My grandmother has apologized for her behaviour last February. We met at a local restaurant, and she did it right after the waitress took my lunch order.
Ten months ago she attacked me for having had a baby with my girlfriend. Among a number of vile comments she told me my son should have been aborted, and that I should have a paternity test.
On Thursday, just after noon, my grandmother put her head down slightly, stared at her placemat, and said “well, I asked you here so I could apologize… so, I apologize for the things I said and the way I said them.” [there are no direct quotes in this piece*]
I was stunned. I’m fairly certain I’ve never heard the words “I apologize” ever cross my grandmother’s lips.
I took some time to process what she had just said, and allowed her to continue talking while I had some soup. My primary thought was ‘how do I respond to this?’.
But there was something in how she phrased her apology that made me want to ask some questions. I needed to know, for example, if she knew what she was apologizing for. And it turned out, I was right to ask, because she wasn’t apologizing for anything she said to me.
She was apologizing only for having finally been forced to live with the consequences for having said those things, and more.
She was apologizing because someone told her what she said to me had caused a “break in the family”. She wanted to apologize, but only because my girlfriend and I hadn’t invited her to our son’s first birthday — mind you, if the party hadn’t been cancelled due to an ear infection, she told me she was still prepared to come uninvited.
The more she spoke, the more I let her speak, the more she felt compelled to explain that everything she said to me during our confrontation last February was justified.
Not only justified back then but, during our Thursday lunch, she actually came up with some new material… she explained to me how she overheard me, on the day of my son’s baptism, say I wasn’t sure if my son was really my baby.
She told me she was aware of having hurt the family, mostly my mother and grandfather. She was aware of being marginalized by the family over what she had said to me.
So, I asked, if she knew people in our family were hurt by what she had said, why did it take her almost a year to realize she should apologize.
She responded “I don’t know”, then she joked “I guess I had to process it, mull it over”.
So I asked her again, why are you apologizing to me?
“Because of what I said, because I should have kept my mouth shut… I’ve always kept my mouth shut, and I shouldn’t have opened it.”
According to my parents, my grandmother started her vile ranting immediately after I announced my girlfriend was pregnant, on Father’s Day, 2009. But when I asked my grandmother about the discrepancy between her story, and the ones I’ve heard from other people in the family, she told me she had never said anything to anyone in our family before finally talking to me, nine months later.
I finally asked her directly, was she sorry about telling me to have a paternity test… could she see where that would be insulting to me and my girlfriend? “Well”, she said, “I don’t see what the big deal is about a DNA test, everyone does it.”
Did she still believe it was a mistake to allow my son to be born… did she still believe we should have had an abortion? “It’s not up to me, I know that now, but I watched how much you suffered over the years with what you have, if you feel like you can deal with that, then that’s up to you. I’m staying out of it.”.
A few months ago my grandfather sat me down and tried to get me to relent, to forgive my grandmother without her admitting any guilt. He told me it was in her nature to be spiteful, that her own abusive childhood justified all of the cruelty she had shown to us all. My grandfather told me I should forgive, even though he believed at some point my grandmother would strike at one of us again. It was, he said, her nature
So, towards the end of our thirty minute lunch, I asked my grandmother what guarantee she could offer that this situation would never happen again. What guarantee would I have that she wouldn’t take my girlfriend into the kitchen and tell her it was wrong to have given birth to my son.
My grandmother has never been questioned like this, and it showed. After a long pause she told me she had never before done anything like what she had done to me, and would forever keep her opinions to herself from now on.
At this moment I had the opportunity to list off some of the things she has done to me, my brother, my mother, my grandfather in the past. But I let it go.
Eventually I told her I had to leave. As I was packing up she asked about where we stood, was I going to accept her apology. I told her I had to think about what she had said.
This made her really angry, really fast. “I suppose you’ll take ten months”, she snapped at me. I told her it might, and she got even angrier, so I leaned down to her and said “it might take thirty seconds, it might take an hour, it might take ten months, or it might never happen. But it’s up to me.”
Then, using her angry voice, she called me a joke and accused me of playing games. So… I laughed and said “I knew you weren’t serious about any of this”, and walked out.
I came close to accepting her apology. I truly believe I would have, if she had kept her mouth shut. But then I asked her a few questions, and her answers proved she had no intention of apologizing to me.
She told me she was apologizing in order to bring peace to the family, but she meant everything she had said to me last February. Then she told me it was my duty to accept her apology, and got angry when I didn’t.
After attacking me, my son and my girlfriend, she waited ten months to apologize, and expected me to immediately forgive her. She was trying to make everything as it was the day before she invited me into her home last February. She was trying to rid herself of the consequences — which, as far as I can tell, are the first she’s had to face in a very long time.
But she wasn’t apologizing to me, she was apologizing to ‘the family’ for having disturbed the status quo… but ‘the family’ is a totally different entity from me.
In the end, this is the best it will ever get. It’s very clear to me that, in her mind, and probably in my grandfather’s as well, I’ll be the Bad Guy from here on, because I didn’t accept the apology right away. Everything from here on, all of the disturbances to ‘the family’, will be my fault.
And that’s fine with me. I faced down one of my life-long abusers in a family restaurant over a ham sandwich. Over a period of ten months I made her understand there were consequences for her abuses, and she eventually felt compelled to apologize because of them.
And now, if she ever does apologize to me, I’ll consider it.
*I didn’t intend to record our conversation but, once it went off the rails, I felt like I had to… the recorder was in plain sight, and did capture the last twenty minutes of our conversation. Despite the quote symbols, there are no direct quotes from the recording in this piece.
