You Probably Need a Will, So Here's How to Have That Potentially Awkward Conversation with Your Family
Remember, if you die without a will, the state will determine who inherits
The last day I spoke with my father was on my daughter's birthday, one year ago. Ghosting him wasn't something I had planned to do or thought about beforehand, but once it was done, I felt nothing but relief. My relationship with my dad had been a constant source of frustration since I was a teenager. This was also when he met the woman who was to be my stepmother. Over time, her selfishness and insecurities would make my life miserable.
I don't remember much of my childhood relationship with my dad. My parents divorced when I was young, and most of my memories from childhood are fragmented pieces. Neither of my parents were very loving or affectionate. As I grew older, I began to see all the broken promises and lies my dad left in his wake and slowly became disillusioned. He was often hateful and frequently said vile things about my mother and how she spent the child support he paid her. Racial slurs came out of his mouth on a regular basis.
It wasn't exclusively terrible. I do remember some fun times. He took us to amusement parks, concerts, and monster truck shows, but he was always promising bigger and better things. In reality, he was horrible at managing money and was involved in shady business deals. Truthfully, I didn't care about the trips. I just wanted a dad who would give me hugs and tell me he loved me.
My mother wasn't good at showing love and affection either. She was a stressed-out single mom to three kids, working two jobs and barely making ends meet. My siblings and I were often left to fend for ourselves. Latchkey kids at an early age, we were often left to devise our own activities to fill the days. Things often got volatile. We were always fighting. We were always throwing each other's things. We had no model for being close or loving to one another.
I grew tired of feeling empty and insecure. I grew tired of not believing that my parents loved me. I was suicidal at a young age and a selective mute while in school from kindergarten until the fifth grade.
As a teen, I didn't want to spend weekends with my dad, as per my parents' custody agreement, and opted to stay home more often than not. My twin sister grew closer to my dad and stepmom. My dad continued to feed her lies and stories, and in the end, she was brainwashed. She stopped talking to my mom in college when my mom couldn't produce $400 that she needed overnight for an exam, even though my sister had a job at the time. My dad found a way to give it to her, and that gave her all the vindication that she needed. The fact that my mom had taken out thousands of dollars in parent loans for our college education while my dad contributed nothing seemed to escape her.
When my dad met Roslyn*, the woman who would become my stepmother, I was 12 years old. Roslyn was very insecure, and my dad was always reminding us not to do anything that would offend her. Because she was Jewish, I was forbidden to wear my cross necklace around her. I was constantly walking on eggshells. We had to gush and heap praise on everything she did, no matter how absurd.
Things only got worse as the years went on. My dad was constantly coaching us on how to act around Roslyn. When my ex-husband and I were dating, we invited my dad and Roslyn out to eat at an expensive restaurant. When the check came, my ex immediately took out his wallet to pay, but my dad took out his wallet and insisted that he cover it. Two weeks later, my dad called me to complain about how he felt he had to pay for dinner, especially since we had invited them. We never heard the end of it either, not until we had paid for many dinners for them in return.
When my daughter was born, things only got worse. First, my dad complained about the name I chose for her. He came up to see us the week after she was born, but then insisted I drive down to see them when my daughter was six weeks old. My husband was deployed, so I had to make the two-hour drive myself with a screaming newborn who hated being in the car. That was only the beginning of them insisting that I always come to them, even though my dad was only in his 50s and perfectly capable of making the drive. When I planned my daughter's first birthday party, my husband was again out to sea, and I was managing everything on my own. My dad put up a fight about coming. In the end he came, but not until after I threatened to never speak to him again. I still had to agree to make a drive down to him for a barbecue he wanted to have for my daughter. It was pretty much the same story for her second birthday party. And even though that was the last big birthday party I had for my daughter, he still insisted every year that we come to him.
When Roslyn's mother died, I talked to my dad on the phone multiple times and asked if I should talk to Roslyn. It was always a bad time, or she wasn't doing well or up to talking. He always said no. Of course, she was furious when I never spoke to her to offer my condolences. We finally reconciled when I wrote her a letter about how sorry I was.
