had always reconciled with them, & I figured if I could do that for them, then certainly I could do this for my wife.

I thought we’d put the worst things behind us several years ago, but then kept running into disagreements, arguments & animosity with my wife’s family. As I struggled to stick to my upbringing & do the most charitable things I could do I started seeing the chinks in the armor of my family’s teachings. A couple summers ago I ran into an estranged uncle who, over the last few decades, had done nothing more heinous than ignore about half the family. I knew there were a couple people he’d always tried to stay in touch with & he was more than happy to see me so I treated him as cordially as I would any casual acquaintance. We didn’t talk about his status with the family. I simply treated him decently & passed on a couple greetings for him. I was verbally assaulted by half a dozen family members over this & one continues to bring up my betrayal to this day. All because I didn’t spit in his face & call him names.
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Around the same time the ex-wife of one of my cousins, who’d said some pretty awful things about my aunt following their divorce, came to realize that her behavior had been pretty bad. She showed up at a family function & gave a heartfelt apology to my aunt then proceeded to apologize to almost everyone there. It was tremendously difficult for her & took a great deal of strength (if not character) to do it. As soon as she left my aunt & several others ridiculed her for hours. This wounded me deeply not because of what they said about the ex but because it was so openly cruel & counter to everything they’d ever told me. She may not be family in their eyes anymore but she’s still the mother of my cousin’s kids & made a very large, kind gesture.

One of the more difficult incidents came shortly after our miscarriage. I have a cousin who’s distanced herself from the family for the last 4-5 years due to a falling out with her mother. I was always very close to both my cousin & my aunt & never saw this as a reason to turn my back on either. Even though my cousin avoids most of us I still try to keep in touch to some degree. I send Christmas cards & birthday emails & always ask her kids to say hi when they see her. Based on our family gatherings I’d gotten to the point where I figured I was not only one of the few trying to keep in touch with her, but the only one who still had a kind word for her. When we had our miscarriage I found that I didn’t have the strength to personally call everyone so I sent a general email to the extended family & our close friends. I knew this cousin didn’t want to hear from some of the family so I sent the email to myself & did a blind CC for everyone else. Although this was clear both from the header & the body of my email, she apparently took great offense to being included on something that went to the whole family. I received numerous emails from her in return. The first few included links to stories talking about risk factors for miscarriage & comments asking if this was how my wife had killed our baby. She sent videos & pictures of abortions & other worse comments. I finally blocked her email.

I struggled to come to grips with the thought that someone could be so hurtful, especially to a family member. A couple months later we were at a family party & another aunt of mine mentioned this cousin. I got pretty upset & left the room. A little later this aunt asked me about it. I knew she’d never thought highly of this cousin, but I still hesitated to tell her what had transpired. When I did I left the worst of it out but she still refused to believe me. I told her some of the rest & said that I’d saved several of the emails. She walked out on me & left the party. I’ve since had a total of 4 family members tell me how disappointed they are that I’d make this up & that they’re not sure they want to be at any family gatherings over the holidays if I’m going to be there. Only one of these four was close with the cousin & two of them were openly hostile to her.

I now have a handful of family members telling me I should apologize for what I’ve done both to the 4 who are upset with me & my cousin who sent the offending emails. Each of these people (the ones asking me to apologize & the ones threatening to not show up to any gatherings where I’m present) have at least one or two family members either in our family or their own extended families whom they’ve not spoken to in years & have no intentions of ever speaking to again. More than a couple of the people involved are the same ones who raised me to always be there for & forgive my family. It’s hard to follow their advice right about now & I’m finding my well of forgiveness coming up dry.

In this whole mess, I’m the only one who hasn’t wronged anyone yet like so many times before I’m expected to extend the olive branch. I’ve done it for my wife’s family (and continue to do so) over and over. I did it when I had the gall to be decent to my uncle. Now that my cousin and several others have lashed out at me during the lowest point in my life, everyone’s counting on me to do it again. They’ve made it clear to me in the last several months that should I ever truly hurt or wrong them, they wouldn’t extend me the same courtesy. I know I should be willing to forgive any wrong, especially when family’s involved, but this doesn’t seem like one of those situations where I should be doing any apologizing. It seems to have been made clear to me, though, that if I don’t give in and seek forgiveness for someone else’s atrocious behavior, the whole family could suffer. Allowing myself to be the perennial punching bag is getting a bit old but I’m not coming up with any good options at this point.


It sounds to me like there are a lot of ill mannered people sticking their nose in other people’s business. You might want to read “Boundaries” by Dr. Henry Cloud.



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