I felt a tiny bit of sympathy towards her throughout this story right up until the end when she got angry because you didn’t accept her apology on the spot. You’re absolutely right, it’s up to you if and when you accept it. And she betrayed her true colours by getting angry and insinuating that you HAD to accept her apology, even if you weren’t sure it was authentic. (On the other hand – I doubt she has the emotional intelligence to offer you a genuine, heartfelt apology. To her, an apology is about swallowing her pride and saying sorry in order to make you forgive her. From what you’ve said, I don’t think she’s capable of doing more than that.)
I felt the same way, and I’m the one she abused. For the first few minutes after she said the words “I apologize”, I really was stunned. I wasn’t looking for an apology, partly because I never imagined she’d give one. And there it was. But, again almost right away, I started having doubts. So I asked the questions and got the answers I got.
I listened to pieces of the recording last night, and it’s not like it’s Satan talking… the voice is coming from an 89-year old woman. So there was bound to be part of me ready and willing to say “okay, this is over, you’re forgiven”. But then I heard the part about me playing games, and hear the anger in her voice and any goodwill evaporates.
I do feel some vindication in this, however. She attacked me, just like she has attacked other members of my family, except this time she was held to account. There were consequences beyond the “I’m never going to invite her over for tea again, but I won’t stop her if she just shows up” bullshit she’s become accustomed to…
…and she recognized those consequences, and responded to them because she felt threatened with being marginalized. You’re right about her EI factor, but what if she had been held accountable fifty freaking years ago?
I believe her apology was authentic, and it was incredible to hear, it just wasn’t an expression of regret for anything she’s ever said or done to me.
Good for you Gabriel. You were true to yourself throughout. Hold tight to your little family. Peace to you and much love too.
Thanks Clare, it really has been a matter of principle and respect, and honouring the family. It has been strange to me to see how the people in my family couldn’t see that. The things my grandmother said insulted my girlfriend, the mother of my child, as much as they did me… but my mother and grandfather, and even my brother, were all in there as well. But to everyone it was simply “granny being granny”.
I’m really sorry. What a crummy situation.
Though maybe I’d share as there have been some similar dynamics in my own family situation in the past. I certainly was cast in a particular role…and when I started to change things and to get better (freeing my self from that family imposed role)…there was some serious backlash…from all the members.
Setting those tough boundaries at first made me the bad guy…but I had to (as you do) just to survive. This also involved a painful 2 year period of not talking with the injurious family member…while fielding calls of abuse from the rest of the family about how I was causing a “break in the family”.
Who would have thought that getting better (bi-polar) having a solid committed relationship (10 plus years), a decent financial situation from a good job, buying a house etc would get everyone so mad at me!
I guess when one stops being the family “black sheep” it forces the other members to take a serious hard look at themselves…and realize that they’re responsible for their own lot in life.
I think a fair counter to the “It’s in her nature”, would be – sorry it’s in MY nature to not take abuse. Can’t change that.
My sympathy lies with you and yours Gabriel. And for that reason I have to say – she’s proven that she’s not a constructive part of your life – far from it! – and so, why is her opinion so important to you? Hurtful in the extreme, yes. But her opinion is the opinion of a scared woman. A woman whose control over the family is no longer as strong as it once was. She may still control other members of your family, but you’ve seen through it.
You have your own family now. And yes, an apology from your Grandmother would be wonderful, but even if it was totally sincere, would it really be enough?
Only you can answer that one. Personally, I believe that you have fought against not only a barrage of family feuds, but also a real illness. You have done brillantly. But there comes a time when you have to think: Why am I fighting, I have done nothing wrong.
Seems to me that you are the one with the gorgeous son and the lovely girlfriend, not to mention the ability to manage your illness for most of the time, plus the exceptional quality of being able to withstand personal insults and humiliation and weather them with dignity. It’s not you who needs your family. It’s they who need you.
I’m proud of you Gabriel, no matter what the future brings. Just never forget that you owe nothing to anyone (except your son and girlfriend).
oh ffs…what a cow. I’m so glad you walked away from that, from her, from the lame ass excuse for an “apology”-you deserve so much more than that-you and your gf and your son…you deserve a grandmother you don’t need to be on guard from….
I agree totally.
My grandfather got sick over the holidays — he’s okay, but it got weird. So when he was somewhat better my girlfriend and I made plans to join him for lunch at the old folks place. My grandmother being there was unavoidable… but we went anyway.
During lunch — which, for us, was a cup of tea — my grandmother (we kept her two seats away from our son at all times) made it a point to tell us our baby was so much whiter than my brothers’ son… whose mother is Filipino.
“He’s not nearly as brown as [my brother’s baby].” Which is true, but my grandmother made it sound like a bonus. When our grandmother saw the photos of my new, and only, nephew, she made the same kind of comments.
Anyway. Thanks Heather, Edward and Melodika for your comments. I took a bit of a break break from the blogs for the Holidays, but I think I’m back now.
Unfortunately, people like your grandmother exist, and there’s nothing that can be done about it. It sucks that she says hurtful things, and it must be frustrating that she seems unable to realize that what she says is hurtful. But you don’t have to care about her opinion or what she says. Just imagine that she is a mynah bird or similar, and that she is incapable of understanding the meaning behind what she babbles.
Your grandmother and my grandmother could be the same woman. I’m glad you were strong in your convictions though. I am too afraid of my family to speak up about what my grandmother put me through. I’ve been told many times that “that’s just the way she is”. Well, that’s nice. I wouldn’t count her as one of my abusers if that’s not exactly what she did to me.
My grandmother is strange though. Her abuse and simple tolerance only radiated to the children she raised (me included). To all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, she was great. Not even slightly abusive. I don’t know what to make of that.
Sorry, babbling a bit now. Thanks for sharing, and again, kudos to you for not playing her game.