When my daughter was around 4 years old, my dad wanted to keep her for a week during the summer. I agreed, and everything was OK until I got the phone call from my dad. Roslyn was ridiculously offended over how she felt my daughter was treating her differently than everyone else. She literally threw a tantrum over how she didn't think my 4-year-old liked her, claiming there was something wrong with her. She carried on so much that I lost it. I had my brother pick my daughter up and bring her home.
I swore that wasn't going to happen again, but when my daughter was 6, I reluctantly let her go back for Christmas week. My dad had undergone surgery on his foot, and this was the only way he could see her for the holiday. This time, Roslyn complained that my daughter wouldn't take any pictures of her. My daughter had gotten a camera for Christmas, and she was taking pictures of everything in sight, mostly random things like her slippers and my dad's dog, but obviously none of Roslyn, so that meant she must not like her. Again, she carried on like a child. Again, I had my brother do a late-night rescue.
As my daughter got older and we would go to visit, I realized I was now coaching her on how to act around my dad and Roslyn. She had to be very careful not to say anything that might hurt Roslyn's feelings.
The final straw occurred a few years later, when we were invited to Roslyn's birthday party in the Hamptons. We traveled by ferry and then drove another hour to get there. Money was very tight for me at the time, but I had gone to Kohl's and spent $75 on a malachite necklace that I thought would be perfect for Roslyn's New Age style. It was even purple, her favorite color. However, when she opened it, she stopped the party by loudly saying, "Excuse me, excuse me! I just want to let everyone know that I'm only wearing rubies now."
I felt like she had slapped me in the face. I wanted to walk out right then and there. When I got home, I posted a bunch of pictures I had taken at the party on Facebook. It wasn't long before my dad messaged me, asking to take the ones with Roslyn down because she thought they were horrible. My response was to block them both on my Facebook account. I left the damn pictures up. First, she complains that my daughter didn't take her picture, now she was complaining about the ones I took? I was really done at that point, but I felt I had to continue to see them, if only for my daughter's sake, but I was finished with catering to Roslyn's every whim.
Not long after this, my grandmother died after she was hit by a car. It was a very emotional week, as she was on life support, and then the difficult decision was made to take her off. Roslyn made a big stink and refused to be at the hospital with us. It was "too traumatic" for her after her mother's death. We were standing in the hallway as they disconnected the machines when my dad hugged me and finally said I love you.
It was the first and last time I ever remember the words coming from his mouth.
It was an emotional time. Apparently my grandmother was the one holding the family together. After she passed, there were fights over money, and my dad was vilified by his siblings for his shady dealings. As a result, his children were cut out of any mementos we wanted of my grandmother. My daughter, the only great-grandchild, was cut off as well. My sister, who hadn't spoken a word to me in years, sat across my grandmother's hospital bed, pretending like I wasn't there.
Last summer, after trying to negotiate my daughter's birthday yet again, I had enough. When my dad called on her birthday, I handed the phone right over to my daughter and didn't say a word to him. I blocked his and Roslyn's number on my phone. When he called the following month on my birthday, the calls went right to voicemail and the texts to my archive folder. He kept trying, eventually reaching out to my mother to make sure I was OK. The texts and calls finally died off, and I went on with my life.
The only hesitation I have had during this time has been what to say to my daughter, who is now almost 10. She hasn't seen my dad in a year. She hasn't asked about him at all, but I'll address it with her when she does ask, and I plan on being as truthful with her as I can. I don't want her to be left with the impression that he is a horrible person, because I know that he loves her very much. I'm sure that he is heartbroken. My family is broken. Fortunately I have some wonderful friends that are my family to me. They are the constants in my life. I can always rely on their support. I don't know if I will ever get to the point where I will speak to my father again. Still, I ask myself if I will regret it when he's no longer here. Right now, that answer is no. When I ask myself if I still love my dad, I don't know the answer. I know I'm supposed to love him, because he is my father, but it's just not possible for me to be around him anymore. Most of all, I remind myself that I did what I needed to do to break free.