This was a sore spot for me, because the whole story used to make me feel both resentful and greatly indebted to my father. But Jonsi's perspective on their apartment woes made me See that normal children of normal parents normally expect the older generation to be helpful and supportive, as a matter of course, and there need be no shame in it. I used to think of myself as ungrateful; now I See that I've been conditioned to do so and am in fact even too neurotic about it.
The story begins long, long ago when my two sets of grandparents got their apartments in the Big City - one (maternal grandma) inherited from even older ancestors, the other (paternal grandpa) received from my grandfather's Communist company and symbolically paid off, in ridiculously small increments over many decades. (Years later, when they died and my aunt followed, my father inherited this apartment.)
Ten years into their marriage, after two decades of traveling and having fun together and spending money in a good economy, my parents decided they needed a place of their own to settle down. But they couldn't afford it. So my mother's parents sold their small apartment and joined forces with my parents so they could get one decent apartment together. With four good incomes in a good economy, they paid off the mortgage in a few decades. Then my grandparents died, followed by my mother. The apartment was in my mother's name, as was my grandparents' summer house, and according to the laws of my country, my father and I were entitled to 50% each of her property, but he waived his right to his half and in a heart-rending statement let me have the lot.
So that's two of us legally owning two apartments of roughly the same size and market worth in the city.
Still, somehow, when I got married, and he was living in one apartment and renting out the other, I couldn't bring myself to ask him to actually live with my husband in one of the apartments. So, instead, in order to assert our independence, we moved into the dilapidated summer house no one was interested in and redecorated it.
We lived there for three years, effectively allowing my father to use both apartments.
My father moved in with his girlfriend. He rented out one of the apartments for money, and used the other one as a safe base in case he broke up with her. His official story, however, was that he was saving this apartment for me, to use on the rare occasion that I came to the city (there was no need for that and I told him that; I could always spend a night at my aunt's house, for instance, but this is still his line).
Then when I was offered a good job in the city when my first daughter was 20 months old, I knew the time had come to have the Apartment Talk. I needed one of the apartments to live in with my family, and I knew sharing with him in any way would spell disaster.
Also, because I was the one who would actually be living in my apartment, while he would just be renting his out, I believed it only made sense that I could choose. And I wanted the apartment that was legally his, for the following reasons:
- It has more natural light
- It has a better organization of rooms for family use
- It's less depressing
- It's in a less dangerous neighborhood, more suitable for children
- It's close to a really good school
- It's the one he WASN'T insanely controlling about
So I asked him to give that one to us, and keep the one legally mine and do whatever he wanted with it. After deriding my job, he refused! He wanted us to live in the apartment that was legally mine, "at least for now".
What was that like? He'd drop in at will and let himself in with his key, then rage about the stuff we did "wrong" (turn off the annoying lamps; stop the annoying dysfunctional cuckoo clock) and "correct" them (turn on the lamps; wind up the cuckoo clock). We'd get startled every time he got in and I finally had to bluntly remind him of the fact that we're a young married couple who sometimes have sex when in their apartment, not expecting company! All this time, we refrained from redecorating because of the promise that we'd get the other apartment. "Eventually". So we treated the one we were in as his. Which was hard, as it was full of his old junk that made it hard to breathe. And he dropped hints that he expected us to save a room for him in case he broke up with his girlfriend! So, basically, he thought of both apartments as his, and he was just allowing us to barely be alive in one of them.
The situation was made worse when he made an agreement with my brother-in-law and then pretended it never happened! We were supposed to move into "his" apartment, my BIL was supposed to rent a room in "mine", saving the rest of the apartment for my father in case of a break-up, and this was as near to having his cake and eating it as I could arrange! So he agreed! My ILs heard the entire phone conversation (well, my side, but that's enough) when this was agreed, so I have witnesses and I'm NOT crazy! My BIL left the apartment he was renting and temporarily moved in with us until my father vacated "his" apartment.
At this point, he started pretending there was no agreement and we were just being so nice for letting BIL stay with us!?!?! He was unable to find another apartment with roommates for a whole year, so we were stuck living together.
Now I understand that this situation was perfect for him: dangling the carrot of the other apartment to control us and keep us from doing anything to the one he kept us living in.
Then, one day, I just snapped: I couldn't take it any more. I threatened him. I said: "If you don't let us live in the other apartment soon, I'll treat this one as mine. And I'll redecorate it. And throw all the old furniture out."
So we moved. We won. But he was bitter. He was resentful about the redecorating. He didn't feel like he was controlling my space any more.
Once, I asked him what he thought of our new bookcase. He said "You've had it easy all your life and that's why you're ungrateful for what you've been given. You threw away (big old moldy wardrobe)".
We haven't had it easy. We're surviving on one paycheck in a bad economy. We rarely travel and never eat out. We ARE trying to make our place into a nice home, but it's not easy. That's our only crime.
There was such disgust and hatred in his eyes when he said it, that I was taken aback, and felt compelled to ask him: "Are you basically saying that you're not proud of me?"
He paused. For a long time. He thought. Now I understand he was doing calculations of comparative risks in his mind. I was now independent and getting stronger. If he said "yes", he might risk losing me instead of wining the round by hurting me. So he suddenly assumed a sickly-sweet expression and said "You're my only daughter. Of course I'm proud of you". I wasn't convinced, but that was the end of that conversation.
After that, he only ventured relatively small criticisms (Cf. Big Gray Phone).