So I got into it with my wife’s parents this week. I mentioned last week the impression that I get from them that they see me as some sort of economic failure, and then I had a conversation with my wife about Christmastime and the fact that our usual Christmas plans (party at Nonna’s house) were off this year because Nonna is vacationing in Puerto Rico. We asked one another about the potential for going to her Dad’s house for Christmas, and she mentioned the awkwardness again.
This led me to think that perhaps I should talk about it with her dad. So, I found a blog entry that pretty much summed up my feelings about my personal economic life vis-a-vis the modern economy: that it sucks, and that it’s mathematically provable that it sucks, and that therefore the impression that many retired conservatives have of modern yuppies as “entitled” is backwards. In short, people like me don’t fuss about the economy because we don’t want to work as hard as we do — we fuss because it’s a provable mathematical fact that wages haven’t improved over the past 35 years, but prices have gone up and benefits have actually decreased. What they see as a disparity in work ethic is actually a disparity in the amount to which the economy rewards hard work.
Naturally, this started a back-and-forth about personal responsibility vs. systemic economic effects in determining your level of success. My father-in-law assured me that any perception of myself as a ‘failure’ was entirely in my own mind, and I actually agree. It’s not, in the end, that he sees me as a failure — it’s that he has the same kind of conservative ethos that my mother does, and my mother sees me as a failure. I’m totally projecting my insecurity about my relationship with my mother onto my relationship with him, and that sucks and is completely unfair to him in every way. Dave, because I know you’re following my blog now, consider this my public apology: I’m sorry and I treated you wrongly.
Then, we got an email from my wife’s father’s wife, who is I suppose my step-mother-in-law. It was vitriolic and vicious, and basically completely confirmed that even if my father-in-law’s opinion of me wasn’t as bad as I had feared, HER opinion of me was even worse than I had ever suspected. I’ll quote one small part:
“He needs to take off that bra get rid of his man boobs, pull up his big boy pants, grow some balls and become a man. Other words grow up and get professional help.”
Now, as any of you who are at all familiar with me know — and that should be everyone, since I’m not exactly writing for a large audience here — I’m a bit…combative. My response to people talking stern to me is to get defensive, and my response to people talking shit to me is to get all up in their face and talk a big stack of shit right back. I wrote about a seventeen-page email back to my step-mother-in-law detailing in excruciating minutia exactly what was wrong with her politics, her economic views, her ability to empathize, her family values, her morals, and her ability to love others, complete with links and supporting arguments and the whole nine yards.
My wife made me delete it and send her about three paragraphs. I was livid.
But then, my wife whipped out a prayer that we got from “The Teachings of the Presidents: Lorenzo Snow”, a Mormon book designed to instill Mormon values in Mormons. (I found the prayer because I was teaching the lesson for Sunday School.) Like most Mormon things, it’s incredibly formulaic and insanely awkward, in part because you have to do it when you’re feeling like crap.
- Explain to Heavenly Father what you are feeling.
- Acknowledge your shortcomings.
- Pour out your heart and express your gratitude.
- Let Him know of the trials you are facing.
- Plead with Him in Christ’s name for strength and support.
- Ask that your ears may be opened so you can hear His voice; ask that your eyes may be opened so that you can see His light.
Now, I have to tell you, I’ve done this prayer exactly according to formula like three times since I came across it. Every time, it feels ridiculously stupid when you start…and every time, around the time that you’re expressing your gratitude, it completely transforms your attitude. When you’re seriously disturbed and you don’t know how to get past something in your life, it works like a charm. (Note: We’ve tried doing it out of order, we’ve tried skipping a step, and it flat doesn’t work unless you do it the insanely awkward way. It’s like magic or something.)
It’s against Mormon principles to really lay out in detail what you said in a prayer, but I can tell you this much: I have some serious shortcomings, not the least of which is that I’m a combative person prone to really getting into it with people that I think are wrong. It doesn’t matter if it’s my father-in-law about the state of the economy or my wife about what’s wrong with dinner. I also openly admit that there are some steps that I could take to improve my economic circumstances, probably without sacrificing a meaningful amount of my relationship with my son. I’ll work on that.
I’m also extremely grateful. I’m grateful for my father-in-law’s amazing engineering knowledge and his willingess to help us build a badass temporary window when our van’s passenger side window exploded (it was ‘temporary’ in that it lasted some 3 years until our van was totaled and we had to buy a new van.) He also fixed a hanging lamp by converting it from wired-in to plugged-in. It illuminates my wife’s workspace every day.
I’m grateful for the fact that we have family left alive who love us enough to want us to get better and improve our circumstances.
I’m even — I should say especially — grateful to my mother. She may wish that I were less liberal and more economically responsible, but my first father was an alcoholic and my step-father hated children (and by extension me) with most of the fibers of his being — so the fact that I was lucky enough to have one parent who loved me and raised me with the ability to empathize and love and be happy is a downright miracle. If I’m upset that she worked so much when I was a child, it’s only because I loved her enough that I wanted to have her around more.
And that’s about the time that I realized that the “support” that I needed from Heavenly Father and Jesus was already there: it was love. I love my step-mother-in-law. She may have issues, but who the hell doesn’t have issues? I certainly have issues. She may have been bilious and vitriolic, but then, I had clearly upset her husband, and what wife wouldn’t come to her husband’s defense? I know mine does. 🙂 So, in the end, all of the back-and-forth broke open a lot of bubbles of tension that had been bubbling for a long time, but stepping back from the issue and giving it to God to make better gave us the answer: People aren’t perfect. Love them anyway.