Blending three generations into one household can be difficult and our family was no exception. My husband’s father was generous and gave us his home as a wedding present. At the time of our discussions, he was planning on moving in with his girlfriend in the next town over. As fate would have it, she fell and needed assisted living. Then he fell trying to take care of her property, and ended up having a hip replacement, which made him housebound for awhile while he recovered. He also had been diagnosed with prostate cancer, and had had a quadruple bypass two years prior. His life was winding down and he was angry.
Getting old is painful
He began spending his days at the kitchen table, from his wheelchair, watching the birds, talking on the phone with his friends, placing his bets for the horses. He was an old-fashioned Guinea in every sense of the word. His parents had come to this country from Italy. He grew up in town and was in with the boys. He had an 8th grade education and worked at the mill, over the years, gaining prestige as a supervisor. Women’s work was in the home, cooking and cleaning, and nurturing the family.
Verbal abuse passed down
My husband had married me, and become a step-dad to my daughter. In my father-in-laws eyes, she was baggage. He treated his son like garbage, my daughter like garbage, yet for some reason, he treated me well. It was tough when he yelled at my daughter for having a friend over without asking permission. She was a black girl and he didn’t like “n——.” I had to ask her to respect his wishes as it was his house, but I was angered by his prejudice; I had not raised my daughter that way.
He told her she was fat, and would never attract a man. Again, I told my daughter to turn the other cheek and forgive him, for he knew not what he said. I wanted him to change but I could not make him. I did my best to protect her and support her in this abusive environment, and at many points I felt I was choosing my husband and marriage over my daughter.
Actions speak louder than words
Yet, I knew in his heart, he didn’t mean what he said. He was a victim of what he had heard as a child, and couldn’t break the mold. I also knew I loved my husband, and that he was being abused by him, just as my daughter was. It didn’t make it right, but it justified staying.
One day I came home from work, and as soon as I walked in the door, I could tell he was agitated. I put my purse down on the counter as he was blocking the walkway. He said to me, “I’ve got to talk to you about your daughter.”
I sighed, “What about my daughter, Joe?”
He said to me, “Today, she walked in the door after school, and she just went right by me, through the kitchen and up to her room. She didn’t say a word. I couldn’t believe she was so rude. You need to talk to her about her behavior.”
I looked him straight in the eye and said, “Joe, I’m afraid that is my fault. I’ve taught her that if she has nothing nice to say, then she shouldn’t say anything at all. If you are angry about that, you need to take it up with me.”
His jaw dropped; he was silent. He looked at me. Still he said nothing. I continued to stare at him, and he looked away and wheeled himself to the table. I went upstairs to see how my daughter was doing.
Silence is Golden
That was a changing point in the house. He tried to change but she had been hurt and couldn’t let it go. On his deathbed things were still bad. Then the VNA nurse came by and told us how much he looked forward to “his girl coming home from school” when he died. We realized the love he couldn’t show at home, he had shown to strangers. He really did love her; we cried.