Wednesday, August 26, 2015


I've watched The Godfather many times. Not only did I have a thing for Al Pacino but I was drawn to the story in a way that went well beyond the superficial story of the Corleone family and their Mafia control.

Many years after seeing it for the first time I listened to Ted Stanton talk about how he wrote Toy Story and I finally realized why The Godfather pulled me in. Ted explained that every movie has a message (It might be 'love is complicated' or it might be 'love is not complicated', for example) and every protoganist wants something. The film is built around that message and those wants. So, Michael, long after his father died, wanted to please him. Break down the whole movie and that's what you've got; a son's desire for his father to be proud and content.

I don't personally particularly relate to that message since it isn't an issue that has confronted me. I was, if not the favoured child, the good child. I didn't feel that I needed to make anyone proud. It's not really a concept that entered my mind much. I was too busy trying to accept myself, if that makes sense; that parcel of characteristics and eccentricities that make up who I am, to be too worried about what other people thought, even my parents. I was sometimes plagued by seeing my father unhappy and probably that's what made me 'good' and silent; a desire not to cause him any more unhappiness or anxiety than he already felt.

I can see that many people do have Michael Corleone's issue. My husband was not first born. He didn't get the attention that is so naturally thrust on the first born child. Instead, I would say that as a middle child he was almost neglected; considered unimportant; not privy to high expectations. He felt this and railed against it. He, of all the children, wanted to be a big success; to travel; to get away from poverty and distress. Against the odds, he achieved well in the academic arena and rose high in his profession of choice. That he did so well for a period of time probably made it even harder on him when the tide turned against him, and being born with tenacity, I feel sure that as long as he is breathing, he'll never give up trying to achieve success as it is defined in his mind.

I think there are two reasons why he'll never give up. Certainly, he takes his responsibilities to his family seriously. He wants the best for me and the children. But, I think the real reason he won't ever give up is that he is plagued with a similar obsession to Michael Corleone.

It's odd this complete commitment to a cause that is unwinnable. I understand it and I don't understand it at the same time. If a man was a delight to be with; if he was generous with his time and made that shared time pleasant, if he was affectionate or had a positive effect on his children's state of mind; I'd understand. However, my father-in-law cannot be described in this way at all. He's extraordinarily moody, cantankerous; difficult; not prone to praise people. He has zero awareness of the upset he causes amongst the family, it is thought, although I have strongly suspected for decades that he revels in this upset.

He has good qualities, of course. He is a family man and can be pleasant on occasion. He means well. But, his control issues and need to stay Top Dog supersede the goodness. He's manipulative, controlling, demanding and overbearing. You won't find anyone who will call it another way.

From the outset my husband warned me not to get involved in the politics of his family. I am pleasant to all of them; shoot the breeze with all of them and leave it to him to make the decisions related to them, even when I have found the situation quite ludicrous. I realized even in the early days that there was an unspoken policy that the children were to succeed and not succeed at the same time. To succeed meant that they could also be subject to their father's wrath. How could they live in comfort, perhaps buy a new car or home, when he had wants of his own? I overheard a hundred of these comments and this kept my husband down on the farm through university holidays, giving whatever spare money he had and then giving big chunks of money when he had big chunks of money to give.

That's all fine if there was some sort of recognition that my husband (and I) had paid his dues. My husband has given back every cent he has ever cost many, many times over, gave of his time almost every night of our lives for some years listening to his father's complaints about life on the phone. (Had he planted a camera in our house, calling at the exact moment I put the dinner on the table??) But, nothing turned him into a happy man. My husband is still trying, bless him, but nothing can make my father-in-law happy. He chooses to be unhappy.

I was talking to my oldest son last night and at a certain point I found myself sharing my concerns about his father. It's something I hate to do, but last night, it just happened. I didn't know, I said, how to stop his father from working himself into an early grave. My son does everything he can to allay my fears but this is what he said to me last night:

"Yeah. I just can't seem to pull him out of his distress lately. He always seems so exhausted, so defeated, so negative. In the past I've been able to cajole him and get him talking about something else, but lately it feels that I just can't make him happy."


"Darling, who do you sound like?"


"Ohhhh, Dad talking about Grandpa."

"That's right. He'd hate to know that; that he was imposing on you in this way; that you feel responsible for his happiness in this way. It's not your responsibility to make him happy."

Now is not the right time for me to sit my husband down and explain what he is doing to his beloved son; the son he absolutely adores; the son of which he is so rightfully immensely proud.

To any father reading this, please drop the denial and listen to my words. Don't let this be your legacy. Take responsibility for your own happiness and leave your children in peace. Wear a smile. Teach them that life is good by enjoying your life. That's the best gift you can give your children. Life is to be lived, not endured.