Tuesday, February 26, 2008

A Looming Heirloom

It's sadly ironic that a person can suffer abuse, recognize that it was a bad thing, then embody the traits of the abuser, and eventually become one. This post is about my cousin.

Apparently, the same thing happens on a smaller scale. I've been absent recently to attend some funerals (yes, "some"). At one of those funerals, a couple of attendees displayed behavior so abhorrent that I'm embarrassed to full detail it, at this time. I mention it, though, because one young attendee's behavior was a direct response to that of an older attendee.

They were young, female cousin and my father.

I imagine she was responding not only to what he did, at that time, but what he's done over the years. The problem, though, was that her response to his behavior was so loudly inappropriate that all eyes were on her and almost no one knew what my father had done.

Despite the fact that she and I aren't close and barely recognize each other, I stepped to her when she was alone (except for her best friend, who'd witnessed the whole thing, anyway). We'd just finished eating, after the funeral, and people were preparing to go their separate ways.

I began, "So, how old are you, now?"

"I'll be 23 in a month or so."

"Ahh. Well, I know it's about 23 years too late for me to be trying to offer up some "cousinly" advice, but I did want to mention something to you. Please don't let the traits you dislike in others upset you so much that you adopt them and become the person you hate so much. I wouldn't want him to have that affect on you."

She responded to this pretty well, at first, but it was clear by her later comments that more than one person had whispered in her ear about the day's events... and she didn't appreciate it.

I'd already apologized to my cousin and several others for my father's behavior (which I'm sure would've pissed him off to NO END if he'd heard me do so), but I still felt the need to tell her, "Now, I'm not saying he was right - by ANY stretch of the imagination. Please know that. It's just something I thought was worth saying. I hope you understand and aren't offended."

She said she wasn't offended by my words, but, she continued, "I don't let ANYbody disrespect me or my grandmother, so if they do I'll get with them, WHEREVER they are!"

I tried to gently express to her how her own behavior, at our grandmother's funeral, six feet from her casket, might be considered disrespectful, but to no apparent avail.

All I can hope is the seeds I (and whomever else spoke with her) planted in her mind and her heart will bear fruit, someday. She's young, so there's still time.

I can't help thinking, though, that twenty years from now, her own children might be apologizing for her the way I've repeatedly had to apologize for my father. I hope not.

I also hope this terrible cycle doesn't get passed down from one generation to the next like some kind of family heirloom.


Alan Scott said...

As I found out when my partner's father passed away two years ago, funerals bring out the worst in families.
I understand your need to keep the details of certain "incidents" vague, but I don't understand why you have to apologize for your father's antics, especially if you two are not close.

B. Good said...

You gave your cousin some great advice. I had to adopt that line of thinking in a major way recently, as I refused to let the ugly actions of another person turn me into an ugly creature all my own.

Its tough not to get caught up in the moment, but its worth it if you can contain yourself. I too hope your cousin figures it out.

Los Angelista said...

Even if your cousin doesn't take the advice, you are taking it and that's meaningful in and of itself. I'm sure you have lots of showing out you could do too, but you don't.

In my family, funerals are hard enough with all the emotions but then you throw in folks with addiction problems and mental illness and it's just pure insanity.