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.