Sunday, November 14, 2004

Respect (with guest editing by God)

This piece was edited by God. I was writing it during a storm and literally said, "Well God, if you don't want me to publish this as is, I guess you can let me know." I saved the piece right before I said that, and then the power went out. When the lights came back on, I continued writing and the power went out again. I'm not one to think God actually intervened, but it gave me pause to remove some information which in truth is unnecessary.

When the kids were young I was essentially low man on the parent totem pole. Their Dad and Mom both loved them very much, their step-mom grew very close to all of them quickly - especially the girls. That meant when the rare time came along when a kid did something wrong (and that truly was rare) I wasn't first in line to deal out punishment or assert authority.

That worked out pretty well I thought...the guy with the least parenting skills had to do the least amount of parenting.

There was only one place where I drew the line, one thing that if one of the kids did in our house I immediately erupted - if they showed a lack of respect for their mother.

I don't mean I blew up like a volcano or turned into some step-father who wore wife-beater tee shirts, never shaved and began screaming to the point where everyone hid...I mean I called them on it, immediately. I told them that disrespect of their mother would never be tolerated. It didn't happen often.

I've been giving respect a lot of thought lately. I wrote a note to one of my bosses the other day about another employee. The employee is not the most capable or outgoing of guys, and I was hesitant when he was put in the position he's in, but he's done a very competent job, moreover he understands the job I have to do and he stays out of my way if at all possible and makes sure the stuff I need him to do gets done...right. I don't think many people are in a position to see what he does, so I wrote the note simply to say I respect the job he does and I wanted someone who actually supervises him to know it.

As I have mentioned here on many occasions my oldest brother, Stan, and I differ on a lot of things, things I consider primarily political which he considers very personal. Due to his perceptions of my beliefs, Stan has stopped communicating with us for a year or two on a couple of occasions.

In recent years our relationship improved dramatically. We still spent little time together but when we did we focused on what I consider at least to be more important things, spirituality, our health, our family, our many dogs...even our jobs - although in the ranking of most important things, jobs fall a little below politics in my book.

Then a month or so ago I noticed we couldn't have even that level relationship any more. Every conversation turned to politics. Every Christian was a homophobe. Every republican a war monger. Every conservative a fomenter of hate.

Every defense of my values was interpreted as a sleight and brought up memories for Stan of incidents where he felt disrespected or hurt. Incidents he has still never forgotten or forgiven...some of which I never knew happened.

During his last visit, prior to Amy's most recent surgery, I had to gently usher him out of the house a little sooner than would be expected for a normal visit, because the conversation was degenerating constantly and I didn't want Amy exposed to anything but positive thoughts. Amy cares less about politics than I do, and wants only for everyone to love each other. Our lives may be difficult these days, but our priorities are at least very and a lack of stress top the list.

To me at least, it seemed Stan invested so much of his emotional stock in the recent elections that he allowed it to become a referendum on our love for him. The day before the election, after I jokingly (and now realize wrongly) assumed I could respond to a highly opinionated email he sent to everyone in his address book, he declared to everyone to whom he sent that email that I "was no longer his brother."

That hurt, but to give perspective to the true level of our relationship that pronouncement was followed by his demand that I "remove him from my address book!"

Nonetheless I apologized. He immediately rejected my apology. I forgave him for calling me and Amy names, and deriding our religious beliefs. He rejected my forgiveness.

I also forgave his friends who sent me emails calling me names, judging my beliefs, and denigrating God (I'm now down to getting only one or two a week). I responded politely to each of them, most ignored my responses. One actually took the time, after initially sending me an email so judgmental and angry that I was dismayed anyone could have such hateful feelings and still get out of bed every day, to engage me in conversation and I think discerned that I never intended to hurt Stan. Then I decided I in previous times of being disowned...let time work it's magic.

The election came and went. I'm sure Stan was crushed but I knew I should stay away for I only served as a reminder of all he hated.

Then this week I learned that one of Stan's cherished dogs, a dog he brought with him on his last visit, had been run over and killed. I was crushed knowing the magnitude of such loss for him. We have little in common, but the love of our pets is one thing we both have always shared.

I wanted very much to reach out to him, but I can't. Admittedly, some of it is self defense, I have apologized, forgiven and asked for forgiveness only to receive truly cruel responses. My life is hard now at times; I can not seek out pain.

But also my brother (he'll always be my brother) has ordered me not to tell him about Amy's health, or our kid's lives, my life, or my spiritual journey. He has insisted he not share in our joys…or our pain.

He has demanded that our lives and beliefs not intrude into his world and he has made it clear he will never respect our right to think differently from him.

I can only imagine the agony he is going through, and it grieves me….but I also must respect his wishes.