The first evening I spent with Paul and Paul's parents (they're divorced, as I said, but amicable enough to get together for an evening when Paul and I visited briefly on our honeymoon), Paul's dad sat in silent state of what turned out to be self-pity--the entire evening. Paul and his mom were prepared: Paul's mom knitted, and Paul had a book. I'm still angry with Paul (it's been nearly ten years) for not preparing me. There I sat like an idiot, trying to fill the silence with perky remarks no one responded to. I should have wished everyone good night and left the room, but I was too paralyzed by the intense discomfort of the situation.
Paul's dad contacts us once every year or two. Sometimes it's a one-time email/call, sometimes there's a flurry of them. Then they cut off abruptly, and we don't hear from him again for another year or two. He doesn't respond when we let him know about the birth of a new grandchild. Sometimes he'll contact us six months later to complain about how bad he feels for not responding. He's made no contact with any of his grandchildren, or shown any interest in them at all. They are not him, so he's not interested.
Every time I've had to talk to Paul's dad on the phone, I've ended up sickened by his excuses and his self-pity. He talks ONLY about himself. He takes EVERYTHING personally. When we had newborn twins and sent out a general email to the whole family and all our friends saying that we were going to let the answering machine pick up calls because it was too hard to talk on the phone right now, he professed himself "very hurt" by this, and said he felt "rejected." He feels so very, very victimized and sorry for himself over the break-up of his family, even though it's clear that he was the main problem. He says he shouldn't be held accountable for his bad behavior (he used to disappear for hours or days; he would give everyone the silent treatment for hours, days, or weeks; he would be "emotionally unable" to either work or help out around the house; he had at least one affair), because he "wasn't emotionally able" to deal with marriage and family. Whatever, jerk.
ANYWAY. He got in touch again last week, by email. This time he tells me that the reason he's not in touch is that he doesn't know who he can "trust." He says that when he gives updates on his life, they get "twisted" and people put "spin" on them to make him look bad. I don't know what the hell he could be referring to. He says that he would like to have a relationship with Paul, but feels rejected by Paul. He explains the various elements of his personality that make it so very hard for him to keep in touch with his own children unless they jump up and down saying "Yay! Yay! You're talking to me, I'm so very very excited and grateful!" He explains once again that his IQ is very very high, and that a psychologist told him he functions at a lower level than his IQ, and that there "must be a reason for that." Note: I've never noticed that he seems particularly intelligent. Mostly he seems paranoid and mentally unstable.
He didn't send this email to Paul, only to me. It is clear from the email that what he wants is for me to comfort and reassure him. He wants me to tell him that I totally understand why he's chosen to estrange himself from his children and grandchildren. He wants me to tell him he's totally wrong and that Paul is LONGING for a relationship with him, and that I will talk to Paul and explain his dad’s actions in another light so that reconciliation will be possible. He wants me to tell him that yes, he's very very smart and such a good boy in every way. Well, screw that. He's a total loser, and I can't stand him, and at this point I don't even want him to have a relationship with the kids because that would be so much work for me and would involve so many explanations to the children about why Grandpa suddenly dropped out of touch for a year. And also, he's right: Paul doesn't want a relationship with him.
I worked really hard on my reply email:
Some of you may have noticed that I had to do some subtle editing to my original email before sending it. Most of the editing was because I realized I didn't want to engage with him in any of the areas he wanted to engage in: I didn't want to talk about how he thought other people were saying bad things about him, I didn't want to discuss whether his children would want a relationship with him, and I didn't want to talk about how I understood his lack of contact or response over the years. Nor did I want to get an email back from him in response to any of those topics. It's not as if my opinions on the topic are going to make him realize the errors of his ways and become a better person. All I'd be doing is creating strife and unpleasantness.
All I really wanted to communicate was two things: (1) I send you the same stuff I send to your ex-wife so don't imagine you're missing out, and (2) I don't really care if you're in touch or not. On a read-between-the-lines level, I hope that my lack of response to the rest of his email communicates that I don't care about his IQ, his excuses, or his justifications for his bad behavior.