Good day fellow e-hell’ers. I’m writing because a family altercation has gone even further downhill, and although it’s probably not really an etiquette issue, I think I may have inadvertently made the situation worse, and I’m not sure if there’s anything I can or should do now but pretend nothing is going on.
I married into a family 10 years ago that, for the most part, gets along very well. I had to sever ties with my own biological family years ago for relatively severe dysfunction, so it was wonderful (and very awkward at first) to attend actual family reunions… where people liked being with each other, laughed and talked with each other. Amazing.
So when some nastiness came up between my hubby, B, and one of his nephews, J, my dysfunction-developed ‘survival-mode’ default kicked in which means I listen warily and then pretend afterwards that no nastiness ever happened. Some helpful info: 1) The local branch of this family lives in our little village of about 100 people. They include B’s parents (who don’t play in this story), B’s sister, C, and J who is C’s son. 2) B does a lot of work at C’s very-mini-ranch (divorce many years ago) which she repays in baked goods sometimes, as well as a lot of landscaping work for the village. 3) B is an elected trustee of this village, which you’ll see is important shortly.
This began late last winter, January maybe, when J called to talk to B about some alley rock that leads into his driveway. There was a 15 ton load tailgated down this alley that very week, and J was calling to ask if there would be more brought soon. B was aghast, as 15 tons for that stretch of alley was quite a lot. J then admitted that he and one of his friends had raked off a great deal of it onto their driveway, and he said ‘I think that we might have taken too much.’ B informed him that he has essentially stolen from the village, and he didn’t know when any more rock would be brought in. B steadily got louder and louder, and the phone call concluded with some F-bombs and hanging up, which I witnessed from my unhappy perch on the couch.
B informed our village president who thankfully found some humor in the situation and, recognizing that J would, of course, not be doing what he did again, said that the alleys would be re-rocked in the next year or so anyway. Time passes, Easter and other family get-togethers were awkward between B and J since that time, and B’s mom has been especially vocal about ironing over the disagreement. C and I have had an especially close relationship since B and I started dating over 15 years or so ago, and I’m thankful to report that nothing has changed since then, but since yesterday it’s become even a little tense between us for reasons you’ll learn in a moment.
Yesterday, C had a load of hay brought in for her ponies, and traditionally friends and family who are available would come over to help load the bales into her barn. I decided to opt out this time as the temperatures were horrible and I had a headache to boot. B walks over and J is also there. B calls J down from the high trailer and attempts to make amends for his behavior on the phone all those months ago, saying that he should not have said the things he did. J believes the issue was B’s opinion of him being a thief and a liar, and so he would not accept B’s apology. The interaction deteriorated badly, apparently involving some smarmy comment from J, that B became enraged to the point he doesn’t remember specifics. C had arrived on the scene at some point and intervened fearing B may swing on J. B swore never to have anything to do with J again, and departed.
This morning, C and I had planned to go do some shopping. She was not sure if she should get into my truck, thinking bad feelings had migrated to me. She discussed everything while I drove, though, sadly, I am never really confident in the veracity of her storytelling as people at her work are virtually always ‘screaming’ and swearing and/or acting in some other violent manner, since she works at a hospital. Maybe they really do, I have no idea. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, C sides with her son J, who has somehow found justification in taking that rock all those months ago. C also lays blame for B’s rage behavior on a head injury he received in an accident in the late 80’s which resulted in a plate in his head, and a second one from a road rage incident a couple of years after we started dating when he was hit with a crowbar. (Note: I don’t want to portray this rage as ‘often’ or even ‘occasional’. It is extraordinarily rare. Also, he has never been, nor his he now, at all violent or aggressive with me. That would be the end.)
My mistake was relaying all this back to B. He didn’t really prod me for it, so I just gave him those highlights. There were things I even left out that would have made it even more horrible, like when C told me that she and J had a chuckle at B’s behavior after he left the encounter, remarking about brain damage and tried to carry on with their work. I gave up on getting any kind of pertinent detail once I remembered that C can’t give a cogent statement on actual events, and B doesn’t remember after the red rage hit him, but it really doesn’t matter anymore. I could even go and talk to J (not likely, even though we talk/wave at each other on the road when we see each other), but my gut, not to mention my ‘survival-mode default’, says it’s really not my business to be prying, and you guys will probably make sure I stay on that path.
I’ve mentioned that this will probably only be mended by a family intervention. B’s father is currently dying of cancer, so this disagreement is obviously going to take a back burner.
Let me have it folks. =( 0906-15
Before reading your seventh paragraph,I had already come to the conclusion that your husband, B, has a serious anger management problem. Anytime someone gets so angry they cannot remember what occurred, this is not a trivial issue. And B does this twice which means he lost control of both situations and nothing productive was accomplished. By getting angry following an attempt to apologize, all your husband did was confirm to J that his apology was not sincere.
Further, B’s reaction to his nephew’s admission to having taken more alley rock than he should was overkill. The response was not commensurate with the “crime”. B failed to realize that J had taken the initiative to admit to taking more rock than he should have and that is actually an act of integrity. Thieves, especially entitled ones, would never admit that and certainly not have taken the initiative to call the trustee of the village, your husband, and admitted to “taking more than he should”. The calm, professional, and dare I say it, rational response to J’s phone call would have been to thank J for bringing this to B’s attention, inform J that the alley rock was intended for a specific village purpose and now there was likely not enough to accomplish that purpose and therefore could J please recommend a solution as to how he would rectify this deficiency since he was the one who created it. Do you see how this conveys to J that his offense was not against B but rather the village? That by taking too much rock that it hurts the village? There are ways to communicate a message without directly spitting it out and had B done as I suggested, J himself would make his own conclusion that he had done something wrong that needed restitution because J’s conscience was already tweaked leading him to confess without prompting. I very much suspect that had J been treated professionally and civilly, he would have responded positively and taken the necessary steps to resolve the problem.
As the village trustee, your husband B does have an obligation to act in a manner that achieves the best results for the entire village and if the conversations occurred as you said, B appears to have lost sight of that. He essentially made the issue about himself, as if J’s actions were a personal offense against him. The end result is that the entire family suffers from the tension and drama of two men who are fighting over a load of rocks. The only redemption I can see happening is if B completely owns his part of this conflict with no reference to what J did to justify himself and that includes a humble apology for calling J a thief. Part of that apology is to verbally acknowledge to J that he does appreciate that J took the initiative to tell him about taking more alley rock than he should and that B should have given J more credit for that. J won’t accept that first apology, he will no doubt reiterate his offense again and B’s only recourse is to agree that he should have never called his nephew a thief. If B will not display the leadership qualities necessary to end this tension, I think he will voted out as the trustee